Best Laid Plans
Chapter Three: Declaration
Finn ran as fast as she could. She was worried that Marguerite wouldn't forgive her for accidentally shooting her. She was terrified that Roxton and the others would never speak to her again. When she finally reached the Treehouse it was past mid-day. She slowed down a bit when she reached the gate and then walked to the elevator.
How am I going to tell Challenger and Roxton that I shot Marguerite? Will they hate me? the young woman wondered as the elevator ascended to the common area of the Treehouse.
Roxton and Challenger had just finished washing up the dinner dishes when they heard the elevator.
"Maybe it's the voodoo queen come to visit?" Challenger teased as the men gathered their weapons to defend the Treehouse.
"I wasn't in my right mind when that happened. Are you ever going to let me be about her?" Roxton asked as he aimed his rifle at the opening of the elevator shaft.
"More importantly has Marguerite forgiven you for that?" Challenger asked, winking at his younger companion.
Roxton grinned at the redheaded professor. "George, apparently you haven't. I didn't know you cared."
When a breathless Finn emerged from the elevator the men quickly lowered their weapons.
"Finn, where are Veronica and…" the visionary started.
"Marguerite? Where are they? What are you doing back here?" the hunter interrupted as the scientist fetched some water for Finn.
"They got attacked by some natives. I tried to help but they were surrounded…" Finn started
"What happened?" Roxton demanded.
"Easy, old boy, let her catch her breath and drink something," George insisted as he handed Finn a glass of water and ushered her to a chair.
Finn took the glass and allowed Challenger to show her to a chair; once seated she gulped down the water then she looked at the two men who had become her family along with Veronica and Marguerite. The frightened young woman took a deep breath before she started her tale.
"I was running ahead of them, but kept running back to make sure they knew where I was. The last time I ran back the natives had separated us. I was too far away at first to help them so I inched closer hoping the natives wouldn't see me. They didn't until I yelled to warn Marguerite. Just before I yelled I'd loaded my crossbow and shot. I aimed at the native rushing Marguerite but he moved so quickly," Finn rushed out without looking up.
The scientist noticed the rugged lord tense as Finn rushed through the telling, obviously worried how they'd respond.
Roxton moved closer to the youngest member of the Treehouse family. "What do you mean he moved so quickly? What happened to Marguerite?" he said, inches from her face and ready to grab her. Finn had pulled her head far away from the fuming hunter.
"John, calm down. What if Marguerite and Veronica are hurt? Getting angry with Finn is not going to help them. We need to get supplies and go after them," the creative thinker said, gently placing his hand on the worried man's shoulder, bringing him back to reality.
"Right…let's get moving then." Roxton commanded, as he moved away from Finn and Challenger.
Finn stayed seated as she watched Challenger and Roxton move about the Treehouse gathering supplies. When they both returned to the table with packs in hand, Roxton didn't look at Finn when he spoke, "Ready? We'll need to move quickly if we want to catch them before dark."
"Roxton…" Finn started. The anxious lord looked at the young lady but didn't speak. "I think Veronica would more than likely take Marguerite to the Zanga village to get help," she tried again, desperate to be helpful.
"All the more reason to be leaving," the vexed huntsman said, walking to the lift.
Challenger and Finn hurriedly joined him.
As the trio made their way to where Veronica and Marguerite were last seen by the youngest member of the group, they moved at a rather quick pace set by one anxious lord. Before they knew it, Challenger and Finn practically had to run to keep up with Roxton.
As they approached the ladies' campsite, the small group could hear voices but couldn't understand what was being said. Roxton held up a hand when they got close enough to see what was going on. Challenger and Finn stood behind the silent lord and watched in fascination.
The remaining members of the Araweté group were pulling out the remains of their fallen tribesman and carefully stacking them. They moved cautiously as to not attract the piranhas.
"Why are they moving so slowly?" Roxton wondered.
"Because they don't want to get eaten," Finn mumbled, not wanting to tell the two men that Marguerite had fallen in the river.
Once the natives had collected all the bones, they left the area. When he was positive the natives posed no threat, Roxton moved closer so he could survey the ground, Challenger spoke, "Finn, what did you mean, they don't want to be eaten?"
"The river is swarming with piranhas," Finn responded.
The worried men looked at the young blonde, then the anxious lord moved away, still searching the area for signs of how badly Marguerite was injured. He became more concerned when he noticed a scrap of white material on a log. On closer inspection, the log had a lot of blood on it, as did the ground. Roxton's heart sank as he picked up the remnants of a familiar white blouse.
"How severe are her injures?" he demanded quietly, approaching Finn.
The irrepressible young woman stood her ground even though she was afraid. After years of living and surviving on her own, Finn had learned to not give into fear.
