This is a one-off ficlet about the deaths of Wolf's parents. The character of Wolf is the property of Simon Moore and the actor who played him.
From The Ashes
Good Farmer, fair farmer!
There's a wolf at your door,
With his teeth grinning white,
And his tongue wagging sore.
Nay! said the farmer
I've been and dealt with ye!
But a wolf 'twas indeed
And famished was he.
Wolf crept silently through the sleeping village. Times had been quiet here, for many years in fact, and the villagers had neglected to post a nightwatchman. Well, many of them would pay for that oversight tonight, thought Wolf. He was young still, but he had waited more than patiently for his full height to develop. He could use a few more years to gain the weight and muscle that his nature would provide, he knew, but his need for revenge had drawn him away. To here. He recalled the name of this place. Oakentown. He even remembered visiting it as a cub. The tall wooden buildings had seemed imposing, threatening even to a small cub, and he had clung to his father's side as the weekly market bustled around them. The men and women who chattered and shouted had smelt strange to his inexperienced nose, but he soon realised that they were dumb of eye, nose and ear. They saw, smelt and heard very little of what went on around them. His father pinched his arm.
"Hoy there cub! Don't stare so. Lower your eyes, like I showed you" he had whispered. Wolf, or Lucian as he had been called then, obeyed instantly. He didn't want his father to think him crude, or too young to behave in human company. "Good" his father nodded brusquely, leading him over to the fabric merchant's stall. Even with his eyes on the ground, Wolf could tell from the posture of the merchant what he was thinking. Dislike radiated off the man. Wolf's father ran his hands over several bolts of cloth, holding them up to the fading light. "Hmm, do you think your mother would like this one, or maybe this one?" he mused aloud. Wolf knew he was not expected to answer, so he stayed silent while his father haggled with the merchant over prices and quality. The merchant's hands trembled ever so slightly as he reached for the coins. Dislike or not, it didn't prevent him from accepting the money. The countenance of Queen Auburn glittered as his fat hand closed over them. Wolf heard them clink as they disappeared into his bulging pockets. His father was moving off now, wrapped bundle in one hand and his son's small hand in the other, though in truth it was not ever necessary to maintain a physical contact. Wolf could use his nose to trail his father through crowds ten times bigger than this one.
That trail had gone cold years ago though. Wolf couldn't remember exactly what it even smelt like. He crept closer to one of the shuttered houses, breathing deep of the draughts that ran over the windowsill from the sleepers inside. Ah yes, now those scents he would never, ever forget. He waited in the darkness for the anger to come to him, as it had done every day of his life since that night. But instead his treacherous memories surfaced, and he was a cub again. In his father's house.
His bare feet flexed against the rough woollen blanket. It was all twisted up around his legs, like he'd been out hunting through the forest in his dreams. He closed his eyes, trying to recall if he had actually been dream-hunting. Those were the best dreams a ten year old half wolf could ever hope to have. Maybe wild boar, or stag? Hopefully not just another rabbit, which was all his father had allowed him to catch up til now.
"Now now, don't sulk over rabbits, little cub. Sure, they lack many things, size, intelligence, but, learn to catch a rabbit and you'll be able to catch anything. For there are none faster and trickier than the humble bunny. You ask Old Man Fox next time you see him!" his father had advised him only yesterday. But to the young Wolf, the sodden mess of blood and fur seemed small prize indeed for all the trouble spent on securing it. His mother had let him eat it though, so that was a bonus. Ordinarily he would have to surrender whatever he caught to his parents, as that was the rule of pack for cubs, so maybe they would be allowing him to hunt the big game soon.
He sighed and shifted in his bed. Whatever he'd been chasing in his dream had flitted away. He lay looking up at the sliver of moonlight on the wall, thinking about his brother. He'd only been gone a span of the moon, but Wolf missed him terribly. He hoped that Willem had not caught anything bigger than he had. Their uncle had seemed a stern, forbidding half-wolf when he had come a-visiting and it had been decided that Will would do well with some older cubs to show him his place. Now, he was far away, over the mountains and Wolf had few friends his own age to tussle with. Certainly no human children would think to approach the lonely boy, and there were no half-wolf packs living within howling distance in this part of the Second Kingdom. His mother and father had taught him his letters, his people's history and his woodcraft. Everything he needed to know.
