- 15a (Argentum’s Song – PG)
Franklin’s spirits lifted when he started seeing signs of someone else passing north recently on the trail as well. It looked like he might not be alone after all. At least one other person had managed to survive the attack on the camp and had come up with a plan similar to his own – head north and find Walter’s caravan. Franklin moved with an extra speed to his step. He didn’t want to spend another night alone.
In fact, he was moving so quickly, he didn’t notice the massacre until he almost tripped over Earl’s body. Franklin jerked to a stop and froze. Half of Earl’s face was disfigured almost beyond recognition, puffed up and scabbed with dried blood so only the eye on his left side was visible. That eye was glazed but gaping wide as if shocked he could have fallen so quickly that he hadn’t even been able to draw his weapon.
Reminded of his own defencelessness, Franklin knelt down and pulled Earl’s crossbow out from under him. Two bolts were still clipped to it’s stock, one silver and one with a broad hunting head like the one that had shattered on Cookie. Franklin considered trying to cock it with only one good arm but then thought better of it and just slung it’s carrying strap on his shoulder before rolling Earl over to get at his short sword.
Franklin was surprised to feel the body still had some warmth to it. Pushing past his exhaustion and weakness, Franklin surveyed the terrain to take stock of the situation. The road was littered with refuse. There was no life in sight, unless one counted the few flies braving the chill and buzzing among the bodies scattered on and around the damaged cart. The cart itself was mostly empty with its contents shredded and spilled among the carnage. It seemed obvious that whatever had occurred here had been long enough ago that Earl should have be frozen stiff by now. Unless …
Franklin grabbed Earl’s wrist and felt for a pulse. At first he thought it was just his imagination but after a while he was sure of it … it was the weakest pulse he had ever felt but Earl was still alive. Franklin dropped the arm and stood up. How was this possible? No one could have survived loosing the amount of blood pooling under his head, could they? And yet, now that he stared he was sure he saw trace amounts of breath misting in the crisp air around Earl’s half mouth and good nostril too.
“Hang on there Earl. I’m here now, just hang on!”
Franklin stumbled his way to the cart, improvising a plan as he went. Fluids, if he had bled that much what he needed now were fluids. A number of casks had tumbled from the cart and split, leaking their contents to create a puddle with a thin frozen crust. He used the short sword to pry the banding off of a cask that had split high enough he thought it might still have some liquid in the bottom of it. With the band gone he whittled enough of a gap between the wooden slats that a small stream of ale splashed out and into a copper pot he positioned to catch it. While it was filling he started tearing up any rags of cloth he could find that looked clean enough to use as a bandage. It was in the middle of one of these tears that he heard a guttural noise on the other side of the cart. His left hand left the fabric dangling, half torn, from he teeth and scrapped the short sword from the ground where he had set it. Then slowly, ever so slowly, he inched his head over the side of the cart to see what had made the noise.
A huge weir with an almost pure black hide was crouched at the side of the road squinting into the sunlight with an angry grimace. Then a runt of a beast with mangy reddish hair moved beside it, growling once more before slinking in the direction Earl lay. The dark one sniffed the air and then moved towards the rear of the cart.
Franklin scurried under the cart in an unthinking panic. The far side was cluttered with enough detritus from broken trunks and fowl cages that it formed a rough wall. Between that, the tailgate hanging from one hinge bolt at the rear, and the casks he had just squeezed through, he was at least partially hidden from view from every direction. He could only hope it would be enough.
- 15b (Argentum’s Song – PG)
Laying on his back, Franklin held his breath and tried to make out what was happening near Earl by peering through the casks. It looked like at least one shadowy figure was approaching the foreman.
The tailgate rattled by his head nearly causing him to take off his own nose with a reflexive swing. Franklin forced himself to freeze and breath slowly as the tailgate started shaking in an almost regular rhythm accompanied by the smacking and slurping of jaws masticating flesh. It didn’t take long for Franklin to figure out that the large dark weir was gnawing on the remains of an animal carcass chained to the cart, flapping the tailgate whenever it took a particularly energetic mouthful.
