Cover Image
Steve White
Outside The Cony

Autumn 1659

     William Tanner held his last playing card firmly between thumb and finger. His eyes narrowed as he stared at it accusingly, blaming it for all the misfortune that had befallen him. John Freeman watched him, forcing himself to keep a straight face. William was a poor loser at the best of times, but tonight his luck was worse than usual.

     "You can frown at it all you like," said John, "but you've got to play it; it's your last card."

     William peered over his playing card. "You're enjoying this, aren't you?"

     "As always, my dear friend. If I'm going to be trapped in The Cony, there's no better way of killing time than playing cards with my oldest friend."

     "Did I ever tell you, you can be a real patronising bastard at times," said William.

     "And you're not exactly trapped," said Agnes as she watched the card game from behind the bar. "You can leave my inn at any time; it's only a little rain."

     John leant back in his chair. "Have you seen it out there? If it gets any heavier, I'd suggest we build a boat."

     "Well, if that's what it takes to get you out of here, then so be it," said Agnes. "It's late, and I want to go to bed."

     William placed his card down then folded his arms. It was a jack of hearts. "If you've got Elizabeth of York again, I swear I'll . . ."

     John ignored the threat and started laughing even before he placed the queen of hearts on the table. William's face screwed up in anger. "Why you cheating — "

     John laughed gleefully. "It's just a game. I'll tell you what, put another log on the fire, and I'll buy us both an ale."

     William grimaced but perked up at the proposition. Turning in his chair, he looked across the room at the burly smith sitting in the corner with his head back, eyes closed.

<  2  >

     "Hey, Madok, put another log on the fire."

     The smith fidgeted in his chair. "Do it yourself."

     William strode over to the fire, grabbed the poker, and set to work. John leant on the bar watching Agnes fill two tankards from the barrel when the front door burst open. A gust of wind blew the flames of the oil lamps and chilled the room.

     "Who the bloody hell is that?" Agnes demanded. She placed the two tankards on the bar and looked to the front door while wiping her hands on her apron. "We're closed," she bellowed.

     The door quickly closed, and a man in a soaking wet cloak shook himself and removed his hood. John recognised him as the school teacher.

     "It's all right, Agnes; it's only Thomas."

     "I don't care who it is," said Agnes. "It's late."

     Thomas stepped into the bar room. His clothes soaking, his hair flattened to his head. "There's something out there," he said.

     William turned with poker in hand, his brow furrowed. "What's out there?"

     "I don't know," said Thomas.

     Madok fidgeted as he slept, causing the school teacher to flinch. John noticed the subtle tic of fear but couldn't help his scepticism. "But if you don't know what's out there, then how do you know there is something out there?"

     "I was on my way home, passing the spring behind Madok's place, when I heard something howl on Coppice Hill."

     "Are you saying a dog scared you?" asked William.

     Thomas shook his head. "It was no dog. It sounded . . . bigger."

     John and William looked at each other as if struck by the same thought.

     "George has got some big dogs up at his farm," said William.

<  3  >

     "Aye," said John, "and his farmhouse is not far from Coppice Hill."

     "It was no dog," said Thomas, raising his voice.

     "Keep your voice down," said Agnes. "There are children asleep upstairs. Wake them up, and I'll throw you all out."

     Thomas eyed the landlady and then returned his attention back to his friends. "There's something out there, I tell you, and it's not a dog."

     The front door opened, making them all jump. Agnes grumbled something inaudible and stomped to the end of the bar. "We're closed," she snapped.

     John moved to his left for a better look. By the bar was a giant of a man. He wore a long leather coat that split down the back to allow room for his sword. Rain dripped off him to mingle with the muddy boot prints on the floor. In his hand, he held a spear.

     "I said we're closed," Agnes repeated.

     "And I heard you," said a gravelly voice from under the dripping hood.

     "What she means is, my good fellow," said William, "is that you should continue on your way."

     The man removed his hood, causing them all to gasp. An ugly scar straddled his white left eye. He glared at William with his one good eye through long, wet hair.

     "I'm not leaving," he said. "No one's leaving."

     A howl suddenly cut through the silence. Agnes raised her hands to her chest and made the sign of the cross. John and William exchanged glances.

     "It sounds close," said John.

     "It's prowling the outskirts of the village," said the newcomer. "It smells people. We make it nervous. It won't be long until it gains enough confidence to walk the streets."

     John held the man's gaze, but it took all his strength to do so. "You sound as if you know this creature."

