Only Rigel heard what Anaph whispered to himself as he rushed to Antonio: “If I’d been here sooner...” Rigel walked beside him, heading for Austin. The first thing he did was scoop up the gun.
Everyone kept back as Anaph knelt beside Antonio, who was holding very, very still, breathing shallowly and slowly. Anaph held out his staff for Antonio to grab with his left hand, which Antonio couldn’t lean on without moving. Antonio nodded thanks, and began breathing a little deeper.
For a long minute they all watched Anaph run his hands over Antonio, very slowly, covering the entire area around the tusk. Rigel pulled Austin to him, rocking him and whispering in his ear. Austin calmed enough to watch Anaph as well.
Anaph shook his head in amazement. “Life has favored you”, he told Antonio. Looking over to Rigel, he explained: “Nothing internal is punctured or torn. There are scratches, but nothing big.”
“No way!” Chen cried. “You’re saying that tusk went in one side of his abs and out the other, and didn’t rip him up inside?”
“Yes – because it’s true. What must be done now is to determine how to slide the tusk out safely.” Anaph gazed at Chen evenly. “Set aside your disbelief, and think.”
“Can’t you use your staff to make the tusk fall off?” Chen asked.
“It would shift, and tear Antonio’s insides.”
“So we have to move Antonio, not the tusk”, Ryan concluded. He knelt by Antonio to see just how he was sitting.
Breeze surprised them all. “I know how”, she said. “We have one deer hide that’s still whole. If we can slide it under him without moving him too much, then we can use it to pull him off.”
“And if it catches on something on the ground, he’s screwed”, Ryan fired at her.
“So we have to... make the ground slippery”, she answered.
“That’s easy”, Casey pointed out. “There’s a lot of blood from these beasts.” Antonio grinned painfully at the idea of using the blood of the beast that had nearly killed him, to try to save him.
“Let’s do it”, Rigel decided. So Breeze went to get the deer hide. Rigel lifted Austin and got him out of the way; the kid was still crying, silently now. Casey moved in and started pushing blood across the ground with his hands. When Breeze returned, Rita came along with some of their grass sheets, to catch blood in from the still-bleeding gr’ventut. By the time Chen and Oran had worked out with Antonio just how to get the deer hide under him, the ground around him was a bloody mess.
The first idea didn’t work: they rolled the hide up and tried to roll it out on the way under Antonio. The failure came when he couldn’t even lift one knee high enough without hurting. Next they wanted to try just dragging it under him, an idea Rita vetoed.
“You’ll drag him with it”, she told them. “But look: fold it in two. Slide it halfway under him. Then carefully slip the top layer over then unfold it.”
Centimeter by centimeter they advanced. Devon and Ryan carefully lifted Antonio’s left leg, and slid the hide under. The bottom side was slick with blood, so it moved under him easily. Once it was halfway, they pulled the top half in between his legs, letting his left knee sit on the hide. They’d almost finished pulling the other half through when Antonio gasped sharply. “Just finish!” he hissed between clenched teeth when they stopped.
Ocean wanted to give Antonio herbs for the pain. Antonio didn’t want them: “If I can’t feel anything, how will I know something’s wrong?”
“And if it hurts so much you pass out, it will rip your intestines in two”, Rita admonished. “Ocean, don’t give him enough to kill the pain, just enough to ease it some.”
The curve of the tusk – an uneven curve, at that – made the process difficult. Rigel vetoed rolling the carcass the moment it came up; one bit too much roll, and Antonio would be dead. So they went centimeter by centimeter. The worst was in the middle, where the tusk was lowest – Antonio nearly passed out then, but Ryan held him. It was Ryan’s idea to pull the hide away from the tusk and let Antonio lean back on him, in order to keep from tearing Antonio open as the tusk got lower. Ocean didn’t like it, Anaph didn’t like it, but there were no better choices. At the end, when the tusk curved higher, Chen grimly cut to enlarge the hole in Antonio’s side, so the last bit of tusk could slide free.
Then it was over. Ryan eased Antonio back onto the ground. Rigel could have sworn he heard twenty sighs of relief.
“We have to wash the wound”, Ocean said to Anaph. “Can you do anything?” Rigel was pleased with her more practical, less worshipful attitude toward Anaph.
The Druid shook his head. “There is too much life. I can’t keep it separate.”
Ocean nodded, whether in understanding or merely acceptance. “Then we need hot water.” She turned to look at Rigel, who sought out Oran. “Any ideas?” he asked their fire-master.
Oran nodded. “We can get water hot, no prob. There are some low spots in this rock; all we have to do is fill them with water and then drop in hot rocks from the fire.” He shrugged and frowned. “I don’t know how to get it from there to where you need it.”
“Then we move the patient to the water”, Ocean responded.
It took longer than anyone liked. Eventually, though, they had a small pool of steaming water, into which Ocean had Breeze crumble three different kinds of herbs. Once they were wet, she asked for another hot rock.
“Last one”, Oran announced. The first four were sitting by the fire to dry before going back in.
A minute later Ocean pronounced it sufficient. Antonio lay on his side, on the grass so they wouldn’t soak the hide with dirty water. Carefully she wiped the skin around the wound where the tusk had gone in, on Antonio’s right side. Even more carefully, Chen spread the edges of that wound so she could trickle water in to clean inside as best they could. Antonio passed out before the water ran out – that was a good thing because he held still a lot better, but a bad thing because he couldn’t tell them if anything really hurt.
Most of the group had stayed to watch. Melanie asked the question they all had: “Is he going to be okay?”
Anaph and Ocean both shook their heads. “We didn’t get all the dirt out”, Ocean replied. “Without all the dirt gone, he could get infected. We don’t have anything for fighting infection deep inside like that.”
“There are ways to help”, Anaph added, to provide some hope. “We can keep him alive longer with them. But what we need”, he said more to Rigel than anyone else, “is to keep going. There is no help for him here.”
That was all there was to say, so most of the group headed back to sleep. Anaph walked to the edge of the short cliff and stared out over the savanna. After a little while, Rigel followed him. Anaph glanced at Rigel briefly, but went back to staring.
“You wished you’d been there quicker”, Rigel said softly. “Why’d you say that?”
“You heard me...”, Anaph whispered with a shake of his head. “Lord, I tripped. I came running, but I tripped. Had I arrived when I should have, Antonio would be whole.”
Rigel pondered that, and they stood in silence. Some time later – Rigel had no idea how long – there came the sound of someone clearing a throat. They both turned to see Chen standing there, looking miserable. Rigel waved him to join them.
“What’s on your mind?” he asked.
“I abandoned my post.” When Rigel didn’t say anything, Chen went on. “I got cold. I went to get my shirt. The beasts attacked while I was away. If I’d been there, Antonio would be fine.” A smiled played at Anaph’s lips at that.
Rigel smiled wryly. “Who else’s fault is this?” he asked. “Anaph says it’s his. You say it’s yours. I’ve been thinking it’s mine.
“Let’s forget about fault. Chen, don’t leave your post any more. Me – post a bigger watch when there’s a threat, and a gofer to get things for the people on watch. Anaph, tell the trees to put their roots where we won’t trip on them.” The last statement broke the somber mood.
“Now, Anaph, what did you really mean about keeping going?”
Anaph smiled. “I can hide nothing from you.” He turned away from the savanna and pointed north. “I know Austin’s vision: Lumina will be a Healer. Somewhere up there is a place, or a thing, or an event which will wake her to her new self.” He turned his head to look at Rigel. “If we can find it soon, Antonio can live. If we fail....”
“He dies”, Chen finished.