Music: Majestic Nature by Craig Stuart Garfinkle
Artwork by Steve English
Episode 4 – Winefry the Exterminator
To his surprise, Winefry found he had to start his role as an exterminator of dark rodents almost at once. For no sooner had he left that place and passed through hidden passageways in the Manor than he came across a most unusual situation. Scragg, the ginger cat, was cornered but three huge dark rats and had obviously been in a furious fight as another rat lay dead close by. Scragg was bleeding quite badly from a wound in her side. The three rats were about to move in for the kill as Winefry walked around the corner.
The battle that ensued was fierce, fast and decisive. In a flash, Winefry’s poker was out which gave Scragg just enough time to react and jump out of the way of yet another rat that had been hiding close by. Winefry’s poker sword despatched 2 rats in quick succession before the third and the fourth one which had been hiding, had time to react. Then one of the remaining rats leapt on Winefry, while Scragg turned on the rat that had been hiding.
The rat that landed on Winefry pulled him down hard to the stone floor with a deafening clatter. But this time, instead of a cracking sensation, Winefry simply bounced, rolled and whipped himself back to his feet and thrust his poker sword deep into the attacking dark rat.
As he did this, Scragg furiously tore at the last villain, forcing it to a standstill and making it raise its claws to protect itself. Helpless and unable to see because of the intensity of Scragg’s attack, the doomed rat was easy pickings for Scragg who moved forward and used her mouth to finish off the assailant once and for all.
With that done, both Winefry and Scragg spun to face each other, unsure of motivation and intention of the other. Scragg had her claws out and was covered in blood, some her own but most from her attackers. Winefry had his poker sword raised, ready to fight. For a long moment, unmoving except for heavy breathing, the two of them stood facing each other. They stayed like that, unsure what to do until the last dark rat Winefry had run through with his poker sword, mumbled slightly, and Scragg’s hair stood even more on end. In a flash, Winefry’s sword swooshed and the rats head bounded across the floor, landing at Scragg’s feet.
Then, reasoning that as they were both attacking the rats, they were both probably on the same side, Winefry shrugged his shoulders. Then, raising his poker sword in front of his face, he saluted the cat, bowed from the hips, turned and walked off. Scragg watched the strange bottle warrior leave with a puzzled expression on her face. But after a few moments, she also shrugged slightly, picked up the head of the rat and made her way back to the kitchen where much fuss was made of her by everyone. Not quite as much fuss as was made being of the puppy Horatio. But almost – and Scragg could live with that.
So, in the months that followed, the brave Winefry continued to vanquish dark rats all through the Manor. Sometimes he worked alone, and sometimes he was helped by Flannel, Spanner and later by Horatio – who seemed to be a little different from the others – especially around full moon. Although mostly he worked with Scragg, developing a slow, grudging friendship and respect for each other, as the two of them whittled down the numbers of their implacable enemies.
However, it was the very last battle of the remaining giant and extremely vicious dark rats that set the scene for Winefry and Scragg’s next adventure.
The battle took place in the cellar and was a terrible affair. All the remaining dark rats had decided to band together to make one last, make or break stand against their enemy Winefry. The remaining rats chose to attack as a group, to defeat the wine bottle and, if possible, bring an end to his rule of tyranny. Well, that’s the way they saw it. Winefry saw it in quite another way. He saw himself as freeing the Manor from monstrous vermin – precisely as the lady of light had commanded!
The trap was set with nothing less than Scragg the ginger cat herself, being captured and tied to a pillar in the cellar. Bloodied and beaten, she was left to cry for help. Quite how long she cried for, I can’t be sure. Still, it was long enough and loudly enough to get the attention of Winefry – who cautiously made his way into what he knew, had to be a trap.
No sooner did he approach Scragg, who was taking a pause from crying to concentrate on trying to lick her tummy (which she couldn’t do because she was tied to a pillar) – than the enemy attacked. Their idea was simple and should have been most effective. They reasoned that Winefry was a bottle, and as such while being robust, he should also have been very brittle so that being hit by stones would be enough to crack and break him. However, what they hadn’t taken into account was that Winefry had been healed and commission by the lady of light, and was now far more substantial and durable.
