Monday, November 25, 2013

V9:Chapter Seven-A Lady and a Wolf

Volume Nine
Chapter Seven
A Lady and a Wolf 
In which Dodger hears a terrible tale

“He lived alone deep in the forest surrounding my village,” Lelanea continued, “and only came into town to trade furs or deliver firewood. The townsfolk said he was a recluse. My father called him trouble. But I was fascinated by him. He was big and strong and so handsome. I took to walking through the forest alone; just to see if I could run across him. I did, several times, and he was always kind to me. He would offer to lead me home or just sit and speak with me for a few minutes before he went about his lonesome way. He always had a smile for me. His name was Daniel, but that is all I knew about him.”

“He sounds like a fine man,” Dodger said.

“He was. But my father was correct, he was trouble. More than I could possibly imagine. One late night I overheard my parents whispering in their bedroom, and learned they had promised me to the Earl. I did the only thing I could do. I ran away … to him. I foolishly thought he might secretly be in love with me.”

“He wasn’t.”

Lelanea shook her head as she looked away. “Not only that, he was furious that I sought him out. He said I was lucky he found me before something else did, though at the time I insisted it was fate. Daniel took me back to his home, and bade me to remain there until he could fetch my father to retrieve me. I was devastated. Not only did the man I love not love me in return, but he wanted to throw me back into the life my parents had planned for me. So I ran from him too, right into the dark of the woods.

She stopped in her tale, and Dodger got the sense she was gathering her courage, that the next bit was going to be the most difficult for her to say aloud.

“You don’t have to finish,” Dodger said.

“I was young and foolish,” she said. “The forest is a dangerous enough place for a young woman during the sunlit hours. At night, it is a terror to behold. I knew what was out there, but I was blinded by my rage and walked right into it anyway. Specifically, I came across a wild boar and her young. She gored me before I even knew what was happening. I remember the sound of her moving in the underbrush, and then I was face down in the pine needles, bleeding to death.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Not as sorry as I was. I should’ve died there on the forest floor. I should’ve bled to death with a lesson well learned. But I didn’t. Daniel found me.”

“He saved your life.”

“No. He damned me to this one.” Lelanea finally raised her head to face Dodger. Tears glistened in the soft light. “There was a reason he lived deep in the woods by himself. Because he was … well I’m sure you have figured it out by now. He infected me with his curse and yes it did heal me and keep me alive, but he didn’t do it to save my life, or because he loved me. He only did so because he worried everyone would think he had killed me.” She let out a soft laugh. “Daniel was smart to do so, because when he went to my father with my broken body dangling from his arms, they immediately accused him. They put him in the stockade, and set the following night to execute him.”

Dodger wondered at the idea of someone using a stockade. Just how long ago did this story take place?

“Lucky for him,” she said, “I recovered consciousness in time to explain what really happened. The town apologized to Daniel, and my parents offered him anything he wanted in return. He asked for my hand, and they gave it to him because I was no good to them anymore. I had ruined my chances for the life they had planned. The Earl didn’t want a scandal as his wife. My parents were ashamed of me. No one wanted me.”

“Daniel did, surely.”

“I admit he was kind enough to take me in when no one else would, but he owed it to me. Daniel was responsible for my new condition. He turned me into this thing, and he was honor bound to teach me how to control it. Over time, I learned the ways of his people, and they became my people.”

“And he learned to love you?”

Lelanea looked up to Dodger with a gasp. “Who told you that?”

“You told me by the way you talk about him. Your Daniel must’ve been some fellow.”

“He was. We lived together for many, many years. More than I care to admit. Eventually he died of natural causes.”

Dodger narrowed his eyes to suspicious slits. “You’re telling me a werewolf died of old age?”

 “Our kind lives an unnaturally long life, but we are not immortal. In the end we are vulnerable to the ravages of time, as well as physical ailments. Daniel was lucky enough to go peacefully, in his sleep. He was almost two hundred and fifty years old when he breathed his last.”

“Two hundred and fifty?” Dodger asked. He mulled over the figure, and the mention of the stockade. “How old are … I mean to say when did you first … I don’t want to pry but-”

“I am currently one hundred and twenty.”

