Gray hears a strange sound coming from the next room

Gray flexed his joints. He started with one knee, then the other, and then his arms, and finally is neck. He felt slightly drunk on the after-effects of the strange ointment, but at least now he was mobile. He swung himself off the bed and gingerly put his all his weight onto his feet. He felt a long way from the ground, but he was well balanced, and his injury had completely healed.

He walked to the herbs and bent down to take a closer look. He could now recognise thyme, fallgrass, and several other seasoning plants used to flavour food. There were also shoots he didn't recognise, the most noticable being a sturdy thick stalk with striking yellow flowers that almost resembled human ears. Despite the fact there was no breeze passing through the room, the yellow plant appeared to be swaying, almost dancing. Gray reached out to touch one of the flower heads, but froze. A strange mumuring noise was coming from the exit of the room. A deep grumble that seemed to touch Gray through the air and ripple the sinew of his bones. He stood and edged closer to the hole in the wall which from which Tomkin had entered. His shadow seemed to bounce in front of him, independent of his own movement, almost scorning him and pointing at him to return to the bed. The grumbling, guttoral sound grew louder.

Gray reached the doorway, and placed his hands on the earthen edge in order to peer round. The sound stopped, and then Tomkin was right in front of Gray, a full head and a half taller.

"Ah, you've recovered. I am glad."

"That noise," Gray said

"Noise? I heard nothing, there's no-one here but me young sir," Tomkin said, his voice almost a whisper. Impossible to detect the age of the man. He handed the photograph back to Gray, who noticed a thin film of brown dust around the edges. The corners even looked slightly singed.

"What have you been doing?" Gray demanded

Tomkin said nothing, but continued to look down at Gray. It was impossible to judge his reaction to anything without an expression to read. His body held the same posture, and despite the lilt, his voice was almost unreadable.

"Please tell me what you've been doing," Gray said again

"Young sir, I have been both cooking, and trying to find clues on your father. I am not only a healer, I can also detect people. Using the right ingredients. That's how I knew you were in the forest, and that you were in danger," Tomkin walked to his herbs and crouched to them. He started to prod the loose soil around the edges of the stalks, and he continued to talk, "Your father is too far for me to isolate. I can't tell his exact position, but I know his direction."

"You can show me where to go?" Gray said.

"I can point you his direction by stars or by sun, but I can't tell you when to stop," Tomkin continued to prod, then from somewhere in his sleeve pulled a small vial. He tipped a liquid onto the herbs."Plus I know he's in trouble."

"What?"

"I can sense he is confused. He has a decision to make, and he's wrestling with that decision within himself. One side of the decision might lead to death, and I feel the other side is simply to walk away from whatever is in front of him."

"Tell me more, Tomkin, please."

"I've told you everything I could find from the photograph. The Rootmen, whom you have already encountered are too strong a barrier for me to break through. What you don't appreciate, young sir, is that there are much more practiced spirits at work in this forest than a healing urchin like myself, and a young man like you." Tomkin poked at his plants with a gloved finger, then suddenly stood and held his arms out.

"However, if you still wish to find your father, I am willing to help you if you will let me."

Gray sat down on the bed and dangled his arms between his legs.

"You don't need to decide now," Tomkin said, "The right choice will come to you after a hearty meal and a full sleep, then you can leave when it is light. Though the canopy of this forest does not offer much, it is always dark." Tomkin walked to the hole in the wall, and beckoned for Gray to follow, "You must join me for a meal. It's not often I have company, and I have a steaming pot of roast boar that needs to be eaten or it will spoil."

The End

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