For the introduction and chapter one, click here.
For chapter eight, click here.
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!”