The noises filled his imagination with visions of dark jaws tearing into him, trapped and helpless under the cart. Franklin shook his head and quietly placed the short sword in the dirt by his head. He then inched the crossbow from his shoulder, hooked the bowstring across the middle axle brace, and anchored a foot into the stirrup. Now all his arm had to do was balance the bow while his legs did the work of cocking the weapon. It was tense and slow, trying to do it silently, and Franklin was sweating by the time he heard it click into place.
The weir stopped chewing and sniffed the air. Franklin tried to bring the bow to a position where he could load a bolt but the string was still snagged on the axle brace. The weir’s muzzle bumped into the back of the cart and started snuffling along it. Franklin froze, unsure if he should abandon the crossbow and try to pick up the quieter blade to defend himself in a surprise attack or if he should give up stealth, wrench the bow free and try to load it before the creature was on him. Neither option seemed like it had a very high chance of survivability to it. So he just kept trying the impossible. To slide the bow free, quietly, with one hand.
The beast was at the casks now, Franklin could see one clawed forepaw planted directly beside the copper pot long since filled to overflowing. A hairy jaw descended less than a meter away in clear view. Then the weir started lapping and slurping the pots contents. He could see the entire facial profile of the beast. All it had to do was turn a few degrees to see him just as clearly. The large overbite protrusion meant at least as much liquid was splashing back out of the mouth as was making it’s way down the throat. Once the bowl was empty, the weir raised itself up on it’s hind legs and belched. It lowered itself and trotted on all fours, over to Earl.
When he was sure it was gone, Franklin allowed himself to move again and was eventually able to free the bow without snapping the string. When he had the silver bolt in it’s track he pushed himself to the casks to see what was happening. Franklin couldn’t see Earl himself, but he could make out the forms of the two weirs sitting on either side of him. In fact, if he crouched against the wagon wheel, he could likely rest the crossbow on one of the barrels and have a clear shot at the larger weir. If he managed to take it down, he just might be able to burst from his cover and catch the runt by surprise with his short sword as well.
It wasn’t a great plan, but it was the best he had, so he set about implementing it. Since it seemed the weirs were just camping out here until they had finished off the carcasses, he couldn’t afford the risk of trying to wait them out. Sooner or later, they would catch his scent and he’d be dead. He had just finished lining up the shot, when Earl started convulsing.
The cask was still blocking enough of his view that he couldn’t see everything going on, but every once in a while Earl would jerk up far enough for Franklin to catch a glimpse of him. Each jerk, it became more and more clear what was happening. Earl had been infected, he was turning.
Now, while the dark weir was motionlessly watching Earl with a detached curiosity, was exactly when Franklin needed to fire the crossbow. But he couldn’t. He just couldn’t do it. It had been a risky enough plan even before the Earl factor, now it was just suicide. Weak and wounded as he was, he couldn’t hope to be able to defeat the runt, Earl, and the large dark one. Besides, maybe this was all they had been waiting for. Maybe now they would leave.
So Franklin stayed crouched and hidden. Listening to moans of agony and catching a glimpse of the Earl, who was no longer Earl, whenever he had a particularly violent spasm. It was taking much longer than he had anticipated and he realized he would have had plenty of time to finish his attack before Earl could have been a threat. Earl’s words came back to his mind.
“Believe me, if ya have been bit ya want me to finish ya. It’s a mercy.”
Franklin shuddered and readied himself. But every time he was about to fire there was a lull in the convulsions, or he imagined a lull, at any rate he couldn’t be sure Earl hadn’t finished his transformation. Ultimately, the Unearl raised up on it’s haunches and cackled at the moon before the the bolt ever left the bow. Franklin, knowing his cowardice had caused him to miss his chance, slithered back under the cart, tears leaking from his eyes.