My memories of the time after the incident in the cave were fractured into pieces by the flat of Dermond’s sword. I shall do my best to recount what befell us.

I opened my eyes. Surprising, so surprising for I had believed in the cave that my time was at an end. I was propped against the trunk of a large rowan tree. ‘Dermond’, I thought a little wildly, ‘would likely as not have some folk name for it.’ My legs were curled beneath me and as I tried to stand a wave of nausea overtook me. I fought against it and won, though barely. My head ached as though it had been split open and crudely sewn together again. My fingers gingerly felt about my temples and found a rough bandage, maybe once a sleeve, tied around my head. They came away with clotted blood upon their tips. Dermond had bandaged me but where was he now?


I called his name but my cry was little more than a rasp. My throat was parched and my tongue as dry as sand. I fought to rise and fell heavily onto the roots at the base of the tree. ‘He is alive’, I thought. ‘He must be, for who else would have dragged me from the cave? I took a deep breath and prepared to call again, summoning all my strength for one final cry.


Footsteps behind me, slow and shuffling, accompanied by a heavy and raspy breathing. My blood froze. I could see the creature shambling towards me in the dark of the forest. I could almost feel the rotten and bloated fingers spreading around my neck and could almost smell the fungal growth that spread across the skin of hands. How cruel to be rescued from the jaws of death only to be snatched back up again in its odious maw. The footsteps were close now, within reach. I cast for anything to defend myself: a rock, a handful of loose earth, a broken twig; my head involuntarily turned and I faced what came out of the darkness.

It was Dermond. Ragged and weary. But alive.

I remember weeping at the sight of him. He was limping slightly and carrying wood for a fire.

‘Alex, you are awake.’ he said. And smiled. I had never seen him smile. He crouched down with a barely audible grunt of pain and inspected my bandage. The smell of blood on the man was overwhelming. I looked at his chest and saw he bore a terrible wound that stretched from his clavicle to stomach.

My eyes betrayed my thoughts for a moment later he pulled his hand away roughly. ‘It’s nothing.’ he muttered.

I was not a medical student at the University but even I knew that his wound would prove fatal if not cleaned and bandaged immediately. I racked my brain for any useful information I could recall from my brief rotation in the medical college. Dermond bent further to set down the wood but toppled forward instead. He fell face first onto the ground. He bled and it seemed as though his blood might cover the forest floor entire. The bleeding had to be stopped. The wound must be kept clean. I owed this man my life and I am not one to leave debts unpaid.