Greetings All. This is the continuation of my story "Once Bitten". As before, all the 10K characters are the creation of the writer and actors who played them. All other characters are my own invention and are not intended to represent anyone particular. Enjoy!
Dark Moon Brother
The Warden and the Shepardess
Wolf sat back from his writing, rubbing his temples and stretching his shoulders. He'd been sitting here too long, he thought to himself. Another hour had gone by and he had become totally engrossed in his scribbles once more. His large old desk was cluttered with bits of parchment rubbing up against the newer, thinner sheets of paper that Virginia had brought back for him from New York. He didn't really care much for the lined, bleached stuff. It smelled foreign, too overworked, too far removed from it's plantish source. He preferred the heavy, sweet smelling parchment that was availible in any village fairing, the type of paper he had been taught to write on as a child. It conjured up memories for him, that scent. His mother, leaning over him as he sat doing his homework of an evening, correcting his spelling and grammar, her long brown hair cascading down over her shoulder and into the inkpot. Her hair had entranced him far more than the schoolwork. The tresses were softest beyond anything and always he could scent the forest in them, oaks, myrtles, mosses. She let down her hair in the evenings, before his father came in from the fields.
Wolf's eyes clouded with the memory, but he did not resist the flow of images. They were precious to him. More than ever he was prepared now to accept them all, good and bad. He had always been prone to suppressing that which was too painful, or too sweet. A bad habit, but a typical wolfie one all the same, but he did not berate himself so much now, the way he used to.
The pain of the past year had faded now to a subtle ache, detectable only if one deliberately pushed at it, like a sore tooth. So many things had happened to him. It was still a miracle that they had happened at all. One moment he had been languishing in an imhumane jail cell, despondant and uncaring, and then, as if by chance, he had been freed. No matter that the instrument of freedom was evil, and yet that very evil had unwittingly led him to the greatest good ever to have come his way, Virginia. Their love story had been sorely tested many times, but they had prevailed as they were meant to. Wolf understood destiny. He respected it, as did all in the 9 Kingdoms. How strange that his mate for life had fought so long against it, that even now she struggled to throw off the shackles and make her own decisions, determine her own future. He loved her independance, cherished it, but it worried him from time to time. One ignored destiny at one's own peril. But then, surely his beloved had played her part in the great plans of the world. No more could be asked of her.
Since returning from permanent residence in the 10th Kingdom of New York a year ago following their enforced separation at the hands of the priests, Wolf's and Virginia's love had grown from strength to strength, culminating six months ago at the birth of their son-cub. He laughed quietly to himself, remembering how he had once thought it couldn't get any better, and he'd known her a bare two days then, and she trusted him not one bit. He was glad beyond measure that he'd persisted with her, though in truth he could have done little else. His heart had been in her keeping from day one and he had handed it over willingly, without a second thought. If only Virginia had known at the time just what an unusual thing that was. That he, cursed and feared by humans all over, and disdainful and untrusting of them in return, had simply given over to this strange, complicated girl with her blunt, uncompromising manner and bumbling father in tow. She was not at all like the mates he had imagined himself winning, all those years ago when a boy's dreams were simple and hopefilled.
He stirred himself slightly from his reverie, glancing out the window to check the sky. The afternoon was wearing on. She would be back soon, he would be hearing the clip clop of the pony cart any minute now. He smiled at his own anxiety ruefully. Those first few months after his return he had been unable to let her out of his sight, so traumatised had he been. From that first moment when they had come sprawling through the mirror into King Wendells palace, he had clung to her like a new cub on his first day out of the den. He knew that Virginia hadn't really minded, that she had deflected the shocked attention of her father, that she had drawn Wendell aside, explaining only their need for somewhere quiet and private to live. Wendell had come through for them, being only to happy to provide the little cottage they now occupied. No proclamations of their return had been made, no fanfare, which was just how they wanted it. Of course, word had leaked out eventually, after Cub's birth especially, but they remained essentially untroubled, only disturbed now and then by the curious and those selling sheep. Wendell's wolf pardon had been mostly accepted by the population of the 4th Kingdom and the doomsayers had been generally silenced by the lack of mass slaughterings they had so forcefully predicted. Wolf knew that other half and full wolfs came to spy on him occasionally, but they respected his invisible boundaries as he did theirs. He was a hero to them, and part of him was not displeased at the thought. He knew that his beloved always had an unseen escort whenever she went wandering through the forest alone.
