Warning: This poem contains intense topics including canon-typical violence. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It includes poachers, arrow wounds, messy medical details, the mazil's justice, corporal punishment, threats of maiming and death, and other challenges. Please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.
"Signs of Their Trespass"
"We've a problem with poachers in
the woods, my lord," Fridrik told Victor.
"You've seen them?" Victor said.
"Not yet," Fridrik admitted. "But I found
signs of their trespass: a burned patch
planted with a fistful of grain, a tree stripped
of fruit, a deer strung up in a snare. I never
saw a poacher. They were too cunning."
"It's not even September!" Igor protested.
"We've three weeks yet before
the hunting season starts."
Fridrik nodded grimly.
"A few of the stags are
still in tatters, though
most of them have
cleaned their antlers."
"We want them all clean
and at least sniffing about
the does before the hunt
begins," Victor said.
be fine as usual," Fridrik said.
"Some of them are just a bit slow
this year because of all the wet."
"Well, that's what the extra time
is for, so we don't have to twitch it
about every year," Victor said.
"What do you want us to do?"
Fridrik said, eyeing Victor.
"Keep watch over the woods,"
Victor said. "Take the other adults
with you, but tell Ena to keep the cubs
close to the castle until further notice."
The werewolves made excellent foresters,
bringing back all kinds of news about
the plants and the animals there.
They helped Victor decide what
could be hunted, and when,
and how many taken up.
They helped Igor learn
when the fruits and nuts
were ripe, when wild herbs
should be harvested for
culinary or medicinal use.
It was a good job for
werewolves who disliked
crowds and had little skill
at many human crafts,
because it let them
play to their strengths.
Now somebody was
messing about with
those careful plans.
Well, the werewolves
would help him sort it.
For the next three days,
everything seemed quiet.
The foresters gave their reports
to Victor and Igor, who mapped
where the poachers seemed
to be concentrating activity.
"It's the game," Janika said,
tracing a pale finger along
a red line on the map. "They're
drawn to the higher density of
red deer and fallow deer here."
"Then it's our fault," Fridrik said.
"Our practices improved the herds."
"It's not just you," Igor said,
shaking his head. "We were
using biological data for upkeep
before, you just made it work better."
"Don't forget that for many years,
the only hunting here was poaching,
because the castle stood empty,"
Victor added. "Some people may
have gotten into the habit, and
though if they held back a while,
we wouldn't notice their return."
"They were wrong," Janika growled.
"We notice everything in our territory."
"Yes, quite," Victor said as he rolled up
the map. "I look forward to explaining
that when you bring them to me."
On the fourth day, alarm howls
brought Victor and Igor running.
They had lived with the werewolves
long enough to recognize trouble
but they couldn't interpret details.
"Ena, translate!" Victor said.
"Danger. Intruders. Pack hurt,"
she said, tilting her head.
Another howl rent the air,
this time a single voice.
"Quarry down," Ena said.
"That was Shandor."
"I thought so," Igor said.
"He has the deepest voice.
Fridrik's is a little higher."
It wasn't long before
the werewolves appeared.
Shandor had a string of
young men led by snares
looped around their necks.
Mircea had five horses
tied together by the reins.
Fridrik was carrying Janika,
still in wolf form, her white fur
liberally streaked with blood.
"Put her on the table,"
Victor said, grateful
for the warning that
had given him time
to set up supplies.
"Pen the horses
in the corral. Bind
the poachers and
then shut them all in
the empty cheese room,"
Igor said to the others.
Then he moved to help
Victor with Janika.
She was still breathing,
but two arrows stood up
from the bloodied fur.
Victor touched the higher
of the two, and it wobbled.
"This one is loose," he said.
"We can just push it through."
"This one won't budge,"
Igor said, frowning over
the lower arrow. "If it's in
the lung, she's in trouble,
but I think it's lodged in
the shoulderblade. Odd --
that should've gone through."
"We're tougher than
ordinary wolves, harder
to injure," Fridrik said.
