“When I met you, no, when I first noticed you ahiding in that tree – did I ever tell you how I was feeling right then.”
“That’s a bit of a jump from doing the usual and talking about the future or how farmers can be useful, huh? But I know you were feeling down and dismal. You’ve said that you were tired of the same thing day after day and never any suggestion that thing’s would get better. Mind you, for some time, they got a lot worse, eh?”
“I’ll try not to think about that. All that time at the camp, my dratted brother then the exit from the camp. But last night I had a real bad dream. As if I was back there and we didn’t succeed with the malice. So I didn’t save you. I didn’t save anybody. And all this” he waved his hands wide, “never would, will have or did happen. Not a good dream.”
“Hoo, old man, that’s not a good way to start the day.”
“Are you being a Sean – calling me ‘old man’ so rudely. I’ll show you exactly how old I am in a minute.”
“Of course I was being rude. But it seems to have broken that depressing way you were talking. When you’ve had some hot tea and toast, you can talk about that bad stuff. If there’s still a need, that is.”
“Y’know, you’re a clever lass wrapped up in that tiny body. I’m kinda glad we got together. I’m not sure in what ways my life could be any better. But, golly, am I glad that dream never came out.” As Fawn passed by, he grabbed the edge of her apron and pulled her onto his lap.
“I said ‘not yet’. If you can’t remember what I said a moment ago then you are an old man , and your memory’s given out on you. Huh.” She gave him a lengthy kiss, then skipped away.
Silence reigned for a while. As with any household, there were tasks to do and even with willing hands, every job takes time. Clearing the fire, cleaning the pots, filling the log-box, brushing down, tidying up, putting in, getting out, sorting what was left and getting everything right. Then there was time for the tea and toast – with new-set briarberry jam (even tho' Dag called it dingleberry jam because of the briar-cores).
Eventually, the final set of morning tasks were done and it was time for Dag and Spark to move into the medicine hut.
“Dag, what did you mean when you said ‘if you hadn’t met me ……..?” There was a long pause after she spoke.
After a pause of typical Dag-length, he replied. “How much of the world has changed because of our meeting? Would any prophecy, any fortune-teller, any liar have come up with such a series of events as have occurred. I cannot say and will not claim ‘because of us’ but we were very nearby when the changes happened. The discovery and solution for entanglement; the idea of lock-nuts, working with protected farmers, useful interaction between lakewalkers and farmers which is almost the most amazing. Crosssbows with killing-bolts. I can be so glad that sometimes we can kill a malice without touching it. Vile, nasty things. But I am tired. I couldn’t have done it without you. In truth – none of it would have happened without you.”
“What, you mean all the good things ….. like being thrown out of your Clan, forced to go travelling, forced to meet and talk and work with Farmers. No – none of THAT would have happened. But then none of THIS would have happened.” And Fawn’s gesture took in the house, the nearby houses, buildings, the new Healing Village. And her wider wave took in the rest of the World.
Without realising it, both turned to look at each other at the exact same moment with exactly the same smiling expression; somehow reflecting all the hurts in the past, the present filled with satisfaction and some certainty and the future as assured as might be.
Dag paused and Spark took up the talking.
“Hush now about what came first. I’ve no time for silly talk about chickens and eggs. Would there be babies without parents? Could there be ideas without their sort of parents? Changes comes as they may. Betimes, an idea may have many parents each contibuting a cog or a wheel – at others, sudden necessity can do the creating. Would the crossbow-knife ever have existed without the batmen, your dropped knife, your young farmer wife with just sufficient knowledge of malices, without the Lake-crafted crossbow. So many steps to reach a destination. You know – you were there. How many steps did it take from meeting me to me making the first crossbow-knife, and how many more until the first patrol with Farmer helpers? Everything takes time. Some thngs are quick – like realizing I was hiding in the tree. Others take even longer than babies.”
“Oh, alright. I’ll hush a bit in how much I try to keep quiet about all the things that people say that I did, or when you're listening, that we did. But there’s some pretty extravagant story-telling going on. I hear it at every camp-meet, every scout-party. Always. And so far from the truth.”
“Dag, my dear, Truth is a tricky thing. What people hear is often not what was said. What people say they saw is wildly adrift from what was real. There’s always stories to be told. Some they tell about people you’ve never heard of ….. and I’ve been there when they told stories about you which were, first, almost beyond belief and second, very clearly not based on a real-life Lake-type fellow like the one sitting near me. Such very unlikely stories – how anyone could believe those I have no idea. And as for the idea that you’d do anything bigger than that Wolf-Malice Battle. Well, that’d be expectin’ some sort of miracle, now wouldn’t it. People believe what they want to believe. And if it’s too real or not excitin’ enough they’ll invent some fluff or other to fill their heads with moonbeams. How silly. Ain’t a real baby exciting enough – why go out and look for bigger trouble.”
“Och, me darlin’ Sparkle. For many a woman, indeed, a baby is enough. But your man being a competitive animal rather than actually dealing with day-to-day tasks back at camp like most of the womenfolk – well, perhaps we see both wider and simpler. If a Malice is to be prevented – then we ride. That’s what we believe in and what those of us who go huntin’ such vile trash do as our daily deed. It has to be enough. Even as we will fade with the sun, so we must pray the last malice goes before us.”
“I can’t work out whether you’ve got a case of the dismals or you’re just being your normal self. Come on, dear – compared to where the land was some 15 years ago, nearly 20 – those years before you met me, there’s been so many improvements. Look in the mirror and be proud. Look into my eyes and see how proud I am of you. Listen to the folk who visit and reckon on how things have changed.”
“Reet as always.” Dag ignored the snort from Spark when he used Vilner’s standard response. “But since the farmer-towns are getting busier and the Lake patrols are, some years, finding fewer malices – do we have to plan for things to get worse and the malice-hunters to get slack. Those are big new risks all building on the changes that have come about.”
“Oh dear me. There’s proud and there’s being responsible for everything. Hush, you ninny. The Great Camp and the Camp Captains have to be in charge of all that. They’ve chosen, or been chosen to be fair, and now it’s their responsibility. Not yours – oh great Lake Traveller who wants everything to be nice.”
“I don’t think my life is a great example of everything and everyone being nice.”
“Oh, pfof. I’m only interested in the days since we met. You can’t say that’s been all bad. Maybe a tad too interesting at times – but bad. Don’t be a ninny.”
“But there’s days when you have to look around and there’s things to see that nobody else is seeing.”
“Mayhap you’re seeing more than is there. Mayhap you’re being my sort of ninny. Now just shut up and eat a pancake.”
“Ooh pancakes – I thought I smelt hot melting butter. Such an immediate antidote for so many problems.”
Spark smiled. Granny always said ‘Feed a man …. and he might stop thinking so much.’