"I was not born a werewolf. I was not bitten, at least, not that I can remember. I am cursed. There, I've said it. You may now run to fetch the masses. You cannot allow such a creature to exist among women and children and innocent men. Stock up those silver bullets and do your worst." North finished with a flourish, waving one hand in the air while the other held loosely onto the decanter of brandy he attempted to empty. Unfortunately, more of the amber liquid splashed onto the glossy wood of the table than into the glass he had been aiming to fill. He grunted, paused then re-aimed the decanter.
"Begging your pardon, my lord," Amery replied, with a bored expression etched upon his weathered face. "But, we don't know if silver bullets work. We haven't tried that, yet."
"Through the heart should do, I think. Quick and clean, as may be."
"Silver or lead, what difference does it make if there's a hole in your heart? Any bullet through the heart might do. We haven't tried any manner of heart piercing."
"The night is still young, my good man." North gave a shout of triumph as he raised his sticky glass of brandy into the air.
Amery sighed. "Perhaps it's best to get a good night's rest, my lord. You'll need it for tomorrow." He made to stand, ready to help his errant lord find his way to his bedchamber.
North made a gesture to stop him. He took a gulp of brandy then set it down on the table next to the decanter. He turned back to his comrade, his friend, and leveled a serious stare in his direction.
"You must kill me, Amery. That is why I told you my secret all those years ago. You were hired to kill the evil creature that lives within me."
"Aye, but not the good man who stands before me now," Amery returned. They'd been through this scenario many a time before the night of a full moon. Amery knew this night would be no different from the many before. "I couldn't murder you no matter much ye paid me."
"A thousand pounds," North offered.
"Can not, my lord."
"Can not or will not?"
"You haven't got ten thousand pounds!"
"No, but my brother does. He will pay you amply."
"For murdering 'is younger brother? I'm sure 'e will, sir," Amery rolled his eyes and sighed. This bargaining was new.
"Explain to him that you put a poor man out of his misery and saved the lives of many potential victims in the near future. Or create any excuse as you like, you excel at that." North frowned, seeing he was not getting his point across.
"I apologize, my lord."
"Amery," North said a note of sorrow in his voice. "You're sacked. In the morning, I shall find someone else to murder me properly. Someone who can do the job without any silly remorse." He picked up his glass and swallowed the remainder of the liquid in one gulp. "And I'll be damned sure not to allow him to become accustomed to me the way you have obviously become." He gave a disgusted sneer toward his companion before turning back to pour more brandy.
"You're foxed, my lord. I doubt you'll remember this conversation in the morning." Amery stood, walked to the table and tried to take the glass away from his employer. North had consumed nearly the entire bottle. He'd have the devil of a headache come morning.
"Oh," North said, sorrowfully, "I will most definitely remember. I remember everything." He paused. He leaned heavily on the table, his head down, his eyes glazed over in that lost look he wore so many times. "Everything except-"
"Now's not the time to be goin' over such things. It's past time to get some much needed rest. Come now, my lord, I'll help ye to yer bed." Amery moved the bottle away and took one of Noth's arms in his hands, hoping he would move willingly. Amery didn't much approve of his lordship's getting foxed, but he understood the source.
North resisted Amery's urgings and stayed rooted to the floor. "How can you allow me to live, Amery? Knowing of such destruction. Of such death…"
"You did magnificently well in the war, my lord. I cannot want for a better comrade than a werewolf." Amery said, hoping to veer his lordship's mind from the path it had taken. Amery knew what North remembered. The images of those he had killed haunted him still. Even Amery was horrified to see what had been left of the bodies. But Amery knew the beast within North was not the man himself. He had no memory of what he had done as a wolf. They were two separate entities trapped within the same body.
"No man deserves to die such a death." North whispered staring into the space before him with such haunted eyes. "And no man deserves to live such a life as mine."
"Come, my lord." Amery pleaded not above begging. He would say anything to convince his employer, his friend, not to dwell on such thoughts, though knew it a hopeless attempt at distraction. North dwelt on these things all day, every day. And for every full moon he tried to gather the courage to end his life. But he always failed. He feared punishment in the afterlife. He dared not condemn his soul when his life was already damned.
Lillian Merriweather trudged through the snow-covered lane, pausing every few feet for a look around to catch her bearings. It did no good. She found herself well and truly lost. She had misplaced sight of the wheel tracks from the last carriage that had passed through. They had long since been covered with the falling snow. And as dusk had settled upon her, the light from the cloud-masked sun now dwindled to nothingness. It would not be long until she became encased in pitch black with nothing but the wetness on her cheeks to tell her if the precipitation had stopped or not.
She had long since retracted her aversion to finding shelter and determined she had great need of it. As Lillian brushed away the dusting of snow that had accumulated on her arms and shoulders, she wiggled her fingers, testing each one, and felt the barest amount of movement. She paused, did the same with her toes and in dismay discovered the same results. Though she had bundled herself exceedingly well, the cold still seeped into the layers of cloth. She suspected if she failed to find shelter soon, she would become an unintended addition to the surrounding landscape.
Lillian paused to reassess her position to what she thought might be the road. As she tilted her head, she was surprised to see a flicker of light up ahead. Narrowing her eyes to see through the onslaught of snowflakes confirmed her suspicions.
A house, up ahead!
She tilted her head back, closing her eyes and sighed in relief.
Glory be, she was saved!
Without any other thought, Lillian plodded through the knee-deep snow, keeping her eyes focused on that sliver of twinkling light. Above all, she feared since salvation had fallen upon her that she would lose sight of it and all hope of rescue would wash away. Flakes covered her eyelashes, and she squinted through them, afraid to even blink until the shape of the house became clearer.
A huge house-likely a manor home, not some villager's dwelling as she had hoped. It would have been nice to cozy up to a cottage's warm fire with its quaint occupants. And no need for exceedingly imaginative explanations.
With a nobleman's house…
She prayed the owner of this estate would not inquire too deeply into her past or her reasons for being stranded on the roadside during what had turned into a blizzard. She had not fabricated a story in advance of such occurrences. But then, she had not prepared to be recognized at that last inn, either.
When she reached the dwelling, she debated briefly whether to seek the warmth and security of the stables. Surely, she could manage to find a dry bed in the hay used for the animals but after a moment's hesitation and the yearning for a warm fire to roast her frozen toes beside, she pulled at the knocker on the door, in hopes someone would hear the sound echo through the halls. She suspected, by this time, if the occupants kept country hours, all would be abed. After several moments of waiting and continued pounding on the door, she gnawed her bottom lip and glanced back at the stables, wondering if perhaps she would have a bed of hay tonight after all.
Closing her eyes, she felt herself sway with sudden exhaustion. Now that she had stopped moving, she felt the fatigue she'd held at bay for the last several hours. She debated whether to wait any longer at the door with hopes that someone would, at long last, answer her knock or if she should use the last vestiges of strength to drag herself to the safety of the stables.
Before she could formulate a decision, Lillian heard the sound of the doorknob turning, and she looked back, relief flooding her until her knees grew weak. The door swung open and the light from the candle shed a luminescent glow upon her causing her to blink at the sudden brightness.
"What the devil?" A rough male voice thundered in her ears.
Lillian wavered on her wobbly legs. She opened her mouth to beg for pity. To let her in. To let her warm herself by his fire, but her lips became immobile and the brightness began to fade.
She heard another muttered curse before the darkness and cold enveloped her.
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