Carrey and Ernst drew apart and faced each other. Ernst’s eyes were dark with caution, his hand resting on the hilt of the knife on his hip as he snorted through his nose. Carrey had his hands up, palms outwards as he met Ernst’s gaze. The cut on his cheek bled, but he ignored it.
Both of the men recognised a capable opponent.
The door to the inn opened and a round-shouldered man, with limp hair and a bald spot on his crown sloped out, buckling his sword belt around his ample waist. His eyes were unfocused and his broken smile suggested violence.
Ernst sighed and gestured in the man’s direction.
‘Shall we do this over a drink?’ he said.
Carrey lowered his hands and smirked.
‘Good idea.’ he said.
The man walked past them, slurring and staggering as he called for his horse.
Carrey paid for the first round as they took a table in the darkest corner of the inn.
‘What’s your interest?’ Ernst said
Carrey sipped from the tankard and set it down, ran the tip of his tongue over his lips before he spoke.
‘A hunter came through these woods. Golden hair. Have you seen him?’
Ernst laughed and shook his head.
‘I won’t be specific.’ he said.
Carrey pressed his teeth together and scratched his chin.
‘My queen sent me out to find him.’ he said.
Ernst drained the contents of his horn and belched.
‘Both of us had errands.’ he said
Ernst’s voice had dropped in volume. Carrey leaned forwards to listen.
‘I completed mine.’ Ernst said.
Carrey furrowed his forehead, swallowed as he thought of further questions to ask the hunter.
‘He is important to the queen.’ Carrey said.
Ernst snorted and took another swallow of ale.
‘He’s important to the regent.’ he said.
Carrey surged with frustration, coughing against the acrid aftertaste of the ale as he clasped his hands together.
‘And this thing you’ve clapped in cold iron?’ he said.
Ernst scratched his beard and whistled under his breath.
‘I follow orders, same as you.’ Ernst said.
Carrey got to his feet and tossed another coin onto the table. He sighed and gazed at the man sat across from him.
‘I will follow mine. I hope it doesn’t make us at cross purposes.’ Carrey said.
Ernst cackled and raised his horn in farewell.
‘I look forward to seeing you again, my friend.’
Carrey heard the word ‘friend’ but he was uncertain if it was a threat or a mutual recognition. The customers of the inn carried on but Carrey left, stiff and bristling with tension as Ernst finished his ale.
Ernst waited until Carrey had saddled his horse and was about to depart before he darted outside.
‘I would recommend sending an envoy.’ he said.
Carrey gripped the reins of his horse and stared at Ernst. He gave a terse nod and struck his heels against the flanks of his horse, riding out at an urgent pace to pass on the news.
He rode without stopping until he was at the castle gates. Eilhu had not returned, and he steeled himself to pass on his information to Mirabelle.
Carrey hoped she took after her father.
Cold iron burned on contact. The stench of burning hair hung in the air and concentric scars littered his thick forearms as proof of his efforts. He did not cry out, suppressing his cries by lowering his chin to his chest and gritting his teeth.
He slept often. Dreams were a place of great power but here he met impenetrable, cold darkness and a paralysis which forced him awake. They had learned from the lesson of his escape but he had never meant harm to people.
The Wild Man knew himself and he sought it in others. Eilhu burned with the power and he saw glimpses of it in the surrounding people.
The man who came to his cell suffered from a deficit of it. He exuded black waves of freezing, coruscating energy with each heartbeat and sat there, watching The Wild Man and asking questions.
Today had been different. The Wild Man sensed a familiar presence, just beyond the reach of his senses and it gave him hope. A familial reunion had been on the cards, something to encourage once Eilhu had addressed his inner conflicts, but this was different.
The Wild Man was not alone. There were forces abroad which he feared, even those consigned to stories and some of them had not gone without a fight. They waited, much as he did.
Someone had called them here and he feared the reasons.