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When Cora was sixteen years old she took one of the horses for a ride in the forest. She was starting to enjoy being in the forest again. After her chores were finished she would often take rides on the horse Jasper and Mary had given her. She was grateful for all the things Jasper and Mary had done for her over the years. Still, sometimes she needed to be alone. As she rode she listened to the melody of the birds in the trees and the rhythm of the horse’s hooves as they clopped on the ground. She smelled the scent of pine in the air. She didn’t like to get to far from the ranch and was turning to head back to the house when she heard a rustling in the bushes. She turned to see a man’s face looking at her. His face looked as though he had seen a ghost and then he disappeared. She dismounted and went to where the man had been.
He had passed out. Cora tried to arouse him but he refused to stir. She felt a heat radiating from his flesh that threatened to burn her. She scanned his body and found a wound on his right thigh. All she could do was focus on the wound. It was large and hideous. Cora guessed it was around the size of a man’s fist. The edges were ragged and the wound bed looked like hamburger meat. There was a foul but sweet odor coming from the wound, a thick yellow drainage oozed from its center, and skin surrounding the wound was red and swollen. She decided that she could not leave him there. She was certain he would die if she did. She went back to the horse and led it over to the man. She found some tree branches and made a piney stretcher. She used all her strength to move him onto the stretcher. With the man rolled onto the stretcher she grabbed a rope and tied the stretcher to the saddle. She remounted the horse and gently dug her heels into its sides. Slowly the horse sauntered back to the ranch.
“Who’s this?” Jasper asked as she entered the barn.
“I don’t know. He looked at me strangely and then passed out,” Cora answered. “He’s injured and has a fever. I couldn’t leave him there.”
“Let’s get him inside the house.”
Cora helped Jasper take the stranger into the house. He was heavier then she remembered. Jasper steered the stretcher into the room behind the kitchen and they placed the stranger on the bed.
“Stay here. I’ll go get Mary.”
The odor coming from his wound was making her feel sick to her stomach. She couldn’t understand how something could smell foul and sweet at the same time. She took a closer look to the wound edges. She didn’t know what could have made such a large wound on his leg. She almost thought it looked like an animal bite the way the flesh was torn and twisted from his leg. Mary came hurriedly into the room and she was carrying her herbal kit.
“That looks and smells awful,” she said with her hand under her nose. “Cora, bring me some clean rags, water, honey, and something to wrap his leg with.” Mary directed.
Cora rushed from the room. She was able to find all the items requested with ease. When Cora came back into the room Mary was tearing the stranger’s pants away from the wound. Cora gave Mary the supplies she requested. Mary took some of the rags and dipped them in the water. She cleaned the wound with expert care. Then, Mary placed some Echinacea extract on a new rag and cleaned the wound again. When she finished she applied honey to the wound and packed the wound with the remaining rag. When she finished, she wrapped the leg with bandages. Cora was fascinated watching her work.
“Do you think he’ll be okay?” Cora asked as she looked at the stranger with concern.
“Only time will tell. If the infection can be stopped he may have a chance.”
Cora sat with the stranger and started to notice new things about him. She thought he was handsome. He had a strong jaw line with a shadow of stubble. He had a beaded line of sweat on his tan brow. He was tall and his shoulder were broad. He seemed to be around her age or maybe a few years older. She took a wet cloth and wiped his brow, neck, and chest. She reached down and touched his arm. Then, she dragged her fingers down his arm to his hand. The skin on his hand was tough, worn, and calloused. He began to stir and moan. Cora quickly withdrew her hand. His eyes fluttered open and he looked around at his surroundings. Cora could see the confusion on his face. When his brown eyes met hers, his expression became violent.
“What the hell are you doing here?” he spat with his hands clenched at his side.
“What are you talking about? I don’t know you.”
“Don’t play games with me! What are you doing here?” he yelled.
“I’m sorry but I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Fine. If you want to play games then I can play along. You trick us! You told us you wanted to help stop the Invaders. You were working with the Invaders the entire time. You told Dorian every plan we had. Because of you some of my friends died!”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I have never met you before. I have never seen and Invader and have no idea who Dorian is.”