Chapter Six

Thomas and Galen were met on the trail by the four men on route to retrieve the dead boar. Thomas gave them further directions to where the creature was hanging.

He and his young companion arrived back at the campsite to a mixture of greetings. Most were welcoming with signs of relief that all had ended well. Some were reserved by those who had been unaffected by the events. One or two bordered on hostility over perceived notions that Galen’s running off had somehow interfered with the day going along as planned due to the postponement of the council meeting.

“Welcome back, my friends. You’re just in time to be first for lunch, which works out well because Aiden ate the last of the breakfast I’d kept warm, or at least what Brock had left him,” Walker warmly greeted them. “I can see where I am going to have my work cut out for me, trying to keep those two men fed.”

Thomas had his hand on the small of Galen’s back as he guided him to a place on a log. “Sit here and I’ll bring you sometime to eat,” he instructed gently.

“I’m not really hungry, Thomas!” Galen informed the older man as he walked away. He placed his guitar beside him with the other items he had packed for his aborted move.

Thomas shot Galen a look that could freeze lava. “I’ll bring you some lunch, which you will eat!” he stated more firmly.

Galen swallowed and wondered how he was going to get out of eating. His stomach was feeling queasy as it was with the impending visit to Lakota.

Returning with two plates and mugs, Thomas placed one plate with bread, a small piece of fish and a couple of slices of potato in Galen’s lap. “I think you should be able to manage that.”

“Can I have some m-milk, p-please?”

“Of course, you may. I should have realised the coffee might not agree with you right now. I’ll get it for you.” Thomas returned to the serving bench.

Galen quickly fed the food to the dog that had wandered into the mess hall. “Ssssh, don’t let on, girl.”

Thomas was back to Galen less than a minute later and was surprised to see the young man’s plate empty. He then spotted a dog sitting right by Galen’s leg, licking its chops. “Well Galen, I had no idea you were so hungry. I’m going to bring you a full-size serving now since you obviously were so ravenous you polished off the tiny one in seconds.”

“B-but, Thomas....” Galen sputtered to the man’s back. “W-well, that didn’t w-work, did it, girl?”

Thomas once again brought a plate with a similar amount to the last one to go along with a large mug of milk he’d brought over moments before. He looked Galen straight in the eye. “I’ll see to it that Walker knows his dog has already eaten. Now I’d like to see you do the same.”

Blushing intensely, Galen began drinking the milk. Next he nibbled on a slice of freshly baked bread and slowly picked apart the rest of the food on his plate.

“Galen, spreading the food around your plate in small bits does not make it look as if you’ve eaten it,” Thomas admonished the young man.

“I’m just not hungry, Thomas. I already told you that.” Galen barely managed to prevent himself from whining. He was worn-out and apprehensive about the fast approaching visit to yet another would-be hospital.

Thomas sighed deeply and closed his eyes to think for a moment. Then he gave the lad a warm smile. “Tell me, if you were a planner of new towns and communities, do you think it would be easy to build one with less than thirty citizens?”

“I hope so, b-because that’s exactly w-what the twenty-eight of us here are going to have to do.”

“You’re right, Galen, that is all we have here, so it will not be easy. We need every single man to be able to work hard and contribute or we will fail and I for one am not willing to fail at this. Now in order for you to be a part of things, you need to be strong and healthy and that cannot happen if you do not eat. Do I make myself understood?”

“I’ll eat later if I can, Thomas. I can’t now or I’ll throw it b-back up.”

Thomas smiled. “Do you think you could at least drink another mug of milk?”

“Huh-huh!” Galen nodded. He loved milk and knew it would soothe his stomach.

Thomas fetched the lad his milk and watched with satisfaction as it was downed. “Alright, let’s go now,” he said as he rose. “We have an appointment to keep.”

Galen’s footsteps faltered as they approached the infirmary. He panicked at the last moment, turned on his heel and ran across the compound. He had almost made it to the edge of the trees when his path was suddenly blocked by a wall-like structure. This same structure proceeded to pick him up off his feet, throw him over one beefy shoulder to carry him back from whence he’d come and unceremoniously plunk him down in front of Thomas.

Dallas just laughed out loud when he saw the abortive escape attempt. He coloured a little when one of the other men frowned at him. Apparently the man named Kevin didn’t see anything funny about Galen’s obvious fear.

“Did ye happen to lose someone?” Aiden asked with a wide grin spreading over his face.

Thomas sighed in exasperation as he took hold of the smaller figure. “Thank you, Aiden.”

