* * *
The morning of Monday, October 29, 1000, was overcast and gray but the rain had stopped. When the light woke John, he realized he had fallen asleep soon after he had taken up his watch the night before. When he climbed down to the room, Bossard was already awake. The Frenchman slapped him in the face.
"I deserve that," John admitted.
They went to Aelfred's house and found fresh tracks all around. Some of them headed south once again. They followed them to a stream and started to search up and down the rill to see where the tracks came out. They had lost the tracks however despite spending several hours carefully looking. They finally found some tracks that left the stream and headed back towards the rocks they had lost the tracks upon before.
Canvassing the area between the two, however, brought them to a sparse campsite on a rocky patch along the River Severn. A man had a small fire burning in the clearing. He was wearing once-nice clothing now ragged and threadbare. He looked like a merchant or a minor noble who had fallen on hard times. He had a thick black beard and thick black hair. He cooked a fish over a small fire.
John signaled Bossard and they crept back into the woods to talk, getting a mile or so away before they stopped.
"What do you think?" John said. "Do we jump him? Do we question him?"
"We should question him," Bossard said. "We don't know that he's the werewolf."
"It would save a lot of trouble if he wasn't."
"You want to try to murder an innocent man?"
"Well, it's obvious from his clothes nobody will miss him."
"No. I know the Earl doesn't care but you're not going to weigh the conscious of murdering a man?"
"I don't want to get eaten."
"You don't know if he's a werewolf! What if you murder him and then the werewolf attacks again?"
"Then he wasn't a werewolf."
"And then you go insane!"
"We should go back and ask the old woman if you can kill a werewolf in its man form."
They returned to the village to find Aehtelgythe. She was unsure if the creature would be immune to normal weaponry or not. When John asked if they could turn during the day, she told them she thought the creatures changed on the full moon. John realized the festivities fell on the dark of the moon and the moon had been waning for several days. The next full moon was not for two weeks.
Bossard asked her who the man in the camp south of town was and she didn't know. They left.
John pointed out they could shoot the man to see if he was immune to their weapons. They didn't even have to kill him. Bossard still wanted to know if the man was the werewolf first. John pointed out the man would have to answer their questions and couldn't get away if his foot was pinned to the ground. They could also claim it was a hunting accident. Bossard preferred to watch the man's camp and wait for him to come back. John pointed out the wolf would probably be able to smell them, even hidden up in the trees. Bossard said it hadn't smelled him that night he'd watched Aelfred's house.
It was noon by then and they talked about getting into Aelfred's house to get into the chest.
They found Aelfred at his house. Several people were there, adults from the village, who he was teaching the dance and the song for the festivities.
Bossard suggested letting the animals out to draw them away. John wanted to burn something, pointing out it was no raining any longer. When Bossard noted it was still damp, John pointed out things could still burn.
They discussed lying to Father Thomas once again about the man they'd found in the woods, faking evidence to prove they needed their weapons blessed. Bossard decided he didn't want to risk further alienating the priest, however. When John suggested they form a lynch mob to deal with the man in the woods, Bossard was not happy about that, not wanting to possibly murder an innocent man.
They decided to go back to the man's camp.
* * *
When they arrived at the edge of the man's camp, they saw he had finished eating the fish he'd been cooking before. As Bossard entered the clearing, John climbed a nearby tree to watch the meeting, making a lot of noise. The man stood and greeted him.
"Hello, fine sir," Bossard said. "What brings you out here?"
"I am Gerhard," the man said
"Who are you?"
"Welcome. I have little to give. I have been living a hermit's life. I seek to purify myself before the end time. I've been living alone, subsiding upon the Lord's bounty of fish and wild berries."
He held out some berries. Bossard shook his head and the man put them away.
"What are you doing to prepare for the end of days?" Gerhard asked. "It comes at the thousandth anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ."
"Hunting," Bossard said.
"You're hunting to prepare yourself for the end of days?"
"I'm trying to enjoy..."
"...the Lord's bounty."
"The Lord's bounty is important. Enjoying it doesn't come into play much anymore with the end of the world coming and all."
"But you're welcome to come share my fire and what little I have. I'm afraid I've already eaten the fish but I still have the berries."
