By the light…
Simeon: Apprentice Healer.
Merek: Townne Master Healer.
Cassius: Were Pack Leader.
Helewys: Were Pack Ledrene.
Fendrel: Townne leader.
Phrowenia: Wife of Fendrel.
Gussalen: Inn serving wench.
Gregor: Eldest son of Cassius and Helewys. Twin of Ysmay.
Ysmay: Eldest daughter of Cassius and Helewys. Twin of Gregor.
Simeon looked up from where he was packing his night hunting supplies into his hessian knap. ‘That was a large explosion from somewhere near the centre of Garddetownne.’ He cocked his head on one side until he heard the church bell ringing out its emergency peels. ‘Some ignoramus has dropped a flour barrel too near an open fire again!’ he thought, quickly throwing his emergency healers kit into the top of the sack, efficiently tying it closed with a hempen rope.
The sounds of heavy breathing and footsteps, accompanied by the click clacking of an oak walking staff clattering up the pathway at the front of the cottage, “Simeon! Simeon!!!”
“Yes Master Merek,” Simeon shouted down from his loft space pallet.
“Forge has blown out…Brom is dead, took the kitchen wall out of the Inn as well. Gather everything you can quickly, there are at least three injured. Everyone is trying to control the fire now with buckets from the well.” Merek gasped out, breathing heavily as his aging frame tried to cope with the downhill sprint to his cottage.
Simeon slid down the ladder with the reckless abandon of his youth, dashing into the stores for the comfrey and alder salves for the inevitable burns, bundling up straight split chestnut splints of varying sizes, and boiled hemp bandages to go with them. He threw everything into a much larger knap and headed back to where Merek was going through the locked dresser that the more deadly premixed medicines were kept.
“Let me help you there Master…” he exclaimed, gently placing the sack down next to the old man who was perusing over the woundwort and poppy seed jars. He was still breathing heavily, struggling to recover from his recent exertions.
“No no… you know that I’ve told you that I can’t give you access to these until you become a Journeyman. You are just too young at thirteen for access yet, I would be thrown out of the village if Fendrel or one of his lackeys caught you in here!” Merek sighed, turning to face the gangling young adult who he had adopted and taken on as his apprentice when his parents had died from plague eight years previously, “It is not that I think you not capable of handling them Simeon, it is the fact that the Townnespeople will not abide being medicated by an unproven boy.”
“But I am ready Master!” Simeon protested.
Merek frowned and fished a much smaller key out of his waist pouch, “I know Simeon, you were ready when you turned twelve…but the law is the law.” He handed the key to his apprentice, “Your birthday is in two moon cycles…I will sign your Journeyman scrolls on that day and not before. Now please, go and fetch me some needles and catgut from the water-chest in the stream. I will head up and see what I can do to alleviate pain amongst the injured. Join me when you have the supplies. Quick, quick!” With that the old man turned, leaning heavily on his staff he picked up and shouldered the large knap with a grunt and started the long limp up the hill to the townne square and it’s scene of destruction.
Simeon sighed and collected his own knap from where he had dropped it. Stopping at the supply room again, he added more splints and bandages to the outside of his pack before jogging off down to the millrace stream. It had taken some persuasion from Merek and the Townne council to get the miller to allow the inclusion of a cooling race next to his spillway, but after one of the grit stones had slipped and crushed his son’s hand, (Which Merek had saved) the extra clyse was constructed some twenty years previously.
Hauling on the winch chains, Simeon lifted the oilskin wrapped chest from the rushing water before swinging it clear to sit on the stone side of the race. Unwrapping the oak chest quickly, Simeon unlocked it and withdrew around thirty lengths of the catgut that resided in the moist interior. A second oilskin package was removed from a pocket in the chest’s lid, the tiny and incredibly precious moon-steel needles wrapped within. They were slipped into the top of his knap, the catgut threads wrapped carefully on a damp Alder comb before joining them. Locking and tightly wrapping the chest up again, he lowered it back under the racing water and raced up the seven furlong hill to where the accident had happened.
A few hours later…
Merek collapsed exhausted into the old wooden chair next to the fireplace in the cottage as Simeon bent and placed a cauldron of willow bark tea over the embers to reheat.
“Will they all live Master?” Simeon asked as he stirred the concoction gently until it began to steam.
