Chapter 7



andon crumpled, falling to the ground as Mark slaughtered the last one. Chelsea was at his side in an instant. "Landon!" she screamed frantically as she watched his shirt turn red where the arrow protruded from his side. His breathing was ragged and his teeth were clenched, but he was still conscious. He lay on his back with his eyes squeezed shut, struggling for air.

            "I'm fine," he barely whispered. She laughed and detected a bit of hysteria in her own voice. If he died she was going to explode. "Landon, hold on. Please. Don't die," she pleaded. She knew it wouldn't do anything, but she was panicking and there didn't seem to be anything else she could do. Mark rushed over and knelt down next to him.

            "Oh, that's too bad, isn't it," he joked, trying to lighten the mood.

              Landon laughed, or tried to. It ended up a cough. "I've had worse," he wheezed, finally opening his eyes.

            Mark frowned. "No you haven't."

            "Well, I think with my future ahead of me I'm going to have worse. Might as well get used to it," he replied.

            "At least he's still himself," Mark snickered. Snickered! How could you snicker at a time like this? Landon fingered his wound and winced.

            "What do we do now?" she breathed. "My healing ability only goes so far. I have no experience with arrow wounds! Mark! What do we do?" He looked at her, surprised. Why was he surprised? He needed to help Landon! Then she realized she was overreacting. Why was she so ditsy all of the sudden? She had never panicked over anyone this way before.

            "There are some people who live near here," Mark suggested. "Landon and I saw them. Maybe they can help us. Landon, can you stand up?" He moaned in response. "I'll take that as a yes." Mark heaved him up, trying not to stress his wound too much. They had decided not to take the arrow out themselves in fear that they might only make it worse. She moved in to help. Together they lifted Landon, one of his arms around each of them. He could barely stand.

            Chelsea was surprised at how heavy he was. How did someone who weighs this much climb so high up trees?

            Lugging him along was easy enough as long as Mark took the greater part of the weight, but as they half dragged him through the forest he became a dead weight. He was growing weaker, putting more weight on them than before. How much farther did they have to go? As if reading her thoughts, Mark said, "Almost there." They almost fell down a hill and passed a shallow stream, finally coming into view of homey little cottage. As soon as they made it into their front yard, tired and glad they had made it, a plump little woman ran out to meet them, followed by her husband and a curly-haired girl that looked to be about sixteen. The woman's hands were holding up her skirt as she hustled to get to them. Her hair was as midnight black as her daughter's, but there were streaks of gray on her temples and she had smile lines that suggested a happy life. Her husband was broad shouldered and his hair was almost all gray. His big hands looked tough, but his eyes told otherwise. The daughter was beautiful. Her cheeks were rosy against her pale skin and her eyes were big and dark. She was shorter than Chelsea, but not by much. Her shoulder length ringlets bounced as she hurried after her parents.

            "Oh my! Whatever has happened here!" the mother chimed when she reached them. That was a question they had not anticipated.

            Mark was no help. "Um....uh...."

            "Mark accidentally shot him!" she lied, thinking fast. "Um, on a hunting trip, I mean." Landon pitched in weakly. "Thought I was a deer." He attempted another laugh but it didn't last long. Mark threw them a dirty look.

            "Oh, you poor dears!" exclaimed the mother worriedly. "Come inside. We'll put him in Jeaine's room."

            "Jane?" Mark asked, confused.

            The girl put her hands on her hips. "Jee-aine," she sounded out for him. "Not Jane. It's kind of like that but with a Jee. Jeaine. It's a traditional family name." Mark just nodded.

            They took Landon into the house and laid him on a bed in a smallish room. Everyone gathered around to watch. Landon's eyes were shut again and his hands were red from clutching his side. How did he stand the pain?

            The woman introduced herself as Martha Cotridge as she examined the wound, occasionally touching it here and there. Landon would gasp at her touch, but he remained overall motionless. Mrs. Cotridge was definitely not afraid to get her hands bloody, but thankfully she looked like she knew what she was doing. After a thorough inspection, she said, "It's lodged in there deep. In most occasions I would have said to remove it immediately, but you were wise not to. You might have taken something out with it." Mark turned white and excused himself to help Jeaine get the water. "I'm going to have to do some twisting, and it's going to hurt. What are your names, darling? I cannot go about calling you darling all the time." She told her their names and added, "Is there anything I can do?" She felt useless just sitting there watching. "Do you know him well? Or rather, does he feel comfortable around you?" she asked. Not wanting to go into detail, she nodded. "Good. Hold his hand or something. It helps them relax, feeling someone they trust." Chelsea was happy to oblige. Moving around to the other side of the bed, she took his hand and he instantly held on tight. Mrs. Cotridge had to cut off his shirt to keep it out of the wound. He just lay there, making no complaint, letting them do whatever without even opening his eyes. He was tense all over, his breathing uneven and his injury still bleeding. Jeaine returned with Mark and watched with interest as her mother grabbed hold of the arrow shaft with both hands. Landon let out an agonized scream as she twisted it inside his flesh.

