Within a few yards the weather began to change again. The silver wall softened and began to churn into clouds of fog. The roaring lessened, then ceased. Tildi saw the rune of the spell over her head break apart. It must have been meant specifically to cope with rain. The rolling mist brushed Rin's flanks and washed around Tildi, surrounding them in a moist cocoon.
"This is what she meant by help?" Rin demanded, putting her hands out before her. "I cannot see the ground at all now."
"Hush!" Tildi said. "The others can hear you now."
"Do I care if we are about to be set free?"
"Oh, very well – listen! What is that?"
Tildi felt her ears perk at the low growling ahead of them. She huddled tightly against Rin's back and pulled her knife from its sheath. The book huddled to her other side, providing her with a shield.
Howls erupted all around them. Tildi felt her blood turn chill.
Rin reached for the whip that Irithe had prevented her from drawing. She unwound its length partway and looped it over her other hand. Suddenly, three figures, man-sized but not man-shaped, appeared out of the mist beside them as if surfacing in a pail of milk. Their faces had long snouts with black noses and tall, triangular ears. Their dark brown lips were pulled back to show sharp fangs. Tildi let out a scream. The newcomers snarled at Tildi and Rin, then vanished again as swiftly as they had appeared. Tildi heard one of the knights give a wild yell.
"Werewolves!" Rin exclaimed. "Yes, there was a full moon last night. The Pearl was at her height."
"Knights!" came Loisan's voice, echoing down the muddy slope. "Ware enemy!"
Rin turned one way and another. More werewolves bounded past them, heading downslope. They carried no weapons that Tildi could see except for coils of rope, but she wondered if they needed any, with their sharp teeth and claws. One male bounded into Rin's path, making her rear in alarm. He scanned them with hot yellow eyes, which stopped in surprise when they lit on Tildi. Before either of them could move, he was gone again. A loud ululation made chills go up Tildi's spine.
"How did they get through the wards?" Rachine yelled.
"The spell is broken," Loisan said. "Treachery! Where is that wizard?"
"Serafina!" Tildi shouted. The knight was correct: she could no longer feel the wards around them. Someone had undone the protection. Thraiks could see them! Had something happened to Serafina? She scanned the forest of runes for the wizardess's sign. Everyone was moving so quickly.
"Look behind you!" Mey's voice shouted.
"Where?" Braithen shouted back. "How can you see…aagh!" Tildi heard the snick of a weapon being drawn and the grunt of effort from Braithen's throat.
"Lightning strike you, monster!"
Tildi saw the flash of light and read the rune of lightning as Mey came to his brother knight's rescue. The Scholardom's study to employ the book's magic as an offensive weapon had borne fruit. Tildi cringed. To her relief the werewolf rune was thrown backwards but not destroyed. Another word had interposed itself between them.
"Why do you not die?" Mey shrieked.
More snarls came, followed by a cry of pain. Horses shrieked in fear. Rin danced at the noise. More steeds, both before and behind them, echoed the scream. The cries of humans mingled with them as werewolf teeth and claws must have found their marks. Jingling tack and the thud of hooves on the slope added to the cacophony. Tildi cowered. She had never been in the midst of battle before.
"Olen said they were allies," Tildi said, frightened. "Why are they attacking us?"
"We must have killed one of their number with Sharhava's spell," Rin said grimly.
"Get us away, Rin!" she pleaded.
"I'll carry you safely," Rin said, gathering herself. "Guards, let go!" She pulled forward. Tildi felt her tether drop loose.
"Smallfolk, where are you?" Auric called. He had been on the other end of the quirt.
Tildi took a big breath to shout, but something clapped over her mouth. She gasped as she saw a huge male wearing leather gauntlets held her tightly. He was clad in a dark green tunic over sable fur.
Rin twisted to see what had touched her side. "Let her go!" she shouted. She reared, trying to dislodge the werewolf. Her hooves skidded on the slope. Rin snapped the whip at him, but he dodged it.
"Not you," he said. His blazing eyes bored into Tildi's. "Get down. Run! Run! Go now!"
Before she could wind the whip up for a second blow, he disappeared into the fog with the speed of thought. Rin twisted to face her.
"You heard him. I don't intend to wait for a second invitation."
"But what about our other friends?" Tildi asked.
"They'll have to fend for themselves," Rin said grimly. "They're well capable of it, I vow." Without another word, she launched herself down the incline. Tildi could hardly stand the terrifying scenes that came and went as swiftly as she could blink. Around them, shapes surfaced in and out of the mist, knights and werewolves rolling over and over together. The humans flailed at their hairy attackers with mace and knife. The lycanthropes gnawed at mailed shoulders and necks. Red blood poured over the blue-and-white clad breast of a knight lying on his back. He was dead. Tildi couldn't recognize his face, so contorted was it with fear and pain. Two werewolves lay not far from him, huddles of flesh on the clay-smeared earth.
"I'll get you across the river," Rin promised. Her hooves thudded on the slippery ground. A woman screamed just a few feet from them.
"No! Not the bridge!" Tildi listened. She swung off Rin's back and used her hovering charm to let herself lightly to the ground.
"What are you doing?" Rin twisted around and reached for her. "You could be killed!"
She eluded the Windmane's grasp.
"Irithe told me not to leave the ground. She wanted me to run south. Which way is that?"
Rin threw up her head and sniffed the air. "The water is that way," she said, pointing to their right. "Straight ahead."
