Whispers in the Wind
By: Hensbane

Part Seven

The leather craft hall lay still and silent as Hellbore entered through a smashed down door. The first thing she noticed was that the building was cold and silent, a thing which had never happened in her entire lifetime, for there were always fires going to keep the tanning pots boiling and the branding irons glowing. The noise inside should have been deafening at this time of day as the smiths pounded the sheets of pig iron into the shapes of weapons or saddle horns.

Silence hung as heavy as death in that place Hellbore knew so well. There was not a single person to be seen inside, nor outside. The odor of death clung to every board and cold greasy pot inside the cavernous building. Hellbore saw something bright and shiny lying on the straw covered floor and bent to pick it up. It was a special armband that Lars had made for his youngest brother, Michael, who was apprenticed to her father. Now the armband was bent and twisted by some powerful force.

"Michael? Are you in here?" Hellbore called out, and was surprised when her voice echoed off the high walls. "Where is everybody?" Hellbore shivered in fear as she walked through the hall.

There was no answer to her call just the echoing of her own voice off the high wooden walls. Hellbore looked in every section of the leather hall to find some clue as to what had happened to all the people who worked and lived there, but found nothing but curious brown splotches covering some of the walls that had once been whitewashed with slaked lime.

Hellbore wandered upstairs to her family’s living quarters. She found no one there either, just the echo of her own footsteps as she moved about from room to room. It was in the rooms set aside for the maids that she made another discovery of the strange brown splotches, this time they were larger and covered much of the back wall in long patterns as if someone had dripped paint there. On the floor she discovered that the rugs had been removed and that made her wonder what her mother would think of that when she came home. "Mother will really be upset if those rugs are damaged. She worked a long time to get them made." Hellbore spoke aloud again just to hear words in her ears. The silence was getting to her; it was a most unnerving situation.

Hellbore entered her own chambers and changed into a pair of leather breeches, a warm woolen shirt and fur-lined vest, the she pulled on a pair of Rhino hide knee boots and prepared to go outside the city gates and ask some questions about what happened to all her family and friends in Ducat. Before she left her room she pulled the carrying strap to her scabbard across her chest and made certain that her sword was properly in place, then she added a dirk to her boot holster and a wrist knife to her left wrist. When she was ready she reentered the outside world to find some answers to her questions. She did not like what she was told.

Part Eight

Hellbore sat on a high ridge that overlooked Ducat, her face a study of pain and shock. Her entire family was dead, except herself. Lars and everyone else in Ducat were gone too. She alone survived the attack of the wild beasts that had murdered her family and friends on what should have been her wedding day.

"Alone. I am alone." Hellbore cried out to the wind as tears ran freely down her cheeks. "How could this have happened? We were the Vinkins! Warriors are not just wiped from the face of the land. It just cannot be!" Hellbore cried out as she realized that it was indeed true. Someone or something had come and killed them all.

"You are not alone, Hellbore Reid." A deep voice spoke behind her.

Hellbore jumped in surprise and fear as she whirled around to face the intruder. She halted in her tracks when she saw the tall horned man standing higher up on the ridge.

He wore mottled hides of some strange animal and had antlers on his head like a large deer, his eyes were the color of the damp earth found in the forest and in them Hellbore thought that she could just make out animals running and playing. His hair was gray, like the color of snow-laden clouds, and the wrinkles that covered his face looked like the bark of a yew tree.

"Who or what are you?" Hellbore stuttered in shock.

"Some call me the green man, or man of the woods. I prefer to be known as the Keeper of the Woods. I protect life in my forests, I keep the world safe from itself." The man cocked his head to look at her as he tried to explain in words she might understand.

"Well, I am not a woodland creature, nor do I slaughter them as so many hunters are known to do, so why are you here with me now?" Hellbore answered with a hint of irritation coloring her voice. She did not want some possibly mythical creature interfering with her time of grief. She had heard all the tales of this woodland watcher from her father and her brothers and how they always left a gift for each animal they took for food and hide. But that had nothing to do with her, she only turned the hides and furs into boots and saddles, she did not hunt the beasts.

"You, through no choice of your own, have joined my world, child." The Keeper’s voice sounded like a gentle breeze through the fir trees as he spoke to her.

"Your world? I beg you to explain." Hellbore was becoming more and more irritated as this creature with the strange horns continued to interfere with her time of mourning.

"You have become a moon walker, child of the night. In five days time the full moon will rise and it shall call to you. You must go away from any and all human folk lest the beast decide to destroy them like the others did to your family and friends." The Keeper told the shocked and disbelieving young woman standing before him.

Hellbore had had enough of this nonsense and turned to walk back down the ridge to the nearly deserted town. Only the crew of the Queens Dragon remained in the area since all the other ships had returned to their home ports bearing the tragic news of loss to the parents of all those killed in Ducat.

"You have on your left shoulder blade a birthmark, the mark of a howling wolf, do you not?" The horned man asked Hellbore.

"What do you know of my birthmark?" Hellbore stared hard at the man with the antlers on his head.

