I must admit that I'm a thoroughly timorous novelist, and though I've let out a few dark hints about my (untitled) 'work in progress', no-one except my younger brother has read more than a few words of the thing. But when I saw that this month's Chatterbox theme was 'Travel by Foot', I realized that it would be a perfect fit for sharing a bit of my novel, since the main character spends a rather large portion of the first bit wandering about the countryside. I'm going to hold myself back from reminding you that this is a first draft and that I'm going to do a lot of re-writing and blah and blah and blah, and just go ahead and share the thing, because really, I think it's time to let someone besides my brother in on this.
I splashed water over my head and neck, then turned my attention to my aching feet, wincing as I carefully removed my boots and socks. The long days of travel in ill-fitting shoes had wreaked havoc on my feet. They were swollen, blistered in some places and rubbed raw in others. I was fortunate that there were no signs of infection so far, but I knew I’d be in serious trouble if I ignored the problem much longer. I scrubbed my socks and laid them out in a sunny spot to dry, then flopped back on the grassy bank with my feet dangling in the water. Eyes closed, I allowed my aching muscles to relax.
- Wayfarers -
When I next opened my eyes to look about, I found myself staring straight up into Thatch's dark face. How had he gotten so close without making a sound? For a split second I caught a sense of kindliness about him. Then his expression hardened into its accustomed mockery.
“Why were you sneaking around?” I sat up, glaring and imperious in an effort to cover my confusion.
“Your lack of observation is hardly my fault, oh tattered princeling.”
My socks were fairly dry, so I gingerly began working my feet into them. Thatch continued to watch me.
“Don’t you have anything better to do?” I snapped at him.
He shrugged. “What could be more amusing than this? I could sell tickets.”
I winced as the rough fabric rubbed a particularly tender spot. “‘Tis gratifying to hear that one of us is having a pleasant time.”
“Well, I did warn you. But I’m curious...who convinced you to grapple a meat grinder, and why on earth did you listen to them?”
“I’m all right.”
“Tsk, tsk, such lofty unconcern will take you far, highness.” He bowed very low, “look where it got me!”
I had replaced my shoes and stood.“I haven’t seen any of your palaces.”
“Allow me to escort you. That is,” he studied me doubtfully, “if you can actually walk.”
“Of course I can!” I said it more for my own benefit than for Thatch’s. I squared my shoulders and stepped out determinedly. Thatch snorted and followed.
Back at camp, Thatch fished a hip flask from his pocket and tossed it at me. I caught it clumsily from the air and looked askance at him.
“Ever seen one before?” He asked.
I bristled. “Of course I have. I’m hardly as sheltered as all that.”
Thatch arched an eyebrow. “Well, you certainly could have fooled me. Anyway, the booze is for your feet. ‘Tis the best disinfectant you’re likely to find.” He waved a stained and tattered piece of cloth in my direction. “Picked this up at the farm. Use it for bandages.”
“All right, then.” I lifted the coffee pot, which was full of fresh water, and set it on the fire.
“You know, if you’re looking to galvanize yourself for the gruesome deed ahead, the liquor would work far better than coffee. That stuff’ll put hair on your chest, which,” Thatch squinted at me doubtfully, “would be no bad thing in your case.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.” I shook the rag at him, “I’d likely get lockjaw from this dirty thing. I’m going to boil it.”
“In my clean coffee pot?”
“I’ll do the washing up, as well.”
“And what happens when I contract lockjaw from drinking contaminated coffee?” Thatch demanded.I giggled. “Well, I, for one, will enjoy a little peace and quiet.”
“So there is a sense of humor buried beneath all that spitfire pride.” Thatch’s tone was still tinged with mockery, but his eyes warmed with a genuine appreciation.I turned away and waited for the coffee pot to boil.