(This story is a part of the "One-Leg adjusts to the loss of his leg" storyline -- see listing for related stories.)
The wind whipped through his hair as he ran with the wolves by his side. All felt right with the world as they chased down their prey. This rocksheep was quick and clever. It would be no easy kill and seemed able to run forever. After what seemed like an eternity of running they finally drove the beast into a moonlit clearing from which there would be no escape. Its time was at hand.
In the time-honored tradition of predator and prey they gave chase but the final outcome was never in doubt. Eventually they cornered it in the pale moon light near to the river. As the hunters circled it, the beast turned to fight instead of run. It was glorious and filled Axehand with an ecstasy that he could not put words to. Soon, with the bite of fangs and slashing of his axe the sheep was down and struggled no more. He tasted the hot blood and raw meat as he and the pack tore into their prize.
So real was the dream that Axehand could scarcely tell where it had ended and his awakening had begun. Groggily he still sniffed for the blood and the fresh meat as consciousness returned to him. All his sensitive nose could find though was an odd sickly smell that he couldnít shake. What was it that intruded upon his victory?
With sudden realization he shook himself awake. His successful dream hunt was stolen from him by an unfortunate reality. A soft growl escaped his lips as he once again realized his predicament. No longer could he escape the smell of rotten meat coming from his leg. It was getting worse, he knew, and it was going to kill him.
For several long moments he merely lay there, his dying limb propped up in the strange slings and pulleys that Suddendusk had cobbled together to ease the pressure. He was alone in the den. Maybe the smell had driven Flash away? Or maybe she and the others were keeping their distance to give him some space in which to make his decision. If he had been a wolf, his decision would have already been made. Were he able he would have already gnawed it off. He wasnít a wolf, though, but an elf, so he had some choices. If he did nothing the rot would spread and kill him sooner or later. Or he could go into the wrapstuff as others had and hope that one day another healer would be born who could fix the damage done. If he couldnít do that though, the leg would have to come off.
None of these ideas appealed to him but indecision would mean death and he had never failed before to make a hard decision.
ďThatís enough Axehand, time to make your choice.Ē
His voice was barely a whisper as he muttered to himself. The rot had stolen his strength as well as his leg. Were it not for the herbs Cloudfern had given him for pain he wouldnít be able to move at all. With great effort he pulled himself together and rummaged for the crutch he needed to get around. It was time to take a walk and sort this out. Soon, after a great deal of cursing, he managed to make his way from the den and into the warm sunlight. Most of the tribe still slept and he saw no one about. On a sudden urge he made his way towards the den with the wrapstuff cocoons of his wounded tribemates. Deep down he understood that the rot was poisoning his blood and was causing weakness and fever to grip his body. Whatever was done would have to be done soon.
After a bit he found himself outside the den where the wrapstuff cocoons waited. Why had he walked this way? Might he not be here soon enough should he choose to be? He felt drawn to enter and finally did so after some hesitation. Though it wasnít obvious to look at them, both of these cocoons held a friend of his. He had known them before this had been done to them. Could he stand to enter that dreamless sleep? What must that be like? Nervously, he cleared his throat but still had no voice. With a feeling of despair he leaned against the wall for support.
**What is it like?** he found himself sending to the sleeping bundles. He felt no response and in truth had not expected one. Somehow though it was still comforting to try.
**Is it better to sleep the turns of the seasons away like you do? Hoping that one night we will have a healer again? Or can you even hope in there? Can you even dream?**
That thought scared him more than the idea of dying or the thought of being a cripple. Dying was part of the natural way of things. If he lost the leg maybe he could find a way to get around and be of some use. Maybe he could find a way to enjoy being alive. As he sat there another pang of pain ran up his leg and nearly made him cry out. It was getting worse by the moment. If he didnít do something soon he would be past the point where even taking the leg would allow him to live. As the pain subsided though, he thought that he felt a faint glimmer of awareness from the sleeping minds in the cocoons. Maybe they felt his pain through his sending? Maybe they were able to feel, at least a little.
**It hurts so much but I donít say anything to the others. I donít want to die and I donít want to be a cripple but I have to choose. Should I join you? Or take my chances with living outside the wrapstuff?**
Again there was the faint feeling of contact. No formed thoughts in the sending. Just a feeling of sympathy for his pain. It could just be his imagination though. That thought truly frustrated him. Maybe this was all just a fever dream. He might be so close to the dead now that he could hear the wrapstuffed elves in their deathless sleep.
**I donít know if you hear me or not, but if I made it all the way down here to see you, then I can go a little further. And a little more after that. If there's a chance I donít have to lay down beside you, Iím going to fight for it. I hope that you can live again and be whole. If you can hear me though, wish me luck. Iím going to need it.**
After what seemed like an eternity locked in his sending with people who might or might not be able to hear him Axehand finally dragged himself back up. He still felt like the half formed thought-voices were urging him on. Maybe he had reached them and they were trying to help. If so he was grateful. This was going to be the hardest thing he had ever done and he needed all the strength he could get.
With a final backward glance Axehand turned from the chamber and went to find his tribemates. For better or for worse he had made up his mind. It was time to get it over with. If he had to go through life with only one leg he would do that. After all, he would still be himself and he would still be alive. While there was life there was hope.
**Thank you my friends. Sleep well with pleasant dreams. Iíll be waiting here for you when you get out.**