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Chapter 38

The silversmith’s mouth fell open when he heard Hector’s request. “One exactly like it?” he echoed.

“Yes, please,” Hector confirmed. He had bargained for Royer’s freedom with things that mattered to the French hunter who had caught him, and now he had placed his one remaining bracer on the table in the smith’s shop. Both bracers had been dented and needed repairs before. Now he needed a whole new one. It wouldn’t be cheap, but there was no reason to dwell on that. The board would not refund it because the silver bracers were his own property. While most hunters wore silver for protection, few owned as massive items as this.

“Are you heading out again soon, Mr Rothenberg?”

Hector smiled. “No, I expect to be home for at least a week,” he replied. Royer would decide for himself, but Hector was not going anywhere until the wolf man had left Frankfurt or was properly settled in.

“I will have a new one ready for you in six days,” the smith told him.

“Thank you,” said Hector. He left his remaining bracer with the smith and began to make his way back to headquarters.

What were Peter and Royer doing? They had been alone for more than an hour now. Hector inwardly sighed at himself. They were talking, that’s what. And Peter was taking notes and asking questions, and Royer was doing his best to satisfy the doctor’s curiosity. There was nothing to be worried about. The two wolves weren’t going to get into a fight while he was gone. In fact, he reminded himself, they were some of the most civilised and polite people he knew. But he was curious. What did Royer make of Peter? Could he smell that he was a werewolf? And if he could, would that attract him to the doctor or repulse him? Peter was undoubtedly going to learn a lot about Royer, but would he also learn something that could help his research, or would he be disappointed again?

Hector shook his head. It was no use speculating. It was Peter’s job to evaluate what Royer could do for them, and none of Hector’s business whether Royer liked Peter. Still, when he got back to the hospital wing after a few more errands, it was a relief to see the two of them talking like old acquaintances and agree to meet again the next morning to continue. That meant Peter really could see possibilities in working with Royer.

On the evening of Royer’s first full day in Frankfurt, Hector decided against dining in public once more. He had to present Royer to he board the following afternoon, and he’d rather have their approval before risking overwhelming Royer with questions or opinionated comments from hunters who had just returned from missions and had no idea what was going on. So he brought food and drinks to his room again and served Royer a covert meal.

“You’re welcome to some,” he said when he found Royer looking at his beer.

Royer smiled and reached out for the mug. “I haven’t tasted beer before.”

Hector grinned. “About time, then.”

Royer carefully sipped the beer, made a face and pushed the mug away again. “Thank you,” he said.

“You don’t like it,” Hector concluded. Apart from Peter, who never seemed to drink alcohol at all, he hardly knew anyone who didn’t enjoy beer. He and Tomas had spent many nights laughing and drinking and … Hector quickly took the mug and gulped down a few mouthfuls. It hardly mattered.

“But you do,” Royer noted. There was something in his voice that Hector couldn’t quite put his finger on.

“Yes, I do,” he replied and stood up. “There is something I want to give you.” He opened a big, wooden box on a shelf. Inside was what was left of his childhood. A couple of books that he had enjoyed as a boy, a knife his father had given to him, a few pieces of jewellery. He fished out a chain with a pendant shaped as a stylised leaf and returned to Royer.

The wolf man was studying him as he sat down again and held out his hand.

“This is solid silver,” Hector explained. He had always known he wouldn’t wear it himself, and sometimes he’d thought of donating it to the foundry. But he’d always put it off for sentimental reasons and decided that he should keep it in case he had a use for it someday. Now he did.

Royer took the necklace and studied it. “It’s beautiful,” he said. “But why are you giving it to me?”

“Because it will show people that you are not a werewolf. Not everybody will understand it right away, but this will help.” Some hunters would find it hard to accept that Royer was a man who turned into a wolf and wasn’t a threat. A silver necklace could save him some trouble.

“Thank you,” said Royer.

“I’m not forcing you to …” began Hector. “I mean, if you don’t want to wear it…”

Royer put the chain over his head. “I’ll wear it. Thank you. It’s very kind of you.”

Hector smiled, then took another mouthful of beer. “Don’t mention it,” he mumbled.

The next day was a busy one. Royer met with Peter while Hector prepared for the meeting with the board. When the time came, Hector looked over Royer in, he realised, much the same way that Stephan would study him before an important meeting when he was a boy. They both needed to look well. Dressed in plain, clean clothes with no stains. But they didn’t need to be formal. In fact, it was fine if they didn’t appear to have paid too much attention to their looks as long as they seemed well-dressed and well-groomed. Now he knew what Stephan had been scrutinising him for all these years ago.

