What Price Freedom
Chapter 8
by Marc Carlson
Copyright 1992 by Marc Carlson
 
 

Chapter 8

     Helena woke the next morning feeling the warmth of the sunlight streaming across her face.  She was alone, and felt oddly at peace.  She hadn't noticed when Yuvon had slipped out, though she wasn't certain that this was a bad thing.  Nor did she really want to see him at that particular moment.

     She started to sit up, then stopped as intense pain flared up through her body.  She moved her arms very carefully, each motion a new agony.  She began to feel along her body, taking stock of her situation.  She was covered by innumerable bruises and bumps.  After a careful examination, she decided that all the damage was superficial.  Nothing was broken, nothing seemed torn or out of place.  She just hurt when she moved.

     She lay there for some time, just thinking.  Finally, with a major force of will, she pushed the covers away and sat up.

     The morning was cold, but there was less of a temptation to glory in it than there had been the morning before.  Helena suspected that this might well be because of the chill she had received from her little dip in the stream.

     She slid off the bed, the springs creaking.  The wooden floor was as cold as she knew it was going to be.  Her legs tensed painfully as she stood.  She walked carefully over to the basin and began to wash up.  There was one benefit to the cold.  It kept her from paying too much attention to her aching muscles.

     She followed along the wall over to the window and peeked out.  The morning looked beautiful, a faint fog lay over the valley floor.  Helena wondered if it would be best of her to try and convince Yuvon to stay here for a few days, and let her rest.  She shook her head, deciding that it wasn't nessessary.  As long as he could put up with the exertion, she could.

     She turned to the matter of dressing.  She quickly discovered that her trip down the stream had put paid to another suit of clothes.  Although the undergarments were salvageable, the rocks and branches had torn gaping holes in her skirt and blouse.  Both were richly encrusted with brown mud and sand.  Unfortunately, this left her with the boy's clothes, which she had already decided were unacceptable for public appearance, and her yellow dress.  She knew from her experiences on the first day that this was not good for riding in.

     Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed the green material of the dress she had left with Yuvon.  She picked the garment up and examined it.  Her companion had somehow transformed it into a divided skirt for riding.  She saw that he had used the bodice from the dress as reinforcement for the seat and knees, so that it might tolerate the stresses of riding.  She was impressed by his handiwork.

     If his wife Callista had surpassed him as a seamstress, she must have been brilliant indeed.  She wondered for a moment if the word should be seamster.  She shook her head and re‑examined the night dress she was wearing, and an inexplicable, grim uneasiness filled her.  She wondered, if he could attract women who were this capable, what was he doing with her?  Helena realized she envied the dead woman for all that she had once had; a husband, a family, the ability to create work like this.

     Helena shoved her envy for a ghost into the back of her mind, and examined her travel bag to find a shirt to accompany her new skirt.  She removed her only survivng woman's shirt from her satchel.  Filthy as it was, it would have to do.

     She was startled by the noise of something clattering to the floor.  She looked down and saw her rosary lying in a heap.  She realized that when she had thrown it across her bedroom back at Rachel's it must have fallen into the bag.

     She stooped, picked it up, and examined the beads and crucifix.  Helena smiled as she realized that it was Sunday morning.  She wondered if there was a priest here, or anywhere in this part of the mountains.  It had been far too long since she had been to church.  She decided that it wouldn't do her any harm to try and re‑attend.

     If she wanted to keep feeling sorry for herself, that was all well and good, but perhaps it was time to begin and try to pull herself out.  God helps those who help themselves, she knew, and it was high time to start helping herself for a change.  Yuvon had done everything he reasonably could, but he couldn't do any more, unless she made an effort to cooperate.

     Helena dressed in her chemise, drawers and corset, before attending to her new skirt and shirt.  She relegated her masculine attire, all but the boots, to her bag for the present.  As dirty as she was, she knew she certainly felt more comfortable dressed this way.

     She spent a few minutes brushing out the rat's nest of her hair before putting it back into a single long braid down her back.  Glancing in the mirror, she noticed a bruise on her right cheek and surrounding her eye.

     "Oh that's just marvelous," she muttered.  Unfortunately there was nothing to be done for it.  She would just have to ignore it, and hope that everyone else did also.

     She repacked her satchel, and looked about for her medical bag.  Then she remembered sadly that she had lost it when she fell into the stream.

