Chapter 9

Entailing the painstaking diversion of healing Koen's foot

      After a moment looking past Koen and seeing that there wasn't actually any barbarian storming across the bridge after them, Shepry and the fisherman determined they'd be able to help ease Koen's walk down the rest of the path to town.
      "I'm Kai," the fisherman at last introduced himself as the panic died down during the walk. He was dressed eccentrically, but Shepry and Koen weren't exactly able to judge that. Compared to them, his clothes were much farther on the normal side. His gloves and boots gave a sort of odd impression, but they're surely very useful to the outdoorsman type. What was particularly eye-catching was his pair of goggles presently on his forehead, with a metallic rim around each lens. Maybe they're used for swimming.
      "Well we're Shepry and Koen," Shepry said from the other side of Koen.
      Koen had been waiting to ask this question, but only just managed to keep courteous enough as to wait until the formailities had finished: "Why in God's name do you have such an excessively big fish hook?"
      "Er... One day I might want to catch an excessively big fish," he answered with a shaky smile.
      "I hope you have an excessively big bobber to keep that thing floating," Koen quipped.
      "Actually, it's just by bad luck that I ended up with that hook. Things like that happen to me all the time. I just lost one hook a moment ago because this prob--... Disaster occurred." He thought it would be untactful to make himself sound like the victim of this situation, so he used a more urgent word, "I had a fish on my line, and I could tell it would just be a huge one, but when I heard what was happening to you, I got startled and accidentally snapped the line. I just left my fishing rod on the ground there, as well as the couple fish I already had."
      "Yeah," Koen said, "That's even worse than getting impaled by an oversized hook."
      Shepry started to try to hush Koen, but not quickly enough.
      "Maybe it's not as painful, but I've been out since sunrise working for those fish! It takes time to get to just the right place, figure out where the current is most favorable, and where all the fish like to pass by!"
      "Guys!" Shepry tried to interject.
      "Oh, fishing since sunrise, huh?" Koen went on, ignoring her, "Let me tell you about what happened at our house at sunrise."
      "HEY!" She then stopped right in the road, forcing the other two to stop as well since everyone was helping Koen walk. Kai looked at Shepry, and Koen kept staring Kai down, but turned his head the same way when he didn't return the stare. "We've made it pretty well into town here," she alerted them, implying how obvious it should have been.
      "Huh," Koen said, finally aware of his surroundings, "So we have. Hey!" He then called to the nearest person the them on the street, walking past them. He held his foot out to show the man his wound, and said "Where's the doctor 'round here?"
      "Oh THAT looks nice," he said in regards to Koen's hooked foot, "What you need to do is go down the street that way," he pointed back the direction they'd just came, "until you see a row of shrubs, then take three left turns (the first you'll be able to take on the street) and you'll come to a gray building, which is where you'll need to take a right. That's the best way to get to the doctor."
      "Thanks," Koen said, then added under his breath, "Now I get to walk some more..."
      The three of them began turning around and trudging in the other direction, but Shepry lagged up a bit before stopping again after no more than five steps. "Wait a second..." she said, apparently concentrating on something," If we follow those directions, we're just going to end up right back at this spot... Which must mean we're already right at the doctor's office."
      Koen and Kai looked around at the nearby streets, spotted the gray building mentioned by the person who gave them directions, and also worked it out in their heads. At last all three turned and looked at the little orange building right next to them.
      "Ah," Kai said.
      Koen added "Well that's... Good..." He would have liked to bring this issue up with the man who'd just given these directions, but he was just a little too far down the street, and he just wanted to get his foot fixed up as soon as possible.
      Everyone went inside to find a decidedly small doctor's office. It was apparently only one room. They entered in the far left end of the building, and although there was a door down at the other end, everyone assumed it was just some little closet. Koen then took his arms from the others and hopped loudly across the tiled floor and heavily took a seat on the doctor's table. He once again liften his unbooted foot into the air to present his wound to the doctor who sat at the opposite end of the room. He'd been reading something, but just looked at the three people entering his office without even moving. Koen was absolutely not looking forward to this visit, and he'd planned to just trudge in and get the business finished as soon as it could be. He hadn't even looked directly at the doctor until he noticed him not moving from his seat, and at that time, he pointed at his uplifted foot and barked "Help," eyes widened to imply how obvious it should have been.
      With this, the short, balding doctor stood up and approached the table, grabbing Koen's heel to lift his foot up for a closer look. "Oh my," the doctor said with apparent graveness, "It's a good thing you showed up when you did! This will take some time to heal," and at that moment he suddenly grabbed the hook with a finger and a thumb and swiftly pulled it straight out.