“What? Oh they should do. Gussalen will be lucky if she doesn’t lose her leg though. I can’t set a fractured knee cap, but I have done what I can. Why oh why did that idiot Brom have his water tank on the wall above the forge! Anyway…too late now, and he will be answering for his stupidity at God’s gates. It is going to take weeks to rebuild that mess!” Merek cursed as Simeon passed him a clay mug full of the headache remedy. The old man reached into his pocket and sprinkled a few poppy seeds into the mixture, plus a couple of drops of Digitalis from one of the few glass bottles he had managed to blow himself from raw silica in the forge’s fire.
“Are you sure that is wise Master?” Simeon asked, concerned.
“Questioning me now youngster?” Merek barked…before subsiding again, “You are right of course, it is not wise at all. But my heart is bothering me as much as my hip is tonight. Do not worry, I will not kill myself with my own medicines.” He sighed sleepily then, leaning back into the burlap cushions. “Did you manage to harvest the Primroses and Starflowers I asked you to before I left for my mead?”
“I was just leaving when the explosion happened,” Simeon replied, indicating his knap.
“Hmmmph…well you had better go out and do so now. Full moon is only one night a month and we will need the oils derived from them to keep the burns clean and uninfected. Let me sleep now, wake me before you take to your pallet at the sun’s dawning.” A snore slipped from Merek’s lips as his hand slumped, the remains of the tea spilling from the mug before Simeon could catch it.
Simeon threw a patchwork blanket over his master with a smile, and collected his knap again from by the door, before trotting out into the night. He loved the night, but as most of the potions and supplies had to be prepared from herbs and creatures during the daylight hours, he only got the chance once a month to head off into the woods alone under the mystical light of the full moon.
The evening Primroses he knew he would find in the clearing about forty furlongs north of the Townne, close to the mountains which the people avoided for some reason. He had tried prying the reasons out of Merek in the past, but the old man had remained stoically silent over it. It had taken him a while to realise that on occasion he was being drugged by his master on some nights during his apprenticeship, but he had not finished the brew one time and had heard Merek slip out of the cottage in the middle of the night. It had tended to happen a couple of times a month since then, and Simeon had learned to recognise the smell of the herb that caused his sleepiness and he avoided the brew those nights. Merek always headed north out of the Townne…
Following one night, Simeon had soon lost sight of Merek in the virgin forest, and after wandering around in circles, he had discovered the clearing he was now heading for. By virtue of the moss on the north side of the trees, he luckily navigated himself back to the cottage before his discovery that night, and had not followed Merek since. The deep forest had disturbed him in some way that time. There were all sorts of rumours about the predators, and each snap of a twig in the silence, each grunt of something hidden from his view had made him extremely nervous.
He had conquered those nerves a many moon cycles back, and now he was the one tasked with the night harvests, as Merek’s hip was paining him too much in the cold. The silvery light bathed him as he passed under the many small gaps in the thick canopy overhead. He was settled in his normal loping trot that ate up the furlongs within three quarter marks, the route memorised as his leather clad feet pounded down the old game trails. He was hardly breathing heavily as the canopy broke above him completely, the Primrose filled glade opening out in front of him. The full moon had allowed some of the flowers to remain open, glistening in the night’s dew as spiders wove their silken webs amongst them.
Carefully he set his knap down and began harvesting the fullest and must swollen of the plants with his finely stropped blade, slipping them into the tanned, kidskin pouches until they were all full and laced tightly shut. The spring fed stream burbled through the shallow trough that had formed over the millennia near the centre of the clearing, before vanishing into the forest again. The soil underfoot was shallow and poor…nothing for higher flora to get a grip in hence the lack of trees that would normally be fighting for the light. Shouldering his knap carefully Simeon walked down to the crystalline waters and scooped some up, sipping at them to sate his growing thirst before heading upstream towards where he knew the waterway burst from a sheer, fern covered rock wall a couple of furlongs into the forest in a miniature series of waterfalls and rapids. That was where he would find his Starflowers if he was lucky.
He was almost at his destination when a loud mechanical clank sounded from off to his right, followed by the most horrendous squealing and howling he had ever heard in all his thirteen years. Pigs were quieter when their throats were being let of their lifeblood as they kicked away in the butcher’s blood pit. He shivered as the noise diminished into a series of pitiful whimpers that continued as his heart calmed, his brain finally registering that maybe he should breathe again.
Simeon glanced at the harvesting knife he held in his hands…No one hunted up here in the forest anymore, he was sure of that. Whatever animal was trapped would either bleed or starve to death. Or he could grant it mercy…It may even be good for the pot… Decision made, he left the stream bed and crept slowly towards the sounds of pain.