Bossard made small talk but eventually steered the conversation towards the local village of Wroxeter. Gerhard knew the village was there but had never been to it, he claimed.
"Have you?" Gerhard asked.
"I passed through it to get here."
"Have you heard stories of the wolf?"
"Aye. I've seen the beast. Black as night and with the devil's own eyes, it was. It came stalking about my camp not two nights hence. At first I was afraid but then I stood to face the beast with only faith to guard me and, like Daniel in the lion's den, the Lord God did keep me safe and the beast fled to the east."
He pointed downstream.
"Do you know why?" Bossard asked.
"Because I had the protection of God," Gerhard said. "That's the only reason that can explain it."
Bossard wished the man to be safe and Gerhard wished the same for him. He left the clearing heading west.
* * *
Bossard circled around the clearing and found John crashing down noisily out of the tree he had been hiding in. He saw him slip the last few feet and crash to the ground on his back, knocking the breath out of himself. It took a few minutes before he could talk. Bossard swore at him in French under his breath.
"I still want to shoot him," John finally said.
"I cannot condone you shooting that man," Bossard said.
"What did you learn?"
"That he is apparently waiting for the end of times."
"Will anybody miss him?"
"If you want to shoot him, you're welcome to try."
He told John everything Gerhard had told him. He said he didn't believe the man, though. John looked around for wolf tracks in the vicinity but found none.
"Can we shoot him now?" he said. "He knows we're here. He's not going to come back to the same spot."
"What are you going to do if you don't kill him?" Bossard said.
"Run. What are you going to do?" John said.
"I'm going to go confront him," Bossard said.
The two entered the camp, John stopping at the edge of the clearing with his loaded crossbow ready. Bossard approached the man who had been deep in prayer or thought. Gerhard stood as the man approached.
"Ah, you have returned," Gerhard said. "Have you reconsidered my berries?"
"Sir, I do not believe that you scared the wolf away last night," Bossard said.
"Of course I didn't. God did."
"There are no tracks."
"There are no tracks? I don't understand."
"I fear this is not a typical wolf, sir. I would ask you that you be honest with me with what happened."
"I have been honest with you."
Bossard looked back at John. He sighed.
"I think you're a werewolf, sir," Bossard said.
"What?" Gerhard said.
"A werewolf. You heard me."
Gerhard looked him up and down. Then he sat back down by the embers of his fire.
"I used to make my living as a trader of goods and a tinker, traveling between villages, trading my wares and repairing the kettles, pots, and suchlike of the villages I visited," he said. "About one month ago, I came to Wroxeter and plied my trade there for a few days. With the villagers being more sparse than when I was last there, I soon finished and made plans to move on. Aelfred suggested that I follow a shortcut that he knew of to the next town. This route, he said, would also lead me past a village I had never visited before. As I had found less business than I expected in Wroxeter, I took his advice and followed the route.
"However, I couldn't find the promised village, and so I had to camp outside that night. Fortunately, the moon was waxing three-quarters full and bright and I had space in my wagon to be off the ground. As I was preparing to bed down, I spied a great shadow crossing the moon and barely dove aside as a dragon, a great wyrm, swooped upon me and tried to envelope me in its coils. The only thing that saved me that night is my heritage. Not only am I of a strong Saxon lineage, but my family also bears the blood of the wolf warriors of old: werewolves.
"Because I was born wolf-blooded, I can control my changes and take wolf form whenever I choose rather than being tied to the cycles of the moon. I was so frightened at the sight of this horrible monster that I froze in fear. I would have died there, but the Wolf was not ready to die. It took over and I changed. My Wolf recognized the dragon as the stronger beast and so ran for all we were worth! My Wolf was faster than the wyrm and we evaded the beast until near sunrise when it took flight back to wherever it lairs, but not before slaughtering my horses and destroying my cart, wares, and tools. Left with nothing, I began to investigate.
"I watch Wroxeter and its new Headman. I spied Aelfred skulk out of the village one night to meet with the wyrm itself! It was he who fed me to the beast. Since then I have been seeking the wyrm's lair and planning revenge upon Aelfred. They took everything from me except my life. I intend to see justice done."
