Friday, December 30, 2016

Vol 7: Tales of Vengeance | Book I: Winter of the Wolf, Chapters 5 & 6

Chapter 5: Metamorphosis

The Woodsman completed his metamorphosis into a giant, fearsome beast—the loup garou! As the Town Guards shook with fear, the watching Yvette screamed and fainted. The Beast pulled at its chains, but the sturdy iron rings held. The Beast howled again in pain and rage and pulled harder. With a screech of tortured metal and a crack of stone the iron ring bolts tore loose from the wall. The Beast was free! 

The panicked Town Guards fired but their shots were wild. The Beast hurled one guard’s lifeless body crashing into the alchemical equipment which exploded in a wave of boiling liquids and a cloud of noxious gas. With its other paw, it dragged Odo to its chest and bit him. Odo fell, his throat half torn out by its fangs. The Governor ran for the exit as the Town Guard fled as well. Signoret hit the Beast with a pistol shot. Gaston lunged, impaling the creature through the chest, but the Beast tore the blade free. Norbert swung his sword, but the beast ignored the cuts and pistol shots that flecked its hide with blood as it leapt over Gaston’s head and tore through a pair of guards too slow to escape the path of its single-minded pursuit of the Governor. But Armand Labrousse stepped into in the Beast’s path, sword in hand to protect his brother. The creature batted the sword aside and fastened its jaws in Armand’s arm nearly tearing it from his body. 

Though his hands shook in fear of the fearsome creature, Jacques leaned over Armand’s body and fired his pistol pointblank in the Beast’s face felling it. He prodded it with his rapier then kicked it. “I killed it,” he said in relief. Armand staggered to his feet and holding his wounded arm to his chest, he followed after his brother and the others. 

Suddenly the four comrades were the only people still standing. Mel and Yvette must have fled in the confusion. Norbert and Jacques decided to return to the courtyard to recover the cage so they could place the dead beast inside. Meanwhile, Signoret decided to explore the other exit from the torture chamber. He opened the door and saw a long, straight corridor. Somewhere in the distance he could hear water dripping. Calling to Gaston, the two followed the corridor. 

Norbert and Jacques dragged the heavy iron cage from the courtyard down to the dungeon. On the way, they were joined by Governor Labrousse with several of his guards. As they neared the alchemical torture chamber, they heard a snarling sound coming from the room. Labrousse said, “The creature is still alive. Quickly we must capture it before it regains its full strength.” Reluctantly Jacques and Norbert led the guards forward. 

As they step into the room they saw a body lying spread eagled on the alchemist table and crouched over the body was the Beast. It had savaged Odo whose chest was torn open, ribs splayed apart like the reeds of a broken basket. As they watched in horror, the Beast pulled Odo’s bleeding heart from his chest and ate it. “Oh, that’s just wrong!” cried Jacques.

The beast raised its head and its blood curdling howl echoed from the dungeon walls. Then it sprang towards them. Jacques and Norbert stood aside to allow the Beast a clear path. The creature tore its way through the guards. Presumably it was in pursuit of its final victim—the Governor. But once again, Labrousse had already fled. Norbert and Jacques looked about the room in confusion as they wondered where Gaston and Signoret had gone, and then they turned back in pursuit of the Beast and of Governor Labrousse.  

Ahead they heard the screams and sounds of the beast rending all who stood in its path as it tore its way past guards and smashed through locked doors in its haste to reach the Governor. They reached one of the chateau’s towers and took a direct stair to a room at the tower’s top. Ahead of them, they saw the Governor dart into a room. Quickly they followed him inside. They saw that they were in some private room of the Governor’s and somehow they had gotten ahead of the Beast. They barred the door at the Governor’s command. Not an instant too soon as they heard the sound of claws dragging slowly across the wood of the door. “You must protect me!” the Governor cried. 

“Well, I’m not so sure we must,” said Norbert. Further conversation was interrupted as they heard a tremendous crash against the door that cracked the bar and sprung it from its hinges. Standing in the doorway was the huge, hairy figure of the Loup Garou!

“Jacques,” Norbert said. “Why don’t we let it have the Governor?” As he said this, Norbert stepped to one side. Labrousse’s eyes widened in surprise as he slowly backed away from the beast. The Governor seemed completely unaware that behind him gaped an open window.

“But what about when he’s done with the Governor?” Jacques asked. The Loup Garou’s spring made Jacques question moot.