It was at least a furlong from the watercourse before he found the source of the disturbance. His breath caught in his throat as the dappled moonlight revealed an enormous silver grey wolf with one of its front legs trapped in an extremely old and rusty gin trap. It was clearly broken below the knee, and bleeding heavily. Two pain-filled blue eyes locked with his, the wolf’s lips curling back into a deep snarl as it laid its ears back flat on its head, neck ruff rising as it challenged him, he who could easily end its life with the knife he was carrying.
Simeon glanced down at his white knuckles where they were curled around the bone handle in his hand. Something was not right about the wolf, its whole posture was wrong…and from everything he had read in the old flora and fauna scrolls Merek kept on the shelves in the cottage, adult wolves never ever had blue eyes…only the pups did. The wolf that was facing him down now was definitely not a pup…in fact it probably weighed at least twice what he did! He slowly started to back away…
The wolf brought its ears forward and whined, tugging at the trap.
Simeon paused, ‘Could I really leave it to die?’ he thought.
The wolf whined again.
He knelt, sheathing the knife in his tunic’s belt before easing his knap off his shoulders carefully. “I can help you if you want,” he said quietly to the wolf, easing forwards on his hands and knees, his head and eyes level with the creatures that could easily end his life if it broke free. It was only then that the eye-watering scent of crushed garlic filled his nostrils and he realised that they were both in a giant bed of the wild herb, “Ah…so that is why you didn’t smell the metal…” he murmured quietly to himself as he approached.
He stopped dead when the wolf nodded.
“You understand me?” He queried in shock.
The beast tilted it’s head on one side and nodded again.
“How is that possible?”
The wolf just pulled at the trap again, whining in pain.
“Are you enchanted boy?” Simeon asked as he came within the wolf’s reach.
The wolf flattened its ears again and growled, shaking its head. Curving its spine around, it flagged its tail and sprayed Simeon with a noxious shower of piss from just below its hindquarters, causing him to cover his eyes and roll backwards out of range.
“Alright, alright! Girl!” he exclaimed as the she-wolf returned to the position she had been in, watching him closely, an almost half smirk on her muzzle. “So if you understand me, will you attack me if I free you?” Simeon asked quietly.
The she-wolf shook her head.
He sighed, “Well in for a groat…” he muttered to himself and he reached forward and disengaged the rusty catch on the traps jaws, prizing them apart so the wolf could back out of it, before he closed it again firmly, making sure that no other creature would ever fall victim to its embrace. Slowly he started to stand up again, “Go on…you are free to go now.” He said. The wolf shook her head and pounced, flattening him into the garlic bed, “Whoa!” Simeon shouted, trying to hold the beast’s jaws away from his face with his inadequate arms.
The she-wolf just looked at him, before running its tongue up from his chin to his forehead. She then backed off a little and nudged against his knap, sniffing at it as he sat up shakily. Gently she pulled at one of the splints that was tied to the outside of it still, and brought it over to him, holding her leg up like a puppy begging.
“You want me to heal you?” Simeon asked incredulously.
The she-wolf nodded.
“But…but…” he started to protest, but the wolf cut him off with a growl. “Oh fuck it! This is going to hurt though! No biting me when I make you howl okay?”
She nodded, and rolled her tongue out for him.
It took him a second to realise what she wanted… “Painkiller?” he queried.
She nodded again.
Simeon shook his head…Merek would not believe this tale, and would probably throw him out of his cottage as mentally ill if he related it. He carefully unpacked his knap, delving for the emergency pack he kept at the bottom of it. He had some things in there that Merek didn’t know about…things that should have been in the locked cupboards. He gauged the wolf’s bodyweight with his eyes in the limited light from the moon and pulled out two small pills made from crushed Comfrey and Narcissus, mixed with poppy seeds. “Swallow these please,” he requested, placing them on the wolf’s tongue.
She did as requested, rolling then to the back of her toothy maw and swallowing them better than any child in the Townne.
“Now I am going to rub an ointment made of Henbane and Ground Ivy into your broken leg. That will numb it off. You must not lick it, or you will die…it is very poisonous.” He warned her as he slipped on a rabbit leather glove. The concoction would numb his hand too if he didn’t protect it from contact.
The wolf nodded again, her eyes rolling slightly as the opiates and herbs in her stomach started to make her sleepy.
Simeon slathered the open wound on her leg with the paste and sat back to prepare his tools, his hands shaking slightly. It was the first time he had performed such an operation without Merek looking over his shoulder. Gently he removed one of the needles from its sleeve and threaded it with catgut, before he neatly stitched together the flaps of loose, fur covered skin over the raw flesh.
The wolf bared her teeth at him, her hot breath whispering through his hair each time he pierced her hide.
