Aimon knelt over Gledrick and gave me a grave look. He showed me where to apply pressure with my hand and he worked on the open wounds, pouring some foul liquid into them, and then smearing a poultice. He wound bandages tightly over the dwarf’s shoulder and chest. Then we waited. Gledrick’s breathing was very slow, and I began to lose hope. It was about a halfbell before Gledrick stirred. Aimon nodded and said that was a good sign.
He went on to heal Ilirithil and Tresa while I studied. We expected to leave as soon as Gledrick was awake enough to drink a healing potion. So, I only had enough time to memorize a simple cantrip. Strange thing. I noticed that my study came little easier. I know the casting pulls the memory from the mind, but studying this spell was somehow more…familiar. I didn’t feel I was starting from nothing. I thought I knew it’s pattern before memorizing anything. Perhaps, a cast spell can leave a trace? Perhaps, I’m learning more than I realized.
I had just finished learning the spell, when Alexey’s voice called up from the bottom of the slope. When I’d hiked down to him, he was stooped over one of the hobgoblin riders. “What do you see?” he asked.
A close look revealed a muscular, healthy, well-fed specimen. He was fierce looking, even in death. Even his skin, a sickly color by the standards of the civilized races, looked taut and smooth. By comparison, the goblins from the prison camp were a scrabbly bunch, more likely to fight over a rotting piece of meat, than organize an attack on Hammer Hill. Alexey’s search also revealed a very interesting item – a scrimshawed piece of bone. Etchings and symbols covered the piece, but none of us recognized any part of it. This will be something to research when I have access to Master Vontaze’s library again. Perhaps, there will be some clue about the power behind the attacks. This piece may be just what I need to convince the council that I would be more valuable doing research than nearly getting myself and my friends killed in the wilds.
Finally, more than a bell later, Gledrick was conscious and moving. Aimon helped him drink a potion, and after a sour look, the color returned to the dwarf’s face. He looked ready, and we all felt anxious to move away from the threat of more riders. Aimon suspected the riders would come from the south and east, so he guided the caravan of prisoners north, slowly bending to the east after a couple hours. For the time, it seemed to work. We pushed on for several hours before needing to stop for the weaker prisoners…and me. I longed for sleep and felt ashamed that some of the half-starved prisoners were better able to travel than I was. Master Vontaze was right. The price of a strong mind may be a weak body.
My weak body had more to say on that subject. While finding a place to lay my bedroll, I stirred up a pile of dead leaves and molds, triggering a wild fit of The Cough. I wonder that all the worg riders in all the forests didn’t hear me. Some day, my weakness will be the death of us all. I must stop putting my companions at risk. Next time, I will tell the City Council I cannot go. The risk is simply too great.
When The Cough finally let go of me and the waters cleared from my eyes, I found a sight to make them water again. Silhouetted against the deep gray of the grove, a solitary figure shook and wept. Brother Maclin doubled over with grief for his fallen friend, Brogue. To be honest, the loss of the giant cut to my heart as well. I didn’t know him well. I had never gone out of my way to see him, and I wouldn’t if he were still here. But, we asked him to roll the boulder down the slope. We put him in harm’s way. I think Brogue thought it was all some sort of game. Even as he fell, he wore that same puzzled smile, as if he expected us to announce that it was some big joke. He lost his life, but I think Hammer Hill might have lost something even more precious.
Once I settled into my blankets, I noticed another scene of our grief. Tresa rested a hand on Alexey’s shoulder and spoke some soft words. Alexey’s shoulders sagged and shuddered. I never thought to ask about his woodsmen. There are only a couple with us now, so their losses must have been great. I can hear Konnor Hale say we took a tactical risk, and that they were unavoidable losses.
I hate all this! We traded two dozen good, strong woodsmen and Alexey’s heart for three dozen merchant prisoners. We lost men who could defending Hammer Hill against a driven foe, for men who can drive a bargain for a bolt of heavy weave. These losses were avoidable. We should never have gone. I grieve for the woodsmen, for Alexey, for Brogue and for Brother Maclin. They say sorrow begets sorrow. And, I find I grieve for Andor, for his proud hunting dogs, for Tresa’s companions and for the lost caravan members. Tonight’s camp provides no respite. It is a dirge.