     She left the carpetbag sitting on the bed, and exited the room to look for Yuvon.  She had no idea when he had left her, but he must have been up for hours.  She paused for a moment in the hall.  She wondered what he must think about last night.

     She didn't remember anything of a romantic nature happening, and with her muscles in this condition, she doubted that anything could have happend, but going to sleep in a man's arms was a new experience for her.  One that she wasn't too certain she cared for.  While she was becoming somewhat inured to his seeing her in the nude, her breaking down and crying was far too intimate.  In all, the whole thing bothered her.  Of course, she told herself, her crying was more disturbing than she really cared to admit.  She couldn't cry for over twenty years, and then this happened.  Was it just fatigue, or was God trying to tell her something?

There was no answer when she knocked at Yuvon's door.  She waited for a few moments before heading for the stairs.  It was only with extreme reluctance that she began the ordeal of climbing downstairs.

     Helena saw Inez behind the desk in the lobby.  She steeled herself for a confrontation with the other woman.  Her behavior towards the hotel employee had been inexcuseable.  Of course the woman was attracted towards Yuvon, Helena knew.  Inez was, after all, alive.  Yuvon had been correct in one aspect, at least.  Inez's demeanor suggested that she had a healthy, if somewhat obvious, interest in the opposite gender.

     "Good morning, Inez.  Have you seen Dr. Arelssyn this morning?"

     Helena was surprised by Inez's response.  The woman looked genuinely pleased to see her.

     "Good morning, Dr. McCoy.  No, I haven't.  I don't believe that he has come down yet.  I hope that you rested well."  Inez looked at Helena's face, staring at her black eye, but only for a moment.

     "Yes, thank you.  The room was very comfortable."

     "I'm so glad."  Inez paused and glanced quickly about her.  She spoke again in a more subdued tone.  "Ginger stopped in this morning and told me what you did for Emily.  I want to thank you.  She's such a good girl."

     Ginger or Emily? Helena wondered.  Emily most likely, but even so, Helena didn't know how to respond to that.  She really wasn't feeling her cynical worst this morning, and besides which, any comment she might have made that might have diminished Inez's apparent gratitude, to make it easier for her to take, would have seemed inappropriate.

     Helena settled for, "That's what I'm here for. I'm just sorry that I couldn't do more."

     "Oh no.  Don't worry yourself about it." Inez stopped and added conspiratorily, "Did Ginger tell you what happened to Emily?"

     "No."

     "Well, she used to live up in Baltimore.  Thats about five miles up the old Middle Park road.  Well last year, her mama died, and so she had to live with her step‑father.  I guess you could call him that.  He was really just some hard rock scraper who showed up one day, looking for a place to board."

     Helena could see that Inez, though a gossip, was uncomfortable about this story.

     "That's all right.  You don't need to tell me."

     "No, if you're her doctor, then you need to know.  You deserve to know after what Ginger told me about last night.  You looked pretty well done in when Dr. Arelssyn carried you in.  And after he told me you were up here for your health."

     "Did he now?"

     "That he did. Well, anyhow, one night her stepfather got drunk, and, well, you know."

     "I can guess."

     "Anyways, he threw her out the next morning, calling her the most awful names.  Well, Mr. Rollins, bless his heart, even though he don't live around here much these days, being off in Denver, rich and famous, he said we could take her in here as a maid."

     Helena could imagine, knowing how difficult it would be for a young girl to find a place to live, or to work, after she had been ruined.  Unless she wanted to take up the life of a wanton.

     "But when Emily started to ...," Inez bit her lip.  "Well, Mr. Rollins had to let her go.  There wasn't anything else he could do.  You saw we don't even have a tavern or a saloon in town."

     "The image of the hotel, and all that?"

     "Exactly so.  Anyhow.  Ginger took her in so's she would have a place to stay.  It wasn't as if she was ever, well, you know, a bad girl.  She was just having some bad luck, that's all."

     Helena reached over and patted Inez's hand.

     "I never thought she was.  I suppose that I should take a look in on her after a bit."

     "I don't know if that's all that needful.  Ginger says that she doing just fine."  Inez paused uncomfortably, "And with you being sick and all."

     "Regardless, it's my job.  Besides," Helena smiled.  "The hard part's over and done with."

     "I suppose that's true, but I don't know if you should be putting yourself out like that."

     Helena smiled politely and nodded.

