Gabriel rode hard through the afternoon. He stopped twice, once to rest his horse and a second time to break for supper. As the stars began to show in the night sky, Gabriel began to look for a place to spend the night. He had passed very few farms and had little hope of finding one that was still occupied judging by how overgrown the fields on either side of the road were. After a few more minutes of riding, a pinpoint of firelight became visible farther south along the road he travelled.
Warily, Gabriel approached the fire, making no effort to hide himself. He did not think that werewolves lit fires. As he got close, he made out four figures huddled around the source of heat. “Hail!” He called out as he got close, his voice cracking.
“Hold it right there. We don’t want any trouble.” Called back a gruff voice. “Besides, one of us is sick with the plague. Stay away.”
Gabriel dismounted and began to advance, leading the horse by its reins.
“Didn’t you hear son? You’re going to be exposed to the plague.” An older man’s voice hoarsely shouted.
Finally, the glow from the fire fell upon the armored Gabriel. “I am not afraid of the plague.”
“Oh,” All four people, a couple in the early twilight years, and a younger couple, possibly in the twenties, bowed there heads at his approach. “We didn’t know Master.” Said the younger woman.
“Please, call me Gabriel, I am too young to be anyone’s Master. Besides, we are all equal out here. May I share your fire?”
The old man shifted on the log he was sitting on, leaving room for Gabriel to sit. The young woman rose and introduced herself.
“Well Gabriel, my name is Tera, and this is my husband James, and my ma and pa, Carra and Philippe. Would you allow me to take your horse? Our are tied up over there.” Gabriel looked where she pointed and could make out the shape of a pair of horses and a covered wagon.
He nodded. “Thank you, you said one of you is stricken with the plague?” He took the seat offered by Philippe.
“I am,” James said before coughing.
“Are you sure it is the plague?”
“What else could it be? That damned creature attacked the town about three days ago.” Carra began to cry as she said this.
“I’m sorry. But aren’t you three worried that you are going to be infected too?”
“And leave him to face this by himself?” Carra’s voice had almost risen to a shriek.
“Again, I’m sorry. This is all new to me.”
“How old are you son?” Philippe asked, the years wearing on his thin voice.
“I’m almost fourteen Sir.”
“And they have sent you to battle werewolves?”
“I’ve been training to fight them, yes. But Master Lear left without me. It is my responsibility to fight them.”
“Because someone has to.”
“Yes, they do,” Philippe sighed. “But why does it have to be children?”
“Sir, I don’t think it does, it has more to do with who survives the plague.”
“That is what Sarin told us when he returned.” Carra’s tears had almost dried up, but this renewed them.
“You knew Sarin?”
“We knew Sarin.”
“Dad!” Tera exclaimed, “He’s not dead you know.” She scolded her father and then turned to Gabriel. “Sarin is my brother. He is a Paladin too, he was about your age when he became one, and we have not seen him in almost ten years, since the last plague.”
“I know of Sarin, Master Lear trained him as he trained me. If I may ask, where are you headed?”
“We were headed home, we own one of the farms you must’ve passed back north.”
Gabriel wanted to ask the question, but seeing the emotional state that the family was in, chose not to. “Do you mind if I sleep the night with you. I appreciate your hospitality.”
“No, go ahead. Pull up some earth.” James hacked his way through the sentence.
The night was uneventful, more small talk and Gabriel avoiding the question of what would they do if James died of the plague. In the morning Gabriel mounted his horse and pointed it south again, but not before thanking the family. “Thank you, if I run into Sarin in my travels, I will tell him that you would like to see him.”
“Thank you Master Gabriel,” Tera smiled and waved. “May the Star guide you and The One watch over you.”
“You as well.” Gabriel nodded to the group and flicked the reins, the horse and rider traveling out of site of the family.
It was almost high sun when he came upon a stream and broke for lunch. Eating what remained of the salted ham and the almost stale bread, he let the horse graze on nearby grass. As he swung back onto his horse, Gabriel thought he heard shouting coming from the direction he was headed. Turning the horse southward, he saw a beast as large as a man loping along quickly on all fours at a quick pace, heading straight toward him. It was being followed by half a dozen armored men, who were the source of the shouting.
Gabriel froze momentarily before realizing just what it was coming towards him, the snarling lupine jaw open in an almost howl as it sensed a victim in front of it, despite the shouting men behind it. Quickly, Gabriel fumbled with his sword and managed to un-sheath it as the werewolf leapt at him, completely clearing his horse, and knocking him completely free of the panicked equine.
Gabriel landed hard upon the shield still strapped to his back, and quickly attempted to get to his feet. He was to a knee when the monster was on him again. A swipe of the beast’s hand drew blood from his cheek, the smack stinging more than the cut. Gabriel lashed out with his blade and felt it connect, causing the beast to howl and jump back.
Gabriel took the brief respite as an opportunity to stand up and swung his shield off of his back. He also took a passing glance around and saw that the six figures, one of who was Lear, had closed within striking range of the werewolf.
Gabriel’s eyes locked with Lear’s momentarily, and Lear cried out “Hold your blades, this one’s Gabriel’s.”