“This is going to hurt even more now…On the count of three I am going to set your bone. One, two…” With a practiced snap of his hands, he pulled her foreleg straight until he felt the broken pieces align, and pulse come back to her paw.
She screamed out a howl, the noise almost deafening him as he fought to stop her from pulling her leg free from his grip. Quickly he reached for the powdered elm bark and dusted the area of the stitched wound with it before grabbing the chestnut splints and binding the limb straight and true with a hemp bandage until it couldn’t possibly be moved. He poured some raw garlic water from one of his leather bottles on the fabric until it soaked through and then let her free.
She stood up shakily, testing her leg with her weight, wincing as it touched the ground. “Keep your weight off that until it no longer hurts. Technically you should have the bandage changed every couple of sunrises, but that is obviously not possible. Gnaw that off no sooner than the new moon, and avoid using your leg strenuously before the next full one…okay?”
The she-wolf nodded again, before limping towards where he had left his medical pack on the ground. She nosed at the wooden box that contained the painkilling pills before looking up at him.
He grimaced and carefully counted out twenty of them into a small leather pouch which he left open, quickly braiding together a few lengths of catgut into a string before kneeling to hang it around her neck. “If you swallow more than four in a day, or more than one at time, you are likely to die okay. Do not use them unless you have to. Understand?” he asked, feeling a total fool for telling a wolf this and wasting his precious supplies.
She nodded again, and then, without warning lunged at him, taking his left shoulder in her jaws. Before he could react, she closed them gently and pierced his skin with all four of her razor sharp canines through his tunic before releasing him and backing off.
“What did you do that for?” Simeon cried in pain, reaching for where blood was seeping into his clothing and removing the tunic from his shoulder.
She came forward again, licking at both his face and where the blood was oozing from under his fingers. She cocked her head on one side one final time before touching her nose to his crotch and running off with her limp into the forest.
Simeon grumbled, “Love bite I suppose,” he muttered, lifting his hand from where the pain was dying off rapidly. Four angry red marks were all that were showing where she had bitten him, and once again he wondered just exactly what he had tended to that night. Shaking his head he quickly packed everything back into his knap and backtracked to the stream before resuming his harvest of the starflowers.
The sun was already painting the Eastern horizon when he staggered back into the Townne. Simeon dropped his knap on the floor just through the door of the cottage as a huge wave of dizziness passed over him, and he held onto the doorframe until his head cleared a little. Merek was still snoring quietly where he had been left. Gently he shook his Master awake.
“Ah…good boy. You get everything from the night?” Merek asked as his eyes opened.
“Yes Master…” Simeon replied, “They are all in my knap by the door.”
Merek wrinkled his nose, “Where have you been…you stink of urea and garlic!”
“Tripped and fell in a brock’s latrine,” Simeon lied, leaning against the wall, “I am exhausted now Master.”
“Yes yes…it was a rather trying night. Go…sleep until the second mark after noon. I will prepare the plants you harvested from last night before I go and check on the patients.” Merek said, accepting the explanation.
“Thank you Master.” Simeon replied and hauled himself up the ladder to his pallet. He slipped out of his tunic and dropped it into the pile for the washerwoman at the end of the reeds. The last thing that passed through his mind before unconsciousness was the thought that the wound on his shoulder was beginning to burn…
Merek arrived back at the cottage, hoping that Simeon had prepared some broth to renew his flagging energy levels while he had been tending the patients up at the damaged Inn. The Stonemasons were already relaying the smashed keystones, while the Wood-wrights were out in the forest sourcing new oak to rebuild the wall as soon as the lime mortars had gone off. The cottage was silent and cold…the fire out in the hearth.
Merek grumbled under his breath, it was the fourth mark from noon by his reckoning. “Simeon! Simeon! Get your arse down now or I will use your Journeyman scrolls to relight the fire!” Merek yelled up at the loft opening.
Silence answered him, not even a creaking of the rough-hewn boards to indicate any sign of life. That worried Merek. He cursed to himself and dropped his large knap by the door, before heading over to the ladder. Hauling himself up one rung at a time he poked his head over the entry step and immediately his suspicions were confirmed.
Simeon was lying there naked under the thatch apart from his woollen undergarments. He was soaked from head to foot in a sweat despite the chill in the cottage’s air, the wool soaking as it clung to his skin. He was shivering, but his body was not tossing and turning, just lying there rigid as shallow breaths were drawn through his pallid lips.