Dodger tried his best not to overreact to that, lest he anger the wolf or the lady. He bit his lip and scrunched up his face, pondering the implications of Lelanea’s advanced age. “And the doc? Are you related to him at all?”

“Yes. He is my great nephew, many times over.”

“Is he?”

“It took a tremendous deal of searching, but I discovered Hieronymus was my last remaining relative. I intended to meet with him just to see how much the family line had changed, with the cover story of being his niece of course. When he learned I was recently widowed, he was kind enough to offer me a place on the train without further question. It didn’t take long for me to confess everything, especially with Feng aboard. It is quite a task to keep anything from that man.”

“You can say that again. But still, doesn’t traveling with the doc kind of put you in the thick of things? Why choose such a dangerous life over the safety of obscurity?”

“After Daniel passed away, I spent years living by myself. Over time I found I couldn’t do it. Where Daniel thrived on solitude, I could not walk such a lonely path. I needed contact with other humans to remind me of that side of myself, least the beast take total control.” Lelanea smiled; an unnerving sight, all things considered. “Besides, you know how hard it is to argue with Uncle.”

“He means well. He has good soul.”

“That he does. A good soul but a busy brain.”

“Both of those are gonna get him dead one day.”

“I know. I just hope we aren’t going to get ourselves dead now.”

“Come on, it could be much worse.”

“Dodger, we’ve been kidnapped by a dozen insane dwarves in the middle of a child’s dream with no foreseeable means of escape. How could it possibly be worse?”

“You could be tied up with Ched.”

The wolf gasped. “Oh, you do have me there.”

“I for one couldn’t think of a better partner to find myself tied to.” Dodger considered his words, as well as recent events, before he added, “Again.”

“That’s right. We have been here before, haven’t we?”

“Yes, ma’am. I told you I find myself in this kind of position all of the time. Something about me just makes folks want to tie me up. At least it’s to a pretty lady.”

“Please, Dodger. Flirting won’t make me feel any better about looking like this.”

“Then tell me what will.”

“You owe me an answer.”

He knew Lelanea was just changing the subject, but Dodger couldn’t fault her for it. “Do I?”

“You know how this goes. Story for a story.”

Dodger nodded as he cursed himself under his breath. He should’ve seen this coming. “Go on, ask away.”

“Who are you?”

“I think you know enough about me to guess the rest-”

“No, who are you supposed to be right now? Whose face do you wear? Because from your reaction, I’ll wager it isn’t someone you want to be.”

“Ah, I see. Yeah, it’s someone I’d rather not think about. Though, at one point in time, I would’ve gladly given my life to be just like him.”

“Who is he?”

“Tyler Crank.”

She tipped her head to one side, as if weighing the name. “The government man that arrived at the reservation?”

“He was also my first partner. The man that showed me the tricks of the killing trade. He was the one that broke me from all of Al’s good lessons. Crank taught me that a man’s life is only worth the price someone puts on it.”

“If this is a man you despise, why do you take his appearance?”

Dodger looked away. “I don’t know.”

“Perhaps it’s an attempt at your psyche trying to disguise itself? Perhaps it knew, somehow, that Sir Rodger was here? No, that doesn’t seem likely.”

“I told you I don’t know.”

“But certainly you could’ve looked like a million other-”

“Why are you a wolf?”

Lelanea’s jaw clicked shut at the question.

“It kind of seems obvious,” Dodger said. “Don’t it?”

“I see,” she said. “You come to Sarah’s dream as such because you think you’re this man at heart.”

Dodger shrugged.

“Oh, Dodger.” The wolf sighed with a sweet whine as she lowered onto her belly again. “I wished you could see what I see when I look at you.”

“I would say the same, but I reckon we are both just wasting our breaths.”

“I suppose so.”

Before Dodger could wax philosophical on either of their overly complicated lives, a soft whisk sounded from the trees to his right, followed by a thunk against the post to which they were both bound. Dodger glanced down to the post between them, surprised to see an arrow partially buried in the wood. 

<<BACK                                                         FORWARD>>

No comments:

Post a Comment