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They didn’t hear him knock. He had banged hard several times on the small, oaken door beside the drawbridge tower with his stout travelling stick, but the howl of the chilly, mid-winter wind, had masked all other sounds. He had hollered through the murder hole, hoping someone on the inside would hear, but that too had proved fruitless. The pack of wolves that had tracked him all the way through the forest was inching closer, the alpha male crouched in the snow only twenty paces away, waiting for evening to fall. The beast had beautiful eyes – he thought, as their gazes met briefly – almond shaped and a rich golden hue, speckled with brown, but there the liking stopped. After a few more knocks, seeing that the polite way would not serve him, he took the wand out of the pocket of his robe, and let himself in. Inside Falcon Keep all was quiet; the guard post was empty and the courtyard totally deserted. The dogs must have been allowed inside, to shelter from the bitter cold. The common room, which Sir Rudyard liked to call “The Great Hall”, was impressively large even by normal standards, and was paved with blue granite stone. Three tapestries portraying deer hunting scenes covered the entire north wall and on the opposite side of the hall was a vaulted fireplace where a wild boar, one of the last to be caught that year, spun slowly on a spit. At the far end of the Great Hall, five wide steps led to the raised dining area, where a massive oaken table stood, capable of seating more than twenty people. Seven men sat quietly around it, smoking their long-stemmed pipes and lost in the labyrinths of their own thoughts.

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