SE WULFES HÚS: THE HOUSE OF WOLF
Published in Medieval Nightmares, from Static Movement.
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The snow fell in thick, unceasing sheets, covering all the world in silver-white powder, as a knight, horseless and squireless, but not without his sword, made his way out from the cover of the trees and into the hilly landscape of an unfamiliar kingdom. Thither a road ran from the forest into the West, where the knight made his way toward his homeland and his destination therein. However, whatever lay upon the road or beside it, the knight was completely blind to it, so heavy fell the snow.
Whilst he had still journeyed through the forest, and the sun withdrew from its high seat, the knight was able to go unhindered upon the road which cut its way between the thick growing pines. But now, out of the cover of his wooded shield, the knight was fully exposed to the harsh winter-storm Mother Nature had set upon the land. Verily now the snow seemed to be falling even heavier and the wind whistled in his ear as it bit at his limbs. So cold was that wind that even his youthful sinews were stiffened by its onslaught.
Looking about him, the knight could see naught but the suggestion of a hill here or there, or the dark outline of a pine tree between the blinding flakes of snow which fell before him. No other sign of life was there, and even if there were, the snow fell so heavily that unless one bore a light with them, they would be hard pressed to mark a man walking beside him in the night. However, having no light, and no other choice in the matter, the knight pulled his warm, woolen cloak tightly about him and stepped out from amongst the trees, doing his best to approximate whither the road continued.
His steps were slow and laboured, for it was no simple task, both the physical strength needed to plod through the snow and the guesswork needed to find the road with each new step. Even then the knight could not be certain he chose the correct way, and soon he began to doubt himself, wondering rather that he had stayed beneath the cover of the trees and risked the loss of a finger or two until the storm passed.
It was just then, as his thoughts bent on returning to the forest, praying to God he would be able to find his way back, that at last the knight marked the suggestion of life on the wintry hills. There, just ahead of him on the road, the knight could see the faint flicker as of a fire in the night. At once he wondered what other mad pilgrim had found himself trapped in this storm so far from any shelter. Yet it had been so long since the knight had walked upon peaceful lands he began to fear rather it was a group of rouges who, desperate in this cold land, had braved the snows that they might waylay a weary traveler at unawares. And weary though he was, of both travel and battle, the knight drew from his boot-sheath a small dagger, lest he be unarmed in the perceived ambush.
Whatever his precautions, it was his hope this was no band of thieves, but rather a group of good men with whom he might share a fire and some food, and a good many tales of warmer climes. As he drew closer, the knight let out a low sigh, for he saw there were other lights too and only then did he begin to think it some remote hamlet, far removed from the rest of the world. With vigour renewed, the knight ascended the rising hill before him and made his way in the direction of the lights.
It was not until he drew nearer still that the knight began to wonder at the architecture of this curious village. Though he could not deny the lights came from the windows of one or many dwellings, some were tall, oblong shapes, and many were too near one another to be of multiple homes. Then, as the knight ascended the top of that great hill, he faintly marked in the night sky the tall, thin spires of a great and noble castle.
As he came nearer, its aspect became more clear to him, and he saw that it was as great a castle as those of the wealthiest kings and landlords. Old it was, built no doubt in ages long forgotten, but its craft spoke highly of its masons. Tall, think spires rose from all ends and their shingles were ashen grey. The stones with which it was built were blue-grey and matched quite well the land upon which the castle now stood. No doubt the structure would seem cold to the eye, even in the warmest of summers.
The knight could see the road from the forest ran right to the doorstep of that castle ere it turned west toward the mountains and so found its way to other villages and kingdoms beyond. Sighing once again, the knight returned his dagger to its sheath and came forward to the two doors which marked the entrance to this spired majesty.
At either side of the doors, upon the walls of the arch in which they stood, two torches burned low, hardly lighting the walls on which they hung. Vaguely now could the knight see the doors were fashioned of thick, dark oak, held together with black iron bars, set two feet apart. Yet upon the doors were a very curious set of door-knockers. Each identical to its brother, they were fashioned in the frightening image of growling wolves, if wolves they could be called. For though they had the aspect of wolves, something of their make spoke to the knight of deep, hidden evils and the worship of Satan. Their eyes were lifeless as the stone from which they were crafted, yet it seemed to the knight these beasts would suddenly spring to life, should he reach forward and try the rings which hung from the wolves’ maws, and take his hand into their mouths instead.