"Sometimes it's enough."
Sometimes it wasn't, though.
Their little pack included survivors
from at least four other packs.
Fridrik's face was a blend
of fury, fear, and grief.
"I think Janika will be
all right," Victor said. "She's
young and strong, and you
have good healing abilities.
We'll get the arrows out and
take a closer look at the damage."
"All right," Fridrik said as he
backed away to give the doctors
better access to his injured mate.
Csilla had gone down to the lake
with friends, so there was no way
to get her up here in reasonable time
to help with the injured werewolf.
That left laudanum, and it took
both Victor and Igor to get enough
into Janika for her to go limp and
stop snarling when they touched her.
They didn't take it personally.
Arrows were unpleasant.
"The fletching is different,"
Igor pointed out. "The top one
is fancier, pheasant feather
with a gold band on the shaft.
The bottom one is just goose
with a red band. Different hunters."
"I'd say the top hit first, and then
someone else shot to stop her from
charging," Victor said. "See the angle."
"The lordling and his huntsman,"
Fridrik said grimly. "We were trailing
their scent, but didn't see them in time.
After they shot Janika, she hid and
the rest of us went man so that
we could drag them back to you."
"Well done," Victor said. "I swear
that you shall have justice for this."
"Did you check the other arrows?"
Igor said. "It would help to know
what kind of arrowheads they have."
"Broadheads, for hunting," Fridrik said.
"They're wide and sharp, but not barbed."
"Good, then we won't need arrow spoons
to get them out," Victor said. He probed
around the upper arrow. "This only hit
the neck muscles, and it's almost to
the other side. It should push right out."
A brisk thrust, a quick snip of the shaft,
and it was done with no more than
a sleepy grumble from Janika.
Closer examination of the second
revealed more of a challenge.
"It's really stuck tight," Igor said.
"I'm afraid to pull on it too hard --
the head could come off of it
or the shaft could break."
"If we cut here to lengthen
the wound a little, then I can
get in there with pliers and
pull the head out," Victor said.
"That should work," Igor agreed.
It took some tugging, and
more growls from Janika, but
finally the arrow came out.
"I'm amazed this isn't broken,"
Victor said, mopping the blood away
so he could see inside. "The bone
is gouged but not actually cracked."
"Our bones have to be stronger
to sustain the change," Fridrik said.
"It took a bear trap to break mine."
Victor was just grateful that
the werewolves had trusted him
enough to bring the poachers
to him for justice instead of
simply tearing them apart.
"All right, then Janika should
heal as well as you did, provided
we can get enough live food
for her to eat," Igor said.
"I have some ideas for that,"
Victor said. "Let's get her
cleaned up and we'll talk."
"We should throw a few stitches
to hold the skin together, but I think
the muscles will close on their own,"
Igor said. "Werewolves heal well."
"Agreed," Victor said. It was easier
to clean the neck wound because that
was a simple through-and-through,
while the bone injury took more work
and a dab of bone glue to speed healing.
By the time they had Janika as clean
as she was going to get, and wrapped in
fresh bandages, she was falling asleep.
"Get some rest," Igor told her as they
put her in the hearth bed that the wolves
shared. "You're going to be fine."
"Thank you," Fridrik said as
Victor was washing up.
"I can't thank you enough."
"You're welcome," said Victor.
"Go clean yourself up and then
put on your town clothes. I want
everyone to look their best when
we go to dispense justice."
"Yes, mazil," Fridrik said,
and then trotted away.
Meanwhile Igor had
fetched Ena to watch
Janika while she slept.
Victor put on his lordly clothes,
the gold-piped suit of black wool
and his best pair of boots.
Igor stood beside him
in brown and silver.
The werewolves had
silver pins that marked them
all as the lord's foresters.
Shandor fetched the poachers
from the cheese room, bringing
them to the courtyard outside
because nobody wanted them
actually inside the castle.
One of them was blustering
something about his father.
