A Wolf Point Novella
by Kate Spofford
Copyright © 2017 by Kate Spofford
Cover design by Kate Spofford
Cover photograph by Marcel Langthim (public domain)
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First eBook Edition: February 2017
Warriors (coming soon)
The Missing (coming soon)
Wolf Point series
Wolf Point prequels
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About the Author
Crazy Fallon Loupe, they call me.
Everyone goes a little crazy here in the winter. They ought to know this winter isn’t so bad as the year before, or the first winter we came to this godforsaken place.
Back then, there was little but flat hills of white, like a cold desert. It drove Mother crazy, all those months of nothing. She slit her throat over the metal tub we used for washing laundry and taking baths. Only a month later, bits of grass poked up through the snow and birds chirped.
Father died a few years later. He had grown reckless and faced off against a bear. Even as a wolf, he lost.
My brother Lucien took Laure as his wife. I took Madeleine. This was our way. “The blood is strong,” Father always used to say, and we all knew that our mother was his sister.
The big empty country of America seemed that much bigger after our last days in France. We fled to Brittany after that fool Georges, the Beast, tore up the countryside, killing and killing until even the king became alarmed and sent droves of hunters. Most believed it was just a rabid wolf, but eventually many began to believe it was a werewolf, and then we were all in danger. In Brittany we found other families driven out of their homes by hunters. The Connors, from Ireland, the Scottish Roulf family, the Randells, from England, and the Wulfrics, from Denmark. The entire British Isles, it seemed, had gone wolf-mad, killing any wolf they could find. “There are no wolves left in England,” Francis Randell told us, and they had fled to Ireland, to be joined by the Roulfs. Now they had come to France, only to find the country hunting not only wolves but werewolves. There was no other option. The forests of Brittany could not hold us all, and we were not friendly with the wolves of Germany.
What we had read of America made it sound like a vast, unexplored forest, plenty large enough for us all. We took a ship to Canada and made our way across, far north of the British colonies. It was summer then, and temperate. Fur trappers had forged trails, which we followed loosely, and came to a place which seemed uninhabited. Naturally we had encountered some natives, more than anticipated, but we learned a little of their language from the trappers and kept to ourselves most of the time, and they did not bother us.
In France we lived in the country and considered ourselves rural. Here there was more country than we had ever imagined. I’ve heard rumors that there is another sea at the edge of this land, but I have not seen it. The land goes on and on, and there is no short journey to a town or city. Not even now, as pioneers rush to take up this empty land.
We did not lose many that first winter. Most that died were the children. The rest of us could grow fur pelts and hunt, and that is how we survived until summer returned and we could build shelters.
News was difficult to come by, yet we still heard about Georges de Soissons. The rumors of what he had done grew beyond the boy I had known and into a legend that had reached even here, in the remote forest of the New World.
We assumed him to be dead.
I have been feeling restless for some time. At first I thought it was my age. It is known that wolves go mad after too many years, and one hundred years has made me the oldest of all the wolves in our collective pack. My sons thought me crazy when I ordered them to patrol the area. “What for, Papa?” they asked me.
“These are turbulent times,” I barked at them. “The army patrols this area to keep the natives in line. You think they would not bother us? We are strange to them, and anyone friendly to the Indians can be put under scrutiny. You think they would not try to give away our land too?”
These were but excuses, though my sons and their sons sighed and did as I asked. They knew them to be true enough. It was not long before Paul came running to me one night.
“Papa, I have smelled something strange in the forest!”
He described a scent that disturbed him, more so than might be expected of an unfamiliar animal. On the following night, I found my way to that spot and waited.
For a moment, I thought it might be a ghost. I thought I might have truly descended into madness.
He was the same wolf I remembered from my youth. A burnished gray, his fur reflecting the fire of the blood moon. He smelled the same, a scent I associated with pure evil.
We stood, staring at each other as wolves, before finally I turned human and faced him.
“Hello, Georges,” I said.
I had not seen him in one hundred years. I cannot recall what I expected when he turned human; perhaps I expected him to have aged as I had. As my father had, as my brothers had. I had outlived all of them.
When Georges turned, I saw yet another ghost. He had scarcely aged since last I saw him. Or so it seemed. He had been a boy then, fifteen. Now he appeared to be in his twenties – but after one hundred years had passed, one would expect more than ten years of aging.
I felt imminently older than Georges, though we were close to the same age now. I felt every gray hair in my head and beard, and the sagging of my flesh. Only a moment earlier I had been proud of how I had aged, when compared to humans. My muscles were still mostly firm, my mind still sharp. Now Georges had brought all that into doubt.
“Fallon,” Georges said. He looked me up and down. “The years have been unkind.”
“How is it you have only aged ten years in the past century?” I demanded. “Have you struck a deal with some demon?”
Georges smiled. My own mouth puckered seeing his strong white teeth. “We are the only demons on this earth,” he replied.
I took a step toward him. “You are a demon, Georges de Soissons. And I warn you to stay away from my family. You are not welcome here.”
“Are you afraid I will make this place unsafe for you, as I did back in Gévaudan? What will you do?” He smirked and cocked his head. “You could not catch me last time. And I doubt you could catch me now.”
I narrowed my eyes.
He laughed. “I am no fool. I have learned, over the years, not to shit where I eat.”
“You are a fool if you think you are welcome here.”
“Are we not practically brothers?” His voice dripped like honey. “We are alike, are we not?”
“You are not my brother.”
I had only buried Gregoire last winter. The youngest of my brothers, he had grown old and mangy and did not like to come out of his wolf form. Last winter was difficult for us all, as a well-known hunter had decided to hunt wolves for sport in this place he called “Wolf Point.” Perhaps he knew that the natives called it something similar long before he ever set foot here. Gregoire was taken down by a hunter’s bullet. He had not healed as quickly as he had when he was young, and so he fell, and the hunter did not think his pelt good enough to take. He left the body there to rot.
“Ah, Fallon. Do you not want more for your daughters?”
At the mention of my girls I froze. I had not known how long Georges had been skulking about my property. Vividly I recalled the mangled bodies of the young girls Georges preyed upon in the French countryside.
“You think they would like to marry their brothers? You think they would like to become this?” Georges indicated my aging body. “Don’t you see, Fallon? Your father had it all wrong. You must look beyond your own bloodline if you want to become stronger. I am living proof of that.”
“We have our ways,” I murmured.
“Abelard was a fool,” Georges said. “Now he is dead. Look at me: I am nearly immortal! Do you not want this for one of your daughters? Immortality?”
“Immortality does not exist,” I replied tiredly, my hundred and fifteen years of life seeping into my voice. “And if it does, it is not something I would want.”
“Are you so ready to die, Fallon?”
“I will repeat myself, Georges: you are not welcome here. Stay away from my family. That is all.”
As I turned from him, I shifted to wolf and showed him that though old, I was plenty strong and swift.
My daughters meant everything to me.
Marie, Clare, and little Anna. Three daughters. Our family was well blessed with daughters. The other families had daughters as well, but not so many. I had never realized it was so difficult until we had spent years with the other families and saw how they produced many strong sons while the females died during birth. I was proud of my daughters. I had nearly enough to marry all of my sons.
I kept my girls close. They were not allowed to leave our farm. I had constructed a fence to make it clear to everyone in the five families: These are my daughters. They are not allowed out, and your sons are not allowed in.
Already Declan Connors had come by, asking permission to court Marie. She was my eldest, at eleven. Clare was but five years old, and Anna two. Declan Connors was twenty-five, and I slammed the door in his face.
(Father made me come here)
The curse of living amongst so many other wolves is that sometimes their thoughts crowd out yours.
Declan had only approached me as a way to shut his father up. Old Fergus Connors was a drunk and jealous of my beautiful wife and our clean house. I would have told him he might have a pretty wife and a clean house if he’d stop beating his wife, but I would have been wasting my breath. Declan fancied a girl he had seen down in Fort Peck. Declan returned to his father and reported that Crazy Fallon Loupe refused to marry his daughters to outsiders.
I knew they all thought I was crazy for this. “We are all together a pack,” Bernard Roulf had told me many times. “I do not see why you are so set in your father’s ways. We have all married each other’s daughters. We keep the bloodlines pure, but do not taint them.”
For many a night I have thought on those words. We had a family Bible, and within contained all the marriages, births, and deaths of the Loupe family. No other name tainted our family tree.
Madeleine and I had already planned. Paul, our eldest at sixteen, would marry Marie. Lyon, who was fourteen, would wed Clare. And Jean, who was eight, would have as his wife Anna. Henri, the youngest boy, would have to wait. It was still possible for Madeleine to have another child. She was not quite so old as me. Forty years younger, in fact. I had been forced to wait a good long time for a wife. Henri could do the same. He needed not wait for a sister. Perhaps Paul and Marie would have a daughter soon after they married.
Anna’s birth had been difficult for Madeleine, and we had not yet tried for more children. Maddy had been putting me off, telling me she was not ready, for the past two years. Anna had been born with a caul over her face, which Rosalyn Randell told me meant Anna would have the gift of sight.
Maddy had been spending much time with Rosalyn of late, and with Ines Wulfric. I would hear them in the kitchen, laughing and talking loudly with long periods of whispering, and all conversation would cease when I entered the room.
“What do you gossip about all day?” I asked Maddy once, as we retired to bed.
“Oh, nothing. Women’s things,” she replied lightly.
This answer did not satisfy me, though I let the matter drop that evening. Over the following days I mulled it over, until I could not stand it.
“What women’s things?” I asked her. “Do you continually speak of bearing children? Of monthly bleeding?”
She seemed confused until I recounted her answer from two evenings before. “You are still concerned about this, Fallon? Please, do not fret over silly women’s gossip. We speak of, yes, monthly bleeding, and of raising children. And we gossip about others in the pack. It is not so unusual.”
“Perhaps you ought turn your mind toward better pursuits, then. You could discuss the Bible. You could read and discuss what you’ve learned.”
Maddy made a sour face. “I will spend my time how I wish,” she said.
“I could forbid it,” I said, unable to stop my tongue.
Our marriage had never been one where I controlled her. In the Loupe family, women had always been equal of the men, perhaps even more exalted and protected. Living with the other families, I had seen how the husbands treated their wives. A small, ugly part of me sometimes wished Madeleine were as obedient as those wives. Most of the time, I felt enlightened to have such a relationship as I had.
Madeleine did not respond to my statement – not with words. I felt it in her sudden coldness toward me, and in the stray thought
(have me beaten down like Louise Connors)
And I in turn left her alone.
Still, the gossip made me nervous. Did they fear I would tell the other males what they said? I was not close with any of them.
Or was Maddy truly displeased with me?
Nonetheless, I cherished my girls and I did not want to see the likes of Georges de Soissons, a murderer, get his claws on them. I instructed my sons to patrol our property every night – Paul and Lyon only, as they were the only ones of age. “But Papa, this makes us too tired during the day,” Lyon whined.
“You may be excused from your other chores,” I told him.
I had planned to patrol with them, staying closer to the house, should Georges manage to slip by. Unfortunately, I was called away shortly thereafter, and this was the beginning of the end.
In those days, there was much strife between the pioneers and the natives, and the government had become involved. My family had lived on the same lands as many different Indian tribes, and we never had much conflict. In fact, we had discovered a small tribe which was a wolf pack like our own.
We had met in the mountains which later came to be called the Wolf Mountains. As wolves we could roam far and wide, and often did as a means of exploring this new land and its peoples. The Indians were not trusting of white men and we did not know their language yet, so it was easier to approach their nomadic settlements as animals. Quickly we learned that some of the tribes used dogs to hunt, and we kept far from those tribes. Then we scented wolves, and they smelled different from the wild wolves we had found.
Through some difficulty we made acquaintance with the clan called Angry Dog. We did not understand their language and so through signs made with our hands, we determined this was what they were called: Angry Dog, because the hunting dogs used by the other clans did not like their hunting dogs, which were of course themselves, as wolves.
They seemed curious about us, and we about them. The other four families were quite willing to intermarry at times. It seemed that though the Angry Dog clan kept to themselves, they did sometimes marry among the other clans.
Two years ago, the government had signed a treaty with the great Sioux nation which granted them a large parcel of land on which to live. This land was to the south, and the treaty required the Indians to be dependent on the government, so many refused to relocate there. The Angry Dog clan was one of these.