A sound outside caught his attention. Barely louder than a snapping twig, yet his senses were alerted instantly. No fear, just awareness filled his mind. Something outside the cottage. He waited for other clues to come to him, but he was distracted by the looming presence of someone in the doorway of his room. The sudden glow of green in the dark betrayed only his father standing there, hand to his lips in the universal signal for silence. His father crossed to the shuttered window, putting his eye to the crack. Whatever he saw there he let only a ripple of tension in his back and shoulders show the cub that he was very alarmed.
Wolf threw back the blanket as his father came towards him, settling on the edge of the bed. He bent close so that only a whisper passed between them.
"My son. Trouble has come our way tonight"
"What is it, papa? Is it another pack?" Wolf whispered back. In his limited experience, the only danger that he could think of would come from another rival wolf pack, wanting their territory and hunting grounds. But his father shook his head.
"No, not other wolf's. Humans are here, outside"
"Humans? Why would they come here? They're afraid of us, aren't they?"
"Yes, they fear us, but what they fear they also hate. Hate is a poweful thing in the hands of many. And there are many here"
"What will they do?"
"I don't know son. Perhaps they come only to frighten, to threaten"
"I won't be frightened, papa" Wolf replied, though his trembling hands gave away the lie of that statement. Too many things outside of his experience to deal with. The den was a place of safety and always had been. Now, the stout oak walls seemed only a trap. He had an instictive urge to run, far away and fast, but he did his best not to show it. He wanted to be brave for his papa. His father smiled slowly in the dark, allowing his son the pretence.
"Of course you won't be frightened Lucian. I know how brave you are. But I want you to do a thing for me and your mother"
"What is it?"
"What do you mean?"
"I want you to slink away, right now. Go out though the back door. I'll get their attention so you can get away. But you must go quickly, and quietly and not look back". The young Wolf's eyes widened at his father's careful words. Impossible. It was out of the question. Wolf packs never broke up or scattered, even when beset by the worst dangers. They stayed together always. Easier to chop off a limb than leave his parents. He sat still on the bed, struggling to put his muddled thoughts into words.
"I know, son, what I'm asking you to do is...not right for us. But my heart tells me to do this"
"No, I won't go" Wolf said firmly, almost so afraid now that he forgot to be astonished at his own daring in saying no to his father. He puffed out his small chest, trying to look bigger and meaner than he truly was, even though he fully expected to be cuffed for his temerity. His father's teeth gleamed for a moment. Oh dear, his papa looked totally terrifying when he smiled like that. But his words were soft when they came.
"You will". The words were gentle in tone, but Wolf heard the iron will in them. His father gripped his chin, forcing him to look into his eyes, enforcing the first rule of the pack onto his son. Cub's always obeyed. It was instinctive, graven onto their souls from birth. Wolf's own free will twisted and growled in anger, but it was but a show, a token defiance that would one day help him carve out his own territory. But that day was many years away. Right now, he could do little else but accept his father's decision. He dropped his head in submission and his father relaxed minutely, knowing the truth of it.
"Where will I go, papa?"
"Go to your hidey hole in the old yew tree. You can stay well hidden there, and they won't find you. They have no dogs with them. But, no matter what happens, you will not come out unless I or your mother bid you. Do you understand that last part?"
"Yes papa". Wolf could not conceal the sullenness from his voice.
"It's very important. Your safety is far more important to your mother and I than our own. You will stay in the tree until we say otherwise"
"Let me hear you say it, son"
"I will stay hidden in the tree until you or mother say so" Wolf responded, feeling a sudden cold feeling in the pit of his stomach. He was bound now, by his word, by his father's command. Still, it may yet come to nothing, he thought to himself with the typical innocence of a cub with no true experience with the ways of the world. Maybe the humans would just stand around shouting and pointing and then go away. The door to his room opened and his mother came in. She set down a small package and Wolf smelled rare roast lamb and bread in it. She sat down next to him on the bed, absently straightening his sleep mussed hair.
