Ingeborg Christiansen was not a superstitious woman. It was a matter of fact, not mumbo jumbo that two forest spirits had traveled with her to Popwell. That, of course, is why she had feathers in her pockets; to give her son’s soul wings so that he could outrun the Raven should death swoop by. The other spirit was remaining hidden for the time being, but she had a hunch it would turn out to be something to do with wolves. Things usually did.
Vivienne Viney had dropped her at the hospital that morning. Lars had stirred and muttered when his mother held his hand, which the attendant nurse took to be a good sign and clapped her little hands. Vivienne was furious; day after day she had sat there, stroking him, reading him the paper, even humming some vintage Streisand from time to time and not so much as a murmur or toe wiggle. Then, as soon as his elf mother appears, he’s all moaning and writhing. She had left quickly and was already in a full body seaweed wrap at The Elms country club and spa. And not a moment too soon; all this stress was adversely affecting her cellulite.
Back in Popwell Valentine Chevaux was approaching the Potts family cottage. It was small but well kept and cosy, with a lovely deep purple clematis curling its way up over the front door. Valentine had a heavy heart. Potts was a good Keeper; the best they’d had since Appleby in 1975 and that was saying something. It wasn’t easy to find men who knew the land, and not just loved game birds but loved to see them killed. Appleby would flush with pride on a day when the bag exceeded two hundred pheasants and once, when as a boy Valentine had shot a brace of duck (one with each barrel) he did the hokey cokey.
So how to break it to Potts that his son was a psychopath without causing offence? Being a member of the landed classes had its advantages, but all this pastoral care stuff was damned difficult. Bravely, he braced himself and knocked.