      "Oh come on, Koen," Shepry interrupted, "That can't be as bad as when it went in."
      He just clenched his lips together, then said "It's TWICE as bad! Just look at the barb on the end!"
      The doctor bandaged Koen's foot just a moment after removing the hook, but there were no cries of pain at that. Koen then leaned back and lay flat on the table with his eyes closed.
      "Well doc," he said, "Is it all filled up with infections? Am I going to be dead by the end of the day or what?"
      "Oh, definitely!" came the doctor's reply. Koen sat up again and joined Shepry and Kai in giving the doctor a stunned stare. Koen didn't snap upright too quickly though, because he wasn't sure if the doctor was being sarcastic. After a few seconds of silent staring though, the doctor didn't even start to crack a smile.
      "Unless..." the doctor then began, "Well, MAYBE there's an outrageous chance you could save yourself, but probably not."
      "Koen's going to die within the day?" Shepry piped in, trying not to sound worried since she was certain this was a bad joke or a stupid mistake, "You aren't serious about this, are you?"
      "I have never been more serious in my life," the doctor sternly replied, still showing absolutely no signs of jest.
      "Whoa, hey!" Koen interjected, jumping up on his good foot, "Tell me what this outrageous chance is right now! No matter how hard it is, I'm going to go out and get it done! I can't just go on with my life like it's no problem!"
      "That's exactly right!" The doctor said to him, only just now showing signs of hospitality, "This might sound strange, but it's very important that you take this all as fact: What you need to cure your morbidly infected foot is a rare kind of tulip with petals colored with a swirly red and blue pattern. It's an extremely rare plant, and this exact species produces some sort of miraculous curative ingredient. The only known place to find them is in a specific place in the woods out to the east of here. You'll eventually find yourself at the top of a steep cliff, and the plant grows on a small ledge about a third of the way down that cliff, so you'll have to find some way to get down there or climb up from the bottom if you can manage to find a way around there. You probably don't want to do that though..."
      "Why not?" Shepry asked.
      "It's a great deal more dangerous going from the bottom to the top because, as you probably know, there are many, many bears around those woods. People see them every day."
      "Even when they don't go to that area?" Shepry asked, "Could we run into one before we even find the cliff?"
      "It is a very real possibility," the doctor told her, once again looking serious. "To be honest, the town was practically dependent on this flower for all kinds of reasons at one point, but now they've been harvested to the point that the patch on the cliff is all that anybody knows about anymore. People took them for granted and just picked them out of the ground left and right. Now we have nobody who could ever successfully go out and recover the flowers."
      "OK!" Koen immediately proclaimed, arms raised, "Unless there's anything else I REALLY need to know, I'd like to get going before I decide to start grieving for my own life and curl up and die."
      "Good luck with that," was the doctor's only response.
      He re-tied his boot over the bandaged foot, hopped off the table and made a stride for the door and once outside, took a look toward the eastern woods and around the town. Shepry and Kai stood right behind him. "You know I'm going with you," Shepry told Koen, more in a manner of stating the obvious than in a way of expecting a surprised reaction.
      "I'd like to help too," Kai said, "It was my hook after all. I couldn't live just letting you go like this."
      Koen took a deep breath and began walking toward the woods. He no longer clung to his companions' shoulders or hopped on one leg, and although he limped a little, he tried to keep a normal pace. He caught a sudden scent of salty air, and realized they were in a port town. The sea was even visible when he looked to the southwest through town.
      "You two better not slow me down," Koen said to the others, "I plan on saving my life as soon as I'm possibly able."
      "Don't worry about that," Shepry said, then teasingly added "... Limpy." He didn't acknowledge this joke. "Do you think you're going to be able to climb down a rocky cliff with a lame foot like that?"
      "Hmmm," he pondered, still looking around town as he walked, "Probably not."
      He stopped near a big stone building with damage to one of its walls, under repair by a few of the local men. There appeared to be some damage high up on the wall, so they were using a pulley system to lift large stone bricks to the top. Presently, nobody was using it, but one brick was tied to the rope and sitting on the ground.
      "HEY!" Koen called to the men, who were all busy working on the high damaged part of the wall, "Do you guys need this rope?"
      "Koen!" Shepry snapped, "It's obvious that they do! Why are you even asking?"
      "She's right," Kai added, "We should probably just take it before any of them come down here."
