Lacey crouched beside him. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
“Get away from me!” He fought to escape but as soon as he tried to use his injured leg, he screamed in agony and collapsed.
How had he even made it this far? His leg was covered in blood, dirt and pine needles. She cringed at the mess of exposed muscle, and severed strands of leg fat. It didn’t seem real, especially the part where she was responsible for it.
“I was just trying to go home,” she whispered.
He his breath came in panting gasps, and his eyes stared at nothing. Lacey knew that look—the way his face was drained of color. He was in shock. She needed to keep him safe from the Wished hunters; he would be helpless if they found him.
Nearby, there was a spot where the layer of rock and stone beneath the forest floor jutted up like a small hidden fortress amid the pine trees. There was a deep shadow in the crack between two rocks, and somehow Lacey knew it was a cave.
“Let me help you Devan.” She put her hands under his armpits to lift him up and he startled.
“No, I have to keep going! I will be safe, I will have everything I need.” His hands reached out in front of him again, scratching grooves in the earth, in an attempt to drag himself forward. The well was calling him.
“Devan, don’t listen to it. The well has nothing you want”
“The well?” He croaked. “I need the well, I have been looking for it. Why won’t you take me to it?” He tried to push himself with his feet, and passed out.
Lacey sighed in relief. She crooked her elbows under his armpits and dragged his body inch by inch to the rocks. It took some doing to get Devan through the crack, but the cave opened up once they were inside. There was just enough light next to the entrance to see by, so she didn’t venture to far inside. As soon as she found a flat spot that was big enough, she laid him down and bunched his cloak up under his head for a pillow.
Her hands shook as she cut away the crusty fabric of his pant leg with the same blade she had stabbed him with. His wound was warm and wet; dirt and pine needles were ground in. Blood flowed down his leg in rivulets. She dabbed at it but more leaked out. Lacey tore a strip from the ruined pant leg and tied it tight against the wound. At least she could stop the bleeding.
The light from outside was starting to fade. Had an entire day already passed? The stone beneath her was already cold enough to seep into her bones. It would get even colder once the sun went down. Devan was shivering; she needed to keep him warm.
A fire would have been ideal, but Lacey was too exhausted to build one, or even think about how to build one without sending out a clear signal for Goeden and his cats could follow. Body heat was all she could think of, so she laid down next to him and tucked her cloak around them. She pressed close, trying to will the heat from her body to his.
At least for now they were safe. She would figure out the rest in the morning when it was light again.
* * *
Lacey stared into the void above her. The cave was so black that she couldn’t see even see Devan’s silouette beside her.
She had been dreaming. She went to Old Joe for the morning milk order, and he met her at the door with dead eyes and a slashing knife. She woke up just short of screaming.
How could she ever go home now? The hunters would go back to the village and tell everyone that she had led them into a trap and stabbed Devan—if any of them had even survived. A whimper blubbered in the back of her throat. They might all be dead except for Devan. Riley, Fergin, Barstow, Petrina and Kaleigh.
The hunters had been the only people in the village who had never treated her differently. Whether she was a normal little girl like Mama wanted, or she was a creature from the Wish Wood, didn’t matter--they treated her like family. And this is how she repaid them. It wasn’t even that they might think she had led them into a trap; it was the truth of it. She betrayed them. It was her fault. All of it.
Beside her, Devan fussed and shifted in his sleep, flinging an arm over his head. She reached out in the dark and touched his arm uncertainly, and then she pressed down in firm reassurance. This was the last thing she had ever imagined she would be doing.
Heat radiated from him. She furrowed her brow and touched the back of her hand to his forehead. His skin was hot and dry. This wasn’t good. He had a fever.
Lacey didn’t know much about healing. But she had helped Mama take care of Ella when her sister had mosquito fever. Mama had sent Lacey to get medicine from the healer. But there were no medicines or healer in the Wish Wood. Water, he would need water, and Lacey could hear a trickle at the back of the cave.
Devan must have a water skin, if he was in training to be a hunter now. She sat up and fumbled at his belt, running her fingers along the leather until she felt the bump of his empty knife sheath and the water skin next to it.
As she unhooked the skin from his belt, his body jerked. He flailed in the dark, slapping her in the face. “Get off me! Please don’t hurt me! Mercy!”
“I’m just trying to help.” Lacey grabbed his wrists.
“I don’t need your help.” He collapsed back gasping.
“You are feverish. You need water. Just lie still.”
He rolled away from her. “Whatever.”
She opened the water skin, yanked him back toward her, and shoved it to his lips. “Drink. Then, I will get more.”
There was only a dribble of water left and her aim was less than perfect in the dark. She heard him swallow though, so at least some of the water ended up where she intended. Once it was gone he rolled back away from her. She tucked her cloak tighter around his shoulders and he didn’t complain. The gurgle of water echoed at the back of the cave and she crawled over the stone floor, not wanting to trip or hit her head in the dark.
The cave continued down in a tunnel at the back of the main chamber. She squeezed into the narrow shaft and let the water noises guide her. It was obviously a spring, nestled somewhere beneath the forest floor. The sound grew louder and the walls of the tunnel widened until she was in another small chamber. The stones under her became damp and soon her hands splashed in a warm puddle.
She plunged both hands into the waters. A current flowed up from somewhere deep within Eridan, and she imagined the water pumping like blood from a heart. It would have been better for Devan if it were cold, to bring down the fever, but it was soothing to her sore hands. She wished the pool was big enough to sink her whole body into.
After a moment the warmth in her hands spread to her body, and nestled in her core, continuing to radiate from within her like a mini sun. It made her think of her bed at home, snuggling under the down comforter with Ella, and the warmth of the ovens as Mama built up the fire for the day’s baking.
Reluctantly Lacey pulled her hands out of the water and filled the skin. She retraced her path to the main chamber.
The rest of the night was spent tending to Devan, giving him sips of water, and applying a dampened cloth to his forehead and back of his neck. She used a trick of Mama’s to cool the cloth by spinning it in the air each time it grew warm. Each time, the water from the cloth evaporated and his skin would quickly become as dry as paper again. Devan spent the night half-heartedly resisting her ministrations, and she learned an entirely new vocabulary of mining camp swear words.
Hours passed, and eventually he fell into a restless sleep, alternating between shivering and tossing the cloak off his body. Lacey’s eyes were drooping, but she forced herself to stay awake, going back to the spring a couple of times to replenish the water, and repeating the process of spinning the cloth cool and trying to press back the fever.
The first hints of morning light were seeping through the cave entrance, when she felt his brow and her hand came away dripping with sweat. The fever was broken.
YOU ARE READING
Lacey is a bat girl. Seven years ago, her mother wished at the well in the heart of the Wish Wood, transforming a young bat-ling into a human girl--mostly human. But Lacey is growing up, Mama has a real daughter now, the kids in town tug on her poin...