            Mark whimpered faintly.

            His grip on her hand tightened until she thought he would cut of her circulation. Back arched, he yelled himself hoarse as she twisted and yanked the arrow out of his side. When it was out, he sagged like a rag doll and was still, aside from his heavy breathing. As soon as she made sure he was still alive, Chelsea looked around at the others. Mark looked so pale she thought he might faint as he stared silently at the blood flowing out of Landon's side. Jeaine was studying carefully from a distance. Mr. Cotridge was leaning on the doorframe, frowning. Mrs. Cotridge wasted no time in disposing of the bloody weapon and set right to work in cleaning and bandaging the wound with Jeaine's help.

            Landon had given up on composure. He lay there, moaning, as they tended to him. His brown hair was dark with sweat, his hand still clinging firmly to hers, though now he was trembling ever so slightly. She knew if she had just gone through what he had, she would be in a much worse condition than he was now. But the petrified look on Mark's face during the procedure made her smile just a bit.

            "Oh dear. It's late," Mrs. Cotridge said, wiping her brow. "Someone had better stay with him through the night in case he needs something. I guess I'm the most likely candidate."

            "I'll do it," Chelsea offered, despite how tired she felt. She wanted to help.

            "Oh, would you? I wouldn't want to trouble you." She assured her that it was her pleasure. "Would you mind sleeping on the floor? I'm afraid there is nowhere else in this tiny mouse hole. We'll have Mark sleep on the couch. Oh, and I bet you're starving, you poor dears. Luckily, we have some leftover soup." With that she rushed into the kitchen and everyone dispersed, Jeaine to show Mark where he was sleeping and Mr. Cotridge to bed. Soon, it was just her and Landon.



            Suddenly feeling quite self-conscious, she searched for something to say. And found herself singing. It was a lullaby her mother had taught her when she was young. Part of her didn't want him to fall asleep in fear that he might never wake, but she had to face it. When you get chased, fight several men, get shot by an arrow, and have that arrow yanked out all in the space of an hour, you deserved some rest.

            That brought her to the issue of the Blackmasks. Surely they had come because of her, but what was she to tell them? What surprised her most was the fact that it didn't seem necessary to explain. They had not been very surprised to see evidence of a group said to be extinct. In fact, they had looked as though they had been expecting it. Very odd indeed.

            She decided to put it aside for the time. One problem at a time.

            His body seemed to respond to the sound of her voice, relaxing slowly. After a while, she looked down at him and was shocked to realize that he was watching her. She stopped, startled. A faint smile played on his lips. "Please don't stop." She would have continued for him, she realized. She would have done anything for him right then, but at that moment Mrs. Cotridge came in with two bowls of soup. She dropped them off cheerily and bade them a goodnight. When she was gone, they came to another difficulty: Landon was too weak and a tad bit too delirious to hold a spoon reliably. It ended up with Chelsea feeding him like a baby, which, naturally, had its fair share of awkwardness, but they made the best of it. When the spoon feeding was over with, she felt his hand. Ice cold. She had expected him to be burning with fever, but maybe that fever he had had when she'd met him had built up immunity because he was quite the opposite.

            "Are you cold?" she asked.


            "Are you telling the truth?"


            "Well, then. Let's try this again; Are you cold?"


            She frowned. "Is there anything I can do to help?"

            The sly smile he gave her half made her want to take those words back. "You can climb in with me."

            "Don't you think that's a little extreme?" she noted disapprovingly.

            His smile was tempting. "Think of it like this: I'm freezing and you undoubtedly have what I need. It's purely beneficial. Besides, we're good kids. We won't get into any trouble."

            She pondered this for a moment. "What exactly do I have that you need?" He just raised his eyebrows as if to say: I think you know the answer to that. And perhaps she did, she didn't know.

            "Besides," he went on. "I can't stand the thought of you sleeping on the floor because of me again." He was good; she had to give him credit for that. She most certainly was not looking forward to sleeping on the floor again. It was hard to turn him down when reason was at stake, plus the fact that she trusted him wholeheartedly, regardless of his secrets. Finally she thought what the heck?

