Night of the Wolfby Alice Borchardt
The Silver Wolf, Alice Borchardt's acclaimed novel of a shapeshifter's struggle to survive as woman and wolf amid the Dark Ages, announced the arrival of a ferociously gifted writer. Now, with her masterful weaving of adventure, history, and magic, Borchardt delves deeper into the shape-shifter legend, and brings an earlier, more savage time brilliantly to life/b>… See more details below
The Silver Wolf, Alice Borchardt's acclaimed novel of a shapeshifter's struggle to survive as woman and wolf amid the Dark Ages, announced the arrival of a ferociously gifted writer. Now, with her masterful weaving of adventure, history, and magic, Borchardt delves deeper into the shape-shifter legend, and brings an earlier, more savage time brilliantly to life.
The fearsome legions of Julius Caesar have crushed resistance to Roman rule. The power of the druids is broken; the shattered tribes retreating to the dubious safety of the high mountains or fleeing north into lands as inhospitable as those left behind. Watching all the while through yellow eyes afire with curiosity and intelligence is Maeniel, a gray wolf . . . who is also a man.
This is not the Maeniel of The Silver Wolf. Not the mature shapeshifter, secure in his dual nature, whose hard-won wisdom is the equal of his preternatural strength and passion. That Maeniel will not exist for another eight hundred years. Now he is a stranger to his human half, his reason chained to instinct. Yet as the ancient civilization of the Gallic tribes is systematically destroyed around him, a new Maeniel is about to be born from the ruins.
It begins with a woman. She is Imona: young, proud, beautiful. The sight of her fills Maeniel with unfamiliar feelings and desires, triggering his transformation from wolf to man. In her arms he learns for the first time what it means to love. It is a knowledge that will change him forever. For when Imona vanishes following a Roman massacre, Maeniel begins to learn a very different lesson.
Following Imona's trail as wolf and man, Maeniel is himself pursued by a warrior woman sworn to kill him. She is Dryas, a queen without a kingdom. But the two adversaries will prove to have much in common. And the hunt upon which they embark will lead them farther than they can imagine: to the gates of Rome itself. To the gates of their very souls . . .
With Night of the Wolf, Alice Borchardt has given us another triumph of soaring imagination and adventure. By turns lyrical, sensuous, and violent, hers is a vision of the past that will stir both heart and mind. Her writing will possess you like a fever . . . and haunt you like a voluptuous dream.
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In the spring he was, of course, at the disposal of the winning female. She was a rangy, nervous bitch, very jealous of her prerogatives as pack mother. She constantly harassed the remaining females. This led to endless squabbling and ill temper among the younger pack members.
Despite his feeling of coldness toward her, he would have accommodated her desires. She had, after all, earned the mother right. This was what pack law demanded of him--that he meet her graciously as a mate and then assist in rearing her offspring.
But to his mild surprise, she showed no interest in him at all and took up with two males who were all that remained of the pack destroyed by the Romans. This was also her right, that she choose her own partners if she wished. He might have asserted himself more strongly. Other leaders would have, but he was more relieved than otherwise at her decision and left her alone.
She returned from her forays, finally satisfied, pregnant, and much calmer than when she left, and he found himself pleased not to be bothered about her needs. And besides, he had already met the strawberry-blond woman at the pool.
The woman came from the small village of herdsmen and farmers, down the slope and to the pond to refresh herself in the cool water, bathe, and dress her thick, reddish blond hair. She was wide hipped; her breasts were large, upright with only a slight droop. The nipples jutted invitingly. Her skin was very fair, and he noticed she kept to the shade. That skin didn't tan; it probably burned. She was covered head to toe with freckles.
He grew accustomed to seeing her each day as he dozed on the flat rock overlooking the waterfall. Hethought she looked delectable, but not in the manner of food. Usually she left when the sun was high in the sky. The pool, even at midsummer, could become very cool in the afternoon when the sun's rays no longer shone on it and the forest shadow crept in.
He found the change difficult and sometimes impossible by day. By the time he felt the long evening shadows pull at his flesh and he could sense a bridge forming between his world and the human's, she was gone.
Just as well, he thought. A few times he was tempted to slink after her when she returned to the rath where she lived. Once or twice he even entertained the fantasy of entering the circular, thatched dwelling by night. He wasn't blind in even the deepest darkness. He knew her scents. They were in certain ways more real to him than the way she looked.
Often, after bathing, she took her ease in one of the few sunny spots not choked by undergrowth or shadowed by ancient trees. The big granite rock was buried, but enough of it thrust into the water to create a platform a few feet above the lake. The top was too bare to sustain growth, but it was thickly carpeted with pine and fir needles. It got sun three or four hours a day. The radiant light would peer down, deep down, into the lake's clear water, flashing on pike, trout, and the occasional small sturgeon that would come and go like ghosts in the gloom.
