I scrutinised the Mitzel stick held between my fingers. The night was chilly in the Oak copse. The windy ambience of the copse was shrouded from the moonlight by the dense verdure, so were Quin and I from the scouring eyes of the castle guards. They rarely looked past the moat, even if they did, Quin would exert his princely powers over them, and have them forget that there was a copse to the west of the castle, if he wanted. I was only concerned about the Luna.
Luna Hersent Eloise had her own mysterious ways to know the happenings around the land. My best guess was she that she had her spies planted across the territories. However as our little copse wasn’t one of those places her spies would poke their noses, she would be up in arms if she ever found out.
“It comes as a matte-white ore initially,” said Quin, as he played with the tourmaline-crystal pin I had just finished making, laying down on the mound to my side. “They add tin to get that dull shine.”
I looked up at him and then at the stick. A slow sensation of warmth was seeping out from it. I didn’t think it was normal for a metal. But then, I didn’t know many things about the expensive ones.
“Make it special, Marge. That stick is worth thousand bills... I know you can do the best piece if you set your heart on it... make me something memorable,” Quin demanded.
I sighed and reclined against trunk of the Oak tree. This was going to take long. Personally, I did not like putting on ornaments or any knick-knack accessories. But the metal in my hand was something different. I thought it was an interesting thing. It sure had some sort of impact on the artisan inside me. I suddenly wanted to make it look more aesthetic—something worth its cost.
“I hope you give it to someone worth too,” I muttered.
“Worth thousand bills. Hmm...” he pressed the tourmaline pin against his cheek, thinking hard.
“Is it that hard to find a girl like that?”
“You’d know if you were a Prince.”
“I thought you were just a pin-maker.” I peered inside the pouch, pressuring my night-vision to take in the contents. I pondered as which accessories would help in making the plain stick memorable. The tiny pearls felt right, then a polished filigree of a Lily petal. Lastly, my eyes caught the only jade crystal, of trigonal shape, lying there, wanting to be found. It was the same colour as Quin’s eyes.
This would be indeed something memorable.
The Mitzel sick was still emitting the warmth into my fingers. I wound the nickel string around one end of the crystal and set it aside. Quin began to hum as he watched me glue the pearls to the edges of the Lily filigree with gum tree resin. His words had a lilt. It was a song from his native territory—the land in the far north-east, now headed by Ortrich Eloise’s eldest. I smiled at his strange sounding accent as I glued the filigree over the Mitzel stick, then, fastened it again with a nickel string to assure longevity—that, if the girl did not jump to break it to sell the Mitzel as soon as he turned his back to her. Lastly,securing the nickel string with the dangling jade crystal into the hollow of the filigree, I was done.
I held the finished pin up, well pleased with my own creation. Quin sat up on the mound, eager to take a look.
“It is lovely, Marge,” he said, with a proud smile on his lips. I handed it over to him. He received it with careful hands, as if it were a newborn.
In the far distance, the wooden clad spires of the castle reminded me of the morning’s event at the council. The raw anxiety that I had experienced at the presence of several wolf-bound men, and mostly, from the scrutiny by the ever intimidating Mighell Thorne, brushed through me again.
I took a deep breath. It was over. But I had many questions. “So, what do you think he is up to with that little survey about my foster family?” I asked.
Quin did not lift his eyes from the hair-pin when he spoke in response. “Who? That Thorny wolf?”
“What did Alpha-King meant by monster-hunt?”
“Thorny wolf is after the red-creatures, it seems,” he said, still absorbed in assaying the beauty of the pin. “A long time ago the red-creatures had killed his Father. He is now set to avenge his death.” He finally looked up at me. “You must have been terrified. But he is done with the as much probing he could do in here, and is supposed to leave as of tomorrow. He won’t be a bother to you anymore.”
Strangely enough, I caught myself thinking that he wasn’t a bother. But a fascination—was it his smile or the dangerously curious look in his eyes. I mused about his seemingly mysterious manners. It reminded me how Lefsi Eloise had forced himself to steer clear of him.
“You said about people calling him a daemon? What was that about?” I continued probing.
Quin’s eyebrows arched with a hint of doubt. He gave me a look before he began. “He is often referred as daemon-Knight in the council meetings—”
“Why is that?”
“After Lester Thorne’s death, two of the most dominant wolves of Higansville fought over Knighthood. Mighell Thorne was seen unsuitable to succeed his father. There was nothing left for Mighell Thorne there—so he was ousted at a tender age of twelve. Soon, the folks of Higensville were divided into two groups, each in support of the two dominant wolves and began an internal war. Father had to intervene and divide the borough into two and name both the aspirants as Knights. Everyone forgot about Mighell for the next seven years.”
Quin looked up at the crown of the oaks. I imitated him and realised that the night had turned few shades darker than it was when we had arrived.
“Nothing like what he had been when left of course. He was no more a vulnerable babe, but a young man with a powerful wolf bound to his spirit and pure evil riding his mind. He killed both of the newly named Knights and reclaimed his position as an heir... ah yeah... about the daemon part... he didn’t just kill those two Knights, but everyone else who supported their Knighthood, young, old... men and women—no bias.”
