The gnome couple and their dog traveled for quite a while. Some days
they stopped early, especially if Shamil was the one doing the cooking,
but for the most part they traveled from shortly after sunup to just after
dark. Winter had melted into spring, and spring was ripening towards
summer when they arrived in the area where Zook vanished.
It was a rocky area, mountains not too far in the distance, large boulders and cliffs dotting the landscape. Forest was also splashed here and there for variety. One day, they woke to see cold frost covering everything. “Jory?”
“What’s with the frost? It’s not yet summer, and winter is far behind us.”
“It’s the altitude. We’re really high up here, not far from the mountains. It never gets really warm here, and frost is normal even during the hottest part of summer.”
Shamil thought it was too bad that frost melted in the sun, the way it broke the light into rainbows was better than the most highly polished diamond. The frost was misleading, though, the day turned out to be sunnier and warmer than it had been all season. It was warm enough that day to bring out the first of the summer insects. Shamil had no clue where they came from, but the vast cloud of mosquitoes were enough to drive her, well, buggy.
Jory had decided to make camp early that day and take advantage of the unseasonable warmth by going hunting. Even though he had yet to convince Shamil to try meat, he still enjoyed a good roast rabbit or squirrel now and then. Shamil went with him–he was teaching her how to track. They came across the tracks of a rabbit early on, and followed them up a slight incline to a height of fifty feet or so. The ridge was slightly wooded, and unbeknownst to either of them, was the home of a rather large creepy-crawly.
Jory and Shamil studied the rabbit’s tracks, and followed it to the edge of the rise; the other side wasn’t a gentle decline, but a sharp drop-off. Shamil had turned to survey the way they had come and what she saw sent her heart racing. There was something large, black, and shiny scuttling towards her and her love. All she could see was pinchers and eyes and way too many legs. She backed up and tried to yell, to scream, anything that would alert Jory, but her throat had closed tight in terror.
Shamil didn’t feel the ground crumble out from beneath her, and she didn’t remember falling off the high precipice. All she did remember was a sensation of weightlessness and the sky filling her vision.
She woke two days later, looking into Jory’s stunning green eyes. She reached up and traced the thin scar that ran across his forehead. She tried to sit up, but felt Jory’s hands push her back down onto the bedroll. “No. Don’t try to sit up.”
“We stumbled into the home of a giant spider.”
Shamil could tell from his expression that he wasn’t telling her everything. “What else?” She asked, and tried again to sit up.
Jory looked at her, pain behind his eyes. “I…” he began, then decided on a different approach. “Do you want the bad news first or the really bad news?”
“Oh, Garl. Just tell me!”
Jory rubbed his hand across his face, and Shamil noticed that he was too pale. His normally dark skin was nearer to the shade of her own. “It got Loogie. I tried to kill it, but Loogie followed us and it…it got him. Poor mutt didn’t have a chance.” His voice cracked on the last word.
“Poor thing. I hope it wasn’t too harsh for him. I liked him.” Shamil was hurt that the daffy mastiff had gotten killed. She had honestly grown fond of the great slobbering beast. “What’s the bad news?” Shamil had assumed that the mastiff’s death had been the really bad news.
Jory swallowed hard. Damn, this is more than I can handle. “I…I’m afraid it got me too. It was just too fast. I was worried about you and I had just seen it eat my dog and I couldn’t get my sword out of the scabbard and it bit me.”
“What?!” The shock and concern were instantaneous. Shamil struggled to get up, and when she succeeded, a throbbing ache settled behind her eyes, making dark spots swim in front of her. She swallowed hard and tried to will away the urge to pass out. When the floaters finally receded, she saw the blood-soaked bandage on Jory’s left shoulder.
“It bit me. I’m still not sure how I got away from it, but I did. I stumbled down to where you were and passed out. I woke up shortly after dark and even though it hurt to use my arm, it wasn’t broken. I couldn’t carry you, so, I drug camp to you. The next day I woke up feeling feverish.”
“Poison.” Shamil’s voice was barely audible.
“I don’t think so. Maybe at first, I think that’s what made me pass out, but I think it would have gone by now. I think it’s an infection.” Jory sighed. “I wish we had a healer with us, or that I knew enough about healing to do something.”
After another day in bed, Shamil’s concussion had healed enough that she no longer felt she was going to pass out every time she moved, but the headache took longer to go away. Even with the headache, though, she tried to take care of Jory. By the end of her first day out of bed, she knew it was hopeless. She just didn’t have the know-how and the red lines of blood poisoning were creeping steadily towards Jory’s heart. She knew those lines. When she was very small, only four or five in human reckoning, she was bit by a small garden spider. The bite became infected and she remembered that there were red lines then, but they faded and went away with her mother’s treatments. How she wished her mother were there!
In the week that followed, Jory lapsed between lucidity and fever-induced delusions, each day the periods of alertness growing fewer and further between. The red lines had marched across his chest, and he developed a rattling, rasping breath. Eight days after the spider bit him, Jory’s last moment of clarity was spent convincing Shamil to return home.
“No, Jory. I can’t go home, not without you and Zook. You’ll get better, I know you will.”
“Shamil, no I won’t. I’ll be lucky to see the sunrise. I know it, and so do you. Please, honey, when I die-”
“You won’t though. I know it always seems like you’re never going to get better when you’re sick, but you do. And you will.”
“Shamil, quit lying to yourself. I’m not getting any better.”
“No buts, Shamil. I need you to promise me that after I die you’ll return home.”
Shamil felt tears begin to leak down her face. “I can’t. There’s nothing for me there.”
“Then find Zook. Take him home and make sure he doesn’t follow in my footsteps. The life of a traveling fighter is no life at all. Please. Promise me that after you find him, you’ll take him home. Please.”
“I promise.” Shamil said.
“I love you, Shamil of Clan Turen, Shamie.”
“I love you too, my Jory.” Shamil broke down and cried as Jory held her. She cried until they both fell asleep.
She woke when she felt Jory’s arms slip from around her. She sat up and tried to figure out what wasn’t right. Then she noticed that the sound of Jory’s strained breathing had ceased. She begged him to breathe, but it did no good. Jory was gone.
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