"A werewolf?" scoffed Gunther. "Surely you don't believe the tales of a few scared peasants?"
He, Jane, and Sir Theodore stood in the castle yard, the hot summer sun pressing down on the sweating squires as they talked to their mentor.
Jane shot him a glare. "Something has been killing their children, and digging up their dead! They have good reason to be scared."
"Indeed," agreed Sir Theodore. "And they have petitioned King Caradock for help. He has agreed to send one knight back to their village, to deal with the situation as they see fit."
Jane stepped forward, and Gunther rolled his eyes.
"Dragon and I can be there and back by tomorrow, Sir, and it would be an honour to protect the –"
"I'm sure it would be, Jane," Sir Theodore stopped her with a wave of his hand. "But Sir Ivon and I have discussed the matter, and feel that this is a challenge that Gunther should undertake."
Both squires gaped.
"P-pardon, Sir?" stammered Gunther. "You wish for me to . . . ?"
"Is there a problem, Gunther?"
"No, Sir, but I thought the King promised a knight. I am still a mere squire." Gunther didn't seem to enjoy pointing out this last fact.
"You are a man grown, almost eighteen." Sir Theodore gazed at him sternly for a moment, before continuing. "Complete this task successfully, learn from it, and you will be knighted after your return."
There was a half-stifled gasp from Jane, who looked shocked.
Gunther beamed. "When do I set out?"
"If you leave today you should arrive before the next full moon."
"I did my best, but one silver arrow is all I could manage," Smithy held the reins of Gunther's horse and handed him the weapon. "I made it myself, it's solid silver. It should pack a punch, if you are close enough, but be sure to aim for the heart."
"Do not tell me you believe in all this werewolf nonsense too, Smithy." Gunther raised his eyebrow at the arrow, before tucking it into his belt. Necessary or not, it was too valuable to loose.
"Pig and I saw some strange things during the time we were wandering around, before we came here." The blacksmith shrugged. "I know you have good aim, but take care, all the same."
He handed Gunther the reins, and stood aside as the horse trotted off, towards the villager waiting at the castle gates. Turning around, he saw Jane watching from her tower. She quickly ducked back inside.
"A biscuit for your thoughts?"
Jane looked up to see Jester, elaborately holding out one of Pepper's creations, in front of her. She was sitting on one of the swings, and had been deep in thought.
"Thank you." She smiled and accepted the biscuit, and Jester sat beside her.
There was a brief moment of silence, and then Jane sighed. "I was just wondering why Sir Theodore would knight Gunther, and not me."
"He said that?"
"He said that if Gunther is successful, and learns something from his task, he will be knighted when he returns."
"Ah, well, not a worry, then. No way will Gunther face up to a werewolf." Jester laughed. "Even normal wolves scare him."
Jane sighed. "I wish I could believe that, but we both know that Gunther's aim is almost faultless, much better than mine, these days. If anyone can pierce a werewolf through the heart with a single arrow, he can."
Jester began to protest, but Jane cut him off. "And he is strong. I just thought there was more to being a knight than that."
"You know, Jane, the likelihood of there actually being a werewolf seems pretty small to me, and the chance of Gunther actually learning something seems even smaller!"
"But a knight is supposed to have . . . morals! And honesty, and chivalry, and strength of character, and, and . . . ."
"Jealousy?" supplied Jester.
Jane blinked, and then gave him a sheepish smile. "I suppose I am," she admitted. "I just had hoped . . . ." She sighed. "Never mind. I will be a knight one day, and so help Gunther if he tries to tease me in the meantime!"
"That is the spirit." Jester stood up. "Now pardon me, milady, but I promised the Queen I'd perform for the royal progeny." He bowed, tinkled his hat at her, and danced off.
Jane watched him go. "Thank you, Jester."
Gunther returned three weeks later, thundering through the castle gates without so much as a glance towards Sir Ivon, who was on duty there. He rode up the castle steps and straight into the great hall, where the King sat, preparing for the morning audience with the villagers, and where Jane stood guarding him.
Jumping from the horse, Gunther heaved a large, furry heap down with him, dropped it at the floor in front of the throne, and then kneeled before the King.
"Your werewolf, your Highness." He stood again, and it seemed to Jane that he had grown.
His horse, feverish with fear and finally free of its terrifying burden, bolted back out the wide doors and into the garden, where Smithy caught it.
The King blanched, and Jane turned her attention to the werewolf. It was hard to look at. If she stared at it, it looked like a large wolf, but in the corner of her eye she might see a human hand. Then if she focused on that, it would become wolfish, and what she had just looked at would turn human in the edge of her vision. One certain thing, though, was the shaft of sliver protruding from its chest. That and the smell.
"I got it mid-turn," Gunther was saying. "That was the only time she was distracted enough."
"She?" asked the King. "It was a woman?"
"Yes," replied Gunther, shortly.
"Uh, very good. Very well done. I am sure the villagers were most grateful." The King ignored Gunther's grunt at this last statement, and continued. "Now if you would just take it away and find somewhere to bury it, I would be most grateful." He paused. "Uh, it will not come back to life, will it?"
"No, Sire, the beast is well and truly dead." Sir Theodore entered from the far end of the hall. "Well done," he said to Gunther. "And what did you learn?"
Gunther picked up the corpse as though it weighed nothing at all, as though it was nothing at all, and turned to go.
"Do not trust a woman."
A/N: You guys have all been pretty decent about the concrit I've offered, so I guess now it's time to give you the chance for revenge. :)
Lashings of thanks to KrisEleven, who has patiently read and re-read my fic, and tried her hardest to decimate my fears. This first chapter is dedicated to her.