Moose

Sunset was always a dangerous time to be outside of the village, but I had no choice in the matter. I was three days late in bringing back my messages anyway and the village elders had probably written me off as dead. I pushed my horse as far as he would go, but I knew Moose’s hooves and legs were starting to hurt by the way his ears were set.

At moonrise I stopped and made camp next to a fallen tree. I removed the saddlebag, saddle and pad, dropping them next to the trunk. I rubbed down Moose first, then gave him oats in his nose bag to eat while I covered him in the netting that would keep him safe from bloodsuckers. Spring was almost here and while it might have been too cold, I couldn’t be too careful about my partner.

With Moose taken care of, I went about setting up camp for myself with a small fire, dinner and then rolling out my bedding. My weather sense said there would be no rain tonight, so I didn’t bother with a tent, just netting for myself. I crawled in to my bedding as the moon hit it’s highest point and dropped off to sleep without too much trouble.

That should have been my first warning. The second came just after sunrise as I made myself ready to go. An arrow flew out of the marsh weeds that surrounded us and hit the downed tree with a hard thunk. I took the warning and moved faster, vaulting in to my saddle and taking off just as I finished my camp chores. Looking back to make sure that I had indeed put the fire out properly, I saw something move in the marsh. Unnerved, I spurred Moose in to a canter, then a gallop when I heard someone following me.

I had just enough time to be grateful that I’d made it out of the marsh and almost to the village gates when it struck. I never saw it coming. I only remember teeth and claws and hearing Moose scream as I was pulled out of the saddle. The last thing I remember before giving in to the dark was Moose running towards the village gates.

So close.

“They have taken thirteen since we lost Rider Winch and nearly lost his mount, Moose. We need to do something about the threat in the marsh and we need to do something now!” The man who spoke slammed his fist on the table. An uproar went throughout the town hall as the Mayor tried to calm everyone down.

“That’s enough, Harrison. We all know your son was the last to be lost carrying messages from the capital. His majesty sent his regrets via gryphon last week with Rider Twig. Until the threat of the marsh is taken care of, all the mail is to be taken by sky, not ground.” Mayor Garret said as he addressed the crowed.

“But you’re not saying what is going to happen about the Marsh. We have a right to know!” Harrison Smith demanded, the crowed backed him up. Garret didn’t blame them. He was just as frustrated. They were prisoners in their little village of Blue thanks to the beasts that had taken over the marsh.

“The King is sending soldiers. We hope to see them arrive any day now. You’ll just have to hold on until then. No one is to go outside the gates after dark or in the early morning. You all know when they hunt.” With that, the Mayor left the dais and strode upstairs to his office. The crowed downstairs grumbled and reluctantly left the hall.

Garret closed the door to his office and sat heavily in to his chair. This post was turning in to a nightmare. First his oldest son, now the blacksmith’s oldest was dead. A total of twenty-seven souls they’d lost to the beasts that could only be described as werewolves. Twenty seven souls. Garret was beginning to feel every one of his forty nine years. There was a bottle of whiskey on his desk and a glass next to it that had been used recently. Garret looked around at his office and sighed. There would be no going home tonight and poured himself a glass. A knock on the door interrupted his brooding.

“Come in,” Garret said. “What can I do for you-” He was cut short by claws through his throat.

Gurgling blood, the glass fell from his hand and shattered on the wood floor. Garret saw his attacker and his eyes widened as he stared in to the dark brown eyes of a wolf. The gray fur and ears that stuck out from the side of its head confirmed his worst fears. It was a werewolf. He looked out the window and saw that dark had fallen as he was brooding. Somehow this one had gotten past the gates. An unearthly howl rose up from the creature as it threw his head back. The last thing Garret heard was the answering call from more of it’s brethren.

“Run! To the keep!” Harrison Smith, the blacksmith, screamed to the villagers near by. He carried his youngest son in his arms and snatched his wife’s hand as she carried their daughter. Together they ran through the rain and mud for Marsh Keep. Harrison looked back at his home and caught a glimpse of the beasts tearing apart Mary Wilson, the local dyer. Her screamed echoed through his head as Harrison ran with his family to the gates.

“Open the side gate! It’s the blacksmith!” Soldiers shouted from the parapet. Harrison and his family ran through a small gate to the side of the main gate. The blacksmith leaned against the wall of the Keep, well away from the gate when one of the creatures crashed in to the bars.

Snarling and growling, the creature thrust an arm through the bars and tried to take a swipe at Harrison’s wife, May. He yanked May to him and away from the gate. Their daughter April, who had been mostly silent throughout the run to the Keep, started to cry with huge sobs. Harrison’s son, Evan, wrapped his arms tighter around his fathers’ neck and shivered, trying not to cry. Rubbing his back, Harrison stared in to the eyes of the creature who was about six feet tall and covered in a brownish-black fur that was soaked with rain and smelling very much like the wolf it resembled. It howled with rage and frustration at not being able to get to it’s prey and tried to shake the bars while starting back with blatant hatred in to the blacksmiths eyes.

Soldiers pulled the family away from the gates finally and in to the keep, then down in to the basement with the others that had made it. There weren’t many survivors.

The rain had started shortly after the attack began. The howls and yips from the werewolves leading the attack sent chills through the villagers that managed to get in to the keep with the soldiers that were guarding it and those who didn’t have guard duty that night. No one knew yet just how they’d gotten in, but as the howls became louder, the villagers who took refuge in the prison cells in the basement became more fearful. Marsh Keep had never been breached in the one hundred-twenty years since the building had been completed. It would not be breached tonight, but the villagers of Blue had no guarantee of that till the sun rose to midday. For now, they huddled against each other in the cold, damp cells and prayed for morning and safety.

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