Littledon! Chapter 9

For the introduction and chapter one, click here.

For chapter eight, click here.

Chapter 9

Walking into deep night had wearied the men, who now fancied a hot cider and the society of bedcovers. Expecting the town to have been slumbering, the hunters were surprised to see Littledon aglow with torches and bonfires. The mayor had evidently organized another welcoming feast.

Dancing had not yet begun, but some food had been eaten, lest it grow cold. Portions were set aside for the ten, to be cooked upon their return, at which time the real celebration would begin.

As they neared the square, someone shouted out, “Look there! Torches!” and all of the people knew at once that they had returned, breaking into a chorus of cheering and applause.

Tired as they were and disappointed too, this only served to annoy the men, though they could hardly fault the townsfolk for preparing for another victorious evening of jubilation. What else were they to do?

Having already granted victory upon the effort, the party-goers were sorely disheartened when the announcement of failure was made. Murmurs of a wolf still on the loose came from worried lips, while other lips merely frowned.

The mayor had anticipated that he would give a speech commemorating the grand hunt and honoring the hunters. He had therefore commissioned a small platform built and placed precisely so that the three foremost fires would give him glorious illumination has he spoke.

Ambitious as the mayor was, his place on the platform was usurped as Vincent observed the raised stand, and immediately climbed atop. The firelight struck his tall, thin frame, raised up a span above the festivities; his very poise collected the attention of the frustrated hunters and the worried townsfolk. A hush fell across the square.

All expected Vincent to speak immediately, and indeed when he did not, the mayor grew agitated, realizing that the ambition he had reserved for himself was appropriated by this much younger man.

Sensing that the townsfolk were beginning to stir, he thrust his arms out and began. “Littledon! Oh, Littledon!”

His eyes, aglow with firelight, were the very image of benevolence and confidence.

“Yes, dear people, ‘tis quite true that the wolf I spotted is yet a-hidin’ in our hills. And true also that this creature is fiercer than that what is disposed of already,” he pointed at the inn where the body stood in stony silence surrounded by shadows.

“And yet, I sighted it a great distance outside town, far enough as to provide some security for the present moment. There is danger and you can lay to that, but take heart; for this danger at the present moment, is slight.”

Some in the town seemed to relax, and yet the slightness of the danger, as spoken of by Vincent, was accepted as slightly. Hardly any among the townsfolk could ever think the existence of a wolf as anything slight! This word made in reference to a wolf seemed altogether ridiculous! Fancy the notion of a slightly dangerous wolf? Perhaps the loss of an arm is no serious matter, accounting that three quarters of appendages still remain. Absurd!

However, Vincent did not mean that the wolf was no hazard, only that the hazard was probably not to arrive with expedition.

“Good people, the distance is a’great that you may rest ease in your beds tonight, for the wolf will not travel this far in so short a time.”

Such was the relief experienced in Vincent’s renewed assurance that no thought was given as to why he had been so far outside of Littledon in the first place, and so early in the morning that he could make the trip again in a single day.

One man did present a question however, “Did you see it then? Run it off?”

Vincent shook his head, “I ‘as able only to show my hunters tracks o’ the fiend, but no more than tracks which led us upon a sprawling mire.”

The men of the hunt received these words as disagreeable, for none had seen Vincent as the leader of the hunt, except in the very literal sense that he had provided direction. Each saw himself as a volunteer not to Vincent’s cause, but to the protection of the town, which happened to require Vincent Conn’s expertise. These silent objections were not very great in particular however, and the men soon forgot to harbor any further thought on it.

Yet, Mr. Lawson made note to himself that Vincent had not managed to show a single print that he or the others could identify. He had even greater reservations about Vincent Conn, doubts about the truth of the boy’s tale, doubts which had festered and turned over in his mind with each footfall on the way back.

Vincent continued his oratory, “Now, my good friends, we can be sadly sure that this menace will a’work his way toward town. Many of you are industrious and have flocks great o’ size. Our senses little recognize the presence of these stock, but such of the wolf could not miss it.” His voice darkened, “Our fair town is utterly beyond resisting, in the pathos of this monster, as we showed earlier.” With a hand he made gesture upon the lit-up inn, where resided the preserved remains of the scraggly kill.

Agitation and nervousness shuffled among the people. Even the youngest children had stopped at their games and now paid mind to Vincent.

“What’ll we do, then?” the question was packed with quivers and qualms.

Vincent took a deep, weary breath and pulled back his shoulders, standing as straight as he could. “Considerin’ the interests of the town, as they be, tis perhaps best a watch be put out on the northern skirts of town. The old legends make known that wolves have their one great fear in fire. Five men with torches ought be sufficient to keep any danger at bay, on the extreme possibility that he made such travel this eve.”

Volunteers to hunt a wolf by day were one thing. Those men had much of their strength robbed from them by travel and were in need of a rest. Volunteers to patrol the outskirt roads by night; these were much harder to come by.