All year, except during the darkest months, wild flowers surrounded the pine-needle carpet. Mother of thyme would rise from beneath the snow and twine with blue-flowered bergamot mint. Violets bloomed in the springtime, white, deepest purple, yellow. Later in summer wild carrots, the yellow composite daisies, sunflowers, and dandelions lit up the thickening grass. Harebells peered from the shelter of tall pines, hiding their drooping beauty in the shade of tile-barked trunks and thick, clustered needles.
All unknowing she left her mark on the fallen brown needles. For instance, he knew that desire rose in her, answering the moon queen's magnetism at least three times a week. He didn't know where she expressed that desire since she came to the lake alone. Her skin had a flowerlike scent. It took him a while to understand the smell wasn't just satiny flesh, but the oil of roses she anointed herself with after her bath. The smell at her armpits in the heat was mildly oniony--sweet, wild onions wrapped in clay and caramelized by a fire. When she was gone, he drifted down to drink in her complex perfume and sometimes roll on the pine carpet near the trees.
Of course, one day, perhaps accidentally, perhaps inevitably, she remained too long. She came rather late in the afternoon. The water was in shadow, but the trees on the slopes and the little clearing were suffused with golden light. She took a quick swim. The water was icy, and she retreated quickly to shore to rest in her usual spot, and let the late-afternoon sun warm her chilled body.
She stretched out on her perch. The wolf could also feel her languor, the relaxation as the deep heat flowed through her and the fiery light shone orange through her eyelids. He was a bit surprised when the fingers of her right hand sought her groin. It took him a few seconds to comprehend what she was doing. Then he understood and watched avidly.
She had some swelling and moisture that brightened the red-gold hairs on her vulva. They shone gilt blond in the sun. Her lips parted slightly. He could see the tip of her tongue between them. Finally, her back arched. The expression of deep concentration became a quiet smile. She heaved a deep breath as the first wave broke over her, then a second gasp and a soft "Oh" as the one following caught her up in its greater intensity. Her hips began to pound as if she entertained an invisible lover. Her belly muscles tightened as her hips closed on the dream penis. Then she sighed deeply, reminding him strangely of the mother of the pack. She relaxed bonelessly, sighed again with pleasure and satisfaction, then slept.
The wolf rose to his feet. His decision was made. He was cursed, and yet delight coursed like pure fire in his veins. He remembered the glade. He and the wolves knew more of the Lady who dwelt there than humans did, because they had sometimes seen her shadow walking there. No one had ever seen her face and lived. A few caught sight of her in the pool when they stooped to drink. No one, brute or human, ever turned to stare directly at what gazed down into the water over their shoulder. But he knew he had just seen one of her images mirrored in a human face.
She awakened, a bit alarmed to see that it was late, the sun long behind the mountain and lighting only the rocky slopes above the tree line. She rose quickly, wrapped herself in her mantle, ready to hurry up the well-beaten path between the trees. When she lifted her head, her breath caught in her throat.
He was standing only a few feet away. Naked, but clothed in profound beauty. She had married, she had taken lovers, and she was something of a maven where looks were concerned; he was the most magnificent specimen she'd ever seen. Frank, open desire burned in his eyes: a question, a plea, a promise, an urgency, and last but not least, a command.
"WELL, WELL, WELL," DRYAS CHUCKLED, "HE CERtainly wasted no time taking you down a peg."
"Thank you for reminding me," Blaze said sourly.
"What do you want me to do about him?" she asked.
"Kill him," Mir said.
Dryas burst out laughing. She leaped to her feet, then kicked the chair across the room. It clattered across the ramshackle hut and crashed into the wall.
"Oh, you're a pair of beauties, you are." She drank from the cup of wine she held in her hand, then walked over and picked up the chair and tossed it back at the table. It landed accurately on its legs where it had been before. She slammed her heel into the wall. Mud rained down from the wickerwork structure. "Wattle and daub," she said.
She walked over to the fireplace, picked up a pan and a flesh fork, and made a circuit of the room, pounding the pan loudly with the fork. She exited the hut and walked around it, pounding loudly, then returned, closing the door behind her.
Both men looked completely stunned and bewildered.
"Listen!" she ordered. "You tell me this creature can walk on two legs like a man. And there is a good chance he can understand what we're saying to each other. So you sit in this dilapidated dwelling and talk of our plans in loud voices. How do you know the creature is not, in fact, lying in the weeds not far from here? Listening to every ... word ... you ... say."
Dryas was tired. She'd come a long way and all she'd seen on the journey were death, destruction, and pain. The Romans had broken the people's will to resist, and worse, the chieftains who should have been the backbone of that resistance were all too often murdered, enslaved, or bought by Roman power, helpless to change the fate of their people.
