There was little to do in the winter months in Winchester or little reason to be out and about the small town, for that matter. But on a day such as this, with the cold air determined to bite at those who might try to defy the winter and go about their business, only the most stubborn or desperate would step outdoors.
And yet, Edmund left home after having taken his midday meal with his foster mother and father and paid the cold no heed. He did not feel it, as his mind was too focused on finding answers.
The wind had picked up since the morning, howling as it nipped at the heels of those few souls outside. He did not hear it, as he undertook the short walk to the Guild Hall, located at the outskirts of the town. Along the way, he saw only a few people lumbering about clumsily, most likely going between home and the pub. He gave these folk a wide berth, hoping to not be recognized by them. He had no interest in being petitioned to join them in drowning their boredom in drink.
He noticed the lack of tracks on the snow as he passed through the wooden gates of the guild compound and made his way to the main Guild Hall. The “Guild Hall” was a bit of a misnomer in that it did not consist of one building, but many. Originally, the Hall had been nothing more than a room, but in the last hundred years the original room had been expanded a few times over. The hall had become a much larger facility that would comfortably seat and serve meals to nearly a hundred men. But other buildings on the grounds housed other functions and services, including a forge, a stable, and an abattoir. Together, these buildings comprised the modern day “Hall.”
As Edmund crossed through the hall’s threshold, his grey eyes roved over the interior and, as expected, he found the place deserted save for the records-keeper, who was warming his hands by the fireplace. With the season being winter, the members did not spend much time here as there were no hunts to be planned, or much news to exchange.
Therefore, Edmund’s tendency to come to the Guild lodge and sit in quiet studies only went noticed by the records-keeper and the guildmaster, who made it his business to know everything about guild affairs. Guildmaster Wilhelm mistook Edmund’s regular presence at the Hall as a sign of the young’s man desire to be noticed.
Edmund was not the sort of man that aspired to be visible or praised by his peers. Rather, as befitting the name he had been given, he was driven by a desire to protect and provide for those under his care. It did not bother him when he found himself assigned to undertaking some of the less “desirable” tasks left for the novices to attend to upon his initiation. Patiently he read and created hand-written copies of the standard journals and maps that detailed good hunting grounds. He was well aware that these items were often sold for a pretty price to the recreational hunters and adventurers that frequented the area during the summer months .
The task of assisting the records-keeper with the mundane recopying, restoration, and cataloging of records proved even less popular with the guild novices. This undertaking vexed some of the other men, anxious to prove themselves through other more active means – but Edmund was pragmatic. This, too, was part of his overall learning. Moreover, his assistance gladdened the older records-keeper, who would otherwise labor on the archives alone. Unlike the others, he did not find this sort of menial work to be demeaning; it was not very different from the sort of work he might be asked to assist with at the shop.
During rainy days and winter months, he transcribed whatever was given to him by the records-keeper. But he also chose his own materials, adding to his own collection of notes and records. Through this rather unappreciated bit of labor, he had come to understand the depth of knowledge that sat unutilized in the guild’s books and ledgers.
Among the first items he had chosen to view were various maps that plotted patterns of animal migration according to the lunar cycles. This was how he knew of the long winter to come and the period of darkness that would begin with the new year. Then came the more obscure works that had little to do with hunting. These were notes and journals from the early guild members– several of whom were not hunters, but rangers or explorers. They were intelligent men raised in the South, who were highly skilled at reading the stars and their positions.
These earliest documents were abandoned because they were deemed impractical to those who were interested in commercial gaming and serving as guides. And yet it was these sorts of records that might hold the key to what Elanore spoke of this morning. He was curious to see what, if any, records there might be hidden in the archives that spoke of the Unthings as well as the Wolfram family.
Edmund carefully dusted the snow off his boots before daring to approach the records-keeper, who would not welcome any water – solid or not – near his precious texts.
“Good afternoon, Gregory,” Edmund glanced down at the man, copying maps of some sort from one book to another.
Old Gregory’s eyes squinted at him from over a pair of humble spectacles. “Come here to read the lunar charts again?”
“Ah no, Gregory,” Edmund shook his head. “I’ll have to look through those tomorrow or next week. I was wondering what you might have that includes references to the Unthings.”
“Unthings!” Gregory nearly fell over from his stool. “What kind of fanciness is this, Ormond? You know how much the guildmaster hates it when we read up on all that fairy business.”
“There are stories circulating about the Unthings and a recent sighting,” he explained. “I wanted to see how common these claims happened to be.”
Gregory shrugged. “As far as I know, none actually proven and recorded since I’ve been the records-keeper here for about sixty years. Only stories I’ve heard have been from some of the folks who come through and use our services to hunt in these parts. They swear that they exist, but most of them are strange folk who hang around elves in the West. You never know if they’re really talking about Unthings or what. I mean every disappeared lad or lass can’t have been swallowed up without a trace. More than likely there’s a lot of confusion. Now if it’s black wolves or bears, I’ve got plenty of accounts-“
Edmund frowned slightly at the rambling train of thought. “Gregory, what of the older records or the older anthologies on creatures that were sitting on the back shelves? Perhaps I need to look more carefully at investigating creatures that could be easily mistaken for a “black shadow.”
“Hmm,” the old man rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “If there’s going to be anything on wolves or bears or such things, it would be in some of the other texts.” He stood up from his stool and began dancing around the shelves, looking here and there. “The older things must do for something like this. Perhaps an elven text or two—“
The younger man blinked. “I thought those texts were lost from the archives.”
