Wyatt awoke to the tangy twinge of iron in his mouth, his lips sticky. He didn’t know what had happened but he felt clinging fur on his chest. Jumping and thrashing thinking the beast was still on him. He tried to free himself from the heavy musky blanket crushing him. There was some yelling in the distance he couldn’t understand. Terror drove him like a wild animal kicking and tearing at the heavy corpse until finally he was able to worm his way out from under it. Once free he scrambled backward until he banged into the heavy timber wall of the tavern. The impact must have shaken something loose for at that moment he realized it was dead. He stared at dull black eyes and a massive red tongue lolling out of its mouth. Wyatt’s head dropped between his knees and he vomited all over himself.
The world swirled like a dark storm as he sat there spinning. He couldn’t fight it when he suddenly felt himself heaved upward. His toes dragged along the floor as he was carried off.
Light off the fire flickered and hot tendrils of air licked his cheeks. Eyes cracked and blurry fire mites performed for him, dancing and leaping in the flames. Another pop, and he was awake. Wait…he rolled over, the bear-skin rug was warm beneath him…
Leaping from the rug he skipped and fumbled until collapsing on the floor. His heart pounded so hard it hurt his ribs. Shadows pranced along the walls as he tried to get his bearings. Muffled voices came from below. He noted a small, neatly made bed in the corner, wash basin and dresser and realized he must be in a room at the inn. Someone must have brought him up there after the attack from those things. It sounded like an argument was going on downstairs.
Rising from the floor Wyatt noted his body’s complaints with a grimace. His legs felt as if he’d just finished a back to back of the Spring event. The trials never punished him this badly. His forehead felt tight and his hand brushed against a flaky, cracked scab covering gash in his scalp. He found stitches under his blood caked brown hair. More exploration revealed another set across his ribs, almost fifty in all. His left hand was dressed as well, it was tender to the touched but it still worked.
Slowly, like an old decrepit man he inched his way down the two flights of stairs, the railing ended in a jagged mess six steps from the bottom. Negotiating the destruction with his battered body was and excruciating exercise. The light hurt his eyes and he put a dressed hand up to shield them. There were maybe twenty people crowding the remains of a wide oak bar. The arguing abruptly ceased. Hushed whispers snaked through the air. All eyes were on him.
From behind the bar stepped Mrs. Darrow. A large woman wrapped in a soot-blackened dress. She gently checked his wounds.
“Didn’t ‘xpect ta see you so soon Wyatt, ya alright?” she asked, her hand feeling his forehead.
“A bit sore mam,” he answered, “Where are my folks?”
The plump woman shot a nervous look back toward the bar. Out of the crowd came O’Hare, his father’s cousin. Wyatt had never seen him without a beaming wild grin shooting out from his thick red beard until this moment.
“Come with me son,” he said taking him by the shoulder.
There were at least a dozen pyres poised for remembrance on the hill at the end of the village. Many wept and prayed at the feet of the deceased. O’Hare said nothing as they walked through the village. Even when Wyatt faltered at the foot of the hill O’Hare remained silent; his firm grip on Wyatt’s shoulder gently pushed him on.
Wyatt stood silent, head bowed in front of three waist high pyres. Numb, Wyatt stared at the three shrouds. They were tightly wrapped so he could not see what had truly happened. His father and mother lay to either side of Nina, his little sister. Glistening white cloth streamers connected the three bodies. He stared at them, his mind distant, coldly replaying his last memory of them. His father had been hurt, but he was alive. His mother and Nina had stood amongst the rubble, not a scratch on them. How?
“You killed the creature that attacked your father though from what we can figure as you were fighting in the tavern, more entered your home. That’s where we found them.”
They were just preparing for supper…“Did you get the beast that did this?” Wyatt growled.
O’Hare sighed and kicked at a rock, “They escaped us,” he replied hoarsely.
“What were they?” Wyatt asked.
“Don’t know, never seen anything like it.” The older man’s voice faltered.
“How many did they kill?”
O’Hare coughed clearing his throat, “The twelve here, three more are still missing, Bennet, Fiino, and the Bruche girl.”
Wyatt nodded slowly, his burning eyes were locked on the three funeral pyres. Slowly, he limped to each one starting with Nina then his mother and finally to his father. He kissed each one softly on the forehead then stepped back. Wyatt’s eyes flowed like the twin rivers and he could barely breathe. After a long moment he took up an unlit torch and flint from the base of his father’s pyre.
At the center of the three pyres he knelt. He lit the torch and bowed his head. It wasn’t until the dressing on his left hand began smoldering did he finally stand and step to Nina’s pyre. Gently the flames caressed the kindling until it ignited. He lit his father’s last, laying the torch at his feet.
“Find your way safely home and be welcome back to the source from which we come.” Wyatt prayed for their souls. He stayed with them until the heat of the three engulfed pyres forced his retreat. O’Hare was standing stoically as he watched three gray-white plumes commingle and the disappeared into the night.
“I leave at dawn,” Wyatt said softly. He did not wait for the older man to object.
To be continued…
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