Aiden understood the boy’s fears and felt better for having talked to Lakota about Galen’s confessions of the abuse he suffered in the past at the hands of barbaric so-called medical practitioners.

Lakota opened the tent flap at the sound of the voices outside. He offered his most winning smile. “Please come in, gentlemen.”

Galen looked up at the man and hung back. Thomas held him firmly as they made their way inside the infirmary. “Easy,” he whispered to the lad. “It’s going to be fine; you’ll see.”

Although Galen would have rather been anywhere else but here, he trusted Thomas to stay and be true to his word.

Lakota noted the shaking of the young man’s body and lowered himself to a log so they could look eye to eye as they spoke. “Galen, I understand you’ve been reluctant to come and see me. I get the feeling that you’ve had some less than pleasant experiences with other doctors. Am I right?”

Galen only nodded as he glanced around the tent as if searching for something.

Thomas looked to Galen. “Can you tell Lakota about what happened to you? Or would you rather I told him what you’ve explained to me?”

“You can tell him,” Galen murmured with a shrug of his shoulders.

Thomas explained all he knew of the leeches, bleeding and abuses Galen had suffered.

The whole time Lakota maintained eye contact with his young patient and kept a gentle hand on his leg. “I’ll let you in on a little secret, Galen. When I was a boy, my father took me from my mother’s people. I became ill with a terrible fever and my father called for a doctor, one like the ones you were taken to. I was bled and put through all manner of so-called treatments. It is a wonder to me I survived it. However, it was that experience that made me determined to become a doctor and treat people with care and dignity and most of all, never to be cruel to any of my patients.”

Galen relaxed slightly as Lakota’s words registered. The doctor understood because he’d learned from first-hand experience. “So you w-won’t do those things to m-me or anyone else, right?” Galen asked hopefully.

“Galen, if you’ll allow me, I’d like to examine you. Thomas can stay in the room and I absolutely promise you I will never do any of those things and I will explain everything I am doing so you will not be afraid. Is that alright with you?” Lakota requested.

“Is your nurse going to stay here too?” Galen was uncomfortable enough without having someone else present.

Lakota and Yancey exchanged a look. “I don’t think Yancey would mind taking a break, he’s been working rather hard today.”

“I’ll be in the mess hall having my noon meal. You will find me there if I’m needed.” Yancey winked at Galen and left the infirmary.

Thomas gave Galen’s arm a squeeze and sent a look of gratitude to Lakota. “Ready to try this now, lad?” he asked

Galen took a deep breath. “Okay! I guess I’m as ready as I w-will ever be for you to do w-whatever you have to.”

Lakota guided him to the table and asked him to remove his shirt. Thomas stuck close by just in case Galen should try to bolt again. Galen pulled down the upper part of his overalls, slowly removed his shirt and tossed it over the log Lakota had been sitting on.

Lakota noted immediately the way Galen’s ribs stood out and how sunken his abdomen was. “I don’t need to tell you that you’re under weight, Galen. Have you always been this small or was it the sea-sickness that brought you to this size?”

“I guess I’ve always b-been kind of small. My grandfather used to tell m-me that I was only small on the outside, b-but that inside I am just as b-big as anyone else.” Galen paused to get his emotions under control as memories of a man he dearly loved surfaced. He glanced up to see Thomas and Lakota smiling their understanding before adding as an after-thought, “of course b-being on the ship for so long sure didn’t help.”

“Have you been eating well since we landed?” Lakota asked, looking at both Galen and Thomas.

“W-weeell...” Galen glanced up at Thomas. “Not enough to p-please this guy.” He grinned and jerked his head to one side, indicating the man beside him.

Thomas shook his head. “He’s not eaten enough to keep a bird alive. However, I’m hoping that a lot of it was nerves and that he’ll do better now.”

“How old are you, Galen?”

“I turned eighteen last Saturday.” Galen’s eyes lit up. “That m-means I’m an adult now, right?”

Thomas’ eyes flew open in surprise. “It was your eighteenth birthday the day we landed here?” He turned to look at Lakota in horror. “The bastards sent a seventeen-year-old into exile!”

Lakota didn’t want Galen to become upset with Thomas’ remark, though he was feeling the same way. “Well, I’m sorry we didn’t get to wish you a happy birthday, Galen, though I’m sure it was not your happiest. We will do our best to make future ones better. Won’t we, Thomas?” he said, throwing the man a look.

