I seem to write nothing but emotional confrontations so far. Yay for confrontations!
Summary: Is a monster born, or made?
A few disclaimers: I spent a great deal of time doddering at old maps of Europe/Asia and lists of regional names. To my dismay, Geoffrey, the fan name given to Evil Vampire Jeff, is an English name, not French like I was hoping. So, just pretend. And I make no claim as to the behavior of wild animals, or ancient farming practices. I also give some ret-conning to King Louis XIV, so please forgive me for messing with your historical characters, French readers. For non-French readers, did you know the name Percevel means "pierced valley"? It does! Anyway, I originally wanted to make this a post-episode story, where Pierce the magician hunts down the werewolf that murdered his idiot vampire nephew, and curses her to be reborn as Jeff's soulmate or something (that is a mean curse.) But instead I got all caught up on the backstory. So, here you are, fair readers! I'm also sorry that it has less to do with the song lyric than I'd like.
HORROR FICTION IN SEVEN SPOOKY STEPS:
Many Wild Years Ago
We're gonna get more calm and normal.
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On December 31st, 1638, for the first and only instance recorded in two thousand years, the earth cast its shadow upon the moon in a total lunar eclipse on the night of the winter solstice.
- . - . - . - . - . -
Anya was born in the snow drifts of the long winter, far to the East of the great salt sea. Among the villagers her family was old and affluent: Papa with his many goats of white and grey, Mama with her wisdom at cup and bowl. In the summer they grew herbs with their neighbors on a small plot carved out from the woods. Anya's three brothers ranged far and deep into the forest to collect lichen, flower, and root for her mama's rich, beautiful cheeses. When the white months came the family spent many nights in the small house her father's father's father had built for the goats, huddled between warm bodies and think pelts. Anya's family had not lost a child to cold in three generations, so every supper her mama and papa blessed their ancestors for their great wisdom, and thanked the spirits of the forest for such a wealthy inheritance.
On the longest night of the longest winter, the moon was heavy and low. It perched above the snowy pines, as round as Mama's belly, and tendrils of fog caressed its edge. Mama screamed and screamed at the solstice moon, so bright through the window slit, as her last child slid into the Baba Motya's hands. There were no screams from the infant, but its eyes opened as wide and blue as a spring morning. Baba Motya wiped the babe with old rags and wrapped her in the pelt of fur that had held each of her brothers once. She carried the child down the snowy walk toward the goat house, where the men waited to receive the child and name her, but as Baba Motya looked across the forest to the heavy moon, she heard a great howl in the West.
One howl became many, a chorus of wolves to serenade the night, and the white moon changed to gold before Baba Motya's eyes. As the golden globe climbed higher into the night, a great shadow passed across its face. The babe in her arms, so silent through the trauma of birth, began to cry at last. Baba Motya hugged the little girl, whispered desperate little rhymes to her as the call of the wolves rose around the homestead. Songs of hunger and loneliness battered the old woman from every side in terrible wails until the great shadow waned and the moon bled gold and finally white again. As yellow faded from the eye of the gods, so did the howls of the forest wither into empty snowfall.
When all was silent but for the whisper of gentle snowflakes, a latch turned in the goat house and Papa stumbled into the white world, as if freed from a great spell. He ran through the drifts to Baba Motya, babbling in fear for his family, and the old woman gave him his daughter. "Sevastion, this child belongs to the forest. The spirits of the night have made their claim, just as they claimed my old deda."
"She is ours," said Papa. "I will not give her to the wild. We will keep her safe."
Baba Motya nodded. "Then love her and keep her safe. But there will be no bridesgift for your daughter. There will be no hearth and home. One day she will go to the forest, and mayhap she will be our protector. Or mayhap she will prey upon us with tooth and claw."
Papa hugged the child, and looked desperately at the cabin where is wife still lay with two girls from the village. He looked at Baba Motya one last time. "You will tell no hungry ears the events of this night. Not what you saw, nor what you have prophesied. My daughter's life hangs upon your silence."
"Your daughter's life may cost us everything," warned Baba Motya. "We never know, with a child of the forest, which way their heart will turn."
"My daughter will not be a beast," pledged the goat keeper. "She will love us, be a part of the our family, and if one day the forest calls her, then she will remember a village that loved her well."
They were true words, spoken in love, and truly kept for many years. Anya grew hearty and bold the shadows of the snowdrifts. Small of stature and pretty of face, Anya brought great joy to her family and hope to the village. She learned to weave winter wool and prepare summer cheese. She took long walks through the forest that bounded their home, and if she scraped her knees or cut her soft little hands against the bark, she never cried for it.
