wtorek, 30 sierpnia 2016

The Healer

Things you do waiting for the next season of GOT... Inspired by the quizzes like 'Who'd you be in in #GOT' or memes about how Jorah will get well, I got carried away, much. I just decided to practise some narrating techniques while writing this story. Perhaps someone will enjoy it :)

The Healer

‘Nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-eight.’ she thought. Bracket, the wolf, sniffed the body and wagged. That meant, ‘alive’. The man didn’t move, apparently some fellow traveller had dragged him from the raft and left here, on the opening behind the gorge, where she always checked for her patients. Those who weren’t able to climb her mountain.
‘I’m getting on, I guess, no more strength to carry them into the cave, but just two more,’ she said to herself. Silly habit, but when you have lived for so long on your own, you stop pretending you even care for appearances. If a trinewolf is your only company, you start to freak out. Pity Bracket can’t help her carry, but he’s the best guard, eager to tear the necks of those who are not overwhelmed but the powers of gods themselves. Now, she could have a closer look at this poor wretched body. Must have been a warrior or a ruthless bandit, but no matter who – she was here to help anyone. Gods’ command, they had been saying, and she would hide her smile then. God, gods, if you like, many of them with many names, but any idea which one gave her THIS? Certainly, some unnatural forces had acted then and ever since she had made people believe the gods still care... But the one who’d given her the power had remained silent, had left her on her own. There were times she pretended to serve some other gods. Which ones? She didn’t remember, it was ages ago, when the Fortiula was curving her bed on the other side of the range and here only a mountain spring cruelly bit the rock backwards, to finally meet the river. It was this spring humming lullabies that made her nestle here. Now, overshadowed by the mountain where Fulmenar, Ventiar and Pulviana had their temple she was pulling another poor thing that was carried by the rough waters. He was young but not a boy anymore. Scars and tattoos scribbled his personal history on his skin. Some fresh wounds that must burn him like ambers. If he could feel anything, as life seemed to have left this flesh. And the face; if anything was left from his eyes, it was being eaten by worms.
‘At  least, I don’t have to really know who did and what exactly to him,’ she thought, ‘Whatever had cursed me with the gift will just do their job if there’s just a spark of life in him, that’s it.’
While the man was silently lying on the bed in the cave, she lit the fires and cast some leaves into them. After cleaning the body, hopefully still not the corpse, she started the cure. Talking cure she called it. She first mumbled some spells routinely and then talked to the patients. It didn’t matter he couldn’t hear her yet. It was all about creating this bond and sending forces of life into his body. It worked 9,997 times, couldn’t fail now.
As he wasn’t aware of her presence yet, she allowed herself to bring back some memories.
‘You know, it’s a man’s world whatever you say. I never saw myself as a housewife, life-bearer and so on. I wanted to make my own paths. Always. And though it’s been centuries, I still remember everything – the contempt, underrating, mocking. I was to fit in! When I was thirteen, I was raped. Then I made a vow, I would never be vulnerable again. I disguised myself as a boy, learned self-defence. And how to be an assassin, too. Yes, taking life was... It just was... Never mind, I now return lives, and you’ve happened to be the lucky one, one of the last ones before I...’ she stammered.
He moved the finger and sighed. So she kept telling him silly stories she had read or heard. It was the voice that mattered, not words. Sometimes she even sang, but not recently. The last hundred of patients were healed with her somehow tightened throat. So she told him of old gods and heroes, of times where trees could move their branches and kill carefree travellers, of trinewolves, the last remaining pack living in these forests. She recalled the god of four faces that was aware of all your deeds. She recalled the winter when even the hot springs in Eborrium froze. The king’s wife that willingly gave her life to the god of death to save her beloved king. The queen that ruled far in the south and, according to prophets, is going to be reborn and rule in the west. Princesses seduced by animals whose bodies were visited by gods. And the people from the sky, who descended in their ships and left the book... the book she read... how she wished she never had touched that atrocity!
‘Water,’ he mumbled.
While he was satisfying his thirst, she was silent. He turned his face towards her frowning face.
‘What’s going on, what’s wrong, where am I, who are you...’ he jabbered.
‘I’m Aggha, it’s all right, you’re at a healer’s and I reckon someone brought you here to save you. What happened to you?’ she replied, or asked – to be precise.