Hector reassured Royer that the meeting was only a formality. That he had authority in this matter and only needed to inform the board. All the members were not even likely to be there. Royer asked him what exactly their job was, and he explained that while one of them was a retired hunter, the remaining thirteen board members were traders, accountants, scholars, city council members and lawmen. They were affiliated with the hunters because they or the people they represented were wealthy and sponsored some of the organisation’s work. Technically, they could not overrule the hunters’ decisions. Practically, they could withdraw their funding. But if that happened, the hunters wouldn’t have the necessary means to carry out their work and employ doctors and foundry workers, and no one would benefit from that situation. So it was always a matter of discussing things and reaching the conclusions that would be best for everyone. It could be political, tedious work, but sometimes it was necessary. Just like now. It was important that he had the board’s blessing for having brought Royer back to Frankfurt, but there wasn’t really anything they could do about it whether they liked it or not.

A surprisingly large number of board members did show up for the meeting. Hector had expected that no more than five or six would be there with such a short notice, but there were nine of them sitting at the long table. Jacques Cloutier, the spokesman, was perched on his chair in the middle with a pen and papers in front of him. He glanced up as they entered.

“As you know,” Hector began after the initial greetings, “my last trip brought me south to Niedermark where I encountered Royer.” He made a gesture to indicate Royer as if it wasn’t obvious that he was the wolf man.

The young man was standing next to Hector, a little rigid, but he was more alert than scared. It was no wonder he was a bit tense. Nine strangers were staring at him.

“I trust you are familiar with my report.”

Several of them nodded.

“Then you know I spent full moon in Royer’s company. He was a wolf during this time, but he did not behave like an animal or a werewolf. He had the mind of a human and did not attempt to attack me or run away.” That was not entirely true, but no one needed to know about the complications in Eberfeld. “I brought the initial evaluation from our chief physician with me ...”

“The other werewolf,” mumbled the accountant, Gerhardt, who was sitting next to Jacques Cloutier.

Hector resisted the urge to slam the papers from Peter onto the table and instead gently pushed them there. “As you will find when you read his evaluation,” he resumed, “doctor Hessen does not believe that Royer is a werewolf. He was not bitten, but has always been able to transform at will. He does not suffer from any of the complications that werewolves do, and he is not, as you can see, allergic to silver.”

There was a murmur around the table. They were all looking at the necklace. Hector was glad he had given it to Royer before the meeting and not after.

“So what is he, and what do you intend to … have him do?” asked Inga, one of the most recent additions to the board. At least she was straightforward.

“We have not encountered anyone like him before. Which is why he is crucial to our research,” Hector hit home the point. “Royer is currently in my care, and I am sure we can use an extra set of hands here. I can think of a few ways that he could be of great benefit to us. But of course it will be up to him to decide.”

“So what are your plans, then?” asked Wilhelm Rothenberg, smiling. He had inherited his mother’s grace when it came to dealing with others professionally and spoke directly to Royer as the first.

“I agreed to come to Frankfurt with Hector to assist the doctors,” replied Royer. “I am very grateful for your hospitality.” His eyes darted to Hector, then back to the strangers at the table. “I have nowhere to return to, but I am still not sure what to do. If … if I am welcome here and decide to stay in Frankfurt, I hope that I can be of help.”

“If Hector says you can, I’m sure he’s right,” returned Wilhelm.

The hunter studied the board members as they continued to ask Royer questions about his origin and abilities. None of them were proving to be very difficult. Apart from a couple of snide remarks from Gerhardt about Hector having a tendency to keep them on their toes, it went quietly, and at the end of the interview, Royer shook hands with all of them.

Hector drew a quiet sigh of relief when they left the meeting room. Now he had their official stamp of approval. The next step was bringing Royer to the dining hall and introducing him to other hunters. Most of them wouldn’t pose much of a problem, especially not now that Peter and the board were involved. Some would insist on getting to know Royer because he was different. And Hector had no doubt that a few would demand an explanation or challenge Hector’s actions, but he would just have to deal with them and convince them that Royer wasn’t a threat. Even if they didn’t trust the wolf man, they did trust Hector.

“You told them that you had ideas,” Royer interrupted his thoughts, “for what I can do here. Can I ask what you have in mind?”

Hector smiled. “Well, we can always use people to help out. You could be employed in the stables or the kitchen or even the foundry. Perhaps even train with the doctors.”

“You have mentioned those things before,” Royer said. “But you sounded like you were talking about something else, too. Something specific.”

“I did?” Hector cleared his throat. Had it been that obvious? “There are other jobs here, too. But let’s wait and see. It’s cooler outside now. I’m going to take a run. Do you want to come along? Once we’re out of sight, you can be a wolf if you want to.”

Royer grinned. “Sure,” he said. “But then you won’t be able to keep up.”

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