BONG! The wake up bell rang out across the sleeping caravan. BONG! It rang again. I got up and looked at the sky, they’re making us get up even earlier than the last caravan! I crawled sluggishly out of bed and splashed some water on my face. Wow! That was cold! At least I’m awake now. I looked over at Luke who was just starting to crawl out of bed as well, after sitting up for a while he looked around and saw that Michael was up and ready for the day already. When he turned to look at Erin she was still in her bed, fast asleep.
Luke looked at me, then with an evil smirk plastered across his face he looked at Erin. Oh no; he had better not do anything to bad, or we might lose her. I jumped in front of him.
“Let me do it.”
Luke looked at me and his smile turned into a playful frown. “Oh, all right you spoil sport,” he said, “take the fun out of everything.” He muttered as I turned to face Erin’s still form.
I ignored him and crept toward Erin’s sleeping form. When I was beside her I decided I should probably let Luke have some of the fun too. I motioned to him to come over then I crept around Erin so that she was facing me and put my face about two inches from hers. Then I motioned for Luke to gently wake her up. This is going to be so funny!
When Luke gently shook her, Erin moaned, but didn’t wake up.
“Erin, you need to wake up now if you want breakfast,” he told her.
Erin moaned again and then slowly opened her eyes, as they focused she screamed and jumped back. Everyone but Erin burst out laughing. Even Michael was laughing pretty hard.
“That’s not funny!” Erin said grumpily, “you probably just stole ten years of my life.”
That just made us laugh harder. Eventually we got control of ourselves, and got out breakfast. Erin accepted her share grudgingly, knowing that there wasn’t anywhere else she was going to get breakfast from; but not very happy about accepting food from us after what we had just done.
Eventually the bell signaling the caravan to start rang out and our wagon jerked into action. We all hopped out and mounted our horses and got moving ourselves. Erin moved out to the back of the caravan, Michael went over to the other side to guard there, leaving Luke and I alone together.
“Maybe we should apologize to Erin, it really wasn’t that kind to do that to her, after all, it is only her first morning with us; she probably hasn’t ever needed to wake up so early before…” I trailed off as Luke looked at me.
“I’ll go do it,” he replied.
“No, I’ll go, it was my idea, both to apologize, and to get in her face like that in the first place; so it’s my job to apologize,” before Luke could come up with a comeback, I turned my horse around and headed for the back of the caravan where Erin was on guard.
“Hey,” I called as I neared Erin. Her head jerked up and when she saw me she furtively wiped her face and straightened her posture. I was to far away to be able to tell why, and at first I attributed it to her just wiping some dust out of her eye.
As I neared her I noticed that her eyes were red and puffy. She had been crying, this is bad, I had no idea that our prank had effected her so much!
“What do you want?” She demanded, “Haven’t you already done enough?”
“I just came to say that I’m sorry; I shouldn’t have woken you up like that. It was just for fun we had no idea it would hurt you like it did, otherwise we would never have done that.” I told her, very seriously.
She leaned onto my shoulder, yes we were that close, and I hugged her with one arm. “Both Luke and I are really sorry about hurting you feelings and we want to know if there is anything we can do to make you feel better,” I told her, “if you want, you can come ride with us…” I trailed off, waiting for her answer.
Erin nodded, but I took her over to a stream we had passed a few minutes ago, dismounted, and washed her face for her, then we remounted and caught back up with the caravan and trotted back up to Luke. When Luke saw Erin his eyes widened but I glared at him and he stopped before Erin noticed.
“Hey, Erin…I’m really sorry about this morning.” He said, reaching for her hand; as he got a grip on it I watched the redness around her eyes and all other signs that she had been crying disappear. All this happened as he lifted her hands and looked into her eyes, “I really didn’t mean to hurt you feelings, we just wanted to have some fun…will you please forgive me?”
“Since you didn’t have any intent of hurting my feelings…I guess I will,” Erin said.
We all smiled and were happy that it was all over. We exchanged stories of different experiences we had had for the rest of the day. After the bell signaling the end of the day rang we dismounted and rejoined Michael at the wagon to share our provisions. After that it was Luke’s watch so he left Erin and I alone. After a couple of hours we went to bed, after assuring Erin that she wouldn’t be so rudely awakened in the morning.
I woke the next morning to the ringing of the wake-up bell. When I looked around I found that Erin was still in bed, sleeping as soundly as last time. So I went up to her, and gently shook her awake, “You need to get up now Erin, that is if you want breakfast before we have to leave.” I told her after she moaned her complaint at being woken up so early.
It managed to get her attention, and she got up pretty quickly after that. It wasn’t long before Erin, Luke and I were riding along in the rear of the caravan; Michael had been ordered to guard the center-right side of the caravan.
“So,” Luke said, trying to start a conversation, "I hear we are going to be crossing a big river today… you girls feeling up to it?”
“I don’t see why not,” I laughed, “after all, even if we do manage to get hurt we always have you to heal us.”
We all laughed at that comment and then settled down into a companionable silence.
“Hey! You!” The caravan leader called back to us; I looked at him and pointed at myself. The leader shook his head, “No, you, the boy, longbow man! Move over to the center-left side,” he ordered; then added “and you two stay there.” As he saw us moving with Luke.
Luke was very unhappy about this new turn of events, and he kept eying the other guards as he passed them on the way to his post. The conversation pretty much died out between Erin and I once Luke was gone. After about half an hour I looked around…was that guard getting closer or was it just me? I nudged Erin and asked her.
Erin shook her head, “Its probably just you, why would he want to get closer?  You’re just paranoid is all.” Maybe Erin was right, I let the thought slip my mind.
The length of the ride was starting to put me to sleep, maybe if I just lie my head down on the horse’s neck…I fell asleep.
I woke up with a start to a rough, dirty hand over my mouth. I was thrown roughly to the ground, and Emily landed next to me.
“We’re going to have some fun now aren’t we!” said the guard who had thrown me down as he stuffed a gag into my mouth.
“Put come on, let’s put them though the initiation already!” said another guard impatiently.
“Oh, all right I was just having some fun with them first!” exclaimed the first guard.
They grabbed me and threw me up against the back of one of the moving wagons. They tied up my feet and hands and then tied me by a rope that was about five feet long. When I looked over at Emily, I saw that they were doing the same thing to her. She turned her frightened eyes to mine as if to say, “What is happening to us? And why?”
All of a sudden I was kicked off the edge of the wagon and onto the dusty road. The wagon, which was moving, proceeded to drag me along the ground. All the rocks and pebbles on the road dug into my skin, ripping it open in many different places. I heard a dull thud, then scraping as Emily was similarly kicked onto the road and dragged along.
In about ten minutes, my back had turned into an agonized mass of blood and shredded cloth that used to be the back of my shirt, and Emily had been similarly affected. I wanted to roll over onto my chest to ease the pain on my back, but I knew that all that would accomplish would be to shred my chest as well.
“LUKE!” Emily screamed, pain saturating her voice, after spitting out the ragged remains of what used to be her gag.
I heard galloping hooves and then Luke came into view, an arrow sped through both of the ropes tying us to the wagons, and I promptly rolled over, blissfully ending the pain, at least for a little while. Luke quickly dismounted and ran over to us. He didn’t bother asking us if we were ok, he knew we weren’t just by looking at us. He touched Emily, then me, taking our pain away then he untied us and helped us up. He let us lean on his amazingly strong arms as he led us to our wagon. Then he lay us down on our beddings which were set up there already.
“I’m so sorry this happened, I had had any idea what was going on I would have come immediately!” Luke told us both, his distress over what had happened was written all over his face.
He moved over to Emily and took her hand. She whimpered in pain as he did, but she soon stopped as he took her pain. Then I watched with my mouth hanging open as the wounds on Emily’s freshly shredded back closed themselves up.  I mean, I knew that Luke could take away pain, but completely heal wounds like that? I hadn’t even had the slightest inkling!
Once he finished healing he started to blink rapidly as if waking from a dream. Then he went over to me. He took my hand and his eyes suddenly went blank, as if his mind had just left his body. I almost screamed.
“It’s ok,” Emily said, cutting me short right before I did scream, “he always does that when he is healing you.”
It felt really weird to have my back close itself up. When Luke had finished, instead of blinking rapidly, like he had with Emily, he simply fell backward onto Emily’s lap.
“I thought he might wear himself out,” Emily told me worriedly. I just hope he didn’t do too much. She carried Luke to his bedding and covered him up there; the she took his head and placed it on her lap.
“He takes it all on himself you know, he thinks that what happened back there was his fault; that he should have been there to help us the second we were assaulted. Because he feels so guilty there is basically nothing he wouldn’t do to make up for it.” Emily explained, “He had just better not have pushed himself too far, or I just might have to hurt him.”
I smiled at that comment; she wouldn’t even joke about killing him. The bell calling a halt sounded quite a bit earlier than it usually did. What did that mean? Was it because of what the guards had done? If it wasn’t then why had we stopped?
It wasn’t long before Michael appeared at the entrance to the wagon. “We’ll be fording the river soon,” he began, and then noticing Luke’s sleeping form, “What is he doing asleep on the job?” He asked, thoroughly perplexed.
“You wouldn’t believe us if we told you, and we have not proof,” I told him.
“Try me,” he replied.
“We were tied up and dragged along by some of the other guards, it completely shredded our backs. When Luke found us, he saved us and brought us here. Then he completely healed our backs, leaving no trace.” I told him.
“Which took more energy then he had to spare at the time,” Emily put in.
“He can heal too?” Michael asked incredulously. We both nodded.
The sound of the bell rang across the caravan, signaling that it was time to ford the river. “I’ll cover for you guys then.” Michael said hurriedly and then rushed off to get back to his post.