‘Nort,’ he replied, ‘I dunno, I fought, that’s all I remember,’ he said.
She beamed and burst into a tune. Weird. It’s ages since she intoned anything. Two healings more and... No, she forced herself not to think about it.
‘You’re gonna be all right, lie still until you’re truly strong,’ Aggha assured him, ‘Better fall asleep.’
‘Strange, I feel no pain. But I wish I could see you. You sound... interesting,’ he chuckled.
‘I guess it can be done later, but I see good mood is back with you,’ she added.
Sighing, he got silent. She always had felt renewed after each healing, but this one had not been completed yet, so this was not the case. Focus. Focus. Nort...
‘So you don’t remember what happened to you, Nort?’ she asked.  She didn’t really need an answer, but talking was essential. We cannot break the bond. Whatever you think, there’s a task ahead of you. Keep curing.
So it went... Until he was fine, almost...
‘I thought I can get my eyes back,’ he grunted after some time.
‘Yes, but it needs time, patience. I think we will have to climb the mountain. We need to be closer to the gods to finish the process,’ she said. She wasn’t lying, but that wasn’t true either. It was strange she couldn’t make him all right here. Not usual. Was that because she was close to the end, reluctant to complete her burden? Was it? The prospect of the grand finale was ghastly but inevitable, however... if only someone... he... or whoever managed to...
Was he to be sent here in order to...? Perhaps...
‘Up there, there’s a temple of the gods of thunder, wind and rain, we must climb and there finish your recovery,’ she said.
The journey was tough. Steep slopes, rocky ground, sharp edges and cliffs. They went on, his hand clutched on her elbow and up, up. Hard walk, but she enjoyed it. The wolf accompanying them, as always, until the Wall.
The Wall was actually a natural formation of rocks, high and solid. There was, however, a tiny crevice in the stone, formed like a staircase for a really slim creature or a child, that led the way up to the top. She told him to wait, to try not to fall, and climbed. At the top she released the ladder. Peasants living nearby had never failed her to supply food and necessities, including ladders. This was the form of worship she had taught them to cultivate for years. Nort measured every step, but finally he reached the top. She held his hand, tight grip ensuring his safe passage. One last pull and they fell on the juicy grass behind the wall, which was about three foot tall from this side. Aggha felt the weight of his body and his heavy breath on her face. Very proximate was his face, with the black band she had tied over where his eyes were supposed to be. He moved his fingers over her face and neck, panting. This wasn’t just exhaust.
‘Let me go,’ she exclaimed, but he only tightened his grip on her wrists. Without much effort, he held both her hands in his one hand, while the other was driven by lust over her body. Bracket! She wished she hadn’t left the trinewolf down there where he belonged to, as she usually did. She tried to defend. What could happen if she killed him? In the very middle of healing. But most importantly, was he to be counted in if she killed him then? Or not? This WAS important, could cost more than her life... Surprisingly, she felt the doubt wasn’t the only reason why she let him live.
She managed to release one hand and then thumped fiercely the black fabric where his eyes were supposed to be. He howled and jerked. She jumped and stood by the temple entrance but stopped to see him helplessly squirming at the ground and whining  like a newborn puppy.
‘I’m sorry! I don’t know what happened to me. Forgive me. How could I...’ he went on, crawling blindly on the grass, trying to hind his whereabouts. She didn’t move or speak, waiting. He went more and more miserable. She got the advantage she had always craved for. Surprisingly, it didn’t cheer her up. When he finally reached her feet and stuck his forehead into her knees, Aggha didn’t move back. Instead, she knelt by him and kissed the tears running down his cheeks.
They made love on the grass, observed by the wooden statues of the gods’, which watched the temple entrance. A thought crossed her mind – where it had happened before. She couldn’t remember. It was fine anyway. When they got satisfied, she just went inside, leaving him where he was.
With the first thunder she exited. A storm will make a nice scenery to the act. He was sitting where she had left him.
‘You know everyone must offer something to me, that is, the gods? Anything you can leave here. That’s what all people do,’ asked Aggha.
‘You know I have nothing,’ he replied.
‘Then you must stay. With me, help me serve the gods, ’ she said, feeling somehow pathetic.
‘But you know, I’m a warrior, not a priest.’
