A Postcard from Mordania - The Shadows Years
It was late summer, almost a year since Kaymar had come to The Shadows.
Both children had grown enormously in that time. Kaymar had stopped taking part in their games early, realizing they needed their childhoods to be as normal as possible, despite being continually watched. That did not include an adult playmate.
Instead, he watched over them from various vantage points, tending to prefer being up a tree or on a wall. It gave him better visual range to see possible danger. It also gave him the advantage, should someone try to assault the children, of dropping down on them from above.
At the moment, he was perched in a tree, on a branch that stretched over the "swimming hole", a particularly deep area favored by the inhabitants of The Shadows for a dip in summertime. Katrin and Hemmett were playing below him on the big rock that jutted out into the water, some feet above the surface of the water.
Kaymar had hoped that, like Menders, he would grow a few inches in early adulthood, but at nineteen there was absolutely no sign of that happening. He had remained stubbornly five feet, four inches since the age of seventeen.
What he disliked most about being small was not the disadvantage it gave him in a physical confrontation. Kaymar was so skilled at any form of fighting that his size didn’t handicap him. What annoyed him no end was his feet stubbornly refusing to grow into men’s sizes, hovering just at the brink of maturity but never edging over the magic mark that made it easy to find shoes in keeping with his age.
He’d resigned himself to having his shoes custom made. That went for suits as well, as he couldn’t abide wearing trousers that had been taken up. The proportions never looked right when eight inches had to be cut off the bottom of his trouser legs.
So, he was wearing a brand-new suit and custom-made shoes, in anticipation of going into the village with a few of the Men, who made a point of getting away once a month for a dinner, a little dancing and romancing. Kaymar had become a peripheral part of this group. Though not particularly close to any of the other men, he was welcome. He didn’t romance the local girls, though he flirted a bit and he loved to dance.
He tensed as Katrin stood suddenly down on the big rock. She’d been through an enormous growth spurt during the summer and was not accustomed to her new height. She tended to get tangled in her new leg length and fell frequently. Much frustrated by this clumsy stage, she said “faw” a lot.
She kept her balance and crouched back down to peruse the crude pirate map she and Hemmett were drawing, with many arguments and “faws”, which meant the pirates were swearing. Kaymar relaxed and let his mind roam again.
He’d hoped his recent conversation with Ifor Trantz might have led to a confidential friendship, but it hadn’t. Ifor maintained a friendly but distinct distance. There were times Kaymar regretted having confided in the huge man, though the relief he’d gained through that confession was considerable. Ifor was pleasant when they encountered each other, but treated Kaymar with reserve and courtesy, no differently than he did the other Menders' Men.
Kaymar and Ifor moved on the periphery of Menders’ Men, not quite part of the group. It might have brought other men together as friends. but Ifor Trantz was not one for such things. He seemed content with his books, codes, work, hunting and fishing. Even when Kaymar was having a swim in the part of the river he was suspended over now, with Ifor fishing not far downstream, it was as if he was alone. Ifor simply got on with his casting and fussing with his lures, while Kaymar got on with his swimming. If Kaymar spoke to Ifor directly, he would answer and be pleasant enough, but it was obvious any friendship because they were both nancy was simply not going to be.
“Ants!” Katrin squealed. “Ants, Bumpy!”
She stood quickly, swatting at the backs of her legs, then overbalanced and fell off the big rock headfirst.
“Stay there, Hemmett!” Kaymar shouted as he launched himself from his branch before Katrin hit the water. He’d seen the little boy ready to plunge in after his friend. One thing Kaymar couldn’t handle was two drowning children.
He hit the water just after Katrin but she’d gone to the bottom like a stone as her little dress and petticoats floated up over her head, pinning her arms to her sides. She normally swam like a fish. Menders had taught both children to swim early, knowing that with a lake and a river nearby, the day would come where that skill would be needed.
The icy coldness of the water, even in late summer, felt like a stomach punch. Kaymar forced his eyes open, looking for Katrin. He could see her, wildly struggling in the wet folds of her dress, her face frantic and darkening. Any moment she would have to breathe.