"So, you say you're interested in Aelfred?" Bossard said.
"He's the one who betrayed me," Gerhard said. "He is the one who is working with the wyrm."
"Ask him what's in his house!" John called.
"What's in his house?" Bossard said.
"He is," Gerhard said.
"What? The wyrm?"
"There's something in his house that he's interested in."
"I know nothing about that."
"He was looking at it when we were questioning him. It's in a chest. I don't know what it is."
"I don't either."
"Have you been attacking the village folk?"
"Occasionally. Not the folk. Livestock. When I can get to Aelfred, I will. I cannot defeat his dragon. The Wolf does not feel that we are strong enough. I don't know where it lairs. He is up to something devilish and awful. If you are here to stop whatever evil is infesting Wroxeter, that's where you should start."
"If we shoot him we don't get a pelt," John called.
"He's not a werewolf right now," Bossard said. "He could change."
"Anytime I want," Gerhard said.
He frowned at the two.
"I could kill both of you easily," he said. "Or "¦ I can help you. The choice is yours."
"I'm inclined to believe you that Aelfred is up to something," Bossard said. "I feel like he's acting suspiciously. Do you know anything about Wulfstan?"
"No." Gerhard said.
"Well, if you'll keep your attacks just to the livestock, I'll leave you alone for the moment," Bossard said.
"No!" John said. "Come on!"
"What would you propose, Welshman from your accent?" Gerhard called to the man.
"I do not trust my ability to defeat this man," Bossard said to John. "And he hasn't harmed the villagers."
"Yeah, but we can't kill a wyrm and we can't go back without a pelt," John said. "So, I suppose we kill a wolf and dye it black."
Gerhard looked at the man quizzically.
"The earl has a bounty on you," Bossard said.
"Of course he does," Gerhard said.
"And we were sent here to collect it."
"I would suggest to you that something worse than what I am doing is going on here. If he is working with a wyrm, the gods only know what he is up to."
"I'm not getting paid for a wyrm carcass," John said.
"You might," Bossard said.
The other man looked doubtful.
"Do you have any proof?" John said.
"No," Gerhard said. "I don't have any proof. My own word is the only proof that I have."
John lowered his crossbow and walked over to the two. He unloaded the weapon and put it away. Bossard slung his shield onto his back. He asked Gerhard to tell him more about his transformation and the wyrm.
"The wolf took over," Gerhard said. "Saved my life. It knew it would die when I died. If I die, it dies. If it dies, I die."
"But you don't control the wolf?" John said.
"Not entirely, no," Gerhard said. "I control the wolf, but not completely. But if there is a battle, I can try to help you. The Wolf will help you. I am not much use."
He gestured at the dagger on his belt.
"Do you have any theories on why Aelfred benefits on feeding the wyrm?" Bossard said.
"I have no idea," Gerhard said. "I've been trying to learn what his connection is with the wyrm and I've learned very little so far."
"He is in charge of the festivities on the 31st," Bossard said.
"I've not been Wroxeter during the day," Gerhard said. "I don't know anything about that."
"If we gave you Aelfred, would you leave?" John said. "If we could get you Aelfred?"
Gerhard thought on that a moment.
"I want Aelfred," he finally said. "The Wolf wants the wyrm. But yes. If you kill Aelfred or give him to me to give him to the Wolf, that might appease it. It will appease me."
"Will you stay here?" Bossard said. "So we can find you later?"
"Yes, I'm willing to stay here," Gerhard said. "I will be going to the village every night."
"Does the Wolf know not to attack us at night?"
"I cannot guarantee your safety."
The two men took their leave of the man, who gave them both a hard, distrustful look. As they walked back, they spoke on strange story.
"It seems like the easiest solution here is give up Aelfred," John said.
"I'm not looking for the easiest solution," Bossard said.
"So, should we confront him?"
"If he's alone. How about we wait until nightfall when he goes home and confront him?"
"Then no one knows we entered except Aelfred."
* * *
They returned to the village and returned to Aehtelgythe to ask her about wyrms. She told them dragons were fierce beasts and hard to kill. When he asked if they were weak to anything, she guessed blessed weapons would be helpful against such a beast. He asked if she knew anyone else who could bless their weapons besides Father Thomas but she didn't.