     "By the bye, Inez.  These was a little girl who helped my find my way back last night.  I want to thank her.  Could you help me find her?"

     "Quite likely.  A little girl, eh?  What did she look like?"

     "She was about so tall, with dark hair and eyes."

     "You sure, Doctor?  There ain't no such girl living around here.  Lots a blonds, redheads and chinee, but no dark haired girls that tall."

     A cold chill passed through Helena.

     "Perhaps, I was mistaken.  Well, if you find out who it was, please thank her for me."

     "Sure enough, Doctor."

     Helena caught sight of the stairs and sighed.  "I expect that I should go and see if Yuvon, er, Dr. Arelssyn has risen yet."  Helena flushed slightly at Inez's amused smile.  She turned toward the stairs, then stopped.

     "Inez, one more little thing, do you know whether or not there are Catholic services being conducted anywhere hereabouts?"

     "I don't know."  The taller woman thought for a few moments.  "I think I heard something about there being a traveling minister passing through.  I'm pretty sure I heard he was going to be in Nederland this week."

     "And where's that?"

     "Nederland?  It's about four or five miles north of here.  You just follow that road out there, off to the right and up the hill."

     "Thank you, Inez.  I'm very grateful."

     "Good heavens Doctor.  We should be the ones to be thanking you."

     Helena turned back to the stairs.  She slowly trudged up them, each step shooting pain through her bruised and violated legs.  Reaching the top, she leaned against the wall to catch her breath.  She'd felt pretty beaten up and sore the previous morning, but that was nothing compared to the tired agony of her body today.  Of course, she smiled to herself, yesterday she had just been saddle weary.  After her ride last night, horses would be easy.

     She straightened herself and walked down the hall to Yuvon's door.  From the other side, she could hear sounds of movement and a man's humming.  She knocked.

     "Yes?"  The humming stopped.

     "Yuvon?  It's Helena.  Are you ready yet?"

     "Just about.  Come on in, the door's unlatched."

     She entered the room.  He was standing next to the open window, stripped to the waist.  He was shaving by touch, and looking out at the street.

     "Oh, I'm sorry," Helena said blushing.  "I'll wait for you downstairs."

     "Why?  Is there something wrong?"

     "Yuvon, you are barely dressed."

     He chuckled.  "Young woman, you are a physician, and you've already seen my chest before.  Besides, I've always heard that turnabout's fair play.  So how are you feeling this morning?"

     Helena's lips tightened.  So he wasn't just going to ignore last night.  "I've felt better."  She closed the door and sat on the bed.  Just standing was getting fatiguing.

     "I can imagine.  You seemed pretty beaten up.  By the way, that is a beautiful little mouse that you're developing there."

     "Mouse?"

     "Black eye.  So what happened?  Your 'I had an accident' doesn't tell me much."

     "I thought I'd already said.  I went to visit with a patient.  On my way back, I slipped in the mud and found myself washed away in the creek."

     He paused, thought for a moment, nodded, and continued his shaving.  Helena had to admit to herself that he had handsome lines, particularly without a shirt on.

     "Aren't you going to say anything?" she asked.

     "Like what?"

     "Yuvon, you are supposed to say 'Good God, woman.  You could have been killed.'"

     "Am I?  But that's belabouring the obvious.  Besides, if you were seeking that sort of sympathy, you would have said something about it alst night.  You obviously acted cooly under pressure, or else you were very lucky."  He wiped his face off with a towel.

     "I'm very please that you weren't hurt.  What would you like me to say?"  He leaned over her and plucked a shirt from the chair next to the bed.

     "Are you always this cold blooded and intellectual about everything?"  She stared up at him.

     He stopped, then laughed.  "I would like to say that my levels of sang‑froid remain constant, but I would be lying.  However, I like to make the effort when I am entering a potentially dangerous area."

     "And this is a potentially dangerous area?"  She was a little confused.  "Has anyone ever told you that you don't always make a lot of sense?"

     He laughed again, and slipped his shirt on.  "Constantly." He grew more serious  "All right, here's the deal.  This could be dangerous for a variety of reasons. The first is, to a woman of your background, I could easily appear either condescending or patronizing were I to compliment you on how well you did last night.  However, should I thank providence for your safety, I might appear to be belittling any accomplishment that you made by suviving.  And after last night, no matter what I say, or how I act tempts misinterpretation of our situation."