            "Well, when you put it that way, I cannot refuse," she sighed, slipping into the bed with him and making special care not to bother his injured side. There was little room, so they were forced to snuggle in close, which, surprisingly, didn't bother her at all. A thought floated in the back of her mind as she lay there next to him: what would my mother have said? But that notion didn't stand a chance against Landon's charm.

            "Much better," he said, falling asleep. It wasn't long before she fell asleep in his arms.



Jeaine lay on an uncomfortable pallet on the floor, but that wasn't what troubled her. Her thoughts were in a whirl, and she couldn't decide if she should do it or not. She weighed the options in her mind. If she did do it, she risked being discovered. But was that really so bad? The only reason she had kept it a secret so long was because she was afraid of what other people would think. The elves were definitely accepting of her, even occasionally leaving gifts for helping them. Like Kodan. That wolf had been her best friend for what seemed like forever. But humans weren't like the elves. What if they thought she was a freak?

            But was being different really so bad in comparison to saving a life? Well, lifesaving was a little drastic, but still, she could help. Who was there to make fun of her anyway? Climbing out of bed, she tiptoed into her room, where this Landon person was sleeping. She crept closer to the bed and stopped short, paralyzed with fear. It took her a moment to realize that the girl was asleep, too, curled up next to him with her head on his shoulder. How sweet. She felt a pang of jealousy—Chelsea was gorgeous—but immediately felt guilty for such a thought. It wasn't all about the beauty, though. She was envious of their relationship. She longed for somebody to come and sweep her off her feet, but she feared she would never find her true love while she was stranded in the middle of the forest. She had met a few cute elves in her lifetime; only, a relationship with an elf would just be too weird. Besides, she would never have been able to turn vegetarian for him. Plus the fact that he would probably outlive her. And what would their babies look like? Shrugging that thought off, she focused on the task at hand.

             Careful not to wake them, she put her hand on his side and closed her eyes. Closing her eyes technically wasn't necessary, but it helped her concentrate. And a great deal of it was required in what she was about to do.

            A faint tingling sensation seemed to travel down her arms and into his body, and suddenly she was afraid. What if she did it wrong? She had never done it on a real person before. Only on animals and elves. She told herself to calm down. Elves were close enough. They would have to be.

            After a moment he began to stir from the healing process. As he should be. From her experience, healing was not at all pleasant. The worse the wound, the more painful it was. After that the patient would be very tired. It was best to let them rest until their strength came back.

            She opened her eyes and watched him, all the while letting her power take over. The feeling was amazing. It was like she was aware of him as well as herself when she channeled into him. After a while she reluctantly stopped. She had decided that she wouldn't heal it all the way just yet. That would arouse suspicion. A little more well than natural would suffice.

            When she was sure he was okay, she snuck back to the living room and stopped by Mark, almost tripping over his sword belt that lay next to the couch. He looked as though he had flopped down and fallen asleep—which he probably had. Staring down at his peaceful face, she thought she saw something of a smirk even as he slept. After being cooped up with the elves, he was like something she had never seen before. In the few hours she had known him she had found him to be witty, clever, and extremely attractive. Praying that he might be single, she slid back into bed. Maybe her knight in shining armor had come at last.



Waking up that morning was not the easiest thing Landon had ever done, but he at least made it to opening his eyes before giving up. The only thing that actually woke him out of that groggy state between sleep and total awareness was the fact that Chelsea was gone. Helping make breakfast perhaps. She always had to be helping someone. He smiled because....well, she just made him smile. Wasn't that reason enough?

            Trying to sort through the tail end of his dreams and reality, he thought about last night. He'd had the strangest dream. In it, Jeaine had been standing over his bed with her hands on his wound. He had felt tingling, then pain in his side, as if his insides were moving. Then the pain stopped, and by the time she had left he was so tired he'd fallen back asleep. In his dream she had healed him, but that was impossible. Reaching down to feel his side, he froze. Beneath the white bandage that wrapped around his waist, there was hardly a wound to feel! It had healed tremendously overnight! And then he remembered his dream....

            If what he had seen were true, and not just a hallucination, then that narrowed things down pretty far. Jeaine was probably a Healer! He had heard about them in stories, like so many other things. They were people who had the gift to heal. There were never a whole lot of them, so they trained in their power at the Palace of Songs. Then they were free to go about and help people as they pleased. What was she doing here when she could be at the Palace? Was she afraid? That could explain the hour she had chosen to help. How strange was it that they happened to come across a Healer on their way there? What are the odds?

            Now that he felt quite a bit better, if still very tired, he dragged himself out of bed and grimaced. Maybe she had healed him, but clearly there was still some more work to be done.

