December 5, 2013 in Articles
Jeake the Arborist led us with cautious looks about, and a ready pitchfork around the corner of his cabin, and inside. The door was new, and oddly overbuilt, and he barred it twice behind us so that only the fire in the stone hearth, and a single lantern gave light to the room. The windows were shuttered, and very tightly indeed by someone who knew how to work wood. If I had to do the same job, I could shutter them, but there would be spaces for light to get in as I am only a bit handy with a hammer.
“Your work?” I asked him, still holding little Jeremy who chose that moment to bawl. Jeake, rickety and spritely yet, shook his head, and came up to the little baby goochy-gooing which on his grizzled face looked amusing and endearing at once. Jeremy took a pause in his complaint to study the new curiosity, and Jeake held out his arms with a happy smile which Jeremy mirrored, so I let the two join each other.
The slight old man bounced and jiggled about his one room cabin, past the wood table and the two chairs, and the ladder up to the loft sleeping area. Jeremy enjoyed it a bit, but began to murmur for while this was amusing, he still had a stomach needing filling.
“Look in the cooler.” Jeake ordered me off-hand. I looked about for a blue or red plastic box, but found no such thing. Hissing his irritation, he jabbed a left finger toward the corner furthest from the fireplace. Not seeing anything, I went over there, and then spotted the wooden trapdoor. Opening it, I found a cornucopia of apples and other foods.
“Git the sauce, boy.” Jeake ordered. I wondered if he meant likker as I’ve heard some folk say a bit of whiskey soothes teething problems admirably, but then it clicked and I dropped to my knees and looked closely about for a sealed jar. Inside was a layer of wax, and underneath it was applesauce. Shortly thereafter, Jeake was using a wooden spoon to dip the tip of it into the jug and feed an eager little boy.
“That’s right, Jeremy, old Jeake’s got the good stuff. None of that mashed up veggies, but genuine crushed by a mallet, and strained apple sauce. Your mommy….” And here Jeremy’s face clouded up, and Jeake took the moment to stick the spoon back in the mouth toot quick even as he turned a questioning look my way. What he saw in my face set him to swearing softly, so as to not disturb little Jeremy, but the two of them were wafted to Heaven on a cloud of blue smoke.
In a few more minutes, Jeremy was fed, and then burped and put down on a rug near the fire, but with a log from the pile next to the hearth as a barrier between him and the fire. Jeremy seemed happy there on a rabbit skin rug, and watched the fire dance. And with that done, Jeake took up a couple pottery bowls and spooned out more apple sauce for the both of us, and sent himself over to the in ground cooler to fetch a bottle of hard cider. This he bore back to the table, and we set down.
And so I told him of finding the bodies, and of the damage down to the bodies. He listened, and believed, and comprehended, and finally poured us some drink.
“To Thomas the Farmer and his wife Caitrin. Bold and true they were. And damnation to the beasts that killed them.” We drank to that, and both our eyes were touched with wetness.
“What did this, Jeake? I’m new to the area, and….”
“You need to know. So you do. And you have a look of a strong man, and well to do. Maybe you can help.” He meant my clothes by his comment about wealth, for I had tiny sticthes in my jeans, and contrary I could see the stiches in his tunic. “This valley is cursed. We have monsters in the wood, that eat of man. And some, they say Old Jeake is crazy, but I saw something once, and I know some of these monsters can be men.”
“Werewolves.” I said remembering the track.
“Aye, and wolves by themselves, or in packs. I go out to the trees every day, praying, for I figure it might be my last.”
“What about your neighbours?”
Jeake shook his head. “Closest was Thomas. I live on my old grandfather’s homestead because I can’t afford land closer to town, so I’m very far out here. But I figure to kill one of them when they come for me.”
Jeake laughed, but the edge of grim certainty too it let the verser know that this was no hollow boast. Jeake had no notion what to do but to die fighting. There had to be a better plan than that, and the verser meant to find it.