Ned Thinvoice awakened with a start. The room, fair and high, and solid white, spun dizzily down until he could hold his vision steady. A long, white bed stretched before him, and beyond, another bed, where lay a bandaged form, still peacefully sleeping, and far from this waking dream Ned had fallen into. He tried recounting to himself what had happened, but the images blurred, and events crossed and re-crossed his memory at such a startling rate he lost control and lapsed into a vision-haunted half hour, filled with bear witches and dwarfs, chased about a roaring battle fire by aging wizards and countless misshapen Gorgolac and Worlugh warriors, all carrying horrible weapons and shouting his name in their hoarse, crude tongues.
“Ned, Ned Thinvoice.”
Ned half bolted from his bed, his hand seeking his weapons.
“What is it?” he cried, again surrounded by galloping Urinine cavalry, singing their black death song.
“Easy, old fellow, easy. You’re safe enough now,” assured the calm, soft voice.
Thinvoice looked up into the kindly face of a gray-haired man who was dressed in a simple riding cloak. The dust of miles settled over his shoulders like a soft sand-brown mantle.
“Who is you, sir? And what lot has I fallen in with now?” asked Ned, fearing the worst.
“My name is Dr. Greenlawn, and you’ve fallen into the lot of the 47th Field Evacuation Station. Your friends brought you here almost six nights ago. We thought you were going to leave us for a while, but you’re as tough as a boot, and mending fast. And young Cranfallow there is expected to have the happiness of doing us the same honor.”
“Across the aisle, there.”
Ned looked anxiously over at his sleeping friend.
“He’s not short nothing, is he, sir? I mean he’s all together?”
“He’s fine, Ned. We received instructions from a certain fellow that you were to be spared nothing to get you well again.”
Ned frowned, trying to place his wandering memory of the six nights together.
“Where was it I was brought from, sir? I remember a fight, and being sore hurt, and overrun, but I can’t reckon what’s happened to six whole days.”
“You were wounded at the Battle of Seven Hills. General Greymouse won a brilliant victory there the day you were wounded.”
“Was there a dwarf witch there too, sir? A short sort of fellow, dressed up sort of funny, and could call up demons out of his hat? He called himself Broco, Dwarflord, or some such?”
“If he was there, he wasn’t wounded, Ned, so I don’t know. Four tall, fair warriors from some battalion unknown to me brought you and the other fellow in and waited until we had said you’d be all right. Their helms were of some cavalry squadron, and they carried no firearms, but were outfitted with great shields with markings such as I’ve never seen before. One of my orderlies asked what parade dress was doing among a battle, but they laughed and said they served well in that gear, and were in the service of Faragon Fairingay, or a name close to that.”
“Fairingay? The dwarf witch called out the name once in his sleep upon the road here. And I seems to remember something, the sky all golden and red and green, and that name, maybe, spelled out across the sky. Must have been my wound, I reckon.”
“More than likely. At any rate, you shall be out of here soon, and fit as before.”
Ned looked sheepishly down at his sheet-covered toes.
“Do you believe in dwarf witches, sir?”
“I don’t think so, Ned. I’m a doctor, and as such, a man dedicated to science. Why do you ask?”
“I was just wondering, sir. I was scared half out of my wits while I was with him, or dreamed I was, but there was something else I liked about him. Something that made me feel as I was doing good. I never has been too much on learning, although I read and write a bit, but the things he knew, and told us. I was hoping maybe it was more than a gourd fancy.”
The gray-haired figure of the doctor halted a moment at the door.
“It might have happened, Ned. I’m not one to say you were wrong. Perhaps it was so.”
The door softly shut, and Ned lay back upon his pillow.
“I hope it were so, too,” he said, and fell into a long, sea-green misty tunnel spiraling away into that bright darkness. He dreamed again, and there was the dwarf, spinning his hat about his hand, and smiling at him from a great, smooth white tower, shaped in the form of a huge flying swan.
Flewingam, from the other side of the wall, groaned, and a white swan unleashed powerful wings and the wind from that rushing pale dream eased the burning fever of his wounds, and he awakened with a cry.
Copyright © 1977, 2002 by Niel Hancock