"At a Loss"
She let out a sigh. Her father was yelling for her again. She could not understand why he was being so demanding lately, but then she did not realize her father noticed how much time she was spending in the barn with their unexpected guest.
As she left the spare stall, she looked back at his motionless form. She wanted a better cot and blanket for him, but her father flashed into hot anger when she took her own bedding from the cottage. She watched his chest rise and fall in perfect rhythm. She wondered if the stranger would survive his injuries, if he would ever wake up. She wanted to see his eyes. She told herself that they must be as beautiful as his face.
With a jolt, "Yes, Father!... coming!"
Later that night, after her father was asleep, she returned to the barn. She told herself she wanted to check on his wounds. She cautiously crept into the stall. He remained as before, unconscious. She wanted to know his name. Where was he from? He appeared too old to be still bound to his parents but young enough to not be marriage-bound. Her father found him with no possessions, except for a shredded bloody piece of cloth that were the remains of shirt. Her father said it was a horrific scene. Thieves were known to pounce upon travellers, but never this close to a farm, and never with such ghastly brutality. Her father expected the young man to expire soon and would take his body back to the farm for a respectful pyre. However, the victim clung to life. Clara was surprised to discover all the medical knowledge her father had. She asked a thousand questions as she assisted, but her father remained unusually quiet, only giving instructions and reminding her that a parent-bound young woman is to never be alone with a an unbound young man. "But he could be marriage-bound... He could still be parent-bound," she meekly asserted. Her father did not respond.
The night was quiet, the breeze warm. She looked up and down his shape under the blanket. She tried to speak, but her voice cracked. Her insides were like a flock of birds. She was filled with fear, excitement, and awe. Despite that it was forbidden for her to be near him much less speak to him, she tried again: "Sir?... What's your name?"
With more confidence, "Can you hear me?"
Nothing. She haltingly stepped closer to his cot. Close to his ear she begged, "Please wake up."
Nothing. He was in his own time, separated from her by a canyon.
She thought again that she should check on his wounds. She nervously lifted the blanket's corner at his shoulder. His chest was striped with cuts and hatch-marked with her father's stitching. With his upper body exposed, she still spent more time looking at his face. She wanted so much to stroke his nascent beard, but could not find the courage. She did notice he had other scars and that they matched his current wounds. His arms and legs had the most trauma. She gently rolled each bandaged hand to check for new bleeding. She looked to his face for a reaction, hoping to see one. Nothing. She returned the blanket to his shoulders.
She took a deep breath. She was light-headed from her nervousness. While guilt punched through her chest, excitement blazed across her skin. She reminded herself that she should check on his wounds, it is the right thing to do. With a trembling hand, she lifted his blanket exposing his lower half. She inhaled and froze.
Aside from the bandages, dried blood, and blanket he was completely naked. The only human being Clara ever saw naked was her older sister. She momentarily glanced at the bandages, but her focus was on all that made him male. A hot ache filled the lowest parts of her being. She spent more time looking than she was aware of. Guilt, and the shame that is its shadow, eventually overwhelmed her. She quickly, but carefully, returned the blanket to its modest position and ran out of the barn.
She woke the next morning and half believed the previous night's adventure was a dream. She was glad to see her father was in good spirits. She started her morning chores about the farm with enthusiasm.
His eyelids fluttered. Stochastically open then closed, like his consciousness. Closed, he saw his horse's ears flick reacting to something he could not perceive. Open, he saw wooden beams overhead and a haze that he knew instinctively was in his eyes and not the air. Closed, he heard the steady grind of the wagon wheels on the road. Open, he heard a distant girl's voice singing an old tune common to a land he once lived in. Closed, he felt the whole of the wagon jerk beneath him. Open, he felt a deep stabbing pain in both knees and cramping in his feet. He sharply inhaled which set off a fit of coughing. He heard a distant girl's voice yell: "Father! Father!..."
He tried to sit up, but his upper body felt absurdly heavy. He felt completely out of balance, that he would have fallen over had he not already been lying down. He wheezed and coughed some more. Each jerk was a chorus of pain. He looked about. It was a typical barn for this area and many generations old. He guessed it was small, maybe 3 other stalls. The sun must have been up with few clouds. Cracks between the planks on the wall proved this. The roof showed no cracks, a testament to a well cared for farm.