"She was near the edge of the river and when the bolt hit her. It knocked her off balance. She slipped on some rocks and fell in there," she answered indicating where the heiress had fallen. The young blonde took a breath and continued, "Soon after Marguerite landed in the river, the man trying to attack her fell in as well, landing on her legs and pinning her down. Vee and I saw the water start to swirl around them. Then I…" Finn hesitated.
"Then you what?" the visionary asked.
"Damn it, Finn, tell me what happened!" the irate hunter ordered.
Finn looked up at the man who had become like a big brother to her. " We needed help. I had to come get you. So…I ran," she admitted. Then she continued quickly, hoping to make up for her cowardly actions. "But they must be okay, right? Or else they'd be here!" she finished in a rush and turned away, not wanting to see Roxton's reaction. She knew how much he cared for Marguerite.
Roxton stood there for a while, wanting to yell at Finn for trying to shoot the attacker when he was so close to Marguerite. Memories of a fateful day many years ago came flooding back. He shook his head as he took his pack off and hurriedly stuffed the remains of Marguerite's blouse in. As he put the pack back on, he said, " It looks like they went to the Zanga village. Maybe we can catch up to them. Let's go."
Challenger moved closer to Finn, the girl turned around when he gently placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder. "I'm sure Marguerite will be fine," he comfortingly whispered as he urged Finn to start walking.
"He'll never forgive me," Finn mumbled as she and the scientist followed the swiftly moving nobleman.
"What was that?" Challenger asked.
"Nothing. We should move faster. Roxton's getting too far ahead," Finn replied, increasing her pace to catch the hunter. The ginger-haired professor followed suit.
After moving at a punishing rate, Challenger finally stopped and suggested, "John, maybe we should rest for a bit."
Roxton kept walking while Finn had noticed that her father figure needed to catch his breath.
"Hey, big guy! Did you hear Challenger? Let's take a breather," Finn yelled at the hunter's back.
The annoyed lord turned on his heals and headed towards his companions, "Do you think Marguerite and Veronica took a 'breather'?" he sarcastically retorted once he reached Finn and Challenger.
"Roxton, take it easy. Let George rest a minute and we'll move out," Finn answered while handing Challenger a canteen, her back to the muscular hunter.
The visionary noticed the anger the younger man was trying to contain. "Now, John, blaming Finn for injuring Marguerite will not help. It was an accident."
The frustrated aristocrat started to speak but decided it would be better if he didn't. Deep down he knew Finn had only been trying to help, but he was very concerned about Marguerite. He waited only long enough for Challenger to recap the canteen and return it to Finn.
"Ready to move out?" John asked, turning back towards the path leading to the village. Challenger and Finn stood up then followed him.
Marguerite tried her best to move quickly, but it was difficult. Every time she took a step it felt like the piranha bite was ripping. Each movement she made jarred the bolt in her shoulder.
"Veronica, we have to stop. I can't …" the pale heiress started.
"Marguerite, we can't stop. I know you're in a lot of pain but if we don't keep moving…" the jungle beauty interrupted.
"I know, I know. Raptor food," Marguerite interjected, holding up her right hand, as they continued on.
By the time the two women reached the Zanga community, Veronica was practically carrying her older friend; Marguerite had lost the battle to stay conscious. Just as the younger woman reached the Zanga gate, Jarl was leading a hunting party out.
"Veronica?" Assai's husband questioned when he noticed Veronica struggling to bring Marguerite to the gate.
"Jarl, please take her," she pleaded.
The Zanga warrior swiftly lifted Marguerite in his arms and led the way to the shaman's hut. Veronica followed slowly. Assai joined her as she walked.
"What happened? Are you injured?" the Zanga princess questioned, noticing a small trail of blood on her friend's shoulder.
Veronica looked at her childhood friend and then at her shoulder and shook her head. "No. I'm fine. The blood is Marguerite's."
"How did she become wounded?" Assai asked.
Veronica took a deep breath, "It's a long story." She related the tale as they continued to the shaman's hut.
Roxton, Challenger, and Finn had covered a lot of ground in their haste to find Veronica and Marguerite, but the sun was starting to set. Challenger knew they had to stop for the night. Moving in the jungle at night was dangerous.
"Roxton, we must set up camp. It'll be dark soon and we do not want to be wandering around the jungle at night," the older man cautioned as he approached the huntsman.
John looked at the man he swore to follow to hell and back, and then at the young woman they had recently adopted into their makeshift family. He sighed. He knew Challenger was right; and as much as he hated to admit it, he was tired. "All right, I'll go find some fire wood. You two set up camp," the exhausted lord responded as he headed on to find wood.
Finn and Challenger promptly went about getting bedrolls out and making a fire ring. Soon Roxton was back with enough wood to see them through the night. The three travelers ate their dinner in silence. Roxton was distressed over how severely the fiery adventuress was wounded; Finn was fearful that her new family would never forgive her; and Challenger wondered how he could get Roxton to forgive Finn. After they finished eating, Challenger volunteered to take first watch, knowing that Roxton and Finn both needed to rest. It had been a tiring day for his two young friends. The youngest member of the trio was asleep almost as quickly as her head hit her makeshift pillow.
