Dechar rejoiced when he was able to hear that the men had given up their search for Oliana. But not a moment after, an eerie scream echoed through the forest. He knew immediately to whom it belonged and was doubly dismayed. Is she alright? he wondered. And then, with a shudder, Will I ever see her again?
The general was up in arms. “Is there not one competent man in the lot of you? You can’t catch up to a teenage girl? And now, judging from that scream, her corpse is likely down in the chasm! One of us will have to search for the body, and since I can’t trust any of you idiots, I’ll do it my damn self!”
All the army had fallen deathly silent. “Gordon,” he addressed one of the archers. “If I’m not back by sunup, take the wolf to the king and let him know that I will bring him his chief, dead or alive.”
One of the soldiers nodded. “Yes, sir.”
The general began to leave, then stopped himself and turned around. His words were slow and calculated, his rage buried but unsubdued.
“Which among you is the troll I told to search the girl?”
One of the trolls looked from side to side, then raised his hand. “It was me what done it, sir. I searched the lady.”
“Is that so?”
“Yes, sir general, sir,” said the troll, an ignorant smile on his face. “Patted her down and all that.” He gestured with his large grey mitts.
“When you patted her down, did you check under her cloak to see if she had weapons?”
The troll’s smile faded. “Well no, sir. I just felt.”
“Your hands are too goddamn big to feel around properly, you slipshod fool! I told you to SEARCH!”
“I-- I’m sorry, general. It won’t happen again.”
“It most assuredly will not,” said the general, feigning forgiveness. “Will you hand me that axe over there, now?”
The troll’s ugly smile returned. “Yes, sir. You can count on me.” He fetched the weapon and laid it in the general’s hands.
“Thank you. You are truly an example to the rest of this company,” said the general. He took the axe and sliced the troll’s head clean off. “Truly an example,” he raised his voice so that all could hear him as the body thumped to the ground. “Now, gentlemen, I will take my leave and finish this business you have so fantastically bungled.”
Morning came with no sign of the general. That’s a good thing, Dechar told himself. Means she’s still out there. The small army packed up camp and took to the road again. About half a day’s walk and they had finally reached the castle and its surrounding city. It rose up in the midst of a large clearing, several high towers crowned with sharp spires. Like blades, Dechar thought.
The city was no place for a greywolf. People gasped in awe at the giant beast as he was escorted by the soldiers through the cobblestone streets. “Stay back, children,” he could hear a woman say. A soft rain began to fall.
The company passed along the edge of a large stone courtyard where a crowd had gathered. Dechar could see a line of nooses, each liberally fastened around necks of faceless citizens whose heads were concealed in black cloth. A guard was speaking out into the crowd from atop the gallows, but Dechar could not make out his words. A few moments after the battalion had passed through, Dechar could hear a snap behind him accompanied by the cries of the throng. He could not say whether they were of disgust or support.
The castle doors were well within sight now. “You two men, come with me and watch the wolf. The rest of you are dismissed,” Gordon said. The company disbanded as Dechar was cautiously escorted to the castle entrance.
The large wooden doors creaked open to reveal an opulent throne room of ebony and gold. The long, wide hall before the throne was lined with carpet and lit with sconces. At the very back of this immense room, a middle aged man sat isolated on the royal chair.
Upon seeing his face, Dechar became horrified and confused. It was identical to that of the late Chief Zolan’s, save for a hideous scar coating the absence of much of his right lower jaw.