‘A warrior is what I actually need. I have a mission I can’t take myself. Crucial, I’d say. Swear you will serve me until I release you’
‘Then I will,’ he sighed.
‘Come,’ she held his hand and led him inside, ‘It’s always going on with the storm all along, don’t worry,’ she lied, ‘We’ll need a lot of smoke, and if you feel like falling asleep, don’t fight with it, understand?’ she explained. She started humming and carried on the regular procedures for the 9,998th time. They had made her more and more weary. Two more times and the hell would come to meet her, she had known it for some time... Nort blinked and for a moment she could see him look around before sleep took him over. He could see. With the sense of fulfilment – now she could admit, she had NEVER brought eyes back, she fell on the floor.
‘Blue,’ she thought when she opened her eyes. The blue eyes were LOOKING at her. Good. That was a curious look of amusement. She sprang and went to the back rooms. He followed her. She pretended to be totally engrossed by preparing breakfast.
‘Why? Why are you smiling all the time?’ she demanded.
‘Why did you make me vow I would stay with you, witch? I thought you would look like a monster, I dunno, red eyes, bald head, an extra arm. In fact, now I’d stay with you anyway,’ he grinned. ‘But honestly, you sounded older,’ he added.
‘I did, I’ll explain it to you one day. But please, don’t expect me to answer all your questions. You’d better not ask any, actually. You must believe that whatever I do is for the sake of good, however weird. I may tell you my story one day, you may tell me yours. But, as I won’t make you speak of that, please don’t you ever insist...’
‘I won’t. I trust you.’
During that idyllic time his memory was back, some of it. He was born in the West, far from her mountain. Noble parents and nasty character. There was some rebellious love affair, the girl was promised to the other man, usual dealings. He captured her, they wanted to run away, she fell off the horse, they accused him of murder and he fled to the East. Made living as a bodyguard, mercenary. Yet what had happened before he was sent to the healer he didn’t remember.
‘Mine wasn’t happy either,’ sighed Aggha.
‘I know, I could hear you talking to me all the time down there.’
‘Can’t have been!’ she gasped, ‘Well, you can’t be sure of anything if you play with magic.’
‘Tell me where you were born. You speak the Shared Lingua not like the people here.’
‘I don’t remember where I was born or which was my mother tongue. It was, ehm, many years ago. I came here to hide from my destiny, unsuccessfully. I’m not from such far East, because I remember learning the local speeches. You see, people have offered me different gifts for recovery, some taught me languages, some fencing or archery, or cooking... I’d stayed in two big cities in the West long time ago, but whether was I born on this or the other side of the Angustiannian Sea, I can’t say. I just live long enough to speak many languages and forget many facts.’
And they lived happily ever after, but only for a month. Tormenting dreams recurred. All the pain she had released the patients from was back in the nightmares. She knew there was a solution. At least a chance of it. Nort had to bring her that flying machine she had heard of. Hopefully, this was not just a rumour. Some patients had mentioned the mad inventor before.  And she had wealth to buy it. The guy who had constructed it couldn’t be stupid. There’s a price for everyone.  Soon, her boyfriend would be back with it and there will be no more worries. Her wolf would take care of her safety, as he’d done before. Just fetch the machine, Nort.
He didn’t ask many questions, true devotion. She didn’t want to have him go, but it couldn’t be helped. He’d be back soon.
He was. With a few scratches and bruises, angry and mad as an avalanche. There was a man living to the south-east who had the flying machine but he’d refuse to co-operate. Didn’t give the price. When attacked, he took off (at least we know the machine IS flying) and mocked. It needs two or more people that would distract him to achieve what was planned. So the question arose why she couldn’t go with him.
‘Impossible, I must wait here for my patients, I’m a healer, you know.’
‘Then you’ll have to go without the machine, I’m afraid. Will you tell me why this is so important to you?’
‘Is this enough if I tell you I’d die after I’d get back two more people to life unless I fly?’ she replied.
He cuddled her, saying, ‘I’ll never let that happen.’
‘You can’t help it, the powers behind that are beyond humans.’
‘Why don’t you stop healing now, then? If you don’t help those two fellows, you won’t die, will you?’
