0022 – Stem & Cap: Idyll, Part 8

Stem had looked pale all morning, which was quite the achievement because her skin was already pretty much as pallid as it was possible to get. Cap, on the other hand, seemed to be feeling quite optimistic.


She didn’t understand that part. He was the one who was dedicated to helping Grazer to win his trial, rather than sabotaging the whole thing. The loss of the spears surely rendered his victory even more unlikely.


“Duh, did you forget?” He knocked her on the head, like a fist rapping on a door, when she put this to him. “He can’t go in with anything anyway. Even if all the other spears are broken, it doesn’t make much odds to him.”


“But we could have snuck one out to him.” She thought this was obvious.


“How big were they?”


Stem tried to mime their length using her arms, a gesture ultimately doomed to failure. She resorted to using the living room’s walls to articulate it.


“And thick, right?” Cap asked.


She nodded, and made a large circle with the fingers of both hands.


“And you think the two of us could have carried it up the slope, all the way into the forest, and hid it, without anyone seeing?”


She puffed out her cheeks and sighed. She hated to admit it, but her brother had a point. Through the living room window, she could see their mother hanging out laundry on a line tied between two trees. Life had seemed so much simpler and easier even comparatively recently. The loving home she had grown up in seemed, now, like the one island of calm in her life, which was odd because the village, and her life in it, hadn’t really changed. And yet, even when she was here in her safe, warm home with her loving mother, her mind was still elsewhere.


“Let’s take it to Grazer.” Cap put his hand on her shoulder. “Let’s tell him what we’ve learned, and what you did, and see what he thinks.”


———————-


The two of them finally found Grazer a short way into the relatively safe hunting grounds at the edge of the forest. Annoyingly, this wasn’t too far from the first place they had checked – the overlook platform that he and Cap were so fond of.


Grazer’s tall, broad, plump form was laying flat on the floor at the base of a tree, his head shamelessly nestled into the soft moss at the base of its trunk. He was gazing vacantly upward into the tree’s lamellae, their soft glow illuminating his blissful expression in blue light.


Cap waved a hand in front of the older boy’s face.


“Hey, Cap.” Grazer responded slowly. “Want some?”


He held out a handful of tiny, unremarkable, brown mushrooms.


Stem rolled her eyes. “Great. He’ll be no use to us at all like this.”


Cap sighed. “No thanks,” he told Grazer, closing the boy’s fingers around his haul. “We wanted to talk to you about your trial. We found out a couple of things.”


“It’s gonna be okay.” Grazer was still wearing his absent, contented expression. “I can do it. Eeeeeasy. I know how. Easy.”


Stem and Cap exchanged a look.


“You already know how to kill them?” Cap asked. “We’d never even seen one before.”


“I know how to kill anything.” Grazer chuckled. There was no malice in it. His very nature seemed non-threatening.


“How’s that, then?” Cap asked.


“Wait for it to die.”


“Of old age?” Said Stem, incredulously.


Grazer giggled. “Yeah.”


“You spaced-out idiot!” She cried, kicking him hard in the shin. He reacted with a whine of pain a full two seconds later. “We’ve been running around madly and worrying ourselves into a mess to try and think of a way to help you, and all you’re doing about your own impending death is lying around on the floor eating POISONOUS MUSHROOMS FOR FUN!”


Another kick drove the point home.


“Oww….” Grazer vocalised his cry this time, instead of actually making one. “I like your brother more.”


Under normal circumstances, Cap would have beamed with pride, but he could see where Stem was coming from here.


“Come on, Grazer.” Cap sat down next to him, his back to the trunk. “You’ve got to have a plan. We’ve been working really hard here, and you’re brushing us off with a joke.”


“I’m not joking.” Grazer was still smiling, but he was making eye contact with Cap now. He looked sincere.


“Grazer.” Cap put his hand on the older boy’s arm. “I think we need a plan that won’t take a hundred years, if it’s all the same.”


“Well,” Stem chimed in. “I did break all the spears so that they’d have to cancel the whole stupid thing. Maybe they actually will?”


This all-important point had been lost somewhere along the way, but now it was staring them all in the face.


“Maybe.” Cap conceded. “We need another plan too, though. This is Grazer’s life we’re talking about.”


“I’m telling you.” Grazer looked a little irritated now. Their constant chirping and fussing had dampened his pleasant, mellow mood. “I’ll be fine. I know what I’m doing. I’ve done it before.”


“Done what before?” Cap asked, shooting Stem a brief, skeptical look. “Killed a Lurker?”


“No,” Grazer admitted. But before he could continue, an angry shout came from behind them. Cap and Stem spun around, and were met with the sight of two very angry hunters.


One of them was holding half a spear.


“This was you kids, wasn’t it?” The red-faced man asked, throwing the ruined weapon down in the mulch before them.


“No.” Stem lied. She knew they couldn’t prove it.


Before she could follow up her statement, Cap chimed in. He drew himself up to his full height, which was still frankly meager. Time to be a man, he thought. His eyes filled with determination.


“It wasn’t us.” He put his hand in front of his sister, stepping forward in a dramatic gesture. “It was me.

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