(This story is related to the "Willow Healer Storyline" - see listing for more related stories.)
One-Leg flexed his knee in the fashion he’d taught himself eights upon eights ago for working out an imagined cramp in a leg that wasn’t really there. He’d gotten it down to a dull throb. He didn’t want it too worked out, or how would it be found by the one who would have to go looking for it? Longtooth had gotten bored and ran off to chase rabbits.
He had been sitting on his rock for quite a while before Willow came into view. She was holding a basket that smelled of honey and beeswax. There would be a fresh batch of honeywine soon. As if there was anything to celebrate. Once the young healer noticed him, One-Leg stated solemnly, “It started itching again. A few days ago. Then a cramp on top of that. Make it stop.”
She looked at him with surprise. The old elf had been threatening for moons to come down on anyone who treated Willow like she was naught but a magical pair of hands. And now here he was making demands. “I could have said that better,” he admitted.
“Well, since you asked so nicely…” Willow set her basket down and sat down on the grassy path. Shimmering yellow light expelled from her hands and enveloped his knee. And just like that, the persistent nuisances that had plagued him whenever they had a care to for untold turns were gone. One by one. Just like that.
“You have my thanks.” One-Leg didn’t really know what else to say. His head had been chasing its tail since the prank council, and all the old worries it had stirred up among some of the elders. Even with this ancient nuisance ended he still wasn’t quite himself, and he knew it. He stood up to go find Longtooth.
And promptly fell down.
Willow jumped to aid him. He almost waived her away, before realizing how she, who had spent so much time terrified of another elf’s touch, might take that. He let her help him to his foot. Willow, at least, seemed amused. "Uh, I didn't make it grow back, you know?"
“Hmmm. Well I’ll be a shellback’s grandsire."
He tapped the ground with his wooden leg a few times, and felt only the pressure at the point of amputation, the soft casing wrapped around his stump, and the ties that bound one to the other. Along with the itch had gone the softer pangs that told him where his heel should be, the flexing of his calf responding to weight, all the little things his muscles would be saying to him if they still existed. It hadn’t occurred to him how much he had come to rely on that to tell him -- in sensations on the edge of instinct -- that his expertly crafted peg-leg had touched the ground and was braced against his next step. But no more. The world ended just below his knee.
It occurred to One-Leg that someone in his position should be laughing, or crying, or perhaps both. But there was only an eerie calm. ‘I’ll have to teach myself to walk again, granted. But no more being woke up by sparks that aren’t there. All in all... I’d say things are even. No point fussing over it.’ What was done was done. “Longtooth has been playing with his dinner for a while now. I better go and find wherever he ran off to.”
Willow looked concerned. “Are you sure you don’t need anything?”
“I’ll be alright lass, given time. Takes a moment or two to get used to some things is all. You know how that is.” He was leaning leaning more heavily on his staff than he cared to. It was oddly like being good and drunk on some of Starskimmer’s finest brew. “You best get that basket where it’s going, before some bear gets a whiff. I’ll be along soon.”
With a confused look on her face, Willow collected her things and departed for the dentrees. One-Leg spared a look back at her as he headed off the path. She’d always been strong, and had become even stronger through her healer’s legacy, as he’d expected she would be.
Too bad those same powers were going to make her feel every wound, every death that was to come. She might even be one of those doomed to fall.
Oh, there had been long talks, and a fair amount of wagering, over whether or not the five-fingers could see the glow that radiated off a magical elf displaying their powers. But colors or no, the humans would figure out that the world itself –- the rocks at their feet, the plants in their midst -– had become their enemy. And they would realize that someone or something was guiding them. Or they would see Kestrel’s arm throwing things her hands weren’t touching. Some might just see a certain female elf running from one of her kin to the next, keeping them alive and removing their wounds with nothing but a wave of her hands. If the five-fingers didn’t know of magic yet, they would learn from seeing it in use. And once they did, the magic-users would become priority targets.
That battle seemed to be getting closer every day. It loomed over everything like a gathering storm, dark clouds blotting out the stars and the moons and the daystar itself. A gale that would sweep away the Holt as easily as tossing asside a tent. Again, One-Leg wondered if he should be crying or laughing.
He was not ashamed to be counted among those who would defend the holt, nor to be among the children and wounded who’d be sheltered from the worst of it, and called upon to leave and found a new holt elsewhere. A fugitive tribe would need an elder to help guide it. But now… For the first time in a long time he felt… crippled. Each step up the low slope was made with more reliance on his staff than he would like to admit. His own effectiveness in the coming battle was now in doubt. How many lives would be lost because he was two steps behind the combat?
‘No more being woke up by sparks that aren’t there. Now there’s something to laugh about.’