Fin led me down the beach. The sun dried our clothes and the air from the close waters kept us cool. Our shadows walked beside us and the green grass to our left waved at us as we passed. We passed beyond the boulder confines of the bay and the beach changed from sand to pebbles that the unblocked sea pushed ashore. Birch and alder trees shaded us from the hot sun and their fallen branches, long ago scraped of their bark, tempted me with their long shafts and knotty, curved peculiarities. In that way they were much like the owner of the island who I found myself wondering what sort of a man could leave paradise for the drudgery of city life.
I stopped in front of a tall, old gnarled tree and noticed a fine walking stick. It lay on the ground half covered in sand and pebbles. The shaft was crooked, but sturdy, and I stooped and snatched it up from its fate as fertilizer. I tossed the stick into the air length-wise and caught it in my curled palms. “What sort of tree did this come from?” I asked my guide.
Fin stepped up beside me and pointed at the tree under which we stood. “This is an alder.”
We parted ways with Breathnach, the General taking his half of the dead birds, and went on our way to the small cottage. About halfway back, on a steep, rocky slope, I lost my footing on a slippery rock. The whole of the island’s rock population was trying to do me in. If Fin hadn’t caught me I would have started a domino effect into the General and had us both careening into the rocks at the bottom of the trail.
“Easy, there. Watch your step,” Fin lightly scolded.
“Easy for you to say when your body isn’t throbbing,” I muttered.
“Here, let me help you,” he offered. I yelped when he swept me into his arms and clutched on his shirt with both my hands.
“I can walk!” I insisted.
There was a ringing in my ears until I realized it was only Ophelia letting out piercing shrieks of fright. “Is she dead? Is she dead?” she repeated over and over.
A pair of strong arms caught me up and lifted me onto the top of my traitorous boulder. I glanced up into Fin’s pale face. “Easy there. Don’t try to move,” he commanded me.
“Believe me, that isn’t on my to-do list,” I grunted.
He looked me over. “Where are you hurt?”
“In my arms and legs, and my pride,” I replied.
Fin pulled up my pants and swept his hands over my legs. Though his fingers were gentle I still winced when he brushed over the aspiring bruises on the back of my legs. “Nothing broken. Can you walk?”