"Why are you asking about wyrms?" the old woman asked.
"Can you keep it secret?" Bossard said.
"It's something I'm interested in," John said. "I'm Welsh. We like dragons."
"Oh, you're Welsh," the old woman said. "That explains so much."
The old woman said she had cast the bones, performing an augury, and found there was a looming threat hanging over Wroxeter. Something bad was coming very soon. Something that could end the world. Bossard, feeling he could trust the old woman, wanted to tell her everything. When he started to do so, John interrupted.
"She's old," he whispered to the Frenchman. "Don't trust the old people."
"What's that you said, Welshman?" Aehtelgythe said.
"Something terrible is coming. I don't know what, exactly. The augury was not that clear."
"I had too much cheese for lunch."
"Just like a Welshman!"
Bossard thanked her and they left her hut.
They crossed the village to Aelfred's house once again. They found the man teaching villagers the song that day. Torold also came to the man's house to discuss taxes.
* * *
It was not until after dinnertime when Aelfred was alone as most of the villagers had gone to their homes to eat their evening meal. The two men approached his house and asked to have dinner with him. He invited them in and shared his meager repast. It was mostly bread and cheese, as well as a little bit of boiled mutton and ale. They sat and ate in silence, for the most part.
Bossard eventually talked of how the village was doing. Aelfred said it was doing fine except for the Black Wolf, that terrible agent of the Devil, according to Father Thomas. If it was gone, things would be better for Wroxeter. He noted otherwise the village was doing well and he was looking forward to the upcoming festivities as were all the villagers. It would make a nice celebration and break from the drudgery of life.
"Have you ever heard of a dragon?" John asked.
"I've heard of lots of dragons," Aelfred said. "There are many stories."
"Have you ever seen one?"
"Do you know any local stories?" Bossard asked.
"Any local stories?" Aelfred said.
"Yeah, about dragons."
He told them some stories they had heard before. John thanked him and told him he enjoyed hearing about dragons.
"He's Welsh," Bossard said.
"Oh," Aelfred said as if understanding.
They left after the meal and discussed what to do about Aelfred. John was for accosting the man but Bossard didn't want to do that.
"Just a little bit," John said.
"The earl will hear about me accosting this man," Bossard said.
"Why you gonna accost the Headman?" a voice asked.
A little nine-year-old boy stepped out from behind the wall where they talked.
"Is it because of the things in the woods?" the boy asked.
"Thing in the woods?" Bossard said. "What thing?"
"The thing I saw. I saw. I saw. I was up late one night. I had to use the latrine. And I saw Aelfred slip out of the village. And I followed him. And I saw a shadow descend from the sky. I did. I was so scared, all I could do was hide. And Aelfred entered the trees. And he was there for a long time and then snuck back into the village. And I went back and I had been terrified of the dark ever since. I've wet my bedclothes at night. I don't want to go out to the latrine. My father's very, very disappointed in me. He says he won't raise a coward. I think he's going to put me in a bag and throw me in the river."
He nodded at the two men.
"What's your name?" Bossard said.
"I'm Leofric," the boy said.
"Leofric. My father's Godwine."
"Yes. Tell him not to throw me in the river. I don't want to be thrown in the river."
"I'll tell him that if I see him."
"Thank you. Because you have a sword and you can stop him from throwing me in the river."
"I can swim," John said.
"That "¦ won't stop him from throwing me in the river, though," Leofric said.
"I can get you out."
"Oh. And then I can come away with you? Once he throws me in the river? And learn that wicked mechanism that you carry?"
The crossbow was probably a mystery Leofric.
"I don't know what it is," the boy said. "I've never seen it's like before."
He looked the men over.
"Was it the Devil?" he said. "Was that what it was? The Devil?"
"What?" John said.
"What?" Bossard said.
"The dark shape that made me scared," Leofric said.
"Maybe," John said. "But we're going to look into it."
"I've been praying and it hasn't helped at all," Leofric said.
"Do you know where he met it?" Bossard said.
"It was in the woods," Leofric said. "To the east."
"Could you lead us there?"
"No. I'm not going back there."
"No. I'm not going back there. It might still be there."