      Shepry was going to protest this new plan, but soon came the response from the top, "No, we're not going to use that at all! You can take it if you want it!"
      "Great!" Koen said, and he and Kai began detaching the rope from its mechanism.
      "Hey, since you're doing that, you might as well take some of the extra length of rope sitting there too! We don't need that either!" the worker called again.
      "Ooh, I didn't even see that," Koen said.
      "Right, just take it all!"
      Koen and Kai each held a coiled rope around their shoulder, and the walk to the woods began again. Shepry was awestruck by the transaction she saw, and had to stand for a moment looking from the workers to the boys, expecting somebody to yell "just kidding" or that she'd realize it hadn't actually just happened.
      "Did you need something else?" the same worker called down to her. She didn't even look up at him, but just began walking after the other two.
      "See, Shepry? Now if the cliff is too rough and rocky for me to climb down, you can just lower me to the flower patch with this rope!"
      "W-.... Uh... Well I don't know if I'm really strong enough to do that..."
      "Maybe we can tie this to a tree and climb down the cliff like that," Kai piped up.
      "There's an idea," Koen agreed.
      "Isn't it weird that they just GAVE these ropes to us?" Shepry had to ask.
      "It doesn't matter," Koen said, "If my life is in danger, I'd have just stolen this anyway. It's just rope."
      "Exactly," Kai supported, "Anyway, I'm sure the guys in town would much rather use the rope to save somebody's life than repair that building. SURELY they saw the importance of it."
      They were at this time making their way into the woods outside town. Things were becoming quieter, and each time one of them looked back, the trees obscured the nearby buildings more and more, until finally they completely vanished. There was nothing to be seen in any direction except the forest.
      "So, Kai," Koen began, "We probably got off on the wrong foot... Literally..."
      "How is that 'literally'?" Shepry said inaudibly.
      "... But it looks like having you along here could be useful. For one thing, we'd probably have been clubbed to death by Mr. crazy barbarian guy if you hadn't fended him off like you did."
      "Right, I've really been dying to ask you guys about him. How do you two know that crazy man?"
      "We don't!" Koen exclaimed, "I swear! We just saw him wandering in the woods way back across the river, waved at him and said hi, and he just went berserk and chased us through the woods! We were able to hide from him, and I threw my boot at his face, but I guess all I did was teach him a new way to try and kill things. At least I got my boot back when he saw us the second time."
      "You didn't perhaps... Say something to offend him? Or maybe he provoked you saying something to you?"
      "I don't think we said a thing to him except 'hey there,' and honestly, I don't think he's even capable of speaking. All he does is yell 'BARG' at us every time he sees us."
      "Ha! Maybe he's saying his name. You know, like some of the birds do."
      "Heh. He's Barg, professional bargarian buy--"
      Shepry and Kai laughed. "Barg, barbarian guy?" Shepry corrected.
      With a brief pseudo-frustrated look, Koen said "Yes... So Kai, how did that go when you were trying to keep him away from us? You said he isn't dead, right? And I see you emptied your supply of arrows."
      "Oh yeah, let me tell you, it was immediately obvious that this man has possibly never been in his right mind. Of course he was still a good distance away when you two started running, so with my first shot, I thought I'd just try to scare him. You know, show him I'm serious. I fired just over his head, and I assume he heard it fly past him, because he stopped immediately and turned around to see where it went. Of course, it was far behind him, so he just turned right back around and came at me again. I'm trying to run away from him all the while, so aiming was hard. The second shot hit a tree right next to him, and that startled him even more than the first one. He stops to inspect it for a couple of seconds (very valuable time in making an escape), then he takes it out of the tree and tries to throw it at me! Naturally, it didn't go very far, but I was still surprised at how close it came. He's a very strong barbarian guy. I kept running away, shooting, running away, shooting. He kept trying to throw what arrows he could at me, but he was having even less luck than me. I think he caught the fact that the bow has something to do with it, because he soon grabbed my fishing rod from the ground and tried swinging that around while still throwing arrows.
      "Well, the dumb lump of muscle got my fishing line wrapped around his leg, tripped, fell down, and had to untangle himself. When I saw that happen, I knew I had to take this opportunity before it was gone. I put my goggles on and stopped to take as much time as I could aiming this shot. It was the very last arrow I had. I drew back and fired just as he was getting back on his feet and free from the line... But sadly, it fell short. I just hit him in the foot. He roared like hell, and at that point I decided it was time to just run as fast as my legs could take me. That's when I got to the bridge and met back up with you two."
