Snowblind, last part:

1st Man’s Day

Tannis

 

No one left the inn to hunt today except Peddler, who was out before the rest of us were awake. I don’t know if he’s exceptionally brave or exceptionally stupid. Or maybe he figures the wolves won’t be hungry, since they ate our friends last night.

If the snow doesn’t let up soon, I don’t think we’ll ever get away from here. Our food is gone now. Damned wolves have been picking us off one by one. I know winter lasts longer in the mountains, but it can’t last forever . . . .

 

“Psst, Eddie,” said Lucas, interrupting my depressing train of thought, “I just went down to feed the horses. We’re almost out of hay. What are we going to do?”

“Well,” said James, with a grim look that let me know he wasn’t joking, “we could just eat them.”

“Not a bad idea, if Peddler doesn’t bring anything in tonight,” I said. “Any of them belonged to the dead fellows? We’ll take them first.”

“Are you serious?” Lucas said. His city upbringing had made him soft and tender-hearted, I supposed. “They have names! I’ve been taking care of them for weeks! They trust me!”

“And still it would be kinder to kill them quickly than let them starve,” I said.

James laughed hollowly. “And to think two weeks ago, we had more than we cared to eat and beer as well—I’d gladly trade last week’s hangover for this week’s hunger!”

“No argument here,” I said. “We’re all starting to look a bit worn . . . .”

“Saving Forest Peddler,” said Lucas.  “Our resident hunter seems to be absolutely fattening—y’suppose the rascal’s keeping the best of his game for himself . . . What’s wrong, Edward?”

An unsettling thought gripped me, and I felt my stomach turn.

“Hey Eddie, what’s wrong? You look like old cheese!”

My face must have gone white. “No,” I murmured, trying to free my mind from the ghastly suspicion, “it’s unheard of. Not now, not in this kingdom. But . . . .”

“What is?” asked Tim.

I ignored him. “Not in this kingdom,” I repeated, “not this far to the northeast!”

“What are you talking about, Edward?”

“If we were west of the mountains, out in the Plains country . . . Still, in the land of the blind . . .”

“The land of the blind?”  Lucas repeated.

“The one-eyed man is king.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” James demanded.

“Hopefully,” I said, “that I’ve read too many books.”

But it seemed like I hadn’t read nearly enough. A few minutes later, looking for Charity, I found her crying in a corner, alone. She hid her tears when she saw me approach.

“What’s wrong, Mistress?” I asked.

“You mean besides the obvious?” she snapped. “We’re all going to die here, and there won’t be anything left but that wretched book of yours to even let folk know we were alive.”

“I . . . I’m sorry . . . ” I said stupidly.

“Not your fault,” Charity said, sniffling. She patted the empty space on the bench next to her and I sat down near her.

“I shoulda’ taken up with you,” she said, rubbing her red-rimmed eyes, “money or no money. At least you aren’t a bloody thief, and maybe a murderer to boot.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, though I was afraid I already knew.

“This morning I was digging through Forest’s packs of goods for somethin’ extra to keep the cold off—and I saw the brooch Gerald was wearing when he left. The one I pinned his cloak on with when he went out to hunt that last morning. Forest Peddler’s murdered and robbed Gerald Tinker, and the Smith, and probably all the rest of them and left the bodies for the wolves to clean up, and what can I do? You fine fellows . . . ” With a sweeping gesture she indicated all the surviving travelers. “You can take him on, hang him from the rafters, see if I care! Won’t help Gerald a damned bit!”

By now she was shouting, and everyone else stared at us.

“This is a grievous thing to charge a soul with,” said Mother Alys, frowning. “Have you any proof?”

“I told you,” Charity protested, “Gerald’s brooch was in his pack!”

Before Mother Alys or I could stop them, Lucas, James and Cobbler began rummaging through Peddler’s things, throwing trade goods, trinkets, and clothing across the floor. With a cry of triumph, Charity pounced on a glittering object.

“See,” she said, holding up a gaudy enameled brooch. “Here it is!”

“Are you sure it’s the same one you gave him?” I asked.

“Of course,” she said. “Don’t you think I know my own jewels?”

Lucas was still pawing through the peddler’s things.

“Eddie,” he called with an odd catch in his throat. “Come and see this . . . .”

He held a disk of tarnished silver in his hand. I recognized it instantly; I wore one beneath my own shirt.

“It’s Alf’s Saint Debrah medallion,” said Lucas. “He took it from his body . . . .”