That is, until Vincent made clear that he intended to lead four others in the task. His resolution was admired immediately and four other men of town were selected as torch bearers. Before the patrol went out, food was given to the hunters.

And to Vincent was given food and praise for his superior devotion to duty. What sort of a man volunteered to patrol all night after leading a hunting party so great a distance? Let alone having already run that distance earlier in the morning!

Many of those who maintained sizeable flocks in Littledon decided to offer Vincent Conn some small gifts of remuneration for his dedication to the security of their investments. At first, Vincent was humbled and refused the offerings, only accepting when enough was offered that he could share with the ten hunters and the four patrolmen who would accompany him this night. Only Mr. Lawson rejected his part in polite refusal, saying not why.

With those benevolences cared for and the meal soon ending, Vincent collected fresh torches and armaments, distributing them among his men.

“Littledon!” he called, climbing back upon the platform. The mayor frowned and sighed huffily, but Vincent did not hear. “Littledon! Sleep tonight! You shall remain safe this night!”

Littledon! Chapter 8

For the introduction and chapter one, click here.

For chapter seven, click here.

For the first hundred paces beyond Littledon, two young boys and a barking dog raced up and down the cluster of men as they strode along. Then, the men shooed the boys back to town, and the dog ran after them.

And then, the stillness of the countryside was in deep contrast to the noisy blessing the town had given them upon leaving. All that met their ears was the squelch of mud under boot and the soft racket of weapons and gear rattling upon leather vests and strong legs. This silence gave each man his chance to begin to wonder about whether this mission would have near as much ease as the last in taking down so tough a wolf as Vincent had sworn to.

Each man had fear and each man dealt with it in his own way. Mr. Lawson, for instance, knew with utter certainty that this was a dangerous mission, if ever there was one in his life. And yet, he knew it had to be done, and thereupon he would stake his greatest efforts toward it, come what may.

The farmer, Mr. Finch, was apprehensive about a mere bite, as some of the sadder stories told of men going rabid and losing their senses after suffering the mildest of bites. He clenched his teeth and counted his steps, keeping toward the middle of the pack.

Mr. Hopkins looked as a barrel full of leather, carrying his massive club as though it were light as a candle. He was a stonemason and could carry a hundred pound stone in each hand and do it with ease. His only tickling of fear was that his club had too great a sweep, and would therefore be useless if all these other men were near enough to be in the way. His feet thudded onward pressing deep into the mud.

Young Mr. Warwick kept his eyes on Vincent Conn who was carrying his new sword out front, striding with a long gait that seemed to have no fatigue from the five mile run he’d earlier undertaken. Mr. Warwick noticed that Vincent seemed to have no fear at all, or if he did, that he had it so mastered as to genuinely look the part of warrior.

And the fact that Vincent Conn was the youngest man of the hunt was not lost on Mr. Warwick. For Mr. Warwick, called the younger to identify him from his father, still had several years on Vincent Conn.

And to have no fear whatever! Mr. Warwick thought to himself. After watching a hare butchered in a single snap of fangs!

He felt his own fear mastering him too greatly to enjoy comparison to this fearless youth.

After quite a time of swift walking, the party came to a hill which Vincent said was that which he’d lighted. He pointed out tall grasses within which he’d hidden, and then pointed further out into the marsh, where the wolf had been and where the hare had been no more.

Though every man combed his eyes over every detail of the fen, they could see no indication of predator or even more potential prey. Only two of the ten had poor vision, so it was decided that the party would make careful trek down to the place of the sighting.

Once there, they found some of what might have been tracks, although the marshy grass was too lumpy by nature for good tracks to form. Pockets of muddy bilge spotted every few feet, and three of the men already had one or two muddy ankles as a result of careless stepping.

Mr. Lawson could locate no tracks except a few prints that looked like pheasant, flown off sometime earlier in the morning. And as one who had hunted on numerous occasions with his greyhound, Rosie, Mr. Lawson found it disagreeable that Vincent could follow a path that, to the bakers own eyes, simply was not there.

Vincent Conn had been educating himself, however, and went to work to see if any hint of a trail could be divined. He scoured this way and that, commanding the other men to stay where they were, lest the last clue be erased by those careless, muddy boots.

And he did locate a tentative trail. It looked a lot like prints from wolf paws to him and several of the other men concurred with his discovery. Of course, those several were not hunters by nature and couldn’t tell a canine print from the mark of a walnut’s fall. Mr. Lawson, who was not only adept at tracking but had years of it built up, was not able to identify the pattern gleaned out of the grasses by Vincent. Nonetheless, he had no idea about which way the wolf might have taken his kill, and so bid Vincent to lead them to the end of the trail.

Tense as they all were, it came as a relief to the party to observe that the path Vincent followed did not make for Littledon, but kept abreast of it, staying about the same distance away. Vincent took great care and time identifying the tracks, as they were of a most difficult nature to perceive.

