Chapter Forty-four

Kelby watched Galen and Raythe leave camp undetected. Although they had been told to stay close by, Kelby understood how hard it was for Raythe to deal with his concern regarding his missing partner. It had been an emotionally challenging afternoon for many of them and the ability to cope with the added stress brought about by anxiety was diminishing.

Once the weather had cleared, Raythe had managed to talk Galen into going with him, or so he thought, and he had tried to persuade Kelby to join them, but Kelby didn’t feel up to tramping through the damp woods. Although in the back of his mind Kelby knew he was almost as guilty as they were for promising not to tell anyone. He quickly pushed that thought down as his loyalty to his friends overtook the feeling of wrong doing.

He went in search of Quentin. They had been able to come to terms with what had happened between them. Having talked things over at great length, they determined there had been misunderstandings on both sides. Kelby even secretly admitted that the whole episode had played heavier on Quentin’s emotions that it had on his own. He found his friend in the mess tent calmly shoving recently raised dough into the oven.

“Hi, Quentin,” he greeted as he peered over the older man’s shoulder to watch him work before continuing. “Aren’t you concerned about the three men still out there?”

“Yes I am, but sitting around and worrying isn’t going to bring them back any faster. Besides, I have every confidence they know what they’re doing. There, now that I’ve got the bread baking for Walker, how about sitting down and joining me in a cup of coffee?”

Kelby smiled and nodded. “Thanks, that sounds great and I could use a drink. How come you’re cooking?”

Quentin carried two mugs and a pot of coffee over to the table and sat down. “I am helping out while Walker oversees the activities at the fire-pit. Thad and Jordan are busy spit-roasting the legs of lamb for supper. They had to put it on hold during the storm.” He smiled at his friend as the young man poured himself a cup of the hot beverage and added four spoons of honey. ‘God, how can anyone drink something that sweet?’ Quentin wondered and was about to make a comment when Thomas came into the tent.

“Oh Kelby, there you are. I was hoping you might know where Galen is.”

Taking a seat next to Quentin, Kelby stared into his cup and felt a knot forming in his stomach.

Quentin looked at him when the young man didn’t respond to Thomas’ query. “Kelby,” he stated a little sternly. “Did you hear Thomas?”

Kelby’s head shot up at the tone in Quentin’s voice. “Yes,” he quietly admitted.

“Well it would be nice if you’d acknowledge the fact.”

“I’m sorry. What was it you wanted to know, Thomas?” Kelby tried to keep the tremor out of his voice as he looked up at the community leader.

“I saw you with Galen and Raythe shortly after the rain ended. I was just wondering if you know where Galen has wandered off to now.”

“Isn’t he with the animals? That’s where I saw him heading,” Kelby hedged and avoided looking Thomas directly in the eyes, hoping the man wouldn’t see his ears turning red. 

Thomas didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary, but Quentin sure did and knowing the young man like he did, he knew Kelby was withholding information.

“I‘ve looked there. As a matter of fact, I looked everywhere and I can’t seem to find him or Raythe anywhere in camp. I’m getting a little concerned.”

Quentin turned to Kelby and placed his hand on the young man’s shoulder in order to turn him around on the bench until he was facing him. “Kelby, are you holding something back? Because if you are, I expect you to do what’s right, so spit it out.”

“I’m not, Quentin; honest!” Kelby quickly blurted out.

“Don’t use the word ‘honest’ with me when I know for a fact you’re not telling the whole story. I’m asking you one more time to answer Thomas’ question properly and provide any information you have.”

“I can’t. I made a promise and I can’t break it.”  Kelby’s bottom lip began to tremble, but Quentin ignored the threat of tears.

“If that promise you made interferes with the well-being of Thomas’ young friend, I strongly suggest you consider breaking it, young man,” Quentin firmly stated.

Kelby looked over at Thomas and seeing the worry in the older man’s eyes, came to the conclusion that Quentin was right. “Raythe believes Brock has been hurt or something. He is really fretting about it, Thomas.” Kelby made a valiant effort to support his friend. “Anyway, he left to search for the hunting party and talked Galen into going with him. They entered the forest by pretending to make use of the outhouse.” He looked down at the mug in his hands and sighed.