“B-but I’m not seventeen anymore, Thomas. Although I’ve had b-better b-birthdays at home, at least I w-was finally off that m-miserable ship!” Galen tried to set the older man’s mind at ease. “And I did get a special p-present.”

Thomas immediately realised his error. “What present was that?” he asked gently.

“A friend…. you!” Galen happily exclaimed.

Thomas felt tears well up in his eyes and did his best to hold them back. “Thank you, Galen. I too received a remarkable present when I met you.”

Lakota proceeded to examine Galen, asking questions about his past and explaining each thing he did along with the reasons for it. He wasn’t surprised to discover Galen had hearing loss in one ear as he’d noticed how carefully the boy watched the lips of those speaking to him. He was, however, shocked by the number of scars on the lad’s body from previous ‘treatments’. No wonder the poor lad was terrified of doctors.

Lakota was determined more than ever to win this young man’s trust. He would have to proceed gently with this next part. “Now, we’ve finished with most of the examination, Galen. I just need to have check out the lower part of your body, which will include checking the reflexes in your knees and feet, seeing that your legs and hips move normally and examining your genitals. Do you think you can handle that?”

A blush spread across the young man’s face as he nodded his consent and jumped off the crate.

“Okay now, if you can drop your trousers, I’ll check your legs and feet first,” Lakota instructed.

Galen obeyed by toeing off his boots, letting his pants fall to the ground and stepping out of them before climbing back onto the examination table.

Thomas looked in surprise at Galen’s naked body. “Where is your underwear today?”

“I only w-wear them during the w-winter. It’s m-makes getting naked a lot easier w-when you w-want to go skinning dipping.”

Thomas rolled his eyes. “We’ll talk about this later,” was all he could think of to say at this point.

Lakota just smirked and continued with the examination. Galen giggled as his feet were checked but looked nervous when he was asked to lay down on the table with his legs open. He slowly did as he was told, sending wary glances in Lakota’s direction.

Thomas held Galen’s hand while Lakota gently palpated the lad’s pelvic area and carefully but quickly checked his penis and scrotum for abnormalities. The doctor then guided Galen to his feet and performed a perfunctory examination for hernia asking him to cough as he pressed against the flesh.

Galen sighed, believing his ordeal had come to an end.

“I’ve one last question and it’s very personal. So if you prefer, Thomas can step out for just a second,” Lakota suggested.

Galen was unsure how to answer. Thomas had promised to stay with him, but he didn’t want his friend to be uncomfortable.

Thomas looked at Galen. “I’ll be right outside the tent flap and back in just a few seconds, okay?”

“Okay,” Galen replied quietly.

Once they were alone, Lakota spoke. “I need to know if you have ever engaged in sexual activities before, Galen. You don’t need to be embarrassed. I assure you that your answer is completely private between us.”

Galen bit his bottom lip. “I-I’ve never been w-with a m-man. I’ve never even kissed a m-man. Not that I’ve never w-wanted to, but he w-wasn’t interested,” the young man admitted.

Lakota smiled. “That’s fine, Galen. I would like to ask one favour of you. When the time comes that you are ready to be with a man and you’re considering penetration, I want you to talk to me if you have any questions. Okay?”

“Can’t I just talk to Thomas?”

“You’re sure it will be with Thomas?” Lakota asked gently.

“I w-want it to be w-with him, but m-maybe he won’t w-want me that w-way.”

“Galen, no one can say anything for sure, but I do believe Thomas likes you a lot. He could do no better than to be with a fine man such as yourself. I just want you to know that I’m here if you ever want to talk about it, okay?”

“Thank you, Doctor.” Galen shifted slightly to ease the discomfort the conversation was causing. “Can I get dressed now? I’m getting kind of cold.”

“Oh, of course! I’m sorry. I’ll call Thomas back in now, okay?” Lakota said with a smile.

Galen turned and donned his clothes a lot faster than they’d been removed.

When Galen was dressed, Lakota looked to both he and Thomas, who stood closely beside the young man. “Alright, Galen, let’s finish this up for now. We all know you are terribly under nourished. I want to see you gain at least ten pounds. I know you don’t have a very big appetite. However, if you eat properly three complete meals every day and have two or three nourishing snacks in between, you should have no problem putting the weight on. I’d like to see you again in a couple of days for just a quick check. You have the sound of a bit of congestion in your chest and I don’t want to see it develop into anything. So stay warm and eat properly, do you understand?”

“You can’t b-be serious about all those m-meals? I’m going to be spending so m-much time eating I w-won’t be able to do anything else.”