"It is a special mark, one that would have gradually brought you to me in the future time. It is the mark of the shapeshifters. But now you have survived the bite of a werewolf and shall now have to face that overwhelming pull of the hunger for the MEAT! Just as those who destroyed all those you knew and loved, so shall you be driven to do the same to others, unless you allow me to guide that first changing to bring out the true spirit that you were born to bear."

"What in Minerva’s heaven are you talking about old man?" Hellbore snapped she was not amused by this old man’s absurdity. This was the real world, not a fairytale told to children.

"Come to me in three nights time and I shall prove to you the truth of my words." The horned man calmly replied, then added, "If you do not come you shall become as the others, and you shall destroy all those who come near you." So saying, the old turned on his right heel and vanished below the ridge.

Hellbore ran up to where he had stood but a second before, he was gone. Hellbore ran down the ridge until she reached to bottom of the rise, but there was no sign of where he had gone, not even a footprint marked his trail.

Hellbore’s mind was filled with images from her childhood storybooks of werewolves roaming the wild woods seeking out human flesh under the light of a pale full moon. The very idea that she would become a great hairy long toothed creature that would stalk after young children was ridiculous. "The old man must be some crazy hermit!" Hellbore snarled aloud as she walked back down to the place of the burning in the old market place outside Ducat. She headed toward a group of sailors who were cleaning up another of the huge pyres, the ashes gathered in woven sacks to be dumped at sea.

"What do you men really think happened here?" Hellbore politely asked the whispering men. She was surprised when instead of answering her right away; they stared at her in silence, a tinge of fear in their eyes.

"Excuse us, please." One of the men relied as he slowly backed away from the tall fox-haired female dressed in the clothing of men. He nodded to the others and they all walk-ran away from the area.

"Now what was that all about?" Hellbore asked herself. She shook her head in wonder and went to seek out the medic who had befriended her these past days. Maybe he could explain what was going on here.

"Jorge?" Hellbore said as she approached the older man still kneeling by the remains of the last pyre.

Jorge looked up and Hellbore saw the terror in the old man’s eyes as he gazed upon her standing there before him, dressed in men’s clothing and wearing the weapons of a warrior looking like a valkerie come down from Valhalla.

"What is the matter with everyone? Why are you looking at me like that, Jorge?" Hellbore asked as she extended a hand to help him off his knees.

"Verkaylac!" Jorge screamed as he crawled away from her.

Verkaylac? A night beast? Hellbore could not understand what the man was saying. Why would he call her such a thing?

"Ye have survived the bite of one of those creatures that destroyed everyone else." Jorge uttered the words that sent a shiver up Hellbore’s spine. "The moon rises in three nights and we must be gone from here before it rises yet again." Jorge began backing away from Hellbore and then after regaining his feet he started running back toward his ship, leaving a startled and hurt Hellbore standing there in that place staring after him.

When she tried to get back onto the ship, she was told to go away and never come near it again. Her belongings were thrown onto the dock in front of her and the gangplank raised against her. Hellbore was left alone in that place that was once her happy home. Hellbore sighed deeply and with a regretful resignation she picked up the remains of her wedding outfit and returned to what had once been her home, Ducat.

The Queens Dragon departed on the morning tide and she never saw it again. Hellbore wandered about the town for two more days and on the third day she returned to the ridge above the town to wait for the old man with the funny horns to make an appearance. The sun had barely crested the western edge of the sea when she heard his footsteps coming up behind her.

"So you stayed to see if my words were true?" The horned man remarked as he bent his knees to sit beside her. "Look down at your hand, Hellbore Reid."

Hellbore did and nearly fainted when she saw that her fingernails had grown longer in the short time she had sat on the ridge. Five thick talons had replaced her normally short neat fingernails. She never went for the long fashionable ones because of her working with leather, long nails got in the way of using the awls and needles she used everyday.

Hellbore felt a strange agitation rising inside her as the first crescent of the moon peeked over the eastern ridge of hills above her.

"Growl!" Came the sound from Hellbore’s throat.

"It begins, child. Now you must follow my words and do as I tell you." The horned man had taken her head in his hands and was speaking a so soft a voice that it might have been nothing more that the rustling of leaves in an evening breeze.

Hellbore tried to wrest herself away from those hands that felt like iron bands holding her head. But she could not move, not an inch.

"You have been called to walk with the moon, now you must resist that calling. Hear only my words, child of the night. You must see what was meant to be in your world. You must learn to control your changes, as you desire them to be. What you are is not truly a werewolf but a shapeshifter who came into her change before her time. Look now into my eyes and see the truth of my words."

Hellbore looked deeply into the horned man’s eyes and saw ravaging beasts waiting there and she whimpered in fear. The old man held her head tighter and did not let her go. Then Hellbore saw great beasts flying overhead and felt her own body rise to join those beautiful creatures. Next came visions of other animals and she felt her body change to join them, when the visions were finished and the horned man finally released her head, Hellbore saw that she still knelt at the old man’s feet, but she was changed. A red wolf sat before the old man, her head resting in he old man’s lap.