Baba Motya taught her lettering and figures, and how to draw the herbs of their land. She took scraps of precious leaf paper and charcoal on her walks through the forest, bringing her skill to the wild. Anya would often disappear for hours to map the woods, returning with word to her father on the best meadows to graze the goats, and where the predators slept. These jaunts into the wilderness terrified her Mama, who told Anya endlessly of the great bears that would eat anything, and the wolves that might mistake a girl covered in a fur cloak for any other soft, pretty animal. But when one of Anya's brothers tried to accompany her, she would run off, laughing, into the white. Always, she would return, and always she was safe.
In the spring after her fourteenth nameday, Anya left the cabin at daybreak to go South and search for signs of the elk passage. With her drawing tools and her sling, she climbed over rocks and pushed through shrubs, walking four hours to find the herd trail. Delight suffused her to see the path had been trodden heavily since the snowfall two days before. If she could find the herd before it moved out of range, Anya could lead her brothers and her father to a rich hunt that would give them all new furs and fresh venison. After nearly three hours more she found her prize: nearly a dozen of the animals stood in a glade, chewing bark and nibbling fresh spring grasses that peaked out of the snow.
Anya stood above the elk and watched them, her eyes fixed on their wide, strong necks. Though she had never told her parents, sometimes she could look at a creature and see instantly their weakest joint or most vulnerable flesh. For many minutes Anya watched the elk, imagining the blood that flowed through their hearts, pumping steadily underneath dark hairs and tough hide. She imagined how easily they could be picked off, the excitement of such a wild hunt making her smile. Anya had only her sling, but with claws a wolf might rip into that thick fur. Perhaps the buck: it stood as a fine creature in the center of the glade. Tall and glorious, with antlers sharp atop muscles strong, it could kill with one kick. No, one of the females off to the side would be likeliest for a pack to take down. Best would be the creature with a white star on its back; she clearly favored her right foot. That one would be lucky to make it out of these woods at all, now that the big predators would return with the spring weather.
Shaking herself free of the mesmer, Anya backed quietly into the cover of trees. She regained the herd trail and began to walk, making quicker time back to her village now that she knew the path. But even with confidence it took the rest of the day to return, and sunset was still early this time of year. Twilight had fallen when Anya crested the ridge above her home, and she looked at the two small buildings with night eyes. Unlike her brothers, Anya needed no torch to see clearly; this night was fortunate enough to show promise of a full moon rising.
As she gazed upon the homestead, a great terror welled in Anya's chest. There was blood on the grass and the snow before the door to their cabin, and a trail leaving the goat house. Two dark lumps had fallen to the ground before the homestead, and there were smaller, bloodier lumps where the goats had been released. Panicked hoof prints scattered across the snow in every direction. Anya started as a terrible roar, followed by a crash, rang out from the cabin.
Screaming, Anya ran toward her family home. When she passed the bodies on the ground she could not stand to look at them, afraid that their shapes were already too familiar. But when she nearly stumbled into the man at the foot of the cabin door, she couldn't hold back her tears. Papa's brown beard was stained black from blood that gushed above dead eyes. A deep tear rent his middle, and one of his hands was simply gone. There was another cacophony inside, and a roar so monstrous that Anya began to cry. She pushed through the door to the cabin and saw terror brought to life: a great bear, his white fur painted red with her family's sacrifice, stood atop Mama's body. Its head was buried in her mother's stomach, chewing noisily, and before Anya could scream again her oldest brother, still miraculously unhurt, flung himself at the creature with his long knife.
"Yoseph, no!" Anya shrieked, but no words could have stopped the young man. He landed atop the bear's neck, and with a ferocious growl the white monstrosity swiped one arm at the attacking human. Yoseph wheeled at the blow and fell, unmoving.
Anya could not think, could not breathe, but for her anger. Grief and horror gave way quickly to rage. Hot and terrible, the anger flooded down her spine. It went to the tips of her fingernails and through her legs to the ground. Anger covered her skin like fire, until her scream was not a scream but a howl. Anya, child of the forest and daughter of the moon, fell upon the bear and savaged it. Her legs were strong as trees, her jaw as tight as iron. Anya ate the bear's eyes to blind it, leaping away as quickly as she had struck. As it roared and smashed she jumped at it again, sinking her fangs into the animal's neck. If a wolf had been fool enough to challenge such a creature, the bear would have killed it as it murdered her brother. But Anya was not a common wolf to peck at the heels of rabbits and reindeer. Anya was born a monster, blessed by the spirits of the forest on the night of the darkened moon, and she claimed her inheritance with the death of a snow bear. When it fell she howled her grief and her victory, singing to the night while the blood of her mother mixed with the blood of the man-killer.
When she had eaten the bear's great, hot heart, Anya rose from its carcass and padded on soft feet out of her childhood home. She crossed the small farm and slipped into the Western woods. She wound between trees and slept under stars. For many eves she traveled, loping across creekbeds and beyond the territory of her people. On the twelfth morning she awoke in the hollow of a tree, human and hungry.
