Page Wolf

Chapter 34

Poor Richard

Wolf awoke on the Raven's bed. He heard voices talking in the background and realized someone was holding his hand. It was the Wolverine.

"Mother!" Wolf cried.

The Wolverine asked calmly, "Son, what kind of trouble have you gotten into now?"

Wolf looked at her with pleading eyes, "They think I killed a man."

"Did you?"

"They have my arrow."

The Wolverine asked much more firmly, "Did you do it?"

Wolf felt like he had been slapped in the face and replied, "No! No!"

The Lady Knight smiled, "I believe you."

Wolf realized that people were standing around him. It was the Raven, the Lion and Constable Warren. He tried to sit up and the Wolverine had to help him steady himself.

Seeing Wolf's puzzled look, Constable Warren asked, "I am going to ask you a few questions. First, what is your name?" The constable seemed to have lost all the good humor he had shown the previous day.

"Wolf Wolverine, Sir."

"Is that your given name?"

"No, Sir, it's my adoptive name. My given name was Caleb."

"Have you ever been in trouble with the law?"

"Y-Yes, Sir." Wolf was starting to get nervous.

"Have you ever shot anyone?"

Wolf gulped, "Yes, Sir. They were pointing guns at my sister."

The Constable again held up the arrow, "Did you shoot this man?"

"No, Sir."

"Are you positive that this is your arrow?"

"Yes, Sir."

"Why are you positive?"

"Because the arrowhead is my work and the feathers are my pattern. I can show you."

"Please do."

"I need my quiver." The Raven handed him the quiver which held about forty arrows. Wolf selected two arrows, "This one is all mine and the other was made for me by my sister. See, the heads are different. She's the one who taught me to make them."

"Why would you have one of hers?"

"She made it for me; it has my colors. We also trade arrows; they're as good as gold when you don't have money."

The Constable pointed to a different arrow in the quiver, "But this one doesn't have your colors on the feathers?"

"They don't if you give them as a gift. We exchanged arrows. It's a matter of pride."

"When is the last time you gave one away?"

"Yesterday to Rick, Richard. Ask him."

"We will when we find him."

Wolf just stared at the policeman not quite believing what he was implying, that Rick was somehow involved in murder.

"I think that is enough Constable," the Wolverine said. "He's been truthful with you. It's time for you to reciprocate."

"You are right Milady. Wolf, we suspect the arrow we found in the body is the same one you gave Richard. We had to ascertain your reliability."

Wolf turned red in the face. "You knew what I would say, didn't you?"

"Yes I did. I was trying to see if you would lie under duress."

"I learned a long time ago I don't lie well. I have to tell the truth. It's probably why I'm always in trouble."

"No doubt," the Wolverine chortled.

"What can you tell us about this boy, Richard?" Constable Warren asked.

"He's nice enough once you get to know him, but hates rich people. He doesn't like the idea of becoming a coal miner, and he's really afraid of gangs. I think he has had a run-in with one. He doesn't want to go home. You'll have to ask Lady Jane."

"I already have."

"Who was killed?" asked Wolf, suddenly curious.

The constable grimaced, "I am not at liberty to say right now. I think this concludes our meeting. For now you cannot leave the castle or faire. Do you understand?"

"Yes, Sir."

The constable stood up and left the room. There was a long silence while the three knights stared at Wolf. The Raven finally said, "You need some sleep. We'll talk more about it later, and I'll clean Shadow."

Dismissed, Wolf went to his bunk but he couldn't sleep. He remembered Shadow jumping into bed with him, smelling damp. He wasn't awakened in the morning.

When Wolf finally woke up, the sun was already up and the other pages were off doing their duties or enjoying the faire. He found the Raven in the kitchen next to the Great Hall.

"We are going to go see the body," the Raven said. "Saddle up two palfreys."

Wolf went to do his assigned task and when he was ready the Raven showed up with a small basket. They mounted their horses and rode out the gate of the castle and proceeded in the opposite direction from the faire. "Sir, he told me that I wasn't to leave the castle."

"You are under my supervision and are my responsibility. You go where I go. Here, I bet you're hungry." The Raven handed Wolf the basket and the page found it contained some sandwiches and cartons of juice. He took one of each and handed the basket back.

