The following is an excerpt from A Merchant’s Tale: Second Tale in the Matter of Manred. If you enjoy it, please consider joining the mailing list. You’ll receive an exclusive Sneak Peek PDF of A Merchant’s Tale direct to your inbox, a free copy of Hedge King in Winter: First Tale in the Matter of Manred in a special Subscriber’s Only Edition PDF, and become eligible for lots of other free content direct from the workshop of a working professional writer. Sign up today!
Below the knoll, in a gully formed where the next height began, that mighty bear lay dead, skewered by two spears each as tall as a man.
And hamstrung, disemboweled, and nearly decapitated by a pack of four hounds that were themselves of monstrous size. They were pure-white, every one of them, with red eyes and ears. They stood near as high as a tall child at the shoulder, with broad chests, narrow hips, and brutish jaws.
To the southeast, four furrows opened through the tall grasses, like the wakes left by great sharks I’d seen on the wide expanses of the Summer Sea.
I stumbled to a halt, with Jôkull beside me. Three of the hounds with the kill pricked up their heads. Their large ears came to triangular points and they turned their red eyes on us. Their jaws dripped with bear’s-blood.
Four more of the hounds appeared from the furrows of grass and looked up at us, attentive and intelligent.
Three sharp blasts rang out from a horn somewhere in the trees to the east. As one, the seven hounds bounded up through the grasses on the opposite knoll and into a copse of trees at its round summit.
Three more sharp blasts from a horn rang out from the southeast, beyond the next hill.
There was a loud answering whistle, a bright flash of light, and a sizzling pop. For a moment, my vision went white. Multicolored dots. Then a dim vision of something Mannish dashing low uphill through the grasses to join the hounds in hiding among the trees at the summit.
I blinked and rubbed at my eyes, brandishing my sword at I knew not what. Before us, at the bottom of the gully, was the bear, with two long spears trembling from its flesh and its entrails spilled on the soil.
The dogs were gone. None of us spoke for a moment.
Then I heard a whimper.
Adarc pointed down to the bottom of the gully and scrambled down the grassy hill. We all stared at him as if he was mad. Then Corvac leaped to his duty, jumping down ahead of him to test the liveliness of the bear.
Adarc began pushing at the bear’s limbs as if trying to lift them, but the beast was monstrous. Again, I heard a whimper.
“Jôkull. Get back to the wagon. I’m going down there to help Adarc.” He gave me a look that questioned the health of my judgment, but did as he was told. No doubt he thought downslope with the wagon was the sanest place to be. But those hounds were magnificent. If there was any chance they’d come back for their kill, I wanted to see them again.
Not to mention the bear! The pelt alone would fetch me thirty gold corons back home.
I dashed down into the gully. The whimpering grew louder.
Beneath the bear, Adarc was working to release the body of one of those hounds. As I mourned its loss, it whimpered again. It was still alive!
With vigor, I threw myself into assisting the acolyte, lifting away the confining parts of a beast that must have weighed seventy stone as a whole. After a sweaty struggle, Adarc pulled the hound free.
But it was a miserable sight to see. All four of its legs were mangled and broken. Its ribs crushed. No doubt its spine was broken. Yet it whimpered once more. Adarc looked up at me.
“You have to go.”
“Hwas? But the bear—?”
“You don’t understand. You have to go. Get back to the wagon.” He cradled the poor animal in his arms. “I’ll be along in a minute.”
I gestured to the watchful copse of trees atop the next knoll. “But what about—?”
He slapped my arm down. “Don’t do that!” He spoke through gritted teeth. “Get back to the wagon. Now. Corvac will stay with me.” He had a hard look in his eyes, like he was frightened. “Go.”
I looked back up at that copse and thought once more about the size of those monstrous dogs. I felt unnervingly sure that the trees looked back at me.
I nodded to Adarc, slapped him on the shoulder and wished him luck. I scrambled back up the side of the gully and away down the other side. But I laid myself down in the grass and crept back to see what would unfold.
Adarc had opened out the satchel that hung across his chest. He poured some liquid into the hound’s mouth. Then he drew the dagger he wore sheathed on his hempen belt and raised it point upward into the sky.
“Líethung ond mildheortnes, tha Glæterung Álibbend.” He gestured to the body of the hound in his lap. “Granunga na Ceugant.”
Without warning, there arose from the copse a single arrow, launched high into the air. It seemed to hang for a moment at the summit of its arc, and glittered in the sunlight.
Then it fell.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this excerpt from the next exciting story in the Matter of Manred, A Merchant’s Tale. It is the story of Corentin, a young foreign trader of the House Pelan who arrives in the uncertain lands of Droma, tasked to deliver a mysterious chest to a far-away sage in a remote corner of the kingdom. Accompanied by his mercenary bodyguard, Yôkull, a young local priest called Adarc, and the native scout Corvac, he sets out on a journey that will change his life forever.
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