There was a flurry of noise as the flock of sparrows rose up, like the sound of a sheet being shaken out of an upstairs window. One quick hop and I was atop of the garden fence. A quick shuffle of the back legs and I sprung across onto the bird table.
A face looked up from a newspaper, a face in the room behind the garden bench. The owner had caught a glimpse of me out of the corner of his eye. My instinct, when young, was to scurry away when detected. So many times people have shouted and hissed when they see me, but now I knew I had to carry out my task, my fear was gone, time was of the essence. This was the first time I had my chance to help, now the frosts had come.
I flicked my tail in defiance before lowering the top of my body over the edge, gripping to the wood with my back claws. As I dangled, my front paws were free to work at my prize. I quickly lifted and tugged at the close knit net until the spherical trophy came away. I jerked it up, steadied myself and deftly regained my perch before making my way back into the safety of the hedge.
Once through the hedge, I scampered for some distance until the voices and sounds of the big ones faded away, eventually reaching a bramble covered bank side. The man with the newspaper had come out of his house in pursuit of me, and was looking over the hedge still but I was long gone. Pushing on through the paper like leaves made me breathless, I paused at the rise of the hill, before rolling my prize down the slope. I gathered it up again and made for a small patch of hawthorn scrub.
She looked round startled as I entered the thicket, her sharp whiskered nose wrinkled as she blinked in the light I let in.
“Aahhh, at last,” she said, as I lowered the ball within her reach, “We have waited a long time for this.”
I chewed into the side of the net, which then came apart easily and the bundle lay exposed.
“Let’s start a fire,” she said.
As the flames sparked into life around the ball, it lit up the thicket, sparks dancing against the slender silver twigs. Around me I could see the items of the Hodgehegs craft – small bundles of dried woodland fruits and seeds, strands of grass neatly tying up the parcel within beech leaves. Oils and juices from nuts and fruits glistened in the conker bowls, as the fire gave light to the hovel.
“We will now be able to help others,” she said, “Now we have fresh supplies.”
“I gave them the slip okay, shouldn’t be too much of a problem getting more,” I said.
As the fire established the suet from the ball started to soften. The apocatharist scuffed at the soil with her claws, forming a channel to collect the fat. Some of it would go straight to the sick, who nestled in their weakened state within the hollow base of the protecting oak tree. The rest was to be bound with life giving moss and kept as a compound for any other illness that would befall the forest.
The many seeds that came out of the soft pulp, as it was rendered down, were collected and put onto a woven nettle rope rack, to dry by the fire. All of these seeds were life giving, but one, a small oval black one, were the richest of all. These were planted in vast, warm underground caverns by moles, to provide a harvest of ground sorrel - the most prized of all health giving plants.
The Hodgeheg was pleased as she quickly went about her business. Her friend, the Squirrel, was an invaluable ally to her carrying out her healing powers. Without the prolific collection of the ingredients for her remedies, the woodland dwellers would have no protection against sickness. She had heard of places where the Squirrels had mysteriously not returned to the Hodgehegs, not returned with their precious stores. For every time this was the case, the Heg herself would be forced to forage herself in dangerous places, where the slowness in their limbs would count against them in getting away from the big ones, many never returned.
As the Squirrel settled down, tired from his labours, the fire flickered and danced amongst the protecting thorns, sending flashing sparks across the dark eyes of the Heg, the dark, loving, wise eyes of the woodland healer.