      Shepry and Koen smiled momentarily at the end of the story, but Shepry, with sudden realization, exclaimed "Oh! Damn! This could very well deter us in the future..."
      Koen and Kai didn't see the same ominous sign.
      Shepry walked backwards in front of them as she explained, "The first time we ran into Barg, he just had some big wooden club, probably something he'd found lying on the ground, right? When we hid in the library, it was Koen throwing a boot at him that finally made him leave us alone. The next time we saw him, he attacked us by throwing the boot at us, just like we did to him! So since he got attacked by a bow and arrow... What if he's going to learn how to use that next?"
      Koen and Kai slowed their pace almost to a stop while hearing this theory. "Oh man," Koen said, "It's true... He did copy what we'd done to him by the second time we met him. I don't know thouh, maybe he's not smart enough to work out the mechanics of a bow and arrow. After all, if he'd never gotten the idea to throw things at whatever he wanted to kill in the wild, you'd think that once we showed him through the example of a boot, he'd at least have enough of a mind to use something heavier on us, like a big rock, or even his club. Maybe when we see him again, he's just going to try to throw a bunch of broken arrows at us. But y'know, if he's still trying to follow us, he'll have to go through that town, and I don't think that'll go well for him."
      "We just HAD to call out to him back there..." Shepry sighed.
      For several seconds, the three of them walked in silence, returning to their normal pace.
      "Y'know..." Koen began, reluctant to break that silence, "If I'm supposed to be dead within the day, he's probably only going to deter YOU in the future... I guess it's one thing I won't have to worry about."
      "Koen," She said as she looked directly eye-to-eye with him, "You aren't going to die. Even if I do have to lower you down that cliff on my own, you aren't going out like this..."
      He lifted his head to smile at her, and at that time, he didn't look at all like he'd resigned himself to die of a deadly infection.
      "Don't think you can leave me to deal with crazed barbarian guy attacks on my own, " She continued.
      It hadn't completely sunk into Shepry's mind that he could die within the day. She believed he had a similar feeling, and she kept hoping it never would fully sink in for either of them. As long as she kept him focused on the goal set immediately ahead of them, her spirit stayed aloft. If she kept her pace slowed to compensate for his slight limp, and as long as she saw no evidence that he was getting worse, it helped her to pretend there wasn't any problem. She didn't want his last day on earth to be grim, and she didn't want this to be the day. If she kept one condition from coming true, maybe the other would stay away as well.
      "Kai," Koen started again, "Why do you have such a knack for getting sharp objects stuck in people's feet?"
      Kai started to laugh, but couldn't immediately tell if that was a joke. "I think I've somehow been permanently cursed with bad luck."
      "That's a pretty bad way to be if you're a fisherman."
      "Or a hunter," Shepry added, "I assume that's what your bow is generally for, right?"
      "It is, it is," Kai went on, "And really, my bad luck is selective about when it wants to take effect. I really don't have a problem finding fish, but I've snapped so many lines... Besides that, I'm not bad at tracking down animals in the woods (deer, rabbits, or whatever), and I know I can aim well enough, but for some reason, the animals just suddenly decide as soon as I let go of the arrow that they feel they'd be happier two steps to the left of where I aimed."
      "That's not how it goes EVERY time, is it?" Koen asked.
      "I've... Managed to keep myself alive, of course. But I could be fat and rich if I were a lucky man."
      "Well!" Koen said, "Maybe with us, that can change! I consider myself to be an unusually lucky person. That is... Until... Pretty much everything that's happened to me today... It'll get us out of trouble in the end, though, I'm sure! Everything has a way of working itself out to my benefit sooner or later. Isn't that right Shepry?"
      "Eh..." She started, "I don't entirely believe in luck."
      "Oh, booo," Koen responded.
      "Really! The way I see it, a person's idea of being generally lucky or generally unlucky is just their inherent optimism or pessimism. No offense to Kai. Maybe a few individual moments are lucky or unlucky, but you're more likely to remember certain turnouts more than others based on how well they corroborate your existing opinion."
      "So," Koen continued, "We've got one lucky person, one unlucky person, and one person who doesn't believe in either. I guess we've got a 50-50 chance of success here."
      "I'd place the odds better than that," Shepry replied.
      "Oh? Why's that?" Koen asked, "Do you actually believe you've got good luck?"
      "No," She answered, "But I believe we're strong-willed enough to overcome the odds. And I'll go down that cliff headfirst to be sure of it."

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