“What do you mean he is missing?” Lear snapped, yelling into the face of the sentry.
“I don’t know sir. I was told to be on the look out for him.”
Lear grabbed the man by his tunic and shook him in rage, lifting the shorter man a few inches off the ground so he could look him in the eye. “When?”
“He…he wasn’t in his bed this this morning.” The man stammered.
Lear let go of the guard, who fell and lost his footing, landing on his knees. Realizing what he had done, Lear helped the man to his feet. “I am sorry for that, are people searching for him?”
“Yes, some of the priests are looking through the town, but there weren’t enough armed men to go out into the hills.”
“Ok, I will see to that.” Lear called four of the men that had been chasing the werewolf the previous night ad sent them off, each in a different direction. “Cailin, go gather the priests, we need to get some information. Send the rest of the Atwans to tend to the sick and dead.”
Gabriel could see the worry etched into Lear and Cailin’s faces. “Is there anything I can do?”
“Yes, come with us. It seems we may not only be hunting werewolves today.” Lear said to Gabriel as Cailin ran ahead.
Gabriel dismounted and led his horse through the town, which looked very similar to the town he had grown up in. To the town he had spent so much time over the last few weeks working on horseshoes and plowshares or making pouches for himself. He recognized the smithy by the plume of acrid smoke that poured out of it’s chimney. Another building sold all manner of fruits and vegetables while yet another had sides of cattle and whole pigs hanging from hooks in it. They made their way to a larger two story structure that Gabriel could only guess was the tavern. A large stable stood nearby, and as they approached, a young man about his own age approached and took the reins of his horse. Gabriel reached into his coin purse and handed a coin to the boy, remembering how it felt when he had received a token of gratitude, no matter how small it was.
Lear smiled and nodded at the gesture before ushering Gabriel and the rest of his dwindling party into the tavern. They were greeted by silence as they walked into the large common room. The tables had been pushed against the walls and makeshift beds took up most of the floor. Most of the beds were unoccupied, but a few of them held people in various state of sickness. Gabriel counted three men and two women, all of whom, except for one of the women, were asleep. A priest was coming out of the back room of the tavern, a bowl of steaming soup in his hands, which he presented to the woman who was sitting up in her bed. Lear moved past the pair, who had settled into a conversation, and up the steps, beckoning for the rest to follow.
At the top of the stairs, Gabriel trailed Lear into a large room that with a bed in one corner and a circle of chairs in it’s center. Lear and the other men took seats and Gabriel followed suit. They sat quietly until Cailin walked in, accompanied by a priests that Gabriel recognized as higher ups from the temple.
“Well?” Lear demanded of Cailin.
“They have searched the entire town, there is no sign of him. Who was watching him?” It was Cailin’s turn to ask questions, and he did so of he priests that were assembled with him.
“Brother Geoffrey was watching the room. By his account, Father Meinos had requested some soup, and while Geoffrey was getting it, Meinos slipped out.”
“How does an old man who was already having trouble moving slip out unnoticed?” Lear stood up, knocking his chair over as he rose.
“Master Lear, calm down,” this from Cailin. “He was all of our friends.”
“I know. I have men out there searching. Gabriel and I will be heading farther south at high sun to try and find the original werewolf. Cailin, I will leave the rest of the men here. Keep a perimeter up and keep searching.”
“I will. Brother Samuel, how many have died so far?”
“We have committed five into the ground so far.”
“So a suitable site for an the orchard was found?”
“Yes, one of the dead was a farmer. We are using his field.”
“Good, did he have any family?”
“His wife is downstairs.”
“May they all rest and find solace in The One.” Gabriel said the traditional blessing for the dying, causing a round of curt nods from the priests.
A sour look crossed Lear’s face at the interruption until he saw the priests assent. “Yes, may they find solace.” Lear said to try and save face in case anybody had seen his momentary anger.
“When was Father Meinos last seen?” Gabriel continued.
Before Lear could object to the young man’s taking over of the meeting, Brother Samuel answered.
“It was near sunrise, so a few hours ago.”
Gabriel turned to Lear. “At the rate he walks, he could not have gotten far, especially if he is sick.”
“He fell ill last night young Master, it was just a fever when he left, but this bout of the Plague seems to move very fast, he has probably progressed to the shakes by now.”
“How long until he passes?” Lear exerted his control upon the conversation.
“What do you mean?” Gabriel asked.
“Gabriel,” Cailin said in a hushed tone, “a man of Meinos’ age can not expect to live through the Plague.”
“But he has to survive, who will take over his spot?”
“Brother Benedis is next in line to take over the Rectory.”
Benedis, who had been silent to this point, spoke up. “This is not the way I want to take the Rectory from the Father.”
“It is no longer in our hands. Gabriel, go get some provisions. We ride soon.”
Dismissed, Gabriel walked down the stairs as the lone awake woman began to shout.
“The wolves are here. The wolves are here to take me,” she shouted deliriously.