He was no longer dreaming.
Petras and his father were moving quickly through the forest at the base of the mountain. They had not seen any of the other herdsmen which stung them with guilt. Perhaps they should have waited, his father thought. Perhaps they should have looked for the others. That, he knew, would have meant their deaths.
There was only one thing that they could do that would be of any use and that was to warn the village. They were not aware that they had been overtaken in their rush for home. The raiders were riding horses that made next to no noise as they galloped. Their hooves had been softened by cladding them in straw-filled cloth. They moved like a breeze through the trees and the father and son knew nothing of their passage.
“Father,” Petras said through clenched teeth. They had been running for miles and the boy could not bring himself to ask for a rest. His lungs were stinging and the pain in his muscles was now unbearable. His father had been running ahead and did not hear. He was intent on getting back to his wife. So when Petras fell, it took some time for him to notice.
“Father!” the boy shouted with all of his strength and, at this, his father stopped.
In all his haste, he had not considered his young son. He had been running at a pace that meant the boy could not keep up. When he turned, he saw how far behind his son had fallen and a shame fell across his face. He ran back to where Petras lay.
“Petras, Petras are you all right?”
Petras looked up through tear-stained eyes. He was aware of something that was wrong with his leg. When he had fallen, something had caught his standing foot. He had heard a loud crack and believed that it had been a branch that he had trodden on. His momentum had carried him forward and he had wheeled awkwardly in a sudden broken arc before falling face first into the forest pine needles.
Looking down at his son, he could see that the boy was not all right. His leg, just above the right ankle, had formed itself into an angle that was not natural. His father had treated countless goats that had done the same. Many of the herdsmen would have slaughtered the animals there and then. Their meat would have been covered with salt and taken back for later consumption. Unlike the others, Petras’ father had gained much insight into immediate treatment of such breaks. Many a goat had lived to graze another day because of this. Unfortunately, what he saw here disturbed him.
Petras had indeed trodden on a branch and it had broken under his feet. In doing so it had formed a rudimentary snare that had caught the boy’s foot precisely. As the body travelled forward, the foot remained and, when it fell, that foot was rooted to its trap. Such a quick movement brought about a massive force that was focussed on such a fragile bone. The boy was young and it would mend, but it would never be completely straight.
His father knelt down and stroked the boy’s face.
“It will be painful, but I will fix it.”
With that, he ran his hand through the boy’s hair realising his dilemma. His wife would be in danger very soon if he did not get back whilst his boy would possibly perish if he left him without treatment. In his bag, he carried those things that he would have to use in cases of emergency. He took out his length of leather strapping that was rolled into a ball and unwound it. Next, he pulled out two even sticks which he placed on the ground. Looking around, he searched the forest floor for something and immediately found what he was wanting. He placed his hand on a twig that was newly broken and still replete with sap. This he motioned towards his son.
“You will need to bite on this. Bite hard. Give all your pain and fear into this. It will take it.”
Petras bit upon it and his father immediately started his work. His hands felt along the bone and touched the exposed places where nerves screamed in outrage. The boy screamed too, but forced it into the stick. He bit harder that he had ever done before and sunk through so that he tasted the familiar pine. His father had had mapped the break and was preparing to set about pulling the lower bone downwards whilst twisting it so that it would fit back into its original place. It would have to be a quick operation if he was to spare his son an eternity of unbearable pain. With practised speed, he jolted on the loosely hanging ankle so that it was free of any obstruction. He felt his son’s body go rigid and could only imagine the agony he must be in. However, wasting no time, he twisted the lower bone and then slotted it into something that resembled the original. When he looked at his son’s face, he saw that he had passed into unconsciousness.
He placed the sticks at either side of the break and wrapped the leather tightly around the leg and splints. He was happy that the boy was not aware now of feeling and pulled the straps tightly so that movement would be restricted. The bones were back where God had intended them to be and they would not move against each other until the break was mended.
This done, his next decision was to find a place to hide him until he could return. He knew this forest like he knew his own face and lifted up the inert body with tenderness. He had, as a child played here and knew of a cave that was hidden to all but him. The cave was in an unexposed crevasse that was guarded by trees. Here, he was certain that he could ensure his son’s safety. No wild animals or hunters of Pan would ever find him.
The man set off with his wounded son and disappeared into the trees. At the same moment, the dogs, which were the scouts of the hunters, leapt upon a lone woman who was washing clothes in the river. They tore at her with the savage delight of demons, ripping out her throat so as to silence any warning that she may have given. On the bank above her, a dark horseman watched with even darker fascination.
This was Pa An and he was the giver of death.