Chapter 1 : Quiet Kindness
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The house was small, single-storied with clean white shutters and a fenced-in yard. It was well taken care of by the man who lived there - all creaks and squeaks fixed, the yard painstakingly tended, and the outside painted every spring. It was needed, with the winds that blew through the Scottish Highlands each winter.
Daniel had always been a quite man, given more to reflection than action. He had lived in this house, tucked away in the hills, for almost thirty years now. He had travelled every morning to the village down the road to his job at the post office, but retreated back each night to the solitude. Had, but had taken early retirement one month ago, at the age of fifty-six.
Daniel liked the seclusion of his home, though he could not deny that the occasional odd thing happened. There was the long red train that went through not far from here each fall, heading towards the mountains and nothing. There was the unusually large number of owls that made their homes nearby and the occasional sighting of an oddly dressed person. Daniel could not deny these things, thought he saw no point in dwelling on them. They just were.
They were, in fact, the furthest things from his mind as he sat one night, sipping tea in his kitchen and gazing out the window at the row of bushes he had planted in his backyard the day before. It was late, and he was tired - soon to head to bed - so did not at first register the fact that there was something moving out there.
The first thought that came to his mind was something he had not thought about for years - of the large animals that had once prowled around when he had first moved here. About once a month, he would catch a glimpse of what appeared to be two very large wolves chasing their dinner - always a stag. They never came close, always stayed far out in the fields, and after a year or two, they vanished forever. Daniel supposed the wolves had run out of food to eat. He was surprised it had not happened sooner - stags were not very common.
He remembered all this in an instant, as he sat staring out the window, trying to determine what was out there. He picked up his cup of tea, now empty, and carried it to the sink, in the process getting a better look outside. What he saw made him gasp.
What was quite obviously a man - and a very weak one from the looks of it - was on his knees, making his way towards the barrel at the back of the house, used to catch the rainwater.
Daniel let out an oath, and rushed to the back door and out into the night.
The man sensed his presence instantly, and began to struggle to his feet. In his hand, Daniel saw he carried a piece of wood, little more than a twig really, but with which he obviously meant to defend himself, as he had it pointed straight at Daniel.
“Easy! I’ll not hurt you. Let me help you in, and I’ll see about fixing you up. Where’d you come from, anyway? The village?”
“The village?” The other man mumbled thickly, confused. “Hogsmeade is gone - burned.”
“Hogsmeade? What’s that? I mean the village, Dunkeld.” Daniel took a step forward to help the man inside, but stopped when the twig was pointed threateningly. He instead took a step back and held his hands out to his sides.
The other man did not move for a long time. Studying him, thought Daniel, though he could not see for certain in the dark. Then, he dropped his outstretched arm and muttered, “Dunkeld, yes. Dunkeld.”
The admission seemed to drain all the energy from the man; Daniel had to hurry forward to keep him from falling. Wrapping his arm tightly around the fellow’s torso, Daniel could feel his clothes were sticky and wet. Wincing, he half carried, half dragged the man into the kitchen.
Daniel deposited the limp figure into one of the kitchen chairs, and collapsed into the other, breathing heavily. He was not young anymore, and the man was much heavier than he looked. Recovered, Daniel moved to examine him.
Not a man, he saw, but a boy. He could be no older than eighteen, with wild black hair. Empty frames, the glass missing, hung from his face, and a jagged scar poked out from under his fringe. He was dressed, Daniel noted, in the same sort of odd clothing that was seen around every once in a while, and they were sticky, he now saw, with blood.
He isn’t moving, Daniel realized with a start, and jumped forward to check for a pulse. The moment his fingers made contact the boy’s eyes leapt open, and Daniel saw they were a startling green.
Unnerved by the intensity he found in the boys gaze, Daniel cleared his throat. “What happened boy? Who did this to you?”
“Fight,” the boy managed. “Surprised me.”
“I’ll say. They did a number on you. But don’t you worry, I’ll get you cleaned up and you can rest for the night, then I’ll take you in to see the doctor first thing tomorrow. You can make a police report too. What’s your name, by the way?”
The boy did not seen inclined to answer, so Daniel didn’t press. The boy had been through enough already. There would be time for that tomorrow.
While he had been talking, Daniel had been filling a bowl with water. He now set it, and a clean cloth, onto the table. “Where are you bleeding from?”
The boy just stared, then wordlessly gestured towards his shoulder. Daniel helped him remove the bulky black garment he wore, and the t-shirt underneath, leaving him sitting in a pair of faded jeans. Daniel dipped the cloth in the water and began to cleanse the odd wound on the boy’s shoulder. The boy, for his part, did not flinch at all, but stared blankly ahead.
Daniel continued to talk as he worked; he had heard such things helped someone suffering from shock to stay conscious. He paused only to get some cloth to bandage the wound, and then carried on as though there had been no interruption.
When he was done, Daniel helped the boy to the sitting room, and made a bed out of blankets on the couch. He got the boy some clean clothes to change into, and helped him on with them, as his bandaged left arm hindered him.
“There,” said Daniel when he finished. “Now rest. You’ll be safe.”
Daniel made his way to the kitchen, where he gathered the bloody clothes and went to try and clean them. He mostly succeeded, and left them to dry. He turned off the lights in the laundry room and kitchen, but paused once he reached the sitting room. The boy was asleep now, his breathing deep and even.
Why would someone do something like that, Daniel wondered. The poor boy had obviously been through so much – Daniel had noticed bruises all over his body as he had helped him change. Why would anyone leave a boy bruised and bloody and exhausted in the middle of nowhere? An overwhelming sense of pity rose inside him, and he had to fight back tears.
“Don’t you worry boy, you’ll be fine,” he whispered, more for himself than the still-slumbering figure on the couch. “I don’t know who did this to you, but your going to give them a heck of a surprise tomorrow when you show up in town. Your strong boy, you’ll show them.”
The boy stirred slightly, and Daniel quickly turned off the last light and retreated to his room, not wanted to disturb the boy’s rest.
When Daniel arose the next morning, the boy was gone. The blankets and spare clothing were folded into a neat pile at the end of the couch, and the boy’s own clothes were gone. There was no other sign that the boy had really been there, that it had not been a dream.
Daniel never saw or heard of the boy again. He never knew that he had sheltered the saviour of England in his home. Never knew that his kindness, and his quiet words of encouragement, half heard in the middle of the night, gave the boy the strength to seek out the survivors of the battle from the night before. Daniel never knew the effects of his actions that night, though they helped to change the world.
Had he known, he might have felt wonder.
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