This wasn’t the first time the Hounds had approached me. They needed a marksman and I was the best in Ebongrove but there was no way I was going to wear that damn red hood.
Who in their right mind advertised being owned by the Hounds. I wasn’t some dog to be led on a leash. Besides, the fabric was hot and itchy and Red wearing Red was a little too ironic for my tastes.
I took a pull of ale and grimaced at the slight burn that coursed down my throat. The Hounds. That’s what they called themselves, anyway. A bunch of scruffy, unwashed hunters who prided themselves as the only protection standing between our bustling town and the hungry pack of wolves led by the white bitch. I shook my head. I understood their frustration even if I didn’t agree with it. The white wolf was becoming legendary in our town. She’d lead good men on a merry chase enticing them with the prospect of a hunt. Ignorant fools.
Come morning, we rarely found more than gnawed on bones when we recovered their bodies after she was through with them and for what? I shook my head. The damn bastards needed to realize that their band of vigilante protectors was putting their lives and the lives of everyone in our village at more risk then if they just left well enough alone.
“Come on, just put it on,” Roland said, holding up the long piece of heavy red fabric. “We need you!” I eyed the floor length cloak with disdain.
“You have Boyer,” I argued.
“Boyer? He couldn’t hit grass in a field, and you know it.” Roland leaned in and, in a conspiratorial whisper, added, “‘Sides, Halberd just doubled the bounty on the white bitch. Says her pelt on his wall will make people feel safe again, and I know you could use the coin.” He indicated the new poster hanging high above the tavern entryway. I wasn’t surprised the bounty had increased, again, and despite myself, I couldn’t help but consider how my life would be with that much coin in my purse.
The last storm to come through had set my home ablaze quicker all because of a chance lightening strike. I had been living off reserves like a bear in winter since then. I shook my head. I was a fool for even considering it.
Around us, the tavern bustled with activity, despite the late hour. Mira came by and dutifully refilled our mugs. She didn’t even look at me.
“Come on Red, catch the white bitch and you’ll capture the attention of every woman in town. Ye’ve been ready to settle down for years now. This will improve your prospects.”
I glared at my friend. I had prospects.
“I don’t need to kill the damned wolf to land a woman,” I growled. Roland launched a full-bellied laugh before slapping me on the back and nearly knocking me out of my seat.
“Sure ye don’t.” He indicated Mira’s retreating form. “That’s why Mira is seeing—“
I cut him off. “Fine,” I grumbled. “But I’m not wearing the damn hood.”
Roland grinned and tucked the hood away. I had the feeling he’d never expected me to accept it anyway. “Tonight we drink! We ride at dawn tomorrow!”
“Better go easy on those drinks, then.” I admonished though I still threw back my own mug of ale, the burn no longer evident as I watched Mira laugh across the room at something another patron said.
I didn’t need her and I wasn’t still hung up on the woman either. It had been several months since she’d left me for another man. If crooked teeth and an equally crooked nose were to her liking, then so be it.
“Bah, “best go all night long. I hunt better when I’m drunk, anyway.” Halberd cheered.
“To good hunting then!” I declared, raising my mug. To hell with it. I’d bring home the wolf’s pelt and show everyone, even Mira, just what I was capable of.
Roland clunked his mug against mine, making the foam run over. “To good fortune and to good women!”