I, along with Marcus Randell, were summoned to where the Angry Dog clan had made their home for the summer, to serve as translators between the chief and some government agents. We made the journey as human, driving a cart drawn by Marcus’s sturdy plow horse. None of us knew how to ride, as even the plow horse spooked when we mounted it. But the horse pulled cart and plow willingly enough. I was the oldest in our pack, and knew the Nakota language best. Marcus was quite gifted with languages, and knew it nearly as well as I did, though he was only in his forties, and looked far younger than that.
We had taught the Angry Dog clan both English and French. They already knew some French from dealings with French-Canadian fur trappers. My English was good, but not perfect, and so it was best to have both of us there.
One of them, Minihawi, had howled from just beyond the borders of our lands. The alpha of each family had come out and met with Minihawi. Then it was decided that Marcus and I should go on this errand. I had many reservations. I had not told anyone about Georges, and they laughed when I said I must stay to protect my family.
“From what?” Fergus Connors had said. “We are in no danger. The government soldiers attack the natives, not us. The natives know us and would not attack us. What do you fear?”
“Perhaps the question is not what, but who do you fear?” Bernard Roulf asked. “Your daughters have not bled yet. We are all part of one pack and we would not seek to harm ourselves.”
Bernard’s words sent a chill through me. He knew exactly what I feared, if not clearly. I feared that Georges would steal Marie away, and wait until she was ready. But that was not what frightened me. I had worked hard to conceal my thoughts, and yet so easily Bernard could read them.
I kept my misgivings to myself, and agreed to the task. I knew it might take a week.
The journey took two days. We were close enough to the Angry Dog clan that we could feel their presence, and simply followed until we found them. We stayed as guests in their alpha’s tipi until the government agents came the next day. We helped them negotiate, and found that the agents were far more interested in us than the Indians. “Where is your land?” one of them asked us.
It seemed we were in the same boat as the natives. The government had granted the Homestead Act, and we could have had our land for free. But we did not apply for it. We had too long believed what the Indians believed, that the land did not belong to anyone.
The whole thing was tiresome and made me cranky. Why should I have to explain myself to some child soldier? I was older than he would ever be.
I had not slept well. Instead of sleeping, I had been reaching out through the bonds to my pack, checking in on them. I was not pleased to find my wife’s bond closed to me. And to discover that my boys had opted not to patrol past the midnight hour. Lyon had curled up to sleep in the barn. Paul had simply gone to bed.
Georges was an invisible predator. I could not help but fear that somehow he was stalking my family.
Over the next few nights, as negotiations with the government men continued, endlessly, I grew more and more tired and uncooperative. “Fallon, you must stop behaving as you are,” Marcus said to me after the third day. “You are making them suspicious of us.”
It was true. I had overheard the men as they left that day – our hearing allowed this to happen far more often than I liked, yet another reason why we lived separately from humans. “There’s something strange about those Indian-lovers,” one of them had said.
“That French one, especially,” the other had agreed. “I doubt either one owns his own land any more than those Indians. Perhaps they are half-breeds themselves. I have not heard a white man speak the Assiniboine dialect as well as they do.”
“What troubles you?” Marcus asked now, as we smoked by the fire. “You have slept fitfully these past nights.”
I was loathe to tell Marcus of Georges de Soissons. Marcus had heard some of the stories of La Bête du Gévaudan, we all had. Father had told them as a precautionary tale on many occasions as we fled France and relocated here. Over the years, after Father’s death, La Bête became a horror story to tell the young after their first turning: “Never kill a human, or you will develop a taste for their blood. Look at what became of La Bête!” They had begun to believe that La Bête had been killed by the hunter Jean Chastel by a silver bullet. Paul had come to me once and asked if we could be killed by a silver bullet.
“Of course we can,” I had snapped. “Just as we can be killed by any bullet!”
I set my children straight about such superstition. But I did not have the heart to tell them that La Bête du Gévaudan might still live. We had heard, same as everyone else, that La Bete had been killed. Yet I knew, from the descriptions printed in the newspapers, that whatever creature had been felled by a silver bullet, it was not Georges de Soissons. His pelt was a solid, silvery gray, and the beast on display had all the wrong coloring.
Given this, I knew Marcus would think me paranoid. And so I gruffly responded, “I have many troubles on my mind.”
We expected to leave the following morn, and that was when I had this vision:
The forest, dark and silent, looming overhead. Cold air on my skin. The moon watching from the night sky. Clouds of breath fogging the air. Hard dirt, cool and moist, beneath my feet. Feeling a presence, a pull, from somewhere in the night.
Half-asleep, I was sure this was a direct vision through the bonds. It had been brief, and delirious with lack of sleep, it had slipped quickly from me. I had not been able to sense who I was in this vision. I had more felt the pull of that presence – I assumed this was Georges, working some kind of black magic.
Agitated, I did my best to observe the customs of the Angry Dog clan as we departed, but as we finally drove off in our cart, Marcus chastised me. “Fallon, I fear we will not be invited back. Did you have to be so rude?”
“They are not our pack, they do not matter,” I snapped at him. “We have been gone too long. Do you not fear for your family’s safety?”
Marcus shook his head. “We have been gone but a week. We have plenty of males in our pack to protect the women should trouble arise.”
“Boys!” I barked. “We have become soft, living such as this. None of those men know how to fight.”
“And you do?” Marcus laughed. “Please, Fallon. Your boys might be the softest of all. Our boys fight for their place in the pack. You have not allowed Paul or Lyon to do so. I suppose you believe you are the alpha, being the eldest?”
“I am the alpha of my family! I do not need to fight. My eldest son will be alpha after I am gone. That is the way it is done in our family.” I felt truly ill now. The sun shone too brightly, and I had barely eaten breakfast.
“We are no longer in the backwoods of France,” Marcus said. “We are in a new country, and our packs have joined together. There are new rules. You may live far from the rest of our settlement, but your family still belongs to our pack. I will tell you: you are no alpha. You are at the bottom of the pack ranking.”
I looked at Marcus coldly. “This is what the other families believe too, is it? Are these the lies your wives have been telling my Maddy to make her turn from me?”
Marcus sighed. “I am sorry to hear that you are having difficulty with your wife, but perhaps it has little to do with women’s gossip and more to do with the fact that she was forced to marry an old man?”
(An old man who is her brother?)
I snarled then, and my vision blacked out, and when it cleared Marcus had me by the throat in the driver’s seat of our cart.
“As I said, old man, you are no alpha. I could easily kill you.”
“What good is a pack that kills its own?” I grunted.
We traveled throughout the day and camped for the night, though I found myself once again awake. All day I had thought on Marcus’s words. Could Maddy truly be so unhappy with me? I had lavished her with gifts all her life, carved wooden trinkets when she was still a child, and larger items as she aged. Our wedding had been joyous, at least for me. Maddy was a beautiful bride, and we had made our mate-bond in the usual way, by a joining of our blood. I had been gentle with her as a lover and protective of her as a husband, and provided her with every luxury imaginable in this hard, remote land.
But, I had to face the facts. I was an old man. We did not have mirrors, but I could well enough see the liver spots on my hands. Perhaps, surrounded by so many young men in the settlement, Maddy’s head had been turned.
With an anger that caused my hands to clench into fists, I thought it was perhaps the other wives who tempted Maddy with tales of their much younger husbands.
And there was a new worry. Since Father’s death, I had thought of myself as alpha. My wife and children were obedient enough – I did not see the need to force them to my will as my father had done on occasion. But had I truly been alpha? My boys were now disobedient, my wife thinking of other men. In combining with the other families, I had lost the position as alpha.
“So long as our blood stays pure, we need not concern ourselves with the other families,” Father had told us on our long journey to America. He was determined about this. Our blood made us strong, and combining it with even the blood of other werewolves would pollute its power. “The families wish to intermarry,” he would say disapprovingly. “Do they not see what comes of mixing the blood? Do they not remember Georges de Soissons, who murdered his own family and half the population of Gévaudan?”
Over the years, I had watched the men of the other packs fighting and drinking and behaving like monsters. I believed my father’s words. He knew better than all others. “We may live much longer than any human,” he told me. “We may be felled by a fatal shot, or killed by a wolf’s teeth, but our bodies heal faster, and are stronger. My grand-pere, he lived to be one hundred and twenty-five years of age.”
I was now close to that, and felt strong enough to surpass it, though it seemed the men of other families did not know this. They fought and died quickly. None were near as close to my age. I doubted any of them even knew my exact age. Perhaps they assumed I was a robust seventy years. I had known their grandfathers. I was one hundred and fifteen years old.
In all these thoughts traveling through my head, I fell asleep, and then had a vision so terrible as to near stop my heart from beating.
Another cool night, the chill of winter creeping down from the mountains despite the warm days. Fog wove amongst the trees. My skin burned, and this time I looked down to better understand who I was. I recognized the thin cotton nightgown I wore, with the blue and green embroidery on the sleeves. I recognized the breasts that rose from my chest. I burned from within, from between my legs. Desire pulled me into the woods.
Eagerly I made my way through the night, drawn like moth to flame. I was but a passenger in this vessel, yet I found myself wrapped up in the wanting and my own need to discover who tempted my wife.
When his face appeared, and the delight of the body I inhabited tingled with excitement, I withdrew my eyes snapped open, heartbeat thudding loudly in my ears.
“What is it?” Marcus asked. “Fallon, your heart beats like a drum!”
“Georges,” was all I could manage, before fainting dead away.
The moment I woke, I felt all my one hundred and fifteen years. My body ached, my head throbbed, and I felt scarce able to sit. I remained lying down, and allowed myself to come to grips with my surroundings.
Marcus had moved me into the bed of the cart, and I watched the clouds in the blue sky overhead pass, and felt every bump in the trail. I was thankful that Marcus had seen fit to place one of the bedrolls beneath my head, so that my headache was not worsened by the poor road.
I should have known Georges would find some way to seek his revenge. With that youthful face, golden hair and glowing skin, as well as the prowess of a hundred years, I imagined my wife would be easy prey.
With some difficulty, I forced myself to rest and sleep during the remainder of our journey home. I needed to be well-rested for tonight. Despite the worries on my mind, I fell asleep rather quickly: surely the result of my restless nights this past week.
The sun was setting as we pulled into our settlement. I quickly disembarked the cart and made for home, though Marcus tried to invite me in for supper. “Fallon, it is nearly seven! Surely your family will have already eaten by the time you arrive?”
I ignored him and continued up the path. My homestead lay two miles west, and it would be half past by the time I got home. Madeleine had always served supper early. We did not have so many farm chores as some of the others, as we relied heavily on hunting to feed ourselves. Father had never seen the point of eating so many vegetables, although it was necessary to have some stored during the winter to keep us alive in the times when game was scarce. Why hunt with guns when you could hunt with tooth and claw? Our family hunted often, while the other families restricted their hunts to the full moon. Father, on his deathbed, believed it to be the reason those in our family lived so long. “The wolf prolongs our lives,” he said.
I would not starve tonight. I could eat later, when I turned wolf and met Georges.
“Cherie, you look exhausted,” Madeleine said when I came through the door. “I felt that you were nearing home, and I saved you a plate from dinner.”
I gazed at her warily. “I am not hungry,” I said.
Madeleine appeared confused. “You are. I can feel it. All week, I have not slept well. We have shared the same nightmares. For the past two days, I have felt hunger gnawing at my stomach, no matter how many servings I eat. Please, you must have supper, if only to make me feel full?”
With a sigh I agreed. I had wanted to be hungry enough to tear Georges limb from limb and eat his heart, but I knew I could not defeat Georges in a fight in my state. I needed food to fuel me. I sat at the table and Maddy pulled a plate from the box stove’s oven. It was a great meal, venison stew, with large chunks of meat mixed with potatoes and vegetables, and a chunk of bread. I devoured every bit, ravenous as I was.
The children ran through the kitchen to greet me, but quickly returned to their evening studies. For the middle children this meant reading the handful of books we owned, while Paul taught the youngest their letters. Anna was the only one missing; she had already been put to bed for the night. I ate and listened to the chatter and the crackling of the fire with the appreciation of someone who fears it will all be taken away.
Only afterward did I realize my error. With a full belly, and warm hearth, I felt my eyelids drooping. The curse of being an old man: I slept more and more with each passing year. Maddy guided me to bed, removed my muddy shoes and socks, and rubbed my feet until sleep overcame me.
Over the following weeks, my suspicion of my wife grew. No matter how I tried, I could not stay awake after supper long enough to confront Georges. I did not dream, for which I was both grateful and distrustful. Surely I was being drugged so that my wife could carry on some kind of affair with Georges.
