Once upon a time there was a young maiden that seemed to come straight from a storybook. Long, flowing brown hair that seemed to float about her head and shoulder and always catch the glint of sunlight with it's shine. Her eyes the most beautiful shade of green, and deep enough to easily get lost in. Her skin was smooth and soft and the envy of all the girls. This young maiden's body seemed to nearly be taken from a young boys dreams, so slim and shapely was it. And then, beyond the mere physical aspects of her beauty was her mind. The mind of this particular young maiden was truly something to behold. Her imagination and intelligence were seldom tested, so quick of whit was she. When all of these features were combined together in one nearly perfect body, she seemed so nearly flawless as to be an angel. Then she would smile, and any heart looking upon her would break anew and the beauty and purity displayed.
The scales of balance seldom allow one person to much favor, however. For this maiden was plagued by a very trying and difficult life. Practically from the moment the world was blessed with her newborn presence into it, in fact. From jealous and cruel parents to the taunting and teasing of her ill mannered peers, the maiden struggled to pursue the more noble goals in life. Many times, in her kind hearted ways she was tricked into being hurt by the more wicked facets of life. Many times her trusting ways led her to be ambushed by grief, whether it be a simple untruth told to her, or the more intricate lie of a potential suitor that could see no further then her physical beauty and her parents their gain should her hand be won.
One day this delicate young flower of a girl was performing a chore for her mother. Often her mother would demand that the girl do some trivial duty for her, more out of a sense of corrupt power then anything else. On this particular day it was nearing the end of winter, and the sun was about to make the light coating of snow dazzle beautifully. Her task was to walk into the local village and purchase some specially treated medicinal roots from the apothecary for her mothers numerous aches and pains. Her strong spirit unbowed by the task, the young maiden set out for the village. The beauty of the day was not lost on her, and indeed, it alone kept her from feeling the cold of the weather.
Her task completed a few hours later, the maiden sought to return to the poorly maintained hut her family eked out a living in. Just out of town she realized that she was being followed. Knowing the types of people that lived in the village, the maiden quickly picked up her pace. In her haste, she missed her path and soon found herself lost. She turned again and again, trying to find her path and her way back home to safety. As the daylight waned and the sub began to set the maiden began to grow even more frightened. She could still hear her pursuers, and they seemed to be gaining on her, in spite of the random turns she took through the forest of evergreens.
The maiden could see her breath before her face, and knew that it was growing too cold with the night for her to possibly survive without a fire or at very least a sheltered place to stay. She continued on, her lungs and legs both straining against the cold and exhaustion. She turned down a new path finally, one she had not seen before. The light of the full moon before her on the ground, lighting the way well.
The maiden discovered that the path she had just went down was a poor choice, for it ended suddenly at a cave. Thinking that some animal or creature lived within the cave, the maiden quickly turned to flee. Her pursuers had caught her, however. Four men stood on the path, preventing her escape. She recognized them as youths from the village, and not a one of them was often complimented for manners or good grace.
They advanced on her slowly, leers on their faces at the carnal thoughts going through their heads. The maiden retreated again, forgetting the dark and foreboding cave behind her. She stepped back again and again until she bumped into the rock that formed the entrance of the cave. With a startled gasp, she looked behind and realized her position. Terror threatened to overtake her.
The dangerous youths advanced on her and, seeing her hopelessly trapped, they grinned lecherously. Then, as one, their eyes widened in surprise. A figure darted by the maiden's leg, coming out of the cave so quickly that she had to be certain she hadn't imagined it. It was indeed an animal, though a very noble looking one. A wolf with silver fur.
The wolf growled at the men and advanced on them. The would-be aggressors were filled with fear. As the wolf's mouth widened to show its sharp and dangerous teeth, they turned and ran. The wolf stood there a moment longer, its hackles raised at them. Then it turned to the maiden and walked up to her.
The maiden was grateful for the sudden reprieve from the men, but her fear returned when she realized that the wolf could quickly end her life before she had ever known joy. She shivered as the wolf sat on its haunches in front of her. There seemed to be an intelligence in the wolf's brown eyes as it looked into her own. For how long the starred at one another, the maiden did not know. All she knew was she felt safe from the wolf, and as though it was trying to tell her something. Finally the beast shook its head in a way most canine and yet not. It opened its maw and bit down on her shirt cuff lightly. It backed into the cave and gently pulled her in behind it.
The maiden followed the wolf into the cave, her mind beyond fear now. She had to crouch, but the wolf led her to a small room where she could sit down and stretch out her legs on the dirt and rock floor. She did so and looked at the wolf, suppressing another shiver. The wolf moved next to her and laid down so as to aid her with its body heat. Thinking herself quite mad, the maiden surrendered to her exhaustion and curled up about the wolf, dropping off into a very peaceful sleep from which she did not know if she would awaken.
