Monday, November 23, 2015

Untitled: Chapter 7

The sun rose, warm and cheerful, chasing away the clammy chill and dense fog of the night before. Wendell, waking far sooner than he would have liked, rose to a gentle breeze rustling the leaves in the bushes and trees, birds singing at the arrival of a new day, and Mr. Baine cursing it all.

“It can't be morning already,” Mr. Baine grumbled, “I swear we just laid down two hours ago.”

“We could have slept longer had we stayed in the city.” Wendell yawned, beginning to stretch, stopping short as a hot twinge lanced out from his wound and down his arm. He gently massaged his shoulder in a vain attempt to soothe the pain.  It had been a hard trip for him on foot, wounded as he was and fighting off a the second of two changes brought on by the chaos of a single evening, not to mention the general lack of rest he had experienced since their uncertain journey began.

“And then for eternity after that when they caught us sleeping and executed us for killing Benoit’s daughter.” Mr. Baine snorted, “No, thank you.”

Mr. Baine stood up, stretching and looking around the grove they had quiet literally stumbled into the night before. He glanced over at Wendell rubbing his arm. The bandage had soaked up some blood in the night.

“Let's check on that wound and change the dressing before we hit the road.” Wendell nodded and moved to sit on a nearby fallen log. He glanced about the glade, able to see it clearly for the first time, now that the sun was up and the fog burned away.

The two of them had run nearly the entire distance to the eastern edge of Paris, doing their best to stay out of sight. The thick fog helped immensely, but soon became just as problematic for the pair as they made their way through one of the fields surrounding the city and into a stand of trees which materialized suddenly in the murky darkness. The lack of any discernible moon or starlight resulted in several exceptionally painful collisions with his wounded shoulder in the forest. Once they were safely outside the city, Mr. Baine had set about tending to Wendell’s injury by the light of a small lantern.

“The bullet was fired at such close range that it passed right on through,” Mr. Baine had sounded relieved, “You are fortunate it was just below your subclavian artery or this would have required a trip to a hospital, assuming you did not bleed to death before we found one.” Still hurts, Wendell thought to himself.

It took far less time for Mr. Baine to unwrap the bloody bandages, clean the area and dress it once more with fresh bandages in the morning light.

“Best not to leave these behind,” he said, stuffing the wad of soiled gauze back into his bag. He stood up and stretched, “Assuming they have finished searching the city and come looking out this way, the last thing we need to do is let them know where we are headed.”

Rising slowly, Wendell said, “I told Patrice we were going to Munich.”

“Bugger,” Mr. Baine sighed, “Well, I doubt she would tell her uncle anything. There was definitely some tension between them. And, she was prone to her stories.”
“She was scared.” Wendell started to shrug, but quickly suppressed the motion when his shoulder protested, “Fear drives people to irrationality.”
“Stupidity, you mean,” said Mr. Baine.
"I hope we haven't made things worse for her." said Wendell, "I would rather we take any blame for last night, and her be spared."
"Noble." Mr. Baine finished packing his bag, "but I'd rather you not say such things."
"Why not?"
"Because it very well may come to pass." Mr. Baine stood up and streched, “At any rate, we had best get going and stay ahead of anyone sent to find us. I imagine they'll not travel beyond their own borders. Hopefully we will find breakfast along the way.” 

The two men began to make their way out of the small stand of trees, one of several sitting like small islands in a gently rolling pasture.

“I can go without food, if need be,” said Wendell.
“A person recovering from a wound like yours should'nt be skipping meals,” Mr. Baine chided, “besides, not all of us are ascetics here. I happen to be rather fond of my creature comforts.”
“What is the status of our funds, by the way?” Wendell asked.
“Somewhat troubling, but it will get us a little ways yet,” Mr. Baine frowned, “I wish I'd had the presence of mind to search Mr. Gaspard’s pockets before running off last night.”
“No,” said Wendell, “They may think us murderers, but we are not thieves.”
“Honor means little to an empty belly,” Mr. Baine replied, “We will need to keep an eye out for income opportunities, then. Say, did you ever learn how to tell the future at your temple? Perhaps we could sell fortunes.”
“I have heard stories of senior monks were said to be so enlightened as to be clairvoyant, but they would never use such an ability for profit.” Wendell replied, “It is not an ability I possess at any rate.”
“Your average rustic isn't going to know the difference,” Mr. Baine said.
“Out of the question,” said Wendell.
“Oh, Fine. You're too white anyway. No one would buy into it.” Mr. Baine waived the matter off with his typical irreverent sense of humor, despite his disappointment. In their short time on the road together, he had learned that once Wendell made up his mind about something, he was unlikely to change it.