I spoke with Paul and Lyon plainly. “Boys, you must stay on guard. There is a danger near to us now. Paul, that strange scent you told me about recently belongs to an old enemy of mine. I am disappointed that you boys did not keep guard while I was away. Even though I am home, I require that you stay on guard.”
“Yes, Papa,” both agreed, though I had no way of knowing whether or not they slept instead of guarding. My sound sleep – drugged, I became convinced of it – gave me plenty of energy during the day to make my family’s life miserable. I spent most of my days as wolf, seeking out Georges’ trail. I had very little luck.
I began hunting during the day, so as to avoid my wife’s cooking. “Please, cherie, you must eat,” she would say. It became so that I could not even pretend. I had to refuse the meals entirely.
One morning, Marcus Randell and Bernard Roulf came to my home. It was nearly harvest time, and I had joined my boys in chopping wood for the winter while Maddy and the girls tended the garden. Naturally we could hear their approach and smell them even before that, but I determinedly worked and ignored them until they had come into the yard and called for me. “Fallon, might we have a word?”
I sunk my axe into a log and glared at them. “What is this about?”
“We are gathering at the Connors’ homestead this evening, and Fergus has asked that you join us.”
“What care I what Fergus Connors wants? I do not wish to join any gathering.”
Marcus and Bernard looked at each other. My own family had slowed their work to hear better.
“Fergus commands that you join us for our monthly pack meeting,” Bernard said, his voice changing tone. “There will be consequences if you do not join us.”
“Oh, he commands it, does it?” My voice rose. “I do not follow the commands of drunken fools.”
“You will join us,” Bernard said, stepping close to me.
I did not back down. I glared at Bernard until his eyes dropped and he stepped back.
Marcus spoke up then. “Fallon, it is required that you fight for your place in the pack, or the pack will not protect you or your family. You must decide tonight. Either you fully join the Five Families, or we will become Four Families, and you and your kin will be cast out.”
“You have no authority to cast me out,” I said.
Marcus did not respond to this. “I warned you weeks ago, Fallon. The time has come. You must fight. For that matter, Paul and Lyon must fight as well. It is the way of our pack. You will come to the meeting tonight with your two boys, or we will come to you.”
Before I could think of a reply, Marcus turned and left, with Bernard trailing close behind.
“None of us will fight,” I told Paul and Lyon. “We will not attend any meeting.”
My family did not speak of this meeting until supper time, when we all sat around the table. “Fallon, please, you must attend this meeting,” Maddy begged me. “For the sake of our sons, at least. Do you wish for Paul and Lyon to have no place in this pack? For us to remain alone in this world until the end of time?”
“I see no reason to change the way we have always done things,” I said.
I had not touched my meal, despite my hunger. Earlier I had eaten direct from the garden.
“Perhaps you don’t,” Maddy grumbled.
“I have heard enough,” I stated, pushing away from the table and standing. “I forbid all of you to go to that meeting.”
I went to the door to leave, and Maddy called out, “And where are you going?”
Her voice held a note of hope. Hope that I would attend this blasted meeting and bow down to the wishes of those other families, those barbarians who would base their hierarchy on physical prowess and not intelligence or even common sense.
“I am going hunting.” Her face, when I shut the door behind me, was brewing into anger.
Finally, I had managed to escape whatever poison she had been feeding me to make me sleep each night. Finally, I could turn wolf and properly hunt down Georges. I scanned for his trails. This took hours, with only a small break to chase down a rabbit and devour it nearly whole. Sated, I resumed my hunt.
My family’s trails criss-crossed the hills and buttes for miles and miles. The scents of the other families formed a wide trail like a giant arrow pointing to our settlement. Silently I thanked Father for his foresight to build our home miles from the others. It was clear that the others hunted as a pack, and infrequently. I came to their most recently hunting path and scented no others. Perhaps they always hunted along the same path. This seemed foolish to me, and I once again grew angry at Marcus’s words a fortnight prior.
You are at the bottom of the pack ranking
They would force my family to join their pack, and place us at the bottom, when clearly we were their superiors? Never.
It was at this point that I turned my mind to the bonds. I could sense that the meeting was taking place by the large bonfire that fool Fergus had erected on his land. It was visible from miles away, and the smoke could be scented from even farther.
There was another reason why I could perceive the meeting so clearly in my mind: Paul and Lyon were there.
Rage filled my chest.
Even my own kin were turning against me. It was not enough that I had an enemy from without, but I also had enemies from within.
Part of me wanted to go down, to see my sons fight. But I knew I would then have to fight as well, and I had another I wished to fight more than the idiots my family had chosen to emigrate to America with.
I had to find Georges.
I searched all night. I scoured every inch of the forest for miles around my home. The dream had come to me only weeks ago, and I could smell trails far older than that. It seemed impossible that I could not find the trail of one such as Georges. He was familiar to me, but also not a member of my pack, which made a scent all the stronger. One wants to smell his enemy and know him immediately. It had been so a century earlier, when my brothers and I had hunted Georges. My frustration grew as the night wore on and exhaustion suffused through my muscles.
By the time I limped home in the pre-dawn hours, my paws were bloody and I had nothing to show for it.
And that was when I smelled him.
Too exhausted to hunt him down, I returned home and lay down beside my wife. She did not smell of Georges, though his scent so nearby told me he had waited until I had gone to approach the house. I was thankful that she smelled of hearth and home and nothing more.
My thankfulness did not last long. As soon as I woke, I sensed something different. It was such a little thing I had grown accustomed to feeling that it took me some time to understand what it was. Always I would wake, and automatically check in with the members of my family. This habit made grief so difficult, as each day was a constant reminder of the new emptiness. When Father passed, I grieved for months. Rarely was there a problem with the bonds, but it comforted me to know each of my family members was alive and safe, and also prepared me by knowing their moods for the day.
Today, I did not feel my sons.
Bolting upright, I mentally groped for those bonds. With a small sigh of relief, I felt them still there, but it perplexed me that I had to search. Their pulls were normally so strong.
Then it dawned on me.
They fought last night, my sons. They were now part of a pack that was not mine. Part, because I could still feel them.
It was afternoon when I made my way downstairs. My boys were hard at work, splitting wood in the backyard, just as they had been the day before. Paul had removed his shirt, and sweat gleamed on his back. I watched him, wondering if he had been so well-muscled the day before.
“How did the fighting go, boys?” I said loudly.
Lyon jumped and nearly dropped his axe. Paul must have heard my approach, for he finished his swing and cleaved a log neatly in two before turning to face me. There was something hard in his face now. I felt a barrier between us, and I knew that barrier’s name to be Fergus Connors.
“I did well,” Paul stated. “Even Mr. Connors was surprised at my strength. It was only he and Mr. Randell who I could not pin.”
“Oh, it was not a fight to the death, then?” I asked.
“Of course not.” Paul’s patronizing tone rubbed me the wrong way. “What good would it do to fight to the death? There would be no pack left.”
“And you, Lyon? How did you fare?”
“Not quite so well as Paul,” Lyon said, his eyes trailing upon the ground.
I hated that Lyon looked so shamed. “I would not expect that of you, given your difference in age.”
“Of course I had a slight advantage,” Paul said crossly. “All others in the pack fought for their place when they had their first turning. I am much older and better able to control my wolf. Lyon had all the same advantages of most of the other boys.”
“What kind of system is this, men fighting with boys? The only advantage I see is for the men to keep their power.”
“You wouldn’t understand,” Paul said. “You have no place in the pack. You have never fought for your place.”
“A father’s place is at the head of his pack!” I shouted, finally losing my temper. “Fergus Connors declared himself alpha after bullying those others, those cowards—”
“You are the coward, Father! You refused to even attend the pack meeting to give your point of view! Perhaps your wolf could have beaten theirs in a fight. Or perhaps you could have convinced them that their pack hierarchy is wrong. We will never know, because you ran away instead!”
These words stabbed me through my heart.
“I did not run away! I was doing my duty protecting this family,” I snarled. “More than you can say. Your disobedience has left us open to attack!”
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Lyon standing quiet and still, as though by doing so, he would remain invisible.
“You chase ghosts!” Paul spat at me. “It is good I attended the pack meeting last night. Surely I never would have learned the truth about anything had I not gone!”
“Lies, more like it,” I growled.
“You tell yourself lies, Father,” Paul said. “You believe you know all there is to know about pack and wolves, and yet you hardly know anyone outside of this family! They all think you to be crazy, you know. All of the other families.”
“I care not what anyone else thinks. I am my own man. It disappoints me greatly to see the son I raised to be the next alpha of this family to believe whatever vitriol and lies are spoken by outsiders.”
Paul snatched up his shirt and yanked it on. “I do not need your approval or disappointment, Father. I may yet become alpha with or without it.”
As Paul tried to brush past me, I grabbed his arm. He stiffened, and the muscle beneath my hand bulged, but he did not try to pull away. “How do you think you became so strong?” I asked. “Our family has done what we’ve done for centuries, that is how. These other families mix their blood and become weak while we grow strong. Remember that.”
Paul jerked his arm from my grip. “If that were true, I would have been able to defeat Mr. Connors and Mr. Randell. They are stronger even with mixed blood.”
“And would you so quickly wish your sisters to be bred to these other wolves?” I demanded.
“Father, are you even aware that the Territory of Montana has laws against this?” Paul flung his hand out. “Never mind that marrying a sister is against the laws of nature, and of God.”
“If it is so against God, why should it be acceptable for royalty to do it?” I asked.
Paul sighed. “Father, it is wrong. That is what I believe. I will not marry Marie. Or Clare, or Anna. Even watching you and Mother disgusts me now.”
“Get out!” I shouted. “If we disgust you so, perhaps you would fare better living with one of your new brothers.”
Paul clenched his jaw, but said nothing more. He spun on his heel and marched out of the yard and up the road.
Madeleine had not been present during my argument with Paul, but I was sure she had heard. I stormed inside and found her busy at preparations for dinner with Marie at her side. When she saw me, she said, “Marie, please tend to your brothers and sisters.”
Marie looked at me with her big blue eyes as she passed. It did much to calm me. I would not have my daughters fearing me.
“Does it disgust you?” I asked Maddy. “To be wed to your brother?”
Maddy said nothing for a long moment. “I love you, Fallon. You are my brother, and my husband. But I had little choice in the matter of marrying you. I accepted Father’s choices. It is what we have always done, our family. But I am loathe to ask our children to make the same sacrifices we made.”
“And would you choose differently? Would you choose another over me, if you had the choice now?”
“There is no answer to that question which would help this situation,” Maddy stated.
“I know you lust after another,” I said.
“Fallon, please,” Maddy said.
I pounded my fist on the table. “I know this! Do not lie to me!”
(it’s true what they say he’s gone mad)
“You cannot hide your thoughts from me!” I shouted. “You have already committed the sin of adultery!”
“I have done no such thing.” Maddy’s voice was quiet. Suddenly I felt my rage diffused, and knew this was one of her tricks.
“I may be old, but I am not mad,” I said. “Your tricks and lies will not keep the truth from me.”
I returned to the yard and commenced pacing. Lyon had returned to the work of splitting wood, hesitating only slightly upon my arrival there. I watched him. It had been Paul who convinced Lyon to go with him to the pack meeting, I was sure of it. I had made a grand mistake in seeking out Georges the previous evening. I had left Lyon in the clutches of Paul.
“Come here, son,” I said, sitting on the porch and patting the space beside me.
Lyon looked nervous. He was slight for a fourteen-year-old, and had not yet had his growth spurt, which made him appear much younger. It had not surprised me that he had not been able to win in a fight. Lyon had always been a gentle boy. When I had taught my boys to hunt, Lyon had been reluctant. His hesitation had often led to the prey escaping. He came and sat beside me, and said nothing, only looked at me.
Of all the children, Maddy had a soft spot for Lyon. As second eldest, Lyon should have had more presence, but Paul had always been a natural leader, and Marie had not stopped chattering since she learned to speak. Maddy and I had often conflicted in how she treated him, giving him extra sweets, or how she coddled him, while I did my best to toughen him to life.
“Lyon, I could use your help,” I began.
Lyon agreed to be my eyes and ears at the pack meetings. Of course, he had only agreed to pass along that information which pertained to our family, but I knew that through my bond with Lyon I could telepathically glean this knowledge. Further, after explaining to Lyon our long history, he agreed that our ways were superior to those of the pack, and he would do his best to remain obedient to me.
“They do not understand why it is that we marry brother and sister,” I said to him. “I am sure you see the reason for our ways. The other families, they come to us looking for wives. Their women do not produce as many daughters as we do. If we allowed our women to leave us, and marry them, we would have no women for ourselves. You, Lyon, are guaranteed a wife as soon as your sisters come of age.”