“Shit!” Merek cursed. There was no way he could drag the boy down from his pallet for treatment… His first guess was a fever caught from that brock’s latrine the night before. Quickly he threw the boy’s blanket over him before he descended the ladder as fast as he could. He laid a quick fire in the hearth, striking it alight with the flints kept for just such a purpose before piling as much wood onto the grate as he deemed safe. He then gathered his cloak about him and stated painfully back up the hill to the inn where all the able bodied males were working.
By the time he had seconded one of the stonemason’s apprentices and got back to his cottage, the fire was burning high and the temperature inside was becoming very stuffy. He quickly gathered together his own sleeping pallet and laid it out in front of the fire as the young stonemason climbed the ladder and carried Simeon down on his shoulders to be laid upon it. Merek reached into his cloak’s pocket and pulled out a quarter groat, slipping it into the lad’s palm as a way of a thank you before letting him out the door. “Robin…Tell them not to come a knocking on the cottage unless it is an emergency. I have got to try and purge Simeon of what he is afflicted with…I will be up again in the morning to do my duties for the wounded.” Merek instructed, just getting a nod and a grin from Robin before he jogged back up the hill to his Master.
Merek turned to Simeon then and stripped him of all his garments until he lay there completely naked. ‘He will make a good husband one day,’ fleetingly passed though the old healer’s thoughts as he observed just how much the waif he had rescued had matured in the intervening eight years of training. ‘That’s if he makes it…’
Ladling some cool water from a pitcher kept in the back room over Simeon’s brow, he held his apprentices head up and trickled a couple of cups down his throat to try and replenish some of the waters lost through his sweating. First thing to deal with was the fever. Merek swung a caldron full of water over the roaring fire and threw several handfuls of Hyssop, John’s Wort and Feverfew into the water, stirring gently until it came to the boil. Letting it cool a little he forced Simeon’s mouth open again, and added a cup of the medicine to the contents of the boy’s stomach.
Sitting back up a little, Merek stripped himself of all but his own undergarments in the stifling heat before gently starting to go over Simeon’s body from toe to head for any new wounds that could be the point of entry for whatever it was that was ravaging his body…finding nothing but four very small bruises on his left shoulder…two at the front, two at the back. Those he examined closely, but there was no evidence of thorns or other subcutaneous intrusions.
Merek scratched his head. Unless Simeon had somehow ingested some of the urinal or faecal matter in the latrine, there should have been no reason for his fever to be so high. The only thing that he could do now was help keep his body at a manageable temperature and hydrated until it broke, or until his heart gave up. Merek resigned himself to giving the friar a couple of groats for the prayer box on his next trip up to the Inn.
Six sunsets later a very tired Merek stumbled back into his cottage. He was caked in blood, his ears ringing from the screams Gussalen had emitted as he took her leg in the butcher’s blood pit; just above the knee. With the best will in the world and over forty years’ experience, he had not managed to save it, and gangrene had set in. Her stump was now cauterised, and the innkeeper had been charged with feeding her poppy syrup to numb her until she regained her senses….not that that would help. She would likely be turned out on the street as soon as she was healed as she would be unable to serve, and no man would look to her for their nightly comforts anymore either.
He shook his head in disgust. Man’s inhumanity to man and all that trash. He glanced down at Simeon who still lay by the fire, as he had done for the last five days, and paused before rushing over. His breathing was steady again, colour in his cheeks, no sweat on his brow…’Could it be?’ He placed the back of his hand on the slumbering boy’s forehead.
“Halleluiah!” Merek shouted in joy. The fever was finally broken. No more fighting the Townnes people off with their suspicions that Simeon was carrying the plague. There was something odd about the way the boy looked though. He had far more than five days’ worth of beard growth on his chin, cheeks and upper lip. His head hair was all straggly and out of control, tinged with grey and his chest was now covered with hirsuteness more befitting of a man thrice his age. A quick lift of the blanket covering his waistline, and it became very apparent that puberty had been and gone in the duration of the fever. He had lost around half his bodyweight despite Merek’s best efforts, but the lankiness of his youth was now the honed and wiry muscle of a messenger’s body. It was a puzzle, and still Simeon didn’t wake. Was he brain addled? If so, well Merek would be merciful and feed him a bitter cup rather than throw him out to starve.
It was another couple of sunrises before Simeon finally stirred, his eyes flickering as the sun peeked in through the bubbly glass window in the eastern wall of the cottage. God he was stiff…he felt like he had been run over by an ox cart! Why was he lying by the fire in the common room?