<  4  >

     "Aye, lad, I do. I've been hunting it since yesterday."

     "Is it a dog?" asked William.

     The man jerked his head towards William. "It's a Fidhund. It's bigger than a dog. It's made from flesh and wood by witchcraft. It'll kill you if it sees you. But it doesn't kill for food or sport. The witch made it to protect her borders."

     John shook his head. "There's no witches round here."

     "And you should be thankful for that. But there's still a fidhund to be dealt with."

     "Which you're going to kill, right?"

     "That's my intention."

     John smiled and smacked William cheerfully on the back. Agnes remained terrified behind the bar.

     "So, you'll be going back out there shortly," said Thomas.

     "Aye," said the man. "At first light."

     "At first light," John echoed. "But I have a wife at home. So does William and Madok. If I don't go home soon, she might come looking for me."

     A chair slid along the stone floor behind them. Madok was awake. "Well, I'll not wait till morning." The burly smith walked towards the front door, ducking his head under the beams as he went. "Beast or no beast, rain or no rain, I faced death for four years fighting a pointless war for Cromwell; I'll gladly face that danger again to make sure the wife's safe."

     John watched the door close behind Madok, wishing he had the same courage. "Are you not going to stop him?"

     "Nay, lad, I'm going to have an ale." The hunter dug a coin from his pocket and placed it on the bar.

     John stared open-mouthed as the hunter received his tankard from Agnes.

     "Excuse me, sir," said Thomas, "but you called the creature a Fidhund."

<  5  >

     "That's right, what of it." The hunter eyed the froth of his ale with uncertainty. He took a drink from his tankard then smiled. "Hey, that's not bad."

     "I teach at the school here," said Thomas. "I've read many books, and I've never heard of a Fidhund."

     The hunter slowly turned, fixing his one eye upon Thomas. "And you'd be right. You won't find this creature in any book. However, it still doesn't make it any less real." His attention returned to his tankard on the bar. "Unfortunately, this one's here by accident."

     John stepped beside Thomas. "By accident? I don't understand. How can something be here by accident?"

     "We were hunting it. There were three of the damned things, to begin with – we killed two. We'd chased the last through the woods to the bottom of a ravine, to where we thought we had it cornered. Little did we know that it had found a cave, and that very same cave was a portal to here."

     "A portal?" asked John.

     Thomas nodded. "It's a gateway of sorts. A magical gateway."

     The hunter's eyebrows rose. "Clever lad. We know the witch has been trying to open portals for a while. She was obviously successful in doing so."

     John took a deep breath as he absorbed the information. "Let's say that we believe you. But portal from where?"

     "Annwn, of course. But don't worry, I'll kill the damn thing tomorrow and be out of your way as soon as possible."

     Thomas laughed, causing a cynical smile from William. "What's so funny?" he asked.

     "Annwn. It's nowhere. It doesn't exist. Annwn is the Otherworld. It's a fairytale land created by our ancestors years ago. It's nothing more than superstition. In fact, if memory serves me right, King Arthur was taken there when he died."

<  6  >

     John confronted the hunter. "Excuse me, sir, are you lying to us?"

     The hunter opened his mouth to respond when an animal cried out, followed by a man's scream. John stared at the door holding his breath while the hunter calmly drank from his tankard.

     The door suddenly flung inwards as Madok raced in. He slammed the door closed then raised his arms, ready for a fight while struggling to catch his breath. "By God, that bastard's big."

     "What happened?" asked John.

     The smith wiped the rain from his face with a huge, trembling hand. "It nearly had me. I made it to the far side of the churchyard when I bumped into the damned thing in the dark. I think I surprised it as much as it surprised me. We both cried out. I shit myself and ran back here, and the bastard chased me."

     The hunter chuckled. "I did warn you to stay here."

     "You were lucky, by the sound of it," said John.

     "Luck had nothing to do with it," said Madok. "It should have had me. But, that's not all." He looked with wide eyes at his friends. "There's something else out there. Something scared it away, and it ran towards the church."

     A child's voice called down the stairs making everyone jump. "Mum, something is knocking on our window."

     "Oh, dear God," cried William. "It's climbed up on the roof. It's coming to get us."

     Agnes began to cry. "Please, save my children."

     The hunter laughed and addressed Agnes. "Your children are safe, woman. It's not the fidhund knocking on your window, but rather a friend of mine. Now, I'd be quick if I was you and open the window before she kicks it in."

     Agnes hurried away. Her footsteps thumped up the stairs.