The attack began with rock after rock being hurled at the unprepared wine bottle. Many missed and a couple hit Scragg instead, who started to make a great deal of fuss about it. Not a few of them, however, hit the bottle clanking and clinking against his sides. But, he did not break, and he did not shatter. Instead, as each rock hit, his sides actually seemed to move like an extra thick skin under the rocks. Then, they snapped back to their original position, flinging off the stones in the direction they came. The wild rodents could be heard cursing as the rocks slammed into them. Then, the battle really started. Winefry launched himself at the rodents, who viciously swiped at him again and again but to no avail. To swipe at the bottle was useless. It was solid and yet – if it was in danger of breaking or shattering, it simply gave way under the attack only to bounce back once the attack had finished. In the ensuing battle, Winefry showed skill and talent the like of which could hardly be believed.
The rodents had planned well and equipped themselves with dangerous weapons of their own. They attacked Winefry with bats and rolling pins, with large metallic trophies and – somewhat surprisingly, short metal tools that looked like trowels. One of them even had a hammer which he swung around wildly. This could have been very dangerous for Winefry if it had any real control of the heavy thing. Instead, it ended up causing more damage to the other rats than to Winefry who simply sidestepped the hammer and continued his attack. The hammer-wielding rat eventually killing three of its own before Winefry was able to run it through with his sharpened poker.
As it happened, the hammer was even more helpful to Winefry. This was because when a rat was wounded or had its own weapon knocked from its hand, it would lung for the hammer and snatch it from the dead hand of one of its fallen companions. In the heat of the battle, it seemed to think that something that large and dangerous would help it stay alive. Of course, it didn’t! Every time one of the rats picked up the hammer, they sealed their own fate. It was simply too heavy for them to fling around effectively, making them easy pickings for the speedy and skilful Winefry.
Scragg, having recovered from the earlier rocks, just enjoyed the show, unable to escape her bonds but feeling safe with Winefry around.
By this time, with all the skills Winefry had picked up and all the experience he had gained warring against the dark rats, it really wasn’t a fair fight. Rodent after rodent was dispatched with Winefry’s sharpened and polished poker until there was only one left. Although that one was the biggest and most ferocious of them all, who, against the odds, was to give Winefry his first real opposition.
I think it was Scragg that saved Winefry, who had parried, fought, raced, danced and despatched dark rodents in front of her all this time, protecting her from any onslaught from the rats who seemed to want to kill the cat almost as much as they desired to destroy the wine bottle.
The colossal rat leapt on Winefry, and all seemed as it had been with the previous rodents, with nothing so much as leaving a scratch on Winefry, until, that is, the colossal rodent lashed at the top of the bottle, where a covering of protective wax overlaid the cork which stopped the contents from draining out. As the rat slashed at the wax, it dug through to the cork and Winefry momentarily lost his sight as he was blinded by the power of the rat’s attack. Searing pain ripped through his head, causing him to stagger back into the body of the cat, who was watching the whole thing with a mixture of terror and amusement.
Then, the rat realised that it had finally hurt the bottle. Rushing in for another attack, the rat once again slashed at the remaining wax and especially at the cork, causing the bottle to fall again, harder against the cat. As he fell, his sharpened poker caught the cat’s bonds, weakening them, before it dropped from Winefry’s hand and clattered to the ground.
The rat had the bottle exactly where it wanted him. It should have wasted no time and gone in for the kill to finish off Winefry as quickly as possible. But the rat was enjoying its moment too much to allow its enemy to die a quick death. Instead, letting the bottle fall to the floor and role away from the cat and, with a smile of wicked satisfaction on its fact, the rat walked right up to the self-styled knight as he lay helplessly on the floor. Then, slowly extending its claws so that its nails glinted in the low light, the rat reached back, ready to start its death slash at the now utterly unprotected cork of Winefry.
So absorbed was it in its moment of apparent victory, the rat completely ignored a snapping noise behind it.
As the rats claw descended, so another claw flashed out and ripped across the rat’s throat, causing it to stop mid-slash. Then the rat was grabbing at its neck, gasping and gurgling as blood flowed down the front of its body.
Scragg watched with great satisfaction as the rat fell first to its knees and then, while shaking a fist at both the cat and the bottle, it fell face-first onto the floor as dead as it could possibly be. So, the last of the dark rats were dead, and Winefry’s commission ended.
In time, Winefry’s cork would recover, and the wax would grow back. But, in the meantime, the darkness was not happy.