Something popped in the fireplace, the noise like a smithy’s hammer striking a hot horseshoe… scuttling sounded behind the medicine dresser…Simeon sat up in surprise as it sounded like squirrels were about to invade the cottage…but a tiny mouse appeared and collected a stale crumb from where it had fallen before dashing back again. The sounds of crunching then invaded his ear drums. He shook his head, tapping at his ears to clear them, nearly deafening himself with his actions.
He paused, pulling his hands away as he realised all was not right…his ears were hairy and slightly pointed under the unruly mop that had replaced his hair on his head, and his jaw ached, his front teeth were not meeting, forcing him to hang his mandible slightly lower. Strong scents of stale urine, old shit and sweat assaulted his nose as his brain processed the fact that everything in the cottage seemed to be muted in colour, and yet also as defined as if painted with a single badger hair by the village artist.
Footsteps sounded on the gravel path out in the herb garden, the wooden door of the privy shed clunking shut…Everything was so much louder than it should be. He shouldn’t be able to hear Master Merek in the garden! He looked down at his body, hardly recognising it under all the body hair that seemed to have covered it overnight…
“Ah Simeon…Thank God you are awake!” Merek started as he came into the cottage and saw his charge sitting up, “Headache?” he queried as the boy winced at his voice.
“What? No…just don’t shout please.” Simeon replied, wincing at the sound of his own voice which seemed to be a lot louder than before, “Why am I here by the fire?”
Merek looked puzzled, “I was not shouting…And you have been unconscious and in a fever for over a week. You feeling okay?”
“A week!?” Simeon shouted, standing suddenly with the shock, and then collapsed, his hips giving way as he folded back to his knees, shaking his head, “What did I catch?” he asked.
“Can you not stand?” Merek asked moving over to sit in his chair again.
“No…my hips seemed to lock out before I got upright.” Simeon replied, sitting back on his haunches…It was only then that he realised he was naked, but that with all the extra hair his embarrassment was covered. He flushed, “Have you been…?”
The question hung unasked for a second before Merek nodded, “In seven days of fever you required tending to as any sick person does.”
“Oh…I apologise Master. How are the patients from the Inn?” Simeon asked.
“As well as can be expected…Now before you go and wash your body of the fever’s stink in the pool, I want the truth from you young man.” Merek stated firmly.
“What do you mean Master?” Simeon asked.
“What happened to you when you were collecting …and don’t give me any shit about a badger’s latrine. You have gone through no fever I have ever seen in my forty years of practice! Now what happened?”
Simeon looked down at the floor, his hair adjusting as his ears rolled forward without his bidding. “A she wolf got trapped in an old gin…” he started, explaining all his actions then to Merek who listened on in concern.
“So you splinted and stitched up her leg, and left her with medication…A wild animal when your harvesting knife could have ended her suffering?” Merek pressed after he stopped.
“Yes…though she was as intelligent as you or I, even though she could not speak,” Simeon protested.
“So it seems, and did she leave you with anything, or do anything to you before you completed your night’s duties?”
“What I know now to be a love bite on my left shoulder, though I was scared at the time…” Simeon stopped as Merek’s face lost its colour, “What’s up Master?”
“She bit you?” Merek asked, his worst fears coming to the forefront?
“Oh you poor child,” Merek knelt stiffly in front of Simeon then and lifted his hair, tutting at his ears, “Jaw aching?” he asked. Simeon nodded. Merek ran his hands down Simeon’s back until he reached the base of his spine, drawing a yelp as he pressed on that spot.
“Shit that hurt!” Simeon shouted, his lips rolling back and causing Merek to back off.
“Not as much as it will when the moon revolves full cycle again Simeon. You were bitten by one of the Weres that reside in the Northern mountains, and I am afraid you are changing into one.”
“Weres? Don’t be daft Master, they are a childhood myth!”
“I am afraid Simeon, that they are not. And what is more I am their healer. I know you have followed me when I go out some nights, the pack has told me. But I also know you have never reached their village as they have distracted you. I persuaded them not to kill you, you know.” He shook his head, “Now you might as well be dead as the minute some of the older villagers see you, they will drive you off or kill you now. Within the next three weeks you will not be able to speak in the tongue of man, and you will become a full wolf for at least two full cycles from what I know of their laws. Then you will be able to become human whenever the moon is not full.”
“There are no but’s Simeon…Part your belly fur for me please…around your hips. No modesty now, the Weres run naked whenever they are in wolf form.”
Simeon nodded and sat back a little further and did as bid, his hands pausing as he touched his male parts.
