BLOOD OF THE WOLF
As Cromwell conquers the west of Ireland, his army captures a werewolf and makes plans to unleash a deadly plague on the last city offering resistance. Only a group of misfits – a common English soldier, a priest, a pair of wealthy scientist siblings and a servant girl – can prevent the slaughter.
Katherine left the room and stood in the hall. One of the dogs came over and licked her. She pulled her hand away, then held it open and looked into her palm. The necklace she’d taken from the body was still there. The hall was cold and dark. She looked at the ring. Again, it looked like a skull and she felt herself shiver. It’s not mine, she thought. If there’s to be any rest tonight, I must return it. She hurried to her room and found her heavy winter cloak. She was chilled and could not get warm all day. She threw it on and grabbed an oil lamp from the upstairs corridor. The rain was beating against the glass. There’d be no moonlight to show her the way to the orchard.
She took the stairs leading directly to the laboratory to avoid meeting anyone. The usual smell of sulphur was cut with a less familiar scent of straw. The floor was still littered with the packing from Hartlib’s delivery which Robert had opened but not yet cleared. The room was chaotic. It was no bigger than the dining room and might have served as an adequate library but, for the Boyles, it housed both books and an array of scientific apparatus. Glassware, bellows, stoves and reams of paper filled a long central table and the walls, where not glazed, were lined with over-stuffed shelves. Katherine moved carefully to avoid collisions. She exited silently through the heavy wooden side door and felt her face whipped by a squally shower of rain. She pulled her hood up over her head. November was finally living down to expectations. She raised one side of her cloak to shelter the lamp and proceeded towards the farmyard. There was little noise apart from the bleating of lambs in the barn and the rain hissing through the treetops. Once she reached the walls of the orchard and entered through the narrow stone archway, she found some shelter. She was able to hear her footsteps once again as they squelched along the central path towards a fallow patch of ground inside the back wall. There, half a dozen unknown souls had been buried without names, if not ceremony, since the war had come to Limerick.
The darkness under the trees was total and her lamplight counted for little. She slipped and wobbled a few times as her shoes hit some putrefied piece of fruit but at least in the relative silence, she could rely on her hearing. There was the drip drip of rainwater on leaves and an occasional thump when some sluggish apples gave up the fight with winter and fell to the ground. She was quick to rationalise the noises but they perturbed her nonetheless. Despite the lack of moonlight, there was still a contrast between the inky black cover of the apple trees and the dim light from the open sky. She was glad when she reached the clearing by the back wall. At the end of the orchard, she could make out the mounds of earth where the bodies plucked from the river bank had found rest. She knew where to look for the newest one. She expected to see a fresh mound of earth. Instead, she found an empty hole. Her heart pounded. Another thump. She whipped around. She could see nothing in the darkness of the trees. She looked at the grave again, this time holding her lamp close to the hole. It was a mess. Soil had been pushed out from the grave. A deep furrow emerged from one end where some great weight had dragged or been dragged out.
Far off a wooden door smacked in the wind.
Her nerve failed and she ran. As she raced down the orchard path, her hood blew down. She reached up and, distracted, stepped with her whole weight on some slimy fruit residue. She tumbled onto the muddy path and grazed her hands. Her lamp went flying and fizzled out. She looked up. All was black, save for the narrow exit in the distance. She rose and continued running. Once through the arch, she’d see the lights of the house. Near the tree line, the roar of the wind and rain filled her ears. The grey shape of the arch grew brighter, then suddenly dimmed as a huge silhouette blocked her way. She plunged into the shape and felt strong arms save her from falling. She looked up. It was the dead man.