Once again, they were on the move. The squall had died. The deep snow was almost all drunk up by the hungry roots of the trees. Who clearly crept up on the men overnight, taking the glade away. But the cold still lingered, and a heavy fog pervaded the forest, and so too did it penetrate Wulfrik’s heart and mind.
That long night, Wulfrik didn’t sleep again. For fear of those waiting in his dreams. The dead. Before then, he’d seen them every night, but never so… vivid, thought Wulfrik. And a light sleeper like him, would wake even up to the rustle of wind, had he not heard that chilling screech. However brief. A wail, accompanied by the lamentation of a buzzard. Not far in the distance. Nevertheless, it wasn’t the man’s restlessness which worried Reuben.
Before they departed, Reuben woke and found his brother’s bandages removed, his fractured skull fully healed, with only the dried drips of blood as evidence that it did ever exist. But furthermore, it was not Wulfrik’s rapid mending that made Reuben unsettle. As the Brothers of Purgatory marched ever onward, Wulfrik acted strangely. Contrary to normal.
He walked carelessly. Taking long jaunty strides as if walking on air. Through the mist, without peering through it. Without trepidation. And he actually hummed now and then. Reuben didn’t know the tune, nor did he want to, for the melody sounded solemn. Reuben was almost scared when Wulfrik brought up a bout of song. Yet still, this did not trouble Reuben the most.
His insomnia, his regeneration, his haphazardry, and even his glee, especially on their own would have been fine enough. But every so often, he saw Wulfrik glaring at Reuben, Awfully. As if out of hatred. Coupled with everything else, it seemed a cause for alarm.
Nearing his brother Reuben asked, “Wulf… are you… alright?”
Wulfrik answered naturally, “You and I have been hired to hunt down a witch, and so we’re in the woods doing just that. I think alright is subjective.”
“I mean, are you feeling well? That witch… did some damage.”
“Yes. I can’t even remember exactly where I was hit. The pain is completely gone!”
True enough, when Reuben looked for himself, he couldn’t see a wound, or cut, or bump, or even a scar. When he looked, he half-wondered if it was ever there.
“Are you sure?”
“I’m fine, Reuben. But I’m beginning to suspect that you may not be. Why so concerned?”
Reuben smirked, “Nevermind. If you’re alright then…”
As Reuben went ahead, Wulfrik scowled again. Thinking ill of him as he did during the night. And he was more self-assured as ever that a girl had saved him. Not a miracle, nor a witch, nor even a dæmon’s will. It was an angel whose scent was sweet, whose touch was kind, and whose heart was deep and sombre. And Reuben durst call call her witch?
Slowly Wulfrik felt his hand go for his sword in its scabbard. Trembling, as he wrapped his fingers around the pommel. As he evoked sharpened steel from the sheath, as quietly as a mouse could take a shit, Reuben turned around and saw him. And the sword at the ready.
“Wulfrik? Do you sense something?”
Instantly looking down to Harvest, with an expression reminiscent to a man mown down, Wulfrik muttered, “Yes, I… suppose I did.”
Only, he hadn’t meant to draw his scythe at all. He had done so subconsciously.
“Oh, fucking fog. Fucking witch,” said Reuben, while he readied his knives.
I did suggest as much, did I not? Wulfrik asked himself. Was it not I who told him a witch can change her form? Don the face of either a goddess or crone. Wear a hunch or halo, if she did choose? Or another creature yet. Wolf or doe. Hare or crow. Common trickery used by witches.
But no! She could not be. No hag or hex, nor cold auspex. Not harridan, trot or enchantress, neither beldame, slattern or sorceress! She was a gypsy, or a druid, or maybe even a wood nymph. Perhaps, a charmer. But then, thought Wulfrik, what pretty young lass isn’t?
Brooding all of this; entranced by a young woman whose name he didn’t know, Wulfrik decided he must change his younger brother’s mind. How he would accomplish it however was the question.
“Reuben,” began Wulfrik.
“Stop for a moment.”
“I… want to tell you about my second witch hunt.”
Mid-step, he stopped to comprehend the words that left Wulfrik’s mouth. Words Reuben couldn’t believe he had heard. Willingly, the man from Roktar was about to tell a story of his past. Almost sceptically, Reuben replied “Really?”