<  7  >

     "And as for the rest of you," said the hunter. His eye moved over each of them in turn. "I know you doubt I'm from Annwn, and to be honest, I don't particularly care. However, I do care about my friend. She's saved my life many times. She's a warrior and a killer, so don't let her size fool you. If you try to harm her, she will kill you. And if she doesn't, I will."

     John stared back, alarmed at the threat. Agnes screamed somewhere upstairs. He cast his eyes towards the doorway behind the bar. A female voice, muted at first, but then an audible, 'Bloody humans' startled him. All of a sudden, something leapt upon the bar. John took a couple of steps back and gasped, his friends did likewise. William said, "By the love of god."

     It was a small woman with insect-like clear wings. She stood no more than two and a half feet tall. Rainwater dripped from her long coat and shoulder-length red hair, causing puddles upon the bar. In her left hand, she carried a bow. She gave her wings a quick flutter, spraying John and everyone in the room with water. She then leapt down, walking directly towards the fireplace, leaving a trail of water behind her. She leaned her bow against the nearest table and then took her coat off, shaking it before hanging it on a chair.

     "I don't like it here, Brynmar," she said. "It's too wet."

     She turned her back to the fire, stretching her wings out while leaning slightly to wring out her hair.

     "Brynmar, there are people staring at me. Why are they staring?"

     "I guess they've never seen a pixie before."

     "Well, tell them to stop, I don't like it. It ain't right."

     John realised his mouth was open, so he closed it. He wrung his hands and stepped towards her. "I think I speak for the four of us when I say we're deeply sorry if we offended you. That was not our intention." John hoped his words would be enough.

<  8  >

     She shrugged. "If you say so."

     He stepped back again, unsure of what to do with himself.

     Brynmar broke the silence. "Advika, meet the locals. Locals, this is Advika."

     She tossed her hair back and flexed her wings. She then focused on John and his friends. "You," she said, pointing up at Madok. "You're the idiot who was out just now. Do you realise how lucky you were?"

     "Er, yes, ma'am. And I want to thank you for saving my life."

     "Well, don't waste it. You have the look of a man who can fight."

     "I fought in Cromwell's war. I can use a musket and load a cannon."

     "A fighting man we can do with." She placed her hands on her hips and viewed the others. "And what about you three?"

     John swallowed nervously where he'd always felt pride in his accomplishments. "William and I are clerks, and Thomas is a school teacher."

     "I have no idea of what any of that means." She drew her sword, pointing it at the three of them. "Have you killed before?"

     "No, ma'am," said William. "I've never had a need to."

     "Well, there's a need now. Are there any weapons here?"

     John pointed to a door at the far end of the bar. "There may be some hanging on the wall in the next room."

     "Then arm yourselves, for we have a monster to kill."


John, William, and Thomas returned with a sword each. Advika, now sitting on the counter beside Brynmar, grinned as the three of them stood in the middle of the barroom waiting for their next instructions. Madok had chosen a spear, and the weapon looked natural in his hand.

     John examined his weapon. It felt unwieldy and heavy. "I've never used one of these before," he said.

<  9  >

     Brynmar moved towards him with his hand held out, so John passed him the sword.

     "A fidhund has tough skin," said the hunter. "It's made of wood and flesh, so don't stab with your sword, hack at it."

     He demonstrated, and John, William, and Thomas copied the move. Afterward, Brynmar turned to Advika and shrugged. "I think they're ready."

     "Ready for what?" asked John.

     "You want to go home to your wives, don't you?"

     "Well, yes, of course."

     "But there's a fidhund between here and your home."

     John glanced to his friends for assistance, but their heads were down. "But . . . I thought . . . you were hunting it."

     "I am, lad. I am. And I intend to kill it. But instead of two people tracking it down, there's now six of us."

     John felt the weight of the moment. "But — "

     "There is no "but," there's just us. Your loved ones are in danger, and it's time to do your part to protect them."

     John pouted. "I only came out for a game of cards."

     "We'll split up into two groups. Madok and . . ." Brynmar frowned. "Thomas, isn't it?"

     Thomas nodded.

     "Madok and Thomas will go with Advika. You two," he said, pointing to John and William, "are with me. Now remember what I said, hack don't stab."

     "So, what's the plan?" asked John.

     "Advika tells me there is a church at the heart of the village and that a lane encircles it."

     "It does," said John.