Thomas spoke up. “Don’t worry, Doctor, I’ll ensure that he eats as ordered and stays warm.”

“I have to see you again?” Galen squawked as Lakota’s comment about another visit sank in. “I hope we’re not going to m-make a habit out of this, Doctor.” Now that the worse was behind him, Galen’s relief showed as he reverted back to his usual cheeky self.

“I just want to keep an eye on you for the next little while, then maybe once a week until you’ve gained enough weight, okay?”

Knowing the man had his best interest at heart, Galen resigned himself to the inevitable. “Okay, I guess,” he agreed begrudgingly.

The doctor gave the two men a smile. “Now get on, both of you. I have a meal waiting for me.”

The youngest man practically skipped out of the tent, which was completely opposite to how he’d entered not too long ago.

As they left the infirmary, Thomas insisted he have a nap even though Galen had been equally insistent that he was not tired, only hungry. Galen philosophically admitted that yawning might have attributed to Thomas getting the wrong impression. He ate a substantial lunch under Thomas’ patient scrutiny then submitted to gathering up his belongings, being led back to their tent and tucked into bed.

It was a little past mid-day when Samuel entered the mess hall. Several men were already gathered, waiting for the noon meal to be served. He scanned the area and was a little disappointed when he didn’t see Wayne. He found the younger man’s company rather entertaining and hoped to spend what small amount of free time they had, getting to know each other better.

Wondering where his young friend was, Samuel took a second look around. He spotted one twin sitting next to their tailor and went over to him. “Hi! Wesley?” he inquired tentatively while nodding a greeting to Nathan.

“Yes, I’m wearing blue today,” Wes returned with a wink. “Are you looking for the bad twin?”

Samuel smiled and shook his head at the cheekiness of the younger man, taking note that Nathan merely rolled his eyes. “No! According to Wayne, I’ve found the bad twin. I’m looking for the good one.” His brown eyes were twinkling with suppressed amusement.

“I saw him a few minutes ago. We were volunteered to help with the laundry, and he skipped off as soon as we finished the last load. Well, last load of the morning, that is as there is still more to do this afternoon. And most likely there’ll probably be another ton to do tomorrow,” Wes griped.

“Well I’ll go see if I can find him. Be sure to keep some fish and potatoes for us, okay?” Samuel requested of Wes, who nodded his head obediently. The ex-miner left the tent and checked around the immediate area surrounding the large tent and after locating Wayne on his way back from the latrine area, invited him to join him for their noon meal. 

It was sometime later when Galen woke and stretched. He lay on his pallet, looked up at the ceiling with hands behind his head, and mentally reviewed the events of the day. After an inauspicious beginning, things had eventually taken a turn for the better. With his doctor’s appointment behind him, Galen now knew he no longer needed to fear future medical care at Lakota’s hand. The young man sighed contentedly and smiled at the memory of how he’d ended up where he was.

Galen wished there was something special he could do for the good doctor to show his appreciation. Suddenly an idea came to mind that had him jumping up, grabbing his boots and exiting through the opened flaps of the canvas structure. Running up to Walker, he excitedly asked if the man had a large basket.

“No, I don’t. What do you need it for?” Walker couldn’t help but smile at the younger man’s eagerness.

“I want to get a b-bunch of stuff and need something to carry it all in!” Galen exclaimed.

“Would a couple of burlap bags do the trick?” Walker offered. “Even if they are a bit dirty from the potatoes that were in them?”

“They’d b-be p-perfect. I’ll just turn them inside out.”

“Okay then, you’ll find them behind the stove in the mess hall. Remember the council is in a meeting so try not to disturb them!” Walker called out to the disappearing man’s back. He shook his head in wonder as he returned to his gardening plans.

Galen stealthily made his way into the kitchen area and collected the items he needed. He stopped for a few moments to listen to Quentin giving his inventory report, quickly lost interest and left as quietly as he’d come.

Retracing his steps past the fire, he stopped for a moment to talk to Spyke, Brodie, Gille and Jordan who were gathered around Thad, watching him turn the spit and enjoying the aroma of the boar slowly cooking over the open flame.

“Where is everyone else?” Galen asked Thad. “B-besides Thomas, Aiden, Lakota, Larry and Troy, that is. I know they’re all in the m-meeting. So is Quentin for that m-matter.