When the morning came the maiden awoke with a start. She found herself alone inside the cave and had to wonder if she imagined some of what had happened. Immediately she remembered her family and knew how angry they would be at her for not returning the day before. She gathered herself together and made her way out of the cave. Back in the sunlight, she looked about and saw proof that she had not imagined any of it, for the tracks of the village men and the wolf were still very fresh in the snow. She shuddered and quickly began to move down the path to try and find her way home again.
"Where are you going without so much as a thank you?"
The maiden spun about, her heart in her throat. She saw a man sitting on the rock above the cave. He was an average looking man, or of an average build at least, yet one look in his eyes told her that he was by no means an average person. The man hopped off the rock and walked up to her. He took her hand and kissed it tenderly.
"My apologies, my lady, for I have startled you," the man said. "I am but a wandering man with no taste for the cities. I was coming back her last night and I found that my pet wolf had already discovered you. I saw how comfortable you were, so I let you stay. I wish you no harm."
The maiden looked upon the man and noticed the design on his tunic, as well as the sword as his side. An overheard snort caused her to look behind her, where she saw a magnificent black stallion coming down the path to stop at the man's side. She had heard of this man, had heard him many times. It was said that he was a knight, though a black and evil one that never let anyone who saw him live to tell of it. Funny, the maiden though, if he never let anyone live, how did anyone know about him? Yet as the maiden looked into the man's eyes, she saw a warmth hidden within. She saw a promise of something grand. She found herself feeling that she had known this man all of her life, and that he had known her all of his.
"Can I offer to take you home, milady?"
The maiden snapped out of her reverie and nodded, remembering that the stories told to her by her family said that she should be afraid. Yet she found that she could not fear this strange knight.
"Are you a knight?" She finally asked.
The man smiled sadly at her. "No, milady. I am no knight. I only try to do the best that I can to help out. I am afraid that, try as hard as I might, I have done more harm then good in my time."
The woman nodded, her feeling uncertain and confused. The man helped her up onto his horse and they rode for several hours, talking to one another the whole time. Finally the man turned to her and asked, "Where am I taking you, milady?"
Realizing with a blush that she had not told the man where she lived, she opened her mouth to speak. The she realized she did not want this worldly and sophisticated man to know where she lived, for surely he would lose any interest in her instantly upon seeing the shack. She smiled at him apologetically and said, "Can we not ride some more?"
The man shrugged and the continued to ride for most of the day. Near sunset, the man again asked her where she lived. Frowning , the maiden gave him vague directions, and as soon as she was near her home she had him drop her off, claiming that she would be in trouble if she were to be delivered by a stranger. That was well and true, but she knew she would be in enough trouble as it were for being so late. Still, the maiden felt it was worth it to have had the adventure she had with the man.
As she turned to walk down the path towards her house the man called out to her. She turned to see him standing on the ground behind her. He smiled sadly and again took her hand in his. Kissing it tenderly, he let a single tear roll down his face. Saying nothing else, he turned and mounted his horse and was gone. The maiden stood there for several minutes, watching him go. Tears had also fallen from her face, but she could not remember a time when she had been happier.
The maiden did indeed get in trouble for her tardiness. But in spite of their renewed cruelties, she searched again and again for the man. She had mentioned him to no one, and with no new news of a great man on a magnificent black horse, she again began to wonder at her own sanity. A full month passed, and once again her mother sent her into the village to fetch some herbs for her.
This time fate was against her, for she ran into that same group of ruffians on the way into town. They quickly subdued her and carried her off into the woods where they could work their own brand of evil upon her. Two of them held her down while another kept watch. The fourth ruffian advanced on her with lust in his eyes.
The man keeping watch cried out as a rock cracked into his skull, knocking him unconscious. The other three spun to face the threat and saw the man standing before them. The drew knives and advanced, meaning to avenge their fallen comrade. In a quick scuffle the man had used his sword to disarm one of the men and to wound another. The remaining man helped his friends as they beat a hasty retreat, scared off once blood was drawn.
The maiden picked herself up from the ground and rushed forward to hug her savior. Tears flowed quite freely from her eyes as they embraced. Then she found herself holding him up. She broke away as he stumbled and grabbed onto a tree to keep from falling. She saw the growing patch of red on his side and knew he had been stabbed.