The next few days after what those two idiot guards attacked Emily and Erin were a haze of sleep and half-awareness. Every once in a while I would wake up and Emily would be there to force some food and water down my throat. Then I would usually go back to sleep.
Eventually I woke up and was actually fully awake for the first time since I had healed Erin.
“I’m so sorry you two; I should have been there earlier.” I told her, remembering what had happened to them and all the pain they must have gone through before I finally got there.
“Thirty-six,” Emily counted off in a sad voice.
“I really mean it! I do!” I told her.
What was she doing? “Why are you saying random numbers?” I asked her.
“Oh,” Emily said, sounding surprised, “you are actually awake!” she wrapped her arms around me, “Finally! I was beginning to worry that you were stuck that way! That maybe you would never wake up all the way!” she started to cry into my chest.
I pulled her in closer and rested my chin on her head. “I love you so much,” was all that I could think to say at the moment. What else could I really say?
The bell rang, signaling a halt to the caravan, “You woke up just in time!” Emily commented, “We’re here!”
“Here? As in Beledh? In Da Ming?” I asked incredulously; it was supposed to take two weeks to get there, had I really slept that long?
Emily nodded, getting up. She motioned for me to follow. I carefully got up, testing my legs; they were strong enough so I walked on with her. When I got out of the covered wagon I saw something  I had never seen before. There was a mist that hung close to the ground, giving the place an eerie look. We were at the edge of a forest full of pine trees, and their fresh scent permeated the air. The houses had some sort of thatch roofing and the walls were made mostly of these long, hard, and strong shoots of what the other guards called bamboo.
This was Da Ming, I had never seen or heard of any place like it before!

The End

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