They ate while the horses walked guided only by the rider's legs. Soon they reached the town, which was actually just a village. There was a crossroad and a train crossing. The traffic was moderate, mostly people arriving for the faire. Wolf was asked directions more than once and he would point them in the right direction to the castle.

The two riders were soon out of the village and came to a large house that served as the local funeral parlor. They dismounted at the front gate and secured their horses. The Raven led the page into the house where they were met by Constable Warren and another man. Wolf could tell right away that he was a policeman; he had that look of a big city detective, not very friendly.

"Hello. I'm inspector Cooper of Scotland Yard. The constable has already filled me on the facts as he knows them. I'm here to determine who killed the man. You, young man, are to identify the body. So without delay let's go look at it."

The constable took them through a couple of doors into a room that obviously was used for preparing bodies. There was a table in the center on which was a full body bag. "The funeral home also serves as the morgue for the town," Constable Warren said, looking at Wolf who was staring at the body bag and shaking slightly.

Without delay the inspector unzipped the bag halfway and pried the stiff plastic apart exposing the dead man. The body was extremely pale, waxy in appearance. The man was shaved bald with tattoos on his body, arms and neck. He looked like he had been in a few fights and had the bruises and scars to prove it.

"Do you recognize him?' the inspector asked.

Wolf shook his head.

The inspector snapped, "I'm sorry I didn't hear you."

"No, Sir."

The inspector placed a hand on Wolf's back and nudged him towards the body, "Take a closer look."

Wolf slowly stepped closer to the table his eyes fixated on the man's face. Then he noticed the hole in the man's chest - the hole his arrow had made.

"Closer."

Wolf suddenly doubled over and vomited on the inspectors shoes. The Raven steadied him and Constable Warren said, "I think that is enough."

"Quite," the inspector agreed.

The Raven guided Wolf over to a sink, ran some water and gave him a towel to clean up. As an afterthought he tossed one to the inspector to clean his shoes. "Do you mind if I ask a few questions?"

"Go ahead," Constable Warren said.

The Raven held up his two index fingers, "How far in was that arrow embedded?"

"About five centimeters," answered the constable"

"How hard was it to take out?"

"It came right out."

"It is my experience when hunting that an arrow will travel at least fifteen centimeters into an animal, if not further. Also if you have ever pulled a hunting arrow you will find it has to be cut out or forced through. The barbs are quite persistent."

The inspector looked at the wound carefully, feeling the edge of the hole with his gloved finger. "That looks more like a bullet wound. That changes things." I'm referring this case to a pathologist."

They left the room and went outside. Wolf was visibly shaking. "Sir, what does this mean?"

"It means he wasn't murdered with an arrow," Constable Warren said. "Let's go into town and I will treat you to some excellent tea. It will help clear your throat."

They were sitting at an outdoor table, drinking their tea when Wolf realized, "Richard didn't shoot him, did he?"

"No," Constable Warren replied. "The question is why is he missing, especially at the same time."

"Do you think he is still involved?"

"Yes I do. What I want you two to do is search for him." He looked at the Raven, "I am well aware of your tracking skills and you, young man, have a rescue animal. Put him to good use. His parents will be here this afternoon and I do not want to break their hearts." The constable slid an envelope to the Raven and said, "This is a warrant to permit you to do what needs to be done. Please do not kill anybody."

The Raven stood up and thanked the constable and went to his horse. Wolf scrambled to do the same. The Raven kicked his horse to a canter and they made quick time to the castle. Wolf per instructions gathered the Raven's long bow and arrows and left his behind. He also collected Rick's spare shirt.

He met the Raven on the lists. The knight had Shadow on a long leash and the Willow had joined him. They rode to the outside of the faire where Wolf let Shadow collect the scent off of Rick's shirt. Wolf turned him loose and told him to hunt. They circled the outside of the faire and around the outside of the castle before Shadow picked up the scent. The wolf started running across the field stopping once and awhile to check for more scent. The field was heavily trampled by people from the faire.

The further they went from the castle the better the hunting was and Wolf was able to detect the footprints in the trampled grass of the fields. Soon they arrived at the spot where the body was found. The footprints around the spot made a mess and Wolf could not make heads or tails of them. It was obvious that a struggle had occurred. The police had trampled the scene as well.

