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Fear  by Ariel

Chapter 3 - Triage

"What was that?"  Milo said, hearing the choked cry from above.  Seredic turned just as the limp form hit and his rosy cheeks instantly paled.  The figure had fallen nerveless, like some discarded doll and now lay in a crumpled heap at the base of the tree.  His heart filled with sick dread.  The figure was far too small to be anything but a young child.

"Oh, no," he whispered and rushed over.  Dark curls and thin, knobby knees were his first impression, but as he got closer his dread became a sinking panic.  This was not some farmer's child who'd taken a misstep, but his own young cousin Frodo.  The boy was barely old enough to be out of his mother's arms and too young to be running about in the forest unsupervised.  Seredic sank beside him, terrified.  Frodo lay unmoving, a clumsy jumble of pale, scraped limbs.  Trembling, Seredic peered into the battered face, hoping beyond hope for some sign that the boy was still breathing.  Milo, coming up behind him, shouted to the others and Darroc and Marmadas, each with a hand on Dody, rushed back also.

"Don't move him!" Seredic hissed as Milo knelt on the other side of Frodo's body.  The boy was still breathing but his lips were rimmed with blood.  His nose was bleeding and his right arm was draped at an odd angle across his chest.  Broken, the older boy thought.  There was a cut on his forehead that oozed blood and several wicked looking scratches across his face.  Seredic was sick with fear.  The boy looked bad, very bad.  "Milo," he commanded, taking his friend's coat urgently.  "Get me two sticks, about his arm's length, and as straight as you can find!"  His friend jumped up to obey and Seredic whipped off his coat and waistcoat to reach his shirt.  The loose cotton weave would serve to tie up a splint.  Darroc and Marmadas, almost carrying the recalcitrant Dody, came up behind Seredic as he began tending Frodo.

"What happened?" asked Darroc in a frightened whisper.

Seredic grunted and shook his head but didn't stop tearing his shirt into strips.  Marmadas looked up into the oak's canopy and whistled low and appreciatively.

"How far up was he?" he murmured.  "Must have been pretty high, or we'd have seen him.  We were right here."

Dody glanced into the treetops also wondering where his little cousin had been sitting.  He'd thrown the necklace from the very spot they now stood.  How could he have missed seeing him?  He peered into the heights.  The bright sun glinted behind a lattice of dark green.  Yes, if Frodo had been high up, even his white shirt would have been obscured.  His stomach lurched with a sudden wave of empathetic vertigo.  The top of the canopy was at least 40 feet above the ground.  Dody shuddered.  He might not have been overly fond of his little cousin, but seeing him lying so still scared him. 

The others were speaking in low, concerned tones, afraid to move the child, but trying to determine what to do.  Darroc's suggestion that they send back to the hall for help was weighed against Frodo's quickly paling face and in the end it was decided they had no time to waste in such an attempt.  They would carry him there themselves.  Dody fidgeted, feeling both useless in this dire matter and still very much in trouble for his theft.  He tried to casually loosen his cousin's hand, hoping to have been forgotten in their preoccupation, but after one furious look from Marmadas, he stopped.  His sullenness and anger returned but he also began to think.  Despite the current situation, he knew the older boys would not overlook his misdeed.  Dody would have to get the necklace back, there was no longer any way around it.  He wondered if subconsciously he had known they would force him to do the right thing - and that had his admission had been a final cry from his conscience.  If indeed he still even had one.  Since the death of his mother, Dody had watched the last of what might have been good in him slip into shadow.

Some small part of him hated what he was becoming, but the rest seemed to welcome the darkness.  It fed his outrage and grief, turning them into bitterness and hate.  It pushed him to strike as he was struck and make others pay for what life had stolen from him, regardless of the consequences.  There might still have been a last bit of light in him, but the bitterness was stronger and Dody could see no way off the dark course his life had taken.

He was still pondering the problem of the necklace's return when a thought began to grow in his mind.  He had thrown it from this point, and though  he had been unable to follow where his cast had led, his young cousin had probably been watching them and his sight would not have been compromised by the sun.

