The shadow flashed by in a blur. Iric fired his crossbow. There was a smacking sound and a squeal. The shadow kept moving.
Iric dropped his bow and sprinted after the beast. He couldn’t let it get away.
This wolf had somehow got trapped inside the city walls, lost among the branching streets and alleys, and had been wreaking havoc on the people in the neighborhood around Market Street. They had demanded the Watch do something; Sergeant Vott had demanded Iric take on the extra duty.
Iric dashed around the corner of a large stone building, the young watchman’s steel breastplate clanking with each heavy step. His knee smashed into the side of a covered cart hidden in the shadows. He groaned.
The wolf, too, yelped in pain as it ran, bounding over crates, ducking under parked carts, and generally making a mess of things. Iric had hoped the shot would put the creature down quickly and peacefully, but his throbbing knee testified to a miscalculation.
He could tell the canine was weakening. It was slowing, and leaving a significant trail of blood behind it. The creature swung around a corner that Iric knew well to be a dead end. He had it trapped.
The alley was narrow, surrounded on three sides by tall, brick buildings. Iric drew his sword and filled as much of the alley with his girth as he could, blocking the exit. The narrow space was filled with shadows, and yet the dim light from the moon put out enough of a glow for Iric to finally get a real look at the beast. The wolf cowered in a far corner, the crossbow bolt jutting out of its hip.
Except it wasn’t a wolf. It was a dog. The beast that the locals had feared so much was merely a shepherding dog that had grown mangy and gray. Its fur was thick and tangled, its face unnaturally lean. It growled a warning. Iric could see how someone might mistake it for a wolf, if only glimpsed briefly in the shadows.
Iric rubbed his head, trying to massage away the guilt of what he had done. This poor creature was no threat. He prayed it wouldn’t die.
Setting down his sword, Iric approached the dog with open hands, staying low in a passive stance. The dog continued to growl at him. It snapped at his fingers when they got to close.
“Shh…it’s okay boy,” Iric said, trying to be as soothing as possible. “I’m sorry.”
The poor canine seemed unready to accept the apology.
Iric sat down on the cold cobblestone ground, only a few feet from the wounded animal. He looked the short-haired youth withdrew a small cloth pouch. He ripped a bit of dried meat off a larger chunk and tossed it to the dog, which gave the food a wary sniff and began to chew.
Replacing the pouch, Iric inched forward. He reached a hand out, hoping not to receive an ungrateful bite, and rested it on the dog’s matted head. The animal accepted the touch.
“It’s okay boy. I’m gonna help you.”
He scratched the dog behind its large ears, which it seemed to enjoy. While it was distracted, he leaned in to check its wound. The bolt had buried itself deep into the dog’s hip, likely spitting the bone. Iric was amazed it had been able to run at all. This creature clearly had a lot of spirit. He wondered if it would let him carry it.
The animal was bleeding too much for him to wait for further evidence of its temperament. Iric reached his hands under the beast and pulled it up to his chest. It whimpered but offered no resistance.
Iric carried the wounded dog for more than half an hour, down dark and empty streets, his arms becoming sore with the burden. Eventually, he arrived at the apothecary’s shop. A voice in his head questioned the wisdom of bothering old man Trumbehrt in the middle of the night, but he decided the inevitable scolding was the price he had to pay for shooting an innocent animal. He rapped on the door.
To his surprise—and shame—it wasn’t the old apothecary that answered the door; it was his apprentice, Runa. Iric had never seen her like this. She was dressed in sleeping clothes, with a heavy jacket thrown over her shoulders in some haphazard attempt at looking presentable. Her brown hair was messy and tangled, falling over her shoulders in waterfall-like chaos. Iric was struck dumb by the sight of her.
“Iric?” Runa said, rubbing her eyes. “What are you…is that a dog?”
Iric’s mouth hung open. He couldn’t find the words.
“Iric?…Come on, it’s late.”
“Oh…right…sorry…um…no time to explain. He’s hurt really bad. Can you help?”
Runa leaned in and put her fingers to the wound.
“It’s been shot. How?”
“Long story…can you help him?”
She looked him in the eyes for a long moment before answering. “Of course, bring him inside.” She ushered the young man and his dog into the back room. “By the way, it’s a she.”
Iric watched this lovely girl in awe as she worked magic, long through the night, past the rising of the sun. Of course, it wasn’t real magic, Iric knew, but it was magic to him. She was magic to him.
Out of the corner of his eye, he thought he saw the face of the old apothecary looking in through a window. Iric’s heart seized. But in a fleeting moment, the shadow was gone. When Runa completed her treatment, Iric helped her moved the bandaged canine over to a cloth couch nearby.
Feeling the drain of the night’s exertions finally catch up to him, Iric collapsed down next to the sleeping animal.
by J.M. Williams