Dark Moon Brother

Part Twenty-Two

The Quickening

Mornings were always Wolf's favourite times and this one was no different, despite his misgivings about how this day might end. He had slipped out of bed quite a while before dawn, but Virginia had heard him anyway. She'd had a restless night, twisting and turning in an attempt to get comfortable. Eventually she had relented and taken some of the strong medicine that Natalie had left for her, but Wolf knew that she had lain awake for some time afterwards. He could all but hear the thoughts going round and round in her head, but none of his gentle words or caresses seemed to be able to distract her from them. He supposed that she was replaying events, trying to come to terms with them. She had been much the same in the weeks following her mother's death. Late in the night she had finally slept, but even that was disturbed by dreams. She had called out several times.

"Mother? Wait!" and "Elias, stop it, go away!"

She had reached out to him as he had left the bed, catching his sleeve.

"Are you going to him?"

"Yes. I have to. I won't be long, and Elsie is downstairs" he had whispered, not wanting to wake Caelum as well.

"Bring him back here, Wolf"

"Oh, I don't know love"

"You must! I have to talk to him. It's important!" she had almost hissed at him, and he knew it to be the pain and trauma speaking. His Virginia had never raised her voice at him before. He saw the tears start in her eyes and reached to wipe them away. She clutched at his hand.

"I'm sorry Wolf"

"It's okay love. I'll do my best, but I don't know what condition he's in, or even if he will want to come here". She had subsided then, sinking back into the bed, but her eyes still roved back and forth restlessly as he dressed to leave the house. He slipped down the stairs, smiling at Elsie, alert as always from her bedroll near the hearth. Tony snored on the lounge as he lifted the door latch. Outside, his nose picked out the scent of his brother asleep in the tall grass beside the woodshed. The hens clucked unhappily as he passed their pen, but he resisted the urge to eat one of them. Now that would make his Virginia angry indeed.

His feet left a trail across the dew laden fields and there was a faint chill to the air. Summer was over it seemed. He entered the forest quietly, stopping here and there to get his bearings on the location of the wolfpack. As he trotted through the trees, many sprites and magic birds called out to him when he passed their trees.

"Greetings, Warden" they called. "How is your mate?" Wolf smiled in gratitude at their concern.

"She is well. She will recover with time" he spoke to them, and soon the news was travelling throughout the canopy in all directions, preceeding his steps. Virginia and he would be receiving many offers of help and gifts over the coming weeks, he knew. The attention would grow to be annoying after a while, yes, but it warmed his heart to know so many cared. He had never felt so accepted in his whole life. He also took the time to speak to the trees and thank them for assisting Virginia in her flight through the forest. Most had returned to their normal positions, but he could see clearly where the disturbed earth indicated that a tree had moved itself out of the way. Wolf also saw that many had sacrificed branches to fling or drop on the werewolf.

After two hours of walking, Wolf began to draw near the wolfpack's territory. As he knew he was invited, he ignored the customary waiting period and crossed the boundaries. He was amazed that Elias had made it as far into the forest as he had, given that he was still losing drops of blood, which Wolf had been scenting on the ground for the past few minutes. He tried to rehearse in his mind what he might say to Elias, but he found himself coming up with very little to go on. He willed himself to relax as he drew near the place, stopping just short to allow any fullblood wolf's about to approach him. One slunk out of the dawn shadows. It was the alpha male of the pack, and Wolf showed him the proper obesience.

"Greetings, half-brother" said the wolf simply, turning and leading the way to Elias. Wolf followed with a heavy heart, finding himself to be hoping that this meeting would not descend into violence. His wolf-self snarled inwardly at the figure crouched on the ground. Elias had found some clothing of sorts, a rough shirt and trousers so unlike his typical well made New York suits and shiny shoes. He had his back to Wolf, and dull brown bloodstains covered a good portion of the shirt. Wolf sniffed, and knew the wound to be infected. He glanced curiously at the alpha male. Obviously no one in this pack had offered to clean out the wound for him. The alpha stared back pointedly, speaking in the silent lupine language.