"Hurry," Tildi said.
A werewolf somersaulted out of the mist, followed by a knight wielding a war hammer. It was Pedros. He blinked at Tildi.
"Smallfolk, run! Save the book! Get to the abbess! She's back there. No, you don't!" he shouted, as the werewolf leaped back, landing on his chest, rope in one hairy hand. Pedros rained down blows of the hammer on the lycanthrope's back. "The Scholardom!" he yelled.
Tildi's eyes were blinded by tears as she dashed away. The two were lost in the swirling white, but she heard their grunts and cries of pain as they scored against one another. She wanted to launch herself into the air, to get away from the fighting, but she remembered Irithe's warning not to leave the ground. She threw an arm over the book and ran, heedless of the twigs scoring her skin and slapping her in the chest.
Another terrifying tableau met her eyes as she slipped sideways to avoid a thornbush. Romini lay on the ground on his face as a werewolf tied his legs together. Tildi retreated and ran around the other side of the bush. Her heavy boots made her clumsy. She bounced and bounded down the hill. Shapes loomed up at her, coarse shapes with many fingers reaching for her face. She threw up a hand to protect herself. To her amazement, green fire bloomed on her hand. She hurled it at the shape. Just before it touched, she saw that it was a bare tree. For a moment, the demon fire drove back the fog, showing her that the beclawed foe was nothing more than a dead tree.
Too late, she groaned. The green flames consumed the twisted, naked branches in a twinkling.
"Never do that again!" she shrieked aloud. What if it had been a living being? What if it had been one of the troubled tree-men cared for by the elves of Penbrake? She would have done murder! "Serafina! Where are you?"
No answer from her master.
"Serafina!" More howling and screaming resounded down the hill toward her. Tildi realized with horror that she was alone. She stopped and shouted at the mist. "Rin? Where are you?"
A bellow that could have been Rin's came down to her, followed by a chorus of sharp howls. Tildi was too terrified to do anything but break into a run again.
Had the werewolves taken everyone? Was she alone now?
"To me, knights!" A shape in white and blue fell into her path, measuring its length on the stony ground. It was the almoner Brouse, sword drawn. His lips were drawn back from his teeth, which were gritted in concentration. When he saw her, his mouth dropped open.
"Smallfolk! Thank the Mother and Father." He scrambled up. "Come with me! I will guard you!" He held out a hand to her.
Tildi was ashamed to think how grateful she was to be near one of the knights when all she had wanted to do for weeks was to get away from them, but there was no time to think about that. She didn't want to be alone in the confusion. She ran to his side and huddled beside the split skirts of his habit that were splashed with mud and blood. The book stayed with her, pressing against her like a friendly cat.
"They are inhuman beasts," Brouse said, turning his head from side to side, listening. "Stay close to me, please. We must find our way across the bridge. The others will join us if they can, but we must get to the Scriptorium. We will be safe there. It is not far beyond the river. Hurry!"
A howl drowned out his last words. It was so close that it felt as though the werewolf was right beside them. She clapped her hands to her ears, trying to block out the angry noise.
"Follow me," Brouse ordered. He produced a handful of blue fire, both for protection and illumination, and set off downhill at a run.
Tildi ran through the thick whiteness, now becoming gray as the sun went down and the full moon rose. She kept low behind Brouse's bulky, pale shape. It ducked and bobbed. She followed it, feeling as she had in the first days when she first had the book, removed from all things, all sensation. None of what was happening to her seemed to be real. She had become numb to the number of twigs that had pummeled her, the stones that slipped under her feet, the tops of the boots slapping against her shins, the harsh cries battering her ears. She had no idea which way south was. If the fog held, she would elude Brouse once they reached the river but before he could get her onto the bridge.
Where were the horses? Where was Rin? Was she certain the werewolves the allies that Irithe had spoken of, or was the peace between humans and their kin broken for some offense that had happened while she was in the north? Would the werewolves treat her as they did the humans? Did they see her as an ally against the knights, or would they see her as a collaborator?
Suddenly, the towering shape before her collapsed.
"Oof!" Brouse grunted. Unable to stop herself, Tildi ran into his legs and tripped to the ground. She felt around her for the book. It was safe. It hovered over her head. Another shape, long and thin, was in the air above her as well: a rope. Someone had slung it between two trees, to catch anyone who got this far. She and Brouse scrambled up. Suddenly, they were surrounded by a press of bodies, five huge werewolves in long tunics. Too swiftly for Brouse to respond, they knocked him off his feet again and began to loop cords around his limbs.
"Save yourself," he gritted. Tildi backed away, the book following her.
Something light touched her on the back of the neck, and she screamed. She tried to leap away, but hairy claws each greater than the size of her head, bigger than she had remembered from Olen's council, larger than she had ever dreamed, clapped her between them. All the air was knocked out of her lungs. She gasped aloud.
"Smallfolk!" Brouse shouted. They must have gagged him, because he spoke no more.
Tildi struggled in the strong grasp. The green fire came to her hand as she prepared to defend herself to the death.
One big paw clapped down on top of it, and it went out. Tildi gaped up at her captor.
"Not necessary, little sister," he said in a voice deeper than the bowels of the earth. "I am a friend. Irithe told me not to let you reveal all your secrets. Now, come!"
The paws lifted her off the ground and wrapped her up in one massive arm. Long, black fur blotted out her sight of the fog.