‘If a suffering creature came to you for help, an you had the measures to help it, who would you be if you refused?’ she whispered. ‘I hoped you’d been sent to save me but perhaps this is just my fate.’
‘We all die, anyway.’
‘But? Yeah, but? But not now, or what?’
‘Nothing, just stay with me... Maybe I’ll think of something...’
The next evening they were sitting by the fire when she suddenly felt like dropping some of the burden off her chest.
‘I wasn’t telling you all the truth yesterday.’
‘You never do, I’m getting used to it,’ he replied, chewing a straw.
‘Oh, really? ... I wanted to tell you the old tale of a young man beloved by gods. They let him ask for one thing, just one thing only and warned him not to be hasty. He immediately asked for eternal life. Poor thing. Without never-ending youth and health it was a trap. He grew old, he then grew weak, he grew smaller and finally he was just a shadow of the perfect man admired by gods. Sentenced to be suspended in eternity. Merciful gods finally turned him into an insect. But true gods aren’t merciful at all!
Remember you told me I sounded older that I looked afterwards? I have lived for many centuries or millennia. I lost count long ago. All I count is the people I’ve healed. Ten thousand I am to. I’m immortal as long as I haven’t finished the job, but it’ll be soon over with the ten-thousandth patient. As long as I keep healing, I release the energies that keep me young and strong. If I stop, unable to die, I’ll ultimately become a withered sack of grey skin, unable to speak or move, yet still able to feel. Pain forever. I can’t abandon my task.’
‘Wait a minute, as long as we’re young, you don’t have to help anyone. We can hide deep in the forest and be happy. Then, when we both get older, we’ll come back and you’ll have your two final patients...  Do we really have to leave anyway? If we’re lucky... You aren’t frequently visited, are you?’
‘No. Yes. I’ve no idea,’ she sighed.
‘Humans die, high time you got used to this idea after all these years of ignorance. I can spend the time given to us with you and then we’ll die. We could even make it twice as long, you know? When I’m old and dying, you’ll bring me vital powers – and yourself, too – and we’ll live our lives once again, what do you think?’ asked Nort.
‘I can’t heal people who suffer just from old age. It’s natural. I only manage to rob the Death from those due to leave too early. So your plan number two won’t work.’
‘We still have this life. Or, you’re not telling me the whole truth... Is there something more terrible to happen to you?’
‘Yeah, yeah, let’s just enjoy what we have. I’m being silly, exaggerating,’ she smiled and went to bed.
So they did, for a while. One day they were walking near the river, when Bracket barked. Someone was coming from the landing. Something cold went down Aggha’s spine. It’s nearer. She couldn’t hide her relief when they saw a man. Perfectly all right: no fresh wounds, no pain drawing lines on his face. A mature knight, not an elderly yet, but old enough to be no threat for Nort, if he turned out hostile. No need to kill him, no need to heal him. With a trinewolf on her left and her lover on her right, she went towards him and welcomed the visitor.
‘You seem to have got lost, my lord. Please, be our guest. Stay as long as you need,’ she said with a  smile and tried to hold his forearm in an inviting gesture.
He so violently thrust her hand that she slipped and fell on her back. Nort drew out his sword.
‘Don’t ya kill him!’ she yelled and held the wolf.
Nort was far from killing the intruder. The man’s fighting skills weren’t rusty at all. It looked as it was to be a long duel.
‘I’m not your enemy! There’s been some misunderstanding!’ the visitor shouted between the strokes. ‘I’m just looking for someone!’ It’s not easy to stop a spinning metal ball, however. ‘You just must not touch me!’
Aggha froze. She knew. Nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine...
When they both got short of breath, they stopped. He wanted to pull up his sleeve but she shook her head. She didn’t need to, she didn’t want to look.
‘You found the healer then... What’s your name, traveller?’ she asked.
‘I’m se.... In fact, I’d rather remain incognito if you don’t mind. You don’t want to look at my arm, so I don’t suppose my name would change anything,’ the visitor said.
‘No, it won’t. But I need to call you somehow. Give any name you will use while with us,’ she suggested.
‘Why don’t you give me some?’
‘All right, Manchineel – do you like it? When you heard of me, did they tell you the rules? I always ask for something as a reward. Something I find useful. Name it if you can,’ she dared him.
