He wakes to half a dozen shadowy figures jumping him, twisting his arms behind him and binding them tightly, stuffing a thick strip of cloth between his teeth when he tries to yell. They drag him away, through more twisting passageways and dank tunnels than he knew existed in this place – and he thought he knew them all, conscientious Captain of the Guards that he is – but ere soon they are grunting with exertion, for he is a big man and a trained warrior and he does not make things easy for them, even when a blade is poked against his ribs.
But then a soft voice fearfully calls his name, he twists his head around and the fight goes out of him, like wine from a slashed skin, when he sees the knife pressed against Isabeau's throat. They are dragged along together for few more steps, then pushed into a sparsely lighted room and forced to their knees beside each other. In the flickering torchlight he can barely make out her face, eyes wide with terror but her head held high, a true lady to the end.
If only he could tell her one last time how much he admires her.
Somewhere in the twisting shadows, a sonorous voice starts chanting, almost like the Bishop celebrating Mass, but though he can not speak the language himself, he has heard enough Masses in his life to know that this is no Latin.
After an indeterminable amount of time, the ominous chant ends and suddenly he is hit by a wave of excruciating pain, as if every bone in his body was breaking and twisting simultaneously. He can not even scream properly, only a hoarse animal noise of agony rings in his ears, but the last sound he remembers, before merciful darkness swallows him, is the horror in Isabeau's voice when she cries out his name.
o o o o o o
He wakes to the sound of her sobbing. His bonds are gone, but when he tries to get to his feet, his limbs won't obey, so he settles for crawling over to where she has slumped against the wall. He tries to call out to her, to ask if she is hurt, too – and may God have mercy on them (whoever they might be) if she is – but all he manages is a strange yipping noise, like a dog in distress. She scrambles back in terror at the sound and the smell of fear spikes in her already distraught scent.
There are so many things wrong with that thought. Why would she fear him? And why would her scent hold the most obvious clue, and not the sight of her panic – the lights are brighter than before, though the colours are strangely off – or the sobbing stream of words? Words which he can hear very well but understand only with difficulty. What is wrong with him?
With a groan – that sounds wrong, too – he reaches for his head, encounters an unexpected obstacle and finally catches sight of an appendage that isn't a hand, anymore, but a paw.
A wolf's paw or a very large dog's.
Were he still a man, he could try to voice his disbelieving anguish – as the animal he is now, he throws back his head and howls.
No wonder his beloved is so afraid, she must think him a mindless monster.
Is he meant to? Was, whatever devilry has turned him into a beast, also supposed to make him lose his mind completely, to fall upon the woman he loves and devour her? Or, the thought sickens him immensely, to assault her otherwise?
He shakes off the torturous thought. His beloved is in terror and he can not abide that, he has to reassure her somehow. He doesn't know how, but his new form has its own ideas how to convey his feelings, it whines and cowers and somehow achieves such a non-threatening appearance that she doesn't try to flee further. Emboldened, it crawls forward on its stomach until a cool snout cautiously nuzzles her knee.
She gives a start, and he jerks his head back, ashamed, and her eyes go wide in sudden understanding. "Oh Lord, you still recognize me, don't you? You still know who I am. Do you know who you are?"
It's hard, so very hard, to make sense of her words. But he manages, and manages, too, to nod his head.
The next moment she has thrown her arms around his neck, hugging him, petting him, burying her face in the thick fur on his shoulder, to whisper how she feared she had lost him forever...
He tentatively licks her hand and wishes he could tell her that she hasn't; that as long as she is safe, he will be content to lie at her feet, her guardian dog, for the rest of his days.
o o o o o o
He comes to the next morning, stiff, sore and disoriented, with a vague recollection of the weirdest dream he has ever had, and wonders how he might have ended up on this unfamiliar stone floor, because he definitely didn't have this much wine the last evening.
When he tries to sit up, he nearly gets a handful of talons to the face – or two handfuls, really, as a large hawk has apparently chosen his arm for a roost and is now flattering around in confusion. It is a beautiful bird, a female, judging by its size, but obviously distressed, screeching and flapping its wings wildly. He can not see any jesses to denote the owner, but it would be a shame to let such a magnificent creature batter itself to death against the walls of the chamber (however it might have gotten in here), so he throws his shirt over it and carefully lifts it up.
It calms surprisingly quickly, and he is able to find his way back to his chamber without accident, where it accepts the back of a chair for a perch. Then he has barely time to dunk his head in the wash bowl, to try and clear the cobwebs from his mind, before there's frantic knocking on his door.
