Saturday, April 16, 2016

Threat of the Fire Demon - Chapter 22

Spring finally arrived. The snow began to melt and soon there was sunshine and green grass sprouting up in the meadow.

“There you go,” Charles said, as he helped Brela lower Saul onto the bench at the edge of the meadow behind the house. “A little sun will do you good.”

Saul settled himself on the bench which Brela had padded with cushions from the couch inside. The cat was no longer comfortable sitting like a man. His hip ached constantly so he preferred to recline like his cat ancestors with most of his weight on his uninjured right side and belly. He sprawled across the bench.

Brela hurried back inside and came out with a small table and set it within reach of Saul. Then she and Charles made another trip inside and brought back a blanket, a cup of tea and some biscuits. They fussed around Saul so much that eventually he hissed at them. He felt lousy afterward. They were just trying to help, but there wasn’t any help for it. He’d been mauled by a bear. He was hopeful he would one day walk again, but never, ever upright. He would be looking at everyone’s waist for the rest of his life and it angered him no end. He’d done a stupid thing charging after the bear without Charles close at hand for backup. It was his own damn fault and he didn’t want to impose on anyone because of his stupidity. Charles had a garden to prepare and plant. Brela needed to tend to Simone when she woke up from her nap. They both just needed to leave him alone to sulk on his own.

Brela patted his paw affectionately and left to tend to her chores and Simone. Charles squatted down by Saul’s head bringing them eye-to-eye.

“I’m sorry,” Saul said and wiped at his face with a paw.

He had been so damned emotional since the mauling. He mewed like a new born kitten pulled away from its mother’s tit.

“I know it’s hard,” Charles said. “It’s not so long ago that I was in your position,” he reminded his friend. “I was lucky. I was unconscious most of the time.” He reached out and stroked Saul’s head.

The man had not done that in a long time. It took Saul back to when he and Charles first met and how desperately he needed to have someone care, someone to talk to, someone to show him the right way, and Charles had been that someone. The man had saved him back then from the road of self destruction he had built for himself. But, he couldn’t save him from this - from being a cripple the rest of his life. He was doomed and the future overwhelmed him. He buried his head in the crook of his arm and cried.

Charles continued to stroke his head. Without words he supported him as the cat let it all go. Everything he had been holding back, while in the presence of Brela and Simone during his recovery these last two months confined to the house, came tumbling out.

When Charles caught sight of Brela and Simone about to return with a plate of sandwiches he waved them away behind Saul’s back. The little satyr nodded in understanding and ducked back into the house, shooing Simone back in with her.

At some point Saul stopped crying and fell into a light sleep. Charles rose, stretching the kinks out of his back and shook first one leg and then the other to wake them back up again. If the ground had been dry he would have just folded up on it while comforting Saul, but it was still soaked from the snow thaw.

He went to the shed and removed the garden equipment. He pulled out a stool from under the eaves of the porch that looked out from the back of the house and the room where Azur would have spent her nights. He corrected himself...They would have spent their nights. Now, most likely, it would just be him. Saul would not be able to manage the stairs and he couldn’t keep sleeping on Brela’s bed in the corner of the living room. He was no longer a winter visitor, he was a permanent resident and Brela needed to have her bed back.

He set to sharpening the tools in preparation for the gardening season, such as it would be. As he passed the whetstone over the blades of the hoe and shovel he made plans for his move to the basement, Saul’s move to his room, and Brela’s bed going back upstairs. The two of them got it down they could get it back up. He wouldn’t bother to move his bed downstairs. Saul could have it. He would use the one the cat put in the basement for Azur and him…

Azur…When Charles first returned home from the Land of the Fire Demon he thought he could still feel her love... Her pull on his heart was that strong. He paused in his work to look over at Saul. His friend was still asleep on the bench though his head was pillowed on his arms, his right leg hung over the end. His left was curled up protectively against his side under the blanket Brela spread over him. He would have to build a new bench – a longer one and perhaps wider so Simone could curl up with him in the warmth of summer when it finally arrived. She loved her ‘kitty’ so much.

