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Out of Steam, Part 3 (1520.09.29): Malaamig's long journey and hot soak have taken their toll.
~ 878 words, Created by: Ellen Million (Writer), Posted: 03/18/13
"Easy," Malaamig tried to tell the worried dogs, through his darkening vision and dizziness, and the woman, Birka, echoed him, "Eeetzy!"
A strong arm materialized under each of his armpits and hauled him abruptly out of the water. The shock of the cold air brought his vision back, though his stomach and brain still insisted on swimming. He felt as weak as a kitten, and everything continued to feel far away. Stupid fool, he told himself. Tried to move too quickly after a long, hot soak following a long trip with little food or water.
Someone pressed a skin to his mouth; water. It was warm, and Malaamig suspected it had been kept in the pool. Of course it had; he should have thought to put his own skin of water in the pool to thaw out.
"Something far," Birka told him, shaking her head and Malaamig realized that the two men had been pulling and assisting him in shaky steps back in the direction they'd first appeared from. The dogs were still barking, milling at the bank uncertainly, and there was clear fear in the glances that the newcomers were giving them. "Easy," he told the dogs again, more strongly, and they obeyed, dropping their voices to confused growls. The newcomers murmured to each other over the display of control.
It occurred to him then that he was exposed; the water here only came to the tops of his thighs, and shame flooded him more keenly than the mere idea of showing poor sense and weakness could cause. He shook off the arms holding him up, and sank back into the water, skinning a knee on the rock bottom of the pool as he went. "I'm all right," he insisted. "All right."
They let him hide himself again, but made no noises of horror or alarm, only looked at his face in concern. Perhaps they been too busy watching him nearly faint to notice anything else; the light was not good, and he had not been far out of the water.
They continued to herd him tenaciously in the direction they'd come from, Birka going ahead into the blanket of steam, and he followed them with nothing better to do. The water deepened, until they were all swimming easily; the men stayed to either side of him, but at a respectful distance. The dogs whined, pacing the bank along with him. "All's clear," he told them. "All's clear." Whoever these people were, and wherever they'd come from, they clearly had no immediate ill intent for him; it would be poor form for the dogs to think they should protect him, and perhaps cause harm to them.
Birka was dressing when they came to the other end of the widening pool; there was a wooden pier into the water in one spot, and Malaamig thought he made out the dark shapes of benches underneath the water's surface. This pool must be used often; it seemed obvious - now - that it had been altered from its natural state to be more functional.
Birka's clothing was made for the weather, and though she dressed quickly, it was apparent that it was something of a task. She had woven leggings pulled up to her waist when they arrived, and tall boots pulled over them. Over this, she put on a soft and thin-looking, long-sleeved woven tunic that came to her knees. Over that went a supple leather-looking robe, and when that had been tied at the waist, she pulled a thick, heavy coat over that. There were several ties and toggles on each layer that she largely ignored, only taking a moment to belt the robe around her waist and pull the fur-lined hood up over her frozen, wet hair before picking up a thick, woven blanket, which she held up expectantly as the party swam slowly in to the shallowing shore. The dogs sat a few armslengths away, watching in interest, and occasionally whining in confusion. Birka looked at them anxiously once, and then they ignored each other politely and focused on Malaamig. There were voices from further away - the dogs pricked their ears and swapped ends a few times before sitting obediently again.
Malaamig found himself dragging slower and slower from reluctance, rather than weakness. His escorts did not understand that, and exchanged worried words, coming closer and inspecting his face. He scowled at them, wishing he were anywhere else, and could not for a long moment, make himself walk the last few steps and stand up for the world to see.
The conversation grew more concerned, and both men approached closer, hands brushing his shoulders in a fashion far more intimate than he expected. He shrugged them off, and resigned himself to the moment, standing in the shallow water and walking fixedly, more shakily than he liked, to the blanket the woman was holding for him.
There was still too much light to hope the scar didn't show. It blazed harshly against the sun-starved skin from nearly his knee to the top of the opposite thigh; Malaamig knew without looking what they would see. And what they wouldn't see. He gave the woman before him an unwelcome eyeful, and was bitterly satisfied to see her flinch.