The Spirit Of A Wolf
A loud, drunken cheer echoes across the already noisy tavern. Regina looks up from the thick leather-bound book she is writing in, and sees a trio of drunken men patting one another on the back as several more scowl at them. Mugs of ale are clutched in their hands as they return to their game of dice. Hazard, from what Regina can tell from across the tavern – it was one of the more popular dice games among the townsfolk of Sarpenic.
Regina’s gaze sweeps the large building, alert for any brewing discontent or fight. At some tables, men and women play other dice games, or sit around playing card games. A few tables along the edge of the room have been set up for Nine Men’s Morris, were some older residents of the town are partaking in ale and cider as they play. At the far end of the room, Regina sees several young men – perhaps barely Red’s age of twenty-one – playing at the newest addition to the tavern: a custom-made skittles table.
Aside from the many games, she sees many tables where there is eating and drinking, quiet discussions over books or unfolded parchments and maps. Another cheer erupts from the Hazard game, and she sees the angered expressions on the faces of those who have lost yet again.
She purses her lips, and places her quill into its holder. She turns toward the kitchen, just in time to see her wife exit. Red is carrying a large platter of food – vegetables and mutton – with several trenchers of bread on the ends. Regina smiles at the sight of her, dressed in a dark red skirt and white peasant blouse, her hair pulled back.
Red raises an eyebrow as she passes Regina, so Regina nods her head toward the increasingly rowdy game. “I fear a fight may be in the cards,” she murmurs, and Red nods in understanding, fixing her eyes on the group.
“I’ll keep an eye on them. If they get worse, I’ll go and get Lancelot.” She says as she walks into the tavern proper and serves the platter to a table.
Regina purses her lips. Red is more than capable of handling a bar fight, and has in the past, but she knows her wife does not like to intervene or hurt others unless she needs to. Lancelot is one of the first customers to every come to their tavern, and has become a close friend of Red and herself.
He is a kind man, a knight who yearns for a seat at the Round Table of King Arthur, ruler of the land. He lives in the town, with the kingdom having no need for his services as of late, in the midst of a rare peace with their neighboring kingdoms. He works for them now, as a guard for their tavern, and deals with unruly customers and removes those who need removing. He also hunts in the surrounding forest, and much of the game he brings back – along with what Red occasionally brings down in her wolf form – is used in their meals every day.
Regina turns back to her book, marking down the cost of their latest barrels of ale and cider. This last year was quite successful in regards to their income.
After their escape, things were difficult for them. Much of their money was spent booking passage on a ship to take them to this land of Camelot. The work once they arrived was sometimes hard to find, and often difficult, but neither Regina nor Red complained. So long as they returned at the end of the day to each other, they were well satisfied with their lives.
Two years after arriving in the land, they happened upon this town of Sarpenic, and an opportunity presented itself. The owner of this tavern passed away, and the building was to be sold, having fallen into disrepair and poor reputation. Using nearly all of their savings – the small amount of money that remained after paying for the ship, and the money they saved working over the next two years – Regina and Red purchased the tavern to run together.
The first year was the worst, with the need to refurbish the building so that it looked nice and inviting to anyone who visits, and then repair the reputation of the establishment among the local populace. Red claims it is Regina’s cooking, and the contracts she obtained with the local ale and cider makers, that has made it possible. Whatever the cause, the improvements in the tavern and glowing recommendations from their first customers have led to a large increase in business. Their second year brought them well above breaking even, and this year they are making a very hefty profit for their services.
Regina glances across the room at her wife, and watches the firelight and candlelight glint off the ring on her finger. After several years of struggle, this last year, on the anniversary of Red presenting Regina with her own ring, Regina had sought out a ring-maker in town, and commissioned a piece identical to hers, except with a deep purple amethyst set into it, rather than the ruby in Regina’s own – their favorite colors represented on their one another’s hand. Red had wept at the gesture, and not removed it since.
Regina looks up as a cry fills the air, and one of the displeased men slams his mug of ale into the face of one of the men as they win yet again. Red is bounding over, weaving through tables effortlessly, and she yanks the attacker away, and pins him to the wall, his feet inches off the ground.