     "I think I understand, at least that last bit," she said, biting her lip.  "For example, if you aren't romantically inclined towards me, and you should show some concern for me, then I might misinterpret that."

     "Exactly, or even vice versa.  Should you not be so inclined, then I might offend you by my perceived concern."

     "I see."  She thought for a minute.  She didn't want him to be 'romantically inclined' toward her, but neither was she certain whether to be insulted or not.  "Tell me, doctor.  Do you find all communication between people to be this complicated?"  Suddenly amused at herself, him and the whole conversation, Helena lounged back on the bed, watching him dress.

     "It is my experience that all interpersonnal relationships, especially those wherein the threat of romantic entanglement falls within the realm of statistical probability, are at least this complex."

     "Is there some way to make them less complicated?"

     "Not without using telepathy."

     "What's that?"

     He paused in knotting his tie.  "It is a term that was invented by a member of the British Society for Psychical Research to describe direct mind‑to‑mind communication.  In theory at least, telepathy should remove the inadequacies of language, and make people more open in communication."

     "I'm not sure I'd like that," she said thoughtfully.  "You said 'in theory.' What about in practice?  Do you think that such a thing is truly possible?"

     "Of course it is.  Except that where human beings are involved, they can usually find a way to screw up a free lunch."

     Helena laughed.  He rolled up his right sleeve and strapped a knife to his arm.  Then he slipped on his shoulder holster and his jacket.  He held his arm down and twitched it.  With a clicking sound, the long, thin knife dropped to his hand.  With a grim smile, he resheathed the blade.

     "So dear lady, have you eaten yet?"

     "Not yet, sir." she said jokingly, "I was waiting for you.  You done playing with your toys?"

     "My dear, half of a good defence is a properly functioning and efficient weapons delivery package.  Shall we go?"

     "Let's."  She stood, wincing in discomfort.  She looked at Yuvon as he held the door for her.  "So you don't want to appear patronizing or condescending?"

     "Of course not.  As regards keeping yourself alive last night, I wouldn't have expected anything less from a person of your abilities."

     "Right."

                          * * * * * *

     Helena sat staring at the cardpaper menu laying facedown on the table in front of her.  If she wanted to go to church later, she couldn't have anything to eat.

     "Do you already know what you want?" Yuvon asked. "That was fast.  Do you have any suggestions for me?"

     "The sourdough pancakes smell awfully good."  In fact, the aroma was making her mouth water and her stomach ache.

     "I've never had pancakes before.  The term 'sourdough' strikes me as a bit unappetizing."

     "Yuvon, if you don't want my advice, don't ask for it."

     "I was just making conversation.  What are you having?"

     "Nothing."

     He raised an eyebrow at her. "And why not?"

     Helena felt a twisting inside.  She wasn't certain if she wanted to tell him why.  She was afraid he might want to laugh at her.

     "I'm waiting, Helena.  You know that as your physician, I deserve to know why you have stopped eating."

     She thought about that.  She wasn't sure that he deserved to know, but as her doctor, perhaps he ought to know.  She fought for moment with her feelings of embarrassment.

     "Never mind.  It was a stupid idea.  You are correct, I ought to eat."  She half heartedly picked up her menu.

     "Do you really think that this is going to get you out of answering my question?"

     "Obviously it isn't," she said dryly.  "Yuvon, many of the reasons that lie behind why I choose to do the things that I do really aren't any of your business."

     "I see we're feeling better this morning." He smirked at her.  That made her angrier.

     "I was, no thanks to you."

     "Why 'no thanks to me'?"

     "Because you snore.  You kept me awake half the night."

     He looked surprised for a moment, then laughed.  "All right, I suppose I deserved that.  I really am concerned though.  Is there some reason that I ought to know of that you aren't eating?"

     "It's not that I'm not hungry.  I'm ravenous."  She sighed at the menu.  "I would, however, like to go to church this morning, if we can get there in time."

     "And ...?"

     She stared at him.  He had the most peculiar gaps in his education.  "Yuvon, you aren't supposed to eat before taking Holy Communion."

     He looked blankly at her for a fraction of a second, and she could tell that he still had no idea what she was talking about.

     "In that case, Helena, if you don't want to eat, it's up to you.  I just wanted to know if it were something about which I needed to be concerned."