Impatience would have bothered the men, though none were impatient to have a giant wolf bound out of the woods at them. Able to see nothing of the prints, they tended to keep watch on the surrounding hills and gullies and bushes. It would not do for their prey to have doubled back and become predator again, all because every man kept his gaze to the terrain.

Presently however, the tracks led into a stream that was a fetid bog, about twenty spans wide. The tracks went in, Vincent made testimony, and they must come out on the other side. He searched up and down the grasses beside the swampy waters, and then ventured across, muddying his boots and pants near up to his thighs.

But if the wolf crossed in similar fashion, no print could be found, and not even a spattering of mud pinned down where he emerged.

“Wolves are cunning types,” admitted Mr. Longfield.

“Might he have gone upstream or downstream a ways to get his scent covered over by the mud?” asked Mr. Merritt.

Vincent replied, “He very well might have, but we’re without notion whether t’was upstream or down.”

“He’d not stay in the stream long, I lay to it,” Mr. Cartwright said in his mild way.

“How’s that?” asked Mr. Lawson.

“Well, he’d’ve wanted to gobble down that hare,” replied Mr. Cartwright. “We saw not a bit of fur or foot all this way. Not like a wolf to carry long somethin’ what only a snack in his mind.”

“Might not a wolf so large have eaten the entire animal?” asked Mr. Conn.

His son answered with his new knowledge, “It wouldn’t be the way o’ wolves, da. He’d give it a good rip, clean out all behind the ribs, and then leave what’s left.”

“He’d not want to muddy it though,” Mr. Lawson mused. “I must say, this is perplexing.”

The party searched upstream and down for another two hours. Only muddy tracks left by a treble of deer were identified, and with sundown coming on, it was agreed to call the hunt off and hope the beast had returned to the hinterlands.

Mr. Finch untied a bundle of torches he’d brought along in a sack and distributed the four among the group. Back on the path and lighted by the torches, the hunters made their dejected tramp back to Littledon.

Chapter 9…

Littledon! Chapter 7

For the introduction and chapter one, click here.

For chapter six, click here.

Chapter 7

Having had a great many lessons since previously performing this task, Vincent Conn made his announcement of having spotted another wolf from the square, and allowed that word of mouth should do the rest of the task that his swift feet had done before.

“Another wolf!” cried a woman in terror, as people crowded into the square.

Three full months had elapsed since the hunt, and it had seemed ever more unlikely that any predators on the prowl had passed away without practicing their merciless art on any more flocks. Tranquility had been assumed once again, just as people liked it, even if they also liked to gossip about the wolves that might have been.

Now, as the people streamed into the square to hear the terrible tidings, voices moaned that such a horror should befall Littledon. Some men who had been so wishful that they could have accompanied the previous hunt looked ashen, and glanced around to check whether anyone was taking measure of their reaction to the news. No one did, as the news struck everyone differently.

Vincent perched on the balcony, awaiting the completion of the gathering. He stood alone, back erect and confident. Not even the mayor had heard anything of this new wolf, and he stood among the crowd.

Presently, a voice called out and demanded that Vincent begin his woeful oration.

“T’would be better, were all Littledon present to hear what I’ve to say!” he called back in a bold and strong voice.

“We’re all enough ‘ere!” growled back the man. “Get on w’it already!”

Upon the balcony, Vincent could see that the man was too short to observe that a full tenth of the townsfolk had yet to arrive. But he could see too that this man was not the only person restless for his news, and he decided to commence.

“People o’ Littledon!” he called out. “Friends!”

The conversations died out of the square, yielding him the respect he had earned.

“My friends,” he began a fraction quieter, now that he had no competition for attention. “I am very sorry that I must make report of another beast which I’ve laid my eyes upon. Even sorrier still that this particular beast ‘as every aspect about it from the old tales, exceptin’ only that it has not a pack of companions, so far as my keen eyes could pick out.”

He paused until the moans and murmurs subsided, then said, “But says I to myself, ‘Vincent, you’d better not be so foolhardy as to put the safety of your townsfolk beneath their comfort and happiness. Tis better to know a miserable condition than to not know it until naught can be done about it.'”

Holding up his arms, he cried out, “And so here I am to convey what I’ve saw out o’er the hills, and fortune at least grants that it was quite a few hills off.”

And then his face darkened such that viewers might well have thought a storm cloud had presently crawled over the sun. “Tis yet closer than any of us like, and a massive beast this one is! In comparing to that which we’ve got prize of, this’n is near a third larger, and built as solid as a cairn hill!”

Unruly shock moved across the people all at once, and there passed another moment before Vincent could say any more.

“Friends! Friends! Let us take heart that this is only one of the devils, and tough as he is, we can surely give it an end or drive it off!” He held his arms up, fists clenched in defiance of the foul beasts, standing as a pillar against them for eternity.