‘I don’t have much, my lady. In fact the most precious treasure I carry is the deepest love to my queen, which drove me to this remote corner of the world,’ replied Manchineel.
‘I’ll treat you anyway. Let’s go up to the temple. We’ll talk of the pay later.’
When they reached the cloud-shrouded summit and the visitor went to rest, Nort looked inquiringly in Aggha’s eyes. This was their chance. If she made Manchineel stay and help, they would both manage to trick the crazy man from his invention. A clever fighter apparently didn’t show all his skills, but he must have been awesomely cunning to have got so far. What Nort couldn’t do alone, suddenly seemed easy in a company, such a company! He will owe them, anyway, right? And Nort knew her desperate craving for living was about something more, darker, horrific. He understood it when he saw her waxlike face by the landing today.
‘I’ll ask for that, of course, he’s probably my last chance,’ she said thoughtlessly.
When they sat for supper, she casually asked, ‘Tell us about your queen, Manchineel.’
‘She’s the most beautiful and the most powerful woman I’ve ever seen. An orphan who’d gone through fire and dust to free thousands and rule the world. I’d give my life for her once and twice and more. And though I betrayed her, she forgave me and bid me to be back at her side as soon as I find the cure for... I must hurry,  she’s so vulnerable, defenceless sometimes. I’m afraid some bad counsel will lead her astray and the whole world will disappear. I can’t breathe when she’s not at sight. It’s just, every day I’m far from her is a torture, as if dragons burned me steadily and mercilessly. Will you help me to return to her? I’m begging you!’
‘Of course I will, tomorrow,’ she replied.
Later that night she got up, telling Nort to stay in bed. It wasn’t long before she was back.
‘All settled,’ she murmured and fell asleep again.
When Nort opened his eyes in the morning, she was up and out. He heard some voices in the yard and followed them only to see her waving him goodbye!
‘Hey, what’s up? Manchi, will you stop please, man, where are you going? We need your help here,’ he shouted.
‘Leave him, Nort, I’ll think of something...’ pale Aggha hushed him.
Manchineel stopped and listened. Finally he said, ‘I recovered, she let me go, I promised to say a kind word about you to my queen and bring you to her majesty one day.’
‘One day she’ll be stone dead and your stupid queen won’t help her! You’re her last chance, didn’t she tell you?’
‘Well, we all die...’ started Manchineel.
‘Oh, shut up, Nort. He must help his queen! I am no-one to make him stay. Some matters are more important than me, don’t you think?’
‘Not for me. Perhaps you can finally tell me what exactly will happen after the next, the final healing. How exactly will you die? Why must you? How do you know that machine we both could bring you will save you? I’m tired of being fuckin’ patient!’
‘I’m afraid I’ll just have to pay my debt...’ she sighed           
The man turned back, sat on the stone and said, ‘I reckon one day sooner or later in my case won’t matter after all. Answer his questions and let me hear it. Perhaps I can take care of you as well...’
The story
All right, now that we’re sitting comfortably, I will start from the egg, as they say. I only ask you to prevent yourselves from asking questions. Just let me finish my story first.
When I was a child, I read the story. In the story the gods created humans. Their lives were happy and careless, free from duties or obligations. But these lives were pointless. So the gods gave people Love. Soon couples had babies and the number of people grew. They couldn’t just eat what the nature gave them, they were too many of them. So they planted trees, hunted. They grew tired and sick. So the gods gave people everlasting sleep, Death. After crossing the stream, people could just lie down in a blue grass and rest in peace forever. Death was so tempting that soon only one couple that still enjoyed each other’s company very much stayed on this side of the stream. But soon their affection would get weary and they would join the rest. The gods faced the end of humanity unless they made up something. And they hung two thick curtains over the passage in the stream: Fear and Pain. The eternal meadow, Death was still peaceful and attractive, but people started to be afraid of the passage and didn’t want to cross the stream so eagerly anymore.
The lesson is, it’s not death that is terrible, it’s the fear and pain that often mark the passage. And I will learn the lesson of pain soon. Only because I couldn’t accept that death often mows wrong grasses. I understand that when our days are over, old withered creatures long for that eternal garden, but why do people die in awful pain after battles or of sickness? That’s unfair! I started looking for the answer. I didn’t know that tampering with lethal forces must end up with a disaster... Wait, I’ll tell you all...
