Sunday, September 13, 2015

31: What He Left Behind

By the time the three of them had made it to the apothecary, and by the time Ben had rounded up enough of a posse to apprehend Ammerman and his remaining followers, and by the time that posse had made it back to Ammerman’s shop, Ammerman’s shop was a raging inferno.
The bucket relay involved virtually everyone in town, ran fully half a mile to the river, and took most of the day.  In the end, the volunteers were able to save the two buildings next door, but Ammerman’s shop itself was a total loss.  Of Ammerman and his crew there was no sign.
That evening, covered in soot and nursing a hundred small bruises, cuts, burns and blisters, Will and his friends recovered in Ben’s apothecary.  Rosemary, Ben and Emily had their chance to view the blessing stone’s message for themselves.  For all of them, it raised as many questions as it answered.  Rosemary’s question might have been the most profound:  if the Seraphim believed that union with The Light was humanity’s destiny, then what was the point in encouraging a mission to Asphodel?  Why didn’t the stone simply tell them to go to The Light, en masse and at once?
In the end, Ben asked Jason and Will to lend the stone and deed to him for safekeeping.  They consented, Will packed them away behind his counter; as he did so, he picked up an item from the rear shelf and slipped it inobtrusively into his tunic.  Returning to the main room, Will found the others sitting around Ben, who maintained a stony silence.  In one hand he held a scrap of parchment; in the other, a small knife.  More of an awl, really, a tool meant for punching holes in leather.
“Ammerman left us a message before departing.”  Ben held up the parchment to the light.  “I am leaving it as I found it.” he read.  “Take over.  It’s yours.”  Ben put down the parchment on the table in front of him, and picked up the small knife.  Then, in a sudden, violent outburst, he drove the knife through the parchment and into the table.  All four of them jumped back in surprise.
Ben spoke through clenched teeth.  “I saw that building constructed, and it was not built by John Ammerman.  Old Anders put up the frame with his own hands, in a time before we had anything resembling a reliable carpenter.  It took him years to get it right.  He slaved in that shop for what must have been a century, at least.  When the time came for him to take on an apprentice, he chose Ammerman from among a dozen candidates.  Anders passed on his knowledge of bowcraft to Ammerman alone.”  Ben stared straight ahead at nothing, his eyes full of resentment.  “Now, with winter approaching, we have no infrastructure with which to build bows or arrows and no one with the training to do so.  One hundred and fifty years of accumulated knowledge and expertise, vanished in a flash of one man’s selfishness and hatred.”  His fist clenched around the handle of the knife as he spat the words.  “I am leaving it as I found it.” 
“I’m not no one, Ben.”  Emily’s voice carried a bit of an edge.  “You do still have a bowyer in town, if you can bring yourself to take her seriously.”  Then, more softly:  “It won’t be easy.  But I’ll do what I can.  For Haven.”
Ben’s eyes moved to Emily.  His expression slowly softened a bit.  He nodded.  “And, of course, Grigori has left us as well.  Or was taken from us.”
“Left us, I think,” Rosemary said.  “With or without legs, I can’t imagine that man being forced to do anything against his will.”  She paused.  “I failed him.  I couldn’t…I couldn’t convince him he was wanted, that he was still useful.  No matter how long I talked to him…he just sat there, with that expression on his face.  Staring straight ahead of him.”  Emily placed a comforting hand on her shoulder, but Rosemary hardly seemed to notice.  “He left us.  I couldn’t make him stay.”
Rosemary’s comment, it seemed, made plain the elephant in the room.  A long, uncomfortable silence stretched out, during which Will found the gazes of the others slowly roosting on him.  The last rays of the autumn sun filtered in through the shutters, leaving dappled patterns on the hardwood floor at which Will stared grimly.
Ben was the first to speak.  “I forbid it,” he said, his tone cold and commanding.
Will opened his mouth to reply, but Emily spoke first.  “Not to sound like Ammerman, Ben,” she said, her tone firm, “but you don’t have the authority to forbid Will to do anything.”
