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Balfrith awoke with a snort to the patter of steady rain on his face. He lay twisted on the rocky ground, pain throbbing throughout his limbs and body. He raised his arms and tried to roll over onto his knees, but a sharp stab of pain from his left ankle made him gasp, and he stopped moving. Lying on his side for a moment, Balfrith tried to think of a way to get himself turned over. Squinting in anticipation of pain, he moved slowly, one limb at a time, twisting his body over until he was on his hands and knees, with his left foot elevated to keep all weight off the ankle.
Releasing his held breath, he paused in that position, mentally checking the various pains in his body. Just bumps and bruises, he finally concluded, except that ankle. That may pose a challenge to this little adventure of mine. After pausing another minute, he thought, How do I stand?
Balfrith lowered his left foot to the ground, wincing when it touched, and gasping aloud as his ankle felt the weight and was forced to bend. He moved slowly, getting his right foot up and under his body, preparing to stand. Then, taking a breath, he pushed up on his hands and one good leg, rising shakily and struggling to keep his balance. Smiling, he exhaled again, relaxing a bit and letting his weight settle. But pain exploded up from his ankle to his knee, and Balfrith collapsed again, crumbling to the ground as he cried out.
The rain continued, and he lay there on the stone, gasping, specs of darkness swimming before his eyes, little representations of the pain emanating from his ankle.
I could turn back…
Where did that thought come from? Balfrith opened his eyes and stared up and the gray sky. "I’ll not be going back," he said aloud. And gritting his teeth, he forced himself to sit up, surveying his location on the hill. "Half way to the top," he muttered, looking up at the peak. "Might as well be ten leagues, for it will take me that long to climb, in this condition."
I could climb back down. No need to continue on…
Balfrith closed his eyed and bowed his head. "I will not climb down. I will not return," emphasizing the will as if he were buttressing his resolve.
Moving slowly, he got himself turned over and around to hands and knees, then stood up on one leg again as before. But this time, he kept his weight on the right foot, only letting his left touch the ground, but not supporting any weight on it. "Now, how do I walk?"
He hopped forward on his right foot, once, twice, three times, then had to stop as he almost lost his balance and put his weight on the other foot. Pain stabbed up his left leg, but he kept his balance, and his foot, and remained standing.
Balfrith looked around, muttering to himself, "This is not working so well. I must be able to walk, not hop. Perhaps I can find… there." Though only a few trees grew on this hill, he saw a fallen branch that appeared to be about the right length, a short distance up the hill. He smiled, then gave forth a grim bark, not quite a laugh. "Short distance indeed - this may be the longest and most difficult fifty paces I have ever trod."
Gritting his teeth, Balfrith hopped forward again, expecting the pain but still gasping when it shot up his leg. But he continued on, steeling his resolve. Hopping ahead once, twice… Balfrith's foot slipped on the wet and mossy rock, and down he went on the bad foot, then all the way to the ground and he cried out in pain.
Balfrith lay there on the ground, sobbing, as much from the pain as the frustration of his dilemma. After a short while, the shooting pain subsided to a throbbing ache, and he was able to think clearly again. This is not going to work, he thought, still frustrated. But what will?
I need that crutch. But I also need to strengthen my ankle, else I will fail at gaining the crutch, and this whole journey is over right here. He nodded to himself. But how to strengthen the ankle? And then he remembered how his father’s physician would tie tight bandages around injured limbs, and even had done the same with his own ribcage recently. That worked, somehow, to reduce the pain. Perhaps it will work for this as well. But what do I have to make a bandage?
He didn't need to open his rucksack to know what was in it - and there certainly were not any bandages in there. Just a change of clothes, a coil of rope, and as much food as he could carry. And of course the sword, wrapped in its protective blanket, was strapped to the outside with another short piece of rope.
I could use the sword as a crutch - just to get me over to that branch. That’s a start. Still no bandages though…
He untied the rope holding Branulf, and pulled the sword out of its blanket wrapping. Looking up at the sky, he smiled. Sørkell forgive me for abusing this creation of yours in such a way. Then taking the sword, he pressed the tip into a dip in the mossy stone, and used it to lever himself up. Though the springy blade bent, it did not break, and soon Balfrith was standing once again. He kept his left hand on its hilt, holding it close to his hip and using it as a cane to support his weight on that side. Then, taking a few experimental steps, he found that he could almost use it as a substitute leg - well enough to get him up to that fallen branch, anyway.
He limped the remaining distance to the branch, leaning on the blade as little as possible, so as to avoid damaging it. Though the shooting pains from his ankle had mostly subsided, its throbbing became more insistent as he moved, so that by the time he’d reached the branch, Balfrith was more than happy to sit himself down on the ground, even in the mud and rain.
Taking the branch in hand, he tested its strength, bending it this way and that, making sure that it showed no signs of cracking or breaking. His luck seemed to have returned, this once, for it held up to his testing, and appeared to be about the right length as well. As he prepared to wrap Branulf back into its blanket, a thought occurred to him. He took his belt knife and cut away two long strips from one end, just a few inches wide but the full length of the blanket. Then he wrapped the sword again, and was glad to see that its length was still fully protected, even with the blanket being almost a span shorter.
Next, he removed his left boot, took the strips of woolen blanket, and used them to tightly wrap his left ankle. He wound the wrappings from the middle of his foot to about half way up his calf, but concentrated the tightest part of it around the ankle. Finishing that task, he took his boot and pulled it back on. Though it was quite tight around his ankle and heel, he managed to slip it over the wrappings, which pressed them even tighter. Though he winced a bit with the pain of that pressure, he tested his ability to move his foot, and found that it was quite firmly bound. And smiling, he levered himself up using the branch as a crutch, and took a few steps around. This will work, he thought, nodding. And so, he took up his rucksack with Branulf bound to it, and set off up the hill, taking care with his steps so as to avoid falling again.
When he’d come almost full circle, he came once again to the place where he’d had to jump and climb the rock face. Knowing he would not be able to do that again, he back-tracked until he found a place where he could climb up the slope with a bit of effort, thus circumventing the risks of the other path, and in that way, he eventually made his way to the top of the rocky tor. By that time, the rain had slackened considerably, though it had not fully stopped. But even so, he was able to see some distance to the north, well enough to plot the next leg of his journey. And having done that, he set himself to the next task: finding shelter, and building a fire, in order to get warm and dry.
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