     He ordered the pancakes for his breakfast, and Inez quickly brought the food to him.  The smell of his coffee was almost enough to make her reconsider her fasting.  While he ate, Helena told him about Emily and the child.  He listened intently as she spoke, making only minor replies on points of clarification.  After she finished, he looked hard at her.

     "Well then, what do you want to do?" he asked.

     "About what?  Emily?  I don't believe that there's all that much more that can be done for her.  I would like to stop in and take a look at her, of course, but in all, I suspect that her healing from here on will be within her heart, and is therefore out of my hands.

     "Beyond that, I would like to go to church.  I'm told that there is a priest in Nederland.  It's not that far to the north, and I would like to go as soon as possible."

     "Zu befhel, fraulein Doktor."  He rose with a slight bow.

     "What does that mean anyhow?"

     "As you command."  He turned away from the table.

     "Where are you going?"

     "You are inquisitive.  I'm going to pay the bill for my breakfast."

     She watched him walk over to the cash box.  Just seeing him in motion gave her a warm, pleasant feeling.  Although she would never tell him, she was forced to admit to herself that, as much as it disturbed her, she had, indeed, found a deep pleasure in the intimacy of the night before.

     He returned shortly.

     "Okie, Docky," he said as he sat back down.  "Here's the plan.  Let me know if you have any objections.  You trot over to your patient's place while I take care of the bills, the luggage and the horses.  When you are finished we move out.  Inez tells me that Nederland is only four miles away over a good road.  We will be there in no time.  So what do you think?"

     "Beyond the fact that I'm not trotting anywhere, the plan sounds just fine to me."

     "Fine.  If you're finished loitering over your place setting, get lost.  I'll see you in a bit."

     They both rose from the table.  Helena stopped.  She shrugged, picked up Yuvon's coffee cup and drained it.  When she turned back, Yuvon had gone.

     Outside, the fog had begun to lift.  The morning was still overcast, the sky full of varying shades of swirling gray, brushed in place by God's own paintbrush.  The wind was soft but continuous, and carried a raw cold straight from the high peaks.  Helena shivered and gave a short thought to going back in for a shawl or a coat.  Then she remembered that she hadn't brought either.

     She walked rapidly along the muddy puddle strewn street, back tracking her route from the night before.  She went a short way past where the path left the road, and went to the bridge.  She carefully examined the posts and the far bank, but there was no sign of her struggles there.  The rain had washed away any marks she might have made.  All that existed from her adventures were the bruises.

     After a moment, she shook her head and smiled at herself.  She returned to the path and followed it up the hill.  She compared the path she could see in the daylight, with the path she couldn't see last night.  It had seemed much longer, and more treacherous then.  She stopped as she saw a place where a section of the bank had slumped, sagging down to the creek.  Next to it, on her left was a gnarled old tree.  She smiled, amused at herself.  The tree had seemed much larger in the darkness, but then the distance to the bridge had seemed longer as well.

     Helena took a quick look around, trying to see if she could find her medical bag.  She frowned, disappointed but accepting, when it was obvious that she wasn't going to find it.  Obviously, when she had tossed it, the bag had fallen into the creek as well, and been washed away.  She shrugged and continued up the path toward Ginger's home.

     The hovel was even more pathetic by daylight, decrepit and threadbare.  Helena knocked on the door.  After a moment, it opened a few inches, and Ginger peered out.

     "Who ...?" she began.  "Oh, Dr. McCoy, please come in."  The woman held the door open.

     Helena stepped through the low door.

     "Good morning, Ginger.  I just stopped by to see how my patient was doing."  Helena took a look at her hostess.  Ginger was obviously exhausted.  She was dressed more conventionally than she had been the night before.  She was wearing a mouse colored knitted shawl to protect her from the chill of the morning.  Helena envied her that garment.

     "Emily's doing fine, Doctor.  What happened to your face?  Did your friend do that to you?"

                          * * * * * *

     Helena emerged from the cabin a short while later.  She was happy, happy in a way she had not felt for many weeks.  She felt the satisfaciton that, while she hadn't been able to save both mother and child, she had been successful.  Emily would survive.

     Helena felt a spring in her step as she strode back down the path.  The pain of her muscles and bruises faded with the knowledge she had done something worthwhile.  She hadn't failed.

     She stopped at the gnarled old tree, remembering the terror it had given her, and laughed.  She stopped as she saw her medical bag, then laughed again.

