Togura slept fitfully, dreaming that he was lying out under the sun with a broken leg. He woke to find it was true. The morning was still young, but already the day was dominated by unseasonable heat. His mouth was hot, dry, dusty. Flies picked their way over his face. He shook them off.
The air was loud with the buzz of flies. Dead men, dead horses, discarded weapons, a confusion of tracks and bloodshed marked the scene of battle. Togura, careful not to disturb his broken leg, looked around. He counted five dead horses, a dozen dead men, the bodies being spread out over quite a considerable area.
There was no telling.
Carefully, he examined his broken leg. It was the shin bone which was sore. He slit his trews below the knee so he could examine the break. To his relief, he found the bone had not forced its way through the skin. The area was very, very painful, but there was not much swelling. As broken legs went, this one was not very serious. But there was no way he could walk on it.
"Togura," said a familiar, slurred voice.
It was a bit early in the piece to be having hallucinations, so Togura looked around. One of the bodies had moved. It was the village headman, who was lying on the ground a dozen paces away, both wrists bent at a strange angle. Togura could only presume that the headman had broken both wrists in a fall.
"Come and help me," said Togura, though there was not much hope that the headman would understand Galish.
The headman urged himself forward on his elbows, moved half a pace forwar then stopped, his face a mask of pain. Obviously he hadn't just broken his wrists. Something else was smashed. Leg? Legs? Pelvis? Spine?
"Togura," said the headman. "Dosh."
What did "dosh" mean? It meant "go." Togura knew that much.
"I can't," he said, hurt by this totally unreasonable order. "I've got a broken leg."
The headman repeated himself.
There was, or so Togura supposed, some sense in the order. The attackers, to judge from their dead, were of the same tribe as the assassin who had tried to kill the headman - Togura could tell that by their hairstyles. They might have been a scouting party, or they might have been part of a much larger war party. If any had got away alive - and quite possibly the enemy had had the better of the battle - then they might come back with reinforcements. The area was unhealthy.
"If I had half a chance of getting anywhere," said Togura, "then I'd go. As it is, I'm staying."
"Dosh," said the headman, his voice intimate, urging, commanding. "Togura, dosh."
They could go on like this all day. It was very frustrating arguing with someone who didn't speak your language.
"All right then!" shouted Togura. "Dosh dosh dosh dosh!"
His throat was sore. He wished he hadn't shouted so loudly. He saw the headman smile.
"Ssh-schaa," said the headman; Togura recognised that as an expression of satisfaction.
"This is crazy," said Togura.
But, despite his reservations, he looked around for something he could use to splint his leg. The nearest suitable object was a spear sticking out of the back of one of the enemy dead. Togura wrenched it out, disturbing a hubbub of flies in the process. Using a knife which was his by right of combat, he cut it down to size. He cut into the flesh of the dead horse; he used lumps of horsemeat as padding, and strips of horsehide to tie the splint into place.
He ate some horsemeat, raw, then, as an afterthought, threw a dollop at the headman; it hit his nose and fell to the dust. The headman salvaged it with his mouth, tasted the dust and spat it out.
"Choosy," said Togura. "Beggars can't be choosers, you know."
"Donz-m'dola," said the headman.
That little phrase had something to do with the idea of getting bigger, or increasing. Togura had a hazy notion that in some contexts it was obscene, but that could hardly be the case here. Realising what the headman meant, Togura cut a sizeable chunk of meat and tossed it so that it fell within mouthreach.
"Zon," said the headman.
Which mean more.
Togura provided. He ate some more, feeding methodically. When he could eat no more, he decided it was time to go. To give his broken shinbone the smoothest possible ride, he was constrained to travel on his back. He started off, using his hands and his good leg. Raising his buttocks from the ground sent pains shooting along his right leg; his saddle-sick buttons would have to drag along in the dust.
"Gjonga," said the headman.