Shadow finally made a decision on a direction to travel and started running again with the three horsemen following. After about ten minutes of following the trail Shadow entered a copse of trees and stopped. Then he started pacing back and forth. He picked up the scent again and took off at a dead run. The horses had trouble following until they reached open fields again. They came to a steam between two fields. Shadow jumped the stream then stopped. He came back and started sniffing around the banks. The wolf then started walking upstream in the water to a copse of trees, all the while sniffing the banks. They entered the woods at a walk; the wolf's hackles were up and everybody was on high alert. He paced back and forth on the stream banks then started digging in a pile of leaves.

The Raven was instantly off his horse and sweeping the leaves aside. There was a body, barely recognizable in the mud. The Raven turned it over and felt for a pulse in the neck. Satisfied, he took his hat and with water from the stream he doused the mud off the victims face. It was Rick. The cold water revived him and he started coughing. Then he opened his eyes which were unfocused. He started struggling and the Raven had to forcibly hold his arms down.

"Rick, Rick, its Wolf; you're safe!" Wolf repeated it a couple of times.

Rick's eyes finally seemed to focus and he stopped struggling. He appeared to be defeated.

Once the Raven had finished checking the boy out for injuries, he and the Willow each grabbed an arm and hauled the boy up to level ground. The Willow un-girded her sword and pulled her hauberk off along with the padded coat that was underneath it. She placed the coat around the boy's shoulders.

"Wolf, ride back to the castle, find Constable Warren and then the Lion. Make sure that an ambulance comes. Willow, you stay with Rick; I'll see about capturing these guys. Shadow comes with me."

Wolf made sure Rick was awake before he left he was going to have a hard ride retracing his path. He knew speed was important because Rick was hypothermic. If only he had some of that stimulant concoction he had in the jungle. The next best thing was a drink of strong coffee with chocolate and powdered jalapeno pepper. That was one thing he would see about later.

The Raven with Shadow's assistance followed the trail the criminals had left. The Raven could follow it but speed was important and he figured Shadow would be useful in a fight. The Knight was lightly armed; he had only his bow and arrows. His only hope lay in finding them before they found their way out of the countryside.

The Willow was concerned for Rick's safety; the boy was cold, too cold. She could start a fire to warm him up but that would take way too long. The best she could do was to boost him onto her horse for warmth and head for the road to meet the ambulance. She picked Rick up, but her horse was too tall. What she would do to have the palfrey Wolf was riding. She stood the boy up making him hold onto the saddle. She mounted the giant Percheron from the other side and, reaching down, she grabbed the boy's arm and lifted him up to sit behind her.

That was when the Willow realized that her hauberk and sword were still on the ground. It was an easy decision. The boy was in need. His safety was first. Once she was sure the boy could hold on she started the Percheron walking towards the nearest road in the distance. Before she got out of the woods a man stepped out from behind a tree pointing a pistol at her. She stopped her horse and waited. She knew he wasn't alone. The others had to show themselves first.

"Grab the boy Billy," ordered the first man.

Willow could see a second big man approaching behind on the right rear quarter of her horse. Then a third man approaching on her left side. That was all she needed to know. The man in front reached to grab the reins and Willow gently grabbed the horse's mane. As soon as the man in the rear was in range she kicked back on the right and yelled 'Kick'. A rear hoof the size of a dinner plate sent the man flying into a tree where he crumpled to the ground. Using her grip on the horse's mane she sent it into a spin to the right and it kicked the man on the left. Before he started moving the horse had bit the hand of the man with the gun; severing the tips of his fingers.

The Willow was off the horse immediately. Now that surprise was gone she had to attack the two men still standing with everything she had. The man with the gun was her first target; she kicked the man in the hand that was holding the gun, sending it flying. She then delivered two punches to the side of his head, and was about to deliver a hard kick when she was punched in the back of her head.

The Willow quickly regained conscience and found herself flat on her back with the third man astride her; pinning her arms down with his knees. She didn't hesitate and with a mighty heave, bounced the man off of her chest. She scrambled to her feet and ran head first into the first man's belly, sending him back into a tree. The third man had found the gun and was raising it when Shadow appeared at a full run and clamped his fangs on the man's wrist and pulled him off balance and onto the ground.

