18. Resolve

Talking with, more listening to, the animate man, the wizened priest nodes solemnly. Daniel’s expressive arms attempt to reenact his story, swinging wildly around his head to punctuate every injustice he’d suffered. Now and again, the avenging priest makes a quick bob of his head, ducking under Daniel’s unwary hands.

“She’s a witch, I think,” Daniel rails. “Wouldn’t be surprised if she’s in cahoots with the monster.” The priest’s wandering eyes study the landscape behind this bore as he tries to think up a way of quitting Daniel’s company. The ex-pig farmer goes on. “When I got home, she and this giant grey wolf were there, the wolf standing on two legs like a man.”

“Indeed,” the priest drawls, holding out the last syllable as his companion talks over him.

“I’m glad you’re here,” he goes on. “We tried a hunter, and that didn’t work. Idiot got himself killed.” Daniel paid no attention to the sudden stiffness of his audience, or the cold, exasperated exhale. “Nah, what we need is someone like you, someone who holds sway over these things.”

Daniel had managed to say exactly the wrong thing.

Something in the countenance of the priest finally makes its way to Daniel. Stopping short, his next words catch in his throat. Under his veil, the priest’s eyes alight with passion, the glowing spheres shining through the thin white material. Taking cautious steps backward, Daniel ends his arms jittering dance, bringing them into a protective position between him and the old man.

Pulling off his hood, the priest uncovers his aged face. The pale prickly hair, still growing around his temples and the back of his head, seem made of the same stock as that of his neatly trimmed beard. His bald dome reflects the rising sun, with the exception of a few dark liver spots. The bristly eyebrows, bent in fury, overhang the beaming luminance of his eyes.

In a measured voice, evincing the old man’s rage in its slow controlled manner, the priest railed: “You filthy dung heap. You stand here peddling off your self-ingratiating lies as complements toward me, and have the gall, the audacity, to insult those sent to aid you and your town, to despise one who died trying to help you. Whatever foul end this poor girl you bought found with this monster, I am sure she counts as a blessing when compared to living under your tyranny. The greatest tragedy that night seems to be that you escaped the monster alive.”

The priest would have gone on, except the man turned and fled. Dropping his thin arms to his sides, the old man sighs, exhausted with deep sorrow. Sitting upon the plank-wood sidewalk, he thinks upon the late Richard.

Contemplating the always questioning, prying, poking child he knew, the rebellious youth trying to overcome the pain of surviving his parents at the age of nine, the old priest remembers his many admonishments to the lad, compelling the boy into the priesthood. It had all been for naught: though Richard would have been an exemplary priest, his blood, his birth, drew him to this fatal end. Like father, like son, the priest reflects, they died in the service.

Pulling him from his bitter reminiscing, the slender spearman seats himself beside the priest. With a mute node of his head, the hunter agrees with the old man. Each chosen for their connection to Richard, the avengers comprised of those closest to the late hunter, the spearman also reflects on a life taken too soon.

Images flash in this hunter’s mind of a young acolyte carrying his father’s crossbow. The weapon was comically too large for the boy, and yet he mastered it. Richard was the only apprentice the spearman had ever taken.

The two sat there, steeling their resolve with tender memories. Wherever this wolf hid, wherever it fled, they would not rest until it was dead.

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