The treetops swayed high above the mists along the edge of the forest known as Wynne Holt. Four boys, all in their twelfth year, lay on their stomachs peering through the grasses of the headland near The Point. They watched as the cloaked Creature, the Ge-sceaft, wandered through the shifting fog that intermittently smothered the field ahead of them. Its shadow faded and resurfaced as it roamed through the grasses; and at times, eerie noises— almost like singing— drifted to the edge of the cliff from where they watched.
Angus, the oldest and brawniest of the lads, began telling tales that terrified and delighted the others. “It has horns, it does. That’s why it wears the hood so far over its face. The horns aren’t at the back; they’re near the front, and it uses them to tear up its food like an animal uses claws and fangs.”
“What does it eat?” The other boys turned to stare at Liam, snickering at the tremor in his voice.
“Small animals, of course,” Angus replied with exaggerated patience. “It just rips open a rabbit-”
“Look, it’s looking this way!” Philip had listened to enough of Angus’ stories to know there was likely more fiction than truth to them. “Do you think it sees us?”
“D-d-do you th-think it eats children?” Liam’s voice now dropped to a strangled, stammered whisper.
“Well maybe babies—“
Philip’s patience evaporated. “Oh that’s a pile of fresh dung. That Creature is probably as wary of us as we are of it; and it certainly doesn’t eat babies. Broðor Clarke would be ashamed of you for scaring Liam like that, Angus.”
The other boys gaped at Philip with something akin to awe. Few of their friends ever had the courage to stand up to Angus; those who did usually paid a price for it. Liam, amazed at his friend’s boldness, forgot to be insulted. Philip stood in the knee-high grasses, showing himself to the Creature, if it was looking, and crossed his arms with feigned nonchalance. His brother had once assured him that boys such as Angus looked for fear or nervousness, and without them, they rarely pounced.
“If you’re so brave, why don’t you go talk to it? See if it can be tamed.”
Philip did not take the bait. He allowed all the disdain he felt for Angus’ silly fables to show in his voice. “It’s obviously tamed; it lives with the midwife.”
“Everyone knows that midwives are little more than sorceresses,” protested a scrawny, freckled, redheaded boy.
“Oh Aubrey, that is ridiculous.” Philip wasn’t going to surrender so quickly. As much as he feared the mystery surrounding the Creature, he didn’t want to show it.
“Then why do more babies survive when the modor uses the midwife?” Aubrey’s tone suggested that he was parroting someone— Philip guessed it was his brother.
“If they were truly sorceresses, why don’t they save all babies then? Why only save some if they have such powers.” Philip retorted just as strongly. “Broðor Clarke would be shocked at you, accusing a baby-catcher of such evil powers.”
“Oh listen,” Angus mocked derisively. “The pet can’t come up with a reasonable argument, so he hides behind the minster’s cloak.” Angus cracked a knuckle for effect. “Do you think I care what a man who lives in stories will do to me for speaking truth?”
The other boys listened, interested, as the debate raged. Behind a nearby tree, a brown-cloaked man listened, nodding at Philip’s words while frowning at the foolish ideas of the other boys. He peeked through a fork in the tree as he heard Angus issue a new challenge.
“I dare you, since you think you know so much, to introduce yourself to the Creature and then come back—unharmed.”
“I’ll go, but I won’t follow it into Wyrm Forest.”
Philip spun on his heel and glared at Angus. “It is foolish to wander into those woods. Cowardice has nothing to do with it.” He spoke, his voice filled with confidence until it cracked on the word ‘cowardice’.
Angus wasn’t sure how to respond and yet save face. “So go, before it disappears into the holt and you find an excuse to hide from there as well.”
Philip glanced down at the row of boys hidden in the grasses that separated the forest from the cliffs, and walked toward the line of trees. Halfway to the woods, the mists grew thicker until the fog almost completely obscured him. At times, he appeared to have vanished from sight.
As the cloaked Creature turned and fled at the sound of his approach, the boys heard Philip call to it. “Wait! I don’t mean to hurt you. Please wait!”
Hidden beneath a fresh layer of salt-scented fog, Aubrey whistled low. “No one can say that Philip isn’t brave. He didn’t have to call out—”
“He just did that because he knew it’d make the Creature run away.”
“If the Ge-sceaft runs from a boy, it can’t be very frightening.” Walter spoke for the first time. He feared the Creature more than he’d ever admit, but now there was a way to disguise it.
“The Creature only kills under cover of darkness. Everyone knows that,” Angus asserted derisively.
“Well, it had a chance to kill under cover of the mists, and it didn’t take it,” the boy retorted.
Philip ambled back from the edge of the forest with shoulders slumped but relief in his heart. It was one thing to be an advocate for the Creature from afar but another to confront it, defenseless. “At least,” he muttered to himself, “Angus can’t say I didn’t try.”
A primrose lay crushed and upside down in the shorter grasses near the tree line. “It picked flowers?”
Annals of Wynnewood: Shadows & Secrets- (Please note if you would like it signed and to whom)