The weary lord lay down and stared up at the stars, his mind on the one woman who had the ability to break his heart. Please let her be all right. She has to be. I need her, he thought as he drifted off to sleep.
About four hours later, Finn woke Roxton. "Hey, wake up. It's your turn at watch," the young woman said gently, shaking his arm.
"You can stop shaking me now, I'm awake," he answered a little harsher than he had intended.
Finn look intently at the older man and started to back away. "Sorry but Challenger said you'd take last watch. I didn't really mean to her hurt her you know", she finished as she stood up.
Roxton rolled up his bedroll and shoved it back in his pack before responding to her. "I know you didn't mean to, Finn, but I'm having a hard time believing you had no other option than shooting at the native."
"There was another option, but I figured you'd like it even less," Finn said, laying down on her bedroll.
"What option would that have been?" Roxton inquired as he took his turn keeping an eye out for danger while the Challenger and Finn slept.
"Her death," Finn murmured as she drifted off to sleep again.
Roxton looked at the young woman. He blinked, surprised at her understanding and knowing she was right; Marguerite's death would never be an acceptable option to him. He quietly made the rounds near the camp as he impatiently waited for the dawn.
As the sun began to rise, Roxton woke up his traveling companions. They ate a hasty breakfast and packed up camp and set off for the Zanga village.
While they walked, the ginger-haired scientist noticed that neither of his young friends were speaking to each other. I've got to figure out a way to get them talking again. Roxton can't really be that angry with Finn, he knows it was an accident; similar--too similar--to the one that took his brother's life.
They reached the Zanga village at mid-day. Veronica and Marguerite were nowhere in sight as they entered the gate. Jacoba, the Zanga leader, greeted them. "Welcome friends of Veronica."
"Where is she?" Roxton questioned abruptly as a Zanga woman handed him a cup of water. He was in no mood for pleasantries.
"Veronica is in the shaman's hut with the spirited one," Jacoba answered, pointing in the direction of the building in question.
Roxton handed his rifle to Challenger and started towards the hut.
During the time Roxton, Finn, and Challenger had been traveling to the Zanga village, Olteus, the shaman worked quickly to clean and treat Marguerite's wounds. He first tended to the wound left by the piranha. Veronica wasn't sure how deep the bite was until the spiritualist had removed the bandage.
"It is not as deep as it could have been. Caribes move very fast and can devour a beast quickly," the medicine man said as he cleaned out the bite wound. Marguerite moaned as the pain traveled up her leg, but she remained unconscious. The blood started to flow out of the piranha gash again. The shaman told his apprentice to prepare a fire and a metal-tipped stake used specifically for cauterizing wounds. Veronica helped by holding down Marguerite's shoulders as the novice held her legs. The shaman quickly cauterized the wound. Marguerite woke at the shock of searing heat-sealing off the blood vessels. She tried to sit up but Veronica firmly held her down.
"It's ok. The shaman had to stop the bleeding," the young woman told her friend.
The usually energetic heiress blinked back tears as her pain-fogged mind realized what was happening. She looked up at her young friend and tried to smile reassuringly. "I'll be all right. Don't worry about me," she told the younger woman.
When the shaman was finished with her leg, he started on Marguerite's shoulder. First he removed the bolt. Marguerite nearly passed out again from the pain that washed over her when the bolt was removed. Her breathing quickened as she fought to remain conscious. She focused on Veronica's face as the spiritualist cleaned out the wound and cauterized it like he had her leg. The dark-haired beauty bit down on her lower lip to keep from screaming. She tasted blood, but the pain of the bite was lost in the pain of her shoulder wound. She closed her eyes when she felt more tears well up, refusing to let any one see her cry, having been hurt worse during the war. This is nothing. Don't cry; never let them see you cry, the former spy kept repeating to herself.
Sooner than she expected, the shaman finished. Before he left he instructed Veronica and Assai to make sure the patient drank every drop of the medicine he mixed in a cup of water.
"Can you lift your head? This will help you sleep." Assai spoke softly, holding a cup with a liquid the shaman said would relieve Marguerite's pain and help her sleep.
The wounded heiress lifted her head with help from Veronica and slowly sipped the contents of the cup. Assai and Veronica couldn't help but smile as they watched the weary adventuress. The look on her face was enough to tell them the medicine did not taste very good. Marguerite quietly drank it all without protest and then put her head back on the pillow. As she drifted off to sleep, she mumbled, "Tell Roxton it wasn't her fault."
Veronica and Assai left the sleeping woman to the care of the shaman and went to the hut Assai shared with her husband. Veronica settled on the spare makeshift bed Jarl had set up for her and quickly fell asleep.
Continued in Chapter 4