The Disenchanted Forest was his domain now, even legally so, since King Wendell had prevailed upon him to take up the position of Warden, left vacant by the demise of the Huntsman. Since he had been mostly responsible for the death of the Huntsman, Wolf had had no qualms about taking over the role. It was the natural order of things. The time between the Huntsman's passing and Wolf's taking over had meant the forest had been overrun somewhat by poachers, gypsies and bad hearted sprites, and Wolf had had his paws full cleaning them out. Of course he didn't use any lethal crossbows, but more lawful methods.Just a quick puff of troll dust or an old fashioned sleeping potion and the would-be thieves usually woke up in the local garrison jail cells. And there were good old wolfie ways to scare someone out of their wits in the dark night, of course. The whole length and breadth of the forest was filled with his spies, both avain and fourfooted and little escaped his notice. He had quickly become known to the local inhabitants as their protector and spokesperson, even those who he hunted on full moon nights respected him. But he didn't need to hunt so much now for food, thanks to the ingenuity of his Virginia.
Since he would have something that kept him busy outside of their bedroom, so would she, she announced one morning, forgetting entirely that within months one little cub would take up so much of her time anyway. Nevertheless, she had determinedly cleaned out and repaired the outbuildings and fences surrounding their holding, coming home one day with several ewes and a ram with which to establish her own herd. The sheep had been none too impressed with the half-wolf standing drooling at the back door as she had herded them into their new paddocks. Being a shepardess had not come naturally to Virginia. Wolf had barely been able to restrain himself as he watched her trying to muster her new charges, holding back his laughter till tears squeezed out of the corners of his eyes.
"Virginia, dearest. Do you think you might do better if you were to make yourself one of those sexy little shepardess outfits? You know just how enticing is the sight of a fair maiden skipping through the fields, all bouncing and...Ow!" He ducked too late, the clod of earth hitting squarely on the side of his ear.
But this maiden was no 9 Kingdoms hussy. Ever practical trousers and boots were the standard on this farm, and he had had to admit, she did fill out a pair of pants quite nicely, even when she was well into her last stages of pregnancy. She had perservered though and soon became quite competent in all the necessary aspects of sheep husbandry. One thing she did make sure of was to securely lock her stock up every night in the barn, just in case a mischevious half-wolfie wanting a midnight snack might happen by. But one night, on his birthday, he saw that she had indeed made for herself a rather skimpy shepardess outfit, albeit one that would never again see the light of day after being somewhat torn to pieces on the kitchen table.
Virginia's sheep breeding had gone so well that they had had (unbeliveably) excess lambs, which she had driven to the local village market this very morning, leaving Wolf in charge of Cub. He looked away from the window to where his little son lay sleeping on the hearth rug. Cub was a sturdy six months old and nearing the day when he would be presented officially to the wolf community and recieve his human and pack names. Virginia had found it an unusual custom, to leave the naming of their child for so long, but she had understood when he had explained it's origins to her, telling her of how in the hard years, many cubs did not survive. If they won through to their half year birthday, chances were much improved and they would be officially named and welcomed then. Of course nobody expected Cub to perish, he assured her, but it was a meaningful custom to him, so she had acquiesed to his wishes. Soon, Wolf would seek out the company of those half and full wolf's who lived within howling distance, asking them to attend and witness the ceremony. During the course of his work in the forest, it was necessary for him to cross the boundaries of several wolf families territories and he knew them by scent if not by sight. They in turn tolerated his incursions, knowing the trade off to be a safer place for them to live.
