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Copyright 2015 by billwstories
Chapter 7 - Dealing With Injuries .
Kieren and the others kept a firm grip on the ropes as Quintain looked over the edge of the chasm and called to Alairic several times, but there was no reply. The dwarf was doing his best to ascertain what had happened to the elf, but since he'd received no reply it only heightened his concerns. Although no one was sure about the exact reason the elf had failed to respond, they were still reticent to speculate as to what might have happened to him. The warriors thought it would be best to just wait and see how badly the elf had been injured first, if he in fact hadn’t been killed in the fall, as they slowly began to drag Alairic back to the surface. The problem was, it didn’t take long to discover this was not going to be an easy task.
It was a struggle just to raise the elf's body even a meter, because it seemed to weigh ten times more than it actually did. The task was made even more difficult due to the fact that many of their hands had suffered rope burns when they tried to stop his fall and their footing was still less than desirable. This not only concerned them, but it also caused each one to worry that they might drop Alairic and lose him forever. To prevent this from happening, they began to look for something they could use to anchor their burden.
Although those involved hoped to find a sturdy outcropping, a boulder or something similar they could tie the end of the rope around, they were unable to discover anything that would serve this purpose. For that reason, they were forced to continue to struggle as they hauled the elf’s limp form back to the surface, but they also had to do it without a safety line.
As they continued to struggle to pull the elf closer to the brink of the precipice, they eventually heard Alairic groan. This slight noise lifted their spirits tremendously, because it let them know the elf had survived the fall. He might have been injured, but at least he wasn't dead. This knowledge seemed to give each of them renewed strength, so they funneled this fresh surge of energy and momentary sense of euphoria into completing their task. Utilizing this sudden burst of adrenaline, they began tugging on the line and raised the elf's body even farther. After many more minutes of this arduous labor, they were finally able to drag Alairic’s limp frame onto the pathway where they had been toiling.
Alairic was only semi-conscious and the right side of his face was becoming discolored and beginning to swell, but the rest of the group was relieved he wasn’t in even worse shape. That’s when Quintain stepped forward and began to untie the ropes from around the elf, so he could examine Alairic’s injuries more closely.
When the dwarf touched certain areas on the elf’s chest or face, Alairic would groan and his body would flinch involuntarily. This signaled to Quintain that he would have to examine those areas more closely and then provide whatever treatment he could. After many minutes of tending to the elf, Alairic’s head began to loll from side to side and his eyelids started to twitch slightly. Eventually, he was able to open his eyes completely, although they appeared glazed and unfocused. Slowly, he was coming to.
“Uh… uh… damn,” he groaned, as he tried to look around. “I’m so sore. What happened?”
“You slipped and fell,” Quintain told him, while continuing his ministrations. “Can you tell me which injury troubles you the most?” Alairic groaned again and tried to shake the cobwebs from his mind. After a brief pause, he answered.
“My head aches, my chest hurts and other parts of my body are pretty sore too,” he responded, “but I don’t think any of those problems are life threatening. Maybe I should just try to get up.”
“No!” Quintain countered, adamantly. “You lie still for a while, until we see how you are doing.”
“I’m not going to stay behind,” Alairic challenged, thinking they were planning to continue on without him.
“Don’t worry,” Kieren assured him, while looking over the dwarf’s shoulder, “we won’t leave you. I think Quintain just meant that we’d wait until we were certain you have regained enough strength to continue on with us.” The dwarf nodded his head in confirmation.
“Oh, all right,” Alairic replied, somewhat groggily, before he started to relax a bit. However, that’s when his body suddenly stiffened and he looked up at the other two.
“I kind of remember what happened now,” he stated in slightly more than a whisper. “I lost my balance, didn’t I? I recall a little about what took place and when I fell I thought I was done for. I guess the ropes must have stopped me from going all the way to the bottom though, so I'm grateful for that much. The worst part was when the ropes became taut and my lifelines tightened around my chest, because it squeezed all of the air out of my lungs. I had to struggle just to catch my breath, while at the same time my body was slamming into the wall. I guess that must have knocked me out, because I’m unable to remember anything else until I opened my eyes and saw you standing over me.”
“Just lie still and take all the time you need to regain your strength,” Quintain told him. “You’re going to need it later, so rest here while I go and tend to some of the others.”
“Why? What happened to them?” Alairic wanted to know. “You mean I’m responsible for causing damage to more than just myself?”