The word, a very formal form of "goodbye," was unknown to Togura. He did not answer, but concentrated on the task at hand. He scraped along, clumsy as a broken insect. Under the pitiless sun. Under the pitiless sky. Flies were already festering on his horsemeat padding. His broken leg, even though it was splinted, nagged him constantly.
It was hot, hot work. The meat ripened as the sun lazed through the sky. He started to feel nauseous, perhaps from the burden of horsemeat in his stomach, or from the stench of rotting meat wrapped round his leg, or from the constant twinges of pain from the leg - pain which was sharp, stabbing, unrelenting, worse than toothache.
- Pain is the worse thing.
The battlefield was distant now. He could just make out a small clump of shadows far away on the open plain. Carrion birds circled overhead.
- Courage, Togura.
His hands hurt. His buttocks hurt. His legs hurt. Thirst, like a jagged spatula, scraped at the back of his throat. Familiar muscles began to cramp; unfamiliar muscles ached and protested. He was starting to get backache. He was a crippled skeleton. An insect man, a freak of nature. A damaged organism.
The skin was wearing away from his buttocks. And from the palms of his hands. He should have padded himself with something. Strips of horsehide, perhaps. From time to time he had little dizzy spells in which the world blurred and darkened. Drops of sweat crept down from his forehead.
He needed water. So what was he going to do about it? Dig a well? Do a rain dance? He laughed, hurting himself. He tried to generate saliva, so he could ease the scraping thirst in his throat. No joy. He should have brought some spare horse meat with him. He could have sucked on it. Before setting out, he should have dragged himself round the dead men and the dead horses, looking for a water skin. Surely there would have been at least one. He was an experienced survivor. He had no excuse for not thinking of these things.
He halted, to take a rest. High overhead, a skylark was singing. He listened intently to its attenuated song. It carried him up, up, up, higher and higher into the dizzy sky. Then vanished, dropping him away to nothing.
He woke when something hurt his leg. Opening his eyes, he saw a big bald-headed bird gashing into his horsemeat splint padding. He waved an arm. It went scuffling into the air, then settled on the ground. Its beady eyes considered him. Then it hopped forward. He dragged himself away, thinking unpleasant thoughts about the carrion birds he had seen circling over the battlefield, and about the headman lying there, utterly defenceless, with two broken wrists. Well, at least the headman would be able to jerk his head around; that would probably dissuade the birds, at least while they had plenty of quiescent carcasses to feed on.
- Onward, Togura.
He dragged himself on, chafing away the last of the clothing protecting his buttocks. The skin began to rub away. He endured.
- Pain is life.
Night came, bringing unrelenting cold. Togura slept a little, then dragged himself on. When the pain was at its worst, he cried out with high, harsh, half-singing exclamations, which sounded almost like broken snatches of song. He allowed himself a little sleep, dreaming of pain only to wake to pain.
- Worse things happen at sea.
He kept the stars of the north dead ahead of him, knowing that the south lay behind his head. The moon rose, making shadowed craters out of the hoof-marks of horses. He was on the right track.
Toward morning, he heard dogs barking in the distance.
- Strength, Togura, strength.
He was taking the journey a step at a time. Pause. Brace. Push. Scrape. Endure the pain. Rest. Think out the next move. Gather courage. Brace. Push. Scrape.
- This is your test.
Rest. And brace. And now - strength! - push. Scrape. Rest. Endure. And once more, Togura, once more. Brace! Push! Scrape!
- And once more.
The light slowly lightened. The sun rose. His blood, pulsing through his ears, sang to him. He felt the steady thud of his heart in his chest. He pushed himself along. Relentlessly. He was a master torturer now, absolutely without pity for the broken organism he was punishing. Brace - push - scrape -
- And rest.
Resting, he heard hoofbeats. They came closer and closer, then the horse wheeled, riding in to halt behind him. Looking up he saw, hazily, a man in the saddle. Togura recognised him by his haircut. He was from the home village.
"Dosh," croaked Togura, pointing north. Then, louder: "Dosh!"
Then he fainted.