Winifred (Red) tries to discover a secret her grandfather is hiding in the forest. What she finds is a big, black wolf, and also Hugh de Bar – a dangerously handsome man called Wolf.
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Excerpt from Lady and the Wolf
Danger lurked in the forests of Dartmoor and it went by the name of Lord Hugh de Bar.
Lady Winifred Chaserton of Tavistock made her way on horseback through the woods, sure she’d heard the soft pitter-patter of what sounded like animal paws on the trail behind her. The night was dark and the forest foreboding. Branches reached out like the bony fingers of a harpy, trying to snag the cloak she wore – her grandfather’s cloak. She’d sneaked it out of his chamber, wearing it as a disguise should she be noticed as she left the protection of Castle Chaserton’s walls.
She traveled without a torch this night, keeping to the rough path, not needing to see where she was headed, as she knew this trail by heart.
It was a cool autumn evening, and the trees had started to turn to shades of blood red, amber yellow, and fire orange in the past few weeks. The winds lately had loosened many of the leaves and they’d been dropping to the ground faster than enemies at the hand of her warlord grandfather, Earl Roland Chaserton.
The horse’s hooves crunched the dried leaves and the sound of crickets filled the air as she bravely forged forward without an escort. She hadn’t told anyone but one guard that she’d left the castle, and the man was sworn to secrecy.
With her crossbow slung over one shoulder and a quiver of bolts at her side, Winifred felt well protected from any evil that might be lurking behind the trees.
She had a mission to fulfill and she wouldn’t stop until she found her answers.
She slowed her horse. The night sky was only lit occasionally by the moonbeams that spilled out from behind the passing clouds. The long cloak she wore fell over the sides of her white horse, billowing outward in the breeze as she rode hard through the forest. The dampness of the night felt heavy all around her, and a cool breeze bit at her flesh. But its sting was naught compared to the teeth of the bloodthirsty wolf lying in wait somewhere in the shadows.
Rumor had it, Lord Hugh de Bar of Babeny was naught more than a wolf in disguise. Everyone referred to him as Wolf behind his back, and even to his face and he didn’t seem to mind. He was said to be able to shift from the form of a human to that of a wolf at will, and sometimes he couldn’t even control his shapeshifting. While in his wolf form, he was naught more than a bloodthirsty killer looking for innocent young maidens to defile. Or eat. She’d heard many stories of the infamous knight from traveling scribes, and each time the stories were told they grew in tremendous proportion.
None of it really mattered because she refused to believe in such nonsense. She surmised these were only tales of terror devised by her own grandfather in order to keep poachers out of his forest – and to keep her inside the castle walls.
Even if this man sounded darker than a midnight sky, she had nothing to fear – or so she told herself, trying to stop from feeling jumpy. She was the granddaughter of a powerful earl, and should not be intimidated by anyone or anything.
She heard the snap of a twig from behind her and glanced back over her shoulder as she directed her horse forward. The light of the full moon broke through the clouds and lit the path, enabling her to see the way.
Her destination was just up ahead, through the trees and next to the brook. She’d come here every day with her grandfather’s men to hunt. And every day she’d seen his trusted knight, Sir Bradley, sneaking off somewhere with a basket of food in his hand. When he’d return – the basket was always empty. She knew this for certain, because she’d looked into the basket when the man went to the brook to wash his hands.
She needed to find out where he went and why he’d lied to her when she’d asked him about it. There was something he was hiding and she bet her grandfather was behind it all.
She’d been warned by the castle knights and also by her grandfather that it was dangerous coming into the woods, and she should never attempt it without an escort. She’d also been forbidden to come into the forest alone – and not at night at all. When she’d objected, her grandfather banned her from ever leaving the castle alone again.
Roland Chaserton, Earl of Tavistock, was as ornery as the day was long. He was a brave warrior, but it seemed as if something about these woods had him spooked lately. He hadn’t joined the hunting party in almost a year now, nor had he set foot in these woods since the day her parents died. She asked him many times why he never came here anymore, but he never answered. Well, she no longer cared. He had his secrets . . . and now she had hers as well.
If he knew she was making this trip outside the castle gates and journeying through the forest of Dartmoor in the dark, and unescorted – he’d probably send her off to a convent just to keep her locked away. That’s why she’d waited until after the man was well in his cups and fast asleep before she left the castle. She’d befriended a guard who had taken a liking to her. He promised to keep his mouth shut and the postern gate unlocked – in return for a kiss. A small price to pay for the knowledge and discovery she’d gain from this little journey.
She heard a slight growl from behind her, and grabbed for the crossbow on her back as she continued to ride. It was a small, lady’s crossbow and much easier to load than a knight’s larger crossbow which would take more muscles to use than she had in her entire body. Her grandfather had his master craftsman make it for her five years ago when she’d turned sixteen. She’d been trained by the knights to use it, and could hunt just as well as any of her grandfather’s men.
She didn’t fear her grandfather and all his silly rules about not leaving the castle, and she had often gone to the docks or visiting in another town without him knowing it. But this trip was different. It was dark and gloomy in the woods, and she also felt as if she were being watched.
Another snap of a twig and this time she also heard a growl. Her horse became spooked and reared up, pawing the air with its hooves. She managed to hang on, gripping her legs around the animal tightly, and regained control.
“We’re almost there,” she said to the horse in a calm voice, and at the same time grabbing for a bolt from the quiver at her side. She glanced over her shoulder to see a shadow dart through the underbrush behind her, sending a shiver up her spine.
It was a wolf. She just knew it. These woods were filled with wolves, and there was no denying that. She also felt as if this was no ordinary wolf. Mayhap all the stories of Lord Hugh de Bar had taken its toll on her after all. Suddenly, she couldn’t get the silly notion out of her head that the dark lord of Babeny was stalking her.
The last traveling bard who’d come to the castle told her Wolf ate young girls such as herself out of nothing more than boredom on a slow day of battle. He was rumored to have bloodlust in his veins, and couldn’t sleep nights unless he’d killed a girl a day. She only hoped the rumor meant young girls, and not twenty-one-year-olds like herself, because she didn’t fancy dying anytime soon. Especially not before she could uncover her grandfather’s secret.