Previous Page Next Page

UTC:       Local:

Home Page Index Page

A Mankind Witch: Chapter Eleven

       Last updated: Monday, May 9, 2005 19:01 EDT



Telemark -- a dale near Kingshall

    "Fifteen sheep slaughtered!" Vortenbras seemed to take it as a personal affront. The fact that the terrified Karl had also reported the death of his shepherd seemed irrelevant. The royal party had been on a hunt close enough for the man to accost them. Only naked fear could have made him interrupt royal personages in the pursuit of pleasure. But from what he described to his overlord, he had reason for that fear. "Yes. Their throats torn out. The monster drained the blood out of them for his ale!"

    "Sounds like a rabid wolf to me," said one of the nobles, dismissively.

    "Lord. No wolf can break down a good oak door. No wolf tears just the liver out of a man," said the Karl obstinately, fear lending him the courage to gainsay his betters.

    "We'll ride up and have a look," said Vortenbras. "We can hunt wolf as easily as deer."

    Signy, well back in the mass of riders, said nothing. She'd heard stories like this before -- horror stories. But the other incidents had always happened in far corners of the kingdom. This little valley was virtually on their doorstep.

    It was a beautiful little spot. Sheltered and quiet. The last autumn leaves still clung to the apple trees beside the stone hut.

    The door was made of coarsely rived oak, probably made right here on the holding. Each of the planks were at least one hand thick. Something had smashed it in as if it were no more than parchment.

    One of the huntsmen examined the dead sheep. "Its throat has been slashed, your highness, not bitten out."

    "A man did this?" asked Signy, looking at it. "A man with a knife, perhaps?"

    The huntsman looked doubtful. "Maybe. But why at least four times?"

    Vortenbras and two of his personal guard and several noblemen had by now dismounted and gone into the hut to look. They found something that both the killer and the Karl had missed: A child fearfully peering up from the root-cellar. The little boy was not six years old and plainly far gone into terror. But he was able to tell Signy in a low, sobbing whisper about the thing. The monster. "It was big. So big it nearly didn't fit in the house. And white, with claws and teeth..." He started sobbing uncontrollably. Signy wished, desperately that someone who had some experience of children was there to help her. Then the Karl who had brought them word picked the little urchin up. Hugged him. "I've a son of my own, lady," he said, gruffly. "He needs to be held right now. This boy lost his mother a few years back. His father was all he had. I'll see to him."

    They found the clawed-footed tracks -- each print at least two hands wide, with the claws cutting like spikes into the turf. That was easy enough. They set the dogs to it. But the dogs kept flying from the scent and coming back to seek the company of the horses and hunters. "Dogs don't like it," commented one of the huntsmen, nervously rubbing a hammer-amulet at his throat.

    They weren't the only ones.

    The trail ended at a sheer rock wall. They rode around it to try and find where the creature had gone to, but failed.

    It was a subdued and frightened group of hunters that returned to the stable that evening. But other than to offer a sacrifice, there was nothing further that could be done. Vortenbras and his men scoured the countryside for several more days, and Signy had her solitary rides constrained.

    It also brought her, finally, to the private conversation she'd been seeking with her brother. "Why? Father raised us to hate Hjorda. Rogaland are our enemies. Why must you agree to my marrying the pig? Couldn't you find another midden to give me to? Father would be furious with you."

    "Don't meddle in affairs of state, Signy," he growled, looking somewhat discomforted -- as he always did, when she mentioned their father.

    "This is my affair," said Signy, bitterly. " Or do you forget that I am going to be married to that creature?"

    Vortenbras growled, "You don't seem to understand what sort of difficulty Telemark is in right now, little sister. " He always called her " little sister " when he wanted to emphasize his superiority.

    "No, I don't, " snapped Signy, anger beginning to override her fear of her brother, "Because you never tell me what is going on. Father always told us about everything. You treat me as if I was some stupid serving wench. Well I'm not..."

    "You behave like one. If you would keep out of the stables, and behave like a princess, I might be more inclined to trust you. The truth is Hjorda has us in a very awkward position, Signy. He has sworn pacts with a number of the coastal Jarls. For reasons of honor, they will not attack him. Not without some overwhelmingly good reason. Either honor must be satisfied and he must die, as our father desired, or else we need him as our ally."

    "I'd sooner die than be wedded to that..." she searched vainly for a better word and had to settle for "pig" again.

    "That's your choice, little sister," said Vortenbras turning and getting up. "You've wasted every other opportunity mother has given you to attract another suitor of high degree. Don't make your undutiful behavior my problem. You've been promised to King Hjorda in the spring-time. I gave my word that you'd be there."

    "It is your duty, Signy," said Albruna who had come into the room unnoticed. The queen could move silently when she wanted to. "You know what choices the daughter of a royal house has."

    Signy felt the weight of her step-mother's presence settling on her. Just being near to her seemed to draw something out of Signy. "Yes," she said dully. At least she was free to kill Hjorda. As soon as possible she found a reason to flee out to the stables. Horses and dogs did not use you. Or lie to you.

Home Page Index Page




Previous Page Next Page

Page Counter Image