The Child – Hero, Part II
“Perhaps,” Marcus said.
She turned to Breanna, “Get me a horse.”
“You can’t be thinking of going out there?” Marcus said.
“It could be a trap,” Marcus said.
“It could be,” Phaera said. “It matters little. If there’s a child hurt, I have to investigate.”
“Then send someone else,” Marcus said.
“Send men to do a job that I wouldn’t do myself?” Phaera asked. “No.”
Marcus sighed and strode away. She watched him go with a mingled sense of frustration and amusement. He was a thoughtful man, and a careful one, but sometimes she thought he worried too much. In less than five minutes, Breanna returned with a saddled horse.
“Thank you,” Phaera said. She mounted the animal and turned toward the sound of crying. Before she could get more than a hundred feet, the sound of galloping feet drew her attention. She glanced to the side and saw that Marcus had joined her.
“If it’s a trap,” he said, “You’re not going into it alone.”
Phaera nodded and together they rode into the forest. The sounds of crying grew louder and louder until they reached a small clearing. There, on the ground, was a young child. At first, Phaera couldn’t tell if it was a boy or a girl.
She dismounted and approached the child. Only when she was within a few feet did she decide she was a girl. Her hair was long and matted and she was caked in dirt. She was holding her ankle and sobbing hoarsely.
Phaera knelt down beside her. She spoke in Low Selke, the common language for the people of Taerfall. “It’s alright.”
The girl stopped her sobbing, though tears still ran freely down her face. She looked over at Phaera, “Oh please help me.”
“We will,” Phaera said. “What happened?”
“I fell from the tree,” the girl said. She pointed at one of the taller trees near them. Phaera saw a broken branch on the ground. She guessed that the child had been out on it when it had snapped under her weight. “My ankle hurts real bad.”
Phaera pulled up the girl’s trouser leg very carefully and saw at once that the ankle was broken. It was swollen and bruised and bent at an odd angle. She glanced over at Marcus and gestured with her eyes to the break.
Marcus sighed and approached. He knelt down with them on the ground, “What’s your name, little one?”
“Well, Shandra, I’m not going to lie. Your ankle is broken. But don’t you worry. A broken ankle isn’t so bad. I broke mine when I was just a little older than you are. I think the whipping I got from my father for playing in the barn was worse than the break itself.”
Shandra smiled a little and wiped away some of her tears.
Marcus turned to Phaera, “Shall we take her back to our healer?”
“Take a child into a platoon of soldiers?” Phaera said, “She’ll be scared out of her mind.”
“Then I’ll bring the healer to her,” Marcus said. He stood, as if to go.
Phaera shook her head, “And leave our injured unattended? No, that won’t do. We’ll set the break ourself. I saw you do it on the battlefield once. You can do it here too.”
Marcus scoffed, “I did it on the battlefield because it was necessary, Commander. I’m no healer. It would be better to–”
“You can do it,” Phaera said quietly, “I have faith in you, Marcus.” She turned back to Shandra. “Where do you live?”
The girl pointed in the distance. Phaera followed her gaze and saw a house in the distance. If it could be called a house; the property looked to be nothing more than a shack. She sighed and said, “Okay, Shandra. My friend Marcus is going to set your foot, alright? It’s going to hurt a lot, but then it’s going to feel a little better.”
Shandra started to cry again.
“You have to be brave,” Phaera told her. She ran a hand over the girl’s hair, pulling it away from her grimy face. “Can you be brave?”
“No,” Shandra said, “I’m not brave!”
“I don’t think that’s true,” Phaera said, “Only someone who’s brave could climb that tree. I know that when I was your size, I didn’t dare. I was too afraid.”
“Really,” Phaera said. “How high did you get?” She cut her eyes briefly to Marcus, who gave a jerk of his head in acknowledgment. He bent back down, his hands hovering over the ankle.
The girl smiled a little again, “I got really high. At least twenty feet. My pa always says not to climb trees and I guess I know why now, but I can’t help it. I love to climb. I learned how from my brother. But he never falls!”
“Everyone falls at some point,” Phaera said, “It’s getting back up and trying again that matters, Shandra. When your foot heals, you’ll be back in that tree in no time.”
“You think so?”
Phaera nodded. Just then, Marcus snapped the ankle back into place. The girl let out a loud howl of pain but it quickly faded to sniffles.
“All done,” Marcus said to the girl, “Of course, you’ll have to have it splinted and you’ll have to stay off of it for a few weeks, but then you’ll be good as new.”
“Promise,” Marcus said.
“Take her back to her house,” Phaera said to Marcus. “She can ride your horse and you can walk it. I should be getting back to the men.”
“Yes, Commander,” Marcus said. He picked up the child as though she weighed nothing and set her atop the horse. “I want you to hold onto the pommel,” he said. He pointed it out. “We’ll go slow so you don’t get scared, alright?”
The girl nodded.
“Marcus,” Phaera said in a quieter voice. She took his arm and pulled him a bit away. “I want you to leave some gold for the family.”
“Look at her,” Phaera said, “She’s wearing clothing that’s three sizes too big, and no shoes. She’s scrawny as well. I doubt she gets many proper meals.”
“Children are naturally thin,” Marcus said, “She could just enjoy running a lot. She looks like an adventurer.”
“Leave the gold anyway,” Phaera said.
Marcus held her gaze for a minute and then nodded. “As you wish, Commander. Go on back. I’ll join you shortly.”
Phaera swung herself up onto the horse and headed back toward where camp was setting up. She felt a splatter of rain hit her nose and run down her chin. Her eyes went briefly to the sky as though to confirm the wet weather that needed no confirmation.
The men would be glad to see her back, and they’d be glad to know there was no trap. There was only a young girl with a broken ankle. The war was over, after all, and they were almost home.