“What?” Thomas asked in a level but somewhat loud tone.

“Raythe couldn’t stand waiting around and worrying. They’ll be alright, Thomas. After all, they both did really good in the survival courses and Raythe goes out with Brock all the time.”

Thomas looked over at Quentin and shook his head. Taking a deep breath to control his emotions, he thanked Kelby and Quentin before striding purposefully out of the tent, no doubt in order to go after Galen.

“You may not feel this is so, but you made the right decision, Kelby,” Quentin assured his friend, rubbing a hand over the younger man’s back.

“I sure wouldn’t want to be in Galen’s shoes when Thomas gets a hold of him,” Kelby mumbled as he closed his eyes and made a silent wish that Thomas would be as forgiving of Galen’s apparent disobedience as Quentin had been about his failed attempt to keep pertinent information to himself.

Galen and Raythe stood arguing in the small clearing. Neither young man was aware of Thomas steadily bearing down on them.

“You can’t do this, Rathye!” Galen insisted.

“I have to. It’s been hours since they left. Something must have happened to them ‘cause they should have been back by now.” Raythe was nervously pacing in circles while plucking at the braid he had put in his hair that now hung over one shoulder.

“B-but they m-may have had to seek shelter from the storm and are only n-now on their w-way home,” Galen patiently pointed out.

“But we don’t know that; and besides, you are just parroting Thomas’ words.” The taller man continued to rant, increasingly working himself up. “You’re just scared of Thomas whuppin’ your butt.”

“M-maybe you should be afraid of Brock w-whuppin’ yours.” Galen didn’t deny the truthfulness of Raythe’s statement. “Let’s get b-back to camp; it w-will soon b-be time for supper.”

Raythe shrugged off the words of warning. “We’ve already been over all this, so come on.” He backed towards the forest.

“I can’t,” Galen murmured, shaking his head and standing his ground. “It’s n-not fair that we cause m-more p-problems for the council when they have enough to deal with.”

“You said you’d come with me,” Raythe reminded his companion.

“I said I’d w-walk a little w-ways w-with you. I was hoping to p-persuade you n-not to go.” Galen stared beseechingly at his friend. “What if you’re the one to get lost or hurt or something; how is Brock going to feel?” He saw Raythe’s resolve begin to crumble. “The hunting p-party can return any m-minute now and you know he’ll b-be looking forward to seeing you here, Raythe, w-waiting for him.” Galen softly hammered the message home and seeing the other man slowly nod his agreement, inwardly rejoiced at having accomplished what he had set out to do.

Raythe glanced up and saw a very perturbed Thomas standing on the path leading back to the encampment. For a brief second, he wondered how long the older man had been listening but decided not to hang around and find out. He turned on his heel and bolted for the woods, leaving a startled Galen behind him.

“Get b-back here, Raythe!” Galen hollered and stamped. “Oww!” he cried, sinking to the ground and grabbing his foot. He removed the small pebble embedded in his heel and rubbed at the soreness. “At least it didn’t break the skin,” he muttered.

Discerning another’s presence, Galen peeked up to see his mentor standing beside him. He jumped to his feet and stared uncertainly at Thomas, suddenly nervous about how angry the older man was and just how much trouble he was in. He bit his lower lip, hung his head and waited.

The young man’s shoulders slumped as a wave of weariness washed over him. It had been a long, emotionally draining day and a cloud of gloom still hung over the camp as men worried about friends and loved ones. Galen didn’t know if he could handle much more; he definitely wasn’t up to dealing with the punishment he felt sure was imminent. For the first time in a long while, he wished for his grandfather’s presence. Pappous would cuddle him and dispel his dark mood by tickling him.

Thomas was relieved to find the young man he’d grown so fond of, safe and sound; even if he had gone off into the forest against their arrangement.  “Galen, I’d like to have a talk with you.”

“But I w-wasn’t going to go far, Thomas. In fact, if you look through those b-bushes, you can still see the outhouse, so technically I am still in sight of the camp.” Galen pointed towards the clump of trees behind them as he offered his defence, such as it was.

The older man gave him a reassuring smile. “I have to confess that at first I was quite unhappy you’d gone into the forest on your own again. However, I overheard what you just said to Raythe and I can see your intentions were good. To be honest, I’m quite proud of you and how you handled this situation.” He wrapped his arm around the younger man’s shoulder.