Cub yawned in his sleep, his pudgy little hands kneading back and forth as he dreamed. Wolf remembered the first time he had beheld his son, holding the tiny child in his hands as he took his first breaths. Both Wolf and Virginia had melted at the sight, instantly in love with their little creation, unable to take their eyes of him. He did indeed resemble his father in all ways. He had grown a thick swatch of black hair and his birth blue eyes had faded out to a pale green under dark brows. He had a cupids bow mouth which smiled readily at everyone who came to admire him. He had a perfect little tail, though Wolf knew it would never match the length of his own, as Cub was a quarter-wolf, and his crest reached only to the hip level, not right up to the shoulder blades like his father's did. Wolf was not at all disappointed, in fact he knew that quarter-wolfs were quite rare, and some of those that had been born had no tails at all! He shuddered at the thought. No tail! Cripes, imagine not having a tail. His son would also be able to speak the wolf tongue, as he had heard the baby growling nonsense wolfish syllables. He also had acute hearing and a sharp nose which could usually announce that Daddy was coming up the garden path from the forest. Cub had just this week taken his first toddling steps, much to Virginia's dismay, as he was now into everything, having a wolf-cubs innate curiousity and penchant for mischief making. And he was just as quick on all fours as he was on two. But all in all he was a good natured baby, fussed over and coddled by his doting parents, secure in the knowledge that he was the centre of their world.
The other parent whose life revolved around him was even now turning the pony cart off the main road and starting down the bumpy track that lead to their farm a few miles distant. Virginia sat confidently at the reins, letting the old pony, Jed, pick his own way and set his own pace in the late afternoon sun. The slanting rays were warm on her back and she half dozed, rocking back and forth with the motion of the cart. It had been a productive day, she thought to herself. Her lambs had been well recieved at the market and had drawn many admiring glances, with the local butchers bidding handsome sums for them. Virginia had no qualms about the fate of the lambs, after all, she had seen Wolf butcher one in his lupine fashion. She thought the lambs might do better to suffer death at the point of a sharp knife, rather than the bare hands and fangs of her mate. Still, he had gotten the unpleasant job done for her, though she'd had something of a task to salvage what was left so she could have some for her dinner that night.
The long months of peace they'd had since the New York incidents had allowed her to fully experience and learn just what it meant to be the mate of a half-wolf. Before coming to settle here, they'd barely had a month of uninterrupted life together, not nearly enough time to learn each others ways and moods. It had taken Wolf some time to relax fully once more, though, and herself too, when she thought about it. His treatment at the hands of the priests had left him terribly suspicious and guarded with all humans, but especially men. He had been sullen and withdrawn when they had first come back through the mirror, perplexing both Wendell and Tony, who had only known the exhuberant and demonstrative Wolf. She'd been hard pressed to turn aside the inevitable questions from Wendell and the overly protective worries of her father, saying only that they had run into "some trouble" with the 10th Kingdom locals, but now, what they needed most was somewhere quiet and out of the way to settle. Wendell had been pleased to offer them the little cottage, some ten miles from the palace and against the backdrop of the Disenchanted Forest. Both she and Wolf had been visibly relieved when they first saw the place, it was a perfect place for them to recover and try to start a normal life, awaiting Cub's birth.
Their joint ventures into the roles of Forest Warden and Shepardess had been both successful and fun, she thought. Working the days outside in the fresh air and sunshine had agreed with her. She'd grown strong, competent, even as Cub grew big within her she could still be found spending most of the daylight hours tending to her gardens and fields. It was a life she would never have imagined for herself. Wolf had thrown himself into his new job and she had to admit, he was very good at it. Only someone with the innate connection with the other living creatures of the forest could ever hope to manage such a huge and tangled space. The Huntsman of old had strode unknowing though the woods, just as likely to turn his arrows on the inhabitants he was supposed to be protecting. Wolf was garnering a reputation as being just as protective of his charges and soon the rumors had spread of the huge ravening beast that patrolled the paths, these stories being equally effective as deterrents to poachers and the like. But she still worried about him out there, mixing it with the rogues and cut-throats, but he assured her he used his wily ways and tricks more often than direct confrontation. He had a Cub and Mate who depended on him, after all.
If she had thought Wolf to be a big softie at heart with her, she was amazed even more at his reaction to Cub. From the very beginning, when he had firmly ushered the dour-faced midwife out of the room, stating earnestly that he would deliver the infant, Virginia had counted her blessings to have such a father for her child. He had been both firm and reassuring with her during those long hours of labour, but how he held it together during the various verbal onslaughts she directed at him, she never knew. Finally, after one long bone crunching push, Cub was suddenly there with them and the moonlight coming through the window had pulsed and flickered as if happy with itself. Later, when they had presented the Cub to the Moon Goddess and Wolf had howled his news to the whole world, they had found themselves at last alone, staring in rapt wonder at the tiny infant as he suckled vigourosly at Virginia's breasts.