     The satchel was dangling from an old limb, about twenty feet up and over the creek.  It was open and one handle had caught on the broken branch.  It waved a little in the breeze.

     She examined it, and tried to think of a way to get the bag back down.  She could probably knock it off the branch with a rock, but that would send it down into the stream.  With a shrug of invincibility she walked over to the tree that had caught her bag.  With a moment's thought to her last relatively clean, intact shirt, she began to climb.

     Her muscles reminded her that they were all still feeling the pains from her earlier activities, but she ignored them. as she began to feel stubborn.  The last thing she wanted to do was to go running for help, like some weak woman.

     She realized as she went from one hand hold in the thick, rotten bark, to the next that it had been well over ten years since she had last climbed a tree.  And that tree had ben dry, and this one was still damp from the rain.  She smiled as she told herself that she really wasn't doing too badly, considering.  Unfortunately, the chilliness of the morning was stiffening up her muscles again.

     She finally reached the limb her bag hung from.  She wrapped her hands around the old, thick wood.  She struggled to position herself to climb up onto the limb.  The bark her feet were braced against crumbled, and she dangled there, fifteen feet from her bag and twenty feet from the ground, her illusion of invulnerability was lost in the sudden fear of falling to her death.

     Her hat slipped off, jarred loose by the motion.  She followed it down with her eyes, fighting against the stark terror boiling up within her, to keep the screams from vomiting forth.  The ground beneath her sloped steeply down to the stream.  The stream bed was no longer swollen, and was full of rocks and small areas of running water.

     "Jesus, Mary, and Joseph." she said, getting angry at her own stupidity and fear.  Shefoght to maintain her presence of mind.  "Any one else would have had the sense to go find some help, but no, not you.  You always have to do things by yourself, don't you?"  Her shoulder began to hurt.  "God, I could use a cigarette."

     She dangled there for a moment.

     "Well, stupid, you can either hang here until your arms give out, or you can finish what you came up here for."  Her fingers slipped a bit.

     She clawed for a better grip.  When she had attained that, she swung her legs up and around the limb.  She strained and wriggled about until she lay face down, draped over the bough.

     She noticed a gently acrid scent in the air.  Looking down, She saw Yuvon.  He leaned against a tree and was lighting his pipe.  She noticed jealously that he was wearing his heavy red leather coat.

     "What are you doing down there?" she asked somewhat breathlessly.

     "Oh, hi," he replied pleasantly. He straightened himself, and walked toward her tree.  "Are you having a good time?"

     "Not too bad.  Have you been down there long?"

     "About the last five feet.  I would have said something earlier, but you looked busy."

     "Thank you, I appreciate the consideration."

     "C'est rien.  I figured you were taking a while so I followed your backtrail to meet you."  He paused for a moment.  "You know, I really have to tell you this, even though you probably know it already.  That's dangerous."

     "You jest.  This?"  Helena asked incredulously.

     "I'm afraid so.  Are you trying to kill yourself?"

     "It actually hadn't occured to me recently.  I just wanted to collect my bag."

     "I figured as much, but I had to make sure."  He took a puff of his pipe.  "You know there are easier ways."

     "Well Yuvon, it did seem like such a pleasant day, and not having any rope or such ..."

     He shrugged.

     "If you don't mind, Yuvon, I think I'll just get back to work.  If you could please keep your laughter to a minimum, I really do need to concentrate."

     He nodded.

     She slowly crawled the fifteen feet to where the bag hung in the breeze.  Carefully she reached out and grabbed the handle.  She unhooked it and lifted it off the branch.

     She looked into it.  Everything that could be soaked was, it was full of water.  But a cursory glance seemed to indicate that all was present.  She held the satchel closed, and turned it upside down.  Water poured out from the opening, but she managed to keep anything else from falling out.  After it stopped dripping, she latched it.

     "Yuvon, make yourself useful."  She shouted down at him.  She swung the bag beneath her and tossed it to Yuvon.  As he reached up to grab it, the first snap shuddered through the limb.  Helena froze and closed her eyes.

     "Oh damn."  She opened her eyes wide as another, louder cracking sound sent the branch dropping a few inches.  She hugged the slender wood as if that would keep the branch from breaking.  She looked down at Yuvon.

     He had tossed the bag to one side and his pipe to the other and had moved beneath her.  Helena tried to recall how to perform an Act of Contrition, but her mind was frozen.  A moment later, the branch peeled away from the tree with the sounds of splintering bones and tearing flesh.