“Then I’m n-not in trouble?” Galen wanted to be sure he heard correctly. He stared into Thomas’ handsome face and waited for confirmation.

“No, Galen, you’re not in trouble. I do want you to know though, that you can come to me to discuss anything you have doubts about, especially regarding the rules we have agreed on.”

“I didn’t have time to get you ‘cause I didn’t w-want Raythe to get away from me.”

“But had he continued deep into the woods, you wouldn’t have gone with him, would you?” Thomas asked.

Galen bit his lip and thought about it. Before he could determine one way or another, he was distracted by a movement a short distance away. He stared at the slightly swaying branches and caught sight of Raythe partially hidden behind a large bush. He smiled when he realised his friend hadn’t run off and understood Raythe’s frantic signals to keep his whereabouts a secret. Glancing up at Thomas, he answered truthfully. “I don’t know if I w-would of or not, Thomas.”

“I appreciate your honesty, Galen. I hope though you will remember we did agree to the use of consequences had you gone much further.”

“I remember, honest.” Although relieved that everything seemed to have worked out for the best, Galen’s smile didn’t quite manage to reach his eyes. “By the way, you don’t have to w-worry about Raythe, Thomas,” he quietly informed the older man. “He’ll be b-back when he’s ready. It is just that he’s kinda scared of p-people in authority.”

“I’m not so sure Brock will be very pleased with Raythe’s plans, but if you’re certain he’ll come back to the camp then I’ll follow your lead. I have one small thing I’d like you to do for me. I know you like to go barefoot most of the time and normally in the camp area and beach that’s fine, but the forest has many hazards that can damage your feet. I saw you’d stepped on something just as I arrived. I’d like you to wear shoes whenever you’re in the forest, okay?”

“I really don’t like b-boots, Thomas.” Galen argued and shook his head, suddenly feeling obstinate. “If it is gonna be a rule, then I w-want to think about it first.”

Thomas gave serious thought to the young man’s response. “Let’s do something here. I’d like us to look carefully on the ground all round us and see how many things you can find that could possibly cut or puncture your bare feet. See what you think about going barefoot then.”

Galen rolled his eyes at the logic he wasn’t in the mood to accept. “The soles of my feet are like leather, so there is probably not much around to hurt them,” his muttering giving a clear indication of his disgruntlement.

Thomas spotted a seemingly abrasive rock a few yards along the path from them. “Okay, Galen, if you can stand on that rock there in your bare feet without feeling pain from it then I'll go along with you.”

Galen approached the rock and carefully stepped onto the jagged surface of it. He stubbornly refused to acknowledge any discomfort. Had someone asked, even Galen himself would not have been able to explain his uncharacteristic behaviour.

Thomas carefully studied the face of the younger man. It was obvious that he was holding back a grimace of pain.  “How’s it feeling?”

“Just fine,” Galen mulishly insisted. He was confused, knowing he yearned for something but unsure what it was he wanted or needed. He glared up at Thomas, fully expecting the older man to fix things.

Thomas looked the young man in the eyes and saw the uncertainty there. “Galen, step down and show me the bottom of your feet,” he commanded.

Galen sighed and complied. Without a word, he sat down on a nearby stump and held up his legs.

Looking carefully at the soles of the lad’s feet, Thomas was disturbed by what he saw. The heavy calluses, though not cut, were deeply indented from the sharp-edged stone and looked painful. He thought back through their conversation and realised what he had on his hands was a young lad doing his best to let him know he needed some guidance but was feeling too unsure of their relationship to ask for it.

“Galen, look at me!” he demanded. The younger man slowly met his eyes. “Your so-called leather feet hurt quite a bit from what I can see. Whether you want to admit it or not, they are vulnerable and I am making it a rule. You will wear your boots in the woods. Do you understand me?”

Galen gazed wide-eyed and nodded his agreement. His emotions seemed to be running rampant; up one moment and down the next, leaving him feeling unsettled, and he didn’t like it.