     "The fidhund was last seen heading for the churchyard. So Advika, Thomas, and Madok will take the left lane while we circle around to the right. It will try to avoid us and head north. If we're lucky, we'll trap it, and then, young man, I'll kill it. Is that acceptable?"

<  10  >

     They all nodded.

     "Be on your guard," said Brynmar. "And don't forget – hack, don't stab."


John stepped outside and felt the full force of the weather. Within moments he was soaked right through. Rain hit his face and dripped from his hair.

     William stood at his side, cold and miserable, his hair flattened to his head. "I wish I was home beside the fire."

     "Me too," said John. "Me too."

     "Stop your chatter and stay close," said Brynmar.

     The hunter led them to the east, with the church shrouded in darkness to their left. John stared into the night. There were shapes he recognised, gravestones and crosses, but no monster. This is madness, he thought. He didn't even know what he was looking for. The fidhund could be stalking them for all he knew.


Advika walked along the rooftops, scanning the darkness for movement. In the lane below, Madok and Thomas kept pace, peering into gardens and watching the graveyard. Madok, she noted, was a survivor. She knew she could rely on him, he'd seen death up close. Thomas, on the other hand, was holding his sword all wrong. She'd protect him if she could, but she was not going to risk her life for him.

     Below her, a soft glow of light penetrated the darkness as a door swung open then closed in the wind. She leapt down to a low wall to investigate. Her wings flapped frantically, struggling to slow her descent in the harsh conditions. The cold rain stung her face, and the sound of falling water on clay tiles was loud.

     When Thomas and Madok caught up, she nimbly ran along the wall and pointed towards the house. "We must check inside, so prepare yourselves for what we might find. Madok, lead the way."

     The smith edged along the garden path with Advika a step behind. Light from a room inside lit up the hallway, and bloody paw prints on the ground.

<  11  >

     Madok paused, hesitant to go further. He stepped aside, allowing Advika to squeeze past. She peered into the room, her bow held at the ready. She then lowered it again.

     "Thomas, stay by the door. Let me know will you if you see anything in the lane."

     She walked into the room, careful not to step in the blood. An old woman sat in a chair before the fireplace. Deep lacerations covered her ruined throat. Advika glanced up at the smith. He stared at the victim with not a flicker of emotion.

     "Why?" asked Madok.

     "It's searching for a familiar scent that will lead it back to its master. Look at the wounds. It didn't feed. It just killed. The poor woman probably left a door open, and the fidhund stumbled in."

     "Then we need to find this monster before it kills anyone else," said Madok.

     "That's the plan."

     "And what of its master?"

     "The witch? You'd better pray she doesn't turn up."


John saw the lane leading to Madok's smithy. At least they'd made it this far without incident. The hunter, Brynmar, had already taken Bart's Lane and was heading north. William was between the two of them.

     "I think the rain's easing," said William.

     John couldn't tell; visibility was still poor.

     "Maybe its run off," said William. "It could be miles away by now."

     Brynmar paused. William followed suit. John quickly scanned their surrounding before joining them. "What's spooked him?" he asked William. His friend shrugged. John stepped beside the hunter to find him staring at thick ivy growing on the side of a house.

     "What's wrong?" he asked.

     "The witch creates fidhunds from holly trees and great white hounds. By the time she's finished, there's not much left of the hound other than its shape. They're designed to hide perfectly within trees on her borders. Any unsuspecting passersby could walk right under one and not even know it's there until it leaps down upon them."

<  12  >

     John looked at the house unconvinced. "It's just ivy. I walk past here every day. I can assure you, it's not there."

     Brynmar lowered his spear, allowing John to relax, just as a huge shape stepped out from behind a wall. The beast's body and limbs consisted of tightly wound sticks yet supple like flesh and muscle. It snarled and leapt. Brynmar raised his spear, but a huge paw knocked the hunter into John, and they fell upon the graveyard wall. William screamed in agonising pain then fell silent. John panicked, pushing Brynmar away.

     "William," he called.

     The hunter raced back down the lane after the fidhund. "Come on," he shouted.

     John hurried to where William lay face down in the rain-soaked muddy lane.

     "Leave him," said Brynmar. "Think about the living."

     The fidhund leapt the graveyard wall, and the hunter followed, climbing over the stone enclose in pursuit. John touched William's hair and said a quick prayer. "I'm sorry, old friend."


"Did you hear that?" asked Thomas. "It sounded like a scream."

     "I heard nothing," said Madok. "Cromwell's bloody cannons saw to that."

