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Title: In the Forest of Villefére
Author: Robert E. Howard
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0607931.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: October 2006
Date most recently updated: December 2007

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In the Forest of Villefére
Robert E. Howard



The sun had set. The great shadows came striding over the forest.
In the weird twilight of a late summer day, I saw the path ahead glide
on among the mighty trees and disappear. And I shuddered and glanced
fearfully over my shoulder. Miles behind lay the nearest village--
miles ahead the next.

I looked to left and to right as I strode on, and anon I looked
behind me. And anon I stopped short, grasping my rapier, as a breaking
twig betokened the going of some small beast. Or was it a beast?

But the path led on and I followed, because, forsooth, I had
naught else to do.

As I went I bethought me, "My own thoughts will route me, if I be
not aware. What is there in this forest, except perhaps the creatures
that roam it, deer and the like? Tush, the foolish legends of those
villagers!"

And so I went and the twilight faded into dusk. Stars began to
blink and the leaves of the trees murmured in the faint breeze. And
then I stopped short, my sword leaping to my hand, for just ahead,
around a curve of the path, someone was singing. The words I could not
distinguish, but the accent was strange, almost barbaric.

I stepped behind a great tree, and the cold sweat beaded my
forehead. Then the singer came in sight, a tall, thin man, vague in
the twilight. I shrugged my shoulders. A _man_ I did not fear. I
sprang out, my point raised.

"Stand!"

He showed no surprise. "I prithee, handle thy blade with care,
friend," he said.

Somewhat ashamed, I lowered my sword.

"I am new to this forest," I quoth, apologetically. "I heard talk
of bandits. I crave pardon. Where lies the road to Villefére?"

"_Corbleu,_ you've missed it," he answered. "You should have
branched off to the right some distance back. I am going there myself.
If you may abide my company, I will direct you."

I hesitated. Yet why should I hesitate?

"Why, certainly. My name is de Montour, of Normandy."

"And I am Carolus le Loup."

"No!" I started back.

He looked at me in astonishment.

"Pardon," said I; "the name is strange. Does not _loup_ mean
wolf?"

"My family were always great hunters," he answered. He did not
offer his hand.

"You will pardon my staring," said I as we walked down the path,
"but I can hardly see your face in the dusk."

I sensed that he was laughing, though he made no sound.

"It is little to look upon," he answered.

I stepped closer and then leaped away, my hair bristling.

"A mask!" I exclaimed. "Why do you wear a mask, _m'sieu_?"

"It is a vow," he exclaimed. "In fleeing a pack of hounds I vowed
that if I escaped I would wear a mask for a certain time."

"Hounds, _m'sieu_?"

"Wolves," he answered quickly; "I said wolves."

We walked in silence for awhile and then my companion said, "I am
surprised that you walk these woods by night. Few people come these
ways even in the day."

"I am in haste to reach the border," I answered. "A treaty has
been signed with the English, and the Duke of Burgundy should know of
it. The people at the village sought to dissuade me. They spoke of--a
wolf that was purported to roam these woods."

"Here the path branches to Villefére," said he, and I saw a
narrow, crooked path that I had not seen when I passed it before. It
led in amid the darkness of the trees. I shuddered.

"You wish to return to the village?"

"No!" I exclaimed. "No, no! Lead on."

So narrow was the path that we walked single file, he leading. I
looked well at him. He was taller, much taller than I, and thin, wiry.
He was dressed in a costume that smacked of Spain. A long rapier swung
at his hip. He walked with long easy strides, noiselessly.

Then he began to talk of travel and adventure. He spoke of many
lands and seas he had seen and many strange things. So we talked and
went farther and farther into the forest.

I presumed that he was French, and yet he had a very strange
accent, that was neither French nor Spanish nor English, not like any
language I had ever heard. Some words he slurred strangely and some he
could not pronounce at all.

"This path is often used, is it?" I asked.

"Not by many," he answered and laughed silently. I shuddered. It
was very dark and the leaves whispered together among the branches.

"A fiend haunts this forest," I said.

"So the peasants say," he answered, "but I have roamed it oft and
have never seen his face."

Then he began to speak of strange creatures of darkness, and the
moon rose and shadows glided among the trees. He looked up at the
moon.

"Haste!" said he. "We must reach our destination before the moon
reaches her zenith."

We hurried along the trail.

"They say," said I, "that a werewolf haunts these woodlands."

"It might be," said he, and we argued much upon the subject.

"The old women say," said he, "that if a werewolf is slain while a
wolf, then he is slain, but if he is slain as a man, then his half-
soul will haunt his slayer forever. But haste thee, the moon nears her
zenith."

We came into a small moonlit glade and the stranger stopped.

"Let us pause a while," said he.

"Nay, let us be gone," I urged; "I like not this place."

He laughed without sound. "Why," said he, "this is a fair glade.
As good as a banquet hall it is, and many times have I feasted here.
Ha, ha, ha! Look ye, I will show you a dance." And he began bounding
here and there, anon flinging back his head and laughing silently.
Thought I, the man is mad.

As he danced his weird dance I looked about me. _The trail went
not on but stopped in the glade._

"Come," said I, "we must on. Do you not smell the rank, hairy scent
that hovers about the glade? Wolves den here. Perhaps they are about
us and are gliding upon us even now."

He dropped upon all fours, bounded higher than my head, and came
toward me with a strange slinking motion.

"That dance is called the Dance of the Wolf," said he, and my hair
bristled.

"Keep off!" I stepped back, and with a screech that set the echoes
shuddering he leaped for me, and though a sword hung at his belt he
did not draw it. My rapier was half out when he grasped my arm and
flung me headlong. I dragged him with me and we struck the ground
together. Wrenching a hand free, I jerked off the mask. A shriek of
horror broke from my lips. Beast eyes glittered beneath that mask,
white fangs flashed in the moonlight. _The face was that of a wolf._

In an instant those fangs were at my throat. Taloned hands tore
the sword from my grasp. I beat at that horrible face with my clenched
fists, but his jaws were fastened on my shoulders, his talons tore at
my throat. Then I was on my back. The world was fading. Blindly I
struck out. My hand dropped, then closed automatically about the hilt
of my dagger, which I had been unable to get at. I drew and stabbed. A
terrible, half-bestial bellowing screech. Then I reeled to my feet,
free. At my feet lay the werewolf.

I stooped, raised the dagger, then paused, looked up. The moon
hovered close to her zenith. _If I slew the thing as a man its
frightful spirit would haunt me forever._ I sat down waiting. The
_thing_ watched me with flaming wolf eyes. The long wiry limbs seemed
to shrink, to crook; hair seemed to grow upon them. Fearing madness, I
snatched up the _thing's_ own sword and hacked it to pieces. Then I
flung the sword away and fled.



THE END




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