"Don't go to bed early, come out after full dark. You'll see then."
"Other than that, no the orcs that you warned about haven't come anywhere near this area."
"We should probably see if they're still there," Meara noted.
"Yep," I agreed. "We'll go up north and check it out."
"Several days after the sun came back the fish stopped gamboling, and I had to work for a living again," Artos told us.
"Just as well, otherwise the fish would have all died."
"Seen any sea lions?"
"No, haven't seen any sea lions."
"Hm. There were two that were trying to menace Griffon."
"That probably didn't work too well...."
"No, it was actually really kind of an amusing sight. Sort of like horseshoe crabs trying to attack Artos."
"She was wondering if the sea lions' home, Under Hill or wherever it is, has an outlet in the harbor here," I explained.
"It might," Rhonwen shrugged. "If it does, though, they haven't come out where I've seen them, or that anybody's reported to me. Given some of the people in this village, they might have tried to whack it upside the head with a stick, tried to catch it in a net and bring it in...." She looked at her husband.
"In which case, you would have heard about it one way or the other," Gaenor told her cheerily.
We got settled into the house and waited for darkness to fall, curious. Meara went out to the headland to see if the sea serpent wanted to talk, but saw no sign of him.
It was the first night of the new moon, and it was immediately clear what Rhonwen had been talking about. The night was full of the sound of hammers beating on metal, about a dozen of them. The sound came from the Keep.
"He does this every month?" I asked.
"All three nights of the new moon," Gaenor replied.
"This is not a good sign," Llweder remarked.
"I don't find myself filled with confidence." That was Gannon.
"So this has been going on for three months now?" Meara asked.
"Are the changes in the castle walls synchronized with this at all?" I asked.
"As far as we can tell, it started about the same time, but it's not as if you can look up and notice exactly when the castle walls change color."
"So it's a gradual thing." I'd been wondering if the change moved quickly during the new moon nights.
"So we have until what, the solstice?" Meara estimated.
"Oh, joy. Let's go north. Let's go play with the orcs, maybe check out the sea serpent, talk to Gudrun.... Why don't we challenge Emer to single combat?"
"We?" Gannon queried.
"I think she means me," I clarified. "Would be interesting. Probably kick my ass." Which is not to say I wouldn't do it, of course, even though I'm pretty sure that it would qualify as biting off more than I could chew.
"Probably would, Ścause he'd cheat," she agreed.
"He's also about a hundred years older than I am."
"And definitely a lot more treacherous. Probably doesn't have that fatigue problem, either."
We caught a few hours' sleep despite the noise, woke early if not exactly bright, and made our plans.
"Orcs first, then check out the rose maze?" I suggested.
"Sure." We would do a circuit of Emer's demesne and see how things stood.
Leaving Conner in the village to keep an eye on the castle (no he wasn't thrilled, but it was better than orcs and rose mazes), we traveled north for a couple of days, until we reached the orc warren. It was still there, but considerably smaller than it had been. Many of the missing were dead and mounted on posts, and it hadn't been done by orcs. They're usually not so... artistic. There were well over a hundred of them, which meant that whatever had happened had cut the community in half (many of them literally). The bodies looked to date back to the solstice.
"You want to go ask them what hit them?" Meara asked.
"If I was them, I'd be shooting first at this point."
"We don't look like Fae." After a moment's consideration she added, "We need to be able to find that asshole."
"It would be beneficial to basically every living thing in the neighborhood."
"I'm not sure if he's responsible for this. This might be something else."
"Something else?!" I asked, aghast.
"The really interesting question is, is it something else or somethings else."
"I'm kind of hoping some things, with the body count here."
"Well, so am I, but I can think of one or two entities where it could be something else, and maybe they were just amusing themselves one night. We can scout around a little bit, see what else we find. If we're not going to talk to them, I guess we can just leave them alone."
There were some small offerings left near the corpses, hoping perhaps to appease whatever had perpetrated the slaughter.
"You want to stand back here? I'm going to go see if I can get myself killed," Meara decided.
"Of course not. If you're going to go get yourself killed I have to go with you," I pointed out.
"I feel guilty because my overwhelming sense of curiosity seems to cause anxiety among certain people in the party."
"You two can stay back here; if we get killed, take the message home," I told the others, and followed along as she climbed down the slope toward a warren entrance.
They sent someone out to meet us, a large male.
"What?" he snapped.
"Who did it?" she asked.
"Far as I know. We woke up one morning and two hills worth of people were up on sticks."
"So you don't know for a fact it was Wynn?"
"Oh, no, I know for a fact it was Wynn," he growled. "He was here to finish off the last couple come sunrise and let us know in no uncertain terms that he was here. I suppose it was somewhat useful, never really thought of using horseshoes like that."
"Was he handling the horsehoes himself?" she asked, puzzled.
"Well that's odd," I remarked.
"It was kind of interesting. If you space it right, you can get it right into the eye sockets and just lift."
"I can see how that could be done, yes." I winced. "He seems to have a fondness for horse-related implements. Horseshoe nails, horseshoes...."
"You noticed that?" Meara replied.
"Horseshoes in one hand and that damn sword in the other," the orc said.
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© 2002 Rebecca J. Stevenson et al