She helped the man onto his horse and he told her where to take him, back to the cave. With his guidance, the maiden piloted the horse there quite easily. Once there, she stripped his shirt off of him and dressed the wound as best she could. It was a bad wound, but he was in no danger of dying. She thanked him time and again. Smiling weakly, he returned her thanks for helping him with his wound.
"Milady, I have but one request. If you have any kindness or gratitude in your heart for me at all, I beg of you do not leave this cave tonight."
The maiden found it an odd request, but not wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth, she quickly agreed. The day wore on and soon dusk fell. The maiden fell asleep in the man's arms, feeling more safe and secure then ever before in her life.
Sometime in the middle of the night she woke to the sound of a howl. She looked about but could not find the man who had saved her. Not thinking, she crawled through the cave towards the entrance. Remembering her promise, she stopped at the opening, not quit leaving it. The sight that awaited her left her speechless. In the small clearing outside of the cave the maiden saw several wolves of varying colors and sizes. Through movements, howls, and yips, it appeared that they were communicating. Then she saw the beautiful silver wolf that had saved her. She saw the wolf and she saw the wound in its side.
The maiden sat there, stunned, unable to think. The silver wolf turned and saw her. It looked into her eyes and she could sense a great sadness. The maiden turned, refusing to accept what she had seen. Behind her, the wolf raised its head towards the full moon and let loose the most painful and mournful howl she had ever heard. Back in the room her mind once again allowed her body to fall asleep, though she had no memory of when or how it happened.
In the morning, the maiden crawled out of the cave, convinced she had just had a strange and wild dream in the night. Outside the cave she found a letter that was addressed to her. Opening it she felt tears rush to her eyes while she read it;
"My dearest lady,
The stories of my existence are so great and filled with evil that they are Beyond my means of undoing. Long ago I was cursed for a mistake I made. A curse I laid upon myself. Now I travel the world as a man most of the time, and as a bloodthirsty wolf at others. Please understand that you are in no danger and that I will never allow any harm to come to you if it be within my power to prevent it. Of all times, I thought that never again could I feel love. You have allowed me this, and I must end it now ere it consumes me again as it did before. I will always be watching over you, but please never again look for me, for I could not stand your rejection."
The maiden clutched the letter to her chest and wept unashamedly. She turned and saw the stallion staring at her. In its eyes she though she saw a hint of anger, perhaps some sadness as well. She walked up to the great horse, sniffing back tears. She reached up to pet it but the stallion shook its head and kept it out of her reach. Her eyes again filling with tears, she hung her head. The stallion whickered softly and gently nudged her with its nose. She looked up through blurry eyes and saw that it had moved and that it wanted her to mount it.
The maiden climbed into the saddle and stared off into space as the horse quickly returned her home. She dismounted and went inside, stopping only long enough to watch the beautiful stallion turn and galloped away. She found in her pocket the herbs she had been sent to the village for, as well as a pouch of money that had not been there before. She smiled sadly and went off to attend her duties.
Months passed by quickly, and with every full moon the maiden could hear a long and mournful howl in the wind. A howl that threatened to bring tears to her eyes every time she heard it. She did try to look for the man / wolf on several occasions, but never was she able to find him.
He still watched out for her though, Whenever she was sent into town, she could feel his protective presence nearby. Never again was she bothered by the ruffians or brawlers in the village. Indeed, because of this protection and the special feeling it provided her, she held her head up higher and walker straighter. People began to notice her more, and soon it was that almost never was a harsh thing said about her. The maiden found herself becoming truly happy, found herself becoming truly alive. The maiden found herself missing the man who had taken her life under his protection and then given it back.
Rumors always abounded of wolves killing farm animals, and in especially hard winters, wolves had even been known to attack humans. The maiden always grew tense whenever she head of this, for such animals were almost always hunted down and destroyed. In nine long months of joy and sadness, never once did she hear of a silver wolf being hunted or even spotted.
Then one day on a return trip from the village two of the infamous thugs that had assaulted her in the past caught up to her with the intent of making her pay for their embarrassment before. She was taken into the woods and her clothing ripped from her body harshly. One of the men secured her while the other began to ravage her body even more. Before he could complete his invasion of her he found himself flying bodily over the both of them.
The maiden watched in awe as the wolf landed upon the now supine man's back and dug its hind claws in. The claws left bloody furrows in his flesh, causing him to arch his back in pain and raise up his head. The wolf took the opportunity to tear out the man's throat.
The other attempted rapist stumbled backwards quickly. He turned and ran towards the village, terrified. In a second, the wolf was after him. The maiden lay on the ground, stunned by the turn of events. She could hear the man screaming hysterically about a wolf attack. She gathered some of her sense about her and grabbed up what little she could of her torn and rent clothing.
