Friday, 2 December 2016

Artel 16 - What are you going to do?

Three weeks passed and Millon almost forgot to worry. The village went back to it's normal routine's, the villagers soon losing interest in the strange man that lay quiet and unmoving in Nanuka's hut. What would he do when he woke up? That was all they talked about the first week. He was going to die. That was what they said the next week. And by the third week he was old news, uninteresting, unexciting. They had better and more important things to worry about than a man who wouldn't wake up.
Millon went back to his work on the farm, and renewed his efforts to talk to Tella. After Artel had appeared she had sought him out, fascinated to know how he knew the strange man. But Millon hadn't wanted to tell her too much, in the back of his mind he knew that if he told her he had abandoned his quest she would be disappointed in him, and he didn't want to say anything that might jeopardise their new found connection.
Now, nearing the end of the third week, even Tella had lost interest in the strange man and Millon wondered if he was the only one in the village whose thoughts still occupied those spaces. Apart from Nanuka of course, true to her word she tended over Artel daily, making sure he still breathed even though his mind appeared absent. When Millon visited she cast a serious eye over him and he could tell that she was biting her tongue, resisting the urge to tell him that they were wasting their time, that his 'friend' was as good as dead.
He knew it though, as he gazed upon Artel's sunken face. Whatever had happened to him out there had put him through his paces, he was lucky even to have made it this far. And he wouldn't make it much further. Guilt filled Millon's stomach. He should have stayed, he should have kept on searching, he should have found him and helped him, gotten him out of there. His only duty had been to protect and serve Artel as best as he could and he had failed, miserably and terribly, and now Artel lay on the table before him, a stark reminder of just how badly he had failed and how helpless he now was.

Millon was in the chicken coop collecting eggs when Narii appeared, breathless and panting. There was an excitement to her eyes, something had happened. He knew what it was, before she even opened her mouth, and he had already put his basket of eggs down and begun to follow her by the time she had finished.
"Millon, he's awake."
They ran, both of them, through the village streets. It was still early morning and they passed only one or two villagers just beginning their day. They watched at the two ran past, their eyes confused and wondering, pulling at threads and putting two and two together, then they began to follow. Millon couldn't think about the villagers, he couldn't think about his chest heaving as he sucked in breaths, and his legs beginning to ache fiercely as he pushed them onwards. He could only think of Artel, could only wonder what that sallow face would look like with it's eyes open, what that wasted mouth would find the words to say to him. But there wasn't even time to think, because they were already there, walking up the steps and through the door and into the ambient interior of Nanuka's hut. He was panting but not heavily, the work in the fields must have been doing him good.
Artel turned his head slowly as Millon entered, his eyes widening as they found him, recognised him. The Adams apple in his throat bobbed as he swallowed dryly and his lips moved soundlessly for a moment before he could push out the whisper of a word.
"Millon... "
Millon walked forward as if in some kind of daze. What should he say? What should he do? Apologise? He knelt by Artel and looked into the Knights face, saw his muscles working as he tried to move and discovered his own weakness. For the first time he could see fear in the Knights wide eyes, they were brown and deep and wide and afraid, so afraid. He found Millon's hand and held it, his weak, flimsy fingers gripping Millon's strong fleshy ones as hard as they could. Millon held his hand, wondering at the strange role reversal they seemed to be experiencing. All his worries about Artel being angry at him had fled his mind. He no longer cared if he was in trouble, all that mattered was the man in front of him, the fact that somehow, incredibly, he was there, and he was going to get better and better and stronger and stronger.
He was trying to talk again, his lips moving soundlessly as he tried to form the words in his dry mouth.
"Water, Nanuka can he have some water please?"
Narii appeared at his side with a cup and with his free hand Millon dripped a few drops into Artel's mouth, watching as his tongue flickered lightly as his lips, and his eyes closed briefly. When they opened again they were glistening, as if the water had somehow spread to his eyes.
"I... I did it... y... you're here... "
Millon nodded as he watched a tear slide out of Artel's eye and slip slowly down across the greying skin of his cheek, leaving a glistening trail to mark it's progress.
"I'm here," he whispered, "and I'm not going anywhere, and you're going to get better, and then we'll worry about everything else." He wasn't sure if the last part were meant for him or Artel really, but he had felt the need to say it, and now it was out in the air he felt strangely better.
Artel nodded slowly and let his eyes fall closed again, and Millon could feel his hand loosening as he drifted back into sleep.

There was nothing to say, to Nanuka, to Narii, to Sicca, or to the villagers who had gathered outside. Yet they all expected some great, prophetic news from him, they were all waiting to hear what he had to say about the stranger they had all assumed would die. Millon gulped and looked around nervously.
"He woke up," obviously, what a stupid thing to say, "and he's still alive," obviously, come on Millon, but what else was there to say? "He's very weak, it will still take him some time to recover fully, and he's gone back to sleep now. Hopefully next time he wakes we'll be able to talk properly and find out what happened to him." That was it, that was enough.
The villagers nodded and muttered between them and Millon left, pushing his way through the crowds and heading back to his own hut. He couldn't be around them now, couldn't answer all their questions. He needed to be alone, now that it looked as if Artel was going to make it he had some serious thinking to do.
Things would be changing now, whether he liked it or not, and he had to work out what he wanted moving forwards.
"What are you going to do Millon? What are you going to do?"
But he had no answer for himself, and neither did the vast empty plains that stretched out in front of him.

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