"He is perfect Virginia. You have honoured me with this Cub. Look at his little feet. Do you really think he looks like me?" Wolf had gabbled on and on into the night and Virginia had smiled at him to see it.
"He is an honour to us both, Wolf. He is our very own happy ending. And a happy beginning too"
The following months had been a sharp learning curve for both new parents. It seemed a blessing to Virginia to have to get up in the middle of the night, changing dirty nappies (and it had taken several attempts before she could work out how to manoevere that little tail to stay out of the way!). Wolf had been attentive to their every needs, cleaning up, cooking, washing, capering about in the moonlight with his miniature self held securely in his arms. Now, Cub was a strong and healthy half year old. He had recently weaned himself and was starting now to develop that keen carnivorous appetite, despite her insistence that he eat some vegetables at least. He was toddling around on his two stubby legs now and his Daddy had been taking him out to the garden on warm summer days, teaching his son the various wolf crafts of tracking, scenting, stalking. Virginia didn't think that such a small baby should be learning death holds, but she couldn't fault Wolf for his enthusiasm. He'd been waiting a long time for this.
Virginia laughed as the image of the baby, who was mostly gums still, gnawing vainly at his father's jugular, flashed through her mind. Jed the pony snorted, swishing his tail, and Virginia's attention was caught by a thin streak of colour as it flashed by overhead.
"Hello there!" she called out to the Magic Bird, seeing it bring itself up short in mid-air. It swung round and came to settle on Jed's furry rump. The bird was a juvenile, she could see, and it looked slightly embarassed.
"Aren't you a little too far from the Forest?" Virginia asked the bird. They seldom ventured forth from the safety of the trees, she knew.
"Oh, Miss Virginia! Just a little flight, really. No danger, much" it replied, darting it's head side to side.
"You're spying on me, aren't you?"
"Oh no, Miss Virginia! Who would do such a thing!" piped the little bird, ducking his face. Virginia laughed. Evidently this bird was new recruit, probably on his first "mission". She wondered if he would own up to being caught out by the subject of his spying.
"Don't worry over much. I won't tell him I caught you at it" she winked at the tiny creature.
"Oh, my thanks to you, Miss Virginia! I'll be off now. You're nearly home again, see!" said the young bird, who promptly darted off over the fields, heading towards the canopy in the distance.
Virginia laughed once more as she got down to open the front gates, leading the pony cart through. She checked on her cargo. It had felt good to spend some time in the market place, her own earned money to spend. She had purchased a side of bacon for Wolf, some handmade baby clothes for Cub, since he outgrew nearly everything within a week, it seemed, plus some other foodstuffs like flour and sugar. Virginia had made two trips back to New York since returning to the 4th Kingdom. The first time had been a month before Cub's birth and she had taken her father with her, as Wolf was still unwilling to venture there again. He had argued fiercely about her going there and she had seen the fear on his face once more, the old shadows coming back to haunt him. But she had put her foot down firmly and he had grudgingly backed down, but she could imagine the nervous pacing that had gone on in the mirror room for the few hours they had been gone. There were certain luxuries that a woman wanted that were just not availible in the 9 Kingdoms, namely, nice face creams, deodorants, comfortable maternity clothes and the like. Wolf certainly hadn't complained about the new clothes she had bought for him, or the sweets and books. Her father and herself had seen nothing suspicious in the time they had been there, no one had jumped out of the shadows to grab them. Wolf had seemed more relieved at this than she had ever seen him, and the next time she wanted to visit, just two months ago, he had "let her" go by herself, surreptiously slipping her a little note with a list of things she might consider procuring for him.