"Now, child of the moon and of the night, remember that you must ever ride the moon and never let the moon ride your soul. You are in control, so go run with your little brothers and enjoy the night." So saying the old man released the wolf’s head and she took off across the backside of the ridge.

Part Nine

The red wolf ran until she was nearly exhausted, over a mountain ridge, through a small forest and down along the shore of a lake of pristine blue water. Her powerful legs made short work of distances, her senses recording every new scent she found in those places; deer, bear and elk; a rabbit warren, a fox den and a crevasse where snakes were hibernating. She sensed humans on that first run also, but she felt no desire to rend their flesh, she was only curious about them, so she spent a good three hours just watching their camp and what those men did there. Then a scent she remembered from somewhere reached her newly attuned senses, a scent that made the hackles on her neck rise and an anger stir inside her. The smell did not belong to the five human hunters, who were stalking prey on the rise above the red wolf’s position but she began trailing them through the dense woods. She would stop when they stopped and then she would give forth a howl that would scare off the game they had been trailing. This amused the red wolf and she began to travel down hill again trying to locate the scent that brought the red thoughts to her mind.

The air was heavy with the musky scent that grew stronger with each rise she crossed, until at last it burned her nose with its nearness. The smell came from a small cave that had been dug out in a dirt hillside.

"That was some party we had back there in Ducat!" A male spoke, interrupting his speech several times to take a swig off of a ceramic bottle.

The red wolf watched as another man reached for the container and heard. "Yeah! Old Lars Reid looked so surprised when you tore the head off that hag of a wife of his. I thought I would bust a gut when her head landed at is feet."

"It served him right. He never should have reported Gustav to the local constable over the theft of one saddle." The man called Otis responded.

"Too bad Gustav ordered everybody killed, I would loved to have had a go at that red-haired daughter of his."

The red wolf hunkered down close to the ground and listened until the men had gone to sleep or passed out from all the heady drink they had imbibed. When the sounds of their voices had diminished into nothingness, she crept forward from her position below their small cave and peeked inside to see the killers of her family for the first time.

The stench of unwashed flesh nearly sickened the red wolf, but she curled her upper lips instead as she gazed upon men she had once seen in Ducat. They were no more than thieves and molesters, who had haunted the back allies of Ducat, preying on children and the elderly. Suddenly the red wolf was overcome with a rage so powerful it robbed her of all conscious memory.

The red wolf’s next conscious thought was of smelling blood and offal and that the small dug out cave was covered in dark red splotches of flesh and brain matter. She had no idea of what had happened during her lapse of memory but it drove her from that cave and back into the hills. Her powerful legs carried her far beyond that area, she ran all day as the sun shone down on her matted red fur, and by the time the sun was ready to leave the sky, she found the horned man once again.

Panting and gasping for breath she laid her massive head on the old man’s lap, her yellow-green eyes stared up at him, and a tiny yelp came from her throat.

"So, you have made a kill?" The old man said as he rubbed her blood-encrusted fur with his large gnarled hand.

The red wolf whimpered and pushed against his hand with her massive head.

Holding both sides of her head once more the old man called her forward to human form once more, but she did not want to return to the world of men. She resisted his efforts for a while until finally her body began shifting of its own accord and answered for her.

"Why? Why did you bring me back? There is nothing here in this world for me. As a wolf I felt free and happy as I ran through the forests and over the mountains. I ate the hot sweet flesh of rabbits and deer until I was sated, leaving the remains for the small brothers who trailed me everywhere." Hellbore explained as she leaned her red head against the old man’s shoulder. "All the pain was gone, I was happy as the wolf."

"No, you have work to do in the human world. You are here for a purpose. What else do you remember?" The horned man asked Hellbore.

"Nothing. I ran with the little gray and black brothers and fed off of the beasts of the forest. That is all." Hellbore shivered as she felt something try to push itself forward and into conscious memory, something she did not want to remember.

"No, child of the night. To become what you must become, you cannot bury the memories of a kill. Now, the truth of what has happened." The old man held on tightly to her head again as he stared deeply into her pain filled eyes.

"No! No I do not want to remember!" Hellbore screamed in pain.

"Then you are doomed to become like those who destroyed your family." The old man sighed; still not letting her head go.

"I found the ones who slayed my family. I killed them, but I did not eat of their flesh. Their scent was still on my wedding outfit and I followed to them." Hellbore said in a deadened voice.

"Did you kill the hunters in the woods?"

"No! Why would I kill them? They only hunted the beasts of the woods for food and hides. They were fun to tease and cause consternation when I howled and chased off their game, but to kill them, no." Hellbore looked up in surprise at her own words. It hit her then, she had not killed for pleasure, she had not eaten the MEAT!

"So, now we begin your training, Hellbore Reid." The old horned man pulled Hellbore to her feet and led her away from the ridge and into a place where few creatures had ever gone.