Nocturnal Journey

Image of Anduril

Anduril

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The impact of the raindrops on the metal was echoing on the sides of the lantern hung on the fiacre. A stormy rain was raging outside, the deluge crashing down upon the roof of the closed carriage. Paul sighed as he took his pocket watch out of his jacket. He opened wide eyes at the sight of the hands, it was already a quarter to nine! Yet he left quite early, since it was a two hours journey. Paul was a clumsy merchant not well known and living in a small town. He had recently decided to focus on more prosperous places so as to develop his trade. That night, he was on his way to a society party in a big city where there would be masses of wealthy and influent people with whom he intended to make connections. Seemingly, the weather had other plans.

Paul leaned over and pulled back the small green curtain with wave patterns to look out the window. As soon as his eyes laid on the sight of the landscape outside, he let out a gasp that made him drop his watch. The night was particularly dark, it was raining buckets and just like he feared, the city seemed far away from here. There was nothing here than a gloomy forest along the path. The trees were hardly discernible because of the storm and the whole thing was just a big block of foliage. Pushed by the coachman’s instructions, the horse pulling the fiacre was struggling to move forward. Before this disastrous situation, Paul quickly shut the curtain and leaned against the bench. The sound of the rain was deafening.

Suddenly, the motions of the fiacre stopped. The coachman was probably having even more trouble than before. Paul waited a minute, then two, then three, but the carriage still did not move. He knocked several times at the window behind which was the coachman’s seat... No answer.
"Coachman! What’s going on, why have we stopped?" Paul said as he knocked again, running out of patience.
Still nothing, only the constant roar of the downpour outside.
“Can you hear me?” he called louder.

He finally decided to draw aside the curtain of this window, expecting to see the man from behind with his top hat, but this one was not there. Paul still could make out the horse standing still under the rain. He resigned himself to step off the fiacre, knowing it would ruin his beautiful and festive clothes. He moved towards the front of the carriage with utter disgust, only to find that the coachman had disappeared. The rain was already soaking Paul, from his hat to his fancy shoes. Confused and annoyed, he climbed in the coachman’s seat, took the reins of the harnessed horse and gave a sharp blow. The horse kept standing still. Paul came back down and headed towards the animal with an inquisitive look. The horse’s look was astounding. Its eyes were wide open, frozen, as if it had been turned to stone. It was like it had seen the devil himself. Paul jumped back, afraid of catching the same expression as the horse just by staring at it.

He turned his back to the fiacre, observing the forest facing him. He could not make the horse move and it would be complicated to walk on this muddy and tortuous path. From these woods, he could reach some village to spend the night and go home the following morning. At least, the dense foliage of the trees would slightly keep him out of the rain. Paul unhooked the lantern from the fiacre and stepped into this heap of greenery without thinking any further. The place was dark, but the rain was less heavy, thus the visibility was somewhat better. In the heart of this wild nature, he was now able to sight tall trees with old and uneven trunks, obscure and thick bushes and in some places tall grass.

Holding the lantern high in front of him, he was walking fast and hoped to come across a place for the night very soon. All of a sudden, he spotted something in the distance, on the ground. He approached with a slower gait and saw somebody crouching down near the bushes. At last! Maybe someone from a nearby hamlet!

“Oh! I beg your pardon, I...” Paul began as he stepped forward with a smile.
The stranger abruptly turned around, he was an old man with drawn features and wearing a long cape. At his feet was a basket filled with plants of all kinds. The old man seemed to be surprised as if he had been walked in on in the middle of something.
“Hail to you... You’re out on a jaunt, friend?” he stammered in a strange voice.
“Oh, no. It’s a long story, I’m lost and I’m looking for a place to stay for the night,” said Paul.
As if he could guess what Paul was talking about, the stranger lifted his head up and smiled, unveiling a line of teeth of unusual sizes.
“I see. There is not a single village for miles around,” said the old man, shrugging.
Paul’s smile turned into a disappointed look.
“But if you want to, you can come where I live. It’s not far...” the old man said.
“Well, all right. It’s very kind of you to take me in. You’re a good man!” Paul replied and his eyes lighted up with hope.
The old man moved his hand to indicate that he did not mind and bent down to take back his basket.
“It’s over there, follow me,” the old man nodded.
“So, you’re collecting wild plants, Sir?” asked Paul as they were walking side by side.
“Yes. You see, I use every day what the forest gives me. For healing and soothing purposes of course, famous properties of flora,” the old man explained with a mischievous smile. “But also to complement the food, ha ha! If you knew how each plant, berry or even root, can change and heighten the essence of a meat!” he said enthusiastically.

They arrived where the old man was living, which was a tiny spot covered with a large rock sheltering a fire with a cooking pot on top. A strange animal was sitting there, as big as a wolf but with a more elongated and flattened head, like the one of a weasel. As soon as its master returned, the animal put its tongue out, letting a trickle of drool drip to the ground.
“Sit down, sit down. Right before the fire, there,” the old man suggested.

Paul looked away from the animal and placed his hands above the fire. After putting his basket down, the old man patted the head of the beast. Paul shuddered when his eyes met the greedy stare of the disturbing creature. The old man sat down in front of Paul.
“You see, I’m a lover of all kinds of meat, but I’m a terrible hunter. Too old, too fragile. For that, you need a real predator,” he insisted on this last word as he added diverse crushed leaves in the pot and stirred with a wooden spoon. Paul was feeling uncomfortable and this feeling grew stronger once he heard the animal’s breath turn into a groan. The beast suddenly stood up on its hind legs without showing any sign of dizziness. Paul gasped with stupefaction and forced himself to look away from the animal that was staring at him.

He forced his eyes to set on something else so he looked further away behind the old man. He held his breath when he noticed a top hat emerging from the dark woods: the coachman!
This one was walking right up to them carrying an armful of boughs in his arms. He examined Paul with a smirk and threw the wood to the ground.
“Well, it’s time to cook dinner,” the coachman declared.
Dumbstruck, Paul turned his head to the old man who was grinning again but now his smile looked more like a sadistic rictus. The old man looked up to the beast that had sneaked behind Paul. The old man nodded to the animal and before he could do anything, Paul felt two big clawed paws digging in his back and a strong jaw crushing his skull with a popping sound.
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