“Lots of people wear a Debrah,” I said. “She’s not just the patron of weavers . . . .”

“But the ribbon!” he protested. I couldn’t deny it. The band of brightly-colored woven threads was the work of my mother, her gift to the journeyman when he’d completed his apprenticeship.

The others clustered around us. We showed them the medallion, told them whose it had been.

“So he’s robbing the dead,” said Cobbler.

“Without a doubt,” I said. “What else he’s done, we don’t know yet for sure. Now put his things away—you lot shouldn’t have touched them to begin with, but what’s done is done. Don’t say anything to Peddler when he comes back from hunting—I don’t want him feeling trapped in here and perhaps harming the ladies. I have a nasty suspicion about this fellow, and I’d like to deal with him my own way.”

“What can we do?” asked Cobbler.

“Just sit tight, and aid me if I ask,” I said. “I do have a plan. Charity, I have a request. I’m almost certain we’re going to have to fight Peddler, and I doubt any ordinary weapons will help us. You wear enough jewelry for three women—have you any heavy silver bracelets in your trove?”

“Bracelets?” Charity repeated.

“Doesn’t have to be bracelets, just has to be silver,” Mother Alys said. “Am I right, Wizard?” she asked, turning to me.

“If my suspicions are correct . . . ” I began.

“What suspicions?” Lucas demanded. “If you know what he’s up to, tell us!”

“Yes, tell us!” Cobbler said.

The others crowded around me. I hadn’t wanted to share my unproven fears and either start a panic if they believed me—or look a fool if they didn’t.

“You think he’s a werewolf, don’t you?” Mother Alys asked.

“A what?” James said.

“Are you joking?” Cobbler scoffed.

Charity looked quite ill.

“That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” Cobbler continued. “How the hell could he be a werewolf? The bloody sky’s been overcast the entire time we’ve been stuck here. Not to mention the moon was full before we even came to the inn. Should be a bloody half by now, if anything. You’re the wizard, sitting there with your books, and you don’t even know what day of the month it is?”

“The moon only affects werewolves who were turned by being bitten,” I said. “Something I learned from my books. I also know that if someone is born a werewolf, they can learn to change whenever they choose. Did anyone get a good look at that one big, black wolf the other night? The leader? I’m not sure, but I think it was missing an eye.”

“There are no werewolves east of the mountains,” Cobbler continued, stubbornly. “The Saints drove them out centuries ago.”

“Forest was from the West,” Charity said softly. “Over the mountains. He told me so. And, and he’s the hairiest man I’ve ever known. Even on the palms of his hands, and the soles of his feet. Edward, I have a silver neck-ring. What do you want to do with it?”

1st God’s Day

Tannis

 

I’m not sure how we managed to get through last night without letting Peddler know we suspected him. I was sure he could see right through me, half-blind or not. I was ready to hit the ceiling every time he looked my way with that one eye. Charity utterly refused to go anywhere near him again. I had to make a big show of hiring her for the night to keep him away from her. Not that I touched her—I would rather take a vow of life-long chastity than even kiss someone who’d been with a werewolf.

I’m sure I’m an idiot. The plan we’ve made is terrible—especially for me—but I can’t back out now. If this is the last entry I ever make in this journal, I hope it’s because I’m dead, not because I’m a werewolf.

“Hey, Peddler,” I called out as I set down my quill. “Take me with you. I’ll eat my boots before I’ll eat another rabbit or squirrel. Maybe I can drive a deer to you.”

He raised his eyebrow at me and squinted. “You’re up early,” he said.

“Couldn’t sleep,” I said. That was true. “Too hungry.” That wasn’t. I was too nervous.

Peddler shrugged. “Well, if you’re coming, come. And be quiet.”

I put on every extra layer of clothing I could, taking special care to muffle my throat, and followed him out into the ever-present snow. He led me away from the inn and down into a ravine lined with naked gray trees. What little of my face was exposed to the air was miserable, cold and damp. If I’d thought about it, I would have welcomed the damp—it meant the weather was getting warmer.

I had actually started to sweat inside my layers of clothes when Peddler finally stopped, indicating for me to stand with my back against an immense ash tree.

“You wait here,” he said. “Take the bow. I’ll track down the deer and drive it past you.”

If I had agreed to this, it would surely have been the last stupid thing I ever did. “You want me to stand here alone?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“And you’re giving the bow to me?”

“Yes.”

“Because you know good and well I can’t use it, and you and your friends don’t need it to kill me, yes?” My heart was pounding as I said it.

