“Can you believe this weather?” Peter said between bites.
After a hard day working at the inn and taking care of their precious horses, the four were sitting for a late dinner at their usual table in the inn’s main hall. The table was the closest to the lit fireplace. John and Merry, the inn owners, were sitting with a couple of their friends at a nearby table as well just finishing their dinner as well. Another table on the far corner was occupied by a few locals, who were already half way to achieve their goal of getting drunk.
The inn was almost empty in the last week or so, travelers tried to avoid the hard weather they were having. Although their village was on the main road towards London, it was still a small village with a small local population.
Still deciding what he could answer to Peter’s question the tenth time today, Arthur was happy to see the inn’s large oak door open. A young woman burst through the door.
“Neil, Neil” She called towards the table in the far corner.
A man stood up to the strong laugh of his friends, assuming he will be yelled at for getting drunk. He was slowly wobbling his way towards the woman.
“Neil, he took him!” the woman shouted but this time tears were starting to choke her throat “He… took…him” she barely finished the sentence.
Now she got Neil’s attention, trying to reach her quickly he stumbled twice into chairs standing in his way. “Who did?” Neil called when he reached her.
“The wolf… the weird man’s wolf from the forest. He took our son” she said in tears.
This sentence got the attention of everyone. John left his table and hurried over quickly followed by his wife and their friends. Peter wanted to join them but Arthur stopped him. They could easily hear everything from their table.
“When? How? Where?” Neil seemed confused.
Hurrying over to the kitchen Merry disappeared behind the swinging door only to return with a kettle and a cup.
Merry poured a cup of tea to the shivering woman. John pulled a chair over and guided her into it.
“Calm down” John said when he saw the woman was too scared to talk. “Calm down and then tell us what happened.”
The woman took a sip from the hot tea and after another moment of long breath she was finally able to speak again.
“He went to bring some wood from the pile outside. When he lingered to come back I went after him.” The woman was taking to her husband Neil, but everyone there was listening carefully. She took another sip before continuing. “He was nowhere to be seen, and all I can see inside the small shed was his footprints and a foot print of a wolf.”
“It can’t be,” Neil wailed “We got to get out there now” he called and started to get up from his kneeling position beside his wife.
“We’ll kill that maniac and his beast” shouted one of his friends, leading the whole enraged group outside, leaving behind Merry, John the woman and the four friends still sitting at their table.
“Let’s go” Arthur stood up and headed towards the woman instead of the door.
“Aren’t we joining the search?” Cathy asked.
“We are, but I think we need some more information” Arthur explained.
“But I’m not done” Peter moaned when they all got up to follow Arthur. He grabbed a piece of bread from the table, munching from it on his way.
“Excuse me mam” Arthur tried to get the woman’s attention with not much success, she was crying and mumbling alternately.
“Mam!” snapping at her Cathy finally got her attention.
“What?” The woman snapped back, when she saw who interrupted her thoughts.
“I have a couple of questions, if you don’t mind.”
“Who are you?” she frowned at the four crowding around her.
“These are Cathy, Gwen, Peter and Arthur” John came to their aid.
“What do you want?” she snapped again.
“Maybe they can help” Merry offered.
“My husband will take care of that psycho” she said and turned away from the group.
Realizing she will not co-operate with them, the four start towards the door.
“Where are you going?” Merry asked
“To find that boy, before any bloodshed.”
“Thank you” Merry whispered.
“I know where this man lives” Peter said.
“We’ll need to make a quick stop first” Arthur said and the four headed outside to the cold.
When the four stepped into the snow, the penetrating cold hit them. Wearing their warm cloaks helped a bit. “Peter, do you know where is their house?” Arthur asked when they were outside.
Peter nodded, leading them towards the village outskirts on the border of the forest.
“What do you think?” Cathy asked when they were outside.
“I’m not sure but something seemed odd,” Arthur pondered “I could be wrong, but she didn’t seem stressed enough.”
“But she was crying” Gwen mentioned.
“I would have expected her to be crying and shouting all the way to the inn” Arthur continued.
It didn’t take much longer to reach the couple’s house. At a short distance they heard the group of drunks still trying to make their way towards one of the houses, probably to arm themselves – Arthur thought to himself, realizing they were completely unarmed leaving the swords their friend Glen the traveling blacksmith gave them at their cabin. If it would come to that they will need to improvise.
The house was almost completely dark and at this late evening hour it was hard to see anything at all. “Where is the shed?” Arthur asked.
“I can see it’s silhouette over there” Cathy motioned farther towards the forest border line.
“We won’t be able to see much at this hour” Peter offered.
“I’ll go inside the house and look for a torch or a candle to light” Gwen volunteered quickly heading towards the house door.
Although she knew no one is supposed to be inside the house, Gwen knocked on the door as a force of a habit, pushing the door immediately after without waiting for an answer. Arthur led the way towards the shed waiting for Gwen to shed some light on things.
“Do you see anything?” Cathy asked, trying also to concentrate on the ground.
“Nothing yet, Look for blood. I assume if a wolf took the boy there should be some blood” Arthur said.
Cathy and Peter were startled at the thought. They didn’t think a thing like this could happen. Only Arthur with his quick wit thought of these option and the two were already used to it, also counting on his ability.
“Arthur,” Gwen called from behind them “You should see this” She said, getting their attention.
Three turned on their spot to see Gwen holding a lit candle in her right hand. The candle gave enough light for them to see the surprise in her left hand: a small boy was standing next to her, holding her left hand. “Meet Dave” Gwen said with a smile.
