The hounds would not abide her. They’d been with the Lord since his youth. The two great brown dogs had grown from the meat passed to them from his hand. Through every hunt and feast they guarded him, one at each of his sides, until the night when curled at the foot of his bed. The Lord and his two hounds were a common sight on the town streets, and everyone happily spared a pat or a scrap for the beloved animals.
Now though, another walked at his side and they would not make peace. On the summer solstice the Lord returned from a trip, leading his horse beside him. In the saddle a red haired woman rode with his cloak wrapped about her shoulders. His eyes were fever bright whenever she caught them with her own. The Lord explained very little to those that came to greet him at the town gates, only that the lady had come from some distant kingdom far beyond the forest and she was to be his wife.
Those of the town crowded about the courtyard in the hopes to see this beautiful stranger who would be their Lady. She smiled at them all, and then at his grand house and servants as she was brought to them. It is said, that in the gold of the sun her hair shone like molten iron.
The Lord offered a hand to help her from the horse, but she dismounted herself, her feet alighting like settling doves. Those around the yard held their breath, as if she was a deer and likely to flee if disturbed. She gazed back at them, fearless while a small smile played about her lips.
Only the excited barking of the hounds broke the stillness as the loyal beasts rushed to greet their master. The Lord bent, taking their great heads into each of his arms. It was a joyful reunion, until the stunning lady bent to offer them the smell of her hand.
Two growls escaped deep from their maws at the woman’s scent. She made to take her hand back, but not before one of the hounds snapped its teeth over her fingers. There was a great uproar, the lady screamed, the dogs snarled, and those about the yard cried out. The Lord threw his hands on the dogs, hauling them away from the lady and into the reach of his servants.
The Lord went to the lady and her bloody hand while his beloved hounds whimpered and growled, their dark eyes fixed on the new woman by their Lord’s side. Always obedient before, they would not leave the courtyard and had to be muscled away to the unused kennels.
The two brown dogs escaped from the kennels the first night, breaking the simple latch over their cage. The two were found scratching and baying at the door to their master’s room where the Lord and lady laid within. A thick iron chain replaced the latch and the dogs were locked away.
The Lord, for his love of them, would hear no talk of sending his old companions away, for all his new wife spoke of it. Their baying awoke her too early, she could not wander near the kennel without snarls erupting, and the great beasts were oafish and unclean. She hated them, and did not understand why her husband abided the great beasts.
Though the Lord nodded and promised to keep them from her, safe away inside cages of thick iron, he would not harm them. It was the one request he seemed able to deny her. Instead the Lord set a common boy to watch and care for the two hounds. The youth fed them meat from his hand and took them hunting so the wild parts of them would not miss the forest.
The boy, who came to love the loyal beasts and having no family himself, spent his days with the dogs and kept his cot in the kennels through the nights. One of these nights, as the boy slept, the dogs were roused by footsteps at the kennel door. The whisper of a night gown’s hem perked their ears and set a growl deep in their throats.
The beautiful lady, her red hair loose down her back and a long silver knife in her hand, stepped silently into the kennels and approached the dog’s cage. The youth, his cot tucked against the wall awoke at the hound’s alarm. He did not move, and quieted his breathing so the lady would not take note of him.
Her beautiful face twisted at the sight of the growling animals. The boy almost rose then, her knuckles were white around the hilt of the knife and there was hatred in her narrowed eyes. The woman reached to remove the chain, but when her long fingers touched the dull metal she cried out and drew them back. She hissed and tried again, her pale skin smoked against the iron and she could not bear the pain.
The lady fell back clutching the hand to her chest. Deterred, her eyes alighted on the boy. She ordered him awake, and to take the chain from door. The boy shook his head, he would not open the cage for her. The lady demanded he obey her, and though her voice was sweet and her face achingly lovely, he could see the oozing burns across her hand. The boy would not move to help her.
Blade in hand, she advanced towards the boy, furious that one such as him would stand against her. The silver knife flashed like starlight, and the boy fell. The hounds began to bay and howl with a fearful noise. Their mournful cry rose against the night, shaking the sleep from all.
The Lord arrived to find his wife standing with blood down her sleeves and her flesh burned, the boy lifeless at her feet. The hounds were half mad with grief, staring snarling fury at the boy’s killer. The Lord shook the bloodied knife from her hand while his guard removed the great iron chain. The dogs fell upon her, tearing into the creature that had brought death to their master’s house.
The boy was buried with grief from the entire town, his body laid in the tomb of the Lord’s family for his service. The two hounds held vigil while the Lord himself wept.
The creature’s remains were burned out beyond the fields. The Lord oversaw it, his face like stone. Never again did he travel alone through the woods, his hounds now forever at his side.