I hit the water hard and clumsy. It felt like slamming against a stone floor except I kept falling and falling. I kicked and flailed, but my right leg was tangled in Dru’s stirrup. The icy rush of the river filled my nose and mouth. I didn’t have a chance to catch my breath. The current yanked Drucilla downstream and me with her. My ankle twisted and almost felt like it would snap. My lungs were on fire and for the first time in my life I was surrounded by penetrating darkness. This is it, I thought to myself. This is where my journey ends. Some mighty hunter, I am, huh? Drowned to death because I was too stupid to make sure my mount was fit before I rode.
I thought of all the things I’d miss like Gurk’s stew, Dad’s tales of the great goblin warriors of old taking down giant Updwellers, and the look of pride in Mom’s eyes when I was to come home with the Sun on Dru’s back.
At least the folks back home will never know how it happened, I thought. That stuck up prig, Twylla won’t have a chance to turn her nose up and mock me for being stupid enough to fall in a river and die.
The blackness around me got even blacker somehow. My fingers and toes were numb. It felt like they didn’t even exist, like they’d fallen off or simply never been there to begin with. I tried to scream but couldn’t make a sound. My mouth filled with more water and my chest burned searingly hot.
The sensation that I was being pulled down river like a piece of driftwood continued for a million lifetimes and suddenly stopped.
I was barely conscious as my body dragged along a bed of stones and mud. The night air bit at my body. I tried to roll over onto my side, tried to push myself up, but my muscles did not respond.
I decided to embrace the cold and rest. I sank into the inky world that surrounded me. The pain in my chest faded. This is good, I thought, this is right. I can just lie here and sleep. Sleep forever.
My eternal slumber didn’t last long. A brand new pain came crashing down on my belly like a hammer blow. My mouth popped open and I vomited half a river onto the ground. I don’t remember feeling anything, but my arms and legs were moving again. I panicked.
Wildly I swung a fist at whoever had struck me in the stomach. My knuckles dug deep into something big and soft and warm. I felt the coarse hairs of Drucilla’s hide envelope my hand. I tried to stand but my knees gave way and I collapsed on the bank. Little by little my body began to feel again. Everything hurt.
I shivered uncontrollably and cried. Water continued to pour out of my nostrils, my mouth, and now my eyes. Drucilla wrapped all of her legs around me. She shielded me from the cold. I eventually stopped convulsing and grew calm.
The next thing I knew the Sun was overhead. I don’t have a clue how long I’d slept. That blasted fireball stared down, mocking me. If I had my bow in hand I would have taken a shot right then and there. The darn thing was way too far for me to hit. Close to a mile away I reckon.
My chest ached. My head was full of broken glass and my ankle was sprained. I was warm, though. Dru’s hulking form heated me up nicely. I sat up and shook the old girl. She didn’t respond. I pushed harder. Nothing.
“Dru!” I yelled. “Dru, no!”
She stirred. Thank Gashwhisker, I thought. Drucilla turned most of her eyes toward me and clicked her mandibles. That was her way of saying she was pleased to see me. I wrapped my arms around her thorax and squeezed tight.
“You had me worried, girl.” I told her. She clicked rapidly. I kissed her bristly head.
I got up uneasy and surveyed the damage. I limped a little, but the pain wasn’t the worst I’d ever felt. I’m Wartha the Hunter. Wartha the Wolfslayer. Wartha Who Stalks the Sun. I can handle a sprained ankle.
I nearly fell over on top of Dru but I caught myself as I reached for the saddle bags. Everything was soaked, but nothing seemed lost. I considered making a fire to dry my things out, but I realized I could just lay it all out in the heat of the Sun. It’s not dishonorable to use the power of your enemy to help yourself, is it? I hope not. I laid everything I could out on some dry rocks away from the shore.
Drucilla wasn’t looking too shiny. Once I had myself straightened out more or less I checked out her leg. It was worse than before. Bits of carapace were broken off altogether. Oh Dru, I thought, This is all my fault.
I didn’t have anything dry to make a bandage with. All of my stuff was drying out in the light of that confounded sky orb.
I could barely see for all the brightness. How do Updwellers make it in this world of light? That must be why they all have such tiny eyes. Maybe that’s why most of them are so angry all the time too.
I laid back down beside Dru. This time I decided to give her my warmth while we waited for the Sun to restore our belongings. I rested my eyes for a minute.
When I opened them it was nearly dark out again.