The other members of our little party accepted the quest for which I alone had volunteered as a matter of course. Oran had decided to make my salvation, both physical and spiritual, his vocation in life. He would have followed me into Hell itself. The others cared not so much for me, I am sure, but they were brave men and had been given a directive from their chieftain, to accompany me and see me brought back to our village. They would do their duty without complaint or protest. Oran, on the other hand, seemed to feel his voicing of protests to constitute a portion of his service to me. He saw it as warning me against calamity. As it turned out, he was right to expect it, but this came later.
The night after my meeting with N’sua the witch, we made camp on the bank of the river. None of the men would have stayed in the vicinity of the witch’s hut or eaten of any fare she provided had she offered it, which she did not. We sat as near to the fire as the heat would allow, so that the smoke might help to repel the horde of mosquitoes that threatened to drain us all dry. I chewed some dried goat meat and hard bread, sipped bitter wine from a flask, and tried, I admit halfheartedly, to convince the men to return to the village without me. In truth, I believed my chances for success were greater if I traveled not alone, and I felt desperate enough that I was willing to endanger my comrades, I am shamed to admit, to achieve it. I justified this to myself by pondering the many lives that might be saved should I rid myself of the beast, weighing these hypothetical lives against those of my companions. I prayed the numbers of the hypothetical would prove higher, and thus make the gamble worthwhile. Even so, I felt I must at least offer lip-service to an attempt to dissuade the others from going with me.
“We have not brought enough food for such a journey,” I said.
“We will have to hunt along the way,” one of the rest answered, a rangy brute with the lean face of a jackal. “It is a good thing these forests are teeming with game, and I have many arrows,” he said.
“We’ll run out of wine as well,” I said, “and water.”
“Water won’t be a problem,” the same man replied, “so long as we don’t mind the taste of crocodile piss.”
“We are all assuming that the witch can be trusted,” Oran proclaimed, “and she cannot! She is sending us on a fool’s errand to our deaths, I am sure!”
“Perhaps she is,” I considered.
“Yet you are determined to risk it?” another of the group asked.
“I must,” I said.
“So be it,” he said.
“The journey will take many days. The moon will rise more than once before we get back. I will pose a danger to you all.”
“We will have to bind you, then,” the first man said.
The witch had given me a little of the potion she’d sold to Valsalvas. “Enough to keep the demon asleep for a few nights,” she’d said.
“I will need more,” I’d told her.
“I’ll have to brew more, and this I will not do until you bring me the jar with my soul in it!”
She had also given me a different elixir.
“Take a draught of this to summon the beast,” she’d said. “It will not matter whether the moon be full or not, or even if it be the light of day. Drink this and you will transform.”
“Why would I want to do that?” I had demanded of her.
“There may be times, boy, before your task is completed, when you will need the power of the werewolf.”
“Need it for what?”
“The fish did not say.”
I did not trust the counsel of fish, no more than I trusted the old woman. But I kept both flasks of elixir fastened to my belt, just the same.