Gaston and Signoret raced towards the sounds of conflict and the repeated howls of the wolf. Their path through the chateau was littered with the remains of doors burst asunder and the bodies of those who had stood in the path of the beast. “Hurry,” Gaston said. “That damn monster is alive…again! Gods Blood! I don’t know what it takes to kill this fiend, but I swear to God the next time I kill it I will cut its cursed head off. Let’s see it get up from that!”

At the end of a narrow, winding stair they reached an inner chamber at the top of the tower. Inside they saw the Beast slowly stalking towards the Governor. Without a word, Gaston lunged at the beast. The point of his rapier drew a shallow gash across the Beast’s side distracting it. Taking advantage of its distraction, the Governor glanced once meaningfully at Norbert and Jacques, then turned and leapt through the window. 

With a snarl of rage, the wolf turned on Gaston fastening its immense jaws around his shoulder and neck. Gaston twisted loose, and before the Beast could attack him a second time, he too sprang through the window. 

Its prey fled, the Beast turned to leave the tower room. Jacques, Norbert, and Signoret stood aside then as the creature passed, Jacques and Signoret attacked its flanks. But their attacks did not even slow the Beast. It raced down the stairs and into the courtyard where it killed any who stood in its path. Tremendous muscles bunched in the Beast’s arms as it lifted the heavy portcullis and escaped into the night.

Dripping wet from the moat, Gaston and the Governor make their way back into the Chateau. Signoret used the brazier of hot coals in the dungeon to heat the sliver Key of St. Hubertus. Gaston gritted his teeth as the Jesuit repeatedly applied the red hot nail head to his flesh to cauterize the wounds with appropriate prayer and ceremony to complete the ritual of St. Hubertus’ Key. The smell of Gaston’s burning flesh caused Yvette to faint once again.

Meanwhile, at Gaston’s orders, Norbert, Jacques, and the Red Guards scavenge silver from the Chateau, coming up with a pair of table knives, a fish fork, and a candlestick. Then the party returned to the town of Soissons. 

Chapter 6: In the Lair of the Werewolf

Once they were back inside Soissons, Gaston took command of the remaining town guards and ordered them to prepare to hunt down the wolves. Norbert found an arbalest in the town armory and persuaded the smith to use one of the table knives to hammer out a silver point for an arbalest bolt. Signoret had Claude chop up the silver candlesticks into bits to use as ammunition for a blunderbuss that the Red Guards had found somewhere in town. Gaston’s men had also found something for Gaston. In the back of the armory was a two-handed sword. The blade was at least a century old, but it seemed sound. “Well done mes amis, that is just the thing to remove the head from this devil spawned Loup Garou!” Gaston said.

Norbert asked Father Signoret to see that Yvette was safe in the Cathedral, after arranging that with Brother Crispin, Signoret obtained crosses for the soldiers and tried to persuade them to each carry a cross as protection against the evil of the werewolf. Unfortunately his speech prompted a debate about whether or not it was sacrilegious for Jacques to hang a cross around the neck of his horse which involved citations from all five crusades as well as a discussion of patron saints. No sooner had that been resolved by Signoret agreeing to let Jacques purchase extra crosses with his own money, then someone else pointed out that all the Loup Garou’s victims so far had been wearing a cross of some kind. This caused many to conclude that wearing a cross was the equivalent of painting a target on one’s chest. That idea caught on with the crowd with the result that very few soldiers other than Jacques took a cross. However Jacques and his horse were liberally festooned with crosses. 

Gaston gave a speech to inspire the mixed force telling them that the Loup Garou could be killed. “It bleeds and if it bleeds it can be killed. We have downed it twice already and this time I’m going to make sure it stays dead. I’m going to personally cut off its Satan spawned head and stick it on a spike.” The men seemed reassured by Gaston’s speech and by the fact that he would be personally leading the force from the front. The party lit torches and set out for the entrance to the lair of the Loup Garou. In addition to Father Signoret, Norbert, Mel, and Jacques, Gaston brought the five surviving Red Guards: Albert, Clovis, Duval, Eugène, and Francis as well as thirty of the Soissons town guard. While the town guards walked, the others were mounted, and the party brought the wolf cage on a wagon. They made camp outside the cave mouth to wait for daylight.

A chorus of wolf howls was heard all night long and their camp was disturbed by numerous attacks aimed at their horses. Gaston remained awake all night, pacing the perimeter of the camp. The picket line remained secure and the large number of soldiers allowed a strong guard so that each attack was driven off as Gaston ordered massed musket fire and a defense with polearms. The result was that although no one got any sleep, there were no casualties of men or horses. 