     Advika leapt upon the graveyard wall. "I heard something." She looked towards the church, the arched window of the chancel just visible in the gloom. She spied movement, followed by shouting.

     "Fidhund," she cried.

     The creature appeared from out of the darkness and rain, aiming straight for her. She notched an arrow and waited.

     "What should we do?" cried Thomas.

     "Praying would be a good start," said Madok.

     Advika looked down the length of the arrow and remained calm. The barbed arrow tip moved up and down in time with the fidhund's lope. Its ears were back, its teeth bared in a snarl. It leapt and so did Advika. Her wings flapped furiously as she flew out of the creature's way. She loosed the arrow, hitting the fidhund in the side of its head, knocking the beast off-balance to crash against the side of a house.

<  13  >

     "She got it," cried Thomas.

     Advika landed back down on the wall, horrified at Thomas' inaction. "Finish it," she cried. "Use your sword. Finish it."

     She loosed another arrow, hitting the creature high in its shoulder. The fidhund yelped and staggered to its feet. Madok leapt in, ramming his spear into the creature's chest. It howled in pain as he pushed it against the wall.

     "Thomas, use your sword. Take its head."

     Thomas froze, paralysed with fear as the fidhund thrashed around, trying to free itself from Madok's spear. Suddenly, the spear ripped from Madok's hands. Sensing its freedom, the fidhund leapt at Thomas, wrapping its jaws around his face. He screamed and fell back. Then, it released its grip to attack again, biting down on Thomas' throat, silencing him.

     "Madok, run," cried Advika.

     The smith swiftly climbed the graveyard wall and raced towards the church. The fidhund's ears pricked up and turned its head in his direction. Advika saw the creature's reaction and began waving her arms. "I'm here, come and get me."

     The fidhund raced past her down the lane. "You stupid dog," she yelled. She notched an arrow and let it fly, hitting the fidhund in its hind leg, sending it skidding and splashing to the floor. It scrambled to its feet and leapt the graveyard wall.


John chased after Brynmar through the maze of gravestones. "I can't believe he's gone," he muttered to himself. William's scream kept echoing in his head. He then heard another scream somewhere ahead. The church appeared out of the darkness to their left. Rainwater ran down its walls in torrents.

     Brynmar stopped running. Advika was before them, standing on the graveyard wall, bow in hand.

     "Only the two of you?" she asked.

     "Yeah, his friend didn't make it," said Brynmar. "How about you?"

     "One dead. The big guy – Madok, I think his name is – he headed off towards the church."

<  14  >

     John couldn't believe what he was hearing. William was dead, and now Thomas. "So what now?" he asked.

     A hollow boom caught their attention.

     "That's the church door," he said.

     Brynmar hurried off. John followed, Advika beside him.

     Through the rain, they could make out the fidhund scratching at the church door, only to stop and barge into it. Boom, boom. The door suddenly flew inwards, and the fidhund disappeared inside.

     "Come on," said Brynmar, "the stupid mutt's trapped itself."

     John slowed to a walk as Brynmar and Advika raced through the door. He questioned his skills or lack thereof. He was out of his depth like William and Thomas.

     Barking and growling echoed inside the church, amplified by the hollow interior. Madok cried out in pain, Brynmar cursed the beast. Pews slid along the tiled floor, crashing into one another.

     When John stepped into the church, the interior was a mess. Brynmar stood in the chancel, his spear point aiming at the beast huddled in the corner. Advika balanced on top of an overturned pew, an arrow notched, aiming at the fidhund.

     "Hurry up and get over here," cried Brynmar.

     When John reached the hunter, he spied Madok on the cold floor, leaning against the wall.


     "John, I'm hurt bad."

     "You can help your friend later," said Brynmar.

     The fidhund was hurt but snarled defiantly.

     "I'm going to pin the beast against the wall," said Brynmar. "When I do so, I want you to hack at its head with your sword."

     John stared at the beast, its teeth, its paws.

     "I can understand why you're frightened," said Brynmar. "But this monster killed your friends. Avenge them."

<  15  >

     All of a sudden, the candles within the church burst into flame, illuminating the whole interior. John spun round, alarmed, searching for the reason for such an event. The church was empty.

     "What's happening?" he asked. "How is that possible?"

     The fidhund started barking as if it too sensed something.

     John grimaced as he saw the beast for the first time in the light. It was a disgusting creature, pale in colour and unnatural in its creation. Eight of Advika's arrows had found their mark, causing pale green goo to ooze from the wounds.

