The laughter was an unexpected relief.
“An interesting assumption to make soldier, why do you think he’s mine?”
The flushed and mumbled answer was cut off by a furred fist punching through the ceiling, then hooking back to tear the hole larger. As with the one on the shutter, this creature added teeth to claws in an effort to get through, hampered by the close-set beams.
The guards drew swords and Nora, with a quick but intense check of the window, opened the glass and screamed for help. Reassuring shouts came from below. The question was whether the reinforcements could arrive before the monster, the beams were getting thinner.
It now had enough room to get its head partially through, into the room and it paused to take them in with a snarl.
“Well hello Snowflake, you’ve been a bad boy haven’t you.”
Kid locked in terror. Alec swore, he couldn’t get to his sword like this, let alone wield it effectively. He knew the others in the room were competent, even good, but this creature was beyond their experience. He stepped back, dagger drawn as the other arm kept tight hold of Kid. Nathan moved in front of them, his sword drawn and ready.
The retort came from one of the Wolfgrove soldiers, “Who’re you calling bad Willard Bantry? Seems to me your behaviour’s a damn sight worse.”
The creature howled in fury and desperate denial, reduced to the same mindless, ineffective frenzy as the one outside the window.
It bought them time, footsteps racing down the door to them, blessedly familiar, human voices calling out.
“Don’t open the door sir, there’s another in the corridor.”
Both monsters were now screeching. The one outside the door in pain as it tried and failed to meet the force of the Wolfgrove guards and the one in the roof in fury at the failure of its brethren.
There was a knock, “Got it sir.”
Mellisande moved to the door, checked, then opened it, dagger ready.
Jase stood on the other side, liberally decorated with the creature’s blood but apparently unhurt, “We’re holding off another trying to get through the ceiling.”
She looked past him to the other members of Alec’s troop and raised her voice, “And it’s saying it’s not Willard Bantry for all it sounds just like him.”
The group spoke quickly with each other, then split, four heading towards the stairs to the attic and the other four treading around the corpse in the hall to get into the room.
Alec called out, “Not all of you, there’s not enough space. Just get a couple of crossbows in here.”
Two spun to guard the door, the other two moved to the centre of the room and took aim.
“What have you been up to Willard? Your ma’s going to be very unhappy when I tell her.”
The scrabbling became frenzied, “You don’t say a word, I’ll kill you, I’ll kill you and take the Snowflake and ma will never know.”
“She cries for you Willard, did you know that? Every night she cries for her poor darling boy who went so far away.”
The creature screamed, the bows twanged and the scream turned into a gurgle, “Please don’t tell her…”
Then silence as the monster died above them.
They stood, unsure what to do next, until Jase called down to them through the hole, “We have it sir, should we add it to the King’s Circle delivery?”
“Yes, and the one outside the door, the more information they can get the better.”
As they listened to the thumps and bumps of body movement, Alec asked the room, “Willard Bantry?”
The soldier who first identified him spoke up, “Local lad sir, bit of a hot head and poor with discipline. When the Commander refused his application for the castle guard he ran off. Said he was going to that big place down where Bart had gone. That they’d appreciate him there.”
“His ma’s been getting notes from him, usually wrapped around a bit of money, what he said was wages. Thing is though, I’ve never known him to be able to read or write. He didn’t hold with sitting in a classroom.”
The others nodded in agreement. Mellisande spoke up, “What will you tell her?”
“Nothing Your Ladyship. We never saw a creature with Will Bantry’s voice, just like we never saw the Captain’s little wolf puppy there.”
Alec smiled tiredly. They were a good troop this one, smart, solid, caring, he was going to miss them.
“I appreciate that, he’s a shy little puppy and doesn’t like attention called to him.”
Mellisande approached and began to stroke Kid’s back, murmuring quietly. He slowly relaxed, breathing returning to normal and after a great deal of coaxing, and assurances that Alec wasn’t going anywhere, he moved to cuddling up in her lap on the bed, finally freeing Alec enough to move.
The room was a shambles. Alec sent runners downstairs to check on the two guards in the ladies’ room and also to see why none of the host’s household had made it up to them.
The answer to the latter, was the former. The guards had secured the room and continued to check on it, but had moved their efforts to containing the panicked householders, keeping them from the battle zone on the third floor and their secret puppy safely undiscovered.
At this news the decision was made to move the whole party to the room downstairs, with Kid, about to surrender to exhaustion but fighting valiantly, again bundled in blankets and tucked into Alec’s arms.
After extended exclamations, explanations and general fussing, the crowd finally settled down to try and get a few hours’ sleep in what remained of the night, less for the guards who continued on watch rota.
Alec had managed to grab some sleep, curled on the floor under the window while Nathan kept watch. Nora gave Kid a draught to drink after assuring him it was just to help him sleep and Mellisande promising him she wouldn’t let go of him till morning.
She was as good as her word, dozing fitfully while wrapped around his dormant form.
It was difficult to say whether the hosts or the guests who were gladder to part company that morning and the group set out early, two guardsmen remaining with the corpses, to help the household guard deliver them to the King’s Command.