The Wolf In The Woods

King and Crown Chapter 3

The screams were coming from down the street. By the time I looked to see what Morgan was doing, she ran past me, drawing the long knife on her hip.

I thought it best to follow and took after her.

Morgan was faster than me and was two steps ahead as we ran through the town. It wasn’t hard to figure out where the commotion was coming from. There was a crowd gathering a few buildings down from the Bard and Quill where we’d been staying.

A crowd was gathering in front of an apothecary shop. There were three soldiers out front throwing various vials on the ground. An older couple was trying to get them to stop.

“Please….Please….I’ll pay…I’ll pay,” the old man kept saying.

“Too late old man,” the biggest soldier said as he came out holding a box, “we’ll be taking the payment, with interest, of course.”

“What about our daughter?”

“Oh, I’m sure he’ll leave some of her behind.”

Screams and howls were coming from inside the shop. Morgan and I looked at each other and she nodded and headed into the building.

The old man tried to get by the soldier but the large soldier grabbed him by the shirt.

“Keep your hands off him,” I said.

“Who are you?” he asked.

“A warden of the Northern Brake,” I said.

“The wardens were disbanded, not that you’d have authority here. I’ll ask again. Who are you?” as he said it, the two other soldiers walked up.

“The man who’s going to make you let him go.”

I slipped off my cloak and the soldiers unsheathed their swords. The large man was closest and he rushed forward. He was big and fast and well built and I could tell this was far from his first fight, but he was just a man and spent the last few years dealing with all matter of nightmares in the north woods. He was a soldier and I was a warden and he was about to find out the difference.

He swung his sword and I guided past me with my staff and then poked him in the chin nearly breaking his jaw. I then brought my staff down on his knee. As the large man buckled, I put my shoulder into him and shoved him into the second man running up.

The second soldier’s sword was pinned against the large man so I took advantage and knocked the sword from his hand. Before he could recover I faked a swing at his head, and when he tried to defend himself, I smacked his forearm, hard.

The final man was different and showed no concern for his companions. It wasn’t hard to figure out why. If the deep red eyes didn’t give it away, his demeanor would. The man was demonspawn, someone who willingly or unwillingly drank demon blood. It gave them far greater strength and speed and sometimes other abilities depending on how much blood they consumed.

There were ways to deal with demon related creatures. They can’t cross a line of salt and they hate iron and holy water blessed by a morning priest will burn them. But I had no water, and the only iron I had was a small coin to ward off minor Fain. The only thing between me and a half-demon was a stick. And the demon spawn knew it.

He smiled.

It was the wicked kind of smile that only a creature imbued with pure evil could muster. He dropped his sword. Demons tend to favor ripping people apart with their bare hands. He rushed me. His red eyes nearly glowing. For all he knew, he was about to rip apart the man dumb enough to stand against him with nothing but a silly stick.

He was stronger and faster than any man, even a warden, and he knew it. But I reared back and swung the staff catching the demonspawn’s hand and the creature yelped.

Because it was no mere stick in my hands and rowan wood affects the Fain.
The demonspawn looked horrified realizing that he miscalculated, and two more swings of the staff ended him permanently. After dispatching the Fain, I ran over to the old couple.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

“We’re fine, get our daughter,” the old man cried.

Inside the apothecary shop, there was a terrified girl surrounded by destroyed furniture and broken potion bottles.

“Where’s the werewolf?” I asked the girl.

“He went out the back. A woman fought him off and chased after him.”

“Are you okay?” I asked.

“I uh…yes…I think so.”

“Okay, I want you to take your parents and go to the Bard and Quill. Find a red-haired boy named Eric and tell him Owen said to keep you and your parents in our room. He will keep you safe until we get back. Do you understand?”

She nodded. She was holding up remarkably well for being attacked by a werewolf. It was rather impressive. I headed back out to retrieve my cloak and saw the soldiers slinking away. Behind them were tracks leading to the forest. Morgan’s small boot prints were intermingled with incredibly large paw prints. This would be no easy hunt and so I jogged after them.

Luckily, the Rainwoods were not particularly thick, after years of harvesting firewood and so it made traveling easily. The only downside was that Morgan and the werewolf could be deep into the woods at this point. I hoped to run into Morgan at some point, having turned around after driving the creature away from town. But the deeper I went, the less likely that looked.

At least, they left a clear enough trail. Even if they hadn’t, most of the time it can be easy to follow werewolves and other creatures. The Fain leave an impression on the natural world, and people who have spent enough time around them can feel it. Some know how to hide it, the majority left a trace. It was hard to explain it, it was somewhere between a smell, a feeling, just the hint of a perceptible difference they made on the world around them.

It wasn’t much longer when I could hear the snarls and howls coming through the trees. A werewolf sounds unlike anything else, and half the time just the noise alone frightens their prey to near death. They sound like some unholy combination of a bear and wolf. There were howls and deep, throaty grunts.

Finally, I could see Morgan and the werewolf circling each other in a small clearing. Morgan had her long knife in one hand and a silver knife in the other. The small blade was the reason she was still alive. Silver can cut a werewolf and the creature couldn’t commit to an attack without worrying about being wounded. The wolf’s back was to me. Morgan saw me behind the massive canid. She shifted her grip on the silver knife and waited for me to make my move.

I let the werewolf get closer and closer to her.

Waiting.

Waiting.

And then, there it was. A subtle back twitch that telegraphed his attack.

Morgan reared back and threw her knife which caused the wolf to twist its torso out of the way, the knife cutting through the thick dark fur. The wolf nearly smiling thinking he avoided the knife but quickly realized his mistake.

I caught the knife and stabbed him between his massive ribs. He howled a bleating inhuman screech and continued running past flipping the knife back to Morgan.

“You insolent little insect. I will devour the both of you.”

“I doubt that,” Morgan said.

“Why did you attack those people?” I asked.

“I was hungry.” the creature spat.

“There are easier targets than attacking a city,” I said. ”Why are you working for the King’s men?”

“I don’t work for anyone.” the werewolf said. “And I’m certainly not sworn to some petty human king.”

“And yet you work with the soldiers?”

“No I work with Skein,” he said.

“The Marshall?”

“Indeed. The Marshall helps us get what we want.”

“And that is?”

“You,” he said. “And the rest of your kind. Why would I balk at a chance to rid your kind from this realm, even if it is one life at a time?”

The creature charged again. I blocked the swipe with my staff, and he retreated from Morgan’s slash.

The beast sniffed its arm where my staff touched it.

“Rowan wood? Clever boy.”

I made a slight motion with my hand and Morgan gave the slightest nod. She darted forward timing the monster’s defense while I slipped a bag from my cloak, opening the bag slightly. While he was preoccupied with Morgan, I whistled.

The enormous werewolf turned and he caught the bag I threw with his face causing a cloud of powder to disperse. He screamed and snorted and went barreling through the woods.

“Wolfsbane?” Morgan said.

“Yes.”

“That will keep him busy for a while.”

“He’s probably looking for a safe place to change.”

“Do you want to go after him?” she asked.

“He’s heading away from town. We should get back.”

And so the two of us hurried back, to find a cloud of smoke billowing from town. A small crowd gathered. There was Bardo, the Innkeeper, and a few other people I recognized from town. Eric and Ben were there with the old couple as well. The couple and their daughter were crying with Bardo trying to comfort them.

“What happened?” Morgan asked.

“It was the soldiers,” Eric said, “they burned down the shop and said they’d burn more if anyone tried to stop them.”

“Where’d they go?” I asked.

“The whole lot of them left,” Bardo spoke up. “But they said to give the man with the staff a message.”

“And that is?”

“We’ll be back.”