Sybil was pulling up dead plants in the dusky twilight. She hoped that Cern would soon arrive. She had a question or two to ask him and she’d finally gotten up enough courage to do so. Vivien talking about ‘Themins’ had made her think, which of course lead to questions she hesitated to ask. Cern’s appearance over the last few months worried her as well. He seemed thinner each time. Still muscular, but hard and drawn. She picked up the pile of dead plants and carried them back to the compost pile.
“Oh! Cern you startled me!” Sybil dropped the plants and turned to see Cern standing there wearing a cloak with a hood pulled up.
“Sorry love. I canna be with ye tonight. I come to tell ye stay inside. No matter the noise, stay inside.”
“Alright. Why?” She stepped closer to touch him.
“Nay be tellin’ ye. Forest stuff.” He bent down, kissed her and then turned and walked away.
Sybil turned back and put the plants on the pile. Then she went inside and barred the door. There’d been a chill in his voice that made her nervous.
After dinner, she washed her bowl and cup and then sat knitting wee socks for the babe. Tiny white socks that didn’t take much wool occupied her until the candle nearly burned out. It had been a long time since she’d been alone at night and she was uneasy. As she put water on for tea, she thought she heard a noise. Standing at the window, she could hear the sounds of a hunting horn and galloping horses.
“Who hunts at night?” she said out loud. Then it came to her. The Wild Hunt. The ghostly fay hunters riding devilish horses and driving demon dogs to hunt down the cruel, evil men or to kidnap fair women and carry them back to the land of the Sidhe. She hoped that none of the men of the village were out and she thought of going to warn Vivien and Todd, but then she remembered Cern’s words. “Stay inside.” Then she wondered how he knew that they would ride tonight.
Sybil listened at the window one more time, hearing the baleful horn and the racing animals crashing through the woods. She shut the window tight and blew out the candle. Then she crawled into bed and pulled the covers up over her head.
Dawn woke her and she opened her eyes to see a basket of acorns, apples blushed with the color of first frost and a skinned brace of rabbits on her table. She dressed quickly and looked outside. No sign of Cern, although he hadn’t been gone long. The rabbits were still bleeding. Sybil went back inside and finished cleaning the rabbits and cut them up for stew. She added turnips, carrots and onions along with a handful of different spices from her garden. Then she swung it over the fire to cook slowly.
She went outside to do her chores and realized that one of the chickens had hopped the wall. She went out the gate to catch it and when she bent to pick it up, she saw the hoof prints and dog prints that had trampled the grass in the field next to her cottage. She grabbed the chicken and headed back into her garden. Her heart beat triple fast as she put the chicken in the coop. She no sooner got back inside when Vivien knocked on the door frame.
“Ye be pale. Be everthin’ alright?” Vivien came all the way in and sat a heavy basket on the floor.
“Aye. Just a bit of a fright.”
“Aye. Did ye hear the Hunt last night?” Sybil poured water into the teapot and then stirred the stew.
“Oh aye. Took Daft Richard it did. Alyson atold him to stay inside when she heard it, but oh no. Had to go out did he.” Vivien sat down at the table.
“No sign of him?”
“Nay, just his hat in road, covered in dust and chewed. “ Vivien poured the tea and then looked at Sybil again. “What scared ye?”
“I… I went to grab Red Bessie as she hopped the wall. There on the outside of my garden wall, the field is all trampled. Horse and hound.”
It was Vivien’s turn to blanch. “Did Cern come to ye last night?”
“Nay. Well, not exactly. He came and told me to stay inside. He knew the Hunt was ridin’.”
Vivien nodded. “Themins.”
Sybil didn’t want to agree, but she had no choice. She’d have to ask Cern those questions she had no desire to ask.