It should have been a joyous reunion, a friend thought lost safely returned. Alas, life in Ashmourne Wylds is rarely that simple, and rarely does life here cooperate with what should have been. That said, epic battles aside, I am glad that my friend is returned, even if she barely remembers me.
I was in the castle, perusing the library for a bestiary. I was hoping I might be able to find something to identify the sea-monster that was eating the Unseelie lands. Surely somebody like Maric would have some bestiary or other in his collection. I did find a copy of Aristotle’s “τὰ μετὰ τὰ φυσικά” or Metaphysica, which then led me to said Aristotle’s History of Animals – “Περὶ Τὰ Ζῷα Ἱστορίαι”. Interesting though both works were, I doubted that my recall of Ancient Greek from my schooldays was really up to reading them. Mr Matterson, my teacher at school had never been overly impressed with my command of the language, and that was back then when it was fresh, relatively, in my memory. Any further search was interrupted by Helene, wondering what I was looking for. I expect she wanted to ask me about the potion testing, but then my duties as steward intervened. We had a visitor who was looking for a place called Ashmourne Wylds.
It was Sophia! I almost leaped down the stairs to greet her with a hug, but something stopped me. She showed almost no sign of recognition, looking at us and shaking her head as though trying to remember something. She accepted that I apparently knew her, since I had addressed her by name, but otherwise appeared to regard me as a stranger.
I tried to explain a little of our history together, but she could not recall anything, other than a vague recollection of a Mr Cove. I tried to explain a little further, but for the moment, it was not registering. I decided to leave it for the moment. This was not my first experience with memory loss, so I thought I had better not press the matter. I invited her in for food, drink and shelter, and so we made our way to the table. She told us that she had been down by the lake, where she had barely escaped from a giant sea-monster. She said that she had been directed here by the Sisters at a Convent called St Branden’s by the Sea, an order which apparently, among other things, could command the Kraken. I was most intrigued by this, but before I could ask further questions, we were interrupted again, by an all too familiar and terrifying sound.
It was the Huntsman’s horn, wailing across the landscape, chilling the heart of all who heard it, including my own. However, I had no time to indulge my personal feelings. I now had duties to perform, duties I would have done anyway, but were now official. I explained briefly, for Sophia’s benefit, about the Wyld Hunt, while hurrying them downstairs and into the castle cellars. At the same time, I shouted orders to the castle staff to mobilise for a lockdown if necessary. I did not know where Maric was, so started giving orders to the guards for the defence of the castle, and for those who would join the defence at the gate, presuming that the attack would come from there.
As the guards came filing in, arming themselves, I told them to arm for fae, i.e. take the iron-tipped weapons and the iron-filing grenades. A thought occurred to me and I asked Helene if she had her potion ready for testing. She had two doses with her, so I asked one of the servants to bring some hunks of meat and told her to treat the meat and then have the guards bring them to me at wherever the fight was going on.
Whatever else I might have been going to say was driven from my mind as I heard a loud scream from outside. It was Aoibheann’s voice. I grabbed my sword, some of my iron grenades and I ran. I ran in the direction of the scream, over near the edge of the village, by the gate. Maric’s guard captain came with me along with three of the guards I now knew to be werewolves and two who were kindred. I could not have asked for better.
When we reached the scene of the action, we saw three main threats – the Huntsman, who was chasing Aoibheann, but much like a cat plays with a mouse, letting her get away slightly, before going after her again. Then there were the cŵn, slavering and howling as usual, and one much larger than the others, going upright, much as I had seen weres do. Against them, so far as I could tell, were Orie, swinging a large axe, and Vedis, who was shouting at Aoibheann to run, while trying to attract the Huntsman’s attention.
Melee was engaged, and my memory of the sequence of events is faulty. Some of the guards engaged the cŵn, others the large cŵn. Orie swung at the larger one with his axe and got in a splendid blow at the creature’s hips. As I was advancing, the other guards appeared, with the doped meat, and Helene following close behind. I bade her stay back in the shelter of the trees. We tried throwing the meat at the larger cŵn, and the other piece at the Huntsman, but neither appeared to have much effect, though I hoped that maybe some of the lesser cŵn would have a go at it. As things turned out, I did not get the chance to find out.
The iron filing bags proved effective. My aim was off, so I missed the Huntsman himself, but the debris flew all over the place and several of the cŵn went off howling. Vedis attacked the Huntsman with what looked like a bolt of lightning. That seemed to get his attention, distracting him momentarily from Aoibheann. As I pressed my attack, with another of the filings bags, this time at the greater cŵn, I heard Maric’s voice in my head, saying that he would be there soon. Sure enough, he reappeared, almost before I had finished updating him on the situation.
Any planned strategy or tactics he might have had in mind went straight out of the window when he saw how close the Huntsman was to Aoibheann and he launched himself into the fray, presumably hoping to knock him over and release Aoibheann. Guards ran to back him up, swords in hand. Meanwhile, Orie got a shot in with his gun, while taking a wound to the leg with one of the spears that the beast had picked up and thrown back at us. I lobbed a bag of filings at him in the hope of distracting him, but before I could follow up with a more physical attack, I got another mental command from Maric – “see to the villagers”.
I was torn. My friend was under attack, and my place was to be there to defend her, but I realised he was right. He and the guards had things in hand, and they were far better warriors than me. I ran back to the village and started shouting for everyone to make their way to the castle. Each person I grabbed to, I sent to tell others, so as to get the word out as quickly as possible. I ran back down to the cellars and was relieved to see that Sophia and Helene had made it back safely. I opened the way to the vaults, ushered them down and then went back upstairs to direct the villagers to safety.
All I could do then was to wait. I trusted Maric’s abilities as a warrior, and did not doubt his determination to rescue Aoibheann. Much as I wanted to be out there, in the fight, somebody had to stay here and be in charge. As I sat down at the desk, after making sure the castle was secure and all the people were accounted for, my mind went back to my time on board ship, where we had well-planned and practised procedures in the event of an emergency or a fire. Even further back, I remembered the fire-drills at school. It occurs to me, as I write, that we should put procedures in place. Perhaps a bell, with different rings for things like being on alert, time to evacuate to the castle and such like. If we could train some of the guards and more sensible villagers to be marshals and such like, we would be well prepared for future emergencies. I must put this idea to Maric, once the current emergency was over.