Time slowed as Yngrid stared death in the eye; she’d expected to feel something. To feel fear, maybe – to feel regret. But even now, at the end of all things, she was ice and stone and cold fury, numb to her core. Her lips moved; his name, but she’d no breath to speak it.
As those leathery palms tightened about her throat, black splotches wavered in her vision and her jaw clenched, lips pulling wide against her teeth in a terrible snarl. Her fingers scrabbled, and she could feel the strength leaving her – desperate, she reached for the twin moons of his eyes and dug.
There was a moment of resistance, before those viscous yellow orbs gave way beneath the pressure of her fingertips. Abruptly, he was reeling backward, and his clawed hands released her throat – she fought to breathe through her crushed airway, choking and gasping as she lunged forward after him. It was difficult to see, but that didn’t matter –
Finish him! A voice inside her skull shouted with all the conviction she had left within her battered body, and she was compelled to listen. For Jergan. For my son.
She reached and her hand found a broom handle; it would do.
The werewolf howled and screamed in fury and pain, staggering blindly and swiping its clawed hands this way and that. Only luck kept her from being disemboweled by its flailing – or perhaps it was more than luck.
There was no time; with strength born of fury, she seized the broom in both hands and broke it across her thigh. The sound of the wood snapping was like the rapport of an ice-lance striking stone. The impact shot through both hands, leaving them reverberating painfully – she felt keenly aware of her own life in those moments, of the way her heart hammered against her ribs, the tightness in her throat and the fact that her eyes were watering and half-blind.
She wielded the broken broom as though the pieces were swords instead of splintered wood; her lungs burned as though they were laden with embers, her head throbbed. She thrust the sharp end toward the monster’s furred form, barely able to see but fueled by a wrath that managed to be fierce and numb at the same time.
The makeshift spear impaled the beast, but didn’t stop it. It roared its fury and spun towards the source of its pain – an old woman with grey hair and skin like leather. That a crone like that could hurt him so was inconceivable; that she might yet kill him hadn’t crossed its mind. It yanked the broken broom handle from its ribs and tossed it aside, lunging after the scent of mildewed furs and dirty, camp-smoke laden skin, of coppery blood and bitter herbs.
Yngrid felt more than saw the massive form coming for her, and there was cold satisfaction in her bared teeth as she jerked aside and let it barrel past. For all that she was old, she was smarter than the beast before her; she would kill it. But there wasn’t time – already it was turning, groping for her with those claws and making an awful sound that seemed something between a shriek and a howl. It was just human enough to raise the hair on the back of her spine.
But werewolves weren’t human. Now was no time to hesitate, and she steeled herself with her son’s name once more – Jergan!
Not even Yngrid herself could be sure if her eyes still watered from being throttled, or from tears she hadn’t allowed herself to spill in the time since Jergan’s death. It didn’t matter, though.
With her remaining half-a-broom, she rushed forward just as it turned to face her, snout twisted and teeth pale in the firelight. The empty sockets where she’d pushed out its eyes were slick against the black fur, and its mouth opened wide as though it were about to devour her whole…
She rammed the broomstick into that vast expanse of teeth and terror, and thrust the broken end through the top of its jaw and into its skull.
The werewolf fell inanimate and crumpled to the floor, like a candle extinguished by a sudden breeze. Yngrid didn’t hesitate – she snatched up the other half of the broomstick, still sticky with blood, and thrust it through the beast’s throat.
Her body betrayed her, and she sunk to the floor, beginning to shake and tremble, like a sail luffing from poor trim. For Jergan, she told herself. After a moment’s hesitation – For Solmund.
Her first kill had taught her just how little she was prepared.
Next time, she would be ready.