Lyon nodded. “I am glad of that,” he said. “I would be too shy with women, I fear.”
“I do not understand why your brother Paul would reject such a blessing.” I shook my head. “But fear not, Lyon. You will be alpha of your own family one day. An alpha needs to be level-headed. Paul is too emotional for leadership, I’m afraid.” As the words came out of my mouth, I realized that I had never thought of Paul as too emotional. He had never made rash decisions. But this I kept myself, along with my opinion that Lyon would not make a strong leader. I needed to convince Lyon that Fergus Connors had no qualifications for being alpha.
For a short while, all seemed well. Paul was not present, but Maddy was on her best behavior. I sensed no betrayal on her part. As for Lyon, he spent his time as usual, doing his chores and remaining on our farm. He took on many of Paul’s duties.
I let my guard down and began eating regularly. I had never smelled anything usual about Maddy’s meals, and so it was still mere suspicion that she had somehow drugged me. I wanted to trust my wife as I had for so many years before.
Yet not even a week had passed before I felt strangely drowsy after the evening meal. As I sat before the fire, I felt my lids drooping, and I struggled to sit up. “Madeleine,” I said, slurring.
“Fallon? Are you feeling all right?”
“Do not bother pretending,” I said, leaning forward more, trying to stand. I enunciated my words, as I heard myself slurring. “You know this would happen. You made this happen.”
Madeleine was at my side faster than my drugged brain could comprehend. “Fallon, please, remain seated. I do not want you to injure yourself.” She pressed me down against the sofa. I flopped back, head lolling.
“You drugged me,” I mumbled. My vision was beginning to cloud. “You…”
“Fallon? Can you hear me?” Maddy said loudly.
I wanted to answer, but my tongue felt swollen, and I had not the energy to form words. My vision had gone black, though I could still hear.
“Lyon, please, run down to the Wulfric home. Rasmus knows something of herbs and medicine, hopefully he can help.”
It was as if I had not accused her. I had not known my wife to be such an accomplished actress. I tried imagine my children watching as their father lay paralyzed and their mother pretended it to be some organic illness. Only I knew the truth, but I could not speak it. Maddy’s voice invaded my thoughts.
(something is wrong)
(is it a stroke?)
(he does not respond)
She had even managed to lie in her own thoughts.
I struggled to remain aware. I wanted to hear Rasmus Wulfric’s diagnosis. Surely he would see clearly that I had been drugged, or poisoned. He would call out Madeleine’s lies.
Alas, I could not cling to the raft of consciousness. I slipped into the darkness before I had even heard Lyon shut the door on his way out.
When I woke, the face of Rasmus looked back at me. He had a severe Nordic look about him, with light blond hair and icy blue eyes. He had been prodding at my face, lifting one of my eyelids. He sat back.
I coughed. “I have been poisoned,” I said weakly.
His brow furrowed. “Not that I can tell,” he said, then turned to Madeleine, who was standing just on the edge of my vision, and spoke to her in a low voice which I could not hear.
I shook my head. “Rasmus, please. Send her out. I wish to speak to you alone.”
“You know that would not do much. We all have the same sharp hearing. All but you, it would seem.”
“My hearing is just fine,” I protested, despite having had difficulty hearing just moments before.
Rasmus sighed, and waved a hand at Maddy. I did hear the door close softly behind her as she left.
“Fallon, you must face facts,” he said. “You are simply growing old. All this talk of poisoning does little to help your cause.”
“I was poisoned. I clearly became ill immediately after eating.”
“Had you been poisoned, your pupils would have been dilated. Fallon, allow me to be honest with you: the other families are beginning to question your sanity. Your behavior of late has been erratic and your health has declined rapidly. None of us have known a wolf as old as you. May I ask your age?”
“My health would be as good as ever, if my wife was not poisoning me!” I said.
“Marcus told us you became quite ill on your trip to see the Nakota pack, despite being far from your wife.”
I closed my eyes; keeping them open was making me dizzy. “I could not sleep. That was all. You know how it is, with shared feelings through the bonds. Madeleine…” Somehow I could not bring myself to tell Rasmus what I suspected: that my wife was having an affair. Already the other men believed me to be weak. I would not allow them to make me a cuckold as well. Not until I had the head of Georges de Soissons to show them.
It angered me that the other men would think less of me for any reason, and I certainly did not want to perpetuate the idea that I was mad, or going senile.
“I will think on what you have told me. Please, leave me to rest now.”
The chair creaked as Rasmus stood. “I encourage you to join us at the next full moon. It would be beneficial to show the other families that you do not wish to make them your enemies.”
As soon as Rasmus left, I allowed my jaw to tighten. That fool. He could pretend to be the voice of reason, but I knew better.
From that point forward I refused all food prepared by my wife. I spent most of my days as wolf, stalking about my property. The children watched me with wide eyes. Madeleine said nothing to the children by way of explanation, though the little ones asked after their Papa, particularly Anna.
I roved over the surrounding land, sometimes covering many miles in one day. I felt my muscles grow stronger as I fed on small prey like rabbits, birds, and prairie dogs. These animals required skill to take down, speed and cunning. I felt whatever poisons my wife had fed me slowly retreating.
I was looking for the scent of my longtime foe. Two weeks passed, and I found nothing. I stopped returning home to sleep beside my wife’s cold back, and instead slept under the moon, imagining it would bring me strength. Instead, I had visions of my wife crying out in ecstasy, beneath the form of the still-young Georges de Soissons. I could feel Maddy’s passion, as if I was her. For some reason it did not shame me to feel these womanly sensations – it only shamed me to know these were caused by Georges. Upon waking, I would race back to my home to find nothing amiss. And yet everything about these visions seemed less like a dream than something I would have observed via the mate-bond.
Harvest time had come and gone. Maddy had asked me loudly one afternoon while I was still in the yard, “Perhaps you could help us with the reaping?”
I had ignored her and gone on my way. When I returned the following morning, the reaping had been completed. I scented Paul among the other scents and became so enraged that I knew it would be best to leave. The anger, however, refused to leave me, and I found myself following Paul’s trail to where he had been living these past weeks: the Connors homestead.
At the front gate I shifted to human and marched up to the door.
“What are you doing, Fallon?” Louise cried upon seeing me on her stoop. “Get inside before any outsiders see you.” I pushed past her even as she spoke.
“Fergus Connors!” I shouted.
“Keep quiet, please, Fallon! He is not here. Please, you will wake—” I heard the cry of a toddler from a back room. “Patrick,” Louise finished, gazing hopelessly in the direction of the piercing wails.
“Where is he?” I demanded.
Louise sighed. “How should I know? He does not need a woman’s permission for his comings and goings.” Her eyes glanced down and then away just as quickly. “You must go. If Fergus should arrive home and see this…” She wrung her hands on her apron. She gazed determinedly at the ceiling.
“I shit upon what Fergus Connors thinks of me. He has stolen my eldest son from me.”
With another sigh, Louise said, “I must go tend to my children, Fallon. Please, go away and return when Fergus is at home.”
I glared at her. How could Fergus keep this woman living in such fear, and yet she did not tremble before me?
In seconds, I had my hands around Louise’s throat and her back against the wall. My face inches from hers, I growled, “Perhaps your husband would come if you called to him.”
Louise trembled beneath me. “Please, don’t make me. You do not understand his temper—”
“I understand well enough. Your husband might think me weak and senile, but I assure you I could kill you in the space of a blink.”
Shutting her eyes, Louise whispered, “Perhaps it would be better that way.” Then she was silent, and I could sense that she was communicating with Fergus through her mate-bond. It was clear that he had felt my threat the moment I had entered his home, because Fergus nearly threw the door off its hinges as he raced inside mere moments later.
“Release my wife,” Fergus growled, his words garbled. He had the thinnest grasp of control over his wolf.
I released Louise, who darted into the kitchen. “Fergus Connors, just the man I wanted to see.”
“You crazy bastard,” Fergus said, and flew at me, slamming me into the wall so hard I felt the wooden planks of the wall give way beneath me.
Dazed, I tried to push him away, but Fergus merely hauled me up by my arm and flung me to the other side of the room, where I crashed into a table.
When I came to, only moments later, I immediately sensed more than one presence in the room: Bernard Roulf, Marcus Randell, and Rasmus Wulfric had come in through the open door and stood looking down at me. Behind him, I recognized a few of the boys: Declan Connors. Harry and Hector Wulfric. Charles Roulf.
“You come here and assault my wife?” Fergus roared. “What right have you to enter my home, outsider?”
My cheeks burned. “You have taken my son from me, that’s what right I have. I demand his return.”
Fergus raised his eyebrows and, to my surprise and anger, began to laugh. “I have taken your son? Fallon, you fool, he came to me of his own free will!”
The other men chuckled as well. I sought out Paul and saw him glaring at me.
I struggled to my feet. “He came to you after you threatened me and my family to join your pathetic little pack. He disobeyed me. I am his true alpha–”
“You are no alpha!” Fergus roared, and tackled me. I struggled, but the man had me pinned down, the brute strength of a man in his prime. No matter how strong I had become over the past weeks, my body was far weaker than his. His teeth in my face were sharp and his breath hot as he said, “A true alpha’s command cannot be disobeyed. You have been allowed to live outside of this pack, for my predecessor was nearly as weak as you are, and your father before you. I let it stand for as long as I did because you were weak and no threat, but now you threaten us all with your foolishness and insistence upon breeding your sons to your daughters.”
“So that is what you desire. My daughters for your sons, because your wives cannot provide any.”
Momentarily Fergus released one of my hands, only to bring his fist down into my face. Blackness swelled up in my vision.
“What you do is a sin against God,” Rasmus said from behind Fergus. “A study of royalty shows that breeding too closely to the family line produces birth defects and insanity.”
“My children are perfect,” I croaked through blood and broken teeth.
“You are aware, then, that Lyon has six toes on his right foot? That your daughter Marie has a tail even when she is not a wolf? Your wife has had many miscarriages, which is highly uncommon for those like us. Wolf women are hardier than humans. Of all our wives, none have had a miscarriage, not even one, and there are twenty children between us. Your wife has miscarried three times. It is unheard of.”
“My own mother miscarried a number of times. I recall a stillborn sister.”
Fergus shook me, making my teeth clatter. “You inbred idiot! Can you not understand? Your family, and countless generations before you, have made you weak!”
“Paul is strong,” I wheezed. “Paul is proof that our way is right.”
Fergus released me and let me fall to the floor.
“It is no use,” Fergus said. “He is too stupid to understand the error of his ways. Stupid, or insane.”
“He is surely insane if he believes Georges de Soissons might still live,” Marcus said. “I heard him call out the name when he was ill on our journey. For a time I could not be certain why he would have called out the name ‘Georges,’ but then Rosalyn heard from Madeleine that Fallon believes Georges has returned, and furthermore, believes Georges is having an affair with Madeleine.”
Several of the men laughed into their fists.
I hoisted myself up onto my elbows. “It is true,” I said.
“Georges de Soissons is a story we tell our children,” Marcus said. “He was killed. We all know this.”
“He lives!” My anger gave me strength to push myself to my feet, though I swayed. “It was his brother Martin killed by the hunter Jean Chastel. Georges has come to America and seeks to destroy my family.”
Fergus snorted. “Even if that were true, he lived a hundred years ago. He could not possibly still be alive or in any state to seduce your wife, no matter how feeble she might be or desperate for a man not her own brother.”
Now I felt the strength of my wolf returning to me. “How old do you think I am, Fergus?”
Fergus looked at me contemptuously. “You do not mean to imply that you are as old as that?”
“I was a young boy back in France when Georges and his brother terrorized the countryside. I traveled here with my family. I have been living here since 1801. I have known you since before your grandfather knew your grandmother.”
I had hoped to impress Fergus and the others with these facts. Instead, they looked at each other and laughed. All except Paul, who continued to glare at me.
“He’s crazier than we thought!” laughed Bernard.
“No wonder he is senile, if he is more than one hundred years old!”
“It is impossible!”
The laughter and snide comments rang in my head. My hands clenched into fists. “I tell the truth! I swear it on my father’s grave!”
“And how old was he, Fallon?” Fergus laughed. “Two hundred? He died when I was a pup.”
“Look in a mirror, Fallon,” Rasmus said, no trace of laughter in his voice. “You are a seventy-year-old man, give or take a few years.” He stepped toward me and put out his hand and touched my shoulder. “It is not uncommon to forget things as one ages.”