One of his friends move try to stop Red, but Lancelot has already heard the exclamation and is inside the tavern, and pulls the man away. He puts up a small fight until he sees just how tall and muscled Lancelot is, and sees the sword at his hip. Red turns, nods in thanks to their friend, and releases the man she pinned.
She prowls over to the table, and Regina feels a shiver go through her at just how beautifully wolf-like she is in that moment. Red grabs the dice, and rolls them several times before fixing the men who had been winning with a glare.
“Loaded dice?” She says in a low growl. “Get out. Find somewhere else to cheat - it’s not tolerated here. And give these men their money back.”
They try to protest, but Lancelot moving up behind Red, a glare on his face, sees them giving their winnings to the men they cheated, and leaving as swiftly as possible. Red turns to the man she had pinned, then. “No fighting, Albert. You know the rules. I do not want to see you back here for the next week. You know damn well you could have come to us if you thought they were cheating.”
Regina hears the man mumble something, and then grab his money and walk to the entrance of the tavern. Red rights several of the chairs, and then walks back toward Regina, Lancelot following behind her. Behind her the tavern returns to its normal noise level as people stop watching and go back to their games and food and drink.
“Thank you,” Regina says, as Lancelot nears.
He nods. “My pleasure, Regina,” his grin is bright and white and contrasts well against his dark skin. He stands there for a moment longer, running his gloved hand over the stubble on his head that has grown in since he last shaved it smooth. “I’d heard that one of the inns had to kick some men out for the same thing last night – they’re likely the same men, moving on to try to not be caught the next time.”
“Idiots,” Regina snorts, glancing once more over the tavern to be sure no new drunken fights will erupt.
Red moves to stand next to Regina, her elbows resting on the bar in front of her, and Regina places her palm across the middle of Red’s back. She can feel the trembling of her muscles, and shifts her hand in circles on the other woman’s back.
Lancelot glances across the room, and nods to a man who is trying to gain his attention. “Excuse me, an old friend of mine, Bors the Younger, is in town,” he says apologetically.
Regina waves him off. “Go; do not let us keep you from him. Perhaps introduce him to us sometime before he leaves.”
He smiles and bows slightly to them, before moving across the room to his friend.
Regina still feels Red trembling beneath her hand, and leans closer. “Relax, love. You did well.”
Red releases a shaking breath, and turns her head so her nose is close enough to rest against Regina’s shoulder. Regina knows she is inhaling her scent as she always does when upset, and she can feel the other woman’s tension melt out of her as she does so.
“Thank you, my heart,” Red murmurs, so quiet Regina almost misses it in the chaos of the tavern.
Regina presses a kiss to her brow, and pulls back. “Clean up in the kitchen. I can handle the rest of the night out here, and if there is trouble, Lancelot will be right there.”
Red nods, and inhales against Regina once more. “Call me if you need me,” she says, and then is gone, through the kitchen door. It is her sanctuary within the tavern, a place she is able to go and work hard enough that she does not have to think about anything else. And after her wolf emerges into her like it just did, it is something she needs.
That night she holds Red in her arms until she falls asleep, as Regina reads by candlelight. Her love of books has endured even through the changes in their lives, and with more money to their name with their current success, she can afford to indulge in more texts and writings. She reads everything from literature and poetry from Camelot and beyond, to essays and theses on business practices.
The latter is helpful, to some extent, in giving her new ideas for their business – at the moment she and Red are considering purchasing a small apple orchard and accompanying cider mill near the edge of town, if they can find the right people to run it. With that, their purchasing costs for cider from other businesses in the area and in nearby cities, will drop, and give them a further personal touch for the tavern.
But she had been drawn to the tavern because of the things she knew best, things that no books had taught her. Perhaps the only thing she could find it in her heart to be grateful to Cora for. Cora had taught her – engraved it into her brain – how to run a lord’s or king’s household and kingdom, how to manage finances and plan events and find the best prices and know when someone was trying to cheat you. While the noble men of the kingdom put on airs and appearances of running things, and were the ones that went out to sign treaties and declare wars, it was the women behind them who ensured their lands and household did not fall into destitution and disrepute.
It had helped her greatly in starting their establishment and getting it to the stable ground they were now at. They are now the most popular tavern in town, and Regina knows that at least one proprietor lost enough business to them that it led him to leave the town.
