Morning eased in on her sleep, cool autumn light lit the closed screens in sepia tones, seen through half open eyelids. Dulled voices murmured in the small room, a clear voice expressed the early raga from the Pottage below - inside, animals snorts drifted in through with the weak sun from the outside. She assessed her body carefully, half numb legs and feet, low aches and untried stiffness just across the curtain of movement. The room felt stuffy to a nose used to the scents of dawn on the road, over-warm, but also carrying yeasty bread, unknown body scents, and the hot smell of a brazier.
She opened her eyes the rest of the way, and examined her new home. The frame to use getting out of bed, she hoped only a temporary device, curved over her, and she slid her hand along it, taking in the smoothness, the irregularity of the bamboo rods under tension. Twinges announced themselves, and she listened impassively, shooing them away as insufficient to bother about. She let her toes explore the soft, hemp cloth sheets under black wool blankets, not yet shifting her ragged body, listening to the voices, one low, familiar, and instructive, one faint and curious. Turning her head carefully, she noticed the fluid bottle hanging, with the tubing neatly tied to it, empty as the alcove bed, bedding rumpled. She looked again, and realized a large, black dog curled on the blanket, when thee snorted a little.
Fuzzy minded, she planned the steps to her position of vertical, self-log-roll using the hand holds and as swift a turn to standing as she could summon momentum for, grunting involuntarily, swallowing a yelp, and she stood on her recalcitrant feet. Hinge stood smiling at her, with a frail, bald child in an oversized white knit shirt that came to her ankles, where the orange cat George circled.
"Good morning." Stone smiled, looking down carefully. "You are looking much better today." And to Hinge, "Does she understand?"
"Her English is good, if a bit biblical compared to what I know from my pre-A radio recordings. Pretty close to Abbey, it'll do." Hinge rubbed his hand over the scraped, scabbed little head. Her dozy, light brown, and very bloodshot eyes blinked acknowledgement. "Candle will be by after breakfast, to examine her, and you, with Old Doc. You are going to love that more than giving birth," he laughed.
"Oooo, can't wait. Are you ever going to let me forget that? It's been, what twenty years now." Stone asked, shifting her weight in a vain search for comfort.
"As soon as the rest of the bruises from where you gripped me go away." Hinge answered, pouting facetiously.
"Aw, such a tenderfoot you are, I forgot," and she patted his arm, shaking her head sadly. "Is that our breakfast you are getting ready?" She pointed to the brazier.
"That's what I'm here for. Never trust my apprentice to feed you, even the dogs choke on it. I got bread and sausage and... "
"Never tell me the menu, I'll eat whatever you stick in front of me," she interrupted. "Or will if I can hold it up and perch somewhere..." she took a few sore steps, and waved her hands in a mild desperation, as the skinny cat made figure eights around her feet, shedding as he went.
"Heh, I got you covered, and we'll get you something real built by this afternoon. Candle the Medic will be very certain about that." He smiled in private pride. And looked over to see Leaf the Foundling squatting by the hibachi, head cocked to one side, hands clasped like every Abbey child who learned about fire through burning experience, then gazed at Hinge the Dogman. "You want to help cook?" Another nod. Hinge rubbed his palms together in the joy of a teacher of a particularly bright student.
Stone rolled her eyes and shuffled toward the small room.
She lay exhausted in the hot, deep pool, taking in the glorious bath partially beneath the Abbey proper, and peeking out from under, onto the northern slope. Sandy textured tiles lined every horizontal surface, glassy tesserae in dark reds and golds swarmed over the verticals, all immaculate. A sense of a sacred space enveloped her. Surrounding the water, the washing alcoves around the walls, between them, openings to sunwell lit examination rooms - where she had just spent an eternity of pain. The bath being the reward for stoicism. She felt another body enter the water.
"Rope? It is you, oh, Rope!" Stone opened her arms, and her old friend waded into her corner, and wrapped her arms around her, and lifted her up in an enthusiastic hug. A startled yelp, and she eased her back to the water.
"Sorry, sorry, oh, my dear old friend. Hinge warned me and everything." Rope laid a hand on Stone's head, gently kissed the crown, and sloshed in beside her on the submerged wooden bench. "How bad?"
"Um. Wear and tear and arthritis, old fractures, bulges and whatnot, and about a half year of more of the same as today. They moved every single joint, while listening with some device, and not in a nice way. Then jabbed the needles in, ice, heat, I don't know it's all a bit of a blur." She shook her wet head.
"How's an old wanderer like you going to survive so much idleness?" Rope asked, making her own appraisal of what life on the road had done to the body beside her.
"Have you met the bug master, Roach?" Stone scrunched her eyebrows.
"I've heard tell, never spotted him. Living out at the Bachelor Spiral, I think."
"Lens the... Spiral I guess, says he came in for the winter, so might Roach the Bugman. I hear learning all the new found species - enough to work on the survey, will take as long as getting my back in good enough shape to go hunt the little critters in the spring. Don't look at me so dubiously, I have acedemic chops, just did them while moving around is all." She sneered at her friend. "You still riding the waves?"
"When I can, going out to the coast in the morning, batten down the weather station there, and get in some cold surf." Rope laughed a gleeful giggle.
"Not alone, please tell me not alone," Stone added, "Not this time."
"No, I got Bou to join me, maybe another meed for a last field trip." Rope reassured her.
"You know how much I want to come with you." Stone floated her puckering palms upward.
Rope reached out, and gripped a hand. "Next year."
"I don't believe in Next Year," Stone told her.
"I know what you mean. I'm not too convinced about last year." Rope added. (Not how I wanted to end this segment, but all I can do this week. Amendments may come.)