Ages ago I dressed up as a boy and visited the ancient town with the round tower which was said to be hiding all the knowledge of those days. One night, when I was excavating some cellar in the library, I came across a huge book behind bars. People got purple-pale when I mentioned it, I was told to forget about my finding if I want to live. The book was believed to be the darkest magic left to humans by some gods who flew in steel ships. Anyone who had opened it, died, they said. I didn’t, not once I opened it. I read the ten thousand useless spells but it was the last page that changed my life forever. It said, “when you reach the last line of this page, you will get the power of the ten thousand spells, which will be branded inside your skull and allow you to heal every disease without even diagnosing it, you will become me...” Then some part of the writing faded and was illegible, but the last lines were a clear instruction I followed and then the book fell apart into dust. My fellows soon guessed what had happened, after some patients I took care of recovered from terminal diseases. The dust where the book used to be hidden became my prosecutor and I was banished forever. I didn’t mind, kept doing my job, exultant. Not far away from the Tower I lived in peace. People rewarded me for my job and I was simply happy.
Then he visited me, a wise man whom I had met before. In exchange for his treatment, he offered the Truth. Intrigued, I agreed. He confessed to reading the book as well. However, he didn’t read the last lines. Because he was able to read the provisions which were the lines I’d found obscure. The Truth. And now, listen carefully, for I shall say this only once and never come back to it. After healing as many patients as the number of spells, and no sooner than that, the healer will die of... Of all the diseases and wounds he has cured. Can you imagine the suffering. I have nightmares about it but the reality may be much worse. The Death mocked me...
I ran away as far as I could and found my hideaway not far from here. For decades I managed not to heal anyone and I thought I was smarter that the book. But I got weaker, yet couldn’t die. One day a wounded huntsman fell over my threshold. A boar had made a nasty hole in his guts. I couldn’t walk, just crept towards him, wishing I could help him. I talked rather to myself, as I developed this habit at an early stage of my solitude. The next morning he was fine and I myself recovered. I understood two things. Healing is my gift and my burden. I wanted to help people and I couldn’t escape from that or I’ll end up suffering. This way or another. There’s a long life ahead of me, why worry? Acceptance was my blessing until close to nine thousand, when the nightmares began. Harpies endowing me with all the world’s pain...
I don’t give up easily, so I travelled back westwards to find an antidote. In the city where sailors are welcomed by a giant statue of some god there was a Temple. Powerful one. I see you know the place as well. No, it wasn’t much long ago. A thousand lives before, but remember there was a war east from here, though you may never have heard of it. Two armies fought, none could call it a victory. You are soldiers so you know, people do not die during a battle, their dying on the battlefield is long and painful afterwards. So I decided to play a god. I made the commanders swear peace forever in return for the lives of the soldiers. It cost me over six hundred healings so it all went quickly, the whole last thousand. But, coming back to the temple. They would promise relief to the suffering. But not the way many had imagined. They just lifted the two curtains over the passage leading into the blue meadow. Their worshippers came in hope, but never came back home. I demanded they teach me all about death, but the priest claimed it has so many countenances a man cannot define it. So I sat in the temple’s hall and talked to the visitors. And they got better and went home. The god of the temple got irate he had been deprived of his sacrifices, but even forced to leave I came back. So the priest reluctantly negotiated and shared his knowledge. We could have been foes, we could have been lovers, he couldn’t get rid of me. I realised with time that I may fool my gruesome gods if I manage to die before the last healing. A skilled assassin will do, won’t they? I even offered gold to the god and gave my name but nobody could kill me in any way. I was always back. Desperate to stop me from causing the god’s growing exasperation, he taught me all he knew about dying. Many stories, few clues. Until... There was a story about a young beautiful girl who stopped half way – neither dead, nor alive. She couldn’t go to heaven, because in her short carefree life she had never really touched the ground. And you have to touch the ground to let you spirit soar afterwards. It works both ways, the priest said, the Harpies bringing pain will look close to the ground for someone with such a heavy burden like ten thousand deaths. Won’t look up. That’s the trick. So up is where I must hide immediately after completing the ten-thousandth healing. I need to fly and thus get rid of immortality and the suffering of my patients So simple, isn’t it? But people don’t fly, dragons are rare, eagles don’t grow so big anymore to carry an adult. I came back home with a little hope and kept asking and seeking. At last, the rumour of a man who had made a flying machine reached me, confirmed by some visitors. I need this ship or whatever we call it. That’s my story...