“You see now Simeon…you are already fully lupine down there, and will be from this day on. The pack leader Cassius tells me that tying is a pleasurable experience though, so you have that to look forward to. Go wash up without being seen and I will have a grave dug for you in the garden. From this day forward you are dead, and I will announce it to the village later in the Inn. I’ll hide you and take you to the pack when you can walk comfortably on all fours, though they will be expecting you no doubt. I cannot cure you, but I can if you wish kill you. Make your choice, the pack obviously wants you despite having numerous cubs and adolescents, it will be a hard, but healthy life. I was only ever called to deal with wounds and breaks, though I believe they do suffer from most of the ills of men.”
Simeon just sat for a few minutes, digesting what he had been told, “What will you bury, and what will you do without me?” he asked finally.
Merek grinned, “A hessian wrap with your pallet and clothes in it, you will not need them. Gussalen lost her leg, and I will take her in to train and make up the preparations as she is not without wit. In time, the carpenter can make her a wooden leg to walk upon. I have maybe five years left in me so she will have to do for the Townne.”
Simeon nodded, and stood stiffly, leaning forward as his hips locked out again before he could become upright, “Better the bitch that bit me to take my life,” he grunted as he slipped out of the door and loped, naked down to the marl pool in the garden.
Two weeks later Merek waited until full dark before he unlocked the medicine dresser one final time and fetched the journeyman scroll from where he had stored it. Simeon watched as he dipped a quill in oak gall ink and made his mark in the Master’s box, “There, you are now a journeyman. Only experience will teach you more now, but remember that as long as I breathe you may slip in from the woods and ask if something you cannot handle crops up.”
Simeon nodded his huge silver head, no longer able to speak.
“Come…It is time,” Merek said and slipped it into the top of the knap which had been filled with all common pills and preparations Merek could spare, along with packets of seeds to bide the time until Simeon could prepare his own and grow a herb garden of his own in the mountains. “Let us hope that you did a good job with your patient, or you are likely to die tonight.”
It took five marks for Merek and Simeon to cover the distance to the mountains before two green eyes appeared in the trees ahead of them. “At ease young Gregor, it is I and the one that one of the bitches bit at last full moon.” Merek said quietly as a black furred wolf came out into the grey light and sniffed at Merek, before circling and sticking his snout under Simeon’s tail, his tongue caressing Simeon’s sheath and causing him to freeze in shock despite having been prepared for it by Merek.
Merek chuckled at Simeon’s predicament as the wolf backed off and with a shimmer and a cracking of bones became human again in appearance.
“Not just any bitch Healer, it was Helewys. What is our new pack member’s name?” Gregor asked.
“Simeon,” Merek replied, momentarily shocked that it was the Ledrene that Simeon had healed.
Gregor turned to Simeon, “Welcome young healer, my trees are your trees. My mother is happy and healthy again, if still cursing her own stupidity at being trapped in the first place. Come, we have been awaiting you, and we are glad you survived the change.” With that he returned to wolf form and turned, baying at the sky for a second with an ear-splitting howl, ears forward until a return one sounded.
Merek and Simeon followed Gregor into the pack’s territory now that permission had been granted, before a clearing opened up at the end of a blind gorge. Rough cottages and buildings made up an easily defensible village in front of a misty waterfall, falling from the sheer 200 foot cliff. Two huge wolves waited in front of a merrily burning fire-pit in the middle of the square. Others were ranged out in a circle behind the pit, around thirty in number, varying in age from first year cubs to grizzled old adults.
The two wolves moved forward to greet Merek and Simeon, as Gregor went to join a near identical wolf in the line up behind the fire. “Cassius, Helewys,” Merek greeted, his hand outstretched.
They both sniffed at it in greeting before circling him and taking their turns in sniffing under Simeon’s tail before backing off and changing to human form…naked. Simeon would have blushed had he the facility in his current form as Helewys’ beautifully naked form materialised in front of him.
“Your apprentice did a wonderful job Healer Merek,” Helewys said, holding her slender arm out for Merek to examine, just the faintest of fading bruises showing under the fur.
“You would have killed him had he not?” Merek asked.
“Of course…he knew I was intelligent then. He treated me like you would have, so I gave his competence a chance,” she replied.
“And if you had healed crooked?”
“Gregor would have met you at the border and resolved the issue, not greeted it. As is, what is my Good Samaritan’s and the pack’s new healer’s name?”
“Simeon…and you have left me in a predicament and with no apprentice Helewys.” Merek answered.
