Adrenaline surged through him, instincts took over and he sprinted for the stable door yelling at Fred to run for it. The image of what had jumped at him was seared into his mind. The hair on top of the head was smeared with dried blood. The eyes were bright red. The nose was pig-like. Hairy cheeks were smeared with fresh blood. The lower jaw stuck out from the upper, broken teeth jutting out as he snapped at Gwilym. There was blood and froth spilling out of his mouth and over the beard of the creature. The hands that had reached for him were filthy and the fingers sported long, dirty, broken fingernails. It was a man but it looked so much like a warthog that Gwilym, despite his terror, laughed inside at the local’s nickname.
Gwilym reached the stable door as he heard the stall door behind him slam open. He pushed Fred to the left, saying, “Help Siorys with the net! I’ll lead him to you!” He watched Fred swing around the left side of the stable toward the wall opening.
Gwilym stalled for a moment to ensure that the creature chased him rather than Fred. This moment allowed him to calm his jangling nerves and think about what must be done. He backed away from the door so that he would be ready to run while still able to see what he was faced with.
Arthog emerged into the light of day, and tripped over a loose rock. On all fours he charged around, blundering into stable walls and other debris. He stood and ran off to the left, not noticing Gwilym. Gwilym stooped for a rock and shouted as he threw it hard at the man. Arthog started at the shout and came right at Gwilym, ignoring the rock, which hit him in the shoulder. Gwilym stored this piece of information as he ran around the right side of the stable, away from the wall breech.
Gwilym observed Arthog’s behavior: his jaw was thrust further forward than seemed normal, he was eating raw horse, he was drooling too much and was sensitive to noise but not pain. From what he’d read, this added up to one thing: Hydrophobia. He felt better being in a castle surrounded by water on two sides.
Meanwhile, Arthog was pursuing him
around the castle and Gwilym could observe him whenever he turned around a building. Arthog was a big man, maybe even taller than Gwilym and twice as heavy. This meant he was unable to catch Gwilym but his irrationality caused him to continue pursuing his tormentor. On passing the breech in the wall, Gwilym noticed that the net was strung across the breech at about head height so Gwilym yelled, “We’re coming through!” and ran out through the wall, ducking under the net.
He turned to see Arthog blundering through the breech just as Siorys dropped his end of the net and ran back to town. This caused Arthog to trip but the net didn’t entangle him. On raising himself Arthog was staring straight at Fred who was somewhat tangled in the loose net himself. The creature spat out drool and pounced as Fred screamed. But then Gwilym hit Arthog in the side of the head with a large rock, turning him mid-leap and allowing Fred to dodge sideways. Gwilym shouted, “Keep quiet, Fred! He’s attracted to noise!” Arthog, bleeding from the wound to his head, turned at the shout and took off after Gwilym again.
In the open, Gwilym was able to lead the madman any direction he chose, so he ran along the riverbanks, leading his pursuer toward the hills east of the castle. Turning behind him to ensure he was still being pursued, Gwilym noted that Fred was following them both, struggling with the net. Gwilym was in much better shape than Arthog and was able to stay far enough in front to be safe from danger while close enough to encourage pursuit. A rational creature would have figured out what was happening and given up. His breath was coming in hoarse gasps but still he pursued Gwilym up the hill.
At the top there were a few trees, some exposed rocks, a thicket and a small pond. Gwilym ran around the thicket as Arthog fell to all fours and gasped in an effort to get oxygen to his exhausted limbs. Fred approached with the net. Arthog blundered away into the middle of the thorn thicket. Gwilym said to Fred, “Get over by the water! I’ll scare him toward it and we’ll capture him next to it! Don’t worry, he’s afraid of water and won’t go in! You can always jump in if he gets too close.” Fred’s brow wrinkled at this but he did as Gwilym suggested.
Gwilym found a long branch and poked this into the thicket, hearing snarling, spitting and grunting from the man inside. Soon, Arthog scrambled out of the rear of the thicket and straight into the small pond. Gwilym was shocked by this but he ran around to Fred who was trying to spin the net to throw it on the man. Gwilym took the other side of the net and plunged into the water on the far side of Arthog. Staying clear of the man’s teeth and fingernails, Gwilym wrapped the net around him and slogged back to the shore to join Fred. Together they strained at the net to drag the half-drowned creature back to dry land. Once there, they rolled him around, further entangling him in the net until it was impossible for him to get loose.
Once their panting had subsided and they could talk again, Gwilym asked Fred, “Why did he jump in the water? I thought he had hydrophobia.”
“Aye. That’s what th’man had. But that doesn’t mean he’s scared of water, only that he don’t want to drink it and can’t swallow it. He can still jump in it.”
“Oh,” he replied, storing this crucial piece of knowledge. “Sorry about that. I put you in danger.”
“That’s all right, Gwilym. I can take danger along with tha.”
“Thanks Fred. He will eventually get his strength back. Can you go to town and get a cart up here while I watch him?”
Fred jogged down the hill and Gwilym sat down on a flat rock to keep an eye on the wary Arthog. The morning sun was just breaking through the thin cloud layer and spreading its warmth. Arthog’s legs and arms experienced a spasm, stiffened, then went still. Gwilym approached to ensure that the man wasn’t dead. He needed to keep his father, one of the most important stakeholders of the team, satisfied. Arthog seemed to be asleep.
Gwilym turned back to the rock he had been seated on and chills ran up his spine as he realized it had markings like one of the rune-stones he had been using to finish off his towers. He cleaned off the dirt and recognized the coloring of the rock, the size and thickness and style of rune matched the three previous stones. This one had the design of a fierce boar.
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