"He refused all aid. He has taken no meat nor water" he said sagely. Wolf bowed his head in appology for doubting their care. The wolf snorted softly and retreated to the trees beyond, but Wolf knew he would stay close by. He knelt on the ground next to Elias. The other man did not look up or acknowledge his prescence.

"Elias" he began uncertainly.

"You wish me to beg for my life? For you shall not get it" croaked the wounded werewolf eventually, after letting the silence build. Wolf was stung somewhat by the response, but he had the sense enough to know that Elias was trying goad him. Why he might be trying to provoke Wolf, he had no idea, but his wolf-self was well and truly roused at any rate. He fought down the lethal violence inside himself. When he spoke, his voice sounded calm enough at least.

"No, I do not. But I wish to hear you speak"

"Why? What can I tell you that you do not already know? I was a fool. A fool to trust you, to place my faith in the treacherous magic of this cursed place. I went through the Change, just as I have done all these long years. Nothing will repair me now, nor replace the damage that I have wrought. Why do you make me tell you these things? Do you lack the courage to kill me in cold blood? Must I repeat over and over, I killed her, to you?" Elias ground out hoarsely. Wolf battled to control his rising temper. Cripes, this man knew just how to get himself killed, he thought uncomfortably. And maybe he was right. Maybe death was the only answer for the werewolf. He recoiled slightly as Elias raised his head finally to look him in the eye. He had seen such devastation on someone's face but once before. He winced as his father's face floated though his mind, seeing him peering at his mother through the rising flames, then shifting his gaze ever so slightly to the cub hidden in the tree branches high overhead. Wolf drew a ragged sob at the memory. So cruel, those farmers. But he had had his revenge on them. Not that day, but many years later, oh yes, they had paid a heavy price. His wolf-self chuckled. Yes, it had been good at the time, it coaxed him silently.

"She lives, Elias. Hurt to the very death nearly, she was, but she lives yet. Caelum too. But young James, he you did take the life of. Even now he rests within the earth" Wolf studied the man as he spoke. Elias' face went blank a moment, then a strange mixture of rage and fear crept over his features. His face seemed to collapse in upon itself in renewed horror. He scrabbled backwards over the ground, moving quite easily despite his injuries.

"You lie!" he hissed. "Tell me she is dead! Tell me I killed her. Tell me I did not leave her alive!" he shrieked, pulling at his hair. Great drools of spittle ran down over his lower lip, making him look even more like a deranged dog. Wolf rose to his feet in anger and confusion. What was he saying?

"You want her dead?" he asked coldly.

"Ah, you fool! Did you learn nothing about me all this time? Death is the preferable result for anyone encountering a werewolf!"

"I don't understand" said Wolf, but deep down inside, a sudden fear was seeded and grew. He reached down to grab at Elias, but the man swatted his hand away, continuing to crawl backwards.

"Leave me alone! Go away! Don't you realise that you are as cursed as me? Look at what your spell-damned plans have done now! Oh my God, what have we done?" Elias gurgled in between gasps and sobs. Wolf took another step towards him, but Elias had leaped to his feet. His tall gangly frame wavered uncertainly. Wolf let his hands drop down to his sides.

"Come back with me now, Elias. Virginia wants to talk to you. She told me so. Come" he said, beckoning.

"Well, of course she does! She hasn't told you, has she? Go back yourself. Go and ask her. Ask her to tell you how she really feels today. But as for me, no, I will not face her. I cannot" With that final statement, Elias turned on his heel and made his way unsteadily out of the grove. Wolf heard him crashing loudly through the undergrowth, but he did not follow. He was confused at the man's words, and fearful now. The fullblood wolf rustled behind him.

"What do you want us to do?" he asked. Wolf hesitated a moment before answering.

"Let him go, if you will. I can find him again easily enough". Wolf turned to thank the fullblood alpha. That done, he backtracked his way swiftly through the forest, but this time he did not stop to exchange words with the woodland folk.