Yet, one man in the crowd called out a question, “Just how far out is it?”

Vincent lowered his hands to grip the balcony railing and lean forward. “Mr. Blinkhorn, I paced that it’s near to three leagues from this very square, only that far. And bein’ that it weren’t so close, I chanced to watch it a  bit before makin’ my legs a blur in bringin’ back these facts.”

“What were it about, then?” shouted someone else, and this time Vincent could not identify the speaker, being so new to speeches of this magnitude.

“Stalkin’ a hare, it were,” answered he. “T’was creepin’ about the bushes and marshy grass, such that the hare hadn’t any notion of there bein’ the slightest danger, until the its great jaws closed about it.”

During this part, he mimicked the beast hunkering down and creeping slow and steady, and then brought his hands together in a sudden clap! Fingers slid together to provide imagination the picture of sharp teeth spilling blood from a defenseless creature.

Three leagues was quite a distance, of course. Altogether with the worry of the people, it may as well have been less than five cubits for how great was the trembling in the square.

“Now, I know this is worst of all that we fear, to spot a great wolf makin’ way toward our fair haven,” Vincent took his tone from one of conciliation to a redoubt of hard resolve, “and that is why I volunteer to lead an immediate expedition to track down this menace and make it the second of our victories this year!”

He paused to acknowledge some moderate applause at this confidence and bravery and selflessness. Then he shouted louder, “And with hope, it shall be the last wolf ever!”

At such hopefulness, the beleaguered Littledonians roared out their rallying cry, and cheered with a might that shook the stones of the square and rattled the thatching of many a roof.

“I say we hunt!” Vincent howled above the clamor. “I say we hunt, and give our generation a story even greater than any heard before!”

The howling of the crowd drowned any hope of further questions or further statements.

All of the men who had gone in the previous hunt volunteered right away. Mr. Lawson left to string his bow even before the volunteering was finished. Merritt, Cartwright, Mr. Conn, and both Warwick men would be following Vincent. As well, Mr. Finch and Mr. Longfield would add their family swords, as Mr. Hopkins would add the great club that only a man as broad as he could possibly swing to affect.

This time, with ten on the hunt, instead of seven, it was hoped that even a fierce brute of a legendary wolf would stand no chance. The town sent them out, not timidly as had been the case with the first wolf, but with a pride and a wildness of encouragement that the men felt themselves buoyed of any anxieties they may keep hidden away.

And so the second hunting party went out to track down the second wolf.

Chapter 8…

Littledon! Chapter 6

For the introduction and chapter one, click here.

For chapter five, click here.

Chapter 6

Littledon soon settled sleepily back into its customary peace. Which is not therefore to say that the wolf and the hunt were forgotten. Only that business was gone about, and so too the courtships of the youthful, as were the squabbles of the youthfully married.

Mr. Mackenzie put a fine performance of taxidermy into the wolf, which he mounted to a broad pedestal. The pose which he’d given it for all eternity was quite the most ferocious image the town had ever beheld. It stood upon three of its legs, with the fourth lifted into the air, a front paw, on the side in which it had received the arrows. And the whole creature was turning, baring teeth, as if to add further challenge, as though Mr. Lawson’s pair of arrows had not brought it down.

Arrows were placed into the wounds to complete the representation of the hunt, although Mr. Lawson declined to relinquish his own arrows to the project. He was of the firm opinion that, while the task had been necessary and proper, that it would not do for the town to continue dwelling on such a frenzy of fear and consternation.

Though the opinion was scorned by the greater part of the town, Mr. Lawson adapted Mr. Merritt’s case time and again, that this very wolf might account for all the threat the town may face in the next ten generations. Thus it was best for folks to get on about their lives, and not be given to flights of panic, interpreting every wayward sheep of being carried off by animals that may not even exist. Without the evidence of blood or a print, a sheep may merely have wandered off foolishly. This was not the general way of sheep, however such things happen from time to time.

And certainly no one suspected wolves to be prowling the streets every night. Notions as that had not occurred to anyone in Littledon. The commonest rebuke to Mr. Lawson’s stodginess was that there’d been such a scarcity of wolves in Littledon, having a specimen of one, killed by the baker’s own hand, was remarkable.

To Mr. Lawson however, scarcity of wolves seemed precisely to make his point clear. Littledon did not have real harassment by wolves. Only one pesky creature that had been brought down already. Why should the town speculate and tell the legends of old with such verve? Worked up minds may think another scourge might crest the surrounding hills any minute! All for the scrawny work set upon a table in the dining room of the Littledon Inn.

Quite unreasonably, some made dismissal of Mr. Lawson’s cautioning words. Perhaps, they wondered, wolves being so rarely spotted meant they were masters of the shadows, and could hide from the weak eyes of man where any other creature would be immediately identified.

