Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Legend of Spyri and Gympi (9)

The Legend of Spyri and Gympi - Part 9

Spyri cautiously edged around the trees to where he’d seen last night’s explosion take place. If he was fast, there might still be something to salvage, before anyone else got there. A slight noise made him freeze and he slipped into a bush. He relaxed.

Big D and Little D walked carefully by.

From his vantage point, Spyri watched them examine the crash site.

“Looks like the truck was chased by our own people.”
“Managed to shoot the driver and the truck crashed at about 110 kilometres an hour into this tree.”
“Anyone still left alive in the cabin?”
“Nope, dead as doornails.”
“Wonder how door nails can be alive, anyhow.”
“Don’t get started on that now, bro.”
“Sorry, Big D.”
“There was a shootout here. Snipers and such.”
“So there was. Quite a few people injured.”
“Someone dragged themselves behind this tree.”
“That same someone you’re talking about must’ve crawled back over here to the truck. Looks like they got crutches.”
“True. Anything in the truck?”

“Nup. Stripped clean and burnt bare or is it the other way around? Burnt bare and stripped clean? There probably wasn’t anything left after the truck blew anyway.”

“Hey look, an apricot!”
“An apricot?”
“Somebody had apricots. I wonder if there’s any more lying around.”
“Doesn’t look like it.”
“What a pity. Looks like our guys won through.”
“Wish we could’ve made contact with them.”
“Ah well. Come one, bro. Let’s get back to the kids. They’ll want to know what’s happened.”
“May as well. Feel kinda sorry for them, sending them away like this.”
“Yeah, I know. I’ll kinda miss you, Li’l D.”
“Aww, thanks bro. Just can’t do without me, can you?”
“The youngest ones are gonna cry their eyes out. You look after all them girls, hear, bro?”
“Sure thing, Big D. You know me.”

“Yeah. Come on, the bus’ll be round within the hour. We gotta get back. I betcha most of the boys’ll ‘ave gone into hiding, so that they can help.”

“At least you’ll have some company.”
“Awful thing having to get kids involved in a war. I probably won’t be able to get our part of the plan done without them though.”
“Too true. Too true, mate.”

The two brothers walked past him. Spyri waited a moment and was about to follow after them, when he heard a muffled groan. Curious, he warily went to investigate, and found a boy, with a face as scarred as his own, with both legs in filthy, split plaster up to his hips with shorts over the top. A pair of crutches lay nearby. The boy turned his head and opened his eyes.

Neither spoke a word.

The boy in plaster attempted to sit up and fell back, wincing, but not making a noise. He looked at Spyri, his throat too dry and swollen
to even try speaking.

Spyri nodded, understanding the silent cry for help, sizing up the situation and knowing that he would be unable to do anything. He turned and ran after the two soldier brothers.

Hearing the noise behind them, Big D and Little D stepped behind a tree each and waited. Quieter than mice. Just as Spyri drew near, they stepped out and spoke with one voice, guns raised.


Spyri skid to a halt and opened up his hands, gesturing behind him.

“There’s a boy back near the crash site in the trees. He’s hurt and he needs help!”

Exchanging glances, the brothers nodded and put away their guns and gestured for Spyri to lead the way.

“Who are you, anyway, kid? We haven’t seen you around before.”
“Doesn’t matter. It’s not important.”
“You’re not from Thistlowood, are you? Which township are you from?”
“Then how come we’ve never seen you before now?”
“Cos I didn’t want you to.”
“Hmm. We’re gonna have to get some straight answers out of you, some time, kid.”
“I’m Big D and this is my bro, Li’l D.”
“I know.”
“You know…”
“You wouldn’t by any chance have been spying on us?”
“Not on purpose.”
“What were you doing over here then?”
“Investigating, like you were.”
“And you didn’t want us to see you…”
“You wouldn’t by any chance be the mysterious disappearing kid they all call Spyri the Saviour?”

Spyri’s face flushed an uncomfortable red and he didn’t answer the question.

“The boy’s somewhere over this way.”

The brothers nodded confirmation to each other over Spyri’s head, with a small grin. Then they saw Gympi and forgot about Spyri, giving him the chance to meld into the trees and watch from a distance, safe from any more questions.

Big D looked around for Spyri and shook his head.

“His done his disappearing act again, Li’l D.”
“Huh. Well, at least we’ve finally met the famous Spyri. Let’s see to this poor kid. He looks parched.”
“What’s your name, kid?” Big D asked, after helping Gympi to take a drink out of his drink bottle.
“What sort of name is that? You born with that name?”
“No. I don’t know what my real name is. All the soldiers called me Gympi. It was either that or Boy.”

“You’re a talker, you are. We’d better help you back to base. The other kids’ll be glad to make ya welcome. Come to think of it, we can put you on the bus. The war’s heading back this way, and it’ll be safer to put you out of harm’s way.”

Gympi pursed his lips at that and frowned, but didn’t say anything. Gritting his teeth, he let Big D pick him up, while Little D carried his crutches.