The others just looked scared.
Victor recognized them,
more or less -- the oldest
was the son of a mazil
from a neighboring valley,
the others his friends.
They had come here for
the dancing on a market day
and overstayed their welcome.
Disgusted by the bluster,
Victor simply tapped his finger
against the law book until
the young man fell silent.
"That's better," Victor said.
"Since you seem unaware of
the law in question -- your father
had best look to your education --
I'll just read it aloud to you."
The pages opened to
the blue silk bookmark,
and Victor read the law
on disposing of poachers.
It allowed him a great deal
of leeway, up to and including
the option of executing them.
"Ghenadie Grosu, you and
your friends came onto my land,
killed my deer out of season,
and shot one of my wolves,"
Victor said. "I am displeased."
"But wolves are vermin!"
"Quite the contrary, they
are essential to the balance
in a healthy forest, and one
of the reasons why I have
so much game that it tempted
you to take what is not yours."
"Oh well, if you want to be
such a miser about it, you
can ask my father to pay for
the damn deer," said Ghenadie.
"But a gentleman wouldn't fuss
over fellows crossing the ridge a bit."
"We caught them in the Foxmere Clearing,"
Fridrik said through his teeth. "They
were nowhere near the ridge."
The Foxmere was a little spring
that came out not far from the castle,
which attracted all kinds of game and
had a permanent population of foxes.
"Indeed," said Victor. "For trespassing,
I fine you everything on your person."
He turned to Fridrik. "Strip them
down to their shorts and boots."
The werewolves fell on them
with great satisfaction, pulling off
clothes and jewelry. They had
already taken the hunting weapons.
Ghenadie had quite a few jewels
for someone supposedly hunting, and
even his friends had several pieces
that he had probably given them,
but one stood out from the rest.
"You can't take my signet!"
Ghenadie yelled. "You've
no right, it's for the heir alone."
"Then you oughtn't have worn it
hunting where you could lose it,"
Victor said sternly. "Tell your father
that he may ransom it from me if
he wishes to pay the price."
"What price?" Ghenadie said.
"That is between me and
your father," Victor said.
"Moving along, for killing
game out of season, I fine
you the horses you rode on."
The commoners all cringed.
Ghenadie probably had others,
but he was the only one who could.
Victor turned to Fridrik. "My foresters,
I give you these horses as restitution
for the damage to your domain
and all that dwells within it."
Shandor shook his head.
"We've no use for horses."
"No, but you could trade a horse
for a cow, several goats or sheep,
a whole flock of chickens," Victor said.
"Ah," Shandor said, enlightened.
"There is that. I prefer hunting for
my own food, but there's something
to be said for livestock when one is
injured or the weather is dreadful."
"Excellent," said Victor. "If anyone
has difficulty keeping accounts,
simply refer them to us. We'll be
happy to track that in the lord's book."
Many of the villagers couldn't count
in any great detail, so Victor and Igor
handled it for anyone who needed it.
Five riding horses suitable for hunting
would be very well received in a village
that had mostly plowhorses. Imre could
watch them until they found new homes.
Victor turned back to the poachers.
"For injuring my wolf, whom I need
to keep my forest all in good order,
a sound beating will suffice," he said.
"Ghenadie, forty lashes for you
as you are the leader. Laurentiu,
Veaceslav, Iancu, and Ilie -- twenty
each as you followed a fool."
Ghenadie protested again,
but Victor ignored him.
"Igor, I believe you have
some experience with this,"
Victor said, looking at him.
"I do," Igor said, and then
headed toward the barn.
Curious, Victor followed him.
Igor sorted through the scraps
of leather for mending tack.
"I want something thin enough
to hurt, but wide enough that it won't
strip all the skin off their backs,"
Igor said as he chose a strap.
Then he added a shorter piece
with a buckle on one end.
"A buckle? Really?" Victor said,
his eyebrows climbing upward.