"I'll take you with me if you help."
"I don't "¦ I don't "¦ no. No."
"Can you at least lead us to the edge of the woods where it is?"
"No. I'm not going back. That's a terrible place. It's a terrible place."
"We can go look," John said.
"Yes," Bossard said.
"We have a dog," John said.
"Where was it?" Bossard said to Leofric.
The boy pointed down the road to the east. Bossard gave him a denier. That surprised the boy.
"If he throws me in the river, save me," he said to the men.
He scurried off home.
* * *
Bossard and John returned Gerhard's campsite and found the man cooking another fish over the fire. He stood when they entered the clearing and looked at them warily.
"We have information about a wyrm," Bossard said.
"All right," Gerhard said.
"A child apparently saw Aelfred meet with it," Bossard said.
He described, as best he could, where Leofric had told them he had seen Aelfred meet the wyrm.
"I thought you were going to bring me Aelfred," Gerhard said.
"Well, he's in his house," Bossard said.
"I still vote for that," John said. "To be fair."
"I cannot defeat the wyrm," Gerhard said.
"But what do you want to do about the wyrm though?" Bossard said.
"I "¦ I don't know."
"We were hoping you can track it for us."
"It flies. You can't track something that flies."
"Well "¦ I mean "¦"
"I thought wyrms didn't have wings," Johns said.
"It had wings," Gerhard said. "Long and sinuous, it curled around my wagon and crushed it like kindling. Shattered it to pieces. Unfortunately no, I cannot track it."
He said he could track anything that walked on the ground but not something that flew. He also didn't think he was a match for it alone and his wolf knew it. When Bossard asked if they might be able to kill it together, he didn't know. He just knew it was awful. Bossard asked about using the peasants and Gerhard scoffed at that idea. When Bossard noted some of them might have training, the man doubted it.
"At best, they would be a distraction," he said.
"I have a question for you," John said. "If I were to shoot a crossbow at the wolf, would it bounce off?"
Gerhard looked at the man suspiciously.
"The crone in village said the wyvern could be hurt with blessed weapons," Bossard said. "The father won't bless our weapons unless we have proof that we've tried to kill one of these creatures."
"So, hold this and snap it in half," John said. "Then we can say the wolf snapped an arrow and it won't be a lie."
Gerhard broke the bolt in half and handed it back to him. Then he said he would do them one better. He took the sharp end of the shaft and stabbed John in the arm with it, handing it back. It hurt very much.
"Thank you, though," Bossard said.
They left the camp.
* * *
They went back to the village, Bossard trying to bind up the wound. He managed to stop the bleeding and they returned by nightfall. They went to Father Thomas' house and knocked on the door, showing him the arrow as proof of the werewolf.
"But there's blood on it," Father Thomas said. "You must have wounded it."
"Yes, but it didn't kill it," Bossard said.
"Not only that, it broke the shaft," John said. "It's hide is too thick to pierce with normal weapons."
"But there's blood!" Father Thomas said. "You obviously pierced its hide!"
The two men looked at each other.
"Obviously it's my blood," John said.
Father Thomas looked him, completely baffled.
"You shot yourself?" he said.,
"You know, I'm not very bright," John said. "It's sharp. I tried to load it. It came off my shoulder."
"Why do you lie to me!?!" Father Thomas said. "You're both a couple of liars!"
"Well, the wolf did break the arrow," John said.
Father Thomas was very angry at them.
"It's my blood on the arrow," John said.
"The wolf did break the arrow," Bossard said.
"What happened exactly?" Father Thomas said.
"We attempted to confront the wolf."
"And "¦ have you heard the tales of werewolves?"
"It's a werewolf that's terrorizing this town."
"Stabbed me with my own arrow!" John said. "I lied because it's embarrassing."
Father Thomas looked over the two men with a frown. He finally said he was willing to either bless Bossard's blade or a single arrow of John's. When he told them about the spell, he noted he had to sacrifice part of his soul to do it, something he can never replace. Bossard told him they'd need to think about what to bless.
They left, talking about what they should have blessed. In the end, they decided on the sword. Bossard questioned whether or not they should confront Aelfred that night but John was of the opinion they should wait until they had it blessed before they did so.