Enclaves like this were all that remained of a once-proud and brilliant nation. The scarred, broken, despairing girl eked out existence where once a family, intelligent, valiant, and handsome, ruled. No, not ruled: led a society that tried to live together in justice and peace.
In her journey across Gaul, Dryas had seen something she had not even known existed ... die. The sorrow that ruled her heart was so deep it seemed to blot out the sun, even on a bright day. Something was perishing here. Something more important than any mere human who shared it. A thing greater than the sum of its human parts.
She was frightened not only by its destruction, but also by her inability to comprehend what her deepest instincts told her was happening. She was not an intellectual, but a warrior, a person of action. So the feelings of grief threatening to drown her soul in a tidal wave of pain caused her to lash out in fury at these two old fools--the few surviving remnants of a class of thinkers and teachers who had shaped the only world she knew since the beginning of time.
She drew a deep, shuddering breath and covered her eyes with her hand. Then she felt on her other hand the dry touch of Mir's fingers. He patted it softly, gently, as he might comfort a child.
Tears leaked out from her eyelids and, when she opened her eyes to look at his face, she saw an understanding, a weary comprehension deeper than any she thought possible.
Her fury and sorrow faded together, leaving her drained and feeling slightly foolish for having taken so much wine on an empty stomach.
"Are you then refusing to help us?" Blaze's question carried the full freight of outraged authority.
Dryas turned toward him, anger beginning to flush her face again.
Mir clasped her hand. "Wait! Wait! I pray you both. Consider, Blaze: you have little of your former power. We are more than ever dependent on each other's goodwill. And you, girl, think. With most of the strongest warriors gone, I must, as the shepherd of an almost defenseless flock, preserve them from a scourge that can destroy them as surely as the Romans."
Dryas subsided. She snatched up the cup and swallowed more of the vintage there.
"All right," Blaze snarled. "You've made your point. I should say you've both made your respective points."
Dryas leaned forward and spoke in a very low voice and in another language, the tongue of her own people. "Yes, I'll help you." But her gaze shot to the door and walls. "He doesn't need to know that. Do you understand me?"
Mir simply nodded, but Blaze replied in the same language. "God! It's been years. My command of the language is ... flawed and I'm cursed slow, but yes, I do understand simple sentences."
She nodded. "Tomorrow. In the sun ... in the open."
Both men nodded, and she finished the wine in one pull. Then she kicked back her chair, walked over to the corner, shouldered her pack, and turned toward the door.
"Wait!" Blaze cried, "he--"
Dryas stepped toward him and spoke again in Caledonian. "Don't help me. Shut up! I know what I'm doing." Then she turned and vanished into the night.
SHE WAS A LUSH, FORBIDDEN FRUIT TO THE wolf. A mature woman, redolent of an almost incenselike confusion of fragrances. Soft, yet tight openings and velvet surfaces.
As he took her, she communicated an exquisite and unknown sensation to his mind and body as he invaded hers. He could tell, as she fell first to her knees before him and then as he pushed her backward to sprawl on the pine needles, that she both feared and desired him. And that she felt both sensations deeply.
"Don't hurt me," she pleaded.
It was growing dark when he released her, allowing her to scramble to where her clothing lay. He slipped into the shadows and realized she was trembling as she donned her few simple garments and began her run to the village.
Wolflike, he was puzzled by her reaction to him. He knew he'd given her pleasure, ecstatic pleasure. And more than one time. He understood that her fear lent a sharper edge to both of their desires. But what he couldn't understand was the reason for that fear. Did she think he would attack, harm her during an act that brought so much mutual delight, an act of joy?
When he was sure she could no longer see him, he shifted to his wolf shape and shadowed her up through the pines, back to the rath, the rude Celtic farmstead where she lived.
He stood at the edge of the forest when she pushed aside the skin curtain that covered the opening to her dwelling.
"Imona!" someone cried. "We were about to go down to the lake. Look, our torches are kindled. What happened? Where have you been?"
"I'm sorry." Her voice was low, almost a stammer. "I drifted off to sleep after my bath. I had no idea I'd sleep so long. The sun was already behind the mountains when I awakened ... I came back as quickly--"
The other she's voice broke in on her. "You should be more careful. I swear I believe you do these things to bring misery on your unhappy kin."
"Kat, I'm so sorry. I never meant to worry you."
Kat, eh, and Imona, the wolf thought. Screech Kat. Maeniel had met a few small, furred, clawed beasts. Loud voices, they had. They hung about and scavenged near human dwellings. They were quick and could run straight up trees. Imona's voice was low and lovely. This Kat sounded like a shrew.
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