Finding out the truth continued

A hand closed around his ankle, an icy touch on his flesh, and then he was yanked. The boar missed by a fraction, and squealed in confusion as it struck the base of a tree with a noise like breaking bones. His nerve ends in chaotic upheaval, throbbing agony in his side, Gray's brain closed down into a faint.

A moment later he regained conciousness. He was being dragged at speed over a mush of mud and leaves that stuck to his back in clumps. Angry twigs and brambles jabbed and scratched his face. His night vision offered little, but Gray could make out the dim outline of the figure that had hold of him. Tall, his build hidden under a huge hooded cloak, the man moved at an assured steady pace. Gray listened to him panting; a dark, rattling sound that reverberated from the depth of his lungs, like iron bars shaken by a crazed prisoner. Gray tried to talk, to protest, but he was hoisted over a stone that dug into his bleeding wound, and he cried out. The grip on his ankle tightened, and again Gray swooned into sleep.

He woke again, but there was now light, and he was stationary. He was laid on a low bed of dried grass in a small circular room. There were several candles attached to earthen walls that cast jumpy, elliptical shadows across the floor. Both the walls and floor were patched with moss and glowing lichen that protruded from the dirt haphazardly like clumps of hair. The room was empty save for a small patch of floor space that had been converted into a makeshift herb garden, growing shoots of flowers and herbs. Gray could only recognise Wyrmwood despite his mother's teaching. He thought - how do these plants grow without sunlight?

He attempted to raise himself up onto his elbows, but he was too weak. Blood matted clothing pulled away from his side, and he touched his rib area with two fingers. It was damp, but the wound was congealing. Strangely, he could only feel a twinge under the flesh, nothing like the pain he experienced while being dragged from the clearing in the wood. He thought to abscond, but the risk of collapse upon rolling from the bed was too great. He was as helpless as a baby, and Gray began to wonder if he hadn't been drugged. Above the musty smell of soil and plants, he could smell meat cooking.

Then there was movement. The man stealthily entered the room from a thin slit of an entrance opposite where Gray lay. He had to stoop as he walked, and he seemed to draw all the air out of the small room with his mass. He wore the cloak, but the candlelight revelead his hood free head. However, his head was covered by an ornate wooden mask. He carried a bowl of steaming liquid. The mask was decorated with fine delicate painting of leaves and stalks and thorns, which despite the poor light, Gray could recognise as emerald in colour. Crawling Ivy. The mask had only three holes; two oval eye holes that revelealed nothing in their shadow, and a slit for the mouth that was carved with downward pointing tips.

"I have given you something to quieten the pain," said a muffled voice from the behind the mask. The man was now at his bedside, but Gray could barely hear him. He began to panic, and again attempted to pull himself up to a sitting position, but his body refused to respond. He could feel only cramp in each joint, as if he had been laid under large weights for a long period.

The man took a step forward and began stirring the bowl with a wooden spoon. He said, "You were three times lucky tonight, young sir. Forest boars can get very unsettled when protecting their young. You're fortunate you've only a small gash."

Gray watched as the man stirred faster and faster until the liquid began to froth over the side of the bowl. Droplets spilled onto the earth, fizzing and expunging small segments of the gathered folds of cloak around the tall man's feet.

"You were secondly lucky in that I can heal," the man continued, a thick foreign lilt to his diction, "If you will let me, I can spoon some of this ointment onto your injury so that the skin will close much quicker. Almost unnoticable after I have finished."

Gray shook his head. "I have to leave," he said, trying to hide fear from his expression.

The tall man stopped stirring, and leaning closer to Gray he said, "Thirdly, the hairy man bent double that you were following. He is a rotten disease born under the red roots of this forest. He and others like him are well known for luring young people like yourself back to their hovels where they would most likely brain you and devour you. He will no doubt be scouring the trees for you now."

Gray swallowed hard. That was it, he could hold back no longer, and began to sob. The start of the evening had brought such excitement at the prospect of meeting his father. The whole idyll had been extinguished so quickly, and he was now captive to a masked giant.

The man started to frantically stir again. "Now, do you allow me to cure your injury? You may call me Tomkin."

The End

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