Thomas helped Galen to his feet and pulled him into a firm embrace. “It’s been a difficult day for all of us, Galen. We’re all under stress, but I want you to know I care about you too much to either allow you to hurt yourself by running about with unprotected feet or in any other way endangering yourself.”

Wrapping his arms around the larger man’s waist, Galen gave himself up to his mentor’s care. This was what he needed. Emotionally depleted, he just wanted someone to take charge. He shyly glanced upward and announced, “I’m hungry.”

Thomas chuckled at the sudden change in attitude “Let’s get back to the camp. I think we could both use something to eat and a rest.” He began to guide his young charge, but not before noticing they had been observed. Raythe’s form could be seen by the bushes at the edge of the clearing.

It would soon be six o’clock and although there were still a few hours of daylight left, the day was steadily drawing to a close. A quiet group of men was sitting around the campfire after having just finished the evening meal, but there was a distinct lack of spirit or conversation. The hunting party had been gone for more than ten hours and the level of anxiety was increasing as nightfall drew closer. 

 “They are probably holding up somewhere for the night,” Larry said to no one in particular. “It wouldn’t make sense to try to make their way back in the dark.”

“Oh yes,” Lakota concurred. “I agree with you; much safer to wait until morning.”

Spyke snapped a twig and Raythe jumped at the sudden sound. He reached out and grabbed the broken twigs and threw them back at Spyke. “Idiot!” he hissed.

Spyke immediately retaliated and would have thrown the offensive twigs back at Raythe had Larry not caught hold of him and yanked him against his side. “Come sit here, babe. Are you cold?”

Distracted with Larry’s kindness, Spyke ignored Raythe and allowed himself to be pampered. 

Nathan heard a little sigh beside him and saw Wayne staring at the couple. His heart went out to the young man and he touched Wayne’s arm, speaking in a low voice. “To be honest, I wasn’t expecting them back tonight. I imagine the animal would have picked up their scents and probably been frightened enough to run off. I wouldn’t worry too much. There are three of them and they all are well able to take care of themselves.”

Wayne nodded miserably. The strength of his emotions surprised even himself. He had known Samuel only three months and yet here he was, pining for the man after just one day apart. When had he grown so fond of him? Nathan’s words settled in his stomach and sub-consciously he moved closer. How right Samuel was to put him in Nathan’s charge. Although he had resented it earlier, he now fully appreciated the strength of the man sitting beside him. It made all the difference in the world, having the physical presence of someone to lean on. It was very comforting indeed.

Nathan drew Wayne closer and put an arm around his shoulders. Leaning down, he planted a kiss on Wayne’s head, a simple platonic gesture. 

To his other side, Wes looked on wooden-faced. 

Samuel’s breath was loud and rasping, and his throat was horribly dry as he hastily made his way through the undergrowth. He had long lost sight of the path Brock had marked and was using his instinct more than anything else, fervently hoping he was going in the right direction. Luckily the days were long and he still had a reasonable length of daylight before night would fall. The rain clouds having moved on helped with that. He had been running and stumbling for well over an hour, scrambling over huge roots and pushing branches out of his face. Something sticky dripped on his arm and when he wiped the sweat away from his face, his hands came away red. Steeling his mind, he ignored the sight of his own blood and pushed on. Time was of the essence. He had to return with Lakota and medical supplies as quickly as possible. His mind couldn’t begin to grasp the thought of the long trek back to the cave. He was almost spent and he had no idea how he was going to manage it but that was not an option. Only he knew where Aiden lay injured. He was the only one able to bring the badly needed help.

He heard dogs barking faintly in the distance. His heart gave a leap of hope and he picked up speed. Soon the camp came into view. He heard shouts moments before several large figures loomed before him.  


“Oh God, he’s hurt!”

“Help him over to the fire and get him some water!

Preston and Mitchell stepped forward to assist and once Samuel was seated, Lakota and Yancey took over, swiftly cleaning his abrasions and bruises as Samuel panted and worked on regaining his breath. Wayne, pale and shaken, hadn’t uttered a word. He sat down as close as he could to his partner but remained silent while waiting with the rest to find out what had happened. 

“Where is Brock?” “Where the hell is Aiden?” Raythe and Spyke shouted simultaneously, worriedly glancing around in search of their partners.