     Yuvon lunged beneath her, obviously trying to catch her as the the branch slammed down into him.  He fell back, and Helena was jarred from the branch as its outer end arced downward, slaming into the ground.  She quickly rolled down the path, away from the wood and falling debris.

     It took her a moment to verify that she hadn't broken anything.  She stood up shakily, and looked around for Yuvon.  He had vanished from the path.

     A sick feeling worming through her stomach, she peered over the ledge into the ravine.  Yuvon lay against the rocks of the stream.

     "Godallmighty."  She vaulted over the side, and slid down the embankment to the stream bed.  She rushed over to Yuvon's body.

     "Yuvon?  Are you all right?" she asked as she knelt down next to him.  The stone beneath his head was awash with scarlet.  She felt at his throat.  His heart was still beating strongly.

     "Thank you, God," she prayed softly.  Then she whispered down at Yuvon.  "All right, Yuvon, don't worry.  I'm going to go and get help."

     "Don't bother," he replied.  She jumped slightly.  She had thought he was unconscious.  "It's just a scratch."

     He started to sit up.  She pushed down on his chest.

     "What do you think that you're doing?"

     "I'm sitting up.  I told you, it just a scratch."

     "Scratches dont bleed like that."

     "Hey, why don't you wash it off and take a look?"

     It was a reasonable suggesiton.  She took a handfull of water from the stream and carefully washed off the back of his head, looking for the gash that was bleeding so much.  He was right, of course.  It was just a scratch.  There was a small bruise surrounding it.

     She sat back on her heels.  "So where did all this blood come from?"

     "I don't know."  He sat up.  "Cro‑, Christ, I hate it when I do that."

     "What?"

     "Make stupid mistakes.  I've got to remember, next time just to let you fall."

     "Thank you," she laughed a little nervously.  "Are you certain that you are going to be all right?  With that bruise, you may have a concussion."

     "Yes, Helena." He shakily stood up.  She stood with him, gripping an iron muscled arm.  "At least, I landed on my head.  Nothing to damage up there."

     He looked at her for a moment.  "Listen doc, I know all the signs.  If I notice any symptoms, I swear to any god you name, I'll tell you."

     It took them a few minutes to climb back out of the ravine.  Helena really didn't feel right about letting Yuvon move around after a fall like that, but she just couldn't get him to listen to her.

     Once back on the path, Helena collected her hat and her bag while Yuvon looked around for his pipe.  Helena looked down at herself.  She was filthy.

     "Well hell," she said bitterly.

     "What's the problem now?"

     She looked at him.  He was trying to get some mud out from the stem of his pipe.  If he wasn't going to notice her condition, she certainly wasn't going to let him know.

     "Nothing.  Shall we go?"

     The horses were standing, saddled and waiting next to the bridge.  As Helena mounted Nigel, she realized that she felt more limber than she had all morning.  Her excursion had been good for something at least.  It had worked all the aches and pains out from her for the moment.  It was almost worth a little dirt for that.

     They rode back through, and then past, the town.  At the forking of the road, Yuvon dismounted and began to untie his saddle bag.

     "What are you doing?" she asked.  It was getting late, and she was most likely going to miss church this morning, as it was.  She didn't want to waste more time than was needful.  If they didn't dawdle, maybe she could at least talk to the priest.

     "Keeping you from freezing."  He pulled a brown bundle from the bag.  He handed it to her.  "Here put this on."

     It was a woolen bolero jacket.

     "Thank you, it is a bit brisk this morning."

     "No kidding."  He retied the bag and remounted as she slipped the jacket on.  It was ridiculously large on her, the sleeves hanging well over her hands.  She was about to roll them up when she noticed how warm they made her hands feel.

     "Yuvon, I really must ask you.  What all do you have in that bag?"

     "Don't ask."  He smiled.  "My war bag, as I believe it's called, has more junk in it than you would believe."

     "It doesn't look that full."

     "Helena, do you want me to explain to you the intricacies and dynamics of a multi‑dimensional hyper‑form, or do you want to go to church?"

     "Yes, please."

     "Which?"

     "Both."

     He growled and nudged Erishkigal to a gallop.  Helena followed quickly, smiling at getting his goat.  She suspected that his gibberish was just to confuse her, but she didn't care.

     Regardless, she was grateful for the coat.  It was already making her feel warm.