The moon, weak as it was, hid behind many a cloud and its dark night aided our unnoticed exit from the Blackwold’s camp until soon we were passing the area where the two guards had fallen to our surprise attack. The forest beyond was pitch black and eerily quiet as we jogged across the main path and up into the trees and soon we were far enough away to slacken our pace a little. Behind us I could see the small torches of the camp and at various points in the woods small camp fires burnt; until they were all far behind us we would not be entirely safe but here I felt comfortable enough to wave Everwyn to a halt and I lean against a tree to catch my breath.
“Good work,” I whispered to her in the darkness, “Now to get back and speak with Toradan.”
She nodded silently just as the pale moon broke free of a cloud bank high above. Her face seemed thin and pale in the weak light, and her eyes wide and white, scared almost.
She grabbed at my chest and pulled hard. I tumbled forward and to the ground as behind me something fast and hard hit the tree I had been resting against. I rolled and was on my feet again in a heart beat with Everwyn staggering back into the inky night. In front of me, shaking its huge head, stood the warg we had seen earlier. As big as a bear but more streamlined its entire body was powerfully muscled with paws the size of cob hooves and claws and fangs curved and wickedly sharp. It growled a low, guttural rumbling as it turned to face us and I saw pure, naked hunger in its yellowing eyes.
There, in that moment, I knew fear. I had been scared before. I had nearly drowned in Staddlemere as a child, I had been trapped in the barn as it burnt and took my father from me, I had fought for Archet against overwhelming odds and during all those events I had been scared, but now as those evil, cruel eyes bore into me I knew true fear for the first time in my life and I was rooted to the spot. The warg slowly padded towards me, its lips pulled back over fangs that ran with its foul saliva and I could not move a muscle. All I could think about was how my mother had begged me not to take up arms and leave the farm. She had been right and I wrong and my mistake was to be the end of me.
An arrow whisked past my shoulder hit the beast hard in the shoulder and it leapt up with a yelp of pain. I felt the toe-end of Everwyn’s boot up my backside and suddenly the spell was broken. I was up and running immediately and I charged the beast with my shield, throwing my entire weight behind the blow and rolling through to get behind it. My javelin was in my hand in an instant and I jabbed fast and hard. More howls but these were only flesh wounds and the warg had lived long and seen enough battles to have a few tricks of its own. I charged again but it feinted left and ducked under the tip of my weapon from where it could put its full power in to a leap at my shield. I was knocked off my feet and backwards where I landed badly and began to roll down the small hill. I had seconds to correct myself before I was sure the warg would be upon me, indeed it seemed as though he was as close as my shadow and his foul breath was everywhere. I stopped and was into a crouch immediately only to find the space in front of me empty. For a second I was lost, confused as to where the creature had gone, but then something, some part of my instinct, spoke to me and I swung my shield out backwards, spinning on my heel low to the ground. Sure enough the hard, iron rim of my shield smashed into the beast as it was in mid-leap, catching it across the side of its face and bringing it crashing down by my side.
Immediately it began to rise and turn my way again and I backed away quickly, desperate to put some space between me and its teeth. It didn’t follow. Instead it watched my desperate backpedaling for a second or two before swinging its massive frame away and moving off up the hill towards Everwyn.
I had to stop it! I bellowed a vile curse at the top of my lungs and sprang recklessly forward only to realise my mistake immediately. The creature had fooled me again and had wanted to draw me forward so it could pounce over my defense from higher ground!
I raised my shield and javelin but they suddenly seemed so very heavy and my arms moved as if weighted down by lead. I could see my fate approaching with maw wide and fangs bared when from out of the darkness an arrow thudded into the beast’s neck swiftly followed by two more than hit his chest with pin-point precision. Its momentum was lost and it fell short onto my shield rather than over it. Renewed by my good fortune I heaved hard and lifted the evil thing high over my head and smashed it into the hard earth behind me. Two more arrows found their target and I hefted my javelin high for the killing blow. In that last moment the warg’s eyes met my own and to the day I die I will never forget the look it gave me. Some would expect fear or confusion and pain, or perhaps even a plea for clemency but to see nothing but a cold, hard hatred staring back at you until the eyes glazed over chilled me to the marrow.
For the longest time I stood with my weight down on the javelin that pinned the beast to the forest floor until Everwyn slowly came to my side and gently talked to me and led me away. She worked my weapon free and handed it back.
“Come,” she said softly, “Let’s go.”