I jerked away. “I will not be patronized. Nor will I be treated like an insane, gibbering fool. I know my own mind, and know all of you conspire against me!”
With fresh laughter assaulting my ears, I pushed through the men to leave.
“Wait, Fallon, wait!” Hands grabbed at me. I tried to shrug them off, but there were too many.
“Fallon, it is only that we have not known anyone of your advanced age,” said Fergus, unable to keep a straight face. I glared at him. “Please, show us some proof and we might believe you.”
“What sort of proof would I have?” I demanded. “You ask the impossible. The church where I was baptized as an infant was in France. We settled here with no land deeds. My parents are dead, and my brother Lucien gone off West, and Gregoire buried last winter. No others would know of my true age.”
“Not even your sister then?” Bernard asked nastily.
“She is nearly fifty years younger than I,” I snapped.
Fergus stepped to the front of the group who held me from leaving this place. “You are insane,” Fergus said clearly, all traces of laughter gone. “We all know what is done to rabid dogs and animals,” he said, gazing around at the rest of his pack.
My stomach sank.
“Fallon must be put down.”
I cannot describe the panic that flooded my mind then. I struggled against my captors, who held fast but who did not move. I thought of my daughters and how they would be passed out among these relative strangers. I thought of my son, watching his father be bullied and sentenced to death, and then I nearly wished to die.
After the crushing wave of terror that my death was at hand, I realized that though Fergus had proclaimed himself alpha, none of the men had made a move to follow Fergus’s command. No man had stepped up and offered to be the one to put me to death. I grasped at the idea that Fergus was no alpha, but realized he had not truly given a command: he had only stated what he thought must be done. And it seemed to me that the rest of his pack did not support him in this.
The silence in the room became eerie. I thought of the conversations I had with my family through our bonds, and the more I observed, the more I saw signs that this was occurring. The little raised eyebrows, small head shakes, meaningful glances. Harry and Hector Wulfric held me tight, twin pillars. These were strapping boys several years older than my Paul.
“Do not!” came the loud cry of a familiar female voice. I managed to turn my head a little. Maddy had run into the room. She appeared confused by the silence. Panting, sweat streaming down her face and dampening the neck and armpits of her flowered work dress, she looked around and said, “…hurt him?”
Fergus turned to her with a patronizing smile. “Madeleine, dear, this is none of your concern.”
“I heard you!” she said. “You want to kill my husband.”
Cocking his head, Fergus asked, “Do you mean to tell me that you do not wish for Fallon to be put out of his misery?”
Maddy looked at me.
(I will save you)
“Of course I do not wish my husband to be put to death!”
“No?” Fergus tilted his head again.
Maddy narrowed her eyes. “Do not presume to tell me what I want! You will leave us be.”
Fergus took a deep breath and regarded me. Then he turned to my son.
“Paul, you know your father better than any member of this pack.” Fergus emphasized those words while turning his gaze to Maddy. “As my third, I will allow you to make this choice. Do you endanger the pack by allowing your insane father to live, or do you protect our secrets and safety?”
Paul did not look at me. I willed him to, I called to him through the bonds, but it felt as though a wall of brick separated us. I felt Maddy doing the same.
Finally Paul spoke. “Whatever delusions my father has will not expose our secrets. I would allow him to live, but never to enter our community again.”
Madeleine drooped with the sentence. She knew she would also be punished by this – not that I would prevent her from visiting “the community.” But the others would further view our family as separate from them. She would be alone. Alone with me, and our children.
Fergus was displeased with Paul’s decision, but did not contradict him. “So be it. Take him to his home. From this point on, Fallon Loupe is not one of us. His wife, Madeleine, is not one of us. Bring Lyon back with you, for Lyon is part of this pack now. I will raise Lyon as my own. When the other children come of age, they will have to choose whether to join the pack or remain outsiders. You, Fallon Loupe, are never to enter this community again, under penalty of certain death.”
When no one moved at the end of this little speech, Fergus spun on his heel and marched through his house and out the back door.
Madeleine wailed the entire walk back to our home. The other women did not come out to aid her. I saw curtains twitch. They watched. But they dared not speak out.
The men, for their part, were silent. Even when we arrived at my front gate, Harry and Hector continued to hold me, while Declan and Marcus took hold of Madeleine. “No!” she cried. “Please do not take my son!”
Paul silently went into the house alone. I imagined Lyon sitting with the younger children, all wide eyes and wondering where their mother and father had gone. Then Paul, appearing in the doorway. “Lyon, you must come with me.”
When Paul appeared with Lyon behind him, I was proud that the younger boy did not tear up at his mother’s cries. “No, please! He is still just a boy!”
Paul put his arm around Lyon, who looked at his mother with a stricken face, and the two walked past us. Paul still had not looked at me. Lyon did not look in my direction for the spectacle that was his mother. I felt these small snubs like knives in my chest. Sinking to my knees, Harry and Hector finally released me, and I fell to the cold, hard ground.
Once my sons and other men had left us, Maddy lapsed into silence. Neither one of us looked at the other. Eventually we stood, and made our way into the house. Maddy stood in the entryway to the kitchen for a long moment, then continued walking through the house and out the back door, where she unbuttoned her dress and left it puddled on the ground while she turned wolf and ran into the trees.
I watched her go. The children were crying upstairs.
Hours passed, and when Maddy did not return, Marie cautiously crept downstairs. “Papa?” she asked, her voice quiet and high.
The only sounds were the crackling fire I had built in an effort to stave off the cold I felt deep in my bones. The chill had nothing to do with the weather and more to do with the fact that I had lost nearly everything: my sons, my wife, any respect I might have thought I had.
“Papa, what happened?” Marie asked.
When I did not answer, she moved about the kitchen. I hear scrapes, the soft closing of cabinets, the cracking of eggs. I smelled flour and meat and water boiling. Then I was lost to the entrancement of the flames.
I could not feel my bond with Maddy. I did not see how this could be possible. We had mated, we had the mate-bond. That was unbreakable, or so I had thought. Now there was nothing there. I had no bonds with my children, for they had not come of age yet. I was alone in my head. I had not been alone in my thoughts for over a century, and it was a yawning chasm. My chest ached. I rocked myself, wishing for a heart attack to end it all. But I had not known a wolf to have a heart attack, only humans. Wolves died from violent death. Not disease. Not old age. I was cursed to walk this earth unless someone took it in their head to kill me.
Eventually I heard the musical clinking of silverware on plates and the quiet chatter of the children. Outside, the light had gone, and then the children were gone too, I was surrounded by darkness and the slight breathing of small lungs. Even later, a cold burst of air gusted through the house, and I heard Maddy’s footfalls walk through the house, pause at the foot of the stairs, and then ascend. The sheets rustled and the bed squealed as she lay down.
Deep in the darkest hour of night, the snows began.
Most years the first snow was a light layer that frosted over the freshly harvested crops. On this year, the snow came thick and heavy. I listened to it pinging against the window in a mad frenzy. The wind swirled around the outside of the house, at times screaming in its fury.
As I drifted in and out of sleep, I thought the wind spoke to me. It whispered and shrieked and cajoled, and I could not quite keep my eyes open long enough to know if this was dream or reality.
he’s here he’s always been here
these are not your children
this is not your wife
you are nothing to them and you never will be
A hush lay over the household. Snowdrifts had nearly obscured the windows on the eastern side of the house. I stared at it, huddled in my blanket before the dead fire, now just embers. I knew I would need to go out and clear the walkways, and yet I was entirely apathetic.
Those wee hours of the morning were a calm before the storm. When the children saw the snow, they tumbled down the stairs like pups. “Papa! Papa! Do you see the snow?”
They were unfazed by my lack of response.
Marie, for her part, did not seem excited. I was sure she knew that terrible things had passed the night before, but she carried on in the way of women, dressing the other children in their winter clothes and boots, tying scarves and pulling hats over ears and inserting little hands into mittens. Even little Anna toddled around like an overstuffed doll.
Naturally, Jean was the first to rush outside. Clare ran after him, but became mired in the snow that had drifted up against the door. “Jean!” Marie admonished, and moved to shut the door. Henri waddled out. Henri, just a year younger than Clare, tried to climb the snow bank. With a sigh, Marie left the door open and threw on her coat and scarf, then picked Anna up and carried her out.
these are not your children
The thump of the door echoed through the house. I shivered. Through the windows I could hear the faint laughter of my children. Inside, however, nothing but the faint sound of my wife’s breathing upstairs.
this is not your wife
Without the bonds, I was empty and adrift. Eventually the rumbling of hunger in my stomach led me to stagger to my feet and make my way to the kitchen, where I ate some salted pork strips and gulped down milk straight from the pitcher. Then I threw on a sweater and my boots and made my way outside.
The children were making snow angels and snowmen under Marie’s watchful eye. She watched me, too, as I made my way through the snow drifts to fetch my shovel.
“Papa, come play with us!” the children called.
I kept my head down and shoveled.
Once during the hours I spent clearing the front walk – for what? I did not know. Paul and Lyon would not return. This I knew – I had a feeling I cannot quite describe, though I have read in some novels where one feels someone watching them and the hair on their necks stand on end. Though my neck hair did not rise, this was akin to the feeling I got, and I looked up to see the curtain in the bedroom I shared with Maddy move slightly. Staring up, I waited for her face to come into view.
Not until I had finished with the shoveling did I realize I had not put on gloves or a scarf. My hands were white as bone. At that moment I could not hold the shovel, and it fell from my grasp. I staggered back toward the house.
“Papa,” Jean called. “What is the matter?”
“Watch the children,” Marie said to him. “I must go inside and make a fire.”
Marie ran inside before I could drag myself to the door, and she had threw fresh kindling into the fire and stoked it back to life by the time I clomped my boots on the doormat. “Come quickly, Papa,” Marie said, suddenly before me. She took my numb hands in her warm ones and pulled me gently to the sofa before the fireplace. It was still a small flame, and she moved the footstool closer to the hearth and sat me down.
Between tending to the fire, she blew warm breath on my fingers, rubbing them with great caution.
I could not express how it felt to be fussed over. It had been two years since Anna’s birth, and a long pregnancy before that, and our sex had been limited to mating as wolves after Marie’s birth. I could not say what had changed with Maddy, but I had begun to disgust her as the years dragged down on me. Marie, her soft elfin face ringed by brown curls, saw me only as her beloved father, and that warmed my insides.
For a time.
“The children need breakfast,” I said to her when the feeling had returned to my fingers.
“Yes, Papa,” Marie said.
And so it went on like this for many days. Marie cared for the children. I praised her as much as I could, and tried to help when it would not get in her way. I felt useless and emasculated. I did not go upstairs, and Maddy did not come down the stairs. Marie served her mother meals in bed. She told the children that “Maman is sick, hush now, we must be quiet if she is to become well again.”
Soon the silence in the house began to seem unearthly. We have all heard that proverb, “Children are to be seen and not heard,” but when one sees small children muted and dull, one cannot help but wonder what is wrong with them.
For days the weather remained too cold for the snow to melt. I could not prowl the forests as I had all autumn long – it is just as awkward to run through knee-high snow as a wolf as it is as a man. Then the cold spell broke, and the snows melted somewhat. I stared outside into the bright sunlight for much of the day, refusing to eat. I had to hunt down Georges, I had to bring proof to the disbelievers so that my sons would return to me. Yet I could not move myself from the sofa. The cushions had molded to my shape, and the hundred years of my life had settled into my joints. I fell asleep while my children listlessly read by the fire.
(come to me, Fallon)
I bolted awake, a sheen of sweat causing my cotton shirt to cling to my chest. I called out in my mind
Already I knew it was not her. I knew the voice. Nausea broiled in my stomach.
The moon outside shone over the thin layer of snow, near as bright as day. I wanted nothing more than to stay in my house forever and never leave. This thought only made me sicker. I was a man, and I needed to stop running from my problems. I had to find Georges.
And Georges was calling for me.
With a shake of my head, I disentranced myself from the moonlight, and walked stealthily to the back door, where I shed the trappings of humanity. Stark naked, gooseflesh rippling over my skin, I opened the door, and stepped outside. I closed the door, and then I turned wolf.
The change came with more difficulty than usual. My joints felt stiff, and locked up as they transformed, only to pop painfully as they fused into their new shapes. With great determination I kept my teeth clenched to avoid making any more sound than necessary. I would not have those down in the village hearing my cries of pain and mocking me. I would not have Maddy awaken and come to see what was the matter, although part of me wished it would happen. Georges was a problem between us, a problem I needed to resolve on my own.
