When the creature opened his eyes, Maribelle almost gasped. This time she stopped herself.
Judith Mocker knelt down beside her. The creature lay on its back on the flattened grass in the shade of the little copse of trees. It raised its head.
“No, no!” Judith said. “Stay still! They’re looking for us!”
The golden eyes blinked.
“I know you can understand us,” Judith said. “So please listen. Some men from the village are out hunting for you. So far they haven’t gotten too close, but we did see a jeep full of them pass by just to the north of us, and not very long ago, at that. We can’t risk moving you right now, so you must remain here.”
The eyes blinked again.
“You were tore up pretty bad,” Maribelle said. “We didn’t have any first aid stuff, but lucky for you Judith here is one of the finest field surgeons a guy could ever want. She got the bleeding stopped, and all we had to sacrifice were a few pieces of her skirt and my top.”
The creature turned its head—his head—his head, looking at the strips of bloody cloth tied around his arms, his legs, a scrap of Maribelle’s once white blouse now plastered by congealed blood to his shoulder.
“You needed stitches,” Judith said, “but we must make do when circumstances necessitate.”
“You do understand us, don’t you?” Maribelle said. “Can you, like, lift your hand or something if you understand?”
An instant of hesitation. The large eyes stared. The Blackmane lifted his right hand from the ground.
“Oh, wow,” Maribelle said.
“You understand that we are friends, don’t you?” Judith said. “That we are trying to help you?”
The hand lifted again.
“Yes, yes, good.”
He made a motion with the hand.
“What’s that? Do you need something?”
“I think he’s, it’s like he’s trying to drink something, Judi.”
“Oh! Yes, of course! He’s thirsty! Is that it? You want water?”
The hand raised and lowered.
“Here.” Maribelle unscrewed the cap from a blue plastic thermos. She leaned in. “Open up.” She poured in a little water as the creature opened his mouth.
“Take little sips, but take all you want,” Judith said. “You lost a significant amount of blood, and we don’t want you getting dehydrated.”
Maribelle stared at the creature. At his face. At his eyes. The eyes gleamed with intelligence. Look at you, Maribelle said to herself. My God, what have they done?
She froze, cocking her head. She looked at Judith, then back at the creature. They both heard it, too. An engine. Getting louder. Closer.
“Oh, no,” Maribelle said. “Here they come again.”