Reckoned they, this one captured wolf, indeed no quality example of the truly fearsome legends, had managed to make off with stock from at least five flocks. Yet, it had only been spotted on the final day of its crimes. Might not a wily pack manage so much more in espionage and evasion?

At that, a general absence of knowledge only served to bring surety that such was of course true! How could it not be? It not being true was a thing which had to be proved. Only upon a pack of wolves being tracked down and studied at their cunning could such proof be forthcoming. And in event one could not find a pack to make study of, that only served to prove the superior craft, as insisted in speculation. So wolves that were not there, were there all the more and all the more dangerous because of their very absence!

Vincent Conn, in the meantime, had seen his status considerably raised in Littledon compared to that he’d possessed of before the hunt. As a boy, he’d been somewhat rambunctious, and had built up some small amounts of bad credit amongst some for petty annoyances and schemes.

Subsequent to those events, he’d found himself invested of a new confidence and worthiness in the eyes of even those who’d earlier liked him least. A few more gifts came, and more jobs. For as apprentice to his father, there was only so much blacksmithing to be done.

Often finding himself without tasks of ironwork to be done, Vincent ran messages and deliveries for people within the town, being always reliable in that sort of trust. He also took odd labor, which was often undesirable, though the pay was needed. With his father still having many good years of smithing to pass, Vincent would not be able to take over the trade until well into his manhood.

And with his idle time, Vincent decided to be a boy no longer. He put time into a study of wolves, so much that a study could be made. There were some scant records from earlier times, and Vincent also tapped the knowledge of Mr. and Mrs. Goodwin, who were always happy to oblige him with their wisdom.

He had only stretched the truth of the hunt so far, accounting that all which he said could be checked against the others who had attended the mission as well. And as for the wolf itself, anyone could go see it. The weeks had worn some part of the astonishment away, and no everyone knew that the particular beast had been half-starved at worst.

So it was to Vincent’s credit that he could tell all there was to know of wolves in Littledon. Anyone who wanted to be regaled with one of the old legends could get it from him, and though Mr. Goodwin was an excellent teller of tales, he had not Vincent’s youthful vigor and passion to work from.

Vincent could soon enrapture the mind of the hearer, he could mimic the splendid moves of a valiant warrior in mortal combat with a wolf that surely weighed the same as the fighter, pound for pound. Occasionally, Vincent would make this production for some descendant of the hunter of the story, which made the telling all the more exciting.

With grand proclaiming and the noblest of passions, these stories caught upon the virtue of Littledonians, and made them ever sure that, should the time come again, they could each rise up and demonstrate exceeding courage in a gallant fight for town and family.

Numerous young men opined how much they wished to have gone on the hunt, but had been busy with one thing or another that prevented them from having the opportunity. Nothing whatever prevented anyone from partaking of the events which followed the return of the hunters, and no one mentioned how easy it was to have gone in spirit, now seeing the withered wolf that had been pitted against seven grown men.

One thing upon which every man, woman, and child in Littledon was in perfect and settled agreement; Vincent Conn was a hero for his swiftly leading the hunt upon the wolf that only he had managed to see during those weeks of terror.

Chapter 7…

Littledon! Chapter 5

For the introduction and chapter one, click here.

For chapter four, click here.

Chapter 5

Word spread through town as would have a tidal wave, were the oceans anything but a story of distant and unimaginable waters. On this occasion, the announcements were made more clearly, and as Littledonians were all aware of the trial undertaken, the hearing of distant celebration rendered certainty that the mission was a success.

Every minute passing brought more eyes to widen when vision settled over the travois now set up against the porch of the inn before the town square. Congratulations thick as a bale of wool were wreathed upon every man. No amount of it was enough to satiate the crowd, and after all, those who had not gone felt it their duty to lay upon the praise for those who had attended in their stead.

Several chose not to look at the wolf, either for fear of it or to avoid the image of blood, which for some is intolerable. However, all others made a show of their reaction to the carcass. Some mocked it while others marveled. A few laughed at it, though no one else could conceive why they should do that. Still more estimated what sort of fight the hunters must have experienced.

Such was the celebration, the baker Mr. Lawson approached Mr. Hartfield who was the butcher of Littledon, and after consultation, the pair volunteered some of their goods for an impromptu festival. The mayor pretended to sponsor the idea, but the cheering of the crowd deafened all to his pandering.

Tables were carried out of every residence, along with chairs. Clothes were hung from every window, ropes strung across buildings with all manner of glittering trinkets hung beneath, and a set of planks were nailed together with stone supports for the greatest of all festivities; dancing.

And dance they did. A pair of fiddlers sawed away, driving the feet which kicked about with the merriment of the Littledonians. Mr. Lawson and Mr. Hartfield were not alone in their generosity. Food came from every pantry and kitchen and piled upon the tables and from there onto plates where it rested not long. Children played games and shouted and peeked at the desserts brought out, some even sneaking tastes before liberty to those dishes was given by the adults.