Finally, my thick fur coat clothed me, and I shook off the remainder of pain. My wolf did not feel so old as I did. His muscles were strong and taut, his senses still strong. I scented Georges instantly. My nostrils flared and a growl rumbled from my throat. He had been here. He had been watching in the snow, and I had not noticed because I had allowed myself to wallow in pain.
Georges’s trail led deep into the mountains and through the trees, where the snow was even thinner. My paws flew over frozen ground. It was as though I had been saving my energy these past days for this. It took me over an hour, with that scent growing steadily stronger, to find him, and when I did, I had not the energy to attack him.
He had been waiting for me, it seemed. He stood before a freshly killed rabbit. With a nudge of his nose, he seemed to say, “I killed this for you.” A peace offering, perhaps.
Wary of poisoning yet ravenous, I sniffed the dead meat and decided it was indeed some kind of peace offering. I had not imagined our meeting to be this way. I had expected him to attack. I had expected myself to attack, and yet as delicious meat still warm with life slid down my throat, I wondered if killing Georges was the best way to make my point to the others. No, I should take Georges alive to them, to have him tell them he was near as old as I.
“Who is this young lad you’ve brought to us?” I imagined them saying with disdain. “You expect us to believe he is of the same age as you?”
Georges watched me eat. I felt his pleasure at it. Why should he care whether or not I ate? I kept my eyes on him as I crunched down the last of the bones and licked my muzzle clean of blood.
Turning on his hind feet, Georges began to trot away.
I did not know what else to do but follow. The trail reeked of his scent, though over the course of the night I had grown accustomed to it. Always the scent of Other had made me uneasy, no matter how familiar that Other was – the Angry Dog clan, for example. I recalled from my youth how the scent of Georges had rankled, how it had enraged my father when he had smelled it. Now I did not seem to mind it.
Soon I began to smell other things: a fire, namely, and wood rot. I grew suspicious until my relatively weaker wolf eyes saw the cabin.
Roughly fifty years earlier, some frontiersman had built this cabin. Only the slightest trace of his scent remained. We had traded with this man, given him various supplies for the moonshine he made. He had been a hermit, mostly, and never stayed to strike up conversation, which made us all the more likely to continue to trade with him. At some point he had stopped coming, and we had assumed he had passed away up in whatever remote location he lived. I smelled nothing of his decomposing corpse, but then, he would have been but bones now. Perhaps Georges had killed him. Perhaps Georges had merely found his body, and buried it.
Whatever the case, Georges had taken up residence in this cabin. He barely stopped moving at the door, simply turned human and walked right in. When I hesitated, he turned and looked at me. Most of his body was in shadow, but a soft glow of firelight beckoned.
“Must I extend a formal invitation?” Georges asked. His voice dripped honey.
I turned human and without a word, followed him inside.
The interior of the cabin had clearly not been used by humans in some time. I had a suspicion that Georges spent much of his time as wolf, and the only concessions to humanity here was the fire and the fur rug spread out over the dusty wooden floor boards before it. I could smell the scent of bear coming from the rug, though it was not a fresh kill. I moved toward it quickly, grateful for the downy fur beneath my feet, and the warmth of the fire.
Georges strode toward the fireplace and used a large stick to prod it into higher flame. His body was as perfect as one could be. Not an ounce of fat, skin unblemished and a burnished gold in the firelight. I looked away suddenly as I had these thoughts, casting about the cabin for some kind of clothing.
“You’ll find none here,” Georges said over his shoulder. He sat, bare-assed, on the carpet. “Come now, when have our kind ever felt shame in our bodies?”
I sat, drawing my knees to my chest, at least as far as I was able. Beside Georges, I felt impossibly ancient.
In the warmth of the fire, with only its crackles and pops to break the silence, I wondered what I was doing here. I had left my home with the intention to kill Georges, both for coupling with my wife and to prove to the others that I was not crazy. Instead I sat here, making no move to do so.
“You are the only kindred spirit on this earth with me, Fallon,” Georges said. “Do you realize that?”
As soon as I heard the words I understand why I had hesitated. How could I possibly kill the one man who knew me? Who knew how long I had lived and knew of my wolf side? We had been made enemies in our youth. My father had commanded me to kill Georges de Soissons before he could ruin us all. It had happened to our German brothers – a countrywide witch hunt, wolves found out and burned and hunted. None of the German families had escaped. One of Father’s brothers had gone to Germany to seek out a wolf wife instead of waiting for a sister, and along with his new family, they had all been tied to the stake and been given to the flame. It was a worse fate than violent death, for the wolf tries to heal as it burns, prolonging the agony.
For all my father’s worry and fear about what Georges was doing, I felt little. Now, upon reflection, it seemed I had felt a thrill. What would it be like to kill with abandon, as Georges had? To not keep hidden my other side? In time, Georges had given up on the killing. He had become a legend instead.
“Yes,” I said, my voice croaking. I had not spoken in days.
Georges turned to me.
“I still remember that first time I saw you,” he said in a low, musical voice. He reached up and touched my arm, and when I didn’t flinch away, he traced his fingers along my bicep. “Do you remember?”
I could not tear my eyes from his eyes. They were like deep, dark holes, and I felt like I could fall into them. Without wanting to, I recalled those dreams I’d had, how I had felt as Maddy meeting with him. Maddy was merely the catalyst. Georges had done those things to me.
And I wanted them again.
He pushed me lightly, until I lay back on the rug. The fur was a distinctly pleasant sensation – strange, given that I had been covered in fur for much of my life – I had never felt it like this. Georges in the firelight looked like one of the gods in the mythology books I had read in my youth, eternally young and vibrant and unearthly.
My body responded when Georges’s lips met mine. I wanted to grab him, pull him to me, but I restrained myself, grabbing fistfuls of the fur rug in my hands. My back arched up off the ground.
It did not seem strange to me, at the time, that I had never considered myself attracted to men before. It was an idea foreign to me, and yet not. There had often been such men around back in France. One knew without saying aloud what type of men these were. I had been told at a very young age that I would marry a sister. I waited and waited for a sister, never allowing myself to find attraction to anyone until Madeleine was born. In a family such as mine, I had only brothers and other sisters belonging to those brothers, and this was not a problem.
Now, as Georges aggressively kissed my neck in a way my wife never had, I felt only that I had lived my life with blinders on, so eager to obey my father that I would ignore the pleasures life had to offer me. Pleasures like Georges was now giving to me.
I had become unmoored. With no other voices in my head but his, in this strange but familiar place, with a person who had lived as long as me, this was a comfort. I had no one but Georges.
We coupled like animals on that fur rug – only this was my first time coupling as a human. The darkness and flickering firelight made my memories of that night turn into a strange dream. I felt claws and teeth and tongue and my body was on fire as I had never felt it. My muscles were made young again, my senses restored.
When it was over, we lay panting by the fire side by side. I looked over at Georges, at his beautiful face, and impulsively leaned over to kiss him again. This time, however, I felt a sharp pain in my lip as I did so, and that little pain brought the night crashing down on me.
He tasted like blood and death and fear.
I drew back and stared at him.
Georges smiled, his teeth sharp.
Despite the fire, I suddenly felt cold.
“You are mine now,” Georges said. “All mine. Just as your wife is mine, and your children are mine.”
“What do you mean?” I got to my knees and looked down at him. He lay on his back, arms stretched over his head, belly exposed. As a wolf this made me think he was being playful. If he believed we were enemies, he would not make himself vulnerable.
“La vengeance se mange très-bien froide.” Georges continued to smile, but the lack of depth in his eyes chilled me to the bone. “You have heard this expression before, non?”
“Of course,” I spat. “But what does revenge served cold have to do with you and me? Whatever have I done to you that caused you to seek revenge?”
Georges rolled slightly to prop himself up on one elbow. “Whatever have I done?” he mocked, his voice high. “Do you not recall?”
“I only followed my father’s orders,” I said. “Did you forget then, how you drove us out of France? You won, Georges. You could have all of France if you had wanted. Why did you come here?”
George grinned. “I did win, didn’t I?” He looked at the fire, a smug expression on his face. “Well, perhaps you felt as though you had lost. When I win at something, I want to win completely and without question.”
“What is the question?” I demanded. “The legend of La Bête du Gévaudan has made its way even here, to the edge of civilization. No one questions what a monster you were.”
“What a monster I am,” Georges corrected me gently.
I stood up, having had enough of this. “You speak in riddles. It was clearly a mistake coming here.”
“Sit down,” Georges growled, and my legs nearly collapsed beneath me. “See what an alpha is, Fallon? Do you see how I control you?”
I clenched my teeth and dug my fingers and toes into the hard wooden floorboards. I wanted to turn wolf and rip Georges de Soissons to shreds. This was the reason I had come here. Yet I found I could not turn at will.
“You will not turn unless I command it,” Georges breathed, moving his face close enough to mine that I could bite him. I could bite him, if I were able to make myself move. My entire body trembled with my desire to move. “We have mated, have we not? We have mated as men, and not as beasts, as you did with your wife. I wonder, Fallon, did you ever wonder why she did not want to share her human body with you?”
I refused to answer.
“I am certain you know how disgusted she was by you. By your old, sagging body. Her brother’s body, a brother old enough to be her grandfather. Did you ever think about how she felt, being forced to marry you, especially when there were so many young, able-bodied men about who would make a good match for her?”
My teeth were clenched so hard I thought they might crack with the pressure.
“No, you were too eager to stick your prick in her. You and your family disgust me. I still remember that cold day when you and Lucien showed up and told a young boy, practically an orphan, to get out, to get off your family’s land.”
“Those were Father’s orders—”
“Not a one of you had sympathy for me. My own family shunned me, as did your family. And do you know what became of my family?”
I remained silent. We had all heard of the massacre at Soissons. It had reached us not long after Georges had accused my father of attacking as a wolf, after he had told the townspeople to look for the wolfskin belt in our barn that allowed Father to shift shape. We had already begun to pack our belongings then.
“I killed them all, Fallon. Every last one of them. Not Martin, no. I watched a simple peasant kill him. I watched him struggle with a pitchfork through his neck, and he knew I watched him. And I did not help him. Instead, I laughed.” Georges took in a deep breath and flopped onto his back again. That exposed belly. Would that I could move!
“My father is dead,” I seethed. “Unfortunately, you are too late to kill him yourself.”
“Oh, Fallon, how do you imagine your father died?” Georges shook his head. “Do you not understand yet? I killed your father, Fallon. I killed him, and I killed your mother.”
“No,” I said, confused. “Father was killed by a bear. Mother killed herself.” Even as I said the words, I realized how little I knew. Father had told me that Mother had died by her own hand, but what if Georges had somehow invaded her head, commanded her to do what she had done? And Father, we had found his body and smelled the bear… but what if that had been Georges simply covering up what he had done? “No.”
“You are beginning to see,” Georges said, “what I mean by complete revenge.”
Hopelessness crashed down around me. What else in my life had been a lie? I thought of my brothers, the deaths that had seemed like unfortunate accidents. I thought of my young family, and of what Georges might do to them. “Please, just kill me,” I said. “Let me be the last.”
Georges rolled up onto his knees and touched my face. I wanted to pull away but I could not. His lips pressed against mine like the whisper of a butterfly’s wing. “But Fallon, you are the last,” he breathed. “How have you lived your whole life not knowing? I seduced your mother. She gave birth to Madeleine. Then I seduced Madeleine, and we created all of those young ones you believe are your children. They have none of your blood, and all of mine.”
“No,” I moaned.
“Look at their eyes. You will see.”
In Georges’s eyes I saw how dark his eyes were. Mine own eyes were dark blue.
“No,” I repeated. I shook my head, and now that I could move, I shook it again and again. “No, no, no!”
Georges’s hold over me had ceased. I squeezed my eyes shut and reached up and tore at my hair, curling further into the floor. “No! You are a liar! No! No!”
All the rage I directed inward. I should have attacked Georges; instead I attacked myself. I pounded the floor and screamed and clawed at my face. I could not verbalize anything. I refused to believe what Georges had told me, it could not be true, I had memories, but now those memories were twisting to form this truth Georges had planted.
Eventually my wails and screams turned to howls and I found myself as a wolf, and I ran blindly out of the cabin.
I did not go far before my rage drove me back to the cabin. This time I would kill Georges. I would rip out his throat and strew his innards across the snowy ground. He had no control over me – it must have been something I imagined. I might not be an alpha, if what Fergus said was true, but Georges was certainly not my alpha. How could he be? He would have had to fight me.
