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Song Suggestion: The Spirit of Excalibur by Enaid
Too soon, the sun was sinking in the west. Tomas slipped into his room and leaned a chair against the door, though he doubted his father would wake up to notice he was gone; he was sitting before the hearth and the smell of alcohol rolling off him had been strong enough to make his head swim.
He paced around the small space, working himself up for what he knew he had to do. He knew he had to climb out the window and he needed to do it before the sun fully set or he would not have the nerve to do it at all. Tomas pushed the shutters shut behind him. It was terrifying. He paused after every creak of the wood under his fingers, straining to hear, praying the Grim Hunt wasn’t bearing down on him, knowing that he’d probably see them before the night was over.
“Hey!” Someone hiss at him. Thomas lost his grip and dropped into the bushes under his window. He spun and saw Nicolas standing there, holding a sack.
“What are you doing?” Tomas asked.
“Nobody said you had to be alone,” Nico said. He shouldered the sack and it clanked.
“What’s in the bag?” Tomas asked.
“Horseshoes,” Nico said. “My da says anything supernatural hates iron. That’s why we put iron bells on the sheep. The Fair Folk don’t like bells, so I brought one of those too. I thought we could make a ring with the horseshoes. Might keep us a bit safer, anyway.”
“Where did you get them?” Tomas asked. He suspected he already knew.
Nico only hesitated a moment; they had been friends too long for lies or secrets. “Marisola. She doesn’t think you should do it at all. But she knows you won’t listen to either of us. She doesn’t want you to end up caught by the Hunt.”
“Well, that’s something,” Tomas said. “I suspect you two would be the only ones not cheering.”
The two boys chose a place where the square rose up slightly, beside the well, so they might see anything which came from the forest. They set out the horseshoes in a wide circle, then wrapped themselves in the woolen blankets that Nico had brought with him. The winter was over, so far as the calendar was concerned, but there was still a sharp chill in the air that gnawed at their very bones. Nico had set the bell beside him and both boys felt safer.
Nicolas’ father was right. Most supernatural beings could not stand the touch of iron; it was made from the bones of the world and could cage that which was magical by nature. The bells went one step further, so far as the Fair Folk were concerned; the ringing startled and confused them, for their sensitive ears could not stand the ringing. Which was all well and good when dealing with witches or ghosts or Faeries. But nobody ever said that the Grim Hunt was magical in nature. Controlled by it, certainly, but the Hunt was much stranger than a Fae or even a ghost. They once were men. Most of them were wicked creatures who did great harm to innocence and beauty. By the blatant disregard for life and for Lira, that most gentle and loving of goddess’, these men had become despised by Sira, Lira’s twin, for the goddess of death loves her sisters, especially Lira, and will not stand for any mortal that crosses her.
The Hunt was devised by her, a place outside the seven halls of Death, where they might find penance. She gave its care over to Elphame, that her fallen sister might have a host of guardians against her husband, king and father of the fae. The gift serves Elphame well, but each year she must let them ride out to find others for their ranks. While few among them ever come to understand their evil and repent, every year there is some thinning of the numbers. But there are always more to take their place.
While ordinary spirits will recoil from iron, the Grim Hunt (or Haunt, as some still call it) is distinctly different for a reason. Neither iron or salt will effect them; they still wear mortal flesh, though it be putrid and rotten, and still have beating hearts. By this, they are protected from the bite of cold iron. It was unlucky that neither of the boys knew this; most who had discovered that the Hunt was immune to iron had either fallen beneath the hooves of their beastly horses or joined them.