Standing at the front door they were talking to the Dave trying to understand what was happening. “Dave, do you have any brothers and sisters?” Arthur asked patiently.
Dave shook his head.
“Are you sure?” Arthur insisted, trying to make sure the boy understood him.
The boy nodded he was sure.
“Did the man with the wolf take you?” Cathy tried.
Dave shook his head again, “We were playing” he said.
“Who was playing?” Cathy asked.
“Me and the wolf, she is very nice” Dave explained, “Whenever I see her and Lance at the edge of the forest I go to play with her.”
“Lance?” Peter asked.
Dave nodded. “He lives in the cabin, he is very nice too, always gives me berries when he sees me.”
“Did your mother know you are playing with him?” Cathy asked.
“Her” Dave corrected her. “She did” Dave answered, “She left to the inn after I came back” he said to their surprise.
They all looked quizzically at each other.
“Mommy and Daddy don’t like Lance so much” Dave offered.
“Did they say anything?” Arthur asked.
“I heard daddy say he is a thief and someone needs to run him out of the village.”
“Thank you Dave” Arthur said hurrying away.
“We need to get there fast” Arthur said, seeing the drunk group now carrying torches and pitchforks heading towards the forest.
“I know a shortcut” Peter said and started running, leading the rest into the snow covered forest.
They were out of breath when they reached a small cabin deep inside the forest. A soft fire light was seen from the almost shut window. Around the cabin there were a few well cared flower beds and some well-trimmed bushes leading to the cabin.
“Sir, Sir” Peter called towards the cabin.
A moan came from inside and a bark quickly sounded behind the closed door.
The door cracked open, an old man’s face appeared. Although he looked as he just woke up, a soft smile appeared on his face. “How can I help…” The man started at the sight of the four but something squeezed through the door below him. A wolf sprinted outside circling around them with joy.
The wolf didn’t seem dangerous even for a second. It came closer to Gwen who raised her hand patting it slowly to the obvious enjoyment of the wolf. “Some protector you are…” the man laughed and opened the door stepping outside.
A small old man was standing in front of them, his long white beard and bald head reminded Arthur of another old friend from the previous summer, a sorcerer named Merlin. Arthur knew they had to help the man. Hearing the loud group coming slowly towards them, he knew they didn’t have much time either.
“Sir, we are sorry to disturb you, But this is a life or death situation I think” Arthur started.
“What is the problem lad?” still calm, the man called the wolf to him.
“We believe a few men are on the way to harm you or even kill you.” Arthur tried to make him realize the seriousness of the situation.
“Harm me? Why?” The man wondered.
“Do you know Neil, Dave’s father?” Cathy tried to help.
“Oh yes, Dave is a nice boy” He offered.
“Sir, do you have any weapon here?” Arthur hurried.
“Just a kitchen knife and a bow with some arrows for hunting” the man said after a short thought.
“We’ll have to hope they are less drunk than they seem” Arthur said.
“Peter ,don’t hit them just shoot below their legs, try to scare them” Arthur explained while they all hurried towards their positions. “We’ll use that” Arthur said to Cathy, pointing to an ax handle lying on the ground and a pile of chopped wood.
“Gwen, you two should wait behind the corner, use the knife as a last resort” Arthur finished.
The first to see the crowd which grew from the mere four to eight holding torches and pitchforks was Peter, a high whistle gave Arthur the time to position himself in plain sight.
“Please stop” Arthur said calmly, although his hurt was racing.
“This is none of your business” Neil shouted, he was standing behind a large man Arthur recognized only by face. He was the leader of this crowd.
“This man didn’t do anything to harm you. Please leave before anyone does something he’ll regret” Arthur continued.
“He took my boy” Neil shouted again, safe behind his friends who took a few steps closer.
“Your son was never here, he is in your house safe and sound, please leave” Arthur raised his hand and left it over his head.
“It doesn’t matter Lad, it is time for this old man to go. He is different than us. He has no place here.” Neil took a few steps forward and Arthur dropped his hand.
An arrow struck the ground a foot from Neil’s leg.
“This is not your fight” Neil shouted at Arthur who raised his hand again.
“Yes it is” Arthur said and dropped his hand again when he saw the crowd coming towards them.
Peter’s arrow almost hit Neil this time making Arthur look back towards him, when he turned back his look the big man was charging at him with his pitchfork over his head. Only managing to deflect the blow with the ax handle Arthur lost his foothold falling backwards to the ground.
The man was about to raise his pitchfork again when a snowball hit his chest. When he raised his gaze, Gwen was standing there with another one in her hand. He ran towards her.
“I’ll burn this cabin” Neil shouted and ran with a torch in his hand.
The big man stumbled to the ground before reaching Gwen. Cathy who used her leg to trip him came out behind a tree holding a piece of wood. “Stay down” She said when he tried to turn.
Arthur saw Neil running, quickly grabbing the ax handle, he swept his legs with a sharp blow. Neil fell screaming like a small boy, his torch flew out from his hand, landing on the cabin’s roof which caught fire very fast.
Seeing their leader and Neil submitting, the rest of the group turned away quickly and headed to their homes.
“She is so cute” Gwen said playing with the she wolf.
Peter and Arthur were sitting on the roof of the cabin, hammering a few beams to replace the burned ones.
The old man didn’t hold grudges towards Neil and his friends and the four friends were happy to help him to repair his cabin.
The old man came out of the cabin with hot tea, “I’m just happy everyone is okay” He said.
“It could have ended much worse” Cathy said.
“I bet Neil will be hiding in his house for the next couple of weeks” Peter said and they all laughed.