“So where you from? How’d you get out here?”
“Hitched a ride in that truck, until our men caught up.’
“The enemy let you hitch a ride?”
“Yeah. I was going to walk anyway.”
“From where?”
“Not far from Murnabeem. Maybe a few k’s from Loswage.”
“Murnabeeem? Loswage?”
“You’re one hell of a kid. You’d never have made it.”
“Better than being ignored or petted over in an orphan’s camp.”
“Why come this way?”
“I wanted to come home. The soldiers took me from Herrick up to the front a few months ago.”
“So you’re from Herrick?”
“Yes. No. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t remember.”
“That’s all right. What do you remember?”

“Waking up one night with the town on fire and a massive headache. I don’t know what town it was or where I was. Then the enemy found me and they adopted me as their ‘boy’ and took me to Murnabeem.”

“You could have come from anywhere then. All the towns around here had fires when the enemy took over.”
“I know.”

They walked in silence, with Spyri following from a distance but still within earshot.

“How’s Spyri? Is he still around?”
“Spyri? You knew Spyri?”

“Well, yes. But I don’t think he knew me. I used to watch him and help him in his raids without him knowing it. I managed to get together everything that made up the first ‘Spyri’ bundle. I suppose that’s where he got his name from.”

Spyri’s eyes widened in understanding. So that’s who the soldiers used to always be chasing whenever he got near the store room when the war started, and who had packaged everything neatly that first time so that all he had to do was swing it onto his back and escape.

Who was this boy? He didn’t recognise him at all, and yet there was something familiar about him. Something that annoyed him and made him want to punch him.

Big D put Gympi down in the cave.

“The bus’ll be here soon. You sit tight and wait. Have something to eat and drink. I’ve got to help the others get organised.”

Gympi watched Big D leave and appealed to the boys to whom Big D had just introduced him to. They all looked very familiar. He must have known them before.

“Help me up.”
“No, no. Stay there and we can help you onto the bus,” a boy called Jamie said.
“I’m not going anywhere. I just got here. You don’t want to get on that bus either, do you?”
“Well, no-o.”
“You’re all planning on hiding right? Help me. I’m not getting on that bus.”

The boys watched in silence. Gympi gritted his teeth and ate some of the stale bread he’d been given. Whether or not they were going to help, he was not getting on that bus. Wolfing down his food and drink, he reached for his crutches.

Beads of sweat dripped down his forehead as he tried to stand for the umpteenth time, swaying and struggling to maintain his balance.

The other boys still refused to help, insisting that he wait for the bus.

Taking a deep breath and ignoring them, Gympi set his shoulders and swung himself out of the cave with effort. They watched him go; admiring his determination, then hearing the low grind of the bus remembered that they were going to hide themselves too. They scattered.

Big D swore when he found that most of the boys had gone into hiding and that even Gympi was missing. He remembered the stubborn determined look on Gympi’s pain-lined face when he’d carried him to the caves and he’d mentioned putting him on the bus. There was no time to look for the boys or Gympi anymore. Those kids would probably regret staying behind in a few days. The bus had to leave now, mostly full of girls and younger primary school age children.

He waved a sour goodbye to his younger brother and watched the bus bounce across the hills and far away from where the last big battle was planned to take place. Blasted kids. Couldn’t they just do as they were told? But he knew in his own heart, that if he’d been in the same position as them, he would have done exactly the same thing.

Never mind. They’d all probably be back at the caves by now, waiting for him. He had a mission tonight to sabotage the enemy’s lines and create confusion just as his own army approached and he did not want the kids to get involved. No, he wouldn’t head back to the caves.

Gympi watched him go and knew he was going to the town so that the other kids wouldn’t know. Spyri was somewhere nearby watching too, he was sure of it. ‘I hear the band far away, far away, far away,’ he whistled noiselessly to himself.

Sure enough, he saw Spyri quietly follow Big D down the hill. At least the big soldier would have some help.

Big D set the charge and peeked around the corner. The noise of enemy soldiers coming into the weapon’s store made him freeze. They picked up a few boxes and left again. Waiting a few minutes, he prepared to leave, but a hand pulled him back and around the wall. He instinctively fought back and raised his gun when he realised that he was fighting a kid, Spyri to be specific.

Putting a finger to his mouth, Spyri pulled him back again, just as the door burst open and more soldiers entered the store room to grab some ammunition. Spyri beckoned Big D to a dark corner and removed a few boxes, indicating the hole in the wall. It looked big enough for Big D to slip out of as well.

They slipped out the hole and Spyri covered it up.

“What are you doing down here?” Big D whispered furiously.

“Helping you. Come on, this way. We’ll have to get further away before you blow up the store room. The others have already cleaned out the food store and are helping Jessica out to the caves. They’ve set some charges in the food store as well. They’re all waiting for you to cut the communication wires and get out before they blow their charges.”

“What? You kids! You realise that this isn’t a game?”
“Shh! We know. Come on, hurry up!”