Kaymar swam downward, ignoring the weight of his suit and shoes, grabbed her, then kicked hard for the surface. The current here, even in this quiet hole, was intense. He was fearful Katrin would lose consciousness before he reached the surface with her, inhale and let the water into her lungs.
Holding her above his head, he kicked harder and faster.
He felt her break the surface, heard the loud whoop of inrushing breath, then broke the surface himself, gasping and choking on water he’d inhaled.
Hemmett was lying full length on the rock, holding a large tree limb out over the surface of the pool, shouting to them to grab on. Kaymar blessed the little boy, his precocious size and strength and all his descendants as he held Katrin so she could catch hold of the limb.
“All right, sweetheart, you’re all right,” he said soothingly, helping Katrin move hand over hand along the limb until Hemmett could catch hold of her fingers. With a boost from Kaymar, Hemmett managed to haul her up onto the rock and collapsed back with her held tightly in his arms.
For a moment Kaymar was tempted to let go of the limb and sink into the water. A terrible lassitude that bled all the energy from his limbs washed over him. He’d saved the child. He could go now, go to Etahn…
Katrin caught her breath and began to wail, shocking Kaymar into action. He boosted himself onto the rock and took her in his arms.
“I didn’t intend to wash my new suit today,” he said in a hearty tone. “That was a sudden bath, wasn’t it? Cold too.”
She was shivering, her lips blue from shock and the icy water. He could feel her heart racing. Hemmett was standing by, shivering as well, almost as wet as Katrin was. Kaymar was shivering himself.
“Everyone to the house,” Kaymar said, making it sound like a wonderful adventure. “We all need dry clothes and something hot to drink.”
He managed to stand despite the terrible weariness and took their hands. He made hurrying along into a game and by the time they came in sight of the house, Katrin had forgotten her fear. The two children were chattering about the incident as if it was a great adventure, the tree limb becoming an entire uprooted oak, Katrin’s fall of four feet becoming a headlong dive of twenty yards and the like.
Menders had seen them coming and raced into the drive with blankets, flinging one around Katrin and making a quick cursory check of her before hurrying both children into the house, where other members of the household were bustling about with towels, hot water, dry clothing and the like.
Kaymar stood in the drive, wondering if he was would be able to climb the steps at all. He knew shock could make him feel weary, but this was dreadful. He started dragging himself up, moving painfully from one step to the next.
Menders dashed out the front door again.
“Cousin, I’m sorry, I had to see to her first,” he said as he ran down to Kaymar and got an arm around him. “Are you hurt?”
“No, just exhausted,” Kaymar managed. “She went to the absolute bottom of that hole by the big rock. Got her dress up over her head.”
“That’s near thirty feet you dove then! No wonder you feel terrible.” Menders was incredibly strong and before Kaymar knew it, he was in the entry by the big fireplace that was always in use, feeling the fire’s warmth on his face. He held his hands out to it and was stunned to see they were dusky blue. He put them under his arms quickly, shivering at the clammy wet wool that had been a brand-new suit.
“Here.” Ifor Trantz’s heavy voice cut through the shivering and Kaymar realized the big man was draping a warmed blanket around him. “Hold that around you and I’ll get you out of those wet clothes.”
Kaymar didn’t protest. He would have done anything to be free of the icy clothing. He clutched the blanket around him as Ifor reached under and into it, carefully easing the sodden garments away from him without exposing him to view. Menders unlaced Kaymar’s shoes and steadied him as he stepped out of them.
Kaymar could see Doctor Franz looking Katrin over, then tweaking the end of her nose. Good, there was no damage. Hemmett submitted to a brief sounding of his chest and then pointed insistently toward Kaymar.
Doctor Franz looked over and then stood.
“I’d like to get you back to my office, as soon as you’re finished being undressed there,” he said, his voice hearty and warm, concern in his eyes.
Ifor took a warmed towel from Cook and gave it to Kaymar. He rubbed his hair with it gratefully, wanting to wrap his entire head in the heated cloth.
Someone came with Kaymar’s dressing gown and slippers. Ifor demonstrated that he could dress someone under a blanket just as skillfully as he could undress them.
“Is this skill of yours some kind of party trick?” Kaymar asked Ifor, trying to smile.
