Chapter Twenty Eight
The day was warmer than any Argent had felt since returning to the north. He was still glad for his poncho, but the sun was out and causing exposed snow to melt and form rivulets that meandered down the rough trail ahead of them. However, even with the excess muck, the trail was still much easier to travel than the outright wilderness they had traversed before the abandoned mine. The sledge they were following was heavy and wide enough to clear a decent track.
Argent looked up from the thumb high waterfall by his toes and watched Martha, wrapped in her too large, dirty, brown cloak and leaning on the crutch he had made her. Her recovery was amazing really, already able to navigate the obstacles mostly on her own. Bildad now had her walking in the lead without restraints on her hand or feet. He said it was due to the necessity of speed, she said it was because he daren’t risk being seen treating her like a captive this close to town. Regardless, Bildad had made it clear it was on condition of her remaining far enough ahead that he could easily anticipate any attack she might make, but close enough she didn’t stand a chance if she made a break for it.
Martha stopped for a second and coughed, studying the ground ahead of her for a safe location to place her foot. She cleared the rut she was dodging but the snow crust on the opposite side was deceptively brittle and her weight caused her to break through and slip into the mud anyway.
The young warrior quickly removed the distance between them and put his hand out offer his friend support. She swatted it away with the crutch, not even making eye contact.
“Stop being stupid and give me space. You know as well as I do that Bildad’s just waiting for an excuse to tie me up and drag me the rest of the way.”
Argent pulled back and watched as she planted her dry foot on the other side of the rut and pulled the other free of the sucking mud. She shook the majority of the dirt and snow from the holes at the front of her shoes and then continued shuffling down the trail.
She was getting more and more distant from him every day. He had hoped this opportunity to show support would help bridge that distance, not increase it. Bundled up as she was with only the back of her head showing over her cloak and her crutch in front of her, it was easy to imagine her whole, as he had first met her on the caravan. Though he hadn’t known her well, he missed that bright, smiling young lady. He hated that she had become a cripple. Or was cripple the right word? Yes she had lost her arm and wounded her hip, but throughout her ordeal a strength had risen to the surface and been exposed. That strength seemed to mock any attempt to label her a cripple.
A cloud blew in from the west, blocking much of the warmth the sun had been baking into them throughout the morning. Martha pulled the hood up over her head and hunched against the colder breeze. Argent shivered too, but not because of the chill. Those two actions had made it far too easy to imagine the cloak now contained the other Martha. The turned Martha, who’s claws had created the holes in her shoes and who’s very different hidden strength had nearly been the end of him. The Martha he wished to forget but who Bildad was constantly reminding him of.
How much of the gap in their friendship was due to the memory of that Martha? If he was honest, probably more than the amount caused by the actions of a girl struggling to survive.
Argent glanced behind him to see Bildad studying the ground around the rut.
“Unbelievable. I knew I shouldn’t have let us camp at the mine. Somehow he has a horse. Now we’ll never catch him before he makes the town.”