Dawn had come and the morning had worn away toward noon. Arawn woke, but in a cold sweat. His stomach churned and his vision was a hazy blur. He was sick, filthy and hurting badly. He shivered though wrapped warm in the rolled-up carpet, then he flushed and felt a terrible heat. The carpet he threw aside, he had to roll along the floor to get it off then he tried to stand but could not. His feet would not bear his weight; they were cut and swollen from his bootless flight across the woods the night before. The sword he wore felt like an anvil on his back, he pulled it loose, thick-fingered, it took him several tries to snap the buckle free. On hands and knees he crawled across the floor, a cupboard near the fireplace had held pots and pans but medicines were hidden there as well.
The cabin was a horror in the light of day. Every foot of wall showed hacks and gashes, not one stick of furniture remained intact, all were smashed, broken or chopped to kindling. Blood, bone and nameless viscera lay near the hearth. Inside the fireplace a great iron spit still retained the bony remnants of the dogmen' last meal. Whoever he had been they had cooked him with his boots still on, thick-soled with rough-forged iron nails. Some hob it appeared, Arawn was relieved to see that they were not the light- soled boots that rangers wore.
Crawling made him cold again and sapped his strength. Arawn lay near to the hearth and looked toward the wall. The small cupboard door was shut but split, its center panel smashed by a club or a vicious kick. He saw a pot that had been kept within, it was dented and showed bright metal scars where blades had hacked into its base. It was hard to tell if the cupboard had been emptied, the floor was layered with debris, and only that single pot had caught his eye.
Arawn summoned up his strength and crawled forward once again. He dripped with sweat, the cold had passed, the heat made the room look red.
He awoke only an arm's length from the cupboard door. In an eyeblink he had passed out and lay there he knew not how long, hot then cold, now shivering again. Teeth chattering, he pulled himself along, his sweat-soaked shirt a clammy second skin. Arawn pulled the broken door aside, a small square set in the wall. Inside he found only a broken empty shelf, not a scrap was left. The dogmen had taken all.
Arawn laughed, a painful heaving sound, and swooned. Suddenly the fever, hot and cold had gone away. He was looking down, a body lay still, its head and arms half hidden within the empty cupboard.
"That's me!" he said aloud, but no sound came out. He floated higher and drifted through the wooden roof. "Another dream," Arawn said but his words were only a thought. The river rushed along, the water fell and crashed. The woods were quiet, though he could see the movements of a deer. Then along the stream came a running pair, the nymph and a winged man, "Some demon in the nymph's employ, no doubt."
Arawn felt a sudden fear. "This demon will see me," and with that thought he fell. In a flash the cabin came rushing up and he was lying on the floor again. "My fever's broken," he said and this time he could hear his voice, but still he could not rise. Weak as a kitten he pushed the broken shelf aside and crawled into the small cupboard then pulled shut the shattered door.
Two voices sounded outside the hunters' lodge. Arawn heard the nymph's seductive tones and the grating voice of her demon escort. He hid, choose your fights if you can, Daghdha always said. The cupboard was so tight he could not draw his sword, but he drew a dagger from his belt, little good either would do against some hellish fiend, but he swore to face his death with a weapon in his hand.
Footsteps thrummed against the porch, the door creaked across the floor, adding another scratch to the wooden boards already streaked with such from a hundred pairs of clawed and careless feet. A padding came near to where Arawn hid, the loose debris layering the floor he could hear being scrapped aside.
Arawn's heart thudded in his chest, his fever broken but not gone, he had no chills but within the close confines of the wooden box he streamed with sweat again. His mouth was dry. He ran a rough cardboard tongue against his teeth, his lips felt stiff and gluey. A drop of sweat ran down and touched them, they burned. The skin dry and cracked, he had to open his mouth with care, skin separating upper lip from bottom, the dry stuffy air stung them where raw flesh showed through in cracks.
The nymph had not said a word since she had entered into the lodge. Arawn could not bring himself wait; they would find him in any case. Fight while you still have the strength, he said to himself.
Arawn placed his foot against the broken cupboard door. It throbbed, cut and swollen, he gritted his teeth and kicked out. The cracked wood broke in two, half on the hinge, half flying free into the room.
"Yaarrghh!" Arawn screamed and rolled out to face the demon the nymph had brought along. Instead he looked into a pair of dull brown eyes. A large old hound stared at him and wagged its tail. The dog gave a bark, then padded over and licked his face.