For the introduction and chapter one, click here.
For chapter six, click here.
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.