Exploding through the cabin door, I ground to a halt. Something was wrong.
The cabin was deserted.
Georges had not simply left, it was as if he had never been here. The fireplace held only black cinders, long cold. There was no rug. I had only run for less than a quarter hour. Even if Georges had gone immediately after my departure, his scent would have remained.
I smelled nothing but my own stink.
It could not be. I searched my memory. Had I fallen asleep shortly after arriving at the cabin? Had all that had occurred been but a dream? I sniffed out every last corner of that cabin. There was nothing of Georges.
I know what I smelled I know what I heard I know what I saw
insane you are going crazy
Creeping away from the cabin, I told myself it had been a dream. Thinking otherwise would mean that I could not trust even my own senses.
Upon my return, things seemed eerily normal.
Madeleine was back to caring for the children. She greeted me with a smile that was not her best and brightest, but a smile nonetheless. I understood; her sons had been taken from her. And who better to understand than I?
In all the commotion we had been woefully unprepared for winter, and now I had plenty to keep myself occupied: the cutting of wood, the boarding of windows, the preparation of the barn. Jean helped me as best he could, but he was too young for most of it.
I did my best to forget that night with Georges.
It seeped into my dreams, making me restless. I had taken to sleeping on the living room sofa so as not to disturb Maddy. She hadn’t liked when I reached for her and breathed his name in her ear. Now, when I woke in a sweat, I was alone.
I turned my mind from those words Georges had spoken to me
it was a dream it was all just a dream
about my children. I could not believe it. Not until the night Maddy needed me to bathe little Anna, because Henri and Clare were giving Marie trouble about going to bed. I had not spent much time with my youngest. Her fat little arms splashed in the soapy water, and her damp hair curled into ringlets. I did my best to wash her there in the metal basin by the woodstove. Then she looked up at me, and put her tiny hand on my face.
I looked into her eyes, and the smile faded from my face.
There it was. How had I never noticed how dark her eyes were?
The moment seemed to last longer than it should have.
Look at their eyes… You shall see…
His voice, I had heard it, and I recoiled from my own daughter before looking around wildly. “Georges?” I called out. “Show yourself!”
Only after the sound of my own voice settled into the near-silence of the house, I reminded myself that Georges did not need to be physically close to invade my thoughts. Then I had to remind myself, out loud, for if I did not I could not know whether any of this was real, “It was all just a dream.”
“Fallon?” came Maddy’s voice from the top of the stairs.
“Everything is fine,” I called back, and that is when I returned my attention to Anna in the bathtub, and saw her arms and legs flailing.
I rushed forward and pulled her up from under the water. She coughed, and I pounded on her back until she coughed up water. She had not yet gulped enough air to begin to cry when she was snatched from my arms by my wife.
Maddy’s glare said it all. It told me I was a crazy old man. It said I should not be allowed to care for my own children. It said these were not my children. It said I was nothing to her, and nothing to them, because their father was Georges. Georges had taken it all from me.
“Who was your father?” I growled at Maddy. I pointed a dripping finger at little Anna, who did not cry, who stared at me with those dark eyes. “Who was her father?”
Now Maddy looked confused. “Fallon,” Maddy said, “Please, calm yourself. Go outside if you must. Please – do not frighten the children.”
I did not know what to do. She had not denied anything. What was the use in throwing around accusations? I stared at her. Looked into her eyes. Saw black depths that could swallow a man.
Had I not known those eyes? It seemed impossible that I could not know the exact shade of my wife’s eye color. We had lived together for twenty years.
As I stood contemplating, I blinked and Maddy had gone. I heard the soft chatter of the children settling down for bed. I was alone in the kitchen, dark but for the wood stove.
Blink again, and it was nearly Christmastide. The children had found a small pine tree, which Jean had cut down with a small axe, and set it up in the living room. My sofa was relocated to beneath the front window, where the moon glared down at me each night. Bows were tied to the branches, and little buttons and baubles were placed among the branches. Maddy even placed small candles on some of the outer branches, which gave the tree a lovely glow when lit, though Maddy fretted that the entire house would burn down.
I watched all the preparations from the shadows. I was a ghost of myself. These were not my children. This was not my wife. Who was I? I did not know.
Marie and Jean hung a stocking for each child from the fireplace mantel, carefully nailing them into place. Candles were placed in each of the windows “so that Santa Claus knows where to find us,” Jean explained to little Clare and Henri and Anna.
I recalled some of the first Christmases here in the New World. It had been the Wulfrics who had brought the traditions of Sinterklaas and hung stockings. From my youth I recalled setting out our shoes by the fireplace to receive a gift from Pere Noel, but it seemed this Sinterklaas was more appealing. Still, Jean set the Yule log ablaze on Christmas Eve – that was the French tradition.
The children buzzed with excitement. “Santa Claus will be coming tonight,” they repeated to one another. Maddy would have been better off with none of their help, but she gave the little ones small chores and bade Marie and Jean to keep an eye on them.
I found myself standing in the doorways, watching the goings on with sadness. These were not my children. This was not my wife. My hands were empty. These people before me, they were little more than strangers. They treated me much the same. How easily had I been deemed useless.
Blink, and I saw Georges weaving among them. He made a happy, loving husband and father. His youthful face mirrored that of Maddy’s, and she smiled and joked with him. The children called to him and begged him for hugs and sweets, and he obliged them, giving Henri a ride on his shoulders, swinging Clare about by her arms to make her skirts swirl.
Blink, and there was a knock at the door. The gaiety of the previous moment was gone. No, it was only my wife chopping onions, and Clare carefully setting the table, and Jean skidding to the door to fling it open.
“Paul! Lyon! Maman, Papa, it is Paul and Lyon!”
I stepped into the hallway to see for myself. My two eldest sons
these are not your sons
clomped into the house, scraping the snow from their boots and clapping their cold, mittened hands together.
A clatter as Maddy dropped her knife and ran to her boys. “How can this be?” she cried, and hugged them and kissed them. They returned the affection, laughing. Even quiet Lyon laughed and grinned at his mother.
“It is Christmas,” Paul said. “I told Fergus it did not matter about pack. Christmas is a time for family.”
this is not your family
“Fallon, come, our sons have returned to us!” Maddy sang out.
Paul saw me then, and the light in his eyes went out. I looked at him like an old enemy. I only had to check one thing, and all would be clear.
Blink, and I stood directly before him. My fingers had clamped around his jaw. I looked at his eyes, which were black as the deepest depths of hell.
“You are not my son,” I said, and walked outside.
Blink and it was night. I stared at the yule log burning in the fireplace. It crackled and popped and hissed and with it came the whispers.
(he is simply grown old)
(Fergus is right he is mad he is mad)
(only old and senile, the elderly forget sometimes)
(he did not forget he looked at me right at me said I was not his son)
(you are his son he only forgot he is forgetful in his old age)
(he is mad he is mad he is mad)
Was I mad, to believe what Georges told me in some fever dream? What color were my wife’s eyes before? We had the same eyes, I thought. Brother and sister. No mirror but ourselves.
not a dream Fallon you know it was real
“No!” I shouted, and slammed my fist against the mantel so hard the wood splintered. The little stockings dangled limply. Maddy had filled them with some treats before she retired to bed. Memories of the evening dinner drifted back to me. I had said little. Paul spoke only to Maddy and the little ones. Lyon did not speak at all. He stared at his plate and picked at his meal. Maddy popped up from her chair every few minutes, having forgotten the salt shaker, a spoon for the mashed potatoes, but it was all pretense, and excuse to run her fingers through Lyon’s golden curls. The gesture looked like it pained him. Lyon did not look at me at all.
he was hiding his eyes he knew
Paul asked the children about their lessons, small talk was made. Only once did anyone look at me.
“Fallon? Put the knife down, please,” Maddy had said.
I had looked down to see that I was gripping the carving knife, my fingers clenched so hard around the handle it left impressions on my palm.
Her mask of concern couldn’t hide the darkness in her eyes.
I didn’t remember putting the knife down. I didn’t remember the end of dinner, eating dessert. I don’t remember anything to now.
I look down at my hands.
They are red.
This is not how this story goes. I am not crazy. I didn’t kill anyone. When I blink again, my hands aren’t red, and I hear laughter ringing in my ears.
I know that voice, and it belongs to Georges.
“Where are you?” I growl, whipping around.
He leans in the doorway. I don’t wonder that my front door has opened without a sound, nor that the cold air outside has not breached the atmosphere of my home. My house is a cold bitter place now. Winter outside makes no difference.
I’ve not seen Georges fully clothed since his return. We have only encountered each other as wolves, or in our natural state.
I stare at him.
He wears a finely cut suit of a sort I have never seen. Back in France, the aristocrats wore brightly colored silken breeches, ruffled collars, and powdered wigs. I rarely saw these fancy types. We encountered them only briefly as we traveled out of France. Over the years, in the New World, we wore the same plain garments we wore back in Gévaudan. Breeches had given way to long trousers, better suited to traversing wild terrain. Otherwise, a pioneer’s clothing had changed little. The dress of the natives had been strange to us, though in time we saw how much better suited it was to life in Montana territory.
Georges was not wearing anything even like to the dress uniform of the soldiers who marched through. No. He wore all black, pants, vest, and jacket, with a crisp white dress shirt and blood red cravat. His auburn hair gleamed, picking up hues from the firelight.
He looked like wealth.
In contrast, I felt my age. I felt the nits in my hair, which I had not kept trim
cannot allow Madeleine near me with a razorblade
the uneven whiskers of my beard, the unraveling threads of my shirt, sewn for me by Maddy years ago. The ragged hem of my pants. The holes in my socks. The worn soles of my boots.
“You are insane,” Georges says. His voice drips with pity. “You truly are. The saddest part is that you do not realize it.”
Georges had clean-shaven cheeks. Georges had clothes without a speck of dirt on them. Even his fingernails were carefully manicured.
My fingernails were hard and thick and black. My fingernails were claws now.
“Don’t you know,” Georges said, stepping forward. “Werewolves don’t exist, Fallon. You think you’re a wolf?”
“I am a wolf,” I say. I hold up my hands. “See?”
“What am I supposed to see?” Georges asks.
I look at my hands again. My fingernails look normal. Dirty, but normal.
Georges shakes his head. “Such a pity.”
“Get out of my house,” I growl.
“Perhaps you should get out of my house.” Georges saunters in a few more steps. “This is my house, after all.”
“No.” I shake my head. “No.”
“My house. My wife,” he gestures upstairs, “my children.”
I press my hands against my ears and squeeze my eyes shut. “Not true! Not true!” I scream. My screaming drowns out his voice.
When I look up, he is gone. Door closed. No sign that it had been open.
“I am a wolf,” I growl at the empty air.
For hours I stare at the fire. Perhaps only minutes. I cannot tell the time any more. It is always dark and always cold and the fire does little warm me. All I see within its flames is the darkness in my children’s eyes. My wife’s eyes.
A distant whispering turns my attention away. It is different from the whispering of the fire. I cannot quite make out separate words, but I hear my name among the sounds.
I move like the wolf that I am, a stalking wolf, as I creep up the stairs. I built these stairs, I know the wood. Here it likes to creak. Here it remains silent. I have roamed the earth for a century but my body knows no age. The wolf is ageless, and I am the wolf.
A light slants through the doorway of Maddy’s bedroom.
The door is not closed tightly. I hear Maddy’s voice, still whispering. And Paul’s voice, low and rumbling. The light is faint and flickering, a single candle to illuminate their midnight tryst. For that is what it is. A disgusting perversion. Mother and son coupling like animals. I cannot allow this to take place. We keep the bloodlines pure, but not in this way.
Growling, I burst through the door. The wood flies off the hinges and slams into the wall. Splinters rain down. My hand is a gnarled nightmare with razor-sharp claws. I bare my teeth at the two who have jumped away from each other. Fully clothed, yes, but that does not mean I didn’t hear what I heard.
“Fallon,” Maddy breathes.
Paul does not speak. He knows what he has done is wrong. He reaches instead for the fireplace poker by the cold hearth.
“You accuse me of foul crimes,” I snarl, “and yet you commit far more disgusting acts.”
“No, Fallon,” Maddy cries. “I asked Paul and Lyon to stay. The snowstorm—” I glance at the windows, where snow falls and paints the night white.
“And because you are acting like a lunatic,” Paul says to me.
“Lying bastard!” I take a step toward him, but Paul lunges forward, swinging the poker. I receive the blow on my shoulder, knocking me into the bed. I lash back. He regroups to swing again. This time I am ready. I catch the poker in my clawed hand and hurl it across the room. “Face me like the wolf you are. Without weapons.”
