I’ll be honest, I had sat for some time last night writing a completely different post for X. One of those from-the-heart, frank posts that looked decidedly ill-advised when I read it over again in the cold light of day. So, as a much more lighthearted treat, I thought I’d introduce you to Xavier Bettencourt from Runners. Xavier is a somewhat enigmatic character at the start of the book; there is lots we dont know about him and his motivations aren’t always clear. One thing is certain, he doesn’t like Elijah very much and the distrust is mutual. Perhaps something to do with the conversation that Elijah overhears concerning himself at their first meeting. Luckily for Elijah, things with Xavier aren’t always what they seem.
The stable was damp and inhabited by a skeletal, disgruntled looking horse which snorted indignantly at their arrival but, after a fuss from Rosa, decided they were welcome after all. Two of the three stalls were unoccupied and obviously unused; Xavier noted that, although they were cleanly swept, there was no straw down. On a bracket hung a wire basket with a supply of clean dry straw, which Xavier spread around in one of the vacant stalls for them to lie on. It pricked them through their clothes but smelt inviting and safe. Rowan fell asleep almost immediately, as did Sky, after finally agreeing to entrust Elijah’s care to Jimmy. Jimmy did his best to make Elijah comfortable, but his limp form failed to respond to any of Jimmy’s anxious manoeuvrings.
Xavier, who seemed to have taken on superhuman qualities, was adamant that he was going out to search for food. ‘Did you pick up those tokens?’
Rosa nodded and reached into her backpack, extracting the booklet that had been the cause of so much misery. She tossed it to him.
‘Where are you going to use them?’
‘If there’s a stable here with a live horse, then there has to be a house nearby,’ Xavier reasoned. ‘I’m going to find it and see if I can get them to exchange these for something. It’s a risk, but we don’t have any choice.’
‘You’re surely not going now?’
Xavier nodded, his square jaw set with grim determination. Rosa was too tired to argue.
A couple of hours later, Xavier stumbled in with a small cloth bag. Shaking Rosa gently, he showed her the bag as she rubbed her eyes, struggling to wake.
‘Where did you get that?’
‘Quite a walk actually – there’s a cottage. It’s in a bit of a hollow, which is why we never saw it before. They were nice people. Only had eggs to spare, though.’
‘But,’ Rosa began groggily, ‘we can’t start a fire in here…’
‘I know. We’ll have to eat them raw.’ Xavier steeled himself, at the same time pulling a brown, slightly feathery, hen’s egg out of the sack. Tipping his head right back he cracked it into his open mouth and swallowed it in one, shuddering. Rosa looked horrified. ‘This is not the time to be squeamish,’ Xavier scolded.
‘Didn’t they ask you any questions?’ Rosa asked as she accepted an egg from Xavier and held it as though he had given her a hand grenade.
‘Yeah. I felt a bad about lying to them really. They are a bit too trusting. Anyone else would have robbed them blind. They asked where we were staying. I was sort of straight with them. I told them I was with a group of soldiers on exercises and we got separated from the others, so we were sheltering in the stable, just for tonight, and we’d move on in the morning. Just in case they came noseying, really.’
‘I thought you said they were nice.’
‘That doesn’t mean they wouldn’t report a gang of kids hiding out in their stable, though, does it?’
‘We don’t really look like soldiers.’ Rosa forced an ironic laugh.
‘No,’ Xavier agreed, ‘but hopefully I was convincing enough that they won’t come to check. It’s quite interesting that they believed me so readily – don’t you think? Puts a new slant on what Jimmy told us about the CMO.’
‘Or perhaps they thought you were seventeen.’
‘Perhaps.’ Xavier shrugged. ‘Anyway, I told them the horse was ok with us. That seemed to settle it really.’ He glanced over at Elijah, who was shivering in his sleeping bag, his eyes moving rapidly under their lids. ‘Give me a hand to get one of these inside him. He’s not going to last otherwise.’
Rosa gently pulled Elijah’s head onto her knees and tipped it back without resistance. She pinched his nose while Xavier cracked an egg and poured it into his gaping mouth, stroking his throat like he was giving a dog pills. Elijah gagged and it dribbled back out, the yolk running down his chin.
‘We’ll just have to try and keep him hydrated, it’s the best we can do for now.’ Xavier grimaced. ‘His breath stinks. We’ll wake the others. They need to eat sooner rather than later. Plenty of time for sleep afterwards.’
You can check out the Runners page on Goodreads if you want to know more. Or, ya know, you could add it to your shelf… or something…