“Nothing is ever lost,” Gregory turned around and glared at Edmund. “Even if the Guildmaster doesn’t like the works of nonsense as he calls them, he has no right to destroy them. The things our founding fathers gave us belong to all of us to do with as we please.”
They were both well aware that it wasn’t as simple as that. Guildmaster Wilhelm was a man who trusted only what he could directly observe and see for himself. Accounts by men long gone he found irrelevant. Accounts by elves were considered worse; he viewed the elven works as suspect for a multitude of reasons. Wilhelm had little use for his men reading fanciful work and had made his viewpoint well understood.
“My mother might like the stories in such texts,”Edmund said hesitantly.
“Aye, there we go,” Gregory nodded in approval as he thrust several random books at him. “The ladies love those odd tales. Indulging them in some fanciful reading sounds like a proper reason to be using the archives.”
Edmund sighed, knowing full well, that it was a terrible excuse as such. His mother had no interest in such silly things, but he took the books anyways and wandered off to a corner of the hall where he would not be readily disturbed.
Quickly he glanced at the pile of books in hand and moved the obvious elven texts into his bag and then placed the bag on a chair next to him, with his coat draped across it for extra measure. He would have to look at these later. The rest of what was handed to him consisted of several random journals from the first guildmaster, Alvis Madden.
Madden was the first formally initiated guildmaster – appointed once the initial founders had begun to grow old and pass away. Madden was one of the first children born to this town. It was likely his father was one of the founding members of the guild.
Dutifully he skimmed through the books first, in order to gather some idea of what the older man had gathered for him. He glanced at the dates on covers of these books, determining that the earliest books appeared to have been written before the man had any knowledge of becoming a leader. As he returned his attention to the first journal, he glossed over a mix of sketches and annotations about common animals in the area. This information was well known and often repeated in other books. Not repeated, however, were the multiple references to elven settlements.
As the hours of study unfolded, Edmund proceeded further down the pile, he noted that the journals grew more organized. Whereas the early books were full of scattered thoughts, the journals had become true records, each beginning with several pages of “topics” and ending with “conclusions” that the man had apparently wanted to convey to the reader. In these front and back pages, the guildmaster had compiled a few high level points that would not have been noticed by someone unless they had read every detail front to back of all the journals.
There were mysteries that apparently the man had wished to have answers for, but never understood. The reasons for the disappearance of the elves troubled him, as evidenced by the questions that repeated itself at the end of each volume. From what Edmund could gather, Alvis Madden never found a satisfactory answer to that mystery.
The man’s obsession with wolves nearly equaled his obsession with the elves. But the reasons for such were more obvious. Edmund could tell that Madden was especially concerned about how these animals might impact the few livestock kept in town and so, over his lifetime, noted the date, and the years of sightings in the area. He noted that the guildmaster eventually determined that patterns of return of most game coincided with the lunar cycle. In addition, he made the observation that just as animal migration patterns changed with the lunar orbits, so did the migration patterns of people. The only hints as to the possible reasons why this was so took form of oblique references to the changes in the tidal flows impacting the fishing to the south.
There was only one reference to the Unthings in the journal summaries, as far as he could tell.
The elder Wolfram passed, leaving his estate to one of his heirs. Shortly after, the elves that saw the Unthings left the area.
At that, Edmund found himself rubbing his nose in frustration. He set the journals down, slouched in his chair and stared blankly at the wall. The entry was vaguely worded. Did the former guildmaster mean to acknowledge the existence of the mythical creatures? Or was he simply trying to qualify his description of the elves as “those who said they saw the Unthings”?
He reread the words again, this time frowning as he looked at the reference to the ‘elder Wolfram’. If Madden was from an old family, so apparently was the Count. If no answers were to be found in these journals or in Gregory’s research – he knew it made sense to try to appeal to the current Wolfram to shed some light on Guildmaster Madden’s notes. As to whether the man might cooperate, he did not know.
A voice rumbled from behind him. “What brings you here on a day like this, Ormond?”
So tired was Edmund by all this pointless reading that he failed to notice the man standing behind his chair. Edmund looked up from his book at a tall, burly man with a fiery mop of hair. He returned that last journal to a safe place in the middle of the pile of books he had with him. “Reading up on packs of wolves, Guildmaster.”
Guildmaster Wilhelm grinned. “Are you getting antsy for a bit of hunting?”
“Perhaps, although– “Edmund thought about exactly what to say and how to say it. “Heard a bit of news from a traveler about a pack of dogs or wolves chasing them a few miles back. Seems that they survived because something else got in the way.”
“Really,” Wilhelm’s interest was certainly piqued. “What kind of creature could do that sort of damage?”
“That’s exactly what I was wondering,“ Edmund sighed. “The traveler made reference to a shadow monster of some sort—“
Wilhelm glared. “That nonsense again. Some foolish Crossroads tripe designed to keep people away from Winchester.”
“Nonetheless,” Edmund realized the danger in setting off the guildmaster. “I was thinking of going to look at the road more closely and seeing what I might observe for myself. See if there might be a possible explanation for it.”
Wilhelm gave him a keen look. “I’d like to see this as well. If anything, I’d like to see what brings animals this close to town. I have some time now, if you don’t mind humoring this old man.”
“Not at all, sir,” Edmund agreed, before realizing that the man meant to go right away. Wilhelm was already off somewhere fetching his coat.
In the ensuing flurry of activity, Edmund did not mention his brief and passing encounter with Count Wolfram. He quietly pocketed the last journal before returning the books to Gregory’s post and following his guild leader out the door.