Jean woke. It was a sudden thing; after weeks of madness, the fever broke in the night and he woke with his full faculties, but weak, incredibly weak. He was in his own bed in his parents’ house. The quilt which lay over him was the one his mother had sewn of krathide the year she died. Jean had slept under it for nearly a decade.
Outside the ground was bare and brown. The shutters were closed tight but he could see through a crack. Another crack near the ceiling let a ray of light fall across his hands. They were fearfully thin. The ground outside told him that the melt had passed and the single shutter told that full winter had not yet come. Later, double shutters would be hung with dry leaves as insulation between them. At least a month had passed, but not more than two.
Jean remembered everything up to the moment he was hurled to the ground. He wanted to see his leg, but it took a long time to get the energy to throw back the quilt. When he did, he found his leg was wrapped in bandages and he got a look at his body. White; skeleton thin. The bandages were not bloody, and Jean was determined to see what lay beneath them. He nearly passed out from the effort of removing them; then he wished that he had.
The scars were massive, ridged, and ugly. That he could live with. But the bone had been broken and Jean could see that it had not set properly.
He moaned when he passed out, and his sister found him uncovered and unbandaged when she came rushing in.
A week later broth and renewed appetite had restored some of his strength. He found that much had happened during his unconsciousness. He had lain at the edge of death from infection and that was why, despite Doctor Marcuse’s undeniable skill, his leg had healed crookedly. It was a wonder that it had healed at all.
And Anton had married Chloe.
Looking back and pondering – there was certainly time enough for that now – it all made sense. Chloe had never been what Jean would have termed faithful. That she had been seeing Anton at the same time she was seeing him was no great surprise – in retrospect. It also explained Anton’s late-blooming hatred.
Why had he not fired?
Jean had to have the story, but he had to get it carefully. If it were an obvious lie, he had to consider whether or not to refute it. What could Jean accuse him of – attempted murder? Or failure under pressure, which carried as stiff a penalty and greater shame. Would such an accusation be fair?
Furthermore, Jean had to consider whether or not he wanted to make an enemy who might call him out to fight. Once that would not have bothered him, but now . . . .
Anton’s story, as Jean got it from Claude Delacroix, was that he had fired as the trihorn passed – that is, he had pulled the trigger but the primer failed. He then recocked the rifle and took new aim, but held his fire rather than hit his partner. When the trihorn tossed Jean away, Anton killed it.
The story could have been the truth. Or it could have been a lie, and no one but Anton would ever know. Primers do fail, though rarely.
Jean could make no accusation. more tomorrow