The four deaths

 

              Anawd opened his eyes and took a breath. The air was cool, and a breeze moved the leather door to his house, though at this dark hour little light emerged from outside. He rose slowly from his bed, as men of his great age were to do, and limped to his chest of belongings, his ankles crick-cracking along the journey. He peered into the chest before taking out his armour and club and blew the dust off it. He lifted an old water skin, thought better of it, and placed it back inside. He would have no need of water today. He donned his leather armour and hefted his club, taking a last look around his home before leaving. His eyes stopped on the painting above his bed, a self portrait of his wife of so many good years. A talented woman, she had died two years previous, leaving Anawd to live alone. He missed her terribly. Still, he had two daughters and a son, and a half dozen grandchildren, and the whole village called him friend. It was for them that he hunted this day.

               Anawd stood outside his hut, took a breath and placed upon his head a helm of stiffened leather with cast-off antlers for decoration. He had no need for breakfast, as he had eaten well last night at a gathering made in his honour, where he had clashed cups with almost all the folk of the village. It was a fine night, for more reasons than one. He thanked the Mother that he had had a good day. He recognised many of the Grynn from his youth, and all of his grandchildren, for which his terrible illness was most painful. To have their grandfather not know who they were was indeed a disease of the most wicked, a disease his wife had thankfully not lived long enough to endure.

              Anawd did his best to ignore the pain in his knees as he made his way. He nodded to the two guards as he passed them crossing the bridge which led out of the Grynn village of Cyphcodwick. The sentries had smiled at him and asked him kindly where he was going, though they knew too well, for they were also at last night’s feast. “Huntin’,” he had said. Each one had embraced him in turn before he passed.

              He walked alone for an hour before finding the path he sought. Daylight was still an hour away, which was fortuitous, as the creature he sought did not enjoy the sunlight. Anawd was a very brave man, and always had been, but at the thought of the beast he pulled some valerian root from his pocket and began chewing. Soon, he would be filled with the bold spirit of his youth, the spirit that had seen him through many hunts and battles, not to mention the courting of his wife and raising of his family. Its bitter taste would see off any fear or second thoughts of the task at hand. A half hour later, Anawd felt the effects of the root in the form of a pleasant warmth, coursing through his body in such a way that it caused him to stop in his tracks. He looked up into the sky, and saw the green half-light of the Mother filtering through the trees, a light which would strengthen his resolve. Then, there came a sound which caused his hand to find the halt of his ironwood club, which he gripped tightly. There, in the moonlight of Mother Grewd, stood a creature resembling a wolf, only furless with shining ebony skin and a head almost too large for its body. It made a strange sound, part growl, part mewl. Anawd raised his club and stalked slowly forward. “Come here, you black bastard,” he whispered as he walked, and once close enough, with all his strength brought his club down upon the head of the creature which had began to spring forward. The club glanced off the wolf’s thick skull, and Anawd felt the teeth at his throat, crushing his windpipe and biting through flesh and bone swiftly and mercifully.

              The old Grynn had often wondered what would await him when he died. His, was a life well lived, and his death was a good one, one which would spare his loved ones the terrible suffering of seeing him wither and forget them. He hoped Mother Grewd would welcome him.

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