As they approached the farmhouse, someone tall, slender, and beautiful waited for them on the front porch.

 “I’d like you to meet my wife Sheryl.” The woman had as much poise as her daughter, but looked sad.

“This is Thomas Hatter,” introduced Teddy.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’ve been told you’ve already met our daughter.” Thomas felt his face turning red.

“Honey, we’ll be in my study until supper. Feel free to send our porter to call on us.” The porter was a beagle, exceedingly loud and trained to announce dinner for the household.

Thomas followed Teddy through a door opening into a well lit study. Tall bookshelves lined the wall and a spiral ladder led into a celestial observatory.

“I’ll show you the plans for the weapon.” Teddy flattened a scroll lying on his desk showing the dimensions of an unusual crossbow.

“But I thought werewolves couldn’t be killed,” reminded Thomas.

 “It isn’t an ordinary crossbow, but one designed to snare the monster and inject it with Wolfsbane Potion to counteract its transformation.” Teddy was proud of his product even though he wasn’t the architect. He sold the design like a true salesman.

Thomas surveyed the plans with curiosity. “Rather than a flint arrow, it’s outfitted with a syringe. This needle must deliver a knockout dose.”

“You’re absolutely right, my boy. Could you wield it against a swift adversary?”

“It’s too cumbersome and lacks proper engineering. It’s capable of administering a sizable dose, but if it fails, I’d wager it’ll antagonize the brute.”

“The Doctor and I are planning to incorporate secondary features to the design. Most arrows are crafted to penetrate. This one will carry a compacted net. When the arrow strikes, the shaft will spring forth on all sides. Rope will unwind and fall on the drugged shape shifter. You’ll only have a few seconds to deliver another dose. If you’re lucky, the beast will fall after the first shot.”

“I don’t want to be the hero of your adventure. I just want to marry your daughter!”

“You can and you will my boy, but first take courage.”

Teddy retrieved his topographical maps and launched into tactics when the beagle barked. “That’s the signal for dinner.”

Sheryl served her husband delicious meats and Teddy began the conversation.

Thomas noticed land features cut into the walnut dining table. He wasn’t looking at table wear, but intentional groves. There were the Albadorous Mountains and the Forest of Dawn.

 “Grace dear, would you tell us where you’ve been today? I’m sure Thomas and your father would like to hear how you’ve helped them.”

She nodded and began to share… “It’s a commonly held belief that werewolves hunt by scent and have poor eyesight. When a werewolf lusts for blood, it rages, and according to mythic lore, becomes blind. In this way, it has no disgust for its despicable acts. I’ve harvested wild mint weeds growing in the hills above our valley so you can camouflage your scent with its rare tannin.”

“I wish you hadn’t put your life in danger on my account,” pleaded Thomas.

“That’s nonsense, you’re as good as family now,” interjected Sheryl. “After the meal, Grace and I will mix the ingredients. I know it’s been Teddy’s plan to use my orchids to brew the Wolfsbane Potion. After you prepare at least two doses, I insist we make a mist from the vapors.

Thomas thought it strange that an entire household knew so much about werewolves, but he recalled the tragic impact Elizabeth’s death must have had on the family.

A pool of wax dripped from the candleholder, burning a black spot on the North Hill.

“We should attempt to get some rest before morning. There are many plans that must be laid out and put into action. Thomas, I’m counting on you to be ready for the day ahead of us.” After saying “goodnight” to everyone, Teddy took his leave and staggered off to bed. Grace didn’t want the evening to end. For a moment her emotions welled up, but were immediately sunk into the depths.

Thomas was the last to leave as he stared at the burned map carved into the wood. The black spot gave him an idea. A fire tower on the North Hill could signal the mint village from the wilderness. It would only need to be ignited if their party failed to kill the monster. At that moment, it was difficult to think of the consequences if they should fail. Thomas finally left the table with hunting strategies flitting in and out of his consciousness. He was a man in love, whose chances of happiness were being threatened by a beast with a disposition of indifference and a love for killing.

In the morning, Thomas entered the kitchen smelling bacon and eggs. The Kellies sang a tune while preparing lunches and mashing orchids; even their beagle joined in the song.

“Good morning Tom,” said Teddy cheerily. “We’ll be leaving shortly. I’ve arranged everything with Doctor Thurston and Alex Jorkins. We’ll put the crossbow together in his woodworking store.” ����

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