I’m in big trouble.
It started with Ishkin. I noticed this morning he was limping. When I asked what was up, he said he injured himself on a pitchfork in the stable. When he saw I was skeptical, he showed me his pants, and sure enough, there were a couple of badly-mended holes near his upper thigh.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” I asked. “Did you clean out the wound? Let me look.”
“It’s fine,” he said.
“Can I at least see?”
The look in his eyes said it all.
“Don’t be such a little prude. I’ll show you some of my own embarrassing scars, if it will help. Think of me as a doctor.”
He shook his head. “It doesn’t hurt. It stiffened up in the night, is all.”
“Well, it’s too bad you’re hurt,” I said. “I was thinking of giving you some money so you could go into town and buy a few things.”
“What kinds of things?”
“A tarp and some other gear. But you don’t look up for walking, and it doesn’t look like riding will be too comfortable, either. Besides, if you won’t even let me look at that injury and do a proper patch job on those pants. . .”
Suddenly Ishkin wasn’t so easily embarrassed.
The wound didn’t look too bad, and it did look like it might’ve come from a pitchfork. “You stay here. I’m going to see if these people have any iodine so I can clean this out.” I left Ishkin lying in a tangle of blankets and went looking for Clara.
“No iodine,” she said. “No antibiotics, peroxide, or sulfa drugs, either.”
“What do you do when someone gets hurt?”
She gave me a dirty bottle of pale liquid. I took it back to the room. “All they have is this sorry excuse for whiskey,” I told Ishkin. “But it’s better than nothing.”
“Will it hurt?”
“Yes, but letting it get infected will hurt worse.”
I had to reopen the wound, but I got it flushed out, even though I practically had to sit on him to finish the job. Then I bandaged him as best I could, sewed up the holes in his pants a little better, and told him to get dressed. “We’ve probably missed breakfast.”
“I’ll get something in town.”
“Are you crazy? You’re not going to town. I don’t want you doing a lot of walking, and it’s not smart going all alone with a horse, and no one to watch it so it doesn’t get stolen.”
“I’ll take one of the burros. They’ve got three of them. They won’t mind.”
“Riding a burro will probably hurt worse than walking.” But since he was determined, I gave him a few silver coins and federal dollars and wrote a list of things we needed.
Ishkin frowned at the list. “I can’t read your handwriting.”
I had printed it as neatly as I knew how, so I guessed what he really meant was that he didn’t know how to read. I didn’t want to embarrass him, so I read the list slowly, giving him a chance to commit it to memory. “Be sure you don’t pay the first price anyone offers you,” I said. “Play up that limp and try to get them to feel sorry for you.”
By the time I got Ishkin on his way I was late for the arrow-making classes. We worked some more on making shafts, since every jig is different and it takes practice to get the shafts evenly planed. We also discussed different types of tips and the materials they can be made of. Arrow tips are both the easiest and the most complicated things to get right. They can be made out of just about anything, in a wide range of styles and sizes, but getting the balance right with respect to the shaft and the fletching is a trick that requires almost as much instinct as experience.
At lunchtime, Ishkin still wasn’t back, but I didn’t think much of it. There are a lot of ways a boy can be distracted in town, and most of them are harmless.
We did some more archery practice in the afternoon, and I enjoyed being out in the sunshine. My team was making rapid improvements now that they had better equipment. I was wondering how to get them some better bows, since that’s something I don’t know how to make myself, when I saw Ishkin. He reined in at the edge of the training field and watched us with a funny look on his face, then went to put the burro away.
I couldn’t find him immediately after practice, but I went through the parcels he had left in our room. He’d done a good job getting a tarp, yucca twine, cooking equipment, and things like that, but I saw no evidence of any of the medicines I’d told him to look for. Had he forgotten?
At dinner, Ishkin was quiet, almost sullen. Something was clearly up. But Clara was in a chatty mood, and instead of going back to our room, I spent some time with her by one of the little pit fires, knitting. I expected to find Ishkin asleep by the time I turned in, but instead he was sitting up, agitated and angry with me.
“What took you so long?”
“What do you care? You can go to sleep without me here. You’re not a baby.”
He looked at me like I was stupid. “Don’t you want to know what I found out in town today? You’re in really big trouble.”
I had been combing my hair so I could braid it fresh before going to bed, but now I stopped. “What are you talking about?”
He lowered his voice and motioned me closer. “These people are plotting to overthrow the town government.”
I laughed. “Where’d you get such a silly idea? There’s not enough people here to overthrow a chicken coop.” I started braiding my hair. “Someone’s been telling you stories.”
Ishkin was pretty sure of himself. “I heard it in town. I snuck around to some other places, and around here, too, once I got back. I heard a lot of stuff.”
I tied the end of my braid and lay down. “Okay, tell me the whole fairy story.”
I didn’t expect to hear anything that made sense. Boy, was I surprised. He said the town is controlled by a local drug mafia. It’s not unusual, and not necessarily a bad thing, if the don actually cares about his people. In this case, the town leaders are keeping control over the population by mandating who can have medicine, water filters, solar panels, and accurate hunting weapons. No wonder these people have such ancient guns and lousy arrows, even though they live on a rail line.
“All they have to do to get the good stuff is swear allegiance and perform military or community service to the don,” Ishkin said. “But these people are part of a group who won’t do it. They’ve been trying for over a year to get good weapons or learn how to make their own.”
“And they’re using me for that,” I finished.
“Yeah, and some of the don’s people have figured it out and are planning to get you.”
I sat up. “You’ve got to be kidding. But I didn’t know.”
“They don’t care.”
Of course they didn’t care. I’d seen situations like this often enough. Life is cheap. “Okay, so these people are planning a rebellion. But they can’t pull it off with just a few archers and those crappy old shotguns they’ve got. What’s their plan?”
Ishkin shrugged. “I don’t know.”
I lay back down and closed my eyes, trying to think. It really didn’t matter what these people’s plan was, or if they even had a plan. As far as my own safety was concerned, the only important thing was that the town leaders thought there was a rebellion brewing and that I was part of it. My life was now in danger, whether these people had a workable plan or not.
“Is the danger imminent?” I asked. “Do they know I’m here, at this motel?”
“They know, but I think they want to catch you in the act so they can pretend to have a trial.”
Of course. “I’ll talk to Clara about it in the morning.”
“Can you trust her?”
“It looks like I can’t trust anyone.”
“Are you going to give any more lessons?”
“I’m not crazy.”
So here I am tonight, unable to sleep, unable to concentrate on reading or making a decent drawing. There are too many things that just don’t add up. Did I run from the civil wars, only to get caught up in someone else’s revolution? If so, what kind of rebellion is this, and why do they need me, of all people?
There’s no point pretending like I can sleep, and I can’t stay in this squalid little room until dawn with just my thoughts or I’ll go crazy. I’m going to wake Clara up and find out just what the hell is going on.
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