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On a whim

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He gnawed at the rusty links, and clawed at the metal collar, and pulled at the chain with all his strength, hoping to tear the brace off the stone wall. It was all to no avail. The man was in danger, and he was stuck here, powerless, useless.

‘Look,’ came a voice from the door. ‘A direwolf.’

Through a gap between the planks two boys were ogling him. One was a short, small lad with a foxy face and freckles all over his cheeks. The second one was tall and stout, with curly brown hair and grey eyes. His right eye had a squint.

‘A really real direwolf.’ said the portly boy.

‘Chained to the wall,’ said the small one.

‘It’s bloody big,’ the first one declared.

‘Look at the fangs!’ the other seconded. ‘And the claws, they are awesome!’

The stout boy grinned.

‘How about we set it free?’ He winked to his cousin.

‘Ohh, the mess it’d make!’ giggled the small one.

The direwolf listened quietly, intently. He didn’t move a muscle, only bristled at the scruff.

The tall boy picked a stick from the ground, pushed it swiftly through the hole between the door planks and lifted the latch. The cousins whidded into the pigsty where the direwolf was chained, and closed the door behind them.

‘The collar,’ the small boy said, disappointed. ‘It’s clinched. We’ll never get it off.‘

‘It’s locked, you idiot,’ the portly one said. ‘There should be the key, there, on the wall.’

‘No key,’ the small one reported.

‘Gimme a moment.’ The stout boy tiptoed outside again.

The small one remained in the pigsty, alone. The direwolf could feel the lad looking at him. After a moment of hesitation the boy picked up the stick his cousin dropped and extended his hand to prod at the wolf.

The door creaked.

‘Here is the key!’ the stout boy announced. ‘Hey, what do you think you are doing?’

‘It’s not moving!’ the small one complained, the stick still in the air. ‘Maybe it’s dead already.’

‘Let’s unlock the collar,’ the portly one decided. ‘I didn’t fish that key out of Merrett’s pockets for nothing.’

The other boy rubbed his hands together.

‘Cannot wait!’

The wolf prickled his ears. The children got at their task, breathing loudly, yanking at the collar, tugging at his fur and ears. The wolf waited. And waited. And waited. And then he heard it. The clanging sound of the opened lock.

The direwolf launched himself up and forward, sending the boys flying, breaking through the pigsty door in one giant leap. He hurled across the courtyard, trampling everything on his way. The guardsmen at the castle door tried to stop him. One dropped dead with a torn throat, the second ended his life pierced accidentally by the pike of the first one.

The wolf galloped through the dimly-lit corridors, led by the infallible gut feeling that was taking him straight to the man he lived for. A song was rising in his throat, the hunting song, the lay of blood and rage and fate.

The man won’t die today. His enemies will.