He went back to his work and had all the tools sharpened by the time he heard Saul wake and reach for the cold cup of tea on the tray. It was mid-afternoon and the sun was playing hide-n-seek behind the clouds. The air had taken on a bit of a chill - best to move Saul back in the house.

“You ready to go back inside?” he asked his friend.

“Whenever you are,” Saul answered agreeably.

“I’ll just put the tools away and I’ll be right there.”

Charles gathered up his tools and stool and set them back in the shed. By the time he returned for Saul the cat was sitting up balanced on his right hip as he folded up the blanket that had been draped over him. He lifted up the tray and lay the blanket on the table, then stacked the tray back on top.

Charles started to take Saul’s left arm to support him, but Saul gently pulled it away.

“You take the table and tray,” he said. “I’m going to try this on my own.”

He gently lowered himself down to all fours, except that it was really only three. His left leg wouldn’t lower all the way to the ground. The muscles were knotted up from the injury and would have to be stretched out again, if they could be stretched out at all. His left shoulder still pained him too, but he managed to put weight on it and was pretty sure he could make it to the house. He hobbled and limped along slowly on three legs with Charles patiently walking at his side. He was almost there when Simone came running out of the house. She must have seen him out the front window. She made a beeline toward him.

“Horsie,” she squealed in delight.

Charles dropped the table and all its contents in order to intercept the child before she made a flying leap for Saul’s back. He scooped her up just as Brela hit the front door at a run.

Saul dropped back away from Charles and Simone. He had a whole new appreciation for Charles boots and he certainly did not want to come in contact with them even by accident.

“No, Simone,” Charles scolded gently, “Saul is not going to be able to play horsie for a while.” He lifted her chin in his hand in order to get her attention off of the cat and on to what he was saying. “He’s hurt, remember?” he asked her.

The child wiggled in his arms. “Down,” she demanded.

“Okay,” Charles relented, “but, be careful. No, playing horsie until Saul feels better.”

Charles put her down and she went to Saul and wrapped her little arms around his neck. She buried her face in his fur and hugged him.

“It’s okay, poppet,” Saul said using his nickname for her. “We’ll play horsie soon, okay?”

Charles gently pulled the child away. “You go back in with Brela.” He turned her around and gave her a pat on the bottom to get her started. He looked up to see if Brela had the child under control only to see the satyr looking over his shoulder, out past him, up the road.

When he turned to see what she was looking at he almost lost his balance. It was Azur. Azur was walking down the hill toward him. He had never seen anything so amazing, so beautiful in all his life. She was well worn from her travels, but she had a huge smile on her face. She stopped when he made no move to meet her – waiting to see if she was as welcome as she hoped she would be.

Saul tapped Charles on the toe of his boot from his place on the ground. “Don’t just stand there you idiot, go to her,” he advised with a grin.

Charles’ brain kicked into gear from the place it had stalled when first setting eyes on the woman he loved. He broke into a run and she responded by doing the same. She dropped her pack and staff and ran to him. They collided in an embrace which swept Azur off her feet and into Charles arms. She wrapped her legs around his waist and cuddled him close. He rained kissed over her face and hair.

Saul smiled and turned to Brela. “There will be one more for an early dinner,” he advised.

*****

Charles slung his lover’s pack over one shoulder and picked up her staff. He took Azur’s hand with his free one and prepared to lead her up to his family by the door.

“You ready for this?” he asked with a smile.

She nodded and rose up on tip toe to plant a kiss on his cheek. “Ready.”

The short walk to the door seemed endless to Azur. The satyr she knew must be Brela was studying her carefully. The nanny was the one she must win over at all costs.

Simone was tiny and hid behind the legs of her nanny watching them approach with huge blue eyes that she could see had curiosity in them as well as trepidation.

Saul was on all fours and Azur could see the pain in his face. Something horrible had happened to him. He was missing the whole top of his right ear and his face had three huge newly healed scars across it – luckily just missing his eye. His left leg was held up off the ground as though it was still injured.

“What happened to Saul?” she asked.

“Mauled by a bear this past winter – the Wizard says he has done the best he can.”