“Unfortunately, some of the others were injured while trying to save you,” the dwarf advised him.
“How badly were they hurt?” the elf pressed, while looking chagrined that his carelessness had harmed more than just himself.
“Don't worry. None of them suffered any problems as serious as you did,” Quintain responded. “Mostly it was just their hands, because the skin was rubbed raw when the rope was yanked through their palms. I believe I merely need to apply some salve to those areas and that should ease their discomfort and speed up the healing process.”
Alairic was relieved to learn the injuries hadn’t been any more severe than they were. He certainly didn’t want the guilt of knowing his blunder had maimed the others or threatened the successful completion of their assignment.
While the elf was dealing with that issue, Quintain began digging through his pack. After a few moments, he finally located the container of ointment he'd been looking for. He, like his brother, had included a container of salve when he'd packed for this mission. As soon as he pulled it out, he began to apply it to the palms of those in need. The greasy, white concoction felt cool and soothing as the dwarf smeared it on the recipients' hands. Gradually, it relieved the burning and throbbing sensations that had been radiating from the affected areas since the injuries had first occurred. When Quintain came to Qaim, his mouth dropped open.
“Oh, Qaim,” the dwarf began, his voice cracking with emotion. “I didn’t realize...” his words trailed off, but his sudden, uncharacteristic outburst caused everyone else to begin to gather around the pair.
“What happened to Qaim?” Alairic wondered aloud.
“His hands are damaged far worse than any of ours,” Sedain announced, as he looked over his brother’s shoulder.
“Qaim, why didn’t you tell us you were hurt so badly?” Quintain continued.
This question caused Qaim to lower his head, while still keeping his arms extended, palms up. Now, everyone took a moment to look at the aignx’s hands and they could see they were raw and bloody, far worse than any of their hands. Regardless of the extreme pain he must have been in, Qaim hadn’t uttered a word of complaint.
“I bet it happened when he jumped in and grabbed the rope,” Garreth observed. “You know, when we were trying to save Alairic.”
“I didn’t see him help us,” Sedain commented, trying to cope with this revelation. “The last I looked, he was staying back out of the way.”
“He was, at first,” Rhys interjected, “but that changed when Alairic fell. When it looked as if we weren’t going to be able to stop his fall, Qaim raced forward and helped too. I really think his effort was what kept us from losing Alairic.
“And he paid the price for doing so,” Quintain added, gaining an even greater degree of respect for their guide. “I must admit, I always thought his claims that the rope would burn him were just a ploy, but I now regret my hasty rush to judgment.”
“Me too,” Sedain agreed. “Obviously, the ropes have some sort of unusual effects on his body, since his injuries are far more severe than what anyone else suffered. What makes it even more surprising is the fact that he didn’t have a hold of the rope when it was jerked through our hands. His injuries must have come from when he grabbed the rope at the last second and then helped to lift Alairic.”
The aignx didn’t seem to pay much attention to what the dwarfs were saying. He was only interested in what Quintain might be able to do for his sore hands.
“You fix Qaim?” the aignx asked hopefully, while looking up at his volunteer healer.
“I will do what I can,” the dwarf responded. “I’ve had considerable training in taking care of wounds and I shall be honored to use that knowledge to treat you.”
Qaim seemed satisfied with the response and allowed the dwarf to tend to his injuries. Quintain gently covered both of the aignx’s palms with the same ointment he had used on the others, but this time he also tore one of his garments into strips, so he could make bandages to wrap around Qaim's hands. They would not only help to keep the ointment from being rubbed off later, but they would also keep dirt from getting into the affected areas as well. This would help to prevent the aignx's hands from becoming infected.
Once the dwarf had finished treating his furry patient, it almost looked as if Qaim had a padded club on the end of each arm. If the rest of the group hadn’t realized how much pain the aignx must be suffering, they might have found this sight to be quite comical. However, under the circumstances, no one was amused or laughing.
After several more minutes, the last of the companions had been tended to and everyone was ready to move on. Turquinine and Hadwin helped lift Alairic to his feet, because they noticed the elf was having some difficulty trying to get up under his own power. Once he was standing, the others discovered Alairic was a little wobbly and suffered from brief bouts of dizziness. His right leg was also somewhat stiff and throbbed slightly, due to having been slammed against the rocky wall. In an effort to help, some of the others agreed to assist the elf when it came time for him to start walking. They offered to take turns allowing Alairic to lean on them, so they could help to support some of his weight until he no longer needed their assistance.
