Self-aware. Self conscious. Self induced.

Telling Tales 120

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Trust, In Theory and In Practice

The quiet man’s palm rested against the soldier’s chest and with his other hand he raised his index finger to his lips, indicating, of course, silence. The soldier nodded, looking left and right and wondering what it was that Cardinal had seen or heard to make them stop. The other man gestured again, palm out, “wait.” The soldier agreed. Cardinal spun on one foot and ran off in the direction that they were traveling.

“Stop and wait,” thought the soldier. “Okay, but how long am I supposed to wait here and be quiet?” He stood for a long, long time. He shifted his weight from one foot to another. He listened to the sound of his own shallow breathing. He heard birds singing in the distance. “I wonder if I can sit down without making too much noise?” he wondered, and eventually decided instead to lean against a tree so as to take at least some weight from his feet and spare his lungs that much work.

It was the first sundown that he had experienced by himself in years. For months, he and Ivan had set a fire together. Before that he had been a soldier in the regiment, where, if he was alone, it was only for a brief period of time before someone joined or relieved him. This time he was alone, without his guide, and ignorant of when the man might be coming back. He thought about the great horned spirit, but the creature didn’t appear, so evidently he wasn’t in any immediate danger. In his pants pocket he felt the cylinders that made up the pipes given to him by No Legs and No Eyes. He wasn’t suer how often they would let themselves be called, but he was fairly certain that they wouldn’t hold the last time against him, seeing as they hadn’t been able to help and after all, he’d died, hadn’t he? “How useful are they at all?” he mused.

In the distance, a piece of wood snapped on the ground and tree branches rustled and shook. The soldier froze against the trunk where he rested. He used to know several men who were good outdoorsmen – trackers and hunters and the like – but he himself had never been more than average. He wouldn’t die outside and he’d be able to feed and shelter himself, but not a great deal more. Not like Cardinal, who was as silent on his feet as he was in his speech, as though he weren’t a real person at all.

What if Cardinal weren’t a real person? But the queens had said to trust him…

The rustling grew louder, even if he couldn’t tell how far away it was from him, exactly. He felt his heart speed up and what little breath he had caught in his throat. “Keep calm,” he told himself. “It sounds big, but it doesn’t sound dangerous.” Of course, as soon as he considered it from that angle, he began to think of dangerous animals that weren’t immediately dangerous. Bears. Moose if they were startled. Perhaps that not-lynx of Cardinal’s was coming back, but no, the cat made even less noise than Cardinal himself.

He began to tell himself all of the reasons he was safe. The queens had themselves selected Cardinal as his guide. They had brought him back to life, so they wouldn’t simply waste that effort. But could they anticipate every danger? Could Cardinal?

In the distance, he heard a crack of thunder and a wind caught the smell of rain. Nearby, he heard the creature’s breath, heavy and fierce.

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