The Silk Mind

Ashlin Smith is bored with his apparently pointless job in the Royal Badger Survey, and is trying to quit so he can go and be a blacksmith like his family expected. However, the true purpose of the Badger Survey is a lot less boring than he knows or would prefer.

Ashlin, Jenna, Justin and Derk face monsters natural and unnatural as they are tangled up in political intrigue and the civilization-threatening side-effects of ancient sorcery.

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16. A Doctor

Rain was beating hard in the faces of four park rangers as they struggled through the mud, sometimes carrying, sometimes half-dragging a terrified man. In the distance, over the tree tops, the lights of a castle—the Summer Palace of Atlar—were barely discernible.

“Please, it’s all right now. I haven’t done anything. Let me go.”

“Sorry. Orders.”

They came up to a roadway leading to the castle and bundled the man onto a cart that was waiting there for them. He sat and rubbed at his leg, looking from one hooded unsympathetic face to another.

“Don’t worry,” one said, more a stern injunction rather than a kindness. “We’re not going to hurt you,” added another, slightly unconvincingly.

They were stopped at the gatehouse.

“Who goes there?”

“Rangers. With a Mister Woods. To see the doctor.”

“My leg, it’s fine! I don’t need a doctor. I can’t pay a doctor!”

“Be quiet please.”

There was a frustrating delay, during which the wind whipped around and changed direction so as to make useless what little shelter the gatehouse provided. A guard eventually trotted back through the rain with their answer.

“To the stables.”

“Not the infirmary?”

“The stables. Hurry it up, I don’t like standing around in this any more than you lot do.”

The stables were dry and pleasantly warm. There were no horses but a small forge, presumably for shoeing them, was in evidence at one end of the building. A young man stood by the forge, watching as the rangers brought the injured man in and sat him down on a bale of hay. The smith limped over with a sympathetic look on his face. He also seemed to have had a leg injury. Perhaps there was a lot of it about.

“What’s the story with this one?”

“Bit.”

“Bit?”

“The doctor’s to see him.”

“Which doctor?” The smith raised an eyebrow significantly.

A doctor, anyroad.” The ranger pulled back his hood and ruffled dark hair. He scowled. “Yer a bastard for questions, Ash. Make yourself useful.”

“I’ll make some tea.” There was a kettle by the forge, which was quickly filled and placed on the coals.

A skinny man in brown hurried through the rain holding a leather bag tight to his chest, his coat pulled up onto his head and held over his balding crown with one hand.

The terse ranger nodded in his direction, “A doctor.”

“Let me see the injury please, Mister ...?”

“We’ve been calling him Mister Woods,” another ranger supplied.

“I think he probably knows his own name. You do, don’t you, Mister ...?”

“John.”

“Mister John. And I am Doctor Hopkin. Let me see your leg, please. Come on now, I’m not charging you a penny for this. Crown expense you know.”

“The tea as well,” the young man called Ash winked, handing the poor man a battered cup.

“He’s probably not going to give you his real name, doc. He’s a poacher,” the third ranger pointed out.

“Well, no matter, since I don’t really care what his real name might be. His leg will be much the same if you call him Sally Jenkins.” The man’s trouser leg was torn away briskly while he was distracted by tea.

“What bit you, Mister John?” the doctor enquired, looking at two shallow curved cuts in the man’s calf. They were reddening and swelling a little, but not apparently poisoned or festering.

“Rabbit, sir.” the man seemed ill at ease.

“Not ... a giant rabbit?” the young smith asked, looking genuinely quite alarmed, though the others were chuckling at the man’s embarrassment.

“No, just a rabbit, on my word.”

The doctor tutted. “I don’t mind if you lie to park rangers, and I don’t mind if you lie to your wife, but don’t lie to me please. This looks like it was a spring-trap.”

“Yes,” said the poacher, “It was the rabbit bit me. With the spring trap. It wasn’t even mine. I mean, I don’t have spring traps. I hunt rabbits honest like, with a dog.” He was aggrieved more by the insult than the hurt. “I don’t think a man should be dragged off by rangers for hunting rabbits with a spring trap, when it was the bloody rabbit bit him with it.”

“Stop whining, man. You’re not in any trouble,” said the second ranger.

The doctor looked over at Ash. His eyes said: yes, sorry, this man is in a lot of trouble.

“More tea for Mister John, please.” He took a small bottle of brownish liquid out of the bag. “I’m going to give you something for the pain, so drink it down.”

He rummaged about in his bag again, and took out a small saw.

“Ash, be so kind to Mister John as to heat up an iron, nice and hot.”

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