He sighed and continued. “At first the folks despised him, and spread tales that said he was off to the cursed lands, and that it was actually a daemon spirit possessing a weak boy’s body. There were even requests of his execution sent to Father. But he declined them. Seems like Mighell enjoys the fear and hatred instilled in the hearts of people for him. Strange man,” Quin chuckled. “He unified the broken Higensville and renamed it as Daemonmere, where he lives in an old manor that he calls Daemon-hold.”
I nodded absently, unsettled by the account. I didn’t know why I was not expecting to hear a dark tale about someone who was titled daemon.
“If rumours have to be believed they say that he reared monsters in the undergrounds of Daemonhold,” Quin added, and then laughed hysterically.
I didn’t join him. Strange thoughts were flooding my mind already. Mighell’s face with a handsome smile playing in his lips shined and dimmed in front of my eyes. I was unaware what hid in his heart, or what ran in his head as he gauged me for that brief time at the council hall. I hoped he did not find out who I really was. My foster father had always told me to hide my real identity well, for good reason, I believed. Likewise, there was no trace left behind in Higensville that I was Tamsin blood. But right now, I wondered if a daemon could smell it somehow.
A sudden rustle on the littered leaves woke me up from my thoughts. Quin was already on his foot, taking careful steps in the direction of the sound. He had this excellent knack of being incredibly stealthy. I followed behind him, trying my best to be as furtive as possible. Hiding behind a clump of thicket, I peered into the night, and traced the area to the front.
Two wolves fell to my sight. One was a sub-adult with a tawny fur with mottled black outer coat. Another, a similar shade of tawny, but with prominent dark guard-hair along its back—it was a fledgling—newly changed, twelve or thirteen years in his human form. The adult looked as if it was going through a grave musing, seated on its hind legs and lost into the dark. While the young one was smacking his muzzle with his paws, nibbling on his neck and doing everything in his might to get his elder’s attention.
They looked like brothers. The elder wolf was probably watching over the younger’s back. Often times in the early phase, the fledglings were likely to get confused in a wolf mind and run into dangers. I wondered if the sub-adult was aware of our presence, and so, was being watchful. If he did, then he quite certainly had sensed Quin being a dominant one. And perhaps, was bothered by it.
The full-wolf forms were usually seen as a relaxing state for wolf-bounds. It helped them ease their nerves that were always so at the edge when in wolf-bound human or the very hideous and hostile, were-wolf forms. Full-wolf was a best form for mental unwinding and physical healing.
Quin withdrew himself from the thicket. His mannerism stated that there was nothing to worry about the wolves. They were certainly some town-folk spending the evening away from the bustling crowd.
Across the thicket, I continued to watch the antics of the young wolf. The sub-adult grunted and sent him away with a gentle push on his face. The little wolf pretended as if it was a heavy thrust, and rolled over his back. When it didn’t work, he whined for his brother to join.
I gasped when the sub-adult cocked his head to take a swift glance in my direction. Then, we a small groan he rose to his legs and took off, with the little thing pouncing alongside him, happy at last.
I sighed over it, momentarily yearning for my own wolf—an impossible wish. When I turned back to Quin, he looked empathetic. As if he had read my disappointment. Wolf-bounds were able to sense the moods of the people close to them.
He held out the Mitzel pin. “It’s a lovely thing,” he told me again. Then, fished out the tourmaline ones from the pouch. “And these too... as always I am indebted to you, Margery Becc.”
“That you are.”
We started to move, towards the denser part of the copse.
“What does, Ms Becc, think would make her hard work being fairly rewarded?” he asked me as we left the slightest hint of moonlight behind.
“I wouldn’t demand for rewards from a destitute pin-maker.”
“A man can try.”
I pondered for a requirement. “Maybe... spiced venison.” They were reserves only for the noble-wolves in the castle. But a Prince could always demand an extra tray for him. “A full platter,” I added.
“Done.” Quin sounded amused.
We made it to murky spot, crowded by the ghostly looking Oaks that had grown copiously than the rest of the copse. Quin ran his eyes around and pried the shadows beyond the herbage. I imitated him. It was ominously empty. On the dry ground, concealed by coarse undergrowth was the mouth of the secret tunnel to the castle.
Quin bent down and slid the cover. I took it as my cue when he looked up at me and stepped inside the mouth of the tunnel. Stepping down ways the stone made stairs, I reached the the gut of the tunnel that lead to a secret vault in the underground cellar of the castle kitchen.
The smell of earth and fetid air engulfed me at once. Behind me, Quin closed the cover and stepped down. He continued to hum the song from before, deliberately forcing out breathy words to make it funny sounding. I laughed at it.
The tunnel was laid in straight and curved patterns. If you walked straight or in a curve for ten steps you’d definitely hit your face onto the rough wall. It needed great practice. And after having slogged this path well over hundred times now, every twist and turn was memorised in my head.
I smiled remembering my first trip here. Quin had lied that he had discovered a secret pathway to the ancient altum-caves. Though I was scared as hell, the idea of adventure had compelled me to follow him, only to know that I had been fooled all the along.
There was no promise that a monster wouldn’t be lurking in these shadows. However, we walked ahead. I was just footsteps and he was echo. With little concern of what laid in the unknown, we slipped deeper and deeper into the eerie, hushed darkness.