"Hey there old fella," Arawn ran his
hand across the dog’s head. "You gave me quite a scare."
The hound barked and skittered away.
"Down boy, keep it down," Arawn hushed the dog. "You'll bring them
here if you make such noise."
It did not understand but barked again. The hound ran over to the wall near the
fireplace, opposite of where Arawn had just been hidden. It sat and whined,
then put its head down between its paws.
"What's there boy?" Arawn asked, "What do you see?"
The dog just whined and thumped its tail as Arawn spoke. What did it see, he
wondered? But first he moved back. Leaning against the wall, the large brick
hearth separating him from the dog, Arawn drew his sword. He would not be
trapped again with it undrawn.
Arawn sheathed his knife and looked at his swollen feet. They'd begun to bleed
again, a toe was bluish black, sometime last night he'd broken it but he
couldn't remember when. The left foot had just two long cuts across the soles.
He must have hurt it first then leaned on the right to carry him through the
"What a mess," he said to the dog. "And I still have my
boots." He shook his head. "Daghdha what a foolish student you have,
can't remember to put on boots to walk through a wood at night."
His knife made short work of the rug that had kept him warm during the night.
He cut a pair of ragged bandages for his feet, wrapping them tight and careful.
The swollen foot would take his weight but only if he walked with care.
Arawn hobbled across the floor, his drawn sword was a burden. He yearned to use
it as a crutch, but would not treat it so. There were no sturdy lengths of wood
among the debris to use, Arawn stumbled and twisted awkwardly and nearly
stabbed the hound as he reached its side.
The dog barked at him and scratched at the wall. Arawn looked where the hound's
claws had dug. He leaned his shoulder against the wood and gave it a rap with
the pommel of his sword. It gave out a hollow sound, some open space must be
here, he thought.
"What is in there?" Arawn said aloud. The dog barked but could tell
him nothing else. There was no sign of latch or hinge, he could not even see a
line or groove where the wall ended and the door began.
"An axe would be better suited for this work," he told the dog. He
brought his sword down along the grain, it took several strikes to make it
split, but then a long wedge fell free.
A strong stench assailed him, meat left out to rot. The hound barked and
jumped, it struck the wall and sought to put its head into the room beyond.
"Down old fella, down," Arawn pushed it back. He struck the door
again and an entire corner dropped away. He must have sprung the lock, it
opened at the blow. Inside there was a dark space taller than the cupboard in
which he'd hidden but only deeper by a foot or so. A body lay crumpled on the
ground, dead, there could be no doubt, and begun to stink.
The hound pushed past him and poked its muzzle against the lifeless form. It
whined and lay with head atop the dead man’s legs.
"Come on there," Arawn pulled the dog away. "Let him be."
The body was that of an elderly man. He had a bald head and a long grey-white
beard. An arrow stump was still in his chest, Arawn could find no other wound
when he dragged him from the hidden space. The man had worn rough hunters’
garb, he had a large dagger at his belt and several pouches too. Arawn hated to
rob the dead, but the need to survive left such niceties soon abandoned.
Fishhooks were in one pouch, and line with round lead weights in another. The
dagger was thin and curved, no huntsman this man, but some fisher come to try
the river. Arawn saw no sheath for sword, if the man had born some other weapon
he had not taken it into hiding with him. A quick check of the hidden space
showed only a small wooden box that the body had leaned against and kept from
view. Arawn almost laughed when he opened it, proper bandages and herbs, a
tinder box, and medicines made from root and bark and wild plants.
Arawn sat upon the floor, the old hound by his side. He'd moved away from the
dead man’s body and taken the small wooden chest with him to the hearth. He'd
need water to boil some of these dry herbs but he chewed upon a tough and
bitter strip of willow bark to soothe his aching head, and with luck to stop
the swelling in his foot. He gingerly took the rags from off his feet, they
were soaked with blood. There was no water to wash them clean but inside the
chest was a large pouch of salt. He bit down upon the bark and rubbed the thick
granules along the cuts, they stung and burned like hot coals from a forge. He
wrapped his feet, this time in clean white lengths of cloth, then cut the rug
again for rags. He would have to fetch some water from the spring and build a
fire. Arawn eyed the grisly skeleton impaled on the turning spit. He would take
what he had gathered and set his fire outdoors, regardless of the nymph and her
pet demon. Let them come, he'd fight them or anything. He would not hide from them