“How do you feel?” Garreth asked Alairic, before they started out. The lad looked extremely worried about the larger elf’s condition.
“My chest and leg are still sore and I think my face is swelling more, because it is becoming more difficult to see out of my right eye,” he told him, while sincerely appreciating Garreth’s show of concern. “To tell you the truth, I actually feel as though I’ve been in a lengthy battle against a superior foe, but it’s nothing I can’t deal with.”
“Then you think you’ll be able to go on?” Kieren asked next.
Kieren was equally concerned about the river elf and had been eyeing him apprehensively. If Alairic felt even half as badly as he looked, then Kieren didn’t see how he would possibly be able to continue.
“Yes. I’ll do my best and try not to slow you down,” Alairic advised him. “I am just bruised and a little shaken, that’s all. It’s nothing more than I can handle.”
The others seemed comforted by Alairic’s assessment of his situation, although a few of them wondered if he was just putting up a brave front to alleviate their doubts. However, since he had assured them he could continue, they turned their attention to Qaim next.
“How are you, Qaim?” Kieren asked. “Do you think you’ll be able to lead us?”
“Qaim fine. Only Qaim’s hands get burned. Qaim still lead you to bad wizard’s home.” Kieren was relieved to learn Qaim was all right too and was still willing to guide them the rest of the way.
“If you will take the lead then,” Rhys told Qaim, while giving him a slight bow, “we can get underway again.” Qaim nodded his agreement, but as their guide moved into position at the front of the formation, another voice piped up.
“Won’t his injuries keep him from leading us now?” Garreth asked.
“I shouldn’t think they would,” Quintain responded.
“But with his hands bandaged like that, will he still be able to find and disarm any other traps we might come across?” Garreth persisted.
“He should be able to lead us, but neutralizing the traps might be a problem,” Quintain agreed, while conceding this point. “I’m not sure he will be able to manipulate anything with his fingers bandaged the way they are now. The cloth strips will definitely make it more difficult for him to disarm any triggering devices we come across from this point forward.:
Once Quintain had offered his suggestion, everyone turned and looked over at Qaim, so they could visually inspect the thick wad of bandages wrapped around his palms. In doing so, they immediately noticed his fingers were barely discernable as they stuck out of the bulky covering.
“Someone else will have to take over then,” Hadwin stated, quite matter-of-factly.
“No, we can’t do that,” Kieren informed them. “No one else has his abilities and Beraut said only Qaim could successfully lead us to Madumda’s fortress. If we have to, we’ll just wait here until his hands have healed enough for him to perform those duties again.”
“That would take far too long,” Alairic stated, quite frankly, “and we don’t have that much time to spare.”
“No, Qaim still lead,” a tiny voice squeaked up from behind. “Qaim will take young master to bad wizard’s home.”
“Qaim, it will be too dangerous for you to even try to deactivate any devices we might encounter,” Sedain pointed out. “You might accidentally trip it before you intend to, because of those bandages.”
“No, Qaim lead. Qaim do what he promise.”
“Wait! If Qaim thinks he can still lead us, what if I go with him and help do whatever he is unable to accomplish on his own?” Alairic asked the others. “Since he injured himself trying to save me, I will assist him with performing any duties he is having trouble with.”
“Are you even capable of continuing on your own without assistance?” Rhys asked the elf.
“Yes, and since it was my clumsiness that got us into this mess,” Alairic answered, “I’m volunteering to do this and help get us out the predicament too. I’ll assume the risk by helping to scout the way and face any of the dangers that might still lie ahead. That way Qaim will only have to do the things he is capable of and I will do the rest. It’s the least I can do to make up for what he did for me.”
“If we get into any situations where it appears that only Qaim can do something,” Quintain advised them, “then I suppose, I could temporarily remove the bandages. That would allow him to do the things needed and then I could reapply the bandages once he has finished the task. I just pray his hands will still allow him to perform those functions.”
"If not, then I will do them for him," Alairic offered, without hesitation.
The others thought about Alairic and Quintain’s proposals and found them acceptable, but once again Qaim had already taken matters into his own hands. As he had done in the past, the aignx unconsciously reinforced the others' belief that he was a creature of action, not one of words. Without waiting for the rest of the group to agree with the ideas being discussed, the aignx had already begun moving down the tunnel. Now, the others had to hustle in order to catch up to him. No one even thought about trying to stop the aignx and merely hurried as best they could to close the gap. They didn’t even say anything to each other as they traveled, since they knew they had to be as quiet as they could from this point forward.
