The village was like a valley of ghost as would be expected at this ungodly hour of the night. The lights in the houses were snuffed out and the shutters latch tight against the bitter midnight winds that had whipped out the torch lights in the streets. There was one house, a large blockish building with two floors, with lights still seeping from the cracks in its clumsy shutters. As we drew closer the sound of laughing and the smell of hot ale wafted welcoming through the door of the inn.
“This way.” I said dismounting and leading my horse into the dank stable; Lady Electron followed suit too tired to complain about the smell of the stable. I unlatched my saddle and instructed Electron to do the same.
“Here,” I dug into one of the pockets of my pack and pulled out my small wolves masks. It only covered the upper half of the face; I wore it when I didn’t need to look imposing. “Put this on.” I instructed but didn’t wait for her to comply before securing the mask on her face and tying the ribbon behind her head.
“This should work.” I said pull the hood of her cloak to hide her hair. I was glad she’d chosen a simple traveling cloak to wear.
“What is this for?” Electron asked finger the mask trying to distinguish which animal she wore on her face.
“To avoid gathering attention.”
She snorted. “This won’t gather attention?! My God dear Hunter you have a skewed sense of subtly, the animals must be deaf and blind to miss such a splendor as you.”
“Are you finished?”
“Yes.” Electron yawned.
“Good.” I said leading her from the stable. “Also don’t talk, that’ll defeat the purpose of the mask.”
Like an odd entry to a masquerade we entered the inn. Six men occupied four tables. Two of the men stared sleepily into their ale as one of the men rambled on about some ghost that haunted the roads. The remaining three watched the weathered storyteller fixedly.
"Now that is a sight the wolf walks in to the inn with the fox, now there is story to be told." Said the storyteller pausing his story and looking curiously at us.
Lady Electron gave me an exasperated look.
“We’re players.” She explained.
The storyteller smiled standing up.
“then we’ll have a lot in common, what do you play.”
“games.” Electron said mysteriously, walking towards the counter, behind which the innkeeper stood washing out mugs.
“What kind of games?” The storyteller asked.
“Two rooms.” I told the innkeeper. He nodded placing down his mug and rag and coming around the counter.
“Come,” I said taking Lady Electron by the elbow and leading her away.
“I’ll be seeing you around then, players.” The storyteller said as we followed the innkeeper up the stairs and to the rooms.
We got two rooms close together. I waited until I could hear the soft mundane scrub of the dirty rag against the mugs down below as the innkeeper resumed his task before I turned to Electron.
“My Lady, should I stand guard for you?” I asked.
Electron pulled off her mask so I could fully appreciate her mockingly raised eyebrow.
“You’re a hunter and a centaury?” she asked.
“If anything happens to you it’s my head on the chopping block.” I reminded simply.
“And we both know how much you love having headson your shoulders.” She gave a laughing smile.
“Good to sleep Hunter, I can take care of myself.”
“Good night.” I said softly closing the door behind her. I walked across the hall to my room and sat cross legged on the floor. I closed my eyes and listen to the sounds that echoed in the wall.
I listened first to Electrons movements in the room across the way as she readied herself for bed. I listened to the sound of her footsteps crossing the cracking wooden floor which announced the dispersion of weight from the floor to the bed with a silent moan as she climbed into bed. There came the soft sound of muffled clanking as she dragged her bag across the floor. A distinct crackling filled the room. It sounded like her power, I was almost sure she was using her power but then the noise stopped with a snap like a locket closing. After that the room fell into a soft hum of breathing and the rustling of blankets as Electron fell asleep.
I turned my attention to the noises rising from below.
Laughter was the first thing that met my ears.
“Go on tell another one.” Someone yelled through a drunken slur.
“I would but…” Began the storyteller, he had an unforgettable voice, silky smooth and engaging. As it were I could’ve sworn I’d heard it before.
“I know!” Another drunken voice called. “Another round!”
“Well let’s see, what would amuse you most.” The storyteller mused. “No it couldn’t be that one.” He added deliberately.
Like clockwork the men he spoke to asked.
“Well it’s a story about a goddess but your gentle men are far too sensible to crave a story about a woman, the most beautiful and elusive woman in the history of the world. Her story is hardly interesting, only lover.”
Apparently the men were not as sensible as the storyteller assumed for they demanded.
“Tell that one!” slamming the table in agreement.
“It is settled then.” I could hear the smile that quirked the storyteller’s lips. He was as much a con man as he was a storyteller.
“There once was a goddess, she lived in the moon and watched the nights pass in the human world beneath her and all her life she wished to climb down from her perch and live out all those nights that she’d witnessed. But there was only one creature that could convince the beauty to fall down to the earth. It was a white wolf. Common amongst the Russian snow but it was only one wolf that enchanted the goddess’ eye--”
I’d heard this story before and now I knew where I’d heard his voice, he was the storyteller who’d told Emperor Saber of the magical wolf, the man who Saber had killed.
I had to know if this was really him, or maybe just another gypsy who knew the same story. I climbed to my feet, I pulled off my wolf mask and changed into the shabbiest clothes I had and wrapped by bare feet in torn cloth. I slung my pack over my shoulders and opened the window. I surveyed the wall for hand holds charting my way down for beginning my climb down. I landed silently in the snow before sneaking around to the front of the inn. I pushed the door open once more.
“It was the wolf from the legend,” the storyteller was saying.
I walked across the common room to the innkeeper as the storyteller continued his tale.
“Hot ale.” I told the innkeeper.
He nodded disappearing into his small kitchen.
I returned my attention to the storyteller.
“…she is never really prey fro not can truly track her but instead she tracks them. And that hunter like the others before him died in pursuit of the wolf by the hands of the goddess who protects her child.” The storyteller paused in his rapture to survey his audience he made a disapproving noise. They were more consumed by their drink then by his story.
“here.” The innkeeper said returning with my drink.
“Thank you.” I said taking my drink and waking my way over to a vacant table near the fireplace.
“Traveling far?” I looked up as the storyteller made his way over to me and casually took the seat across from me.
“Returning home.” I liked the way that sounded.
“Mmm, the best part of a journey.” He paused thoughtfully. “Which reminds me of a marvelous story I once heard, about a trail that would only appear at midnight.” He waited for me to invite him to tell further but I didn’t.
I scanned his face carefully. He hardly looked human, his skin was smooth and a dark olive color. Around his eyes Gypsy marks were branded onto his face and he wore peasant jewelry. His face as bearded and his eyes were a cold gray, the hardly seemed to house a person only stories.
“I’ve seen you before.” I said.
He smiled pleasantly.
“What is your name? I’m better with names than I am with faces.” He asked.
“You wouldn’t know me.” I insisted. “You were in the market place being executed.”
A cunning smile spread across his face.