“Kill you?”

“Kill me,” I said, suddenly, light-headedly brave for having spoken. “Fetch your pack out here to tear me to bits, just like they did with the others.” I couldn’t stop the defiant flow of words now if I tried. “I should have seen sooner—no normal wolf pack singles out the strong, instead of the weak, or attacks large groups, or slaughters everyone at an inn and then joins a party of new victims heading there. But a highwayman will.”

“Are you saying that I’m a highwayman?” asked Peddler. His voice was still calm. He was pulling off his gloves, though, as if preparing to slap me with them.

“We have proof,” I said, hands behind my back, as I reached cautiously for the weapon tucked in my belt. “Charity found the brooch she’d given Gerald in your pack. Then we found Alf’s Saint Debra medallion.”

“And you think I’ve got a pack of thieves hidden in this frozen wasteland?” he asked.

“Not thieves,” I said. “Wolves.”

He gave a short, sharp laugh. “You think I’m telling the wolves to attack?”

“Yes.”

“You’ve lost your mind, wizard—mind telling me how I talk to these wolf friends of mine? I admit it would be a useful skill . . . .”

“You can talk to them because you’re one of them.” I drew my knife.

He flung his cloak in my face.

I’d expected Peddler to change. I hadn’t expected it to happen so quickly. By the time I’d gotten the damned cloak off my head, he’d transformed.  A huge, black, one-eyed wolf, trailing Peddler’s clothes, leapt at me.

He knocked me onto my back. I thrust his own cloak between his fangs to protect my face and slashed with what had once been Charity’s neck-ring. I heard a sharp hiss as the rough silver blade struck, burning hair and flesh. The wolf pulled back with a cry of pain. I took the moment to wind the cloak around my arm as a shield. He charged again. I raised my forearm, and he bit down. I cried out; even through the cloak, the force of his bite was crushing.

I could hear wolves barking in the distance. I hoped I could also hear men approaching; if Cobbler and the apprentices didn’t reach me before the wolf pack did, I was dog food. I fumbled with the silver blade, trying to stab something vital. The wolf let go my padded arm and grabbed the one with the knife.

CRACK, SNAP.

My right forearm broke under the force of the wolf’s bite. I dropped the silver knife and shut my eyes, sure I was about to die. “Get off me, bastard!” I shouted, wishing I had the strength to keep fighting and fling the beast off me before he went for my throat.

And suddenly the weight on my chest was gone. I heard a thud and a miserable howl nearby. I opened one eye.

The wolf was lying against the trunk of a large tree, yelping. As I sat up, cradling my broken arm, I saw him scrabbling with his front paws to rise.

“Hey! Eddie!” I heard Lucas calling to me.

“Oi, Beer Wizard!” Cobbler and the boys were running towards us as quickly as they could through the icy slush. “What the hell did you do to that thing!”

I turned back to the wolf, my arm throbbing with each beat of my heart. The animal had gotten his front legs under him, but his hind end dragged limply behind him.

“You broke his damned back!” James crowed. “How’d you do that? We saw him flyin’—was it magic?”

“I . . . I . . .” I had moved many things with my mind before, but throwing a wolf into a tree with enough force to break its back? “I . . . I don’t know . . .” I tried to stagger to my feet, but the pain in my arm was too great, and I collapsed in a dead faint.

3rd God’s Day

Ariel’s Month

37th year of Harold 4th

 

The wrappings came off my arm today, and I can write again. After I fell in the forest, Cobbler stood at a distance from the werewolf and shot him with about half a dozen arrows. Then Lucas slit his throat with my silver knife. I wouldn’t have thought Lucas could have done it, but then again, Alf was his cousin.

I’ve spent all this time while my arm healed at Master Wulfric’s. It began raining the day we killed Peddler. Three days later, the rest of us were in Trader’s Pass. Cobbler returned to Belcamp weeks ago. The apprentices and I will be heading home soon. Charity will stay behind; she joined Mother Alys at the convent after all.

Mother Alys came to visit me yesterday. Apparently, Charity is carrying a child, and Mother Alys wondered if it might be mine. I told her no. I only pretended to take her to bed that one time.

The baby is probably Gerald Tinker’s, since she’d been with him the longest. Still, we aren’t sure. I grew up with six sisters, most of whom are married with babes of their own. I know more than most single men about pregnant women, and I know they like to eat odd things. But until Charity, I’d never heard of one who craved raw meat . . . .

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s