"You're a good cub, Lucian. Do as your father has bid you. Especially the last part. No matter what happens". Wolf looked at her curiously. Where his father had been able to keep his inner fears from his son, the same was not true of his mother. She positively radiated anxiety. It rippled off her and filled the room in much the same way as smoke from the blocked chimney sometimes did. Wolf almost whimpered at it as he cuddled up close to her. The hard roundness of her belly trembled.
'Mama, the baby's kicking again!" he said, putting his ear close to the bulge. The infant's tiny heartbeat fluttered along as it had done for months. The baby, at least, seemed immune from the sudden fear that coursed through it's mother. His mother patted the bump fondly.
"So she is, so she is". Wolf saw his father reach to grip his mother's hand tightly. He nodded at her and she drew her breath in deeply, forcing calmness to her face. But Wolf knew what that effort had cost her. He smiled at her, wanting her to know that it had not been wasted. She patted his cheek and kissed his forehead.
"Son, it's time to go" his father's voice intruded softly. Wolf nodded and stood to draw on his small boots and a warm cloak. His mother handed him the wrapped package of food.
"Now, don't go eating it all at once, Lucian!" she said, winking at him.
"I won't mama, promise!" he whispered back. His father rose and went out the door towards the back of the house. After a minute he came back, gesturing to Wolf.
"It seems all clear for now. Wait until I've gone out the front before you slip out, okay son?" Wolf nodded and tiptoed to the back door. Men were out there. He could smell them clearly now. They stood about as silently as men could, which wasn't really silent at all, thought Wolf. He heard his father open the front door and sensed the sudden interest in the humans. They slunk out from the trees and approached the front of the house. He lifted the latch quietly and the door swung back on well oiled hinges. The night air was cool with the bare scent of possible snow on the wind. He was a quick dark shadow as he darted away from the house, heading into the cover of the trees. The yew tree, where he had made his little cubby hole was about a hundred paces away. He flitted from shadow to shadow as he made his way to it. The well worn hand and foot holds stuck out at random, giving him enough purchase to reach the deep bole without incident. He shoved himself in backwards so that nothing would show from ground height and settled in to wait.
An hour passed. He was getting cramped and his tail had kinks in it. He had eaten all the food his mother had prepared and was starting to feel hungry again. He was bored, and cold. He couldn't hear anything that was happening up at the house. He tensed at a sudden movement at the foot of the tree. Wolf strained his ears, hoping for his parent's voices. But no, it was human's talking. Two male human's, moving around at the base. They were muttering to themselves. Snapping sounds filled the air. Were they collecting wood then? Wolf couldn't see properly from his vantage, so he listened hard. Yes, they were picking up wood, snapping and tossing it together. Lots of it too, to judge by the muttering of the men as they grumbled about their sore backs. A long time seemed to pass before the men finally stopped grumbling. Wolf shifted cautiously in his tight spot, peeking one eye over the rim to peer down through the branches. The two men had their back to him, admiring a great pile of wood they had collected. In the centre of the pile they had raised a long beam with ropes attached. Wolf didn't know what or why they had made such a thing.
As he stared down, one of the men turned back in the direction of the house and whistled sharply and loudly. There seemed to be a dull rumble as many more humans came closer. Some were singing, crude songs that he had heard once or twice in the vicinity of those strange drinking places that human's went to. Wolf went to draw himself back into the tree bole when he stopped, frozen by the sudden scent of his parents below. He thought he heard his father's voice, but it sounded strange to his ears.
"This is wrong. You know it. I beg you, release my wife..."
"Shut it, mongrel..." began a human's voice, followed by a dull thud.
"She's with child...have mercy on the child if nothing else..."
"Ha! then we get three for the price of two! And don't bother to call them children. They're all cursed abominations like you. Thieving and murdering animals, nothin' more. 'Ere are lads, string 'em up nice and tight like". The man continued. There came the sounds of a sudden commotion, like the struggling of an animal in a trap, and then, awful as it was, his mother's voice.
"Cae, stop. Let it be done. The Goddess will care for us. She will always be there for us. We should not ever forget Her..."
