"The giant trees are bending
Their bare boughs weighed with snow ;
The storm is fast descending,
And yet I cannot go." The Night is Darkening Around Me, Emily Bronte
Soul piercing, unimaginable pain wracked his body. Was he in hell?
He smelt the fresh morning dew before feeling the icy bite of frost, the sun bleaching his lids a pale yellow. He tried to open his eyes, but the images that flashed through his brain made his head hurt even more. Slowly, he managed to do it, his vision blurred, the outer edges a dark red. His breathing rattled his ribcage which ached, there was even a sharpness there. The breath rose feebly into the air.
Above him he could see the cliff edge. He must have fallen onto a crag that jutted out from the sheer cliff face. And poking it's head from the edge was a head silhouetted against the lightening sky. He was going to die. Whether from blood loss or starvation, it was bound to be.
With what strength he could muster, he tried to call out to the demon but all that came out was a hoarse whisper.
"P-please, end it," the thing cocked it's head, "please!" the words cost much pain to whisper, let alone shout, but they were needed.
In moments it had picked up a rock and dropped it.
Through the windows, a faint shaft of dusty light spilled into the tavern as birds began to call to each other, spreading some news unknown. Mr Lord picked his way through tables, pulling chairs off the tops and setting them up. He yawned, placing his arm over his mouth and wiping his face. Tiredly, he walked to the door and unlocked it.
Meanwhile, up the stairs, three doors down the corridor lay Brakken on his bed. He sat up, his eyes redder and more bruised than usual. All night he had slept very little. He found it impossible. Not so much from some strange affliction, but the terrible dreams that cursed him, these were dreams that were different from the usual. Dreams of death that seemed to stress his foggy mind.
There was a slight shuffling from the door. At first glance he noticed nothing, but when he looked down, he saw a small, folded note on the ground. He moved from the bed and picked up the crinkled paper. Quickly he opened the door and saw nothing. He closed it again and sat down at his desk. In one swift swipe from his finger, he opened it and scanned it quickly.
"To the future Protector,
Now I am gone, it is up to you to lead all into safety.
Though you may shun your responisibilities, I can ensure you that soon you shall come to realise your power and you shall lead indeed.
Within my room lie several notable items that will help push you in the right direction and aid your fated obstacles.
The past Protector,
Brakken marvelled at the astonishment of the note. It felt so strange and silly. Fanciful notions of fate and power were lost when it came to him. What sort of crazed man was he? had this fool seen too much of life?
Yet deep down something stirred within him.
Just then there was scuffling on the landing outside.
He tore the door open so fast that Mrs Lord almost dropped her tray of empty plates and glasses. A thought occured to him once more.
"Ah, just who I wanted to see," he looked about him, "tell me, has anyone been in Mr Wards room?" the Landlady shook her head, her flustered face returning to her usual complexion, "make sure nobody does please," he placed a coin on her tray and rushed past her down the stairs.
He entered the main room which was still empty of patrons except the man with the dog. The bar was deserted, Mr Lord must have been out the back.
That was fine, he could wait. Instead he turned his attention towards the only other person in the room. Now that it was lighter, he could make out a little more of the hooded man's features. He wore thick soled boots caked with mud up to his knees and on his legs he wore breeches. The folds of his cloak slipped down to the ground but enfolded his torso. The hood, whilst shadowing his upper face, revealed his square chin covered in bristly beard and smiling lips and the long waves of dark hair falling along his shoulders. He looked unshaven. All in all Brakken knew he had money, but he was also a man who knew tough times regularly. Clearly this man had been on a long hunt.
His dog looked even taller and more silvery in daylight and whilst it had a scruffy appearance, Brakken could see, even from the way it sat braced, how well trained it was.
This man sat oiling his rifle when Brakken approached. One twinkle in his eyes let Brakken know he'd been acknowledged. The man raised his gun, thought for a second, then turned and placed it on the table.
"How may I help you?" it was a very gruff voice.
"I've travelled a lot, but never seen a dog like that, what is it?" Brakken was thinking far too much to try and make sense of things, so he needed a distraction.
"A wolfhound, got this gal in Ireland and boy was it a good decision. Been with me a while she has an' got a lot o' stories to tell of it. Once time in the America's, she took out three wolves that had us surrounded. Was a damn cold winter so you can bet the buggers were just desperate but still-"
"Oh, and what were you doing in America?"
"A sec mind, let me finish," he looked slightly peeved at the interruption but carried on all the same, "so she took the wolves and there we were, middle of a blizzard in the forests when we finally found our friend in a clearing. There he was surrounded by red snow an' a lil pack o' feisty wolves, an' the alpha done seen us. So he comes over, all snappy as you like, an' my gal 'ere goes to meet him. Well he tries to do her in, but you aint ever seen a bitch bite as hard as my Silver. She had his throat, as you blink, and the rest of the pack cleared out. Got a few coins for the pelts but it cost me a very good, very old friend of mine."
"Sad story," Brakken looked down at Silver. It was hard to tell how old she was, how long the pair had been together. "But I have to ask, why do you wear hood?"
"Oh aye, most people wouldn't bother asking, just guess I had a flair for drama. Well, once time me an' Silver," she barked at her name, "fact near the time of that story I just told. We were chasing the wolves for that friend of mine when we came across a cave. The snow had just started so we figured to stay a while in there. Bad move. I should have known it was a bears cave but it came at me in the dark. First it went for Silver but I actually threw her out the way. In the end Silver actually killed the bastard but not before it did this..." he pulled down the hood to reveal three long white lines that had torn from his nose to his lower left cheek. It had come very close to an eye. The tracker leaned over and stroked Silver. She turned her head and licked his scars affectionately. "We'd been to visit my ol' hunter friend, taught me how to make some real sturdy traps he did. He was a decent, honest as you like English hunter who wanted to see what he could find in America. But that new country took 'im." he trailed off as his mind got to thinking.
"I knew a hunter," Brakken looked down as he smiled, "African woods, we were looking for a monster that had been killing villagers. Well we found it, a big black cat as quick as the wind howling through the trees, but it was much quieter. It caught the trackers arm. The wound was so bad he had to cut it off."
At that moment Mr Lord came through the door. Brakken politely excused himself.
Mr Lord leaned against the counter, breathing heavily. Brakken stepped in front of him and he jumped in terror. He breathed even harder for a minute.
"What on earth are you doing?"
"You look much the worse for ware," the barman let out a heavy laugh that shook his paunch.
"Yup, cut some firewood."
"Well, I need to speak to you," Brakken urged, "did anyone leave here last night?"
"Just Mr Ward, sir," the man replied.
"Did you hear any sounds, anything that implies somebody else came in or out-"
"Well now you mention it... I did hear the strangest thud last night, but it was outside. Like somebody had thrown their wardrobe outside."
"What state was Mr Ward in when he went?" he interrogated.
"What's with all the questions?" but he withered under Brakkens gaze, "erm, suicidal is the closest I can think of... he knew he would probably die but went anyway," but before Brakken could say anything, he held out his hand, "and I think he was talking with somebody too, though I didn't see who," he stared at Brakken conspiratorially, "you reckon it was the murderer?" he seemed pleased with himself at coming to this conclusion.
"No," Brakken said simply, "now ready yourself, we are bound to hear of the death of the man."
The Lady came down then with her maid as Mrs Lord came bustling down the stairs to clean her pots. As she was about to leave, Mr Whitely came down as well, and the door burst open.
"Mr Ward is dead!" the voice of the Forrester boomed through the tavern.