Music: Majestic Nature by Craig Stuart Garfinkle

Artwork by Steve English

Episode 3 – Horatio Arrives

One of the dogs Winefry had noticed, a female border terrier called Flannel had got fatter over recent weeks. As he waited and watched that evening in the kitchen, he saw her lie down in her basket – as her partner, the male border, Spanner, watched and waited with her.

But tonight was not to be a typical night. The dark rats seemed to know something was happening, something Winefry knew nothing about. There was an excitement about them as they waited in their holes and behind the walls and cupboards. The cat, Scragg, came and went. There was no animosity between the borders and Scragg as they’d grown up together and considered themselves family. Winefry noted that Scragg seemed on edge, coming and going, waiting and watching, sniffing and chasing – anything she thought might be a rat – or rat-related.

Then, as Scragg left the room, a noise from the hall caught the bottles attention and the attention of Spanner who lifted his head and walked to the door to look. Spanner seemed unwilling to leave Flannel for some reason. Scragg was nowhere to be seen.

What happened next left Winefry shocked – he had never seen anything like it before. Suddenly, the room filled with rats which split into two distinct groups. One group moved around Spanner by the door, while the other group headed for Flannel who, for some reason, seemed to be unable to do anything except pant and look uncomfortable.

In a flash, Spanner attacked the rats around him as the other rats moved towards Flannel intent on taking from her something Winefry could never have imagined. For from Flannel, the most amazing thing Winefry had ever seen was coming, a tiny version of herself and Spanner, a miniature and apparently completely helpless dog.

The rats wanted the miniature dog, to rip it to pieces and eat it. Winefry didn’t think, he reacted. He was a creature of the darkness, the darkness had given him life. But, he was also a creature of light. He was a creature of the moon. The same cold wolf moon that beamed through the windows this very night, revealing a scene before him of Spanner fighting for his life, and the other rats bounding towards Flannel and her helpful miniature dog.

Winefry found himself zipping through the air – as his long, powerful legs thrust him towards the helpless Flannel who could do little more than growl and snap at the approaching rats.

The sharpened poker was in Winefry’s hand. Then it was through the back and heart of the largest of all the dark rats attacking Flannel, the one that was about to snatch the miniature dog, intent on ripping it apart.

At Winefry’s unexpected intervention, the other rats paused, unsure what had happened or how to react. They had assumed the wine bottle would keep out of it like it had for the last year. They had also thought that it was like them, a creature of the darkness – but now they realised they were very wrong, that this thing was dangerous.

That moment’s pause gave Winefry all the time he needed to pass between the rest of the rats as he pulled his weapon out of the dead rat and let its body slumped to the floor. Then, he stood in front of a rather shocked Flannel who had never even noticed the wine bottle before.

The bloody battle of the other rats and spanner continued. Spanner was holding his own for now, there were dead rats around him, but he was bleeding quite badly and could not help. That had always been the dark rats plan, to distract and detain Spanner, while they stole the miniature dog from a seemingly helpless Flannel.

No one could have predicted the intervention of Winefry. And, if it hadn’t been for him, the miniature dog would already be dead – ripped to pieces and food for the rats.

The moments’ shock passed, and the rats around Flannel, fuelled by a new rage at the thwarting on their plans, attacked again, determined to get their prize. Winefry’s poker sword, sharpened and thinned, flashed faster than the eye could see. And, as the carnage continued, the wolf moon silently, but not disinterestedly, looked down and shone on the scene of the fight. A fight to the death. And, it especially watched the little puppy born at midnight and defended by a wine bottle which came from darkness.

Each time the rats advanced, Winefry’s poker sword left more dead and others wounded. Meanwhile, the snarling and barking of the fight with Spanner – had started to wake up the people in the Manor as voices could be heard, but help would not arrive quickly enough. So the carnage continued with Winefry protecting the lady Flannel and her helpless miniature dog with everything he had. The rats were creatures of darkness. They were far wiser than your average rat, so quickly they realised they couldn’t defeat Winefry one by one, they had to attack as a group. (P) Multiple times, Winefry was knocked to the hard ground, and he could feel cracks – something his gut told him were very bad. But that would have to wait because he knew that what he was doing was more important than his own life. So, after each clattering to the floor, he leapt back to help Flannel protect the miniature dog. More rats left – bloodied and wounded, and some were killed until one last attack by the rats sent Winefry flying against the stone wall and he heard the crashing of broken glass. But even this would not stop him. He could hardly move but forced himself on, to get between the rats and the little one, but it was no use. Flannel was being held down. The rats were almost at the little one. Winefry had nothing left! His life was literally draining out. So, with the last of his strength, he plunged himself forward and fell between the attackers and the little one.

Then, light! More light than it seemed possible flooded the room. At that, the rats raced away, and Winefry was vaguely away of Spanner rushing over, covered in blood – and of Flannel reaching for the little one. The light didn’t stop but intensified, more and more powerfully until Winefry closed his eyes – which had almost been ripped off him as the rats tore at his label. He knew it was his end, he knew he couldn’t continue, but there was a strange peace in that even so. He had done all he could, he had helped to save the little one and that was enough as the light started to seem to fade.