“Not exactly sure. Hmmm, let’s see. Brock is setting traps and Preston is checking out trees. Mitchell and Henrik are still working on the new pigpen and Kevin is helping them. Kelby is re-arranging the storage tents. We’re kinda taking a break after all the laundry we did,” Thad grinned as he brought Galen up-to-date on the happenings of the day.

“Sorry, I didn’t help some,” Galen softly apologised. “B-but someone though I needed to take a nap.”

“You weren’t the only one, Galen,” Brodie set the younger man’s mind at ease. “Levi is still asleep. It’s understandable as you two fared the worst during the voyage.”

“I think I saw Samuel and Wayne heading into the forest to fetch more water earlier. Yancey has been puttering around the infirmary most of the day,” Gille spoke up. “Wes is helping Nathan pack away a large trunk of extra clothes and stuff none of us need at this time. They’re making use of the free space at the back of the tent that has four sleeping in it rather than six.”

“We’re not sure about Raythe, but we think he might be trailing around behind Brock for some reason. And of course, Seth was primping as usual before starting a game of cards with Dallas. The fucking, lazy bastard is the only one who hasn’t done a lick of work since we got here!” Spyke complained.

“Now, don’t be shy or hold b-back your feelings, Spyke. Just speak your m-mind.” Galen’s teasing remarks resulted in fits of laughter from everyone.

“Yeah, well just about everyone else is doing his fair share. Hell, even the twins pitched in and it couldn’t have been easy for them, what with being used to servants and all. Someone should bloody well make Seth do chores too,” Spyke grumbled.

“I bet someone will, sooner or later,” Thad offered as consolation.

“Yeah, right!” Spyke huffed.

“We’re all kind waiting for supper to learn what the council has come up with,” Jordan quietly spoke up. It still hurt when Seth’s name came up in conversation.

“Where are you off to?” Brodie asked, looking at the bags in Galen’s hand.

“I’m going to get something in the w-woods. Anyone w-want to come?” Galen shrugged his shoulders when his invitation was graciously declined. “Okay then, see you all later!” He whistled for the dogs and headed off on his quest.

Dallas smiled at Seth as he accepted the cards the man had dealt. They were hiding out in a small grove Seth had discovered. They had slunk away from the camp in hopes of getting a reprieve from work and to get in a game of poker.

“So, the stakes are chores. If I lose, I do yours, right? But if I win, you do my chores and I get to be as lazy as you are, Seth.”

Seth glanced up from his hand with a confident air. “Ya have to win first!” he assertively challenged.

Dallas snickered at the self-assured response. “Who’s opening?” he asked, daring the other man to make his move.

It took longer than Galen thought it would for him to find what he was after and load up the two bags. An hour and a half later, he walked out of the forest and the first person he had the misfortune to run into was a very irate Thomas.

“Hi, Thomas! How w-was the m-meeting?” Galen deliberately chose to ignore the frown on the older man’s face. “You’ll never guess w-what I’ve b-been doing.”

“I can see that you have been back into the woods again,” Thomas replied coolly. “What I cannot understand is after we have discussed this repeatedly, you would once again wander alone away from the camp without so much as a word to me.”

“B-but you were b-busy, and I didn’t go far. I w-wasn’t alone either ‘cause Romeo and Juliette w-were with m-me.” Galen held up the burlap bags. “It took some time to fill these.”

“Fill the sacks with what? And just who are Romeo and Juliet?” Thomas asked with a mixture of curiosity and frustration in his voice.

“They are W-walker’s dogs, remember? And this is a special m-moss.” Galen put down the bags, reached into one and pulled out a handful of the dry, brown leafless plant. “I collected it for Lakota.”

“Let me see if I have this straight. You put yourself at risk by going alone into the woods to collect bags of moss for the doctor?”

“That straw he has on his examination table sticks through the b-blanket and scratches. It m-made me itchy. This stuff is softer and it’s a lot m-more absorbent. It’s sure going to be m-much m-more comfortable to lie down on.”

Thomas sighed. “That was very thoughtful of you, Galen. However, I want to talk with you about this habit of yours this evening after we discuss the results of the first council meeting with everyone. For now, dinner is ready and that boar smells awful good. Let’s go and eat.”

“Just let m-me p-put this in the Infirmary and I’ll be right over to w-wash up, okay?”

“I’ll walk with you,” Thomas replied, almost afraid to let the younger man out of his sight. ‘Aiden is right,’ he thought. ‘Galen is a handful; a beautiful handful, but a handful none the less.’ Somehow though, deep in his heart Thomas knew the lad needed him and maybe, just maybe, he needed Galen as well.


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