Abbott and the Child - 3 -

He emerged from the hole in the sand on the side of the hill to a sky of pink over the land and lingering night over the ocean horizon. The sand at his feet was solid with frost but it hadn't been so when the scouts passed the night before; their tracks wandered twenty or thirty feet past the hole, only five feet away at one point, and then doubled back on themselves. Five feet had separated him and the child from death, and though he knew the danger of it last night it did not strike him as desperately perilous then as it did now.

"Is it safe?" the child whispered. Barely visible inside the hole and behind the roots and the weeds, her dirty face could not have looked more serious.

"It is safe."

The child crawled out from the hole and her skeletal knees rapped dully against the frozen sand. She did not seem to mind, but some new attire would be necessary. The days grew colder with each passing one and the geese warned of snowfall in the contiguous future; winter would be along shortly in all her bitter fury.

"Who made these tracks?" she asked.

"Scouts."

The child frowned.

"They came last night. I did not want to wake you. Do not worry. You are safe. We will make our way west through the brambles. There is a town five days from here called Tatu where we can supply ourselves."

"But Bardolf said everything you need would be in the sack."

"Yes. He was right. Everything we need for seven days or thereabouts is in there, but what after that?"

"I understand."

They climbed onto the serpentine hill which flanked the ocean for another five hours' walk and made their way through the thick of the bush and the stubborn thorny weeds. Two hours passed before either spoke aloud, but many words were spoken otherwise. Many things said but never spoken; a helping hand from him to her past a place where the bushes grew thicker and thornier than the rest; her smile to him in thanks and his returned to her; him passing to her his canteen though she had her own; her gripping his hand though she needed no help.

These things among others spoke to him of an affection shared between the two. It was as if they had known each other for years; this kind of love can only ever exist with a child on one side. Never would another adult, be it a man or a woman, trust him this readily. Had it been any different with his daughter? Had she grown affectionate with her captors? Or had they murdered her before the situation allowed it to happen? He tried not to think of it. This child needed him now and he has had many days to mourn the lost daughter. After a while the silence took on a weary feeling to him and, as if sensing it, it was the child who broke it. "Where are we going after the town?"

"I do not know. I am to see you grow older, not to bring you to a destination."

"Will we walk aimlessly?"

"Of course not. I will decide where we will go later. For now I only want to get us something thicker to wear for the coming of winter."

"I want a coat of bison skin."

"I do not know where to acquire one. Or if I have the gold for it."

"You will not need gold. Get one from a bison."

He wrinkled his forehead at the child. She held her smile for as long as she could, and once it got out so smile did he. Mischievous child, she.

"We will do just that."

"Really? Can we?" A serious, hopeful expression now.

"Yes. Of course. You kill the bison, I will skin it."

And at that they both laughed. It was not something which humoured him abundantly, nor her, but it was something that they both needed and both knew it. They laughed, each one's arm around the other, until, not because he heard it but because he intuited some unknown thing, he shushed her harshly. In the silence that followed the sound of hooves pounding the cold dirt, not far enough to the East, became apparent.

The End

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