Earl Robert had insisted on all his Thanes attending as a joint celebration of the Victory at Mearcred and the miraculous recovery of Lord Henry Porter from his wasting disease.
Isobel managed to speak with the Earl’s daughter, her long-time friend Sarah of Salisbury.
“I’m sorry Issie, I think I’ve done all I can do – if you can’t impress Father at the hunt, I think he’s going to marry you off. That slimy snake Brandon of Cholderton has been at the Castle rather a lot recently…”
Elias and Isobel met for the first time at House Porter on the night before the planned Hunt.
Elias thanked her for rescuing Old Harold (his aged retainer and mentor) during the battle. The old man was seen playing games with the two young twins, Ruth and Jacob, Lord Henry’s legitimate children and heirs.
Isobel congratulated Elias on his part in the battle and his good fortune and the recovery of his stolen banner – The Porter Bear.
She noted some domestic tensions between Lady Margret and her husband Lord Henry and Henry’s offer to give her a personally guided tour of the manor seemed a bit creepy.
Lady Margret excused herself and went back to her rooms, barely concealing her tears.
Later, nether Lord Henry or Lady Margret were in the throng and when Elias excused himself abruptly, mid-conversation, to wander off and check on his step-mother, Isobel followed, close enough to overhear their conversation.
As she had expected, Lord Porter had been caught by his wife earlier that day, with one of the kitchen wenches in a quite unpleasant scene. Isobel wasn’t to know how uncharacteristic this behaviour was, but Elias seemed furious with his father.
Before they could do anything about it, there was a commotion on the terraces and when they got there, Lord Henry (naked and wrapped in somebody’s cloak) drenched in blood from a horrible wound (an animal claw across his throat and chest).
“A bear.. a goddamn bear! It’s out there past the garden.”
A shriek from another servant as the mauled body of a waitress was found in the bushes.
The Lord’s shirt had been torn off by the claw. His breeches were neatly folded in a nearby tree! There were indeed prints of a huge bear in the mud and blood.
Earl Robert offered a reward for the man (or woman) who could kill the bear and all the men (and Isobel) grabbed their weapons and torches and took off into the bushes. Only Old Harold stayed behind to look after the children and Father Bertram stayed to bandage Lord Henry’s wounds.
Isobel and Elias found themselves together during the hunt and were surprised to find no tracks further away. They also found a nearby herd of goats quietly grazing in the moonlight, so the Bear had not come this way.
Thinking back over the scene of the killing, Elias realised that the torn and broken thing on his father’s bloody shirt was the remains of his crucifix. It also seemed as though the Bear claw must have been pulled across his neck from behind. A terrible dread crept over him and he began to race back towards the house with Isobel close behind.
As they reached the house, they heard panicked cries and horrible screams and the roar of the frenzied beast. A huge black bear with blazing red eyes loomed over the frightened children. The mangled bodies of poor Harold and Lady Margret were tossed aside.
They spotted the pudgy, severed arm of Father Bertram, still clutching a bloody crucifix on the floor.
The bear appeared to have already taken some damage as there was a bloody wound across its throat and chest.
Our heroes managed to attract the monster’s attention long enough for the children to be rushed to safety. It smashed Elias to the ground, but Isobel managed to pierce an eye with a bow shot, enraging it further.
Lady Sarah grabbed a spear from the wall and slowly advanced, with the weapon shaking in her hands.
As it trampled over the fallen Elias, and loomed over Lady Sarah, Isobel hurled herself at it, stabbing it in one side of its neck with an arrow and plunging her knife into the other side of its neck.
As the creature fell, it shimmered and transformed into the corpse of Lord Henry!
Earl Robert and several other Thanes were just returning at that moment and the Earl rushed to his daughter, thanking Isobel and Elias for saving her.
It seems that Isobel doesn’t have to worry about an arranged marriage for a while, at least.
Earl Robert also confirms Elias as Regent for House Porter until Jacob reaches 18.
Elias is secretly tormented by his own good fortune and the tragedy which he alone knows was brought about by his foolishness in trusting the pagan sorcerer, Grunthar. The more he personally profits from the grisly pact, the more his guilt and secret shame burns. He swears an Iron Vow of vengeance against the sorcerer.