Just the tips of his fingers on his right hand were exposed. Those fingers explored the scrapes and stitched cuts on his head, chest, and abdomen. The effort this required frustrated him. As he rested from that, a wave a panic flooded him. He could not remember what had happened. He thought, where is my horse? Wagon? clothes? He remembered the wagon was empty on this part of the trip. However, as he thought more about it, he was no longer sure. He was not sure if he was done with a delivery or going to make one. And now he realized he was not sure where he was, and that thought troubled him more than anything so far.
"You stay back!"
"But Father! I- I helped with his bandages!"
"I said STAY BACK!"
The old farmer composed himself and stepped around the wall into the stall. "You're awake," he said as a slight question.
The young man nodded and gave a breathy "yeah..." then a barely heard "sir." He always kept with proper etiquette. In that brief exchange he was able to learn much about the old farmer. Reading people was one of his talents that saved his life many times. He knew this old farmer was a good man, but carried pain. The kind of pain that comes from great loss.
Clara leaned her head around the corner. She had to see him. He looked at her and for a moment her beauty made him forget his pains. The old farmer knew he was looking at his daughter and that she had disobeyed him. But in seeing this young man before him, he knew she would soon be unbound. He secretly admired his daughter's stubbornness. She got that from her mother, he thought. The old farmer felt a deep pang. He missed his wife dearly. His attention was turning in deeper to his wife's funeral pyre, when the young man spoke, "Thank you, sir."
The old farmer nodded. "How are you feeling?"
In the same calm tone he asked, "What’s your name?"
The young man inhaled to speak, then became stunned. In the pause that followed, Clara softly exclaimed, "Oh how terrible, he has forgotten his name!"
The old farmer gave his daughter a look suggesting she was allowed to be seen, but not heard. She quailed.
But the world-wise young traveller knew his name. He thought how silly for someone to forget their name. However, he was humbled in that he had forgotten which alias he was assigned to use in this area. If he was even where he guessed he was.
He shook his head and said, "David... my name is David, sir. Sorry, my thoughts are slow and my tongue is heavy."
Both the old farmer and his daughter glanced at each other with wide eyes. This young man was clearly too young to have been born before the king. They could not fathom any parents having the audacity to name their child the same as a sitting king.
The young man immediately detected their awkward glance and surprise. It troubled him that he did not know why, but he knew it had something to do with the name. Regardless, he knew he could not stay here. He had to leave and soon. He tried to sit up again. And like before, he could not. He thought for a moment he was being pranked. It felt like some brat was throwing his legs into the air exactly when he tried to sit up. His back remained heavy on the cot.
Clara gasped and ran to the cot as the young man struggled. She reached to touch him, but stopped just short. Her father stepped in and placed a hand on the young man's shoulder, effective blocking his daughter. "Listen, you are in no shape to get up."
"I do not want to burden your hospitality anymore, sir." He wanted to espouse more gratitudes, but the pain in his hands and legs were extremely distracting. He wanted to sit up see if he could walk, but also just to reach and massage his legs, which now felt like they were on fire. He wanted to see if he could loosen the bandages on his feet, they felt much too tight.
"You really need to rest. It is a miracle you are even alive at all," the old farmer chided.
The young man, determined, "I think if I could just walk about some, I would mend more efficiently, sir."
Again, the old farmer and his daughter gave each an uncomfortable glance.
He let his head fall back on the cot. He was frustrated that he again could not read the situation. He felt like he was in a foreign land. Why had he suddenly been unable to read simple farm people like these two? He needed solitude to gather his thoughts. He placated his caretakers, "yes, perhaps it is best I rest for a bit more, sir."
Clara smiled in relief. The old farmer nodded, "We will get you some food and water."
"I would appreciate that greatly, sir."
They left the stall. The old farmer shooing his daughter ahead of him, knowing she would linger.
The traveller did slip into a brief nap after they left. He was surprised at how exhausted he was. He still had not been able to decipher the puzzles of his situation. He reminded himself that his mind was still dulled as he forgot to ask the old farmer basic questions: Had he seen my horse and wagon? Was he holding on to his gear and money? Had he any knowledge of what had happened?
The need remained that he must be on his way and soon. He tried to sit up again, despite the staccato pain in his hands and knees, despite the roar of varied sensations in his feet. As before, struggled to master such a basic task. This time he rolled to his side and forced his elbow under him. He paused after this achievement and looked about the stall. He saw nothing remarkable and noted he saw nothing that belonged to him. He looked down at the blanket and his shape beneath. His old enemy of confusion smacked him again. His eyes must be suffering an illusion from this blanket. He jerked the blanket clean away and saw a half empty cot. His thighs were wrapped in blood brown bandages. His feet, lower legs, knees were simply not there.