Virginia was feeling restless again. She positively loathed laying around in bed, especially when she felt so much better this morning. She fidgeted, fussing with the bedclothes. Little things were annoying her, like the clock ticking on the wall downstairs. Finally she had had enough and flung back the blankets, throwing her legs tentatively over the side of the bed to the floor. She stood gingerly, but was pleased that none of the gut wrenching giddiness of the night before returned. She made her way over to the dresser and drew out a clean nightdress. As she drew the old one over her head, Virginia saw her reflection in the mirror. She stood naked before it and observed the wound closely. It seemed a lot better today, less red and angry than it had been. She touched it, feeling the new flesh knitting together. She twisted and turned her body experimentally, learning it's new limitations. Virginia dressed in the new nightdress and pulled a gown over it. No sense in pretending that she wasn't still very sick and with pyjama's and slippers at least she could look the part.

Virginia shuffled her way to the door, and using the handrails, carefully made her way down the stairs. Her father saw her coming and leapt up to help her the last few steps. His brow was creased with worry.

"Oh honey, do you really feel well enough to come downstairs? You know we can bring you anything you need"

"Dad, I feel much better this morning, really. And I don't think a little exercise will do me any harm, right Elsie?" she replied, reassuring her father as the older half she-wolf came in with a pile of clean washing. The woman looked her over approvingly.

"Well, look at you then, up and about already! You're right, it won't do you any harm. Why don't you go and sit outside in the garden? The fresh air and sun will be good for you, and I'll bring you out something to eat". Virginia accepted her father's arm and went out to the front yard, where Wendell quickly gave up his comfy gilded chair for her.

"Here, here, come on, sit and rest. It's a beautiful morning, sister" he said to her, and Virginia was surprised to see his eyes glisten with tears. It was so unlike him, so she let him fuss around making her comfortable, knowing that for all his wealth and power, he was still at heart a very insecure young man trying to find a meaningful role in life. When she was settled, Caelum appeared from somewhere in the garden, scampering up to crawl into Virginia's lap. She reached down to pluck what suspiciously looked like a chicken feather out of his hair. She raised her eyebrows at him, but couldn't find it in her to remonstrate with him for his escapades. He grinned at her as if he knew full well that his mama would be letting him get away with a few cubbish things for a while. Elsie came forward with plates of thick sandwiches and the small group sat around eating, Virginia feeling her appetite keenly. The smell of the fresh bread was intoxicating suddenly.

"Elsie, you've been doing a wonderful job here for everyone. I can't thank you enough" said Virginia, meaning every word.

"Ah, no, don't make a fuss. It's no more than you'd do for me" she replied, blushing, holding out a sandwich for Willem, who had just arrived from putting the sheep out to pasture. After they had all eaten, each went about their own way, leaving Virginia blessedly alone with her thoughts for a while. She found herself looking for Wolf's return, hoping that he was either escorting or dragging Elias with him. She didn't really care either way, just as long as she could look the man in the eye and have her questions answered. And only Elias would know them, that she knew. Only Elias knew how the natural world breathed and came alive for her now, how her pitiful human senses were sharpening by the hour, how the muscles and skin healed so swiftly now and energy flowed through her limbs.

She was dozing in the sun when she knew suddenly that he was there. She turned her head to look back over her shoulder, seeing him standing there motionless, and alone. Her heart quailed a moment. Surely Elias was not destroyed. Surely she would not have to go through this thing alone. But all this was overridden by the look on Wolf's face. Of course. She had sensed him, probably had heard him, even though he stood quite a way behind her, normally well out of range of her human ears. He came forward now, kneeling to take her in his arms. Silently they cried together. Virginia withdrew finally, her hands holding Wolf's face gently between them.

But she was no longer Virginia, shepardess, mate and mother. She was Changing. A newborn awareness filled her mind and her blood sang with it. There was no denying it, and they both knew it.

The End

To Be Continued...