Updated: May 24, 2020
Days passed in a fevered haze. She had enough wherewithal to rouse anytime the innkeeper’s wife crept in to divest her of her mask or her filthy clothes and to bark at her to go away. And she recalled with agony-sharpened clarity when the physician cleaned and stitched her wound. But other than that, she slept and dreamt. She saw her mother, a lily between her stone-pale hands, carried into a marble tomb by guards in black sashes. And her father on his throne, head in his heads, red beard turned winter gray, broad shoulders shuddering as he wept. Fee came to her, too. As a frog, he rested his cool feet upon the burning skin of the backs of hands and reassured her that he was not dead, that he knew she would keep her promise. And then, he came as a man and sat upon the edge of her bed. She could not see his face, but she felt his presence there, the weight of it sinking the wool and straw of the mattress.
“I will wait, mo ghra,” he said.
Then he rose. Sweat-drenched, the tiny wood-slatted room smearing, she reached for him.
She blinked, her eyes cleared. But she was alone. Flames dwindled in the hearth. Fog pressed against the window panes above her bed.
Her arm ached dully beneath the linen and poultice pressed to it. Stretching her fingers brought more pain, but the more she did it, the less there was.
Someone knocked at the door.
“Who is it?” she asked, her voice more like a frog’s than Fee’s ever had been. She reached for the water jug on the bedside table, lip curling as she caught a whiff of her body. She still wore her stiff leather jerkin; she remembered that, refusing to allow the innkeeper’s wife or the physician to remove.
Her head began to pound. “Enter!” she called impatiently, hoping it was the innkeeper or his wife. She would ask for a bath or at least a bucket of hot water.
She waited, watching the door. But no one entered.
Then, another knock.
Growling, she threw back the bedclothes and peeled her filthy body out of the bed. Every joint popped and protested, every muscle stiffened and pulled, every movement made her skin burn as though it were about to split.
She shuffled in her mud-stiffened stockings to the door, pulled it open, and gasped.
A gray-eyed wolf filled the doorway.
Heart thundering, she stumbled back, searching in vain for her sword.
The wolf lowered its head; its lips pulled back. Its canines were as long as her middle fingers. It stepped into the room, thick gray-white fur bristling.
She spied her sword, leaning in the corner of the room between the bed and the stone.
Her gaze flicked back to the wolf.
Then to the sword.
The wolf pounced. Its teeth sank into her neck.
She screamed, but it was too late. She was no match for the wolf.
But she was not sweating. Her pulse was not racing.
She was perfectly calm. Perfectly clear-headed.
Sitting up, her nose wrinkled.
Pushing back the linens and wool blanket, her bare feet touched the braided straw rug on the floor. She touched her throat. The skin there was smooth and unbroken. She gazed at the door a long time.
But there was no knock.
She washed with the bucket of water left by the hearth. Orange flames rippled over the coals, hugging the embers close. Outside the window, the clouds were cold steel.
There were aches and bruises, but she barely registered them.
Once cleaned and dressed, she descended to the public house.
Silence washed over the crowded room when she appeared.
They cleared a path for her that led her to a single chair at a lone table near the fire.
When she was seated, she spotted a set of familiar green-eyes at the front edge of the crowd.
The green-eyed warrior cupped his metal mug with one hand, with the other.
Out of the hushed crowd, a wiry whip of a boy no more than twelve hurried forward, his arms loaded down by a clutch of weapons. He knelt and laid each one at her feet. Five magnificent curved scimas, two short-swords, a spear, and a dagger.
The boy’s turtle-shell colored eyes rose to meet hers and then quickly dashed away.
The green-eyed man stood and reached behind his chair. Out he hefted a mighty ax, a massive weapon, its shaft banded in iron, its head swirling smoky-blue. He placed it reverently beside the other weapons and stepped back.
Ten weapons in all lay arrayed at her feet.
“These are yours,” the green-eyed man said. “The people of Gorrgrey offer you the only reward we have, you say you have no home, then we will consider you our own. You say you have no name, then we will give you a name. There has never been a warrior to fight with his teeth set and his eyes firm as the fiercest of creatures in the country, as have you.”
Around him, the townsfolk nodded and murmured in fervent agreement. Some smiled. Others were furrow-browed, not in anger, rather from intensity of feeling.
“You fought like a wolf,” the green-eyed warrior said, “and so that is the name you have earned. Conlan, the wolf.”