Vincent Conn was a particular center of attention, which he very much enjoyed. Though he did not cast the fatal arrow, his vigilance and willingness to lead the party were beheld as the deeds of a hero. Vincent danced with all the girls of the town, received a dozen gifts and also a fine cut of the best lamb from Mr. Hartfield.

Now the mayor was a man who enjoyed good wine and as well had a broad fancy of ale. So when he climbed up to his balcony to make a speech, the townsfolk noted his tottering steps. At his raised hand, the music faded in politeness to the official. He gave a speech that lauded the men, with especial praise for Vincent, who “could’na better man be.”

At such praise, the town made known its concurrence, and the mayor was unable to quiet the crowd again with his dizzy attempts. The fiddling renewed with a fervor sure to start a fire upon those strings. And the dancers tested the workmanship of the carpentry on the dancing platform.

Joy and the spirit of the occasion mixed with brew to numb the passage of time, and soon the sun had nearly set, drawing long shadows across the square. A rush was made to retrieve torches which were attached to poles and spaced throughout to permit festivity into the night.

And why not? After all, the last time a wolf had been brought down was in the living memory of only two Littledonians. And this victory had been perfect.

As Mr. Merritt stated, plate in hand, “Come to it straight on, there’s been only such as many lambs carried off what might ‘a been done by this here blighter alone!”

A cobbler by trade Mr. Tunstall swigged and refilled his tankard from a cask of cider. “Him alone? Could’na been only one, Merritt!”

“It could’ve, though!” Mr. Merritt contended. “It could’ve, indeed! T’were only a handful of sheep these past few weeks, and most mere lambs.”

Jane, who was married to the elder Warwick agreed, “Aye, tis no trouble for a swift’n such as ‘e to make snatchin’ up a lamb what’s been separated from ‘is flock.”

Mr. Tunstall made his protest once more, “Right and true as that may be, at least one of them sheep as gone missin’ were no tiny lamb. John Silas Ruskin had a full-grown ewe taken. Not a ram, I’ll lay that to you, but no small stock such a creature is, all the same!”

A spirit making way about the square would hear many such exchanges. Only merriment followed Vincent Conn about, however. He could scarcely take a step in any direction but to shove through Littledonians admiring him.

Question after question came his way, as though his brush with the wolf made him an expert on them. Perhaps it did, in comparison to those other people who’d not seen one alive. Vincent tried to answer what questions he could. And at first he attempted to reject the gifts bestowed upon him.

Soon, though he settled into his celebrity and ceased attempting to evacuate from those surrounding him. Bourne by the exhilaration of their worship, Vincent began to stretch the truth, as was always the way of discussing wolves in Littledon.

Even as the beast still hanged in the travois, a silhouette in the firelight, Vincent raised his hand higher and higher upon his chest each time he spoke of its size. Furthermore, instead of the wolf making flight, it was making to flank the party. Hardly anyone batted an eye at these revisions in Vincent’s testimony. No notice was taken when he stated the first arrow merely enraged the wolf who meant to charge them, had not Vincent himself commanded Mr. Lawson to loose another arrow!

Who could blame the lad for shaping events more to his liking and more to everyone’s liking of him? In sleepy Littledon, so rare was there occasion to brag about something of dire importance, and thus, hardly a thought was given to the incongruities which now must have crept upon a detailed mind.

Alas, with so many Littledonians expressing such joviality, details were the least of anyone’s concern. The festival stretched on into the night without a care in the world.

Chapter 6…

Littledon! Chapter 4

For the introduction and chapter one, click here.

For chapter three, click here.

Chapter 4

At length, the men ventured closer to Mr. Lawson’s kill. Blood which had moments before coursed from the wounded side now ceased flow, for the stilled heart. Red-wet fur, smeared from the wolf’s thrashing, matted the side. Mud and grass too were glazed with it, fresh and even steaming the faintest part.

Though the wolf was dead, the terror of the men had hardly faded. So simple was it to slay a wolf? No man ventured to voice that confusion, but young Mr. Warwick worked his way around it.

“So easy a thing?” he mused, wide-eyed.

“Easy?” asked Mr. Lawson.

Mr. Merritt was acquainted with the sport of stags, and addressed the point. “Not a simple thing, to put an arrow on a movin’ wolf.”

“That bein’ the reason as my first shot was not equal to the task,” Mr. Lawson supplemented. “And I don’t mind sayin’ so,” he gave a candid shrug, “only that it was fortune’s favor guidin’ that second arrow.”

Grunts of agreement were shared all around, but also several commendations of Mr. Lawson’s skill.

“Be that as it may,” young Mr. Warwick began again, “my notion o’ wolves is of fearsome beasts that can take a mighty whipping and still fight on, tough as ever.”

