Curiouser by the minute.
I’d no sooner closed the door behind me than I heard the sound of sled runners on the hardpacked snow.
From the right came a woman, bedecked in furs and thick cloth, dragging a sled piled high with firewood. When she came abreast of me, the woman stopped. She peered at me with dark, questioning eyes, and then, in a low voice, she said, “You wear the watchman’s coat, but you are not he.”
“I’m a stranger, making my way toward town,” I replied.
She lowered her scarf and revealed a bleeding mouth that took up the entirety of her lower jaw. “You are an abomination.”
She dropped the sled’s lead and held her arms out.
The firewood sprang up from the sled and encased her, pushing her up until she stood at least ten feet tall and was armored. In her hands, she clutched long branches as thick as my wrist.
I dove to the right as the branches slashed down, smashing into the place I’d been but a moment before. The glint of steel caught my eye, and as I rolled back to my feet, I snatched a hatchet up from the sled.
She caught me with a backswing, the glancing blow from the branch snapping my femur like a twig.
Pain, intense and nauseating, flooded my senses, and I fought it back as I caught the next blow with my free hand.
The woman let out an undulating victory cry as she sought to stove in my head, but her cry of victory transformed into a shriek of pain as I drove the hatchet into her knee.
She crumpled to the ground, blood spouting from the wound as I delivered two more quick strikes, severing the leg at the knee.
As my femur knit itself back together, I drove the hatchet into the woman’s open mouth, cleaving her head in two. The top bounced on the snow, struck the sled and tumbled away, coming to a rest against a base of a small tree.
I sat for a few minutes in the snow, waiting for my leg to finish healing. I looked from the body to the sled, from the sled to the blood-slick hatchet in my hand. Getting to my feet, I picked up the tether for the sled.
The hatchet had already proved useful.
I had no doubt the sled would as well.