My son hesitates. He is unsure that he could defeat me in a fight.
“Coward,” I seethe. I turn to Maddy. “This is what you breed when you lie with others. Cowards. Weak bastards.”
“He is your son, Fallon!” Maddy cries, clutching at her nightgown. “I do not know why you accuse me of such things! I have always been faithful to you!”
“You have lain with Georges de Soissons!” I snap. “I have seen it through the bonds! I have felt his hands on your body and his breath on your neck!”
“No!” Maddy cries.
“Georges de Soissons is dead, Father,” Paul says coldly. “There is no way he could still live. He would be a century old. Neither man nor wolf can live so long.”
“And you know this as fact, do you?” I swing toward him. “You know nothing. You do not even know your own father!”
“My father is insane, clearly!”
“You have his eyes,” I say.
Paul looks confused, but I can see it, the darkness glinting there.
“Your father is the Beast of Gévaudan,” I growl. My body is losing control to the angry wolf. “I knew him. I knew the Beast when he was a boy, a selfish, superior little prick. And you are his spitting image.”
“How could you know him?” Maddy says from the corner of the room. “How old are you?”
“My own wife doesn’t know my age,” I sneer through a widening mouth. “I am more than a century old. Georges and I, we are the same age.”
I take a step toward her. She is the liar, the betrayer, the whore.
But Paul cuts me off.
“Perhaps you and Georges are one and the same,” he says. “Perhaps you are so mad you believe yourself to be the Beast.”
My eyes narrow.
“If we are not your family,” Paul challenges, “then leave. Leave us be. No one need be harmed by your delusions.”
“Leave?” I growl. I feel my spine shifting, my shoulders, my knees. My face stretches into something not human. “Why should I leave? This is my home.”
“And you would turn us out into the snow?” Maddy demands. “Think of the children. They cannot turn yet. They would freeze to death.”
I take another step toward her, my clawed hands outstretched.
Paul once again blocks me.
“I will fight you,” he says loudly. “I will fight you, Beast. The loser either dies or leaves.”
“Paul, no!” Maddy cries. Her eyes flicker behind Paul, and I see Lyon standing there, with Marie clutching at his nightshirt.
“Maman, I must!”
“Yes,” I snarl. “Yes, we will fight. I will prove that I am your rightful alpha.”
Paul’s jaw tightens as he swallows. “Then let us fight.”
He tears at his clothes, turning wolf in mere seconds, as if the creature has exploded from his human form. He growls at me, hunkered down on the floor, waiting.
(so old, so slow)
With that insult, I complete the shift to wolf between one blink and the next, so fast he flinches in surprise. And then, we fight.
Paul is a strong fighter, I taught him well. He has the muscle strength of a young man, the energy and quickness of the youthful, and he has hunted enough to know where to strike.
Paul, however, has never really had to fight for his life. When we hunt for food, we do not truly fear that the deer or rabbit will kill us, and whatever this initiation fight for the pack involves, it is not a true fight to the death. He does not go for the jugular. Perhaps he does not truly wish to kill me. And that is why I defeat him.
His black eyes blaze surprise as the life leaves him. I cannot allow him to live, to rise and attack me again. I must regain control. I must prove my strength.
His blood flows down my throat. My head shakes back and forth, tearing his neck open further. He dies faster.
I shake my head again. His pleas are meaningless. He is the son of my mortal enemy.
The adrenaline of the fight makes me tremble. The room is a shambles. We crashed through the bed post, and splintered the bureau. The stack of wood by the fireplace is scattered throughout, and the fire itself has escaped the hearth. My hide suffers cuts from Paul’s claws and tender spots that will turn to bruising.
Maddy leapt around us to try to tamp down the flames, to speak to the children words I could not hear, but then she turned wolf herself. She watches us with those black eyes and howls as Paul dies.
(see? I am strong. My blood makes me strong)
Her eyes wild with grief and anger, she attacks.
Maddy is a more dangerous fighter than her eldest son, perhaps only because she truly wants to see me die. She has not spent as much time in wolf form as I have, has never fought one of her own kind. She has a viciousness and a quickness, however, and I struggle through exhaustion to sink my teeth into her.
I work to corner her, herding her until she has nowhere left to escape, and then I am on her. My teeth find purchase in the thick hide of her back, between her shoulders, and I use my claws to damage her chest and throat.
An attack from behind tells me that Lyon has joined the fight, finally. I easily swipe him away, but it distracts me enough that Maddy can twist her body and claw at my face, blinding one of my eyes. I release her pelt and snap at her face. Between my teeth, one of her eyes pops like a grape, and hot viscous liquid runs over my tongue. She howls and scrabbles harder, but I have claws, too, and I rake at her throat over and over and over again. Blood spills over the white patch of fur on her chest. Her flailing paws slow, become less directed.
Lyon attempts another attack, and I wait until a jet of blood spurts from her neck and sprays over my face. This wound will not heal before she dies. Now I release her and turn on my second eldest son. Lyon jumps away. His eyes roll in fear as he backs up to the doorway. A high, nervous bark emits from his throat.
Beyond him, I hear the other children.
Panicked, the younger ones crying, they trip over themselves as they scurry down the stairs. Between their wailing and footsteps, it sounds like a herd of children. All of them. And here Lyon protects them. They will run to their true father for aid. I cannot allow it. It should be easy enough to hunt them down one by one after I kill Lyon.
I face him.
The room has grown quite warm, not simply because of my exertions – the flames have caught the braided rug, and smoke fills the low-ceilinged room. I growl. Lyon yips again. I imagine he fears for his life, he knows he will die.
Odder is that I will relish killing him.
For a long moment that thought halts me. It is Georges who enjoys killing. He killed for pleasure back in France, for notoriety. He has not done the same here. My brain struggles to connect these two thoughts. Perhaps he has only refined his murderous game, by manipulating me into killing for him. Perhaps he fed me lies so he could watch me murder my own family while he watched and laughed.
Panting, I do not have to look around to see the destruction I’ve already wrought. Paul’s throat torn out, his wolfish pelt soaked in blood. Maddy’s blood splattered across the room. The fire devouring the carpet and moving towards the bed, skirting past Paul’s carcass. Soon it will destroy the evidence of what I’ve done.
Lyon waits for my attack. He moves to intercept, not dodge, my first feint toward him, so I strike out with my claws and knock him to the side. He jumps to his feet and returns to his position in the doorway, snarling.
I see now. Lyon protects his brothers and sisters.
If only my bond with him remained, but his mind is as foreign to me now as any rogue wolf. Georges has destroyed what bonds I once had, reclaimed them. Even shy Lyon has turned traitor to the father who raised him, to simper at the feet of the Beast. Georges must have convinced my boys of his strength and prowess. Perhaps he even convinced them that he was immortal. It would not take much convincing. “Look at your old Papa,” Georges might have said. “Once, we were both boys of fifteen together. He is an old man now, and I have not aged a day.” Then, he might have revealed that he was their true father. “My blood runs through your veins! You are like me, strong. Immortal. Your Papa is an old fool, raising the cuckoo I placed in his nest. Your Papa is impotent.”
Surely Maddie fed into this. She always wanted to believe she was better than me somehow. They all wanted to believe they were better.
Lyon was the one I might have counted upon to have more sense. He was more thoughtful. Less likely to be swayed by the opinions of others who thought me old and mad.
At least he seems to know that he cannot defeat me in a fight. He does not attack me, except when I move to hunt down all of Georges’ bastards. He is loyal, but only to his own blood. Georges’ blood.
This standoff with Lyon gives me time to catch my breath, regain a little strength. I feint left and right on occasion, keep him on the defensive, until the fire becomes a raging inferno and the smoke makes the air too thick to breath. Then I muster all my strength and attack Lyon straight-on.
The force of the attack, and the directness of it after all my feints catches him off-guard. His eyes go wide just before I plow into him and send him sliding, claws scrabbling, across the wooden floor planks. I push him into the banister, which splinters beneath our combined weight, and then we are falling.
I meant to use the surprise of the attack to throw him off guard, and as we fall I know I can also use this to my advantage. His throat will be unprotected, his head smashed backwards as we land, while my own head will fall forward. As my weight crashes into his, pressing us chest to chest, I am prepared to snap down on his neck upon impact, but for some reason my teeth bite empty air, and there is a sharp impact in my sternum.
Lyon blinks his black eyes at me as blood drips onto his face. Blood… from my open mouth.
I cannot breathe.
His eyes glaze over and become lifeless, with only a twitching of his limbs to protest his passing. Vaguely, I begin to understand how we must have landed on one of the spindles of wood from the banister. How the wood impaled both of us.
My legs push me up. The wooden stake makes a sucking sound as it exits my chest. I gasp, gag, retch. Stagger sideways and roll down the stairs. Black out.
When I open my eyes, I know I was unconscious for perhaps fifteen minutes at most. This I know because the fire is still contained on the second floor. Black smoke billows down the stairwell and out through the open front door. I cough, as much as a wolf can cough, and try to stand.
The wound in my chest is far from healed, but it will do. I stagger a few steps, scent the air, and run.
The remaining children have had a head start. The smoke fills my lungs and clouds my senses, and I vomit an oily black mass into the snow. Wolf vision is not as good as a human’s, normally. In the night, wolf vision has its advantages. I can see their footprints in the snow. The high drifts make for slow going with little legs.
I make my way along the trail, racing along when the drifts are thin, struggling when they are chest-high and I must leap into each step as my blood stains the white. Here I come, I think to myself, my wolfish mouth grinning. I will destroy all of your children, Georges.
When I first catch sight of the struggling forms in the trees, I get a second wind. Yes, yes, yes, they will die, these sweet little morsels – no, I stop and shake my head. I cannot become a beast like Georges. And yet when the wind turns, and I scent them again, I nearly swoon.
Yes yes yes
The sweet little flower, Marie, so close to blooming, those dark curls, she makes my mouth water. When she glances behind and see me so close, her pink rosebud lips part, and she sucks in a little breath. Her skin is cold and white but for blooms of wind burn on her cheeks. She tugs at the little one following her. I sniff the air and know this is Henri stumbling at her side. I howl my triumph and leap closer.
“No!” she cries, and yanks Henri behind her, so that she protects him. I am only two paces away, and I cover that distance before I see the glint of what she holds in her other hand.
The dull metal of an axe. She screams and swings before I can stop myself, and once again I feel pain slice into my chest.
She is but a girl of eleven, though, and her blow does not bury the axe deep enough. She does not have time to pull back for a second swing before I sink my teeth into her arm and with a little pull, sever it from her body.
Staring at the torn armhole of her nightgown, Marie’s face loses the bloom of windburn, turns full pale in an instant. The axe slips from her other, still attached hand. My teeth quickly, but gently, close around her throat. I can feel the collapse of every vein, the severing of cartilage, and the crunching of bone, all squelching in blood.
And it tastes so good as she dies.
My mouth salivates for Henri. I would give chase, as he has run ahead only a short way, but behind me I feel a strong presence. And I hear Anna, little baby Anna, crying, and I think of how her head crunching between my teeth would taste like dessert.
Smoke belches from the blackened skeleton of the house. Anna cries in the arms of Louise Connors. She is surrounded by the other females in the pack, all in wolf form. If not for their scents I would not know them, but I sniff out Rosalyn Randell, Ines Wulfric, and Catriona Roulf. And these are behind the wall of male wolves who approach me, circle me.
I cannot communicate with them, as I am no longer pack. I could turn human, and try to explain. But what good are explanations when surrounded by so many sharp teeth? When one has already killed those he once cared for, and these are simply the ones he has always hated?
My lips curl to show off my bloodied fangs.
In the moments before my death, as claws rake me open and flesh is torn from my bones, I catch glimpses of Georges. He does not attack me. He only laughs as a wolf might laugh, mouth open and tongue lolling.
He reminds me that I am not him.
We are separate.
He is the immortal one, while I am merely old.
I am the murderer, the madman who killed my sister-wife and three of my children. And ate them. And enjoyed it.
I do not scream as my blood stains the snow, and my world turns dark.
Kate Spofford lives in New Hampshire and works as a young adult librarian. In her spare time she writes novels and trains for the circus. For more information, visit her online at .
Montana, 1870 Escaping the havoc wrought by the Beast of Gevaudan, the five families have made a life in the remote forests of the New World. Here Fallon Loupe is one of the oldest werewolves in existence, but his peace is interrupted by war and his paranoia that his old enemy Georges de Soissons has found him.