“Has something happened to them?” Larry asked, his face solemn and his voice full of concern

“First, let the man have some space,” Thomas softly suggested as several more questions were fired at Samuel. “He can tell all once he gets his breath back.”

A mug was pressed into Samuel’s hand. He drank deeply and then quickly related the most important information concerning the hunt. Yes, the wolf was now dead but Aiden is in dire straits. He paused briefly and glanced regretfully at Spyke and Larry. Drawing a deep breath, he looked them in the eyes and continued his tale. “I fear I am the bearer of bad news. Aiden has been bitten by a snake and is in need of medical assistance. Brock is presently caring for him and I am sure all will be well.” Samuel hastened to set the young men’s minds at ease, if such a feat were possible.

Spyke hastily scrambled to his feet. “We gotta get to him, Larry! He needs us!” He was starting to panic and Larry was unable to calm him as he was himself trying to assimilate all that had been disclosed.

Yancey moved closer and embraced the frightened man. “Sssh, Spyke. Aiden is a big man. It is unlikely a snake would be able to do as much damage to him as to another.” He refused to release the struggling lad in his arms and Spkye gradually calmed down enough to listen to reason.

“Are you able to lead us back to where Aiden and Brock are waiting, Samuel?” Walker asked, squatting next to the almost spent man.

“I think so. I’ll get my second wind once I’ve rested and eaten. They are in the cave quite some distance from here. Brock says it is the large one Galen found when we first arrived here.”

“I’ve been there!” Thomas announced. “I am fairly confident I can find the way back to it. Samuel needs time to recover.”

“Then we will form a rescue party and leave as soon as possible. It will be dark long before we return. We will need several strong men and of course Lakota’s expertise. Eat now, Samuel, while the rest of us gather what we feel will be needed.”  Walker nodded his approval when Samuel began to hungrily gulp down the food which appeared in front of him.

“I’m going too,” Spyke insisted, following his partner to their tent.

“It’s going to be a hard trek, Spyke. I think you should wait here,” Larry strongly suggested. He relented when he was categorically reminded that Aiden was not just his partner, but Spyke’s as well.

Twenty minutes later, a group consisting of Thomas, Walker, Larry, Spyke, Mitchell and Lakota departed on their mission. Trudging through the forest, thoughts of the men left behind surfaced. Etched into their memories were the worried faces of young partners who valiantly put aside their own desires to be part of the undertaking, and of apprehensive men who had agreed to stay behind and await the outcome.

Much later Thomas was to wonder how they’d done it. He put it down to an iron determination that had gripped them. It had enabled him to find both the strength and clarity of mind needed to lead the rescue party to the cave. A couple of times he faltered, frustrated by the gradually fading light and unsure for several moments which way to turn, for there were no clear paths and each patch of undergrowth was much the same as the next. But crisis sharpened survival skills and knowing he was the only one who could take them out of the present predicament gave him new vigour. There was no room for doubt or surrender.

Larry trudged along between Walker and Mitchell, keeping absolutely silent. His companions occasionally glanced over at his wooden expression, but they kept quiet as well. The only sounds from the group were harsh breathing and some muttered curses as branches and brushwood scratched at their arms and faces, and the bits of colourful commentary coming from Spyke. 

Once, about forty-five minutes after the start of the mission, Lakota inquired, “How much longer?” 

“We should be over half way there I reckon,” Thomas replied as he felt the doctor come up beside him.

“We must make haste, Thomas, venom travels fast.” This was said in a low voice, meant only for Thomas’ ears.

He nodded, wiping a damp sleeve across his face. “I know, Doctor. I know.”

Thirty minutes later Thomas stopped, and the others waited anxiously as he surveyed the wilderness. Here in the forest, the light had all but gone and it was getting steadily harder to see where they were going. “Listen,” Thomas pointed a finger. “Do you hear that?” 

The others strained their ears; sure enough they could hear the faint sound of water. Thomas nodded, secretly relieved beyond words. “Behind those rocks should be a drop, then the waterfall and the cave.” He turned to Larry and Spyke. “You held up well, lads. Aiden will be mighty pleased to see you!” 

Larry had turned even paler now that they were so close. ‘What if Aiden …’ he stopped himself on that thought and said savagely, “come on, let’s get going and not waste time!”

