Chapter 8

Shepry and Koen meet someone new and someone old heading to town under painful circumstances (mostly for Koen)

      The ordeal at Saffron's house took some time for Shepry and Koen to cope with. Trig had created such an awkward situation with one sentence, and they were still feeling the effects of it. Koen still felt somehow embarrassed about the way he'd stared at Saffron, so he didn't want to bring up the fact that he'd hardly eaten any of his food, and he assumed that Shepry would go easy on him regarding the ordeal, despite her definite suspicion of it all along. She certainly wanted to express her annoyance with him staring like that, but it was a lot easier to be mad at the far-too-forward Trig, and it wouldn't do much good to bother Koen with it since they never wanted to return to that cottage.
      As they continued through the woods (as they would have if they'd never encountered Saffron) Shepry simply provided remarks about Trig such as "What a disturbing thing to say" or "How can he say a gross thing like that about his daughter?" just to keep the conversation moving and to keep one of the more awkward subjects from coming up, such as "Just what IS the answer to that question?" As Shepry went on with this, Koen just walked in virtual silence, maybe just nodding or making weak sounds of agreement with a comment or two and trying not to look right at her. He just ambled on, staring at the clouds and treetops, waiting for something to happen. He locked his hands on top of his hat and leaned back, eyes closed. A nearby sound of flowing water came to him. Must be a river or something. Maybe this means a nice welcome town is nearby. He suddenly became aware that his socks were probably getting very dirty walking over the ground, but he didn't care. It was refreshing to keep walking while aware of it, to just blantantly defy the ordinary standard of worrying about his socks. The world wouldn't end if his socks were dirty or had a little hole in them. Then again, he just remembered, this was the only pair he still had. That's when his left foot was stricken with sudden intense sharp pain.
      "AAAAAAA" Koen cried, immediately yanking his foot into the air to clutch it in his hands. He almost fell, but not quite.
      Shepry jumped a step away, startled, and also screamed when she saw what happened. A big hooked metal object was in Koen's foot, just past his toes. She and Koen were very close to the river now, and as they were screaming, a third voice joined in. A red-haired fellow with a fishing rod in his hand came to the scene and pointed and screamed at the hook now stuck in Koen's foot. Could that really be a fishing hook? Shepry and Koen wanted to ask through fits of unintelligble screaming. Before anyone could get settled down though, a fourth voice came from the woods that Shepry and Koen were just leaving.
      That's when Koen's head was stricken with a sudden blunt pain. He'd still been trying to hop around, balancing on one foot, but this knocked him to the ground on his face. The source of this new pain landed on the ground in front of him. Apparently it had been a projectile boot, meant to go on a right foot just the size of Koen's. Finally this silenced all other screams. The boy with red hair was now running away from Shepry and Koen.
      "Koen!" Shepry shouted, "Quick, put that boot on! We need to get running out of here!"
      He tied the fastest knot he'd ever wanted to tie, but one just tight enough to keep the boot from falling off. He looked over his shoulder while blindly tying and saw that the strange barbarian guy was much farther away than his cry seemed to indicate, but of course he was rapidly closing the gap. Shepry grabbed Koen's arm and did her very best to help him farther down the bank of the river. They'd probably be better off swimming straight across the river, in case their pursuer doesn't know how, but it would surely be bad for Koen's foot. They both knew that they couldn't find a safe place to hide before he caught them this time, so they'd have to take their chances on foot. It looked like their might be a bridge downstream, so maybe somebody stood guard over it and could help them.
      Shepry looked over her shoulder to assess the distance between the two of them and their hefty pursuer, and just noticed that the red-haired fisherman was returning with a bow in his hands and a quiver on his back. He called "You two wait for me at the bridge! I'll be able to meet you up there after I fend this guy off!"
      They didn't turn back for another look until they had reached the bridge and gained enough ground to put that whole scene out of sight. A road sign with "Viron" written on it pointed across the bridge.

      Koen huffed with pain and exhaustion as he leaned against the railing of the wooden bridge. It wasn't very easy to lean on as it just came up to about thigh height. It was hard to hide expressions of pain, but he tried to look as calm as he could given the circumstances as he held his foot off the ground. Usually whe someone's hurt, a second injury makes the first one seem less painful, but getting hit in the head with his boot barely made a difference at all to Koen.
      In the middle of the bridge, Shepry sat down in front of Koen, also noticeably tired from having to help him run that whole distance. Her right arm and shoulder were sore from supporting him, but she also tried not to show pain lest they be tempted to make themselves too comfortable in one place before needing to flee again. Partly as a way of excusing herself sitting down, she said, "Let me see how your foot looks, Koen."
      He held it up in front of her but tried not to get it within arm's reach. "I don't want you to try pulling it out or something now. Just tell me how bad it is."
      He was understandably bitter in this condition. "It's pretty well stuck in there, but actually not bleeding much at all," Shepry said. "It's pretty surprising that it didn't come out with all that jumping and moving around you did when it happened," She suggested with an attempted smile.
      "It's a damned marvel," Koen bluntly replied, once again lowering his foot but not letting it touch the ground. Having one boot on certainly made it easier.
      They sat in silence for five more minutes before the fisherman came trotting over the bridge, right past the two of them. "Okay, it's time to get moving!" He said, waving them on to follow him.
      Koen had a target now to give responsibility for the condition of his foot. "No! No more running!" He immediately protested, but this went unnoticed as Shepry started to reluctantly follow him to the end of the bridge. Koen began trying to hop on one foot after them, but it was pretty difficult to do on his own. He looked back to make sure immediate danger wasn't right behind him.
      "Wait, wait," Shepry said to the fisherman, "Is he still out there?" As soon as he turned around, she stopped following him, so that she might convince him to momentarily halt.
      "Um..." He said, now half-jogging backwards, "That he is, but what we need to focus on now is getting to town! We need to get your friend's foot fixed up, right?"
      "Y-yeah... But do we really need to make him run like that?"
      "That would be the best way to go, really! I'm not sure how much time we have to get away safely. The town isn't far away at all though."
      Koen limped heavily to catch up with them. On the flat wood of the bridge, he could just barely step on his left heel without the hook touching the ground too, but back on the grass again, even the heavily tread grass of the trail, he didn't dare to attempt that. It was back to the one-legged hopping. He finally made it up to them as they were talking and immediately grabbed Shepry's shoulder. An old road sign just off the bridge was labeled "Viron" but this one was pointing back across the bridge in the direction they just came.
      "What's wrong with the road signs?" Koen pointed out more to Shepry than this new stranger, "Is that the name of this bridge or something?"
      "It's the name of the town just down this trail," he answered anyway. "Why that sign points the other way, I do not know. Maybe someone thought it would be funny to turn it around."
      Now that they took a good look, Shepry and Koen could see some buildings up ahead, obscured only by a few thickets of trees.

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