Freiburg im Breisgau, Baden
The German Lands
Heinrich and Peter had been gone for an hour, hunting wayward dark elves with the Order of the Holy Vehm, and Rudolf Hauptmann was getting nervous. Behind him, his wife was wiping off the wooden plates with a clean cloth. Rudolph stood at the top of the stairs that led down to his shop, listening to the kitchen sounds and his own breath. He stepped away from the banister to the front window and glanced back at Frau Hauptmann. She returned a quick, nervous look before handing a plate to their youngest daughter, Christa.
"Here," she said, "put this away, then go with Mary to your room." Frau Hauptmann spoke aloud with a forced sound, as if she wanted to whisper.
The dark-haired, pale cherub nodded briskly. As she turned to slide the dish onto a shelf under the basin, she stopped. "Look, mamma!"
Frau Hauptmann looked down. "What is it now?"
"Heinrich didn't wear the necklace I made for him."
"Well, he must have forgotten it."
"He doesn't like it," Christa whined, crushed. "He never wears it."
"Please!" Rudolf snapped at them both. Christa scurried off in a huff to her and Mary's room.
Rudolf touched the shutters and let the window fall open, the silence so complete that he could hear the greased hinges moving as a cold wind sliced in from the snow-covered streets. He looked out to a horizon that yawned cold and grey where the Black Forest clawed at the sky.
A white glow grew in the distance like a vast, ghostly cloud.
A dog howled down the main street. Rudolf nodded, and his wife soundlessly drew a sword from the hearth. She handed it to him, adding, "Should I get the old one, too?"
Rudolf watched the still-distant shimmering in the sky, still a distant cloud. "Ja, get the other one. And give Hans an axe."
"But he's so small."
"Then find a small axe," Rudolf replied. Damn Mueller and his damn Vehm dragging off Heinrich and Peter now. "Hans!" Rudolf lifted his voice, and his young son emerged from his room, quiet like the world outside.
"Go down to the shop. Get an axe you can swing. Come back here with it."
He heard it, now, underneath the sound of Hans' small feet making their way down to the shop below: the bristling, crackling sound of popping air in hot, black wings. A crow fluttered from its perch atop the shop across the street, and a few of the horses whinnied.
Rudolf watched his own breath swirl in the freezing air. He shut the window gingerly, held his sword, and prayed.