            He slowly made his way out of the door and into the kitchen, where almost everyone was. Mark was the only one absent. He wondered vaguely where he could be.

            The kitchen was buzzing. There was cutting, dicing, mixing, and all those wonderful things that help prepare the food, happening right in front of him. Everyone was helping with something and it made Landon feel a bit useless.     

            As soon as the women noticed he was there, they broke out with wide smiles and "Good mornings!" until he felt a little awkward just standing there. Mr. Cotridge thankfully left his greeting to a nod and went back to cutting the chicken. He was beginning to like him a lot. Mrs. Cotridge, however, hustled over to him and patted his cheek warmly, as if they had known each other forever.

            "Did you have a nice sleep, honey? How do you feel?" She didn't wait for an answer. "Let me see that side of yours." Without warning, she quickly began to unwrap the bandage, startling him so much he jumped. Fortunately, she didn't notice. Jeaine and Chelsea had, however, and were covering smiles. He was becoming paranoid and they thought it was funny!

            When it was all the way off, Mrs. Cotridge gasped. "Well bless my soul! Will you look at that! You must have a superior body to heal so fast! Still a long way to go, but you've made a remarkable start." Landon's eyes met Jeaine's and a brief moment of revelation passed between them.  She blushed faintly and went back to slicing her carrot.

            Mrs. Cotridge put on a fresh bandage and insisted he sit down so as not to waste his energy. He was happy to comply. Chelsea finished her chore and sat down by him at the table.

            "How are you?" she asked amiably. Her bright blue eyes were sparkling happily and he thought for the millionth time that she was the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen.

            "Pretty good, I guess," he responded casually. "Hey, do you know where Mark is?"

            "He went back to get our horses and stuff. And, you know, clean up." Dispose of the bodies, she meant. He shivered as the realization that he had killed a man hit him like a brick. He had killed someone who had a life, perhaps a family. He told himself that it was in self-defense, that it was for the greater good. But that didn't erase the fact that he had ended a life.  "That man is so unpredictable."

            "What do you mean?"

            "I don't know. It's expect him to do one thing and he always does something else. Just when you think he's the most insufferable person ever to walk the face of the earth, he does something inescapably intelligent and you can't help but reconsider. I think he's smart, but in such a way it makes you wish he was stupid to justify it. Overall, I think deep down he's a good guy. Do you know what I mean?" She looked nervous, as if worried she had offended him.

            He smiled. "I know exactly what you mean."

            As if on cue, Mark marched in and sat himself down across from Landon. "Alive, huh? Now that'll be a story to tell," he declared triumphantly. Landon laughed. Mark never failed to lighten the mood. That is, when he didn't make everyone angry.

            Landon felt a bit better surrounded by friends, even if they were an unlikely bunch.  



Breakfast was an interesting event.

            He sat next to Chelsea, across from Mark and Jeaine. Mr. and Mrs. Cotridge sat on each end of the table. The whole experience was fairly awkward.

            It started out with Mrs. Cotridge chattering happily about how lucky they were to have such lovely guests and that sort of fluff.

            "Jeaine has been cooped up here for so long I worry that she'll never marry!" she piped cheerfully.

            "Mom!" Jeaine whispered fiercely, appalled.

            She didn't seem to notice. "It's been far too long since she's been in youthful company. We need to get her out of this house and married as soon as possible. There are plenty of handsome men like these two who she just wouldn't have! What she needs is a man that will bring home the bacon, and then they can get busy. I want grandchildren soon! What good is a girl who isn't a mother?"

            "Quite right, dear," her husband cut in before she could go on. He winked in his daughter's direction, who was blushing deep red. Mark was trying so hard not to laugh that he was practically choking on his milk. It was only a matter of time before it started coming out of his nose.

            "She could come with us," Landon blurted. Everyone turned to look at him and suddenly he felt very embarrassed.

            Chelsea glanced at him in surprise. He hoped she didn't get the wrong idea about his proposal. He would take care of that later. Mark on the other hand was very confused. "Hey, shouldn't we discuss—ouch!" He shut his mouth before Landon decided to kick him again.     

            "She's very talented," he continued, trying to hint that he knew. Jeaine's dark eyes widened. "We would love to have her join us. We're headed to the capitol. I hear there's a lot of Palaces there. Would you want to come? There will plenty of boys there." He added the last part for her mother.

            Jeaine looked to her parents for approval. Her mom, of course, nodded enthusiastically. Her father thought for a moment, then nodded, giving her an encouraging smile. "I would love to accompany you," she answered.

            "Well, then. It's settled," Landon confirmed. "Jeaine comes with us."   



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