Ben turned, hard-faced, to reply, but Rosemary saved them before the confrontation had a chance to grow fangs.  “In that case, Will,” she interjected, “I request it.”  She looked him full in the face and took his hand.  “Will, this community has been through so much, lately.  So many disruptions.  So much that we don’t understand.  People are scared and confused.  The harvest is almost in.  We can’t lose anyone else right now.  We just can’t.”  She stared at him, her eyes pleading.  “Will…Will, we value you.  We love you.  I know you don’t know who you were.  I know that not remembering your life on earth breaks your heart.  I know that you don’t always value yourself, that you don’t see in yourself what everyone else sees in you.  But, Will, take it from someone who knows: in Haven, it doesn’t matter who you were before.  Here and now, Will, you are loved.  Please stay with us, Will.”  She squeezed his hand tightly.  “Please just stay.”
Will looked back at her, saw her eyes brimming with tears.  How hard did she fight for me, before she even knew who I was?  How much of her life did she give up just to give me one?  For how long, after she thought it was hopeless, did she keep fighting?  And how must it have been for her when she couldn’t bring back Claude and Ibrahim?  He said nothing; merely squeezed back.  In return, she gave him a tight, sad smile.
“In any case,” Ben said wearily, “it’s time to retire.”  He stood; Will gave him Rosemary’s hand, and he lifted her to her feet as well.  “Thank you again, all of you.  Will, please think about what you’ve heard here tonight.  Jason…please show our guests out, if you would.”
Jason led Emily and Will outside and down to the foot of the stoop.  Halfway down, Emily stopped short, gasped. “Jason!  Your wrists…”  Will glanced down at them, and recoiled.  Where the bonds had held them, Jason’s wrists were badly chafed.  Actually, “chafed” was not the word; they looked like raw hamburger meat.
Jason glanced down as well.  “Oh, this?  It barely hurts anymore.  You know.  They started pointing those crossbows at Will.  And I thought…for a while there, I thought I wasn’t going to be able to get my hands free in time, so I had to work a little harder…”
“At me, Jason?”  Will asked.  “They were pointing them at both of us.”
Jason’s voice was quiet.  “I don’t care what you’re capable of, Will.  I don’t care how easy it is for you to come back.”  He paused, his face awkward.  “I’m not…smart…like you two are…” Emily tried to object, but he raised a hand to stop her.  “I’m not, Emily.  Don’t bother.  We all know it’s true.”  He turned back to Will.  “But…I know enough to know I made you suffer.  And nobody―nobody―is going to do that to you again.”  His turned his gaze to Emily again, looked for a long moment, swallowed, then turned back to Will.  “One life, Will,” he said, his voice calm and intense.  “One life.  That’s what I owe you.  Don’t think I’m going to forget.  Not ever.  Not ever.”
A long silence settled over the three of them.  Then Jason screwed up his face, ratcheted his voice into a drawl:  “I’m a man what remembers.”  And then his smile emerged, a sunburst through the clouds, as Emily and Will burst into laughter.
It took them a few moments to get their breath back.  Will stared up at Jason, who grinned back.  “And people say I have a bad memory,” Will said.  “You know, Jason, I’m pretty sure I remember something about a gigantic space-fish chasing me and a guy coming out of nowhere to stab hell out of it.  I’d say we’re even in terms of lives owed, wouldn’t you?”
“That?”  Jason’s brow furrowed in genuine confusion.  “That…that doesn’t count, Will.  I mean, I didn’t even know who you were then.  That’s was just…I’d do that for anybody.”
“Yes.  Yes you would.”  Will stepped forward and wrapped him up in a hug.  “And that’s why it counts.” 
For once, Jason hugged him back without Will feeling like he was about to be broken in half.  As he did, Will heard him murmur:  “Please.  I don’t want to know the reason.”  Releasing Will at last, he looked down at him.  Then at Emily.  Then at both of them together.  Will could practically see the gears turning inside Jason’s head.  And Will thought about the many different ways there were to be stupid, or smart, or weak, or strong.

At length, Jason gulped and nodded.  “Guess it’s time for you to walk her home, little bro,” he said.  “Be seeing you.”  He turned to go back inside.  Emily and Will watched him go, his form silhouetted against the lamps in the doorway, leaving the two of them in his hulking shadow.

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