After sunrise, Gaston split his command in two, leaving half the town guard under the command of Eugène and the already wounded Albert to guard the camp and horses and to serve as a reserve. They divided the silver weapons. Norbert had the arbalest and its silver tipped quarrel, Signoret had the blunderbuss loaded with chunks of silver candlestick and slung across his back, Jacques had the two-tined silver fish fork, and Gaston had a silver table knife, the tip of which he had ground to a wicked point. As he had promised, Gaston personally led the soldiers into the cave mouth.[i] The cave was low and narrow with room for only two to pass and it sloped steeply downwards. Crouched low to avoid the roof, Gaston had his rapier in one hand and his Spanish vizcaina in the other. Jacques crouched next to his captain carrying a rapier and a torch to light their way.

A few yards into the cave, Gaston slipped down the slope and was suddenly attacked by a pair of wolves who leapt out of an alcove on the left.[ii] In one of the alcoves to the right, came the snarl of still more wolves. Jacques and Signoret moved to block the wolves on the right. Jacques swung his torch to bar the wolves, the glove of the torch showed many eyes glowing back amidst the darkness. Gaston rolled to avoid the spring of the first wolf, leaving it with a gash along its flank. He then fended off a second wolf with his sword hilt, then plunged his Spanish blade into the wolf’s chest, feeling for its heart. Norbert moved up to a small cliff[iii] beyond which the cave opened up into a larger chamber with a higher roof. Past him, the wounded wolf ran howling into the dark.

Jacques called, “Musketeers here!” The town guards blazed away at the glow of eyes, killing some of the wolves. The survivors attacked and were impaled on the points of the men’s half pikes and swords. While the musketeers reloaded, Signoret and Jacques ascertained that the passages on the right were dead ends.[iv]

Gaston reformed his men. Inside the larger room[v] they formed into a square. Here he divided his men yet again leaving the town guards in line facing the opening to the right. These men were under the command of Clovis while the captain led Jacques, Norbert, Mel, Signoret, and two of the Red Guards: Duval who carried the two handed sword and Francis who carried a torch and pistol. Gaston led the other six along a wide passage bisected by a shallow pool of water into a second large chamber with a high ceiling and a boulder strewn floor.[vi] Father Signoret noticed a lot of wolf tracks and some of the strange prints of the Loup Garou, but there were so many tracks going backwards and forwards that he could not determine where the tracks would end.

Figuring that the boulders might hide an ambush, Gaston led the group to the right.[vii] Here Mel said that he could smell wolves off to their left. Norbert quietly suggested that they talk to the Beast so that it might reveal its position. Gaston waved assent, so Norbert loudly called out telling the Beast that he should surrender and repent to save his soul. In a deep, gravelly voice the Woodsman said that he had sold his soul to Satan to obtain his revenge. “And once I tear the still beating heart from the chest of that foul fiend Labrousse and devour it before his own dying eyes I shall call the deal a fair one.”

“Then you are truly damned,” Signoret said regretfully.

The only answer was a cry. A cry that started as a howl then a scream of a human in agony which changed to the eerie, spine tingling cry of the Loup Garou! The howling echoed back and forth among the rocks as if there were a dozen monsters surrounding them. “Steady.” Gaston said. “Form circle! Back to back men and ready your weapons.” The eerie cry of the Loup Garou sounded once more then from out of the darkness, a pair of wolves leapt at Norbert and Mel. After them surged a flood of fur clad bodies with flashing teeth. Distantly they heard gunshots in a rippling volley that echoed through the cave. 

Norbert avoided the first wolf’s spring then drew his broadsword which he swung in great arcs driving back the tide of wolves. Mel fought with a wolf that had grasped his arm in its teeth. Jacques and Signoret strode forward firing their pistols pointblank into the bodies of the wolves. Gaston, Duval, and Francis had just finished off the wolf that had sprung past Norbert when they heard the eerie howl of the Loup Garou as it leapt at Francis. Gaston thrust, but the Beast twisted in mid-air to avoid his blade. This gave Francis time to stumble away from the terrifying beast. The creature landed in the middle of the party’s circle. The Beast swiped at Gaston with its claws which he fended off with his rapier as he stabbed the creature with his vizcaina. Beyond, Father Signoret readied his blunderbuss. 