* * *
Tuesday, October 30, 1000, was a bright if chilly day.
The two men went to the church and asked Father Thomas to bless the sword. He said he would need the morning to do so. He told Bossard to fetch one of the goats because he would need that as well. The man did so and he took it into the church.
The two men took the time to look in at Aelfred's house but they found villagers there, decorating the structure. Aelfred didn't appear to be home. John suggested they light something on fire.
"John, you should demonstrate your superior archery skills to the village," Bossard said. "I could help you set up and then disappear."
They set up some apples on the wall some distance from Aelfred's house. Bossard tried to convince some of the villagers to come watch but they didn't seem interested as they were too busy that morning. One of them noted they might be able to come watch that afternoon.
Bossard went to the community barn and found a few animals within but no one else was there. He thought about letting the animals out. He didn't think he would be able to let the animals out without being recognized.
When he returned to John, that man mentioned using a flaming arrow to light something on fire. He went into the woods and did a little hunting but didn't get any game by late morning. He went back into the woods so they could implement their plan.
* * *
Bossard noticed Ingold in the vicinity of the house they had planned to burn. He engaged the man in conversation, making sure he had the man facing away from the woods where John was to fire the arrow from. He talked about the next day's festivities, telling the man he thought Aelfred could use Ingold's help. The man was happy to help Aelfred and really seemed to like the young man. He followed the man towards Aelfred's house.
* * *
In the trees, John saw Ingold and Bossard leave the vicinity. He wrapped some oil-soaked cloth on the end of the bolt, lit it, and fired it into the air. It flew high and went into the thatch of one of the abandoned houses, lodging there. He didn't hear any cries of alarm so he slipped back into the woods, circling around the village, giving it a wide berth, and planned to return after everything was all over.
He soon heard shouts from the village and saw smoke rising into the sky.
* * *
Bossard had followed Ingold to Aelfred's house and the old man looked around for the young Headman. Bossard glanced back at the house and saw the first, faint hints of smoke. Ingold asked where Aelfred was and Bossard asked some of the other villagers where they thought Aelfred had wandered off to. Bossard didn't say anything about the fire and no one else in the village noticed the fire before flames were licking at the dry roof.
"Fire!" Bossard yelled. "Fire!"
The villagers ran in the direction of the fire, crying out in terror and alarm. Some grabbed buckets of water, or got some water from the well.
Bossard ran into Aelfred's house and found it empty. He flung open the chest and found, hidden under some clothing was a leather-bound book. He picked it up and peeked out the door. All of the villagers were running towards the burning building. He quickly opened the book but found the handwriting was in Latin. He tucked the book under his armor and ran to help fight the fire.
The fire raged out of control but the villagers managed to isolate it to only the one house, which burned to the ground. There was little left but ashes and a little of one wall. It took them two hours to fight the blaze and, about the time it was little more than a smoldering wreck, John returned to town from the south with a pair of rabbits he'd caught.
Bossard asked everyone in the village what had happened and no one knew. None of the villagers knew how the fire had started in the abandoned house. A few people guessed the town was cursed while others blamed the Devil. Some mentioned the Black Wolf, which might have started the fire by being some kind of Devil Wolf. Father Thomas agreed the Black Wolf was obviously an agent sent from the Devil to wreak havoc at the end of the world.
They returned to the small house they were living in and got a fire going in the pit. John gutted and butchered the rabbits and got the meat cooking. Bossard showed him the book he'd found. Unfortunately John didn't read Latin either. John suggested taking the book to Gerhard to see if he understood Latin.
They ate lunch.
* * *
Returning to Gerhard's camp, the man told them he did not read or write any languages. He could speak English and German.
They returned to town.
* * *
They talked to Aehtelgythe but she didn't know how to read or write either. She could understand Low German if it was spoken but had not head for letters. They went to the church and recovered Bossard's now-enchanted sword.
They talked about getting Father Thomas to translate the journal but didn't trust the man. John wanted to simply give the man to the Wolf. Bossard wanted to know what was in the journal but John was convinced taking it to the priest would be a mistake. John suggested someone in Shrewsbury might be able to read Latin so the two took their leave of Wroxeter.