It is the Lady d'Angoulême, Isabeau's cousin, who has come to tell him that his beloved has disappeared from her chamber during the night and could he spare a few men...? He has no idea what is going on, but something, maybe the ominous dream, gives him a very bad feeling about this and so he puts all available forces into the search.
He forgets all about the hawk.
o o o o o o
By sunset it is clear that Isabeau is no longer within the walls, unless she has sunk to the bottom of a well – and he will not contemplate that – and he calls off the men.
Not that he intends to stop searching, but for now... for now he has holed up in a distant corner of the battlements, staring down on the already shadowed town of Aquila and prays to God to show him what he has overlooked. For there must be something, she can not have disappeared into thin air. The last sunrays paint his folded hands in blood and then...
o o o o o o
The wolf of last night's dream shakily gets to its feet, sniffs the air and realizes that now he has a way to track his love where eyes can find no trace. He quickly trots back towards the palace, ducking past the guards with the ease of the ma..., the one who has chosen their stations and arranged their patrols.
He had meant to pick up the trail near her chambers, but he is still next to the Guards' Barracks when he catches her scent. He follows it, up and across the building and straight to the door of... his own chambers. Doors are tricky to open with no hands, but after the first two trials it is opened from the inside – and then he is so glad to have found her that he doesn't stop to think why she smells so weirdly of feathers and talons and rushing wind.
She tells him a strange story about a hawk and a wolf and a curse and the sun, but the words all tangle up in his head.
"I will write it down for you, to read in the morning," she says, "I can barely remember the day and I fear it is no better for you." She follows action to the words, and for some time he just watches her, rolled up on the floor, while she works on his desk.
"We must leave, whoever did this to us might still be here – tomorrow would be best. You will have much less trouble leaving with a hawk than I would have with solely a large hound for company." She laughs self-depreciatingly and nearly ends in a sob.
"You can even use the search for me as an excuse – I did understand it right this morning, and you were looking for me, didn't you? It's so hard to follow the words as a bird."
He knows that problem, but she talks slowly and clearly and so he nods his head.
o o o o o o
There is a half-packed saddle-bag on the floor next to his desk when he wakes the next morning – thankfully in his own bed – and a missive written in Isabeau's flowing hand atop it. He reads it while the hawk watches with inordinately intelligent, pale amber eyes, and is appalled.
"Isabeau?" he asks, halfway in denial, and the beautiful bird nods her sharp-beaked head.
An hour later he rides out through the outer gate, his horse packed with all necessities and a hawk riding the breeze above him, ostensibly to search for the Lady d'Anjou on the lands before the town.
o o o o o o
Six months into the curse, he has scared up every wise man, witch or other person even remotely knowledgeable of curses within two hundred miles of Aquila. Literally scared up, when a tall knight with a huge sword, dressed all in black, comes calling, especially the more shady characters get terrified, and even the most innocent ones can't help blanching.
Tellingly, the only one to tell him something even remotely useful, is the first that doesn't start quavering at his approach. In fact, she barely spares him a sidewise glance, before going back to helping an obstinate calf into the world. It is only afterwards, when her work is done and everything cleaned up, that she gives him a thorough look and says, "Oh my."
"Where is your other half?" she asks next, and "Your love?" when she sees the hawk.
It's a curse meant to torture the heart, less the body, she explains, compassion writ plain across her weathered face, she has heard of such things but she can not break it nor does she know of anyone who would do such a thing – except that they are most likely motivated by hatred born of twisted love.
o o o o o o
A year is almost over before he learns more.
He asks his usual questions at a tavern, when someone tells him of a lapsed monk, who started to weep up a strange tale of sun and moon and lovers and a curse, when someone paid him one cup of wine too many.
It's probably nothing but a tale, but the keywords are all there, and so he sets out to locate that strange monk.
When he finds him, he doesn't recognize his former confessor, at first, but Imperius recognizes him and breaks down blubbering, confessing everything he knows, for a change.
He does not draw steel on the old priest, but he comes awfully close to killing the man with his bare fists.
The next morning he finds a letter from Isabeau, telling him, "Take me away from this monster, as far as you can."
Of course he obeys.
A/N: I'm drawing on werewolf lore here, for a) the transformation is worst the first few times; and b) the more you get used to the animal shape, the more beastlike your mental processes. Wolf and Hawk as seen in the film are obviously at above ordinary intelligence for their respective species, but not under a human mind's control.