The rough wolf fur pelt bristled against my shoulders as I stirred the pot of steaming stew, fresh beans and carrots bobbing to the surface of the thickening gravy. I had not had such delicious, "civilized" food in ages and I relished the thought of digging into a hot, savory meal. Although I had not been living with the Wolf Warriors, servants of Fenris, for more than three months, it felt like a lifetime ago when I lived in the small village of Halam.
There my family lived – my mother and aging father upon a farm which we tended with the rhythmic change of the seasons. We had owned that farm for generations, until foreign conquerors came, bearing strange armor and claiming our ancestral lands now belonged to them. When the few young able-bodied men fought them, they were swiftly and mercilessly killed, and from thence half to two-thirds our grain and some of our livestock went to our greedy and cruel Norman masters.
We thought the Normans were coming to collect their taxes and humiliate us again when we saw men riding over the hill on horses. But as they grew closer, we realized these were not the Normans. They bore animals skins and fierce, horrific cries escaped their throats as they rode through the village, setting fire to our homes and killing all who resisted them.
Many of the women and children were set to the sword as well, but I was one of the few who survived, but not by blind, helpless submission. In my moment of fear and rage, as a Wolf Warrior charged into our home, slaughtering my family before me, I swept up a scythe and in a brutal blow slashed through the neck of my family's murderer. I knew soon his friends would come, but now I was determined I wouldn't die helpless, screaming for mercy like I heard and saw so many women and children do before they were put to the sword. My life would cost whoever walked through that door dearly.
A Wolf Warrior did come, blood-lust and revenge burning in his eyes as he saw me. This time I would not have the element of surprise on my side, but I held the scythe's worn wooden handle within my hands and was prepared to at least slash off an arm before he killed me. As he charged, a fierce cry erupting from his lips and his sword raised, a soft, sly voice wormed its way into the room:
"Stop! Fenris wants this one."
The warrior, startled, whirled around to see a strange looking man, completely bald, his sharp cheekbones making him gaunt; a sly maliciousness dwelt in his eyes. The warrior seemed hesitant for a moment to obey the order, but then he swiftly saluted and cried:
As the Wolf Warrior left, the strange man entered my home, now the scene of such carnage. I felt even more in danger from this man than the warrior bent on my death. I held the scythe in my hands even tighter and raised it as he drew close.
"If you come closer I'll kill you," I spat, rage and desperation in my voice.
I felt my clothes sticking to me, beginning to grow stiff and realized I must be covered in blood. But even at my threats, the strange man clearly within my striking distance now, he didn't seem afraid or even disturbed by me.
"Ah, yess. Fenris will want such a she-wolf in his service."
"I won't serve this 'Fenris'! I will kill you first," I cried.
"It is your choice," he said slyly. "But know the Sons of Fenris are prepared to burn this hovel to the ground and you with it."
My arms trembled slightly, part from the weight and part from fear. He drew closer, only a few feet away and clearly within that range I could strike a fatal blow if I chose to take it.
"Join us – join us or die," he said, a malicious gleam shining from his eyes.
For a moment two different scenarios of my future flashed through my mind … In one I would join these barbarians and live God knows what terrible life. On the other I would kill this sinister man standing before me and the house I had been born in and grew up in would erupt in flame. I would die in slow, horrifying agony within the fire. Whether it was the weight of the scythe or my fear, I lowered my only weapon and he took this as my consent.
Without a word, he just turned from me and left the house. I expected at any moment the fire would come, but instead two Wolf Warriors barged through the door, roughly grabbed me and dragged me from the house. I was shoved on top a horse with a Wolf Warrior firmly grasping me about the waist. We stayed there until all that was left of my village was gone … and lastly my house and my dead family were put to the flame. The rest of my memory blurred into grief and hatred as we rode away.
Life since that time was brutal and cruel. I was "initiated" by the man I now knew as Gulnar, high priest of the savage wolf god Fenris. As he scraped my skin with a small metal claw and the blood rose to the surface, I felt rage burn within me. I wanted to tear everyone apart and scream out the anger searing within me. I wondered if this was the will of the cruel wolf god or the result of my own hatred.
For the first few weeks I embraced the hatred and savagery dwelling with my heart, but then I saw the other she-wolves that had been initiated before me. They had become like feral animals, hair unkempt, their rough, wild wolf pelts barely covering them. They indulged in their basest desires and rarely ever spoke. Fear arose within me … Is this what I would become as a she-wolf? From then on I lived a double life, savage and fierce on the outside, but still trying to hold on to the shreds of humanity that seemed to so easily slip from me in the barbarity of the Wolf.
I was horrified when they slaughtered the monks at Grimston Abbey, but outwardly gave no sign to my feelings. I stayed on the periphery of the slaughter, pretending to end more lives with my knife, but secretly allowing a few monks to escape into the dense undergrowth of the forest.
Once in the abbey, I almost felt some semblance at being back in civilization. I stayed mostly in the kitchen, for the Wolf Warriors still insisted on the she-wolves cooking, and I was content to be away from them as much as possible. Very few of the warriors came to bother me – especially after the impetuous and lusty young Wolf Warrior, Tyrok, came to show me "what love really was like." He was rewarded with a firm knock to his skull with a small cauldron – much to the amusement of the other Wolf Warriors and praise from Gulnar that I was a "feisty she-wolf."
So I was left alone in the kitchen, only leaving it to tend the monks' garden or return to my cold, small cell within the abbey. I figured my life would remain quiet for a little while, captured in my monotonous daily routine until I heard a man's voice echoing down the corridor. I realized it must be coming from the main sanctuary – or what used to be the sanctuary. From what little I could hear, the man was screaming insults and protests, clearly enraged at the Wolf Warriors.
I inwardly felt regret – soon they would either have another victim to Fenris or a new warrior to join them. I tried to forget about the mysterious man until Skeshol, an older Wolf Warrior more involved in assisting Gulnar than slaughtering villagers, told me that the prisoner was in need of food and to bring it to him.
I might have been offended playing the servant, but truth be told I was curious about this new prisoner who showed such fire even to the Wolf Warriors. I took a wooden tray – one of the plainer ones from the monks' stash of kitchenware. I was prepared to place just the customary prison fare – a half loaf of coarse-ground wheat bread and a cup of water. But somehow as I was ready just to put this simple meal on the tray, I changed my mind, although I wasn't sure why at the time.
When I left the kitchen, the stew still was simmering in its pot. I carried the tray through the empty corridor, down the narrow stairway to a heavy, locked door. I fumbled with the few keys I was given in the abbey and swiftly unlocked it. The light was poor as I walked down the last set of stairs to what the Wolf Warriors had turned into a prison. Crude cages stood at the entrance and further back were wooden boards bolted to the walls that held shackles. I cursed the darkness of the chamber, for the torches burned low. I took an extinguished candle and lit it. As the pool of golden light followed me from the candle in my hand, I continued tentatively and kicked a stone that was on the cell floor. The stone rattled away into the darkness and a booming voice broke the unearthly silence.
"Who are you? Animals! Coming to torture me are you?! Well you'll get nothing from me. NOTHING!!"
I stopped, partly startled from the commanding, angry voice, then said – with a truth that shocked even me at the time:
"I am not one of them."