"For Ghenadie, who deserves
a few scars to balance the ones
he made," Igor said. "I'll strap him
through most of it, then lay down
the last few with the buckle."
"Justice," Victor said, smiling
as he followed Igor outside.
"As the mazil says," Igor replied.
Shandor and Fridrik already
had Ghenadie tied to a post.
Igor snapped the strap
across Ghenadie's back
as Victor counted the strokes,
his voice loud and steady.
Ghenadie yelled and swore
through the whole thing.
The last three with the buckle
left bloody gouges in their wake,
though not as deep as the arrows.
After that, Igor waved for Fridrik
to replace Ghenadie with Laurentiu.
This one looked to be the youngest
and definitely the skinniest of the bunch.
Victor was pretty sure that Igor had
lightened his blows a bit, because
the leather strap left fewer scrapes.
Veaceslav was big enough to take it,
though, and Igor put his back into it again.
When he got to Iancu, things got interesting.
"Let me take my brother's strokes,"
he said, tilting his head toward Ilie.
"Mazil, your word?" Igor said,
looking to Victor for guidance.
"Iancu may take half of Ilie's share
in addition to his own," Victor ruled,
"but Ilie needs a taste of justice too."
Iancu had the broadest shoulders
among the poachers, which gave Igor
more room to spread out the blows,
but the skin was still scraped raw
by the time he finished the beating.
Through it all, Iancu never made
a sound, unlike those before him.
Ilie was openly crying by the end of his.
"Hmm," Igor said thoughtfully, looking
at the young man's reddened back.
"Not too bad, but I can still see
a few abrasions. We wouldn't
want those to get infected.
Fridrik, fetch me that flask."
When Fridrik brought it, Igor
upended it over Ilie's back.
The young man screamed.
Ah yes, pálinka -- very good
for cleaning wounds like this,
but it burned like blazes.
Igor subjected all the poachers
to the same treatment, even using
a bit of gauze to scrub the bloody cuts
on Ghenadie's back while he hollered,
finishing with a few turns of bandage.
Too bad Janika probably wasn't awake
to hear the music, but the others would
doubtless tell her all about it later.
"A final word of warning,"
the mazil said. "Laurentiu,
Veaceslav, Iancu, and Ilie --
if you ever come back here and
poach again, your lives are forfeit."
Ghenadie smirked just a little,
then, secure in the belief that
his title would protect him.
"As for you, Ghenadie, if you
offend me again, I won't kill you,"
Victor said. "I'll cut off your hands.
I've done amputations before. I'm
quite good enough to ensure that you
survive to appreciate the experience
of never being able to feed yourself
or even wipe your own arse again."
Ghenadie blanched at the threat,
finally cowed into silence.
"No wonder Artúr refused
to come," Iancu muttered.
"What do you know, he can
learn after all," Victor said. "I
banished him from this valley
for improper hunting that
injured several people."
"Good riddance," said Fridrik,
who had stepped in a trap
that Artúr had left out.
"Our work here is done,"
Victor declared. "Shandor,
Mircea, take them over the ridge."
"What about this stuff?" Fridrik said,
waving a hand at the clothes and jewels.
"Yours also," Victor said. "Let Janika
have first pick of anything she likes.
Whatever you don't want, you can sell."
Fridrik licked his chops. Likely most of
the fine would go toward fresh meat.
"Thank you, mazil," he said.
"You have given us justice."
"You're welcome," Victor said.
"I'm sorry I couldn't protect everyone."
He watched Shandor and Mircea
herding their miserable captives away
until they disappeared from sight.
Turning his back on the poachers,
Victor went inside to check on Janika.
She was, as expected, asleep
in the hearth bed surrounded by
the pups. The bandages were still
clean, so the bleeding had stopped.
Victor couldn't keep all poachers out
of his valley, but at least he could
deal with the signs of their trespass.
Janika sighed in her sleep,
moving closer to the cubs.
Victor tiptoed out of the room.
Everything would be all right now.
* * *
This poem is long, so its notes appear elsewhere.