Regina flips another page in her book – an old tome bought from a shop in town – about the legends and history of werewolves. She has found the topic intriguing since discovering the woman she loves is one, and has devoured all the texts she can find on the subject.
Her eyes widen as they run down the next page, at the description of a magic spell, a ritual to create a totem with a powerful effect. One that she thinks may just help Red with Wolfstime. A look at the ingredients and components tells her she can gather them all tomorrow, and perhaps create it before the beginning of the Wolfstime that evening.
For some time she has avoided the idea of magic, it being too wedded to the evils of her mother. But she knows there is good magic out there. Their first Wolfstime together after escaping made that clear, when they realized the red cloak Granny had given her was filled with powerful magic and prevented most of her transformations – other than the one that had ended Cora’s life.
And here in Camelot, unlike the lands they left behind, magic is practiced by many, both good and bad. The King’s own closest confidante is one of the most powerful white sorcerers in all the realms. This, however, will be the first spell she has ever tried to perform. She marks the page, closes the book setting it to the side, and leans down to blow out her candle.
Regina stops the next moment as she feels Red’s lithe body tense against hers, and feels a familiar quake in her breathing as it speeds up. When her arms and legs begin to jerk about, Regina rolls back and embraces her firmly, shaking her body and calling her name until finally she breaks from the grasp of her nightmare.
She gasps as she wakes, and when she realizes who is holding her, clutches Regina to her with as much strength as she can bear.
Regina is silent, allowing her wife to calm, only holding her and stroking the back of her head, threading fingers through her sweaty hair. She knows that this close to Wolfstime, especially after what happened in the bar, Red often has these nightmares, dreams of that fateful night in the stable, of her teeth tearing through Cora’s neck.
It is only when Red finally pulls back slightly, and looks up at her with that vulnerable look still lingering in her beautiful green eyes, that Regina speaks.
“Would you like to talk about it?” She always asks this – never demands – and more often than not, Red speaks about what her dream has been about.
Red’s long fingers toy with the front of Regina’s nightgown for several quiet minutes before she speaks, wetting her dry lips as she does so.
“Another nightmare about her.” She shudders, pressing her hands to Regina’s chest, above her heart as if to be soothed by the feel of it. “I’ve never had this one before. Usually it’s her tearing out my heart and taking you away, or her tearing out your heart.”
A tear rolls down Red’s cheek as she swallows heavily. “This one, I… I turned into the wolf, only I a-attacked you. I couldn’t stop myself, I could only watch as it… as I killed you.”
Regina’s gaze softens, and she slides her hands up to cup her wife’s pale cheeks. “It was a nightmare. I am here, and you did not harm me, nor will you ever.”
Red nods desperately into her hands, and presses her lips to one of Regina’s palms, before she slips them down until they are resting on the pulse point on Regina’s wrist just beneath her thumb. She glances up with hesitant eyes, until she reads Regina’s approval in her face, and then turns until her back is pushes firmly into Regina. She held tight to Regina’s hand, keeping herself pressed against Regina’s pulse both behind her and on her wrist, reassuring herself that she is alive.
It surprisingly isn’t that long before Regina feels Red sink back into sleep, though still holding onto her arm with a death grip. Regina awkwardly reaches back with the arm she is lying on, and pinches the flame of the candle out, leaving the room only illuminated by the nearly full moon.
She worries every time for her wife with her dreams at this time of the month, but this latest one is a new development – previously her dreams alternated between the same scenarios, and this one has never been one of them before. She glances heavenward, thanking the gods that she has found something - a spell that may finally soothe Red’s fears and dreams.
Red is already out of bed the next morning when Regina awakes, though she can feel the wrinkled flesh on her wrist where the moisture from Red’s mouth being on it all night had pruned it up. It is slightly painful as she gets up, but she knows she will allow Ruby to do it again, any time she needs that reassurance.
Regina straightens out their bed sheets, and pads over on bare feet to their shared bathroom. Red is bathing in their small tub, and no doubt she has been up for some time heating the water to fill it. She looks up at Regina, and her cheeks flush visibly before looking back down as she scrubs at her body. Regina says nothing of her embarrassment – clearly about the night before – and merely plants a warm kiss on her head before getting ready for her day.