Anya would never go back to that village, never even return to her country in all the centuries that followed. She journeyed West for years, and learned to balance the wolf inside her heart with the woman inside her mind. With womanhood the wolf change became swifter and less painful, but even as her breasts grew large and her face grew slim, Anya knew she would carry no babe to fullness. She spent years in villages and then cities, learning new languages as she went. She paid for clothes and small luxuries with her skill in writing and numbers. Hunger was never a true threat to a daughter of the moon, and if a villager should ask why she did not get older as other women did, Anya would simply disappear to the forest and the ever-lonely roads.
Over the rivers of Lithuania and through the Kingdom of Poland she traveled, always Westward. The lands of Hungary, Romania, Germania were home to her for many years. She was called Ania and Inya, Aine and Anyara. The great cities of Holy Roman Empire gave way to the warm waters of the Mediterranean Sea, to the music of Spain and eventually the wine of France. She was Anna, Annie, Angelique, and Annabelle. She was a lover but never a true wife, a nurturer but never a mother. She could be mistaken for a normal woman, but there was no calm inside her unless night had fallen and the moon was full.
She built wealth and a title, being free of the trappings of poverty by marrying a thrice-widowed Seigneur of distant noble relation. When he raised his hand to strike her, she killed him as he had killed his last wife, a village girl of thirteen. By day she was a lady at the King's Court of Versailles, and by night the countryside belonged to her song. She roamed the hills and kept the peace after sunset, hunting game for pleasure and hunting men for justice. Bandits were torn from their saddles; murders and rapers were savaged without mercy. When Louis XIV heard tale of a great wolf beast that reigned at night as he reigned by day, le Roi-Soleil offered a purse heavier than a calf's head for any man who could bring him his rival's pelt, the true skin of the Wolf King.
She laughed off the human hunters with frail limbs and weak noses. She believed the purse would go unchallenged forever, until one morning she stopped in the marketplace of her village to scent a man who was not a man. He wore a emerald-colored vest above flowing white sleeves and elegant leggings; none of the clothes were the newest fashion, but all were made with exquisite tailoring and handsome cloth. He turned to catch her eyes on him, and smiled a ravishing grin.
Tall and fair, more beautiful and lusty than any lord she had seen at Court of Versailles, the stranger bent his knee and kissed her hand.
"Most comely lady, flower of this summer morning, I am Geoffrey of Lorraine, great nephew of the Vicomte Percevel. Tell me what you should wish, and I will see it done."
Though some years older than her in appearance, there was vitality and deliberate purpose in each movement he made, as if no one before him had ever drank so fully of the cup of life. She blushed at his focused attraction, and said, "Such pretty words, my Lord. How does it happen that you are in our humble village?"
The man who was not a man chuckled, and released her palm with a second ghosting kiss. "Not humble at all, fair dewdrop. Your village is the heart of a great mystery, and the King has challenged the gentlemen of his court to see that mystery solved. I have come to hunt the Wolf King, keeper of the night stars, and gift his Grace with the monster's pelt."
Maintaining the play of words was easy enough, but a tremor snaked in underneath her pleasure. Many years had come and gone since she last met a creature who was not human, and never had one dared to hunt her. "Tell me my good Lord, what makes a man such as you capable of killing this terrible beast, when other men have returned with neither victory nor glory?"
"Ah-ahh, My Lady," countered Geoffrey, "It's too early in the game to give away my secrets. But you may sleep well at night, knowing that I will succeed, and this creature shall be King of the underworld soon enough." This invocation of the underworld unsettled her, for she could tell he was not one born of nature, not a son of the moon. While her kind smelled of snow, leaves, and wet bark, he smelled like fire.
He smelled like blood.
Tilting her head until her hair fell delicately across her neck, she wished him luck. "You are so brave, my Lord, that I hope your confidences are true. I would hate to hear of your injury or demise at the claws of a child of the forest."
"And who hopes for me, my Lady?" The lord stepped up to her, too close for a woman of her station. His reek of fire repelled her first senses, but the underlying odor of blood was intoxicating; it tickled her own veins to life until she swallowed hungrily at the morning air. The pupils of his eyes grew into deep pools of black. As his gaze rose from her bodice to her flushed cheeks, he whispered, "What lovely name shall pray for me to succeed on this... great... hunt?"
She raised a silk-gloved hand to press against his embroidered vest. He leaned in as she said, "I am called Antoinette." She held his distance with her fingers as she stepped away, reluctant to stop touching the fine cloth over his muscles.
Antoinette breathed deeply, and smiled at him as she had smiled at an elk buck, many wild years ago. "You will see me again, my Lord."
He bowed. "My Lady."