His small supply of patience long gone, Spyke couldn’t wait any longer. He dashed off in the direction indicated by Thomas before anyone could stop him.

Walker put a hand on Larry’s arm and stilled the impatient young man before he could follow his younger partner. “Larry, you must be brave and calm no matter what happens. Do you understand me, lad? Remember we are here for you.”

“He’ll be fine!” Larry growled, shaking off Walker’s hand. The other men exchanged silent looks and without any further delay, moved in the darkened woods towards the sound of the waterfall.

Brock estimated the time at being nigh onto nine o'clock and Samuel had been gone at least four hours. He had been pacing restlessly in the cave, bending over Aiden every few minutes to check his breathing and pulse. The fire lent some measure of light and warmth to the cave but outside, dusk had rapidly fallen.

Brock jerked his head up as his sharp ears caught the sound of footsteps on sodden leaves, then the obvious noise of humans. He hurried to the mouth of the cave and peered out. He heard scrambling and the gasping cries from Spyke and then Larry as they burst into view.

“Where is he?” Spyke demanded as he rushed into the cave with Larry following close on his heels.

A very distraught man rushed to Aiden’s side, heart pounding so hard in his chest he was sure the others could hear it echoing off the rocky walls. Larry closed his eyes and whispered a silent prayer as he dropped to his knees. His mouth went dry. Aiden looked so pale and there didn’t seem to be any movement coming from underneath the blankets. His eyes filled with tears and he was overcome with despair, believing his beloved partner had succumbed to the poison. He laid his head on the big Scot’s chest and allowed the tears that were threatening to fall since this whole rescue mission started, to finally flow. He was barely aware of Spyke, silent for once, sitting across from him.

“Oh God, Aiden; no.” The strangled cries frightened Spyke and sent chills down Brock’s spine as he squatted next to the sobbing man.

“Easy, Larry,” Brock whispered as he reached out to touch his arm “He’s not dead, lad. He’s just unconscious. Take a deep breath and listen; listen for his heartbeat.”

Larry lifted his head to look up at the mountain man then doing as he was told, he lay his head back down on Aiden’s chest and sure enough, there it was. It was weak but the sound was the most beautiful he’d ever heard.

“Oh Aiden, thank God. I love you so much, I don’t know what I’d do if….” Larry couldn’t speak anymore. He was too strongly affected by his emotions. 

“What the hell did you do to yourself, man? Taking on snakes….” Spyke softly admonished, too in shock to say much more

By this time all the rescue team had entered the cave and Lakota had taken over. He bent down and gently began to push Larry aside so he could check out the damage when a moan could be heard from under the covers.

“Am I dreaming again, Brock, or ‘tis it truly the voices of me darlin’ lads, I’m hearing?”

“It’s not an illusion this time, Aiden. Both Larry and Spyke are here as well as the doctor and several others.”

Lakota allowed Larry and Spyke a few more seconds with Aiden to assure the big Scot that indeed his partners were really there. Then he set about preparing his patient for the long journey back to camp.

“You’ve done a fine job caring for him, Brock,” Lakota sincerely praised the mountain man’s handiwork. He worked swiftly, inspecting the wounded area and applying an herb mixture he produced from his medical bag. The good doctor next mixed some herbal tea in lukewarm water and encouraged Aiden to sip small amounts from the cup held to his lips.

Meanwhile, Mitchell and Walker reinforced the rough but sturdy travois Brock had started to transport the injured man.

Once Lakota deemed his patient fit to travel, it took all of them to move the huge man from the cave. They then began the long exhausting trip back to camp with the men taking turns hauling the makeshift contraption. The wolf, that in a sense was responsible for their present predicament, was left behind to be retrieved the next day.  

The entire way home, Larry and Spyke took turns holding on tightly to Aiden’s hand. It was like they were trying to transfer strength into their lover to help pull him through.

Just before they reached the camp, Aiden weakly looked up at his partners and murmured, “I love ye, me bonnie brave lads. ‘Tis something I must ask ye both. Aye, but t’will have to wait ‘til I’m stronger.” With these words Aiden once again slipped into oblivion.