The pair arrived at a fence; a road lie on the other side. Mr. Baine climbed over while Wendell opted to bend low and step between the rails, taking special care to avoid bumping his shoulder. They began to follow the road south and east, away from Paris. They walked, side-by-side, in silence, each lost in his own thoughts. Wendell found himself glancing back over his shoulder at regular intervals, fearing at any moment to find an angry mob riding them down.

“What are you doing?” Mr. Baine asked, when the repetitive movement had caught his attention.
“If someone is after us - as is quite likely - I would like to have a bit of forewarning.”
“With your gifts, I am sure you would detect a horse galloping down the road well before we saw it.” said Mr. Baine, “Besides, you look guilty of something when you do that. We can hardly expect favors from a stranger if we carry ourselves like a couple of escaped convicts.”
“I feel guilty.” Wendell’s voice was so low that Mr. Baine wondered if he had meant to speak out loud at all.
“Of what?” Mr. Baine snorted, “Protecting people from themselves? Fighting the spread of an undead epidemic?”
Wendell did not reply.
“Are you talking about Gaspard? That had to be done.”
Wendell shook his head. “As unsettling as that was, no.” He sighed, “Last night, I very nearly lost control. I wanted to hurt - maybe even kill ...” He decided not to mention how close Mr. Baine had come to being among the bodies littering Henri Clotaire's townhouse.
“You'd just been shot. It's only natural to want to hurt your attacker.”
“I do not think I would have stopped at Henri.” Wendell’s words hung in the air between them.
“But ... that's why you spent all that time in the far east, right? Learning how to control it?”
Wendell made a lop-sided shrug, “I do not know if it can be controlled, not completely. Guided, more like.”
“Or aimed.” There was a thoughtfulness in Mr. Baine’s tone that made Wendell uncomfortable.
“It is not a gift,” Wendell spoke calmly but emphatically. A grunt was his only reply, as it seemed that his companion was now lost in thought.


They walked in silence for a long time. Occasionally, a rider or two would pass them headed in the direction of Paris, but none came up from behind. Wendell’s clothes attracted a few stares, but no one seemed overly interested in the pair. Currently, the only sounds accompanying them were the birds inhabiting the trees and bushes along the road, the crunch of gravel beneath their shoes and the increasingly insistent growls in their bellies. At the very least, Wendell thought to himself, the hunger helped to take his mind off the dull ache that throbbed in his shoulder at every step.

The sun had not quite reached its zenith when, upon cresting a hill, the pair spied a horse-drawn cart approaching an intersection ahead of them. The lone driver, a middle-aged farmer, if Wendell was any judge, glanced at the pair approaching the intersection but, as they were still some distance away, proceeded to guide his horses into a right turn.

“He's going the same direction …” Mr. Baine suddenly broke into a run. When he had covered half the distance between himself and the wagon, be began to call out to the driver, “Excusez-moi! Excusez-moi! Bonjour!”

Wendell watched as Mr. Baine caught up to the wagon and attempted to converse with the man. He noticed Mr. Baine gesture to himself and back to Wendell, who continued towards them at a casual pace, and then down the road they were all traveling; Mr. Baine was using his elementary grasp of the language to ask for a ride. It was contrary to Wendell’s nature to impose on anyone if it could be helped, but after an exhausting couple of days on the road - and now, possibly, on the run - he could not help but hope that the stranger might be moved to kindness towards a pair of road-weary travelers far from home.

The man turned to scrutinize Wendell as he drew near. He wore an expression of puzzled apprehension as he took in the orange robes and shaved head; His eyes narrowed just the slightest bit as he noticed the small circular hole and the bandage underneath. Wendell started rubbing absentmindedly at his shoulder as he did his best to project what he hoped was a non-threatening appearance.

“Bonjour.” Wendell didn’t speak French, but at least he could say that.

The man sat in contemplation for a barely a minute; to the two men standing awkwardly below it felt like an eternity. Finally he nodded and said, “Troyes.”

“Oui, oui. Excellent, merci.” Mr. Baine was visibly relieved. Mr. Baine turned to him and said, “There is just enough room on the back for the two of us to stretch out. I told him we would stay back there and help protect the wagon, should the need arise.”

“Let us hope it does not,” Wendell replied. As he turned to make his way to the rear of the wagon, an odor emanating from under the tarpaulin pulled across the various barrels, boxes, and baskets loaded on it. Both his stomach and his spirits performed a somersault in response. “Mr. Baine,” he said, “I smell food.”

Mr. Baine drew a small purse from his jacket and walked back over to the driver. He jingled it, instantly catching the man’s attention, and pointed at some of the covered lumps just behind him.

The man smiled. Now they were speaking the same language.

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