Thin Ice
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Journey and Return



Written by

Madam Subclause


Madam Subclause

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Thin Ice

He wishes they would stop talking. And prodding. He wishes they would just leave him alone. It is surprisingly warm, it has stopped hurting and he doesn't mind lying here. But then again, there is something he is missing. The voices are getting louder, and more insistent, the prods have become tugs and possibly kicks. Wakefulness comes crashing through his consciousness, and with it pain and an awareness of his situation. He can see light; shadows moving across it. He can't open his eyelids or breathe through his nose, he is shivering uncontrollably and feels like he will be sick.

He is torn from the ice, pulled upright to a kneeling position. He doubles up, throws up sea water, coughing, is pulled upright again, and slapped. The pain from everywhere else more than drowns it out the sting. He is slapped again, harder. He tries to compose himself, breathe a bit, get some heat circulating, open his eyes. He thinks his lashes are frozen together. He has the ridiculous thought that in order to defrost them, he may have to burn them off. He screws up his eyes instead.

He gets a boot in the gut. Too much. He retches again. A hand in his hair pulls his head back as he tries to double over. "Damn Fire Nation dog threw up on my boots," growls a voice close by.

"Please.." he wheezes. Within his body, a constellation of agonies are telling him they are going to kill him.

"Shut up, pig-dog!" He can open his eyes a little. There is a Water Tribe man right in his face, bending down to scream at him.

"He's going to die if we don't get him to a healer," remonstrates another.

"Let him die. They never spared us," returns the first.

Another voice. "We should do it now." The sound of a weapon being drawn. His hands are tied behind his back, and pulled up, so he is forced to lean forwards, his neck exposed. For once, he cannot find the strength to take it like a man.

"Please.." That word again. Only it comes out of frozen lips in a stammer. "Puh-please, nuh-no... "

"Are you begging for your life, Fire Nation dog?" says the man in front of him. "Well, beg properly, like a good pig-dog." The men laugh. His head is pulled back violently, and he opens his eyes wide as he cries out. He sees sky, and three men close around him. "Beg then, you..." The man stops short, hissing. There are gasps, and the faces change from anger to puzzlement. Are his injuries so severe that he is terrible to look on, or can it be, can it possibly be that they somehow know him? Surely not.

Their voices mix in expressions of disbelief, anger. "How?" they say. "What does it mean?" The one in front of him grasps his face around the chin and jaw, turning his head to and fro. As he blinks in discomfort, another, having freed his fingers from mittens, pulls at his face, wrenching eyelids apart. Satisfied, grave, the man backs off.

"It's her mark. She has marked him."

"Don't talk so..." They are off again, arguing, until the first yells for silence.

"If this is her mark, if it is... " A pause. "We have to take him back."

"This way the Chief gets to decide what to do with him," says another.

"But how can it be her mark? She would not mark... this." Number three spits the last comment in his face.

"Well she has." Number one turns away in disgust. "Get him in the boat."

His hands still tied, they grab him under his arms. Number one is binding his feet. Shuffling quickly under his weight, two at his head, one at his feet, they half carry, half drag him.

"On three. One.." He is being swung like a sack of rice. "Two.." He tenses in anticipation. "Three!" He is suspended, weightless for a split second, then hits the floor of the boat. A black wave passes over him.

He is startled to awareness when he is dropped again. He lies on ice, stammering and shivering, trying to make sense of where he is, and what is going on. He is in a courtyard walled by ice. Before his face he sees feet, then the men they belong to, standing in the vague v-shape of men who are aware of status in their group and position themselves accordingly. The man at the apex of the V speaks, addressing one of the men who brought him in.

"He had no insignia, no indication of rank?" The voice carries authority and a wealth of experience.

"No, Chief Ar... No. We found him like this."

"Hmf. And has he made any sense since you found him? "

"No. He was yammering on like that most of the time."

"Is.." another pause "..the healer here?"

"Chief," says a voice, at a little distance. He catches sight of her, an older woman, almost parallel with his head. "You should have let me see him first. He is badly injured." There is no hesitation in her voice.

The Chief ignores this, gestures in his direction. "Perhaps the mark has driven him mad?"

"It is very possible. Madness is one of her gifts after all. Or he is in great pain, confused, and colder than he has been in his life."

She is right. He is not mad. He tries to tell them, but only stammers.

"Take him, then. See to his wounds. Perhaps we will have more luck with one of the others."

He is picked up and moved a distance before being dropped again. The pain is worsening, particularly in his head. He senses someone, the woman he supposes, kneeling down beside him, and a warm sensation runs over his body, easing the pain. He must be lying on or near the floor, as he feels approaching footsteps reverberate through the back of his head like sledgehammers.

"What is damaged?" says a male voice. He cannot be sure, but he thinks it is the leader. He turns his head to look, but the movement makes him nauseous.

"All down the torso, front and back. Shoulder, wrist, ribs, gut, hip and knee. Possibly a broken jaw," A pause, and a prod, which makes him moan, "..certainly the nose and the arch of this eye are damaged." The voice is detached.

"Let me know as soon as he can be made to talk."

"Of course. It will be a while though. If he is to live, he should rest first, and eat, if he can."

"Very well. Don't mend his knee. He can live without it." The man's footsteps recede, pounding. He winces and moans again. The warm sensation runs around his head and the ache eases.

"Quiet down, now," says the woman, as if to a restless child. "Keep your energy. You'll need it." She says the last with a grimness which he registers, even as he drifts off again.

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