Twig walked into the yard of the manor house. His footsteps lighted like dead leaves on the cold cobblestones—the brush of his black cloak on the ground made more noise than his footfalls and it sounded no louder than a breeze. Silent as a shadow he was, and yet his presence spooked the horses in the stables; something about him sent the dogs in the kennels under the kitchen whimpering and clawing, as if they’d smelled a wolf. Twig turned to leave—he’d rather have remained unnoticed. The noise of the animals brought people out of the grey stone manor house and the outbuildings. Armed with crossbows and torches, they began looking for the spook that had so upset the animals.
Six people emerged from the manor house and the outbuildings. That didn’t stop Twig from leaving. One of the women had bright red hair and a long green dress both of which he knew. In the dim he could not yet see her face. Her belly was round, big with child. The sight gladdened him. He had hoped to be home in time to see the child born. Perhaps he had not been gone as long as he thought.
Four of the people who’d emerged from the buildings were men. They shouted at each other about searching the grounds. “Go quiet them dogs!” the older of the four shouted at the youngest, who ran toward the kennels.
They had missed Twig so far. He was not sure why. The shadow of the stables fell across him, and the voluminous cloak he wore had been taken from the back of a Holy Assassin, so it may very well have some sort of enchantment on it, and he stood so very still. The young man who went to quiet the dogs ran with his face partly toward Twig.
Twig watched the woman in the green dress. She walked across the yard, her hair covering her face. Her name grew in his throat—he wanted to call to her. Halfway across the yard, she stopped to crouch and collect a cat that had run to her. The cat looked right at Twig, its hair on end, and it hissed. She followed the cat’s gaze. Twig saw her face; in seeing it, the name in his throat deflated and died. Her face was so like the face he knew, but more heart-shaped lips, a different nose, and different eyes—his own, icy-blue eyes in her face.
“Master Twig’s ghost!” a woman’s voice shrieked. The other person who had exited the house was an aged woman. She’d found a pitchfork, and now held it with the tines pointed at Twig, wide-eyed angry-fear on her face; a face he knew, but much younger. She was named Hilda. She should have been hardly more than a child.
“I am confused,” Twig said in a voice dry as dust.
“You’re confused?” said the voice of another person. Twig looked to the porch, where a tall woman stood just outside the doors of the grey stone manor house. Freckles peppered her sharp face, and her pale hair, in a long braid, had a little grey in it. She was beginning to age, though her face was still striking. She held a loaded crossbow.
“It’s Master Twig’s ghost, m’lady—I know it in my bones,” Hilda croaked, prodding the pitchfork toward Twig. “Long since died in some secretive place at war and come to haunt them that wanted him to stay forgot.”
“Go in the house, Hilda,” the woman on the porch said.
“We have to cast rites to protect us against witchcraft,” Hilda began arguing, staring intently at Twig, showing no sign of letting him go without being exorcised.
“Hilda! Do as I say. Go in the house. Make tea,” the woman on the porch said.
“Lady,” Hilda began.
“Hilda!” the woman on the porch wanted no more argument. Frowning, Hilda made a last jab at Twig and went into the house. She took her pitchfork with her.
To be continued in two days...