After the Old Man Left, I claimed the woods as mine. I roved for hours every night, finding every nook and cranny, returning to the Holdfast only to feed properly. I can survive on animals, but they do not nourish as humans do. And I have no desire to kill them by overfeeding.
I eventually found a basin several miles into the woods. Surrounded by ridges and trees it was almost impossible for anyone to see, particularly at night. However, one of the gifts given me by the Old Man is the ability to see perfectly in darkness. So, I found it. A dip in the forest that allowed a pool to form, with a narrow trail down used by animals who drank there. And more interestingly, hidden behind some rocks and scrub was a cave. I knew instantly that this was my home. The cave would give me shelter, and the pool I could use to create an army of animal spies.
I ranged through the woods for months, returning to the Holdfast to hear news, to feed and to find out what had happened in the aftermath. I was pleased with what I found. Cai was confirmed as the new lord of the Holdfast. Evidently, the scribes had found the forged document that the Old Man and I had left naming him heir. It took the Old Man an entire night to find and steal the seal, and it took me much practice forging the lordling’s signature. I deem the effort worthy of the deed. It pleases me that all trace of him died with his name.
One evening, on one of my rangings I ventured closer to the city of Cardiff than is normal, though it is perhaps good that I did. As upon that night, waiting just beyond the treeline was a large black dog, holding some form of scroll in its mouth. The creature looked at me, not an impossible feat since the Old Man had left. I was still learning the arts of stealth that he had loaned me. But no easy task to see me either, as I am naturally stealthy. The creature allowed me to approach, and offered the scroll. It was gentle with it, unusually so. I took the scroll, but did not open it. I told the beast thank you, and then I retreated into the sanctuary of the forest.
Truth be told, I could have read the scroll at any time. I can read, and darkness is no barrier. But I didn’t want the dog’s master to know that. I hid the scroll and crossed the woods towards the Holdfast. I took a circuitous route, in an attempt to lose any pursuers. I can only assume success. I collected my Old Man rags from the cave, and snuck into the village. I smeared a paste of dirt and water on my face to conceal my monstrous nature, then crept into the hut of a keep scribe. Using my song, I calmed his terror at seeing me and then I spoke to him.
“The Old Man is pleased a son of the land rules here.”
My song calmed him, but I could sense the fear in him lurking just beneath the surface. A natural self-preservation instinct of humans when they are near those like me. The Old Man could fool them into thinking he was human. He could fade from sight and memory, leaving them with only a bad dream that fades with retreating twilight. I cannot do these feats yet, and must settle for my song, disguise and the legend we created around the Old Man of the Woods.
“The Old Man will do you no harm. The Old Man decrees, if anyone asks you why the Old Man came to you, you should tell them you read a scroll to him. A scroll about a meeting. The Old Man decrees you can remember no other details.”
I had already read the scroll in my cave, out of sight. It seemed wise, that way I could plant a false story. It was a summons, by the local prince of vampires. A summons to attend court, in Cardiff. I was expecting it, as vampires are territorial and my presence was undoubtedly a curiosity and potential threat to his dominion. I confess to curiosity about how he found me. That requires answer.
The scribe nodded, confused and a little scared. I tried to soothe him with words. “The Old Man is pleased. The Old Man decrees, keep to your agreement and the Old Man will deliver you a gift.”
The Scribe nodded. I took my leave. If he keeps his word, I will feed him for a week. The Old Man is a trickster and a liar, but can also be trusted absolutely.
I had an appointment to prepare for.
The Mycroft Journals is a serialised fiction, written in response to a roleplaying game I play in. It serves multiple purposes. It acts as a permanent reminder of what happened in the story (so, it helps us players), it acts as an advert for the game, and I think our Games Master has provided us with a compelling story, which other people should get to experience.
Featured artwork is by Barry Martin. Check out his page