No one had any idea about how much farther they would have to travel before they reached the main part of the fortress, but most believed they still had a considerable distance yet to go. They also agreed that the less time they wasted, the better off they would be in the long run.
Alairic wouldn’t allow anyone else to help him either and did his best to follow closely behind Qaim. Even though the elf was trying to act bravely, it was still very apparent his injuries were making it difficult for him to keep up with the aignx’s energetic pace. No matter how taxing it was or how much pain he was in, Alairic continued on without complaint.
The rest of the travelers were cautiously leaving a respectable gap between themselves and those leading them, just in case something unexpected happened along the way. Even though the rest of the companions were ready for the worst, Qaim obviously wasn’t detecting any new threats or traps. His pace remained constant and quite brisk, while encountering no new obstacles to slow them down.
Their travel was also relatively easy, since the floor of the tunnel was flat, fairly smooth and the temperature at this level was cool, yet comfortable. It was much preferable to the snow and cold they had been forced to deal with before entering this maze of tunnels beneath Treblanc. This change had even helped to put each of them in a better mood. It was also a relief not having to worry about the condor any longer, even though they knew other dangers might be lurking about these musty corridors.
As they moved along, there were several instances when one or more of the companions noticed Alairic conferring with Qaim, but they tried not to read too much into this. They felt the two of them were most likely just inquiring as to how the other was holding up. Things were going along amazingly well when Alairic signaled them to halt.
“What is it? What’s wrong?” Hadwin asked the elf, after he’d moved close enough so he could whisper his question. The others had moved up as well.
“I have some concerns,” Alairic informed him. “I’ve noticed a scattered collection of bones along the tunnel’s walls and think we should stop to examine them.”
“What for?” asked a bewildered Garreth. “Why would you be interested in a bunch of bones?”
After hearing Garreth speak, Kieren turned and looked at his friend. He realized Garreth had become much more vocal since they had lost Romaric, because before that happened Garreth had generally been the shy, quiet one. Now, he was willing to ask whatever was on his mind and didn’t worry what anyone else might think about his question.
“Well, I feel it’s important to know what types of animals these bones are from,” Alairic advised him. “It may give us some indication of the sort of things we might yet have to deal with before we reach our destination.”
“They are probably just from animals that wandered in here and were killed by the traps or died of hunger,” Garreth commented, while thinking the others were making too much out of a few old bones.
“Your assumptions are rash and flawed,” Rhys countered. The sting of his comment wounded the young elf’s ego and caused his chin to drop against his chest.
“To begin with, you have not stopped to consider the things you already know,” Rhys advised him. “If you remember, the entrance behind us was sealed and obviously hadn't been used for quite some time. The traps we encountered along the way had not yet been sprung either and we've discovered no other devices since the tunnel floor gave way. If that isn’t enough, Qaim has not detected any other traps since we rescued Alairic. Putting all of that together, you should be able to conclude that the bones couldn't have come from creatures wandering in from that direction.
“Since the animals couldn’t have entered from there or died in that manner,” the Akiktite continued, “it would mean they must have come from the other direction. If that is the case, then I think it would behoove us to learn what types of creatures the bones came from. Once we know that, it will give us an idea about what we should be prepared to deal with, just in case we encounter others of their species along the way.”
Garreth was utterly embarrassed by this rebuke and now felt extremely foolish for having missed those obvious clues. While he was feeling sorry for himself, Hadwin and Alairic moved closer to the pile of bones and began to examine them closely. Sedain instinctively walked up behind them and held his torch out, so they could see more clearly. The others watched, as the elf and Nardinian picked up the various skeletal remains and scrutinize them, as they carefully looked for clues about their species. After several minutes of study, they moved back to the others and made their report.
“Unless I am mistaken,” Hadwin informed them, “these remains are not from just one creature. Instead, they are a collection of bones from several different animals. Seeing there are no skulls, nor a complete skeleton to be seen, I don’t believe these animals were killed or died here. However, neither Alairic nor I have any idea about how these remains ended up where we found them, other than saying something else must have brought them here.”
“Possibly the others canst conjecture how this might have occurred,” Turquinine suggested.
Suddenly, everyone was trying to think of a reasonable solution to this problem that would explain why the bones were littering the tunnel. What would only bring an assortment of bones from different creatures and not the entire carcasses? If they had been brought here as food, then there should be more of the creatures' remains lying about.
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