After dressing, and teasing her hair into place, and a light breakfast of bread and porridge, Regina bids Red farewell, promising to be back by the afternoon. Outside the morning is bright and warming well, but there is still enough of a chill in the air for her to wrap her shawl tighter around herself.
Much of the morning is spent visiting a local apothecary and several other stores to gather everything she needs for her plan. Afterwards, she visits the local market and spends several hours speaking with the merchants she knows, and introducing herself to new visitors to learn their prices and what they are offering.
When she leaves, her arms are full of brilliantly colored vegetables, freshly baked breads, and cloth packages filled with spices. Red is not at the tavern when Regina returns, likely still upstairs in the attached home that they live in. Regina places most of her purchases in the kitchen, and hurries out of the darkened tavern with her book and her ingredients. The woods are nearby, and she travels to her favorite clearing, a flat meadow interrupted by only a few lone trees.
She removes everything she needs – her items range from wolf hairs to sulfur – and sets to work forming the totem. She knows the price of the spell is high – the loss of her fertility – but she has no plans to ever bear a child, not when she and Red know they can find many unwanted children to give a home should they wish to someday. Neither will break their relationship for the purpose of using a man to provide them with a child.
So she weaves out her talisman from grasses and twigs, and sets them in front of her to begin the ritual.
Their evening at the tavern is nearly as rowdy as the night before, but fortunately no actual fights break out. Regina prefers the months when Wolfstime falls on the weekdays like this. Their hours of business are shorter than on weekends, and it allows her to leave early with her wife, and be there for her as she transforms.
Regina closes the door of the tavern, and fastens it, before turning to the red-cloaked Ruby, who is staring at her in consternation.
“Regina…” Red begins to say softly, reaching out to grab her hands, and stroke her palms with her delicate fingers. “Perhaps you should stay home tonight.”
“Red…” Regina’s voice is low, her eyes sharp with a warning that her wife ignores.
“Please, stay home tonight. That dream… I fear it coming true. I could not bear it if that happened. Please….”
Regina tightens her fingers down over Red’s, holding them firmly in place. “No, my love. I will be with you tonight as I am every night. You will not harm me. I promise you that.”
Red’s eyes glisten with tears in the moonlight as it shines down under her hood, and her head finally sags into a defeated nod. Regina releases one of her hands, and holds tight to the other as they venture into the forest. Regina lifts that nervous, jittering hand to her mouth every so often as they walk, and presses soothing kisses to Red’s fingertips and the back of her hand.
They reach their favorite clearing – where Regina had worked magic earlier that day – and stand at its center.
“You’re the idiot this time,” Red tells her fondly, but Regina can see her biting her lip in anxiety.
“I may well be,” Regina replies, “but that is what makes us the perfect pair.”
Red reaches into her cloak, to a pocket sewn deep inside, and when her hands emerge, they are cradling a small silver dagger. She presses it into Regina’s palm. “If you will not leave, you must promise if I lose control, that you will use this. Even if only to hurt me enough to drive me away from you.”
Regina feels an ache in her chest as she takes it, knowing that even if Red were to turn on her, she could never bring herself to use it.
Regina opens her mouth to speak, her hand already reaching into her pocket for the totem she made, when Red unfastens her red cloak and throws it off her shoulders. It is a beautiful and gruesome sight as her wife transforms, as her skeleton and skin reshape themselves in bursts of action and brief pauses. Regina has become used to the sight, and within seconds it is done, and the shaggy brown-furred form of her wife is standing in front of her on all fours, her yellow eyes looking up at her with surprise and relief.
Regina smiles, and kneels down next to her, stroking her head, running her nails along her fur. Red takes that opportunity to leap and tackle her to the ground, licking her wildly on the chin and cheeks as Regina laughs gaily. When Red finally lets her up, Regina is trying to catch her breath, and she is sure she’s grinning like a fool.
Red yowls, and then turns, starting to run off toward the forest. She is halted only by Regina’s shout of her name. She looks back, and obeys Regina’s gesture to return.
Regina kneels down, removing her outer coat, and placing her bag on the ground. “Red, I have a gift for you. I hope you will like it,” she said, trailing her fingers down Red’s muzzle.
She pulls out the totem, shaped into a curved triangular form with a tuft of wolf hair emerging from its center, and hangs it over her neck by a leather cord – much like the one that once held her ring. She murmurs the phrase to activate its magic, and feels the cool blue light of it wash over her body.