“Amateur theatricals as a boy, quick changes my specialty,” Ifor replied, almost smiling himself. “I’ll put some heated bricks in your bed. You’re going to need them.” He took himself off toward the Men’s Wing.
Doctor Franz escorted Kaymar down the hall to his office, shut the door, opened the draft on the stove as far as it would go and helped Kaymar up onto the examination table. He inspected Kaymar’s lips, fingernails and toenails and then sounded his chest thoroughly.
“Who in your family has a weak heart?” he asked bluntly.
“My father died from a heart spasm. He had a bad heart,” he answered truthfully. “But I’ve never had any trouble.”
“Until now. Any pain?”
Kaymar quieted his mind and listened to his body.
“Not now. When I came up out of the water, yes.”
“That’s to be expected. You’ve had a serious shock and you have a bit of a heart murmur. Listen.”
The doctor put the earpieces of his stethoscope in Kaymar’s ears and held the bell to his chest. Kaymar had the eerie experience of hearing his own heart beating, complete with a soft little hiss between the beats. He looked at the doctor anxiously.
“And this means?” he asked.
Doctor Franz shrugged.
“A small hole between the chambers of your heart. It’s not uncommon. If you’ve never had trouble before, short of diving into icy cold water after drowning children all the time, you should be all right. I’d like to keep an eye on it, of course. Get in a warmed bed, have some hot food and you’ll be right as rain tomorrow. I’ll check you then and we’ll see about possible treatment, though I think your life is quiet enough here to give you any support you need.”
Kaymar nodded in relief. Doctor Franz didn’t mince words and he was truthful.
Franz looked at Kaymar’s fingernails again.
“There, see? Pinking right back up. That ticker of yours will be fine.”
“I go swimming in that spot all the time,” Kaymar protested, the idea of having a heart problem sinking in. “The cold water has never bothered me before.”
“Yes, at your own speed, not headfirst to a depth of thirty feet. I’ve seen you wallowing around down there like a baby whale. There’s been snow up in the mountains too this summer, and a melt since, so the water is probably a lot colder than it was in the middle of the season. Add to that the shock of Katrin being in such danger and I’d bet every pennig I have you dove from quite a height. All this adds up, young man.” The doctor put his stethoscope aside.
“Now, off to bed with you. Do not get up until I give you leave, except for the privy or if the house catches fire.”
“I want a bath.”
“Tomorrow. The river’s clean. I mean it, Kaymar. This is not something to shrug off.” The doctor turned toward him, looking grave. “And thank you for your selfless actions, my boy. Katrin came very close to drowning, as I’m sure you know – closer than Menders needs to know, may I add.”
“Is she all right?” Kaymar asked sharply.
“She will be. Needs to be in bed a day or two. Some bruises where you grabbed her.”
Kaymar flinched, and the doctor laughed. “Nothing worth that,” he grinned. “You’ve done yourself proud, young man. Now, off to bed.”
Kaymar had never been one for being an invalid, but found his bedbound afternoon and evening quite gratifying. People kept popping in to see him. Hemmett reported that Katrin was sound asleep and looked better. Cook plied him with various delicacies, including chicken soup laced with cream and white wine, which he loved. Menders perched on the side of the bed and chatted for a while. Haakel looked in to let him know that the planned dinner and dancing in the village had been postponed until he could go along too.
Finally, the visits stopped and Kaymar could hear the house settling down. Cook banged the range doors shut in the kitchen after settling the fires for the night. Menders moved almost soundlessly along the Men’s Wing and then down the stairs, where he wound the enormous clock in the entryway. The after-dinner dishwashers clanked the last pot back into place in the kitchen and went toward the Men’s Lounge, chatting companionably.
Kaymar set aside the book he’d been reading and doused his bedside lamp, more than ready to rest now his hair was dry and he was finally warm again.
"If you need anything in the night, sing out and I’ll help you,” Ifor’s deep tones came from his room across the hall. “I’ll be listening.”
Kaymar smiled, remembering his hallmate’s deafening snoring.
“Thank you,” he replied, not letting his humor sound in his voice.
He turned over in the bed, pressed his toes against the heated bricks wrapped in flannel that were the bedwarmers at The Shadows, and went to sleep.