‘If I help Nort fetch this machine, will we be even?’ asked Manchi.
‘If you get the machine and it helps, you can take it and fly to your queen if you dare,’ she smiled. ‘If it doesn’t help me, you can take it anyway, and take Nort with you...’ she added.
‘We’re leaving tomorrow,’ said Nort.
Later that day Nort was cleaning his blade. Aggha poured some wine and sipped it. She gave another cup to him.
‘You know, you promised to give him the flying ship. He’ll want it as soon as possible. There’s one more to be healed, isn’t there?’
‘I’ll think of something.’
‘Of what?’
‘I don’t know yet,’ she said.
‘I don’t mind if you heal me,’ whispered Nort.
‘What do you mean?’
‘Tell Manchi to beat me hard and heal me,’ he smiled.
‘I’d not bear your pain,’ she murmured, ‘I’ll think of something.’
He went down on her. The morning came quickly.
The next days went quickly, too. When a huge shadow appeared over the mountain, she was staring thoughtlessly at some point at the horizon, indulging herself with some wine again. The huge basket with an enormous bubble over it and some elaborate construction behind landed on the yard. Nort and Manchi were carrying a body. Aggha looked at them with a reproaching look.
‘If you send fighters to deal with your problems, don’t be surprised to see the wounded. I’m not a diplomat, you see. You demanded the results, didn’t you?’ exclaimed Manchi.
‘The guy finally agreed to give his ship if you put him back in order,’ added Nort.
She hurried towards the injured man. Still breathing... He tried to speak but failed. They put him in the temple.
‘Oh no, not this time. Outside,’ she said.
The sky got charcoal. Suicidal wind tossed the trees. Black crows crowned the wall. Manchi kept the fire in the basket burning, while Nort stood right behind Aggha, so that he could carry her to the basket before she touched the ground.
‘So, flying man, how do you feel up there? Folk say it’s not a human thing to fly, innit? I’m sorry they’ve cut you up, I didn’t mean it. But you should have given up before. I just must have your... ship. I deserved it after giving life to 9,999 poor beings. Don’t you think?’
‘Please...’ he murmured in reply.
All went the usual way. The stronger the man was, the weaker she was. She realised she didn’t even know his name, but was too exhausted to speak. When he vigorously sat on the grass, she fell.
The airship ascended quickly, while black clouds gathered around the temple. She was squirming around at the bottom of the basket, silent. Something was moving on the grass, hissing. Some time later the sun returned and Aggha sat on the floor.
‘Hun, how are ya?’ Nort asked.
‘I dunno, fine, I think.’
‘Shall we descend?’ asked Manchi.
‘... Let’s try. It seems... safe,’ she replied.
The man was sitting on the grass, confused.  Aggha looked into his eyes.
‘You’re gonna be fine, understand?’
He looked at her.
‘That wasn’t fair, ya know. Your men cut me into slices to take what’s mine and after that they offered some help in exchange for my life’s fruit. Unfair, that’s what I call it,’ he whispered.
‘Apologies for that. I didn’t mean to. And I’m sorry to say you cannot have it back. We still need it. We must travel west, far and away. If you like, come with us. Or stay here in my stead,’ she replied.
“Not fair...’
‘I know, but you can’t help it. Sorry. Coming with us?’ she asked.
‘No, I think I wanna come back home. Can you take me there?’
‘Can we?’ she repeated.
‘Sure,’ they answered.
‘And they call you what?’
The farewell with the Bracket was tough. But he belonged with this forest. They both knew they aren’t going to meet anymore. Her tears fell on his fur.
‘After all these years spent on this mountain, how do you feel?’ asked Nort before they fell asleep. The last night on the Bald Mountain.
‘Just be with me...’ she sighed.
‘Do we need to leave?’
“I’ve spent too long here, please, understand. Is there anything I should know? Why you don’t want to travel west?’
‘I just haven’t been there for a while. Don’t know what’s ahead of us,’ he replied.
‘I feel we’re going home,’ she concluded.
So, after picking Grump up home, they sailed to the West...

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