A cry of pain rips from her lips as the process begins, but no more escape her after as her own body shifts. She can hear the cracking and grinding of her bones, feel the vibrations, but her body feels like wet dough. Her legs shorten, and she drops down onto her hands, watching with fascination as her fingers shorten, and dark nails sprout from them, even as she feels her face elongate, and fur begin to sprout across her body.
It takes longer than Red’s transformations, but after what must be three minutes or more, she finds herself staring down her fully formed muzzle, which is covered in sable fur. In front of her is the slightly larger form of her wife, her wolf eyes comically wide and her lower jaw dropped open with her tongue lolling out.
Regina tries to say something, forgetting for a moment, and it comes out as a softy bark. She tentatively takes a step forward, and nearly falls. Red moves closer, her nose snuffling curiously as Regina learns how to work her legs, how to walk. The spell must have some sort of wolf brain or instinct that forms when she transforms, she realizes, because she begins to pad around and rapidly becomes used to this new form of locomotion.
All the while, Red is following her, sniffing her, moving to her side when it looks like she will fall over. Her sniffing prompts Regina to do the same, and a dizzying array of scents fill her brain. The smell of a grasshopper a few feet away; the warm scent of Red’s wolf form next to her, and concentrated on the discarded red cloak; the smell of manure on the wind from a stable down the hill; the delicious aroma of their own tavern, now closed for the night.
Regina realizes her hearing has become sharp as well, and she finds herself hearing the soft rustle of bugs and mice and birds throughout the clearing; and the neighing of the same horses she had smelled.
Regina finally cocks her head toward Red, and begins a slow lope across the field toward the woods, which Red quickly matches, even as she speeds up slightly, learning quickly how to run. In the woods, she only falls once, skidding through the dirt when her hind legs catch slightly on a log that she tries to vault over. Red turns around and comes back, searching her for injuries before urging her back to her feet with several licks of her tongue.
Regina feels a thrill run through her, and breaks out into a run, her reflexes heightened and her eyes aware of everything in front of her. Red matches her move for move, running alongside her, dodging around trees only to return once again, occasionally nipping at Regina to urge her on.
Regina is panting lightly when they reach the peak of a large wooded hill, but when Red tilts her head up and howls mightily toward the moon, Regina finds a howl leaving her own throat. And then she realizes there is something different about Red’s howl as her wife repeats it – the soft aftertone of sadness that she often heard lace her howls on nights like these, has disappeared.
They are breathless and bone-tired by the time the moon sets and the first rays of the sun begin to appear. They managed to make it back to the clearing, and Regina focuses on triggering her transformation just as Red begins hers. Once again it takes longer, but in minutes she finds herself wrapped up firmly in Red’s arms as she sobs into her shoulder.
“H-how? Regina, how?” She manages to make out through her jagged breaths.
“I found it yesterday, Red. A way to use magic and transform myself into a wolf. I am not a true werewolf like you – I need this totem to transform – but I can run with you every Wolfstime now. I… you know I don’t like magic even now, but this was something I felt I had to do.”
Red’s eyes and cheeks are wet as she raises her head, and slides her slick cheek against Regina’s, nuzzling her much like they had several times in their wolf forms. “Thank you,” she whispers. “You amaze me every day, my heart. Every time I think I know how wonderful you are, and how much you love me, you surprise me. I… Until tonight I did not even realize there was a small part of my heart that longed for something, but tonight you found it and filled it. You are my pack, Regina.”
Regina splays her fingers along the curve of Red’s cheek, and places a tender kiss to her lips. “Thank you for letting me be that. For asking me to run with you from my mother, and for loving me. I felt it tonight as well, us becoming even more. A pack, as you said.”
Red giggles and rubs her nose against Regina’s as she places a hand over her heart. “Maybe I’ll stop being an idiot now, hmm?”
Regina’s lips curve, and press against her lover’s chin. “I don’t believe I would make such an ambitious claim quite yet, dear. You’ll always be my silly wolf, Red.”
Red closes her eyes as the sun hits them, and tilts her head back, smiling as she lets her fingers untangle bits of twigs and brambles from Regina’s long hair. “Well, now I’ve got one of my own.”