Yancey got to his feet and stretched. He added another log to the fire and glanced around at the handful of men who anxiously maintained their vigil. He gently smiled at Galen sleeping nearby and then at Jordan restlessly slumbering in Thad’s arms. He took a moment to eavesdrop on a quietly-spoken conversation between Gille, Brodie and Hendrik. No amount of cajoling could entice these young men to seek out their pallets. The nurse took in the signs of weariness on their young face as they readily exchanged murmured assurances with each other. He looked over to where Raythe was pacing once again and sadly shook his head. At least the lad was staying close by, even if not close enough for anyone to offer comfort.

Suddenly Raythe stopped his frantic movements, cocked his head to one side and listened. Seconds later, after letting out a cry, he was off and running into the woods.

Yancey sighed out his relief. He too had heard the sounds of the returning rescue party. He blinked back unexpected tears of joy. In the semi-darkness he could just make out the silhouettes and more importantly the travois carrying Aiden. He was still alive! He quickly stepped over to assist his awaking charge to his feet. Then together he and Galen excitedly awaited the joyous reunion of this eclectic new family of theirs.

With Lakota’s herbs and Yancey’s excellent ministrations, together with Aiden’s natural resilience, it took but a few days for Aiden to recover enough from his ordeal to be allowed to move out of the infirmary.

During that time, Larry and Spyke were constantly at his side, only spelling each other for meals and calls of nature. The two young men talked for hours about their love for the man and what his presence in their lives meant to them.

On the second day, Aiden was finally strong enough to participate in the conversation. He told his two partners how much he loved and treasured them, and how the accident made him realise how precious life really was.

Lakota and Yancey gave the three men their space, only coming in to administer medical attention to their patient then removed themselves from the scene.

By the fourth day, Aiden felt he was fully recovered and became impatient with his bedridden state. When Lakota made his appearance, Aiden assured the doctor he was his old self again and asked to go to his own tent.

Lakota thought things over for a moment then with a smile on his face, nodded his head. However, he warned Aiden to not overdo it for the next several days and should he feel weak, he was to march himself back to the infirmary. Aiden agreed to the terms of his release. Then with a partner on either side of him, he merrily made his way towards their tent.

On the way however, he manoeuvred them down a secluded path to a lovely spot where they could relax in the shadow of a large oak tree. “Seat yeselves, laddies. There is something I wish to ask of ye.”

“Is there anything amiss, Aiden?”  Larry enquired.

“Not at all, my love; do ye no remember our way back to camp when I told ye I had a question for the two of ye?”

“Yes, I do now,” Larry assured his older partner as he obeyed the request to sit down.

“What’s the question, Aiden? What do you want to know?” Spyke curiously asked, stepping in front of the big man and placing both hands on Aiden’s chest to impede his progress.

Aiden chuckled at the young man’s enquiry as he bent down and planted a soft kiss on his lips then once seated, did the same to Larry. “Please listen and do not interrupt me,” Aiden began. “In the cave I came to the conclusion that I could ne’er be able to go on without ye two. Speaking my feelings out loud for the first time to Brock, made me realise just how verra much I want ye both and that I wish to share the rest of me life with ye.” Aiden had to swallow the lump in his throat prior to continuing with his next sentence and only then realised how nervous he was. It was an emotion he rarely felt but despite it, he moved on. “I hope and pray ye both feel the same way as it is with this admission of my heartfelt love for ye that I now ask ye both to marry me and become me husbands. This will be the true and final step I need to make for me a life whole and complete.”

Larry and Spyke sat there with their eyes glistening as they gazed into the handsome face of this giant of a man who, as he poured out his soul, had got to his knees in front of them. The younger men took a split second to glance at each other before jumping together into Aiden’s open arms and in harmony yelling out, “Yes…Yes…Yes!”

The two were exuberantly kissing and hugging Aiden at the same time, causing the big man to lose his balance and fall flat on his back.

“Hey, Larry,” Spyke laughed. “We got him just where we like him so let’s really show him what marrying him will mean to us.”

Larry began to chuckle in overwhelming delight as he kissed Aiden once more before slowly making his way down the big man’s body. He was immediately joined by Spyke. 

Aiden smiled to himself at the creative ways his two partners were answering his question. It was the beginning of a new and great life for them all.


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