Lord Adrescu discovers two problems on his lands, one of which is more easily solved.
They Hunted twice more before Easter’s feast. Ioantan studied the remains and shook his head. The bear-like form bristled with arrows, a dozen at least. They had only slowed it enough for Radut to impale it with a boar spear, pinning the thing for Adrescu to kill. The other creatures had been easier to slay, praises be. “My lord, I’ve not seen anything the like before. ‘Tis neither change beast nor true abyssal, nor a were.”
Adrescu handed the Razboini’s reins to Wadim and dismounted. The creature had stood as tall as his horse’s head when it reared up on hind legs. The front claws sported sharp tips that led to finger-like pads. As he looked more closely, he realized that the second claw formed a tube, and something black and wet dripped from it. He took the blood from the neck, as was proper. Radut’s spear lay with the beast. “Back away, all of you,” Adrescu commanded. Wadim led the horse farther from the body. Adrescu drew a pouch of blessed basil from his belt and called, “In the name of the Great God who made all that is good, in the name of His Son who died that all might live, in the name of the Lady of Night and Her Defender who serve by the power of the Great God, may the Lord cleanse this of all foulness and banish all evil.” He scattered the basil, then leaped back as blue-green flared like a bonfire.
“Deus meus!” Radut exclaimed. The bear-like shape collapsed like an empty hide. Only arrows, pelt, and spear remained. The cleansing fire consumed even the claws. “That—”
A woman’s voice called, “That warns that we face something that can twist beasts. Or someone,” Mistress Crina said from beside Radut’s horse. The grey-white gelding snorted but ignored her. She crouched and rested one hand on the hide. Her eyes unfocused, then snapped back into clarity. “Take the spear.”
Ioantan lifted the far end of the boar spear. The stocky Hunter shook the end, and the hide fell free. “Ah, honored Mistress?” He gulped a little as he showed the others where the blade had been. Nothing. “I’ve not seen this before.” His voice shook the slightest bit.
“No. I’ve read of such, from the days of the eastern hordes.” She took a long breath. “The hide may be claimed, or left.”
The others looked to Adrescu. He swallowed, then said, “I claim it. But it will remain outside the keep walls until Fr. Pavel blesses it.” A chorus of relieved agreement came from the others, including the tamadii.
Radut rode at his right hand on the return to the keep. “My lord,” his half-brother began. “Has a beast corrupted our weapons before?”
That was not the question Adrescu had anticipated. He took a long breath of the warm spring air, gathering his thoughts. The scent of the fresh-turned soil and life grounded him. Birds had begun to emerge from hiding. The foul beasts had driven them away. The Great God made the small ones wise in their own way. “I have not seen it before now,” he answered once they passed the women gathering in the washing bleaching on the bushes in a garden beside the road. “I think I read of such, on the old chronicles, but I confess, my interest wandered and I don’t truly recall.”
Radut nodded, as did Animus. Adrescu made a small warding gesture. His head knew that the horse had no magic or powers, but sometimes the gelding still raised the hair on his neck with its manner. Did more than a horse stare out of those odd blue eyes? Radut made a sound of agreement, drawing his brother’s attention back to the moment. “I never read them, but for some reason a tale from the time of the Mongols comes to mind. I know not if it had any truth to it, and it’s not one of the ones often told.” Adrescu gestured for him to continue. “My lord, if I recall right, one reason Lord Vlad retired from governing was that he and his suflit fratru felt themselves cursed by contact with changed beasts tainted by infernal power. I,” he stopped and stared at the road ahead of them. “I know not whether to believe that or not.” His tone changed, and he sat deeper in the saddle. “I do know that she shouldn’t do—”
Razboini saw the flapping fabric, as did Animus and the other horses. The brothers’ mounts startled but continued on. Chaos erupted behind them as the others rode through spooks and Wadim’s gelding reared, then kicked out, almost hitting Mistress Crina’s pony. The pony snapped at the gelding before the tamadii turned her mount away from the eruption.
“No,” Adrescu roared. “No not strike her!” The scrawny man with the young woman had lifted his heavy ox goad and began punishing the girl. Adrescu urged his stallion forward and rode to the man and women. The women all cringed away from the red-faced man’s anger. “She acted in ignorance.”
The man bowed. “My lord, she should have seen you, and should have waited. She dishonors her family with her stupidity, and only understands correction by the hand.”
“By the hand, not the weighted goad,” Adrescu snarled. The farmer opened his mouth, then snapped it closed and bowed, moving farther away from both the Hunters and the women. “Have you seen sign or heard sound of change beasts or abyssal touched creatures?”
The man stammered, then managed, “That one said she saw strange tracks by the stream.” He pointed to the girl who had shaken out the fabric. “She tells false tales, my lord.”
Adrescu handed the reins to his brother and dismounted. He approached the young woman slowly, expression calm and gentle. “Do you remember what you saw?”
She gulped, glanced at the man with the goad, and hung her head. “Tracks not a wolf or bear, too big for mountain cat. Strange claws, my-, my-, my lord. It followed down the stream to the ford. Then the tracks went away. I, I, I did not cross to follow, my lord.”
“Do you recall when you saw them?”
She hunched her shoulders. “This sab-, sab-, Sabbath past, my lord. Late in the day.”
Two days before. She was sent to get water, or driven to get water, and fears being punished. Or punished again. “To care for animals or people in need is not a violation of the day. Thank you.” He moved away from her, turned, and remounted. Radut handed back the stallion’s reins. The others had ridden up closer, and he told them, “The changed bear passed here two days ago, late in the day perhaps.”
Mistress Crina nodded. “That fits the other account we heard, my lord. And means the beast moved north.”
“I’d guess north and east, but yes, north most certainly.” He gave the hand sign for ride on, and they continued on the way back to the keep. The sun’s heat already felt like a weight on his shoulders more than the blessing that it truly was. Or was it the weight of what the future might bring, should Codrin’s vision prove true? Great God have mercy, please turn the infidels against each other. Such had happened in the past, either brother fighting brother for the throne, or as the infidels argued over who was the more devout. He snorted a little to himself at the thought.
“My lord?” Radut inquired, a small smile on his face.
“Thinking about the southern heretics fighting over who is the purer heretic, more devoted to the pursuit of error.” He knew enough of Islam to shake his head at the errors and half-truths it purported to follow. “I fear we will not be so blessed, this year.”
Radut gazed ahead of them, watching the fields and forests. “Anno. The sultan is not so old as to be weak and ill, not that I have heard. Nor do I know anything about a lower lord breaking away, as once happened.” He shrugged. “I know what we are to do, and Lady be thanked, we have a warning.” He glanced at his brother for a moment. “Although why you are supposed to use that tiny needle with the fancy trim to fight a giant bull?”
“Not so tiny needle, might I remind you?”
A snort greeted his words. “Should I quote our father— ‘Ware!”