"What if Frodo saw something?" he mused.

Dody didn't realize he'd voiced his question out loud until Marmadas's hand tightened cruelly on his arm.  The younger lad cried out. 

"Is THAT all you care about?!?!" Marmadas hissed.  "Your own worthless hide?  'What if he saw anything?'!?  Why I ought to…"

"Not now!" Seredic growled.  "We have to get this child back to the Hall and quick!  A fall like this could kill him."

Milo returned with the two sticks Seredic requested.  With a shaking hand, Seredic felt at Frodo's neck.  There was a weak but steady pulse.  That, at least, was heartening.  He carefully laid the makeshift splint against Frodo's small arm and began to bind it.  The break was low, just above the elbow, but had not driven the bone much out of line.  Seredic was careful as he tied the splint tightly in place, but the process should still have been extremely painful.  That the child didn't even flinch as the bone was set was a very bad sign.

"I'm going to carry him.  Marmadas, can you get back to the hall quick and see if you can find Drogo?  And we'll need a healer.  Darroc, you go with him and see if you can't locate Daisy Burrows.  Or even old Doc Clearwater, but Daisy'd be better.  She's best with the little ones."  Seredic quickly felt along the child's other limbs.  There were scratches and red welts that he knew would be bruises soon, but none of his other bones seemed broken.  They would have to chance it.  Little Frodo still hadn't so much as twitched.

Darroc nodded and looked to Marmadas.  His friend's face became grim as he nodded in answer but before he took off, he spared Dody a blistering look.  "We aren't through with you yet," he promised.  "We are going to find that necklace and you are going to return it, or so help me, you are going to end in far worse condition than this child."  He gave Dody's arm a final, brutal squeeze and then ran after Darroc down the path.  Dody was left standing sullenly and rubbing his arm as Seredic lifted Frodo.  Milo stabilized the child's splinted limb so that it was supported and did not swing about.

"Dody, I'd really suggest you consider your situation carefully," said Seredic.  "And look for that necklace while we take care of this."  He settled Frodo's small head over his shoulder.  "Things would go a sight better for you if you were the one who returned it, mark my words."

Dody still looked defiant and sullen, but nodded as if agreeing.  "But you misunderstand me," he protested in a low voice.  "I just thought if Frodo saw anything he might tell…"

Mild mannered Milo Burrows reached the end of his tolerance.  He whipped around and landed a hard punch in Dody's shocked face, knocking the lad back and right off his feet.  He had just finished securing Frodo's splinted arm and had found no signs of consciousness in his bright blue eyes.  Dody's seemingly self-centered concerns in the face of the child's dire injury were too much for him to bear.

"You disgust me," gasped Milo through gritted teeth, each word distinct and sharp with loathing.  "This baby's life is a heck of a lot more important than your worthless hide."

Dody writhed, cowering on the ground and holding his hand to his nose.  It was bleeding.  Even Seredic looked down at him with sad contempt.  Milo shook his head and dismissed the younger boy with a wave of his hand. 

"Ah, you're not even worth bothering with…" 

Without another word, they started off down the path leaving Dody lying in the dust.  He watched their retreating backs and felt a cold anger rise in him.  

They misunderstood him so completely, thinking he was only worried that Frodo might wake and say something to incriminate him, that he no longer felt any inclination to step back into the light.  It wouldn't matter if he explained, as he was desperately assuring himself, that he was only voicing his ironic observation that under better circumstances, Frodo might have told them exactly where the necklace lay.  They already thought him useless and cruel, unable to even feel pity for an injuried child, and nothing would change their perceptions, of that he was sure.  He had tried to make a gesture, to take the first step in returning the stones, but such leanings had now been beaten irrevocably out of him by Milo and Marmadas.  Damn them.  Damn them all.

He drew his knees up to his chest and sat under the old oak nursing his bleeding nose and feeling very, very sorry for himself.


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