Chapter One – A Cruel Winter
The pack of wolves surrounded the two villagers and moved closer. The man was armed with only a long stave and a dagger. The boy was carrying a small bow and a sheaf, holding six arrows.
They had left their village early that morning to check their rabbit traps, but they were all empty. It had started snowing again and so they were heading home. They had reached the edge of the forest and were in sight of the castle, which stood between them and their village.
The man was now frightened, although he tried to put on a brave face for his son. They looked around for help, but there was no one about. In the distance, they could see soldiers on the castle battlements. However, they were huddled down to escape the bitter wind and so were not looking in their direction.
‘Quick. Give me your bow and arrows,’ said the man and the boy handed them over. The bow wasn’t very powerful. It was almost a toy and the man wasn’t sure if firing the arrows would only enrage the wolves. Anyhow, they had to try something.
The first arrow missed the nearest wolf and hit the one standing behind it and bounced off. It must have hurt, as it gave off a frightening growl and lunged towards the man, snarling and showing its fangs.
The man didn’t have time to nock another arrow and so grabbed his stave and swung it at the approaching wolf, hitting it hard on its head. The wolf yelped in pain and backed off.
The other wolves moved closer and one of them gave an eerie howl.
Winter had arrived early that year and had already been long and hard. Deep snow had covered the lands around the castle and the trees were bent double with the weight of snow. Nothing moved outside, except the occasional red flash of a fox’s brush, as it jumped through the deep snow.
Most nights, wolves could be heard howling. At first this had been in the distance, but more recently their calls were louder and came from the nearby forest. After dark and as the wolves got hungrier, they would leave the shelter of the trees and move nearer to the castle.
At dawn each day, serfs from the outlying villages trudged to the castle gates, seeking help. Their own meagre food stores had run out quickly, because the early snows had ruined their harvest.
Now they were getting desperate, as their families were always hungry.
When they had eaten all their winter supplies, they had turned to hunting small animals, but wolves and foxes had already eaten most of those.
Life at the castle had become very dull for Gregory and his trusty companion Rufus, after all the excitement of the King’s visit.
There had been no sign of their enemy, the Green Dragon, but Gregory knew that it was only a matter of time before it sought revenge.
Gregory enjoyed his new life as Sir James’ squire, but found it much harder to concentrate on his lessons, knowing that the dragon would never give up looking for him.
More worrying, were the reports from soldiers returning from patrol, that strange foot-prints had been spotted in the snow, outside the castle walls.
At bedtime, Gregory would leave the warmth of the fire in the Great Hall and climb up the dark, draughty spiral staircase to his bedchamber, to sleep on his pallet bed.
When the howling of the wolves grew louder, Gregory would pull his fur covers over his head, to try to block out the sound.
Rufus the huge war hound would stay by the fire until the last embers died down and then he would climb up the stairs and onto Gregory’s bed, for extra warmth.
Humans and animals in the castle were all suffering in the severe cold. The soldiers on guard duty stamped their feet and blew out clouds of steamy breath, as they huddled near to the braziers in the castle yard. Everyone was beginning to feel real hunger, as the cooks in the kitchens began to ration supplies of food.
Everyone longed for Spring.
Gregory was in his turret room, gazing out of the window. He should have been working on his studies, but he was bored. There wasn’t much to see outside the castle walls, only snow. Even the trees in the nearby forest were completely covered.
He was just about to return to his books, when something moved in the distance and caught his eye. What he saw filled him with alarm. A pack of wolves were circling a man and boy, who had their backs to a large oak tree. Then he heard an eerie howl.
Gregory didn’t waste a second.
‘Come on Rufus, we’ve got work to do,’ he shouted and grabbing his sword and dagger, they ran down to the courtyard.
‘Quick, saddle my horse,’ shouted Gregory to a stable boy.
As soon as it was led out, he jumped into the saddle and headed to the main gate.
‘Tell the Captain of the Guard to follow me,’ Gregory called to the sentry, as he galloped over the draw-bridge. ‘It’s a matter of life and death!’
‘Come on Rufus, this is what you were born to do,’ Gregory called down to his wolf-hound friend, as he spurred his horse to run faster. Rufus needed very little encouragement and with his long legs, he bounded alongside.
It didn’t take them long to reach the trapped villagers. As they got nearer, they could see that they were only just in time.
The wolves were clearly starving and were taking it in turns to rush forward and snap at first the boy and then the man. Although he was still swinging his stave, it was not enough to stop the wolves from getting closer.
Then the pack changed tactics and split into two. One group started to attack the man, leaving the others to face the boy.
The man desperately tried to help his son, as well as defend himself, but the attacks were now coming thick and fast and eventually the boy was dragged to the ground.
Gregory had seen the wolves’ latest attack and a plan formed quickly in his mind.
‘Rufus, you defend the boy and I will look after the man,’ he shouted. Rufus needed no further encouragement and headed straight towards the biggest wolf, who had grabbed one of the boy’s legs and was dragging him towards the forest.
Rufus launched himself at the wolf and landed on top of it. The wolf let go of the boy’s leg, giving him the chance to scramble away. This gave Rufus the opportunity he needed and he sank his teeth into the wolf, which yelped in pain and ran into the forest.
Meanwhile, Gregory had dismounted, drawn his sword and had thrown his dagger to the man. Together they were now holding the wolves at bay. Rufus stood guard over the boy, who had a nasty bite wound on his leg and so couldn’t walk.
Just then they heard shouts and the sound of galloping horses and saw the Captain of the Guard and a detachment of horsemen approaching them.
The remaining wolves scattered in fright, back into the forest.
‘Thank goodness you’re here now,’ said Gregory. ‘I don’t think we could have held out for very much longer.’
‘You’re all very lucky,’ said the Captain, ‘now we need to get you all back to the castle and deal with your injuries.’
Gregory and the Green Eye (2nd edition) is available on Amazon!