* * *
Shrewsbury was a larger town and they were able to find a priest, that night, who could read Latin. Bossard told the priest reading the book was on the Earl's business. The man took the book and looked through it, telling them to return in an hour.
They went to have a meal and, when they returned, the priest threw the book at them.
"What blasphemy is this!?!" the priest said. "Why did you write this!?!"
"It's not my book," Bossard said.
"It's confiscated from a fugitive," John said.
"It describes spells!" the priest said. "They've been learned from a creature that is apparently a wyrm . It claims it can cloud a man's memory and enthrall people and create fear and drain power and shrivel a man! Where did you find this? Who's is it?"
"Now a wanted fugitive," John said.
"A wanted fugitive," Bossard echoed.
"It also describes some rite that will turn a man into a god!" the priest said.
"Kill him," John muttered.
"Blasphemy!" the priest said. "Blasphemy!"
He wanted to burn the book and demanded it back. Bossard told him the Earl wanted proof the man's blasphemy. It was evidence.
"Whoever wrote this is a witch!" the priest said. "They must die!"
"We'll kill him," Bossard assured the man.
""˜You shall not permit a sorceress to live!'" the priest quoted.
They took the book and left the church, heading back to Wroxeter. They rode through the night, John's horse going lame on the way when it took a bad step in the dark. It took much longer to get back leading the struggling animal.
* * *
When they finally reached Wroxeter in the wee hours of the morning, they heard a wolf howl somewhere in the distance. The village was dark and quiet. They put their horses in the barn and headed to Aelfred's house. It was dark as well, the door closed. They found it latched from within.
Bossard slammed himself against the door. Aelfred cried out "Murder!" from within. Then John helped the man smash the door open. It was pitch black within.
Chanting came from inside the house. Remembering Aelfred's bed was in the back left side of the room, John fired blindly into the room. He heard the bolt strike something wooden and someone within let out a shout. He pivoted around the doorframe to start reloading his crossbow while under cover. Bossard rushed into the room, swinging wildly with his sword, stomping to the far wall until his sword struck it. He bumped into the side of the bed and brought his sword down onto it. He heard the sword strike the straw tick.
More chanting came from somewhere nearby. Then it went very, very quiet. Bossard swung around in the direction he thought he had heard the chanting from. Then he tripped over the prone form lying on the ground, landing atop Aelfred. The man underneath him said a horrible word that make Bossard's skin crawl. For a moment, an awful feeling of terrible power was upon him but it didn't seem to grasp him. Maybe it was his faith in God. Maybe it was his blessed weapon. He didn't know why, but whatever the terrible thing was, it was gone as quickly as it came. He felt the man slip out from underneath him like a snake.
Outside, John ripped his shirt off and pulled out flint and steel to start a fire. The dirty shirt began smoldering almost immediately.
Inside, Bossard swung wildly, the sword smashing into the ground. Aelfred cried out in terror.
Outside, John was trying to get the shirt to burn more quickly when a figure ran out of the house right past him at a sprint, turning to the right and running towards the corner of the building. He had no idea who it was but snatched up his crossbow and shot the man, hitting him in the side of the chest just before he disappeared around the corner. The man shrieked.
Bossard ran out of the door, looked around, and ran towards the corner of the house as well. He noticed a small flame on the ground, John crouched over it, crossbow in hand. Bossard didn't understand why there was a fire there except that the man was obsessed with fire. He ran after Aelfred.
John went around the other side of the house, reloading as he walked.
Bossard ran around the side of the house and chased after Aelfred. He was catching the man quickly, who struggled to run with a crossbow bolt in the side of his chest.
As John came around the side of the lean-to on the other side of the house, he saw a single silhouette running down the road. He noticed there was a stick coming out of the side of the man's chest and knew it was Aelfred. He shot the man in the abdomen. The man stumbled and fell to the ground.
Bossard saw the man jerk to one side, stumble, and fall when the bolt hit him. He ran up to him and found him quite dead.
