Being Nocturns, the Feast Day of Saint Valentine, Anno Domini One Thousand Two Hundred and Seventy-Six, in the twisting streets of the cathedral city of Vyones…
A light yet chilling rain falls as the men hasten through mud and over puddles toward the cathedral atop the hill. An occasional panicked man or beast flees past them from imagined foes. Every darkened doorway and gaping alley could conceal a cunning and half-bestial adversary. The gendarmerie, spears at ready, breath hanging in the chilly air, mutter half-remembered charms against succubi and infernal entities.
Julien keeps his sword nervously half-drawn, while Marcel keeps the signed confession obtained from Andre under his robe. Bruyant implores the sullen prisoners to repent, while Pierre observes with mixed feelings that the rain has begun to wash away his distinctive bouquet.
Marcel squeezes Julien’s shoulder. “We are being followed,” he says. “I have heard footsteps close by throughout our last three turns.”
Julien gives a whistle, and the company halts. The soldiers form a rough circle and draw their weapons. Orianne remains dull and listless. Andre gives a quick laugh and unhooks his sword.
For a moment, all is silent.
Now, boots can be heard in the mud. From around the corner comes a large man, hood drawn over his face. He looks up, and the companions behold the spymaster Breschau. He draws up short when he sees the group, clasping a hand to his face.
“Monsieurs! It is good – What is smell?” he asks.
The companions exchange uneasy looks. “What bringest thou to us at such a late hour, good sir?” calls out Pierre.
“I come seeking help of gentlemen,” says Breschau. He moves slowly forward, and the group can see that he is quite tired, leaning on his staff. “I have unbelievable news for you. Inquisitor Conrad…” He stops and wipes his brow, collecting himself. “Is werewolf,” he blurts out.
“Oh, we knew that already,” says Marcel. “Wouldst thou like a wet rag?”
“Er, um, yes, please.”
The friar motions to Bruyant, who tosses him one from a supply picked up at the Sieur de Tourgeant’s. The spymaster holds it over his nose and gasps in relief. He moves closer.
“Long I suspect,” he says, leaning his staff against his shoulder so he can wipe his brow. “Longer I chase him. Obert he know something, I am sure. He go talk with thee. What he say?”
Between the buildings, Bruyant catches a glimpse of something with a grey pelt. “No time to talk!” Bruyant shouts. “Prepare to stand!”
Julien gives him a dubious look as he hefts the enchanted blade. “What is it, Father?”
“There,” says Marcel, his eyes fixed on the nearest intersection. There, padding softly and cautiously, lopes a wolf, head hung low, eyes crafty, beads of water on its coat reflecting the torchlight.
“’Tis not as large as the one…” whispers the friar.
“It needs not be,” mutters Pierre.
Five more wolves are soon at the heels of the other. A muffled oath comes from Breschau, who is backpedaling toward the group from the other direction. “Half dozen more this way.”
A quick glance confirms this. The men are hedged in between two buildings and a wall of wolves on either side.
“These beasts do not behave in a natural manner,” says Pierre.
“They fear neither fire nor steel,” says Marcel. “I sense some maleficent influence over them…”
“Let us hope, gentlemen,” says Bruyant to Breschau as the men involuntarily form a tight circle, “that we have an opportunity to speak more later.”