Eregar was tired, yes, but he didn’t want to let it show. He did not trust the sorcerer and did not think it wise to rest near him. He soon found that his words had been more truthful than he had thought, for the way down was indeed much easier. Evening was still a ways from falling by the time they started walking beneath the trees.
The wizard touched his staff to the floor with each step, but he didn’t seem to have any trouble walking.
It was not long before they reached the place where Eregar had found the wolf on the night before. The smell of death permeated the air, and swarms of flies were already buzzing over the corpses. The squire felt bad for having left without giving his brothers a proper burial. He decided he would build a funeral pyre over the next day.
“Foolish pup! It betrays!” The roar came from all around them, but this time Eregar was able to raise his shield in time, for he saw the wolf – fast as an arrow – launching toward the sorcerer.
The squire kept his promise: with a battle cry, he threw himself at the animal. He bumped into it with his shield, just as the sorcerer turned to face the attack. As the shield struck the beast, Eregar felt its mighty muscles pushing him back, but the wolf also felt the impact and was disoriented for a few moments. It lost its balance, and the squire pushed it sideways into a tree.
“Flaeel sumpus garr!” Shouted the sorcerer, gesticulating in the air with one hand as he pointed the staff held in the other in the beast’s direction. A torrent of flame flashed into existence, burning everything in his path. The wolf, agile as it was, managed to jump away, and the flames crashed into the tree, turning it into a flaming wreck.
But the flames did not stop flowing from the staff’s head. To Eregar, it looked like water coming out of a fountainhead. But the sorcerer directed the stream, and the torrent of flame consumed everything in its path as it chased the wolf. Its gray mane was already starting to catch fire, and the creature howled in pain but kept running and jumping around the bushes and tree-trunks.
“Wait!” Cried the young warrior. “You’re going to burn the whole forest down! And with it will go the village on the edge of the woods! “He said, grasping the wizard’s shoulder.
But when the mage turned to him, Eregar retreated. His companion’s face was jet-black, and from his bald head sprouted two black horns. He was just like the statue at the top of the mountain, and his eyes were black balls that shone with the reflected flame, without a trace of humanity.
“Too late, child! For they will all burn; from their ashes I will raise my castle!”
The sorcerer turned his staff to Eregar, who raised his shield against the flame. The metal shielded him from the blaze, but within moments he felt it heating up. The fire seemed to have a certain push, a solidity to it, it felt just as if he were fighting against a stream of water. The torrent pushed him away; it would not let him close the distance to the demon.
The shield was growing hotter. Eregar felt the heat starting to singe his hand, he could feel the sweat running down his body, but he knew that if he dropped his shield, he would die. If only he could get a little closer…
A roar, a scream, and Eregar staggered forward, almost tripping over. The force that pushed him was gone. The warrior risked lowering his shield to observe what had happened.
In front of him stood the devil and the wolf. The wolf had its enormous maw closed around the demon’s chest, and the demon, his hands on fire, was trying to burn its face and eyes, to pry himself loose.
Eregar drew his sword and sprinted up to the pair. As the wolf let go of the demon with a howl of pain, its muzzle on fire, the squire’s sword descended.
The blade of the young warrior’s weapon was the last thing the devil’s black eyes reflected. The cold metal crept into his neck, and his eyes dimmed. Before Eregar, without a single sound, the prostrate demon turned into black stone, and then crumbled into ashes.
The young man rushed to his knees beside the wolf, who was lying on its side, smoke rising from the burns that covered most of its body.
“I am free. Man-pup… Do what you must.”
“I don’t want to. You saved me.”
“It’s late. Will you prolong… My… Suffering?”
The warrior closed his eyes.
“No. This, I do not wish. Forgive me.”
Eregar drew the knife he carried on his waist and stuck it into the heart of the dying wolf. He waited until he saw the spark of life leave its eyes, until he felt its body stop shaking, until he witnessed its last breath. Then he rose, and with his eyes burning, he ran from the flames that surrounded them.
As he walked away, the sky began to cry, and as he looked back, the squire saw the flames fading away. The scar would persist for years, but the forest would survive.
“Forgive me,” repeated the warrior, as he walked in the direction of the inn from the previous night.
Enjoyed this tale? Consider buying “A Silvery Moon,” my novel set in the same universe.Photo Credit: Kaibab National Forest Flickr via Compfight cc