He heard a growling nearby and backed away. Out of the fallow vegetable garden came a huge black wolf. Nearby, John reloaded his crossbow as the wolf picked up Aelfred by the midsection and turned to head south out of the village. It passed near John, who put the crossbow on the ground and saluted the terrible beast. The animal went out of its way to move towards him and then took a swipe at the man as it passed, tearing into his midsection. He was knocked back but it didn't stop or slow its pace, simply continuing on its way.
He thought the blow would be much more painful but then found his boiled leather armor had deflected the entirety of the blow though was partially torn. He was pleasantly surprised he was not dead or badly injured.
Lights started to shine in the village as villagers came out of their huts with candles and torches. John and Bossard got together and planned to tell them of the wolf attacking him and their wounding it. They told the villagers their story and headed off to the southwest.
They eventually arrived at the River Severn. Bossard examined the bruise John had sustained but found he was not really injured. They decided to make a little camp near the river so climbed a tree and tied themselves in the branches to sleep uncomfortably through the night.
* * *
The morning of Wednesday, October 31, 1000, was bright and brisk. The two men untied themselves and climbed out of the tree, going to Gerhard's camp. They found him there and asked if he was going to stop attacking the village. He said he would as Aelfred was dead. He knew it as he had found the body that morning, partially consumed. They noticed he looked a little bloated.
Bossard told him what was in the book, according to the priest in Shrewsbury.
"Are they going to do the ritual tonight?" Gerhard said.
"They might," Bossard said.
"Maybe you should tell them not to."
"Well, I could convince the priest."
"I don't know what will happen."
"I could tell the priest that it's blasphemous and they need to stop it since Aelfred wanted to do it."
"Will the priest recognize Aelfred's handwriting?"
"He knows how to read Latin and he taught him how to, I believe."
"So, yeah," John said.
"He would know," Bossard said.
"Show him the book!" Gerhard said. "Show him this book and tell them not to do it tonight."
Bossard told him they were going to tell the priest they were about to arrest Aelfred as a witch when the wolf attacked and killed him. Gerhard didn't really care. John suggested they also note they mortally wounded the wolf and it wandered off to die. Bossard suggested they say they had knocked it into the river and it had washed away.
Gerhard told them if they wanted to fight the wyrm, he would help them as they had helped him.
"Do we even stand a chance against this wyrm?" Bossard said.
"No," John said.
"I don't know," Gerhard said.
"We came for the wolf," John said. "We got the wolf."
"Did it cut you?" Gerhard said, noting the damage to John's armor.
"No," John said.
"His armor saved him," Bossard said.
"That is probably good," he said. "That is very good. Lycanthropy is contagious."
"We might consider taking down the wyrm too," Bossard said. "But we need to stop the ritual first."
* * *
Bossard and John went back to the village and found Father Thomas. On the way, John suggested they gather the entire village. He feared the priest might turn out to be working for the wyrm as well. That surprised Bossard and John pointed out the man had taught Aelfred Latin, noting they were clearly friends. Bossard didn't think the priest knew what Aelfred was doing. John insisted on a few people witness it in case the man tried to cast a spell.
They gathered villagers as they entered town and had a half dozen people with them when they got to the church.
"Let's say we found the book on Aelfred's body," Bossard said. "And we knew he spoke Latin."
"That's a terrible idea," John said.
"How are we going to explain this book we have?"
"We saw him drop it and we couldn't read it."
"Are you sure we want to confront him in front of a big group of people?"
"Just go with the full truth. Just don't tell him we burned a house down."
They arrived at the church and found Father Thomas. Bossard told him when they were searching Aelfred's house, they found the book which they got translated by a priest in Shrewsbury. He said it was witchcraft and handed it over to Father Thomas.
Father Thomas looked doubtful but he looked through the book, reading the Latin within. The further he read, the more horrified he looked. He was terrified by the whole situation. When Bossard told them not to go forth with the ritual that night, Father Thomas agreed wholeheartedly. Aehtelgythe was there and was not pleased at the end of the festivities, but had read doom for the village and so was willing to forgo the ritual as well.
Father Thomas wanted to burn the book and they were agreeable to that. John made sure never to let the book out of his sight. The villagers made a bonfire and Father Thomas flung the book into the flames.
That night, Father Thomas performed a mass instead of the regular All Hallows Eve festivities. They slaughtered the animals and there was a feast. Everyone ate well.