Mr. Conn gave voice to another clear fact, “In truth, this is but one wolf, alone. Trifle it not, mind, but wolves in a pack are sure to be severe much the more, while a single beast has not the pack to fade upon.”

Mr. Cartwright then spoke quietly, eyes set upon the dead animal, “Not quite the specimen I’d expect.”

“Why do you say that?” asked the elder Warwick.

Now regarding the other men, he made his reply, “On account of the stories were mentioned by your son, Mr. Warwick.” Waving a hand over the carcass, Mr. Cartwright continued, “Scarce a muscle on it.”

“Ah!” burst out Mr. Merritt. “How true that is! And in our astonishment of seeing a wolf, we recognized it not.”

At this mere observation, all eyes surveyed the beast once more, and only now did the shaking of the men begin to fade. For the wolf had teeth, and teeth polished by the working at bones picked clean of muscle and marrow. And it had claws too, claws far larger than any dog they had ever known of. Yet, the wolf had little else to its credit which was not bones and fur.

Wolves of the old legends were said to have as much weight in their flesh of locomotion as they did in everything else, whereas this animal had the looks of starvation and loneliness. They did not pity it in that. Indeed, they still felt superlative elation at the success of the hunt.

No man among them wished to speak aloud the conclusion that all had drawn, even Vincent Conn who could be forgiven for failing to work it out thoroughly. If this was a lone wolf, perhaps a runt cast out of a pack, contending every day to scrape out survival, where then were the others?

Perhaps wolves continued on their terrorism many leagues afar, and this one had trekked away from that competition, finding Littledon now fertile territory for stealthy raiding. Successful as the hunt had been in bringing down this solitary threat, there was still cause for great concern.

Even a pack of four or five wolves would have had little trouble handling the hunters, if a bare fraction of the legends were true. Judging by the names and stories of those lost in the great hunts, the legends were in considerable part authentic.

They secretly mulled these thoughts, eyes pinned to the wolf as surely as were Mr. Lawson’s arrows.

But the voice of Mrs. Yates retrieved their attention. “Good men! What brings ye out hence?”

“Hallo!” cried out several of the men together.

Mr. Lawson and Mr. Cartwright met her halfway between the Yates home and the bloodied ground, so as to spare her memory the images of the feared creature in a state of agonized death.

She was distraught to see the slain lamb and mortified to hear of the wolf. But upon hearing of its demise, she enthusiastically thanked Mr. Lawson on his fine bowman-ship. And she would not allow the men to leave without the charity of a hearty lunch and a round of ales.

Mr. Yates returned with the medicine which soothed the poor ill child to sleep. He was also joyous of their success, waving away their apologies at the loss of four legs from his flock. Mr. Yates decided to inspect the beast as the men debated what to do, and he agreed with their assessment that this could not be the worst of wolves Littledon had ever faced, nor even the mean.

Mr. Cartwright suggested the carcass be taken back to town and given to old Mr. Mackenzie, who had perfected a trade of the stuffing of carcasses for display, or the mounting of a stag’s head on a plaque. Mr. Lawson protested that the town need not have greater reason to stir panic, and the hauling in of even a withered wolf was sure to provide for more dread.

Such caution was shrugged off by all the others, and Mr. Yates put in that he would rather not have to bury the beast. The Warwicks fashioned a travois with a set of long branches and twine. Three men lifted the body of the wolf upon the skid where it was tied into place.

Deigning at least to retrieve his arrows, Mr. Lawson made sure to clean them upon the leaves of a nearby birch. Vincent and the younger Warwick agreed that their victory would be all the more glorious if the shafts had been within the wolf when the party arrived in Littledon. They were careful not to offend Mr. Lawson however, and the time for departure had thus come.

Exchanging farewells with the Yates’, the group set off for town, each taking his turn at dragging the travois a portion of the several leagues.

Chapter 5…

Littledon! Chapter 3

For the introduction and chapter one, click here.

For chapter two, click here.

Chapter 3

Now, it may be wondered why every Littledonian would be so ready to trust the testimony of an untried youth. After all, might not Vincent have merely seen a large dog? He certainly had never seen a wolf before this day, only heard the harrowing stories about them.

How then could he identify a wolf, except by the vague stories which made them out as oversized dogs? But then to distinguish between a large dog and a true wolf became a mere matter of interpretation. Why had nothing like those ideas passed the mind of any Littledonian?

Nothing more appeals to credulity than service upon the greatest fears and the deepest indignation. Nothing more assures belief than the very outrageousness of the matter. And if the wolf turned out to be a large dog, then little harm was done but for a trifle wasted time and energy. Safer, then, to track the beast down and be sure.

Tramping out on the road, the band spoke little. Each man held his weapons before him, gripped like their very lives. Vincent had his whittling knife. His father had a broad hammer. Mr. Lawson, Mr. Warwick, and Mr. Merritt all had swords passed down from their ancestors. Mr. Cartwright had an iron-tipped pike. The younger Warwick had a knife of his own, while Mr. Lawson had a decent bow for hunting stags, though he was most often known to root out hares and rabbits with his swift greyhound, Rosie.