The first man was about to hit the Willow when an arrow appeared struck through his arm, and he screamed like a child. The Raven rode into view with his bow drawn at the ready, saying, "Freeze or I'll shoot again." The two men still able to move, didn't.

"I see you've been busy," the Raven said to the Willow.

"I was just getting started; you've spoiled my fun," answered the Willow breathing very heavily.

"The Wolverine would be proud of you."

"I'm just trying to follow her example."

"If you will get Rick to the road I'll take these three into custody."

The Willow retrieved her hauberk and sword and then remounted her horse. With the Raven's help, she pulled Rick up and started riding towards the road. The boy was now more alert and better able to hold on. Still the Willow only did was trot. The ambulance, with Wolf riding to give directions, had arrived and was closer than expected. It was only a few minutes before they met up.

The Lion and the Wolverine were there on horseback as well as Sir Baldric. The Willow pointed to the copse of woods and suggested they take a medical kit as there were some severe injuries.

The constable had arrived on a borrowed palfrey and rode out with the knights. When they arrived at the woods he only needed to handcuff the gang members; they were in no condition to fight or run.

Rick was taken to the hospital and the Willow went with him. Wolf rode her horse back to the castle and saw to its needs.

Rick's parents had arrived at the castle and Wolf explained that their son was alright but deferred to the Lion to explain what happened. The Lion arrived soon enough and invited the parents of Wolf and Lady Jane into his office in the great hall.

The Lion wasted no time telling Richard's parents, "First I want to inform you that I believe your son is going to be alright. He is bruised and suffering from mild hypothermia, but he is out of danger and will be returning within the hour. He was attacked by a gang for some unknown reason. Wolf, would you explain to them how you met and your relationship to him."

Wolf was caught by surprise but quickly recovered, "I met him on the archery range; he's quite good. I invited him to try my bow and we exchanged arrows. I think he was really afraid of a gang."

"I was determined he had run away from home," Lady Jane admitted. "I convinced him with Wolf's help to contact you and also gave him the protection of the castle to get him out of the camping area; it would keep him with his peers."

"For some unknown reason he left the barracks early this morning," the Lion said. We believe he was attacked by this gang and was carried off. Shadow our rescue wolf first tried to defend your son and was later instrumental in finding him."

"So you had him in your hands but you still let him get away?" the father said.

The Lion sighed, "We couldn't and wouldn't put him in a jail."

"Well the police bloody would have."

The Lion considered his next statement very carefully, "Page Wolf was once in jail."

The parents turned to look at Wolf and he turned red in the face. He figured out what the Lion wanted. "I was a runaway, and got caught stealing food. I almost ended up in a gang."

Rick's mother turned pale. "And you are now a student in this school?"

"Yes, Ma'am. I was adopted by a teacher."

"At my school all students learn to defend themselves," the Lion said.

"This doesn't look much like a school," the father said.

This castle isn't the school; it is my ancestral home. The actual school is in America. I know you're hungry; let's eat an early lunch while we wait for your son and the constable. I'm sure you have more questions. Wolf, see to some sandwiches and drinks for everybody.

When Richard arrived at the castle in the company of the Willow, she sent him to the barracks to clean up and change into fresh clothes. Then she marched him to the great hall to find the Lion. She first stopped in the kitchen and made him a sandwich with a glass of milk for lunch, and then they went to the Lions office.

When Richard's mother saw his face she let out a gasp and jumped up to smother him with a hug. "What have they done to you?"

"Ma it's just a few bruises. I'm alright."

"I hope you learned your lesson," the father said. "Now maybe you'll stop this foolishness and start working for your keep."

"Mom, Dad, you should have seen her. She took on three men all at once and they had guns. She beat them with her bare hands. She's a knight. She saved me. There are other knights too. Real knights, they really do exist. She has a sword and everything."

"Enough! Get these ideas out of your head."

"But it's true and that horse of hers, it's huge. I want to save people like she does."

"Stop it." The man raised his beefy arm to cuff his son. His wrist was seized in the Willow's vice-like grip. He tried to break her grip but he couldn't budge her.

The Willow growled, "I don't know how they feel about it in England, but where I come from hitting a child is unacceptable."

"It's the same here," a voice said from the doorway. It was Constable Warren. He stepped into the office followed by the Raven.