As the maiden tried, and failed, to cover herself modestly, she heard the man scream again. The wolf had caught him. She could also hear the cries of the villagers rushing out to investigate. She prayed that the wolf would get away in time. She knew that if she were found here the superstitious villagers would put her and the wolf in league together. She quickly fled back towards her house.
News traveled quickly, and by the next day she had learned that a hunting party was being assembled to hunt down a silver wolf that had been seen killing two boys from the village. Somebody had wounded it that night with an arrow, so it should not be too hard to find. She kept her emotions in check, but as soon as she was alone she allowed the tears to flow.
The maiden knew where to find it. As soon as she could she spirited away from the nearly ruined hovel she was forced to call home and rushed through the woods. She knew she could find the man at the cave, but every time she had looked for it, it had been impossible to find. She wandered for hours, finally getting herself thoroughly lost. Off in the distance she could hear the braying of the dogs in the hunting party, so she knew she must be close
After the sun set, it was too dark in the forest for her to do much more then wander blindly. She came upon a crossroads of sorts and studied each direction, trying to decide which to choose. She felt something moist and warm blown on the back of her neck. Turning quickly, she was startled to find the black stallion standing behind her. It pawed the ground impatiently and moved so that she could mount it.
The stallion took the maiden down the path she had already been on. She nearly smacked herself when she saw the stallion turn and walk down another path that seemed to be plain as day now, but was all but invisible before. The path ended nowhere else but at the entrance to the cave.
The maiden quickly jumped down from the stallion and ran into the cave. She crawled back to the room and found the man laying on the ground, curled up in a ball. He was naked, and an arrow stuck out from the left side of his chest. Around the wound was a fine silver down that she knew to be the same stuff the wolf used for fur.
She moved beside the man and gently ran her hand down his forehead. His eyes opened and he looked up at her. In his eyes she could see pain at first, then incredible happiness. Finally she once again saw pain, though this time it was of a different sort.
"I told you never to seek me out," he said to her, his teeth clenched.
"The hunters will be here soon, we must get you away!" She hissed, ignoring him.
"Let them come, I don't care anymore."
The maiden shrank back and looked at him, the man that come to mean so much to her. The man who had turned her life around and had taught her everything about who she was. She looked at him and a great sadness began to grow in her heart. Then she shook her head defiantly and said, "No!"
The man opened his eyes in surprise and looked at her.
"I said no! I'm not going to let you do this to me!"
Surprise and confusion again on the man's face. He took a breath then went into a fit of wracking coughs. Before he could mount and defense, the maiden moved and knelt straddling his back. She reached down and grabbed the feathered end of the arrow. Clenching her teeth, she snapped the feathered end off. The man gasped in pain and tried to get her off of him, but he was to weak from loss of blood. The maiden the grabbed the head of the arrow and, in one smooth motion, jerked it all the way through his chest.
The man's face turned white as he felt the arrow pull through him. He struggled to breath, the air hissing out the hole in his chest. The maiden knew from stories that this was a very bad wound, and that he would probably drown in his own blood, but she was unwilling to let him lay down and accept that. She grabbed hold of him by the shoulders and began to pull him out of the cave. The man helped what little he could, but the agony of the wound and his shortness of breath handicapped him greatly.
Finally the maiden had pulled him free of the cave. The stallion neighed in anger at what had happened to its master, and moved over beside them. The stallion knelt down to help the maiden put the man on its back. Then the maiden mounted the horse as well. The horse turned and moved off as quickly as it dated, heading back down the path and from there directly into the forest keep the hunters from following them.
"You risked everything to help me, " the man said. "Why?"
The maiden sat beside him, feeding him from a bowl of stew she had made. They were far from the forest and her home village now, up on the side of a mountain looking across the valley that she had never left in her entire life.
"Because you risked everything to help me," she answered finally.
"But I am a monster!" He said. "Look at me! No normal man could survive a wound such as I had, yet it is healing well and quickly on me."
The maiden nodded and fed him another spoonful of stew.
"I am cursed to walk the land as a wolf on certain nights, and what I do on those nights I rarely know! I am a murderer and a killer, and by helping me escape, you can never go back to your people!"
The maiden put the bowl down and stared into the man's eyes. In spite of the anger there, she saw all of the same things she had seen before in them. "If those were truly my people, then I would have been helping them hunt you. If those were truly my people, you would never have helped me in the first place," she stopped and smiled through the tears that began to grow in her eyes. "If I were like those people, I wouldn't be able to see beyond your curse. I wouldn't be able to feel the love I feel for you."