As they strode away the nearby hills, the morning mists settled down, leaving the grass dewed and the air cleared. The clouds above were breaking up, letting down a few castings of sunlight there and elsewhere, though rarely at whatever place was currently here.

Nearly a league out, Samuel Yates came along, on his way into Littledon. Mr. Yates was a younger man. His farm was not much farther, and no doubt his wife there caring for their child, born only a few months earlier.

The men hailed him.

“Hallo, there!” Mr. Yates answered, waving his worn hat, surprised at the vision of seven men travelling in company. “What’s all this about, then?”

“Wolves!” replied the younger Warwick vigorously.

“Ah, more wolves?” Mr. Yates gripped a patch of his coat covering his belt, where surely rested a good knife. “Whose flock were they at?”

“Weren’t at a flock ‘at we know of,” answered, Mr. Merritt.

Mr. Warwick spoke, “Vincent Conn caught glimpse of a wolf. Lone, we think.”

“And hope,” added the baker, Mr. Lawson. “You haven’t seen it, have ye?”

“I should say I haven’t!” declared Mr. Yates with anxiety boiling in his tone. “Where abouts did this happen t’be, Vincent?”

Answered the boy, “Maybe five hundred paces past your farm, sir.”

“Shall you join us, Yates?” asked Mr. Cartwright.

Mr. Yates turned his eyes back up the road, and gave that great consideration. Alas, he had been on his way to visit the town physician, seeking a salve that could soothe a fever in his minikin daughter.

It was roundly agreed by all that Mr. Yates had better see to the medicine. He did ask, nearly demand, that the men make haste and locate this wolf, or at least keep an eye on his plot. Men such as these needed no request to take upon obligations so noble. Reassured, Mr. Yates bade the men good luck, and departed.

Past the Yates farm, Vincent soon identified the place where he had seen the wolf, collecting the length of chain up from where it had fallen. The only sign of it was left in the mud, in the form of tracks larger than those of a dog. The mere size of the prints brought a renewed fear to the men. No dog they’d ever seen could make such impressions.

Being the best hunter among the men, Mr. Lawson was tasked with interpreting the tracks and following them. The tracks immediately led onto the roadway, which yielded less and made tracking more difficult. By the mess of prints running over each other in circles, likely the wolf had sniffed at the ground where Vincent had turned and fled.

With several good turns of his own and hard staring at the ground, Mr. Lawson was able to identify which direction the wolf had gone. The men all followed, heading directly for the Yates farm. Not a single word was uttered, out of concern for Mrs. Yates and the wee girl.

In the stories, it seemed that wolves could do near anything; scratch their way past doors, leap through windows, and all manner of devilish tricks. One legend claimed a wolf came down a chimney and leapt at a family from their fireplace, even as logs burned upon it. Many doubted the tale, but who could know?

Nearly to the farmhouse and grim as ever, sight was caught of the beast. It was larger than any dog, and it looked fierce and pointy, more bones than the usual muscle of dogs. And in its teeth was a snowy white lamb, crimson where its blood stained the wool.

The wolf saw the party and froze in its tracks, only a dozen paces away. Its hackles raised and a guttural growl somehow escaped around the dead lamb. Its breath misted in the chilly air, near enough to smoke in appearance.

All frozen, the men stared at the beast in terror. Its eyes were horrible as it sized them up. They nearly seemed to glow as red coals, bloody and thirsty in a mixture that rattled together the bones of each man.

Then a strange thing happened. The wolf turned and made ready to sprint off into a stand of trees. No longer scalded by those hideous, hateful eyes, the men quickly regained their faculties.

“Quick!” shouted someone, but Mr. Lawson was too fast for the wolf.

Nocked already by the first bound of the animal, he loosed an arrow which caught it farther back than a sure kill. Still, it was a marvelous shot, which managed to bring the wolf to a stop, being that the arrow moved about as the animal did, giving it much pain.

It dropped the lamb and tumbled to the ground in a rage, howling and yelping and scrabbling all about in the mud and grass and blood. Fearful of approaching the ferocious efforts all a blur of teeth and claws, the men watched with a terror.

The wolf made efforts to snatch the arrow in its chops, managing only to increase its agonies as its writhing moved the shaft all the more about its belly. The vision and the noise was worse than any nightmare the stories had ever incited.

But at last, regaining enough of his wits, Mr. Cartwright pushed elbow into Mr. Lawson. He gave command, “Finish it off, then!”

Mr. Lawson took his time aiming with this arrow and waited until the wolf paused for a shaving of a moment. This shot was sure, claiming the animal and quieting its clamors.

Over the whole valley spread an eerie stillness.

Chapter 4…