     Brynmar dropped his spear and turned his back on the beast, his eyes quickly scanning the broken furniture around him. The fidhund saw its opportunity to escape and leapt over the pews, though it fell a couple of times in its panic to flee.

     "What are you doing?" asked John. "It's getting away."

     Brynmar didn't answer. Instead, he picked up a tall, ornamental wrought iron candle holder and threw it towards the nearest window, smashing the corner, creating a large hole.

     "Fly!" he cried to Advika. "Quickly."

     The little pixie's eyes filled with tears, but she followed his instructions. She flew to the window and glanced back before disappearing into the night.

     John's eyes fell on Madok. Blood covered the smith's rain-soaked clothes around his neck and shoulders. He moved quickly to kneel at his side.

     "Madok, I'm no doctor, I don't know what to do."

     "It's been a shit night, John. I wouldn't worry about it."

     The smith's eyes widened as he stared towards the church's huge door. "God help us."

     John turned to see stick-thin, long fingers wrapping around each side of the door frame. A tall figure dressed in the deepest black with a cone-shaped, pointed black hat bent low to squeeze under the doorway. The fidhund grew in confidence, growling at Brynmar as if protecting the creature entering. John stared up at this new being. The top of the coned hat touched the beams above. It suddenly began to shrink, becoming human-sized with feminine traits. A young girl's chin with full lips was just visible under the shadow of her hat.

<  16  >

     The hunter had not moved. Instead, he stood defiant, poised, ready for a fight. "We meet again, Dark Crow," said Brynmar.

     The witch's head tilted slightly in response.

     John froze, too scared to even breathe.

     The hunter licked his lips. The witch remained static. Slowly, the hunter bent down to pick up his spear. The witch watched him passively; the fidhund growled, bearing its teeth.

     A black cat suddenly leapt upon a pew, just feet from the witch. It walked along the backrest, its tail aloft. It then sat and began to wash.

     Brynmar stared, wide-eyed in disbelief. "The cat!" he hissed. He suddenly threw his spear at the witch. Then, in the same movement, he drew his sword and leapt at the cat.

     The spear stopped in mid-air to float inches from the witch's chest. John gasped as Brynmar had frozen, too, in an unnatural pose, the blade coming to a stop just above his target's head. The cat showed no fear. Instead, it raised its nose and sniffed the blade, then turned and leapt to the floor beside the witch's feet.

     The hunter growled as he tried to use strength to free himself from his invisible bonds, but his struggles were in vain. The witch raised her left hand, and Brynmar flew through the air, hitting the wall with a grunt, his arms outstretched. She turned her hand, and Brynmar's elbow snapped, forcing him to drop his sword. He screamed in pain, but it was cut short as his spear flew towards him, entering his open mouth and pinning him to the wall. His body jerked and then fell limp.

     John bit his hand to stifle a scream. He stayed motionless, hoping to be unseen or forgotten. The fidhund trotted to the witch's side, and she gently patted its head. It responded by wagging its tail.

     Madok groaned, breaking the silence, causing John's eyes to widen in horror and hold his breath. The fidhund spun round, growling. The witch, too, turned.

<  17  >

     John's heart pounded as she slowly walked towards him along the central aisle.

     Just a few feet away, a cross lay discarded, knocked over from the earlier battle with the fidhund. He scrambled for it, holding it high. The witch stopped and stared, then burst out laughing. It was a young girl's laugh, a twenty-something, innocent and carefree. She put a hand in her pocket, and John shied away, his eyes unblinking, watching her. She pulled her hand free and threw something towards him. A handful of gold coins bounced on the tiles by his knees. She then turned and walked towards the exit with the fidhund and cat following in her trail.

     When she was gone, John reached for a coin. It was ancient, Roman in origin.

     "William was right," said Madok. "You are lucky."

     A sound in the window drew their attention. The pixie, Advika, climbed through the hole, pausing at the sight of Brynmar, pinned against the wall. She flew directly to him, landing on a pew. She bowed her head and wiped a tear from her cheek. "Oh, Brynmar, you deserved better. A true warrior to the end."

     She flew over to John and Madok and checked the smith's wounds. "They look worse than what they are. You'll survive."

     John showed her the coins. She held one, then passed it back.

     "What does it mean?" he asked. "Why did she spare us?"

     Advika shrugged. "Dark Crow is a strange one. But, what I will say is this: she didn't spare you out of sympathy." She then turned and walked away without even a goodbye. After a few steps, she stopped and looked back, smiling. "Did I mention it's stopped raining?"

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