The Willow released the man's wrist and he dropped his arm. The mother looked at the Willow carefully; her face was bruised and her clothes were muddy with traces of dried blood. "Did they do this to you? Did you really fight three men?"

"Yes Ma'am. Well actually my horse took care of one of them."

"And they're going to prison for a very long time," Constable Warren said. "I must complement the services performed by Sir Willow, Sir Raven and his page, Wolf, for capturing three murderers and more importantly rescuing your son."

"What about Shadow?" Wolf asked.

"No doubt we would not have found Richard in time without the help of your wolf. He is a most remarkable animal."

After some discussion of the events that had happened the last two days Richard admitted that he had been setup to take the fall in a gang war. He had been lured out of the castle on the pretext of helping a friend who was in trouble. It had been a setup to shift the blame away from the murderers.

The Lion eventually put a stop to the discussion, "What are we going to do about Richard?"

"What? He's coming home with us," the father said.

Evenly the Lion said, "If he does he is going to be killed by the gang."

"I agree," Constable Warren said. "He was a witness and has to be kept away from his home for his own protection.

Richard's father and mother were stunned. His mother finally said, "If he isn't coming home, where can he go?"

"That is a good question," Constable Warren said.

"Agreed," the Lion said. "Unfortunately there are no spaces or scholarships available at the present time."

Wolf objected, "But Sir, there are..."

The Lion stopped Wolf with a hard glance. "I think there is a dog judging competition that Shadow is entered in, happening right about now."

Wolf was dismissed and the Raven placed a hand on the boy's shoulder and led him and Shadow out of the hall and into the bailey. "You should never disagree with the Lion in front of others. I am sure he has a plan. Now get running."

In the office the Willow gave an almost imperceptible nod to the Lion who nodded back. Then she said, "I have an idea, Sir. The work I'm doing would go a lot better if I had an assistant. I would be responsible for his care and safety. It would keep him out of sight. I could also be his teacher."

"You can protect him?" the mother asked. "Would he stay in England?"

"Great Britain, as much as is possible. I won't promise you."

"Who pays his way?" the father asked. "We're not exactly well to do."

"I would be his guardian and would pay all his expenses."

The father pointed a finger at Willow, "I want you to understand this: I would hold you responsible for his life."

"To the extent of my own life."

"I've heard her obligation to be a knight," the Lion said, "I believe she would die to save your son."

"Will I see my son?" the mother asked.

"Yes Ma'am," the Willow answered. "And he will write often."

"There will be some papers to sign," the Lion said. "But we have a day to do it. Meanwhile, enjoy the faire. I am having a room prepared for you. There is a banquet this evening. Lady Hyde will see to your needs. Lady Knight Willow has to see to Richard's needs but he will have plenty of time with you. I understand he is very good with a bow." The Lion scribbled something on a sheet of paper and handed it to Richard, "Give this to my stable master. He'll pick out a rouncey. It's my gift to you."

The Willow put a hand on Richard's shoulder and guided him out of the office.

Richard complained, "Don't I get a say in this?"

The Willow evenly said, "No."

"What if I don't want to go?"

The Willow stopped and turned Richard around to face her, "I don't have a lot of time so I need to know now; are you going to run away? I need someone I can count on to help me do my work. It isn't easy; in fact it's downright hard. But so is coal mining."

"Do I get to shoot arrows?"

"Yes, and I'll teach you to be an expert shot; it's my specialty."

"What do I have to do?"

"That is an excellent question. Do you want the short answer or the long answer?"

"I think the short answer."

"You're going to be my punching bag."

Rick stepped back away from the woman, "What?"

"I teach self-defense to children. I can't go around demonstrating on them. I'm going to teach you self-defense so you can help me teach the kids. Bruises are to be expected for both me and you, but not for the kids. As a consolation I'm also going to teach you horse riding, sword play and jousting. My mission is to save lives and I chose to do that by teaching self-defense."

"Is that all? That sounds easy enough."

"Trust me, I will keep you busy. Are you in?"

Richard sucked in his breath, "Yes, Ma'am."

"Shake on it."

They spit in their palms and shook hands.

"Ma'am, what's a rouncey?"

The Willow laughed, "You're about to find out."