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Portraits part 3

March 28, 2012

She was planning on hiding from her father on the beach when she saw them, her light feet springing their way down the cliff, her skirt lifted with both hands, wispy strawberry blonde hair escaping its bun.  She had looked up a moment from her path and nearly tripped at the sight before her.  Three men in frayed monk’s habits were sprawled onto the sand, one crawling his way up towards the cliffs and trying to drag the others behind him by their collars, their faces slack and turned upwards.  She blanched for a moment before dashing down the rest of the path, hurrying towards their side.

“Are you hurt?” she exclaimed.  The monk hoisting his companions out of the surf collapsed onto his stomach, then rolled over onto his back to face her.  He murmured something unintelligible.

“Pardon?”  She moved closer to make sure she heard him this time.

He said something again, but she still couldn’t understand it.  Some of the words matched her own, others seemed to be distortions of her tongue, and most of them something unfamiliar.  She shook her head.  “I still don’t understand, sir.”

The monk’s eyes filled, but the liquid didn’t spill over.  He pointed at his companions with a shaky hand, both taking rapid, shallow breaths.  He spoke again, this time in a different accent.  He formed a loose “c” with his right hand which he then twisted at the wrist sharply towards his face: drinking.

“Ah,” she said.  “You want water.”  The well was a distance away as was her father, who was beating haystacks with a stick, shouting how she would never be allowed to marry such a lay-about, cognizant of the fact that’s what his past father-in-law had called him, and uncaring to the amount of alcohol he had ingested.  She scowled for a moment.  “Can you stand?  Can you walk?”  She pulled at one of his limp arms, almost lifting the thin monk to his feet with her strength.  “Come on.”

The man’s eyes widened in fear and with a burst of strength he yanked his arm away and scuttled back to his companions, sitting up and gathering them like dolls to him, out of the reach of the surf.  He glared at her.  His gaze kept losing focus as he curled between his friends on the sand, staring at her reproachfully like a mean old dog whose charges had been offended.  “They look half-dead,” she said, rolling her eyes at his antics.  As she got closer, the smallest, who was laying on his side facing her, fluttered his eyelids and frowned.  “It’s fine,” she sighed.  “I’m going to help you.”

She turned and ran back the way she came, her leg muscles straining with the incline of the cliffs, but her feet knew the path, having taken it since she was eight.  When she reached the fields, she lifted her skirt to keep them out of the mud, not stopping until her village and the five squadrons of tents were in sight.  She raced into the cluster of thatched wooden huts, weaving among the wagons laden with meat, hay, greens, dung, or armor.  Women with strings of children hanging onto their colorful skirts navigated between rivers of sheep, pigs, and goats.  Shouts of “fetch this,” “take that away,” and “the king’s coming tomorrow, not next Wednesday, you lazy oaf” crowded the air.  She almost crashed into a tanner waving a new skin, the smell of fresh dead animal assaulting her nose, but she spun at the last second, avoiding him only to barge through the door of her destination and almost land in the building’s fire pit.

“Watch where you’re going, Mary!  What are you rushing about for?” called the healer from the other end of the fire as she stirred a pot of stew hung over the flame.  “Not that everyone isn’t running around with King Alfred coming.”  Herbs hung from the rafters and the walls of the healer’s house were lined with shelves upon shelves of full jars.  A table was squashed into the far corner.  Stones, tatters of cloth, burn marks, knives, blankets, and a single book cluttered its surface.

Mary righted herself and gulped in air, most of her hair out of the bun now.  As she re-arranged it back into its former style, she replied, “I found three monks on the beach this morning, about dying of thirst.  They don’t speak English, or at least their accent is very funny.  Can some of your boys come bring them here?  Will you take them?”

The healer blinked once at the feigned nonchalance despite the urgency of this message.  Mary frowned, almost stamping her foot in impatience, “We can’t leave them to die!  You can certainly spare your sons for the half hour it might take to get them to the village?  Maybe the king will want them?  He has a whole train of those translators speaking funny things and twisting their tongues in all sorts of manners.  Could be interesting, having monks wash up.”

The healer blinked again and sighed before saying, “Yes, yes, Mary, of course.  On top of everything else, we get monks popping by for a visit.  Let me just clear some space and get Michael and John to help you.  Thomas as well if they can ever find that errant boy.  Fetch some water, will you?  You can take a bucket and some skins.”  She began moving around the room, taking down jars, clearing the table.  “Let them drink in little sips for a bit before they start moving.  Little sips, mind you.  If they drink too much or move all at once they’ll get sick.”  She added quietly, “Who knows what they’ve been through.”

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From → Fiction, Thesis

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