The man stared up at her but said nothing. The anger fled almost instantly from his eyes. He sighed deeply and said, "but look at me, you can never have me, for I am cursed to walk the land forever. What kind of man is it who hunts on four legs?"
The maiden smiled again and said, "What kind of man is it? It is the man I have fallen in love with. You have done nothing but good by me, and I would forgive you anything were it otherwise. But if you wish to be with me, you must forgive yourself."
The man turned and looked across the top of the valley, lost in thought. "I am a man who dreamed he was a wolf who dreamed he was a man who dreamed of something better."
Knowing he expected no answer, the maiden merely listened.
"I fell in love once," he began, "long, long ago. We were out hunting for our children, and we came across the lair of a great cat. She insisted that we should keep looking, for she could hear the lynx's kittens within. It being a very hard winter, I figured that the lynx den was an excellent option, for not only would we remove competition form the food chain, but we would also be able to provide for ourselves and our young.
"I think it was her mothering instincts that made it so difficult for her to agree with me, but in the end, she could not refuse me anything. As well I could refuse her nothing, but I was so intent on this idea that it seemed perfection to me. We crept into the lair found that the lynx had left her kittens unguarded. We made quick work of them, something to this day I am not proud of, but yet something that was not uncommon and indeed necessary in nature. She held the body of a baby lynx in her mouth and turned to leave the den.
"Still inside, I heard the roar of the mother. I turned and rushed out, but not in time to save her. The mother lynx had already killed her. In a frenzy, I attacked, ripping the surprised lynx apart before it could fully bring itself to attack me. Afterwards, I wandered for days, not eating, sleeping only when I passed out from exhaustion.
"I hated myself, you see. I had let my pride get in the way and I had killed the one thing that had mattered more to me then anything else in my now miserable life. I cursed myself and I wanted to die."
The man turned to look at the maiden and smiled weakly. "Somehow, that next day, I awoke to the world and felt strange. I was cold. I struggled to my feet and I realized that I had changed. I had become a man. This put a great amount of fear in me! I again ran myself to the point of exhaustion, but I would not die. I could not die. I gradually learned to take control of my human body. I learned how to make it work and how to speak. At first the new power thrilled me, and I reveled in it, thinking that perhaps I was meant for something great. But always there was the pain of what had happened. And always was there the blame I put upon myself.
"When I changed back on that first full moon, I thought it all a dream, but when that moon was over, I returned to the form of a human. It was so confusing and so frightening in the beginning. But now I am so used to it that I often forget which one I am."
"Which one is that?" The maiden asked softly, taking his hand in hers.
The man looked at her in surprise. He brought his eyes back into focus and smiled bitterly. "I tell a great story. Most, maybe all, wolves are not as intelligent as I claim to have been. Perhaps there is more to me then I will ever know. Perhaps one day I will find out. Right now, I really do not care."
The man smiled again after another moment of thought. "Which one am I? Why, I don't know anymore. Which one do you want me to be?"
The maiden brushed away a tear from her cheek and said, "I don't care, I love you in spite of it!"
The man smiled and brought his other hand up to clasp the girls. He lay his head back down and closed his eyes. "Thank you," he whispered.
The maiden gasped as she saw the wound in his rapidly pucker and begin to heal before her very eyes. The hole closed quickly and the flesh knit itself back together. Then redness faded from it. Finally all that was left was pink, unblemished skin. The final stage of the healing was when a soft breeze came up and picked up all the silver wolf fur around the wound and sent it floating away in the wind.
The man opened his eyes and smiled sadly at her. "I'm sorry."
The woman watched as the man curled up into a ball. He mind refused to accept what her eyes told her was happening. She saw the muscles shift and move under his skin. Heard the bones grate and pop as they reshaped and rearranged themselves. Then the silver fur popped through his skin and soon he was covered with it. Finally, her mouth open in shock and tears running freely down her cheeks, the wolf stood up and shook himself as though he was trying to rid himself of the last of his humanity.
The wolf sat down and looked into the maiden's eyes, matching her confused gaze with a penetrating one of his own. The maiden's hand came up slowly, her brain barely functioning. The hand moved towards the wolf's head, but fell short when her strength deserted her. The wolf moved forward and gently licked the trails of tears on her cheeks. The maiden's arms went around the wolf, and she clung to him as though he was a rope keeping her from falling over a cliff.
Never again did the wolf become a man. Never again did he leave the side of the woman. Late at night when the maiden was sleeping the wolf would sing to the moon and tell it his sorrows. Late at night when the wolf thought her asleep and has howling mournfully at the moon, the maiden would let the tears flow as she reflected on the things she had seen and felt.