Gaston’s foot rolled on a rock and the Loup Garou sprang, fangs bared, knocking him to the ground. The shock drove the breath from his lungs and caused him to lose his grip on his blades. Somehow he got his arm up before the Beast’s jaws could close on his throat. The Beast bit down, but Gaston’s air starved lungs didn’t allow him to cry out despite the agony. The Loup Garu had him pinned to the ground, nearly helpless. Signoret reasoned that Gaston would be dead in seconds unless he could stop the Beast so he fired his blunderbuss. Shrapnel sprayed the Beast and Gaston. The Beast lifted its head up and howled in agony. Gaston drew the silver knife and plunged it to the hilt in the creature’s neck. Seeing his captain down with the Beast on top of him, Jacques dropped his pistols and drew the fish fork stabbing wildly at the unmoving creature. Gaston slowly rolled the Loup Garou over then took a deep breath. 

“Mildeux! The Beast is heavy. Another moment and he’d have torn out my throat.” Gaston started to get up, then fell back. “Parbleu, I’ve been shot. Somebody help me up.”

Jacques and Signoret helped Gaston up. Around the party were the bodies of half a dozen wolves. As they looked, the Loup Garou slowly changed, turning back into the form of the Woodsman. Signoret offered to see to Gaston’s wounds immediately, but Gaston declined. “Not yet. I’ve something else to do first. Duval, give me that zweihander you’ve been hauling about.” Gaston took the two-handed blade, he swayed slightly and had to pause a moment to steady himself. He carefully lifted the blade, checking to see that there was room to swing. Then he brought it down in a huge arc that clashed against the rocks as it took off the Woodsman’s head in one blow. “There! That’s done.” He grounded the blade and leaned on the crosspiece of the giant zwiehander. “Someone stick that thing on the end of this blade. Well Father, I think you might look to some of these wounds now. Damme, I’m not sure who came closer to killing me. You or the Loup Garou. Still I thank you. Better a quick death than being eaten alive by that cursed fiend.

Retracing their steps, they carried the body and head of the Woodsman. They found that Clovis’ men had been attacked by a large pack of wolves. [viii] Clovis himself was wounded. The wolves had broken past his line and fled to the exit where they ran into Eugène, Albert, and the rear guard. Only two wolves out of the entire pack escaped the musket fire and steel of the rear guard.

Father Signoret placed Saint Hubertus’s Key in the campfire to heat while he said a brief mass of thanksgiving. Then he used the Key to ritually cauterize the wounds of the Loup Garou and of any of the normal wolves in his pack. Then he bandaged the wounds as well. The soldiers put the Woodsman’s headless corpse into the iron cage. Once all this was done, it was nearly time for lunch. They returned to Soissons.

Gaston used his authority from the Governor to requisition a barrel of gunpowder which he used to seal the cave. The Woodsman’s head was placed on a spike in front of the Cathedral. The body was hung in the cage from the gibbet by the Town Hall. They left the dead Red Guard, Bellamy’s body to be buried in the cathedral cemetery. Gaston commissioned a set of cloaks to be made of the pelts of the wolves killed by himself and his men. Before turning over the pelts, he selected the best one as a gift for Cardinal Richelieu.

Nobert took a large wolf fang and had it made into a necklace. He tried to give the necklace to Yvette, but she dropped the huge yellow tooth in horror. Norbert picked up the wolf tooth. Apparently the wedding was off. Sadly, he left Yvette. The necklace he had remade into a wolf’s tooth earring which he thought gave him an exotic look.

Gaston wrote a letter to Governor de Labrousse with a copy for Cardinal Richelieu detailing the brave actions of himself and his men and informing the governor that they had killed the majority of the wolves and dispersed the few pitiful, wounded survivors; that Gaston had killed the Loup Garou before it could claim his vengeance by killing the Governor, and that this time it would stay dead. The Beast had returned to human form and he could find its head on a spike next to the Soissons Cathedral. Thus the terror of the wolves was ended thanks to the foresight and actions of the Cardinal and his Red Guards.

Gaston ordered the town guards to deliver the letter and he and the other heroes returned to Paris.

[i] See map WolfLair_1.
[ii] See map WolfLair_2A.
[iii] See map WolfLair_2B.
[iv] See maps WolfLair_2C and WolfLair_2D.
[v] See map WolfLair_3.
[vi] See map WolfLair_3A.
[vii] See map WolfLair_6.
[viii] See map WolfLair_3B.

No comments:

Post a Comment