"Ahh, shut up bitch. I'd slit your throat, 'cept that might be seen as a kindness". Wolf knew he should remain out of view, but he couldn't resist the urge to look down. Not that there was any need to worry about being discovered. All the humans, and they were many, were staring at the pile of wood and Wolf's parents, Caelum and Sarah, who were lashed to the upright post. They looked bruised and bleeding in places, but they were calm, deathly silent as they held hands with their eyes closed. It was only when one of the men came forward to set a flaming brand to the wood that Wolf finally realised what was going to happen. It seemed impossible to his young eyes, but they were going to burn his mama and papa, alive.
He felt vomit in his throat as the first of the flames licked at the torn hem of his mother's dress, the one she had made from the new fabric they had bought at the market that day. The fire singed the tips of her toes, but she only sighed, sagging against the tight ropes. Wolf looked to his father. He was staring straight ahead, his mouth set in a grim and defiant line. Around them, the human's, villagers and farmers all, started to hoot and cheer at the spectacle. Their ruckus almost drowned out the sudden whoosh as Wolf's mother's skirts caught fire and seemed to explode around her. Wolf cried out aloud, but only one soul heard him. His father, always attentive, always there, heard his voiceless cry in the night. His green flecked eyes moved ever so slightly, drifting over the tree as if looking at the sky perhaps, but Wolf knew his father's gaze was for him. Very slowly and surely, his father shook his head.
"Papa...say it! Say it! Let me come down to you. Let me help you! Say it!" Wolf cried and choked in the wolfen language. The celebrating human's didn't hear him. The roar of the fire was immense, but still his father refused to release him from his word. Don't come down until I say so. Those were the words, the charge by which he lived out those next few tormented minutes. "Say it, say it, say it..." he begged quietly, over and over as the flames reached their peak. His parents had died in silence as most wild things are wont to do. Inside Wolf, a cold silence of a different kind settled over his soul. His continued to stare down, listlessly, as the fire burnt down to embers and finally, to ashes.
The human's departed, still singing and celebrating, before the first rays of dawn crept over the world, but not before Wolf had marked them. Each and every one, he committed to memory, by scent, sound and name. The forest was muted. The birds woke in sorrow, piping their mournful songs at the loss of another family to the humans. The sun was well into the sky before Wolf roused himself from the stupor he had fallen into. Stay here until I say so. Now, there was no one to say so, no one at all. Should he stay then? Thirst finally drove him down from the tree. His bodily needs could only be ignored for so long. He was born a half-wolf, and as such he had not the luxury of just laying down and dying. Only pitiful humans did things like that. They had burned his house, so he went to the nearby stream for water. He did not recognize the haunted figure who stared back at him.
He went back to fire. Just a pile of smoking ashes now. The bones, bereft of tendon and muscle to hold them together, lay in a jumble. Wolf was unable to see which were his father's or his mothers. Only the baby's bones were recognizable. On a hill, he sat and scratched on a plank of wood. Caelum, Sarah. Wolf decided that the baby was indeed the daughter his mother had always wanted, and named her Ella. That done, he sat and waited for the ashes to cool. Except that they never really did.
A trickle of sweat ran down his back crest as he stood in the room of the man he had come to kill. Only one more, and it would be done. Down the street, a sudden wailing rent the night air. The villagers were awakening. One by one, they woke to find that vengeance had come calling. A silent predator had come creeping into their homes, and yet Wolf had made sure that each and every one, the ones he had long ago remembered, had known him as they died. The man on the bed was stirring, belatedly waking to the sounds of human panic. Wolf put a hand over the man's mouth, brought his face close.
"For Caelum and Sarah and Ella" he whispered, holding the razor sharp knife against thesweating cheek of the man. The man's eyes bulged with terror and Wolf knew he was known, that the man recalled that night so many years ago. It was enough. The man wailed under Wolf's expert death grip on his throat. Wolf smiled at him. "Want to call for help, human?. The man nodded stupidly, as if he thought that would save him. Wolf's eyes flashed red as the knife swung down. "Go on then, human...say it"
(with a poem adapted from "Dame Hickory" by Walter De La Mare)