“You no longer need to make this hike Master Healer.” Cassius replied gruffly. “You can train another for the Townne before you pass on. You will be recompensed by the pack of course for your loss.” He finished with a growl and turned towards those that were watching. “Robin! Go fetch a two pound sack from behind the falls!” he barked out. An old wolf peeled off from the watchers and headed towards the misty falls as instructed, before returning a few minutes later with a heavy bag hanging from his jaws. He dropped it at Cassius’ feet and retook his place in the line-up.
Cassius bent and picked the bag up, glancing briefly inside it before handing it over to Merek, “There are no injuries for you to tend to at present Healer…so you may go with two pounds of the pack’s gold. Simeon has a new language to learn now and he must learn it quick or die when he insults someone. I thank you for training your ward so well, but you may leave his supplies now and we will look after him.” With that he turned and entered the largest of the dwellings.
“I apologise for my Alpha’s manners,” Helewys addressed Merek, “He was all for taking my throat when I returned injured. I will ensure that Simeon is well integrated into the pack before he returns to human form.” She turned to Simeon who had been watching, “Go with Gregor and his twin Ysmay. You are to live with them until we have built you your own dwelling. Do not cross Cassius, remember that all bitches in season are his unless he grants his boon which he does often, and always submit to him. If you do all that you will have a long and happy life with us here in the vale as the others will all respect your position and value to the pack. Gregor will teach you how to fight and hunt in wolf form and Ysmay will teach you our lupine tongue and body language.”
Gregor and the almost identical Ysmay came forward from the now disbanding audience, both touching noses to him before leading him to one of the houses built onto the side of the main dwelling Cassius had disappeared into.
Helewys carefully took the knap from Merek, “He will be okay you know healer…Cassius is getting old and will fall soon as the pack Alpha. Attitudes are good towards young Simeon after the way I healed. Do not worry for him.” She turned and followed her offspring into the side house.
“Thank you Helewys,” Merek replied, sighing as he turned and began his last, long lonely walk back towards the Townne.
Gregor and Ysmay immediately turned human as they entered the neat dwelling. Two thick pallets stuffed full of fragrant ferns and herbs were placed against the back wall, a few pieces of furniture and blanket chests were evident, and a central fire-pit had a bubbling cauldron hanging over it, and a rabbit on a spit. “We are a little more primitive than the Townne here, but things are getting better. You may eat your prey raw if you wish, but most of us like to cook it, or make stews!” Ysmay said cheerfully, not covering up her nakedness as she turned the rabbit over.
“Do you want to eat, or do you want to sleep now? Tonight will have been your first long walk as a quadruped.” Gregor asked as Helewys walked in with his knapsack, placing it on one of the chests.
“I think sleep Gregor,” Helewys answered for Simeon, “I remember how I felt after my first ranging in the woods when I was changed by old Robin. “I suggest that you share Gregor’s pallet Simeon until we can make you up a new one in the dawns light. Cassius is in a mood as usual and if you were to sleep with Ysmay, you may have to answer to his teeth in the circle as she is near her cycle.”
Simeon nodded with a yawn that started the three of them laughing at him.
“Good, I will leave you three to retire for the night. Thank you again Simeon for you expert care and we will talk again in the morning. Gregor, Ysmay be gentle with him please.”
“Yes mother,” Gregor replied.
“Yes Alpha,” Ysmay answered, lowering her head in submission.
Simeon noted that to himself, slightly puzzled as Gregor pointed to one of the pallets and Simeon went over to the indicated bed and circled twice before settling at one end of it.
Ysmay chuckled, “Your body language gave you away Simeon. First lesson from me before you sleep. Gregor and I are twins, born less than one minute apart. Helewys is our mother, but she is also my Alpha female, and the pack Ledrene. All females must submit to her or face her teeth in the circle. Gregor will never ever call Cassius his father, unless as a challenge as he would likely be killed or disabled by him in the circle. The pack is everything, and everything is the pack. Nothing is individual. Now sleep and I will begin to teach you how to talk in lupine form in the morning.” With that she turned and covered the fire-pit with a damp sod of peat to bank it for the night before turning wolf again and settling into her own pallet.
Gregor grinned, “I will challenge for Alpha one day, just as Ysmay will, but not for a few years when we hit prime. Till then, well the bitches still come to me when out of season which is not outside the pack law.” With that he turned wolf and curled up on the pallet face to face with Simeon, planting a couple of light licks across his muzzle and nose.
Simeon lifted his head and looked askance at him, his ears raised.
Gregor briefly turned human again, “It is not only the bitches that come to me…” he replied before changing back and closing his eyes.
Simeon shifted uneasily before placing his head on his paws.
A brief lupine chuckle emerged from across the room where Ysmay was dropping off to sleep…