But then it didn’t! Instead, a voice called out to him! ‘Winefry’. He didn’t even know anything knew else his name, but as it spoke his name, so a little life seemed to return, and the light grew stronger again. ‘Winefry,’ the voice spoke his name a second time, and even more strength flowed back into him. Then a third time, but this time with much more tenderness than he had ever known, ‘My dear, dear Winefry,’ the voice said. As it spoke, he felt something he had not known before, the gentle touch of something – someone – who loved him more than mere words could express.

At the touch, Winefry felt his strength fully return, and his eyes opened. Not only did his strength return, but his label reattached to its place. Becoming un-torn again and free from scratches – his eyes could fully redraw so that he could once again see everything around himself. He was lying next to the miniature dog in Flannels basket. Around them, lay the bodies of several giant rats. Flannel and Spanner were looking at him with great concern in their eyes. Yet, incredible as that was, it wasn’t what grabbed his attention and wouldn’t let go. Instead, right beside him was a lady more beautiful than he had ever seen, emanating a wonderful, gentle light that filled the whole kitchen. Her hand was on him and wasn’t about to let go.

Then, the lady spoke. Not to Winefry at first, but to Flannel and Spanner. ‘My dear ones,’ she started, ‘don’t be fearful. I will give you all the protection you need for yourself and for your little one until he can defend himself. He will be brave and extraordinary. And, he will make you very proud – although there will be a time when you will be separated from him – but don’t worry, he will be watched over and loved.

Spanner and Flannel looked at each other, and the little dog, and from what Winefry could tell seemed to understand every word the lady of light spoke to them.

Then, the lady of light spoke to Winefry again. He felt a bit silly at this point for having called himself ‘Sir Winefry’ before, and thought it best not to say anything. The lady had still not removed her hand from Winefry, who was starting to feel a little uncomfortable.

‘Winefry,’ she said again, ‘you have shown that even though you came from the darkness, you are a creature of light. And, I know that you will be the one who will bring freedom when the times have reached their fullness, and the darkness seems to have won. So, I will give you a gift to help you on your journey.’

As she spoke, Winefry felt her hand growing warmer as it seemed to become even brighter as it held him.

‘This is what I give you. While you will still have a weakness, it will not be your body or your wonderful face.’ As she talked about his face, there was an twinkle in her eye. Winefry wasn’t at all sure she was completely serious when she used that word, ‘wonderful’. ‘You will fight and fall but now you need not fear that your body will fail you as it did here. You gave your body to save this puppy – Horatio.’ As she said this, Flannel and Spanner looked at each other. Apparently, the name of the puppy was already decided! ‘Now I give you all you need to be a protector. At the right time, you will leave, and we will seem lost until you come back to set us free. But until that time comes, set this Manor free from the remaining dark rats. It’s going to be hard, Spanner and Flannel – and eventually Horatio – will help, along with another. And when it is done, then the next chapter of your adventure will begin.’

 Archibald & Horatio.

The moments that followed seemed disconnected from what had just happened. Suddenly, the light in the lady dimmed. Then, the door flew open, the ordinary electric lights flashed on, and the room started to fill with people. Winefry found himself moved quickly and carefully to the edge of the room by the lady, to a place where he could watch and escape unseen. As she walked back to the dogs, the lady of light – now thoroughly dimmed – as dim as all the other humans – looked a little shaken, as if she had just seen the dead rats for the first time. Another older woman came and comforted her and Winefry was sure that this older lady – that the others were calling Roseberry – had seen him. Although she did nothing more than look and seem to nod in his direction.

Then, the ugliest child imaginable ran into the room. Quite what age it was Winefry couldn’t tell, but as it came in it ran past the dead rats and over to Flannel and Spanner, hugging them and looking horrified at the cuts on them both. The older woman was already getting things together to deal with their wounds. Then the ugly child saw what the lady of light had called the ‘puppy’ and the most revolting look swept across his face, and, as the wolf moon continued to shine down on them both, watching and waiting, the ugly child held the little puppy while Flannel looked on, apparently unconcerned. Winefry was amazed that they let this wickedly ugly child hold the puppy. Still, the lady of light was there – even though she seemed to have forgotten who she was – so somehow he knew it would be ok.

As he started to leave, another child appeared, a girl about the same age as the ugly boy, who seemed to be somewhat alarmed by all the dead rats. So, instead of going to the puppy, she walked over to the lady of light and snuggled into her, while keeping a close eye on the puppy and the ugly child.

The last thing Winefry heard as he walked away, fully recovered and ready to do what that lady of light had asked, was from the ugly child. He heard the boy say in a rather nasally and whiny way, ‘Mummy, Daddy.’ He must have been talking to the other ugly humans who had come into the room with him and were looking rather concerned ay the mess. ‘I will name him Horatio Fleming McNaughtie – THE border Terrier.’

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