There were five leadwood bullets embedded in me – leastways, that’s what Hedgethorne told me. He asked me if he could keep one as a souvenir and said he could have all five for all I cared.
I had been well and truly peppered with the accursed things as I charged the enemy’s phraxcannon, and I can remember very little about it. Poor Lemquinx was mortally wounded and Hedgethorn found me lying next to my faithful prowlgrin’s lifeless corpse. The militia’s surgeon wanted me taken to the Water Caverns, where a makeshift hospital had been set up, but Hedgethorn would have none of it.
‘No sawbones is going to carve up my friend, I told him, Forden,’ Hedgethorn growled. ‘I’ll tend his wounds the old way.’
My old friend was as good as his word, though at the time I was running a high fever and was oblivious to everything.
I came to three days later to find myself in a hammock above a fire of aromatic thunderroot in Hedgethorn’s hive tower. I couldn’t move. My right hand side was encased in a heavy cast of baked lake mud from neck to ankle, and I was strapped to my hammock. The pungent sepia smoke rising from the fire numbed my senses and made me drowsy, and I slipped in and out of consciousness for most of that long afternoon. It was sometime after dark when I awoke to find Hedgethorn standing over me. He held a rock hammer and chisel in his hands.
‘The healing poultice will have done its work by now,’ he informed me. ‘Time to come out of your shell, Forden, old friend.’
As gently as he was able, Hedgethorn chipped away the mud cast on my right hand side. Beneath the grey crust, a brittle poultice of lake herbs and cavern moss was revealed. As Hedgethorn pulled this away, the leadwood bullets fell, one by one, into his hands. The old grey goblin smiled at me as he bathed and dressed my bullet wounds with crisp white bandages.
‘The old ways worked for arrowheads and spear-barbs,’ he said simply, ‘drawing them slowly from the wound without the surgeon’s knife. Seems they work equally well on leadwood bullets.’
I wanted to thank my friend, but drugged by the thuderroot smoke, I drifted off to sleep.
When I awoke, the fire had burned itself out and a bright shaft of sunlight was beaming down on the hammock from the tower windows above. Hedgethorn was in his galley beside the central fire, steaming lakefish and frying meadow turnip fritters. The smell was as intoxicating as thunderroot smoke, and I sat up. My side ached, but I was delighted to find that I could get to my feet without too much difficulty.
‘Looks like you’re on the mend,’ laughed Hedgethorn, ushering me over to his long table, which groaned under the weight of good things to eat. ‘Tuck in,’ he encouraged. ‘You need to build your strength up, Forden, lad.’
I needed no second invitation and ate hungrily, devouring the lakefish, meadow turnip fritters, tilder sausages and sticklehog bacon. Slumping back in my chair at last, I looked at my old friend.
‘I can’t begin to thank you, Hedgethorn,’ I began, ‘for looking after me, tending my wounds… But tell me, what has become of our militia? and Alcestia?’
The old grey goblin’s eyes filled with tears. ‘We lost many good people at the Battle of Farrow Lake, Forden,’ he said quietly. ‘And Alcestia was one of them…’