A full grown wolf stared at him with yellow eyes and William couldn’t stop his fearful whimper as the animal raised its lip, growling low and showing its teeth. He couldn’t help it, his courage deserted him and he closed his eyes, waiting for the pain and the gush of his life leaving his torn throat.
Instead, the weight on his chest was gone. William put his hand up and found that his throat was still whole and he was entirely undamaged, save for his dignity.
He sat up and looked around. There was a deeper shadow under one of the trees and William let out a small undignified shriek when it moved and started to speak.
“I beg your pardon. I mistook you for someone else.”
William had never heard that ruffians and brigands were overly polite to their prey, so he got cautiously to his feet. There was no sign of the wolf. “You’ll have my pardon after you show yourself.”
The shadow laughed, a merry sound, and then stepped away from the bole. It was a man, a rather young man, possibly not much older than William. He had long dark hair and pale skin. His eyes in the reflected moonlight were dark, much darker than William’s blue eyes. He was much taller than William, broad-shouldered, and he moved with the long-legged grace of a man accustomed to fighting.
William supposed that the man could do him any harm in the woods that he desired, and William would never be able to stop him. But for some reason his fear vanished, and he suspected that the wolf or other denizens of the night would be no match for this warrior.
“You don’t seem to be a devil or other haunt.”
The man grinned, his eyes twinkling. “I’m no devil.”
“What happened to the wolf?”
“There was a wolf . . . .”
William trailed off as the man looked at him questioningly. Perhaps he’d tripped and imagined the wolf. But no, his face felt sticky still from the slobbery tongue. Mayhap the animal took a fright when it sensed the other man.
“I didn’t see anything.”
William gave up. He needed to be home, back to his place and didn’t have time to argue about it. “Right then. I must be off home.”
“Wait.” The man held out a hand, but didn’t go any further when William flinched. “What’s your name?”
William hesitated, but though the man was mysterious and William didn’t entirely trust him, he thought that he intended William no harm.“William of Wyre. And you?”
“Alexander Blaidd. But I’m mostly called Xander.”