8. HarryMature

The village was named 'Dry Coast', as it sat on a raised rocky peak surrounded by seas of thick gritty sand that swirled in the wind like a tide. The men stayed in the abandoned houses with smooth white walls, whilst the low men were left to find their own sanctuary outside. Harry hadn't spoken to many of the others much - communication between low men was not explicitly forbidden but it was generally frowned upon and could be punishable if people became too amiable - but tonight she was feeling especially lonely. The village had such a hollow feeling that it chilled the heart. She found herself longing for any form of physical contact and companionship.

Other people shared her views, and the majority of the low men gathered around in a small pavilion that had once been a lesser marker square. Large archways and balconies overhung the area making a crude form of shelter from the cold desert night winds and they reflected back the heat from a small fire burning in the centre.

Regardless, the light from the fire seemed to diffuse unusually quickly, like it was being eaten by the darkness. Perhaps Harry was being dramatic and imagining things, but she felt like there was something evil living in Dry Coast.

She sat by the fire, warming her hands, shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the others. There was little talk.

Next to her was a girl she thought was called Kate. Her high man was familiar with Victor and she recalled his name to be Stephen. She was a skinny thing, and small. Harry studied her closely and saw that some of the fingers on her left hand were swollen and sticking at odd angles.

"Your hand is broken," said Harry in a low voice, staring into the fire with an intensity that made her eyes dazzled. Harry was not brilliant with socialising, though she craved it. Even before selection, things had been difficult for her. She was an outcast, a misfit and was little understood. She had beauty, but hid it behind a boyish style and dirt. Her hair was permanently cropped short and appeared a dirty brown, but it was actually a striking blonde. But low men with distinguished hair were beaten, so she used mud to dull its colour.

The girl was also looking at the fire, and did not stir when Harry spoke. There was silence.

Then,

"It happened a few weeks ago, when travelling through the last village. I am no medic," her voice was shaky and satiated with fear, but it rang with a pure innocence that sang sweetly despite the anxiety threaded into it.

"The fingers will need setting and binding, if you do not wish for them to fuse like that," said Harry.

"Can you do it?" she asked hopefully.

Harry nodded, "I have done it before. Also, back at Jenaco, where I am from, I often help the physician. Not with anything important of course, but I've picked quite a lot up."

"I trust you," she paused, "What do I need to do?"

That comment surprised Harry, and she smiled, "We should find some material to make a small cast, and get something strong that will not break to act as a splint. It will hurt when I set them as the bones need to be moved to their right places."

"I'm sure I have experienced more pain," she said, standing up.

The two looked around, and when they saw none of the high men were watching, they slipped into a nearby house to gather supplies. Harry found a small dress, possibly worn by a child, and a wooden spoon end to use as a splint.

They knelt on the floor of the house, momentarily forgetting their unease, and Harry held Kate's left hand gingerly in hers. She carefully re-aligned the fingers without Kate crying out once. Harry knew it had hurt, but low men tended to have extremely high pain thresholds.

She bound it and then, regretfully, let Kate's hand leave her own.

Kate looked hard into Harry's blue eyes, "Thank you."

"You're welcome."

Harry wanted to say more, or do something more, but she couldn't work out what. All she knew was that she felt desperately alone and that she cared for Kate in an indescribable way.

Memories of the journey flashed through her eyes, and she realised that the majority of them contained Kate's image in some form or other. She knew Kate's face better than any other. Her dark brown hair that covered a brown eye, her pale skin patterned with freckles and her slight frame ending in dainty but bruised feet.

There was some moment here, but Harry did not understand it. So she did what she'd always done when she didn't understand - run away.

She got up from the dusty floor, and they left the house, returning to the fire. Neither girl spoke again that night.

The End

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