Sleep seemed unlikely that night, for my mind was consumed by the memories of the past. I rolled out of the mattress, too careful not to wake up Alvin or Eda by my side, and tiptoed to the corner of our tiny room. Clear night vision was hereditary to us, but I’ve heard that it was very strong among the wolf-bounds. Reaching for an old wooden trunk, I released the hasps and pulled the lid open. It contained some of my valued belongings. I dug through the layer of smocks and few woollen cloaks to find my old bear-clothing.
Bear fur was one of the priced clothing materials in our land. Made of the rich, honey coloured fur from the bears in the wild and sewed into a costume, with a hood and tail attached so that it mimicked a baby-bear. There were two different sizes—one, I remembered wearing when I was in Higansville, living with my foster family, and the other was quite smaller in size.
A shiver ran down my spine as I picked up the large one. I was wearing it on the day the ruby eyed man showed up in Peralhallow. I am not sure, but it could be a reason why I was not killed by him that day, because he thought I was an animal. I hugged the furred clothing against my chest. My foster father had told me that before it was my bear-dress it used to be my Alpha Father’s cloak.
My foster parents were Underlings, and used to work for a merchant in Pearlhallow. It was just like any other day that he, along with my foster mother, and their son and I, had taken the merchant’s pet snow foxes for a walk on the ice-capped banks of Pearl Sea. Only it was not.
I smoothed my hands over the silky fur. A fleeting thought of the people who were described to be similar to the ruby-eyed man being found at Smallmav passed my mind, making me flinch.
It was not until we had decided to leave that the ruby-eyed man had leapt down from a tree by the banks of the sea, and charged towards us. The first thing I knew was the anxious barking and gekkering of the foxes. Second thing I saw was Nathan—my foster brother—who was a wolf-bound, growling at the approaching stranger. Before the nine year me could realise what was happening, I was being trampled by the flurried foxes running for their lives. Their weight shoved along their way as they bolted away from the scene. By the impact, I was thrown rolling down the snow and fell into one of the fox-burrows.
As I struggled to get out of the burrow, I saw him grab Nathan by his neck and lift him up like a dry stalk. Nathan’s growls grew louder. But this time, they were more troubled than furious. The wolf in him was trying to shift. But he was only a boy of fourteen, barely capable to fight that man... that creature... or whatever it was. Nathan threshed in his hands as the man dug his face into his throat and bit him. My foster parents screamed and threw the frost at him. I saw my father beat him frantically with a stick. But he didn’t let go of Nathan until long. Finally when he did, Nathan was limp and soaked in the red of his own blood. The man discarded his body as if he was throwing away a bone after having feasted on the meat.
Fear gripped me as I saw him seize my mother by her arms. I ducked my head and pushed myself inside the tiny hole. I stayed there, not daring to move, not even daring to breathe out my choked sobs. I didn’t move. Even as my parents’ fretful screams turned to painful shrieks, and eventually deadened into death. The night seemed to last forever... while I stayed inside the burrow shaking in fear, half awake—half feverish, for what I remember to be an unbearable eternity.
“As you sow, so you shall reap,” as usual, Avila was murmuring to herself when I sat down with a loaf of bread in my plate.
I had woken up late. The rest of the menials were almost done with their meal and were rushing off to begin the day’s work. Only the slow-eater, Juliana, was still stirring the stew in her bowl.
“What is she mumbling about, now?” I asked Juliana after Avila had left the tiny dining space.
“Those creatures at Smallmav—the older women were gossiping that they were sent by the elder spirits of the land, to punish the miscreants.”
“That doesn’t even make sense,” said Eda, who was washing the dishes by the corner.
Juliana took a sip of her stew. “The last time they came, they had maimed the former Knight of... I think it was Higansville... I am not sure—but what is more important is that... this Knight was known to be a traitor of his pack—” she lowered her voice abruptly, “During the pack-war with the Eloise. The real Alpha was ambushed and killed, making him the new Alpha-Knight under the Eloise rule. They say he betrayed the Alpha by allying with the Eloise. That is why he was punished by the spirits for his misdeeds.”
As much as I wanted to believe her, and feel a sense of contentment knowing what came upon Lester Thorne were retributions for backstabbing my Father, I knew it was not the truth. “Before he was killed, those creatures had killed many innocent folk. The Knight was killed when he was in the hunt for those creatures inside Higanwoods.”
However, the only thing I could not wrap their head around was the fact that the creatures had disappeared from the face of the earth soon after Lester Thorne’s death.
I chewed on the bread absently. The man in the Pearlhallow was not alone. People around Higansville had seen five to six more of them. They hid inside the woods during the day and went on a killing rampage about the towns in the night. They were fast and forbidding, and most of all, more vile and barbaric than the werewolves in their own land.
“They disappeared after... having done with their job,” Juliana added, stressing on her point. She dropped the spoon into the bowl, eager all of a sudden. “If that is what it is. Who do you think they are after now?”
“There is no dearth of evil people in this land,” said Eda. “The rich merchants have erred, the Knights have become corrupt and heartless, and the folk with strong wolves abuse the weak ones and gloat over their pain.”
“And then there is the root cause of all,” I mumbled under my breath. The root-cause meant the Eloise Royals. They were the reason for such unrest in the land. Before the Eloise, no one cared for the copper bills or Mitzel ores that were now seen as wealth. The Alphas were kindly leaders who lead the pack in peace and harmony. There were no orders like noble and menials. There was no distinction of strong and weak wolves and everyone lived in togetherness. The Underlings were treated better if not equal to the wolf-bounds.
The Eloise misused magic to bring down other packs and held the reins of the land. There was no greater evil than the old Eloise wolves in whole of Farmav.
I felt a pang of pain when I thought about Quin. It wasn’t him. He shouldn’t be paying for his family’s wrongs. Sometimes, I really did wish he was a pin-maker rather than an heir to a lineage that had blood of hundreds in their hands.
“Margery Becc!” called Avila, standing by the entrance of the dining space. Her face was stiff. “He says you have been wanted by the King’s council,” she announced in distaste.
I swallowed the dry bread and stared at her as if she had spoken in some language unknown to me. Really, what did she mean by wanted by the King’s council. I looked at the ‘he’ that she was referring to. The messenger was a castle guard. He was standing behind Avila, in the hallway and awaiting me.
Eda elbowed my arm and I dropped the last piece of bread back to the plate.
“I think you should go with him?”
I rose hesitantly, wondering what the King’s council wanted with me.
Avila frowned when I neared her. “Don’t run your tongue in front of the Royals,” she muttered. She leaned in and looked keenly over my face, as if she was searching something. Then, she adjusted my headdress so it came down to my forehead, covering my hairline. It was uncomfortable. I received a quick smack on the back of my palm when I went to raise it back up. “Keep it low,” she added, “avoid looking into their eyes, and mostly say—you don’t remember much of what happened in Higensville. Understand?”
I nodded earnestly. Pulling myself together, I stepped out to the hallway to join the guard, and then, with my head down, followed him all the way to the council hall of the castle.