She swung the gate closed now and clambered up to the cart again as Jed picked up his ambling pace along the front drive, glad to be home once more. As was Virginia. Only a few hours away and she missed her mate and son terribly, she thought, shaking her head wryly. The cart drew up at the front of the house and she looked automatically to the kitchen window, seeing Wolf there holding Cub on his hip, both of them waving happily to see her. She grinned idiotically back at them, before unhitching a grateful Jed and putting out hay and grain for him in his trough. Wolf would drag the cart out to it's lean to later, after she had unloaded it. She saw his mouth hang and start to water as she manhandled the pounds of bacon, taking them down to the cool cellar under the house. He leaned out the window.
"You sure I can't help you with that?"
"Do you really think I would leave you alone in the meat cellar? Come and carry the flour for me if you want to help" she called back, teasing him. He snorted in defeat, before coming out the front door with Cub dangling under one arm. She came to take the baby as he reached out his pudgy arms to her, enfolding him tightly against her, kissing his rosy cheeks. Wolf huffed.
"What about me, love of my life?" he spoke, pretending to be put out. She stood on tiptoe to reach for him, grabbing at the back of his neck to pull him down to her for a passionate kiss that hinted at more for later. He hugged them both hard till Cub squeaked to be set down.
"Oh, no, my little furry chappy. You've just had a bath!" said Wolf, though he secretly knew just how important it was to roll in the grass and leaves after bathing. He scooped him back from Virginia and hoisted a sack of flour high, carrying it into the larder whilst his mate went to tend her flock and secure them for the night. He had unloaded the wagon and had towed it around the side of the house before Virginia came back in and he ushered her towards the table as she kicked off her boots. He had prepared quite a feast for them and they fell to hungrily, each taking turns to feed Cub as he sat squirming on their laps. Later, he lit the lamps while Virginia rolled on the floor, playing with Cub, cooing and fussing over him. Cub crawled all over his mother, giggling with delight, pulling her hair and growling in his own cubbish language. Soon, he began to yawn mightily, rubbing his eyes, so Wolf took him outside to look at the crescent moon whilst he sang wolfy lullabies, rocking him to sleep. Turning to go back inside, he caught then the scent of another half-wolf coming from the nearby forest where it loomed close. A stranger, but a youngish one, no threat. He let his body language alert the watcher that he was discovered, but made no other moves as he went back inside. He lay Cub down in his crib that was in the small room right next to his parents. Padding quietly downstairs, he heard some splashing and humming coming from the tiled bathroom at the back of the house. Peering in the door, he saw his beloved floating seductively in the huge bathtub. She had seen him and she smiled suggestively, holding out her hand invitingly.
He stripped off his clothes hurriedly, allowing himself a moment to admire her body. She had regained her pre-birth figure almost within weeks, it had seemed, her form magically bouncing back. Only the slight stretch marks on her tummy and her slightly fuller breasts gave any indication of the pregnancy. The days of working in the sun had given her face and limbs a healthy glow. He slipped into the tub, sighing in content as the warm water enveloped him. She came into his arms and he nuzzled her neck and breasts. She smelled divine. Too divine, actually. He held her away a moment, then carefully stood her up, sniffing deeply at her female place. To his surprise, she blushed like a girl.
"Is something wrong? she asked, looking puzzled.
"Oh dearest, if we mate tonight, there will likely be another Cub" he whispered, becoming embarassed in his turn.
"Oh my. You can tell that about me? From my scent?"
"Ah, umm, yes. Now that you have stopped breastfeeding, I am guessing that your own cycles will return. Of course, that is good, if you do want another Cub?" he trailed off.
"Well, yes, I do want more, but not just yet. It's too soon. But I am young still, remember? There will be plenty of other opportunities. Huh, no wonder I crave you so much tonight! My body's got a mind of it's own! So, will you know when it's, umm, safe, again?"
"Oh, of course. You'll be the first to know" he replied, opening his mouth to let his tongue hang out, panting at her.
"Wolf, that first time we mated, did you know then?"
"I did. But it was only afterwards that I realised that you did not"
"Are you angry at me?"
"No, of course not. But don't surprise me like that again, huh?"
"No, never, I promise, no matter how alluring you are to me in this, umm, state"
"Hmm. So what shall we do now?"
"Never mind, beloved. Never let it be said that a wolfie doesn't know many ways of pleasing his mate!" he rasped at her, drawing her close once more, causing many buckets of water to slosh over the sides of the tub and make it's way out the door.