In the dusk, Gorman could have become lost. The gullies of the mountain’s higher slope conceal hidden dangers. Gorman, however, strides confidently. This was where he had spent most of the previous year as a recluse. He is making his way quietly along a familiar gully toward a plateau on the only part of the mountain that connects to the formidable range of snow-topped peaks behind.
Pinpoint lights above shine steadily. Gorman glances periodically to his right to confirm the location of the One Constant Star.
From the distance, a clinking sound carries in the breeze that comes down the gully. He stops. Another sound – a thunk. Then hoarse whispers, “Damn! Thought my robe was on the ground.” “It is, dummy. And so are the rocks.” “Quiet!”
Gorman stays still for several minutes, listening. Hearing no more noises, he carefully steps up the side of the gully toward his hidden cave. The moon shows a three-quarter face as he steps around an outcropping of the mountain. In a flash, an animal rips past him. Being too low for the moonlight to see at his feet, all he knows of the animal is that it is the size of a smaller dog and that it slashed at his legs as it ran past.
Alert to any other animals that may be in his hidden cave, Gorman lets his eyes adjust to the darkness inside while standing to the side of the low opening. He slowly slips a hand down to his calf. The leather front is tough but past the lower strap that holds the leather to his leg, the skin is moist. Sooner than he wants, Gorman reaches for where his candle should be on a ledge. It is not there. He pushes around at the base of the stony wall and feels what is likely the remains of the candle. He tries to place it back on its shelf. It flops over.
Gorman feels around the shelf for the flint and its frizzen. “Still here. Whatever that animal was, it gnawed into the candle.” He feels for the hole higher up where he had kept a ball of kindling. “Drier than ever. Good.” Placing the kindling into a small depression on the shelf, Gorman prepares the candle by rubbing down its base against the wall to be flatter, then readies the flint and frizzen to make sparks. A few hard, practiced knocks against the flint by the steel chunk produces bright sparks that fall into the kindling. The dry material catches fire quickly. Gorman sees that the candle has been eaten at both ends but the wick still pokes out. He lights the wick and, once started, he quickly puts out the small knot of fire in the kindling by pressing down with the frizzen.
Satisfied with his light, Gorman scans the cave for eyes that may be glaring him. None do. Then he slips down to lean against the cave’s inside wall. Undoing the strap that holds the leather piece to his leg, he sees blood dribbling from cuts made by the animal to the side of his leg.
“Damn. Have to use Auntie’s medicine.” He places the candle onto a boulder, first dripping some melted wax onto the top of the boulder, then quickly sticking the candle onto it. He awkwardly pulls off his personal bag from his back. The arm movement sends the candle into a quiver, shaking, and sending shadows around the cave and outside. Staying still with his arms raised, holding the bag, Gorman waits for the nervous flame to calm down. He watches its smoke rise in a straight line. Satisfied, he moves carefully to remove the bag and place it next to his uncut leg. He sorts through wrapped packages, pulling out a still-green leaf and a salve. Gorman finds a ribbon of scrap cloth that will reach around his leg twice. He uses the front side of the leaf to rub down the wound, cleaning off the still-leaking blood. He uses the clean side of the leaf to hold a small amount of salve then daubs it delicately against the scratches. Finished with the medicine, he wraps it with the cloth ribbon.
All this is being witnessed by Leeloo, hiding as still as a mouse from behind a shrub to where she had crawled from nearby after noticing the flint flashes.
Gorman leans back to relax. He knows he should raise his leg to reduce the blood flow. He knows this because it is one of the many things Auntie taught him. He mumbles, “I do love Auntie.”
Before Gorman can lift the leg over the other, the bush outside speaks to him. “I love my mother.”
Staying still, Gorman uses his calm voice. “Yes. Who are you?”
A shuffle gives Gorman a general direction of the voice. “I’m Leeloo. Who are you?” She half-rises, staying behind the bush.
He smiles. “I am Gorman. From the village down there.” He nods down the ravine.
“Are you the shepherd?” Leeloo rises to stand beside the bush.
Gorman shakes his head slowly, trying to make out who Leeloo is with the moonlight shining from behind her.
“My mother and the others want to thank him for the sheep. We want to help him with the herd.”
He shifts uncomfortably on the hard rock of the cave floor. “Leeloo, can you help me?” She takes a step forward. “I was scratched by an animal…”
“A marmot. It was probably frightened when you came to its cave.”
“Well, actually, this is my cave. I was going to let it sleep here if it played nice. I guess you are right, Leeloo. I must have frightened it.” He slowly shuffles to his feet, checking that the girl has not run away. “The candle is pretty frightened, too. Do you mind pulling it off that boulder and putting on its shelf, here?”
Leeloo steps to the cave entrance.
“Does your mother have candles?”
She shakes her head. “The light? No. We had to leave everything when we were chased into the mountains by those horrible monsters.” She starts to pout.
“Well, a candle is a really frightened little thing. If you breath in its direction, or wave at it at all, it will die.”
Leeloo’s eyes grow wide. “Die?”
“More frightened than any marmot.” Gorman nods emphatically. “It wants to stick to a rock and just while away its short life in peace.”
“Poor thing.” Leeloo takes short steps toward the candle.
“Remember, Leeloo. Don’t breath at it.”
She averts her head quickly. Stepping to the boulder, she is about to reach up a hand. “Will it die if I touch it?”
Smiling, “No, it enjoys your warm hand. Carefully snap it out of the wax at its feet. Yes, that’s good.”
Leeloo chances a face-on look at the candle in her hand. Breath from her nose causes the candle to quiver. “Oh!” The candles stretches away from her exclamation then settles down as Leeloo stays still.
“Good. Now let some of the wet wax on top drip onto the shelf and quickly place the candle’s feet into the wax. It will cool right away.”
She obeys, keeping the candle’s flame from too much disturbance. It is stuck, though not fully vertical.
“Should it be straighter? Will it fall over? Should I fix it better?”
Gorman has shuffled to the soft sand where he had slept for many months. Smiling, “No, that will be fine, Leeloo. Now…” He slips down and arranges himself so that his wounded leg can be elevated. “Tell me all about who you are and about your mother and the others.”