Disclaimer: Tristan belongs to err -someone who certainly isn't me anyway. Little Red Riding Hood belongs to the brothers Grimm I think.
My mother told me tales of wolves when I was little. Her voice was soft in the darkness, her eyes bright and filled with a wisdom that was far older than her years. I was young and eager for stories, and with my blankets tucked around me and the bitter wind outside howling and snarling against our little house, I listened and I learned. She told me of a woman killed by her lover and condemned to animal form; unable to do anything but howl at the moon to show her sorrow. She told me of an arrogant warrior whose chambers were lined with the pelts of the animals he had slain, and who was found one night in the middle of the forest with his heart torn out and bite marks on his chest. She told me many things, some of which I remember, and some of which are now lost to the wind in which I scattered her ashes five years ago, but she did not warn me to guard my heart.
Not many walk the woodland paths - not many dare to. I like it that way. Let the soldiers at the fort forge their own paths across the hills, let them build their great wall that snakes through the valleys, and let them leave me alone. My mother had little time for the Woads that sometimes slipped through the forest and no time at all for the Romans. I am the same. I have my little house, I have my garden, and I have my scrying bowl that since I came of age has shown me nothing but wolves with golden eyes.
My grandmother lives on the edge of the village. She had little love for my mother and no love at all for me, but each week I take her what food I can spare. She is old and frail, twisted with rheumatism and bitterness, but she is my only living link to my mother, and so I do what I can to honour our blood tie.
The forest is silent and heavy with secrets. In the summer it glows and skitters with sunlit shadows, in the spring whispers and sighs and shivers as the new leaves unfurl and the young fawns open their eyes and take their first steps upon slender legs. But it is the winter that I love best, it is winter with its cruel beauty that I dream of. It is winter that brings the wolves to the forest.
They are deadly, those cousins of the dogs kept as pets back in the village. They are grace and sinew and ghostlike in the shadows. My mother taught me to look for portents, to trust my dreams and look for answers in the runes she kept tucked away in a velvet bag tied with ribbon. I did what she said, but no matter how hard I looked, how many times I read and re-read the signs, there was only ever one answer. The wolf.
It was midwinter before I truly understood the portents. Snow had fallen thick and fast, the trees creaked dangerously beneath it's weight, but still I went to my grandmother's house, my red cloak wrapped around my shoulders and my face shielded from the wind by its hood. My footsteps were light, but any noise I made seemed to echo and reverberate in the icy air. A fox bounded from the dead bracken and paused at my approach, a rabbit dangling from his jaws, and startled me so much that I took a step backwards, one of my dried apples falling from the basket I carried and rolling down into the bushes. I don't know why I didn't stop to collect it. True, I had cored and dried more fruit than I could use that year, but still, it was against my nature to waste food like that. Perhaps it was the silence that suddenly seemed more expectant than peaceful, perhaps it was the way that I could not help but feel that I was being watched. I left the apple there hidden in the snow meaning to retrieve it on my way back, but when I returned from my grandmother's house it was gone. In its place was a red ribbon and a set of footprints that seemed to vanish into the forest. I took the ribbon, tugged my hood over my head and did not dare look behind me.
The ribbon fascinated me. Although I was not one for vanity, I had a few female fripperies - a hair clasp carved into the shape of a bird, a length of lace yellowed with age, a silver chain that had belonged to my mother. This however seemed almost indecent in my little house - a tiny scrap of silk the colour of blood, the colour of courage, an offering from someone I did not know. I watched the forest when I drew water from the well, read the runes and dreamed of black wolves with golden eyes. Nothing happened, nothing changed.
A full week later I once again tucked as much food as I could spare into my basket and wrapped myself in my scarlet cloak. This time I kept myself alert and watchful, and when a shadow slipped through the trees beside me, I let my fingers curl around the knife at my belt, lowered my head and pretended I had not noticed. I was almost at my grandmother's house before I paused. The forest was silent save for the thud of my heart, but then the forest is always silent, even when there are a dozen eyes upon you. I took an apple from my basket and placed it upon the stump of a tree that had fallen last winter, and hurried onwards, afraid and yet curious to look behind me.
My grandmother kept me longer than usual that day. Her mind and memories were muddled, and it was clear from her translucent skin that she was not long for this world. Had we been closer I would have taken her back to my home, but after being spat at, cursed at ,and witnessed the hatred in her eyes, I left, vowing to return the next day. Preoccupied with my thoughts, I almost forgot the apple that left as an offering to the ghost that had followed me before. Once again it had gone, but in its place a little carved figure sat upon the tree-stump. It was small, easily fitting into the palm of my hand. The figure of a wolf, it's earls pricked, one paw curled towards it's belly. I turned it over carefully, and knew before I turned around that I was not alone. It was not a surprise to see him. I had seen him many times before - brief glimpses in my scrying mirror, a ghost of dreams that left me flushed and unsettled. He didn't say anything, my wolf. Snowflakes caught in the wild tangle of his hair, his eyes gleamed gold and watchful. He wore no armour, but from the sword that hung at his side and the bow slung upon his back , I knew him to be a warrior. I offered him the carving, but he shook his head silently and stepped forward, closing my fingers around the little wolf. He was very close - isolated as I was, I had not been in so close proximity to many men, but I was not afraid.
I led him back to my little house, let him warm himself by the fire and later with my skin. He was gentle and beautiful, and too obviously a thing of the wild. In the morning I set him free again and let him once again accept the shackles of his Roman masters. The blankets upon my bed were stained with blood from the tearing of my maidenhead, the secret place between my thighs sore. When I looked into my mirror I no longer saw a wolf, and although I was afraid, I placed a hand over my belly and wondered at the life that would grow there. I never saw my wolf again, although from what the occasional gypsies who barter for my herbs say, his name has passed into legend. He is dead, but his daughter lives on, and Goddess willing, she will never know the loneliness that her parents endured.
My mother told me stories of wolves when I was little. She told me of their beauty and she told me of their grace, and she told me that they could never been tamed. I listened and I nodded, but it is only now that I truly understand. My grandmother is long dead, my red cloak cut up and re-stitched to make a coat for my daughter, and I no longer dream of winter snow.
A/N Just a weird little thing that came into my head when I couldn't sleep; make of it what you will.