III. Skin

Bate, along with being angry, was surprised. The feeling of free fall had somehow slowed everything down. The demon had snuck up on him while he slept and tried to dash his brains out. Bate was not one to just lay there and wait for death. No, he wanted to go down fighting.

But it turned out to be a mistake.

The demon had taken him by the throat - disturbed by Stephen and Mond - and thrown the man from the platform. Bate felt the air rushing against his hands as he lashed out in a futile attempt at trying to slow himself. No. He was falling.

Then the ground made heavy impact. He gasped at the sudden winding, then winced as he felt something crack. He had broken a rib before - but this was a whole new level of pain. It was new and horrible. His head bounced against the floor. Thank god for the fresh cow pats. They softened it a bit. But it still hurt.

His vision danced. Feeling went numb. Breathing ceased. Time slowed as he tried to push himself onto his feet. Balance was overridden by the concussion. He hit the floor again and hissed, as he hit his cracked rib. His breathing was still shallow because of the pain, but it was going. But he still couldn't inhale as much as he would've liked.

Then everything came rushing back to focus. Too much. His head pounded at the noise of the new world he had woken to. He rolled onto his back, ignoring his body screaming at him - he just wanted solace in sleep. It seemed to welcome him with a warm embrace. Something trickled down his face. Warm - like water.

Yes, that's what it was. Warm water. He saw her clearly now. It was Mary. His Mary. And little John. He smiled and let them come closer. They leant over him and called his name. Telling him to sleep and it would be better.

Bate closed his eyes, succumbing to unconsciousness.

...

"Bate!" Mond touched his friends neck, checking for a pulse.

Oh, thank the Lord. He had a steady pulse. Breathing was erratic and irregular, but he was still here... for the now. The skin on his head had been split by a small cut, but it rushed with a current of blood. Mond took out his knife and cut a length of material from Bate's hose. He strapped it around the latters head.

Something in Bate's breathing gave Mond a hint that his chest was wrong. A broken rib mabye? Mond went to turn him onto his side because, in his experience, internal bleeding was a nasty thing. 'Drowning through blood' as his brother put it.

Or a collapsed lung. On the list of ways Mond definitely did not want to kick the proverbial bucket was a collapsed lung. If it was such, than everytime Bate breath - he would sign his own death warrant. Air would escape the lung and the built up pressure would kill him.

Mond didn't want to take any chances. He had to move his life-long friend. Even if it meant risking overwhelming chances of death.

"If you move him," Stephen snapped, "He's as good as Fucked."

Mond snarled, "Yeah, well, he's fucked already. I'm trying to help."

Rupert was surprisingly out of this. He looked ragged and one of his hands bared a nasty cut - at which he insisted on focusing his attention. Art was rocking on his heels. Poor lad really, no stomach for gore. Even if it was just a slight cut on Bate's forehead.

"We need a surgeon..." Mond wrapped a hand over his throat.

Two surgeons: there was the Barber Surgeon who would prescribe blood-letting for practically everything under the sun or the Monk Surgeon. He would pray for your soul before even touching you. Both were utter knob-headed loons.

"...Just get someone. "

Rupert made no effort to run - nor did Art. But Art had a reason. Rupert was picking at the skin of a scar on his cheek now. Stephen raised a fist and yelled at his Farm-Hand. That made Rupert skitter off with urgency.

...

"So, I suggest rest and a healthy amount of prayer. God will forgive this young man for all the ills that led up to- how did he sustain this again?"

The four men and Margaret glanced around at each other's faces - searching for a passing lie. Before Stephen could clap a hand over his mouth, he blurted out:

"Cow!"

But he yelled it with much vigour. So much so, the Monk leapt back in utter shock. The Monk - thinning grey hair and a portly figure - scratched one of his many hundreds of wrinkles and shuffled to the hall door. His name matched his ways really:

Brother Aldric. Mostly just Ald which - as Stephen correctly guessed - meant 'old'. Certainly fit the doddery man because as long as Bate was alive Ald had been a Monk Surgeon. The man must be - what, eighty?

"I'm so that you chose the glory of the Lord over a peasant who hacks limbs or an old witch."

At that, he glanced at Art, who was squatting on a stool by the fire pit. Then Ald was gone. He turned and excited as quick as he came. A collective sigh encompassed the Hall. Ald was definitely not company to keep for the sane. Stephen wondered how the Monks bore him and his overbearing presence.

Rupert glanced at the cut on his hand. It hand been bandaged up by the doddery loon. He was thankful. But everyone asked questions about its sudden appearance. It was cut on a shard of pottery. Well, at least that's what he told everyone. Ald hat noted the presence of wood in the wound. Wood from a beam, perhaps?

"Time waits for no man!" Mond clapped his hands. Stephen looked up from Bate - the latter of which was lying on a mattress with a damp cloth of his cut. Ald had confirmed that his broken rib was just that. It would painful - but heal.

Stephen massaged a sudden crick in his neck, "Indeed. Methinks work should be done. Marge, my angle, please watch Bate too."

Margaret sniffed and nodded. She had many duties but she supposed Eda could carry this one out as it wasn't too laborious. Just sit and watch. Check for any changes. Margaret fancied the idea for Eda.

"Come now, " Stephen forced his deep frown into a slight smile, "We know our duties."

...

Rupert glanced over his shoulder. He swore he heard someone following him into the woods. The trees bowed in his wake. The axe he bore on his shoulder glimmered most hideously in the afternoon sun.

The coppice point wasn't far off now. The trees slowly began to thin out to the man-made clearing. Something in the woods made Rupert stop. A shape as big as his own. It watched him with glimmering eyes. Oh, by Lucifer, it was only a stag.

He began working on a branch - cutting it down to size. Then something slipped. The axe missed the branch and tumbled into the undergrowth. Rupert hissed a cuss and knelt to retrieve it.

As he did, something also drew out with it. Rupert had caught his sleeve on a Blackthorn bush. And a thorn had embedded itself into his leg. He needed rid of it quick otherwise infection would follow too swiftly.

It drew out but also came a splatter of blood. He stopped the bleeding and cursed his luck. He was having an incredible bad time of it. But it gave him an idea. He rocked to his feet and resumed his job.

Something cracked a twig in its path. Then he screamed.