Charles wanted to tell her more, but they were now within Saul’s hearing range and he didn’t want to upset his friend talking about the incident. He squeezed Azur’s hand with a silent promise to tell her more later.

“Azur, this is Brela,” he introduced as they stopped in front of the group. “She holds many titles in my household, friend, housekeeper, cook, and not least of all nanny to my daughter Simone. Brela this is Azur, my soon to be wife.” He smiled down at Azur and she squeezed his hand in response.

Azur extended her hand and Brela accepted it. The fire demon was not at all what she expected. She was almost as short as she was and very slight of build. Her smile radiated friendship and begged for acceptance all in one expression. Brela couldn’t help but like her since Charles was obviously in another world now that she was here. He was positively shining. The satyr had experienced enough grief this past winter worrying about Saul to last her a lifetime. Charles had withdrawn too as he tended Saul day and night through his injuries and nightmares. The little satyr just didn’t have it in her to put up a fight over this newcomer, especially since her arrival seemed to pick up Charles’ mood. They needed something positive, and at least for Charles, Azur seemed to be the answer.

Charles was pleased to see Brela bob her horned head over Azur and her clasped hands. It was an acceptance, which he had not believed would come as easily to the tiny satyr. One hurdle was over - just a few hundred more to maneuver.

“And this is my daughter, Simone.”

Simone had reached that age where she was shy. She hid behind Brela’s furry legs and peeked out at the newcomer.

“Go on, poppet,” Saul encouraged. “She’s the one who saved your daddy’s life so he could come back to you.”

Saul scooped his good front paw around her and pushed her gently toward Azur. Azur went down on one knee before the child and smiled hopefully.

“Your daddy told me a lot about you,” she coaxed. “He said you liked rocks, so I brought you a gift.”

She reached up toward Charles and he sat her pack down beside her. She made motions of trying to find the gift in the pack. Simone became curious and came closer peering into the bag. When the child’s anticipation was palatable she pulled out a piece of soft golden colored leather tied with a string dyed a deep purple. She untied the string and the leather fell away to reveal a fire opal the size of Charles’ thumb. It was oval and had such color that it appeared to be holding a bonfire in its center. Azur held it out to the child.

“It was given to me by my father when I was your age,” she told Simone. “I thought you might like it.”

Simone looked to her father for approval as she reached out tentatively for it. Charles nodded.

“Don’t drop it,” he said.

“Hot?” Simone asked.

“No, child,” Azur assured her. “The fire is contained so it can’t hurt you.”

She smiled up at Brela in a hope that the satyr caught her meaning. She would never hurt those who Charles held dear. Like the stone, she would keep her fire contained.

Simone took the opal and immediately went to show it off to Brela. Brela squatted down and gave the gift her undivided attention.

“It is good to see you again, Saul,” Azur said, still kneeing down by her pack.

“Is it?” Saul asked with that lopsided grin that always pulled his lip up to reveal one of his sharp canines. “I am not much to look at anymore.”

Azur reached out her hand and Saul did not shy away from her touch. She cupped the uninjured side of his face and tears puddled in her eyes. He had been such a beautiful cat. She wondered if she could help - if her healing powers would even work in this foreign land. She pushed a bit and felt the slight surge of her power seeking out the pain and numbing it.

Saul released a sigh and leaned into her hand accepting the relief from the constant agony in his face, shoulder, chest, and hip. He hadn’t told any of the household, but it even hurt to smile. The skin around the claw makes stretched and sent shooting pains from the scares through his eye up to his mangled ear. The release from the pain allowed him to take the first deep breath he had since the accident. He purred softly and nuzzled her hand.

Everyone in the group noticed the purr they had not heard for months, but it was Simone who turned and innocently pushed Azur’s hand away from Saul in order to hug the cat around his neck.

“Kitty, purred,” she squealed. She kissed him on his nose. “All better!” she proclaimed.

Charles tried to comfort the child one night when she was concerned because ‘kitty lost his purr.’ He told her that Saul had stopped purring because he didn’t feel good. That it would come back when he recovered.

“Much better,” Saul confirmed and smiled, without pain, at Azur over the child’s head.


"Saul" - Fanart by Elizabeth Babizc

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