Growling to himself, Big D found himself being led by Spyri all around town to all the major points and being saved on more than one occasion from being seen. This was some kid.

“Ok, is that all you wanted to do?”
“Good, let’s get out of town. We should’ve warned most of the adults to get under cover by now.”
“You kids, just beat me. How did you know what I wanted to do?”
“We’ve got ears and know how to use them, as Andrew Cotton would say.”
“Andrew Cotton?”
“Yes, the mayor’s son. I think he’s dead though. Boy, I used to hate him. We were classmates, see.”

They joined the other kids on the hill side and Spyri slipped away before they had noticed him.

“Big D! Come on, hurry up! We’ll blow the charges from that cover there.”
“Where’d Spyri go?”
“Spyri? Was he with you? What’s he look like?”
“Let’s go find him, he must be somewhere nearby!”
“Wait, wait. Let’s blow those charges first. Count down from three. Ready? 3, 2, 1, fire in the hole!”

Various areas of the town plumed skyward in a cloud of dust and fire. The children and Big D could see the enemy soldiers running around in confusion. They cheered in the safety of their hideout.

Big D spoke into the radio.

“Alpha Team, you have a go. Repeat, you have a go.”
“Thank you, Big D. Affirmative, we have a go. You sit tight and watch the fireworks. Make sure you keep any of the kids still hanging around out of the way.”
“Affirmative. We’re on our way back to the caves. Happy hunting. Big D, out.”

Many hours later, a team of soldiers headed up the hill to the caves to announce the victory. The enemy had been defeated and were retreating back over the border, having surrendered. A few days later, it was official, the war was over. Once the town had been cleaned up a little, the children were allowed back into town to be reunited with the parents that were still left. Jessica Frilby was carried back home to her anxious father and word was sent to the children that had been sent away on the bus that they could come home soon.

Once the majority of children were safe, Big D set out to find Gympi, the other boys having told him what had happened. Spyri, seemed to have also had the same thought and the two of them scoured the countryside outside the town for him. He hadn’t been seen for a few days. They found him sleeping soundly in a little hidden hollow not far from the caves.

“Gympi! There you are! You had me worried for a while there.”
“Come on, mate, let’s get you back to town and see whether or not the army surgeon can do anything for you, hey?”

But there were many other much more serious cases for the surgeon to worry about than one lame boy and feeling forgotten, Gympi let himself out of the hospital. Other people needed the beds and his crooked legs were not life-threatening.

The school was re-opened – not for education, but as a place for the orphaned children to stay and for the younger children to be cared for during the day while the others helped to rebuild the township. Because his own platoon was gone and seeing as he was the one they trusted most, Big D had been left in charge of the children during the day. They were fiercely protective of ‘their’ soldier.

Everyday, children would be dropped off at the bent school gates that didn’t close properly anymore, where he would welcome them and mark them off on a roll, before relegating them to the care of another soldier, teacher or volunteer, who would keep them occupied with various activities during the day. Everyday, Gympi would turn up on his crutches and sit around listening to the stories or joining in what activities he could. He seldom smiled. Most of the time, he just sat on a log seat and watched, with a thoughtful expression on his face. Nobody wanted his help in rebuilding the town. They’d made that firmly clear to him when he’d tried to help. His legs made him useless, they said.

Today was no exception. In return for the useable odds and ends that Gympi had managed to find the previous day, Stanton Frilby had left him his day’s rations on the ground as usual. The food was left just inside the burnt and broken down shell of a house he had decided to make his home, because it had a section of the roof still intact enough to keep the ground beneath it dry. He didn’t like the grocer, although he pitied him and felt sorry for the way the other townsfolk treated him. One of the children in school had told him the story about Jessica’s legs and much as he pitied him, he just couldn’t bring himself to like him – especially when the man only gave him his share of rations if he had anything to pay him. Tucking his food into a bag he’d managed to scavenge, he set off for school.

“If you give me your crutches,” Stanton had told him one day as he’d swung by the grocery on his crutches, “I’ll give you your food everyday, for free. No charge. Upon my honour.”

“Why do you need my crutches?” Gympi had asked.

“My daughter has broken legs. The soldiers broke both of them and she can’t get out of bed. She needs a pair of crutches, but there isn’t anywhere to get them at the moment. She needs them more than you. You can get about without crutches. Let me have your crutches and I’ll give you your food.”

“I can’t walk without my crutches either. Sorry.”

Stanton had just shaken his head.

“Then you’ll have to make sure you can pay me for tomorrow’s meals.”

Each time Gympi met Stanton in passing, Stanton would ask the same question, saying that Jessica needed the crutches more than he did. Each time, Gympi would have to politely decline. He couldn’t walk without the crutches. He’d tried and he’d tried, but it just hurt too much. Even walking with them took a lot of effort. All he could do without the crutches was fall down. By this time, the plaster on his legs had chipped and cracked in several places. There was no use trying to keep it on anymore, even though it was harder to walk without the support of the plaster. Why should he give his crutches to this mean man?