A Wolf's Moon

May 23, 2013
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Full and proud, the packs howl loud,
There is blood in the air; there is a feast on this night,
Compelled by the moon, filled with joy by its tune,
Every year at this time we gather before the Wolf’s Moon.
* * *

The mingling of human and wolf voices battered the trees and rose to the heavens above. They filled the night with their haunting melody because, even as they were beautiful, it was the sound of the wild and the untamed.

On this night, the humans in the small Italian city did not leave the warmth and safety of their homes, superstitions and pure instinct warning them away from such preternatural happenings.
Heather couldn’t help but smile. Her blood pulsed with an ancient and exhilarating joy as it always did on this momentous occasion. Yet, she paused and sniffed the air, searching for a familiar and longed for scent.
When she did not find it immediately, she decided to wait, but only for a short while.
It was a cold January evening and it had snowed earlier that afternoon. Heather shivered and held her arms close. Her feet were bare and they stung in the snow, but she didn’t want to shift. Not yet.
A howl echoed, closer than the others. The white that cloaked the woods muffled the sound, but Heather turned towards it and opened her arms even as a huge gray wolf pelted towards her, its mouth hanging open and its tongue lolling. Heather laughed and held the great beast close, feeling the snow melt off its coat at her touch.
“Talon! You’re late!”
The wolf grunted and grabbed her sleeve in its jaws, pulling gently.
Heather pushed its muzzle away and admonished, “Don’t rip my clothes, Talon. You know what happened last time…”
If it was possible the wolf looked abashed and backed into the trees, whining.
The girl let out a peal of laughter and leapt forward. When she landed, a white she-wolf stood in her place and together with the gray, they ran into the forest and toward the celebrations beyond.
Heather relished every spare moment she had with her childhood friend, Talon, but it was these runs, whether as human or wolf, that made her remember the carefree days as a little girl and made her forget every obstacle since then that tried to keep her from attaining such simple pleasures.
So, Heather delayed their arrival, snapping at snowflakes, nudging Talon into snow banks and otherwise making a complete fool of herself. But, she didn’t care. No one was watching but the moon and she and Talon romped down hidden paths until the moon’s call was too strong and a new strain of music weaved through the bristling pine needles.
They stopped at the edge of a natural clearing to transform. Some of their kind were staying wolves on this night, but Heather wanted to talk to Talon with her own tongue and not in barks and growls.
After pulling on her clothes and seeing Talon was similarly ready, Heather took his hand and yanked him forward.
He stumbled and grabbed her arm for support.
“Wait a second, Heather! We don’t have to be anywhere!”
“Yes, we do!” she retorted, digging her nails into his arm,
Talon winced, but did not argue despite the advantage in height he had over her.
“Don’t tell me…” Heather took a menacing step forward. “… You forgot the bet you made with Arin?”
The color drained out of his skin and the corner of his mouth began to twitch, yet he still tried to feign ignorance. “Eh? I don’t gamble, Heather. Especially if it’s with my life.”
Heather grinned. She had him.
“Ah ha! So, you do remember? Come on! We’re already late!”
And she began to drag the boy through the snowy clearing.
It was a slow process. On this night, even the most stubborn and cautious werewolves in the Circle had ventured outside, the light of the orange- yellow moon invading all their minds. So, the woods were crowded with her clan mates, as wolves or in human form they clustered in groups or sat alone. Stories of bravery and of the Dark Ages were told, liquor was downed impossibly fast and the bloody kill of a wild boar roasted on a spit- bathed in rich oils and fragrant herbs in a sacred tradition.
For many, it was a hunt on the Wolf Moon and the feast afterwards that was the apex of the night, but for Heather other traditions held more appeal. As she and Talon passed through the crowds, she looked for the familiar old woman and turned her head when she heard her speaking.
Several younger werewolves sat in a semi-circle around a shriveled, gray haired woman, but her appearance betrayed her strength. Heather paused to hear and feel the power and conviction that throbbed from her every word. The elder wove the story of the Wolf Moon- a story so old and nearly forgotten that it was rare to have anyone in their midst who still remembered.
Although Heather had heard the tale once before when she was much younger, it still captured her attention and she ignored Talon’s impatient shifting to just listen.
It was a strange tale. A tale that was both a praiseful song about the moon and a carefully worded warning about its potency. It spoke of the days before the Dark Ages, before their kind had gone into hiding, when their power was still fresh and their reign just beginning. It spoke of the importance of the Wolf Moon and the blessing and danger it provided. Because, as the young male werewolf in the elder’s story discovered, there was a distinct difference between letting the moon compel you and being compelled by the moon.
A difference that resulted in life or death, harmonious existence or madness.
Heather walked onward, if only because she knew how the mournful strains of the song-story ended…
The two practically walked into their friend. Or more accurately, he staggered onto their path.
The young man stumbled and nearly fell before Heather and Talon grabbed his arms. He sagged between them before glancing up. He blinked slowly and then a big grin spread across his face.
“Heather! Talon! I was beginning to wonder if you’d forgotten me!”
Talon snarled softly and started to throw the boy off, but he was faster and jumped out of their grip. He tipped unsteadily on his feet, but remained upright this time.
“Arin,” Heather stepped forward and embraced him.
He returned it gently and Heather got a whiff of wood smoke, blood and… alcohol?
She stepped away from him with a slight crinkle to her nose.
“You’ve been drinking.”
Her accusation received scarcely a shrug.
“It is tradition,” he smirked and Heather couldn’t help but smile.
He was her cousin after all, even if he didn’t look it.
Arin’s mother was her father’s sister, but there was only the slightest of a family resemblance. Especially cast in the yellowish glow of the full moon, Arin posed an unusual sight.
His hair was a pale blonde, his skin white as snow and his eyes a silvery-gray that flashed whenever he got angry. It was a combination of traits that were incredibly rare in werewolves and they persisted in his wolf form.
But, they shared blood and Heather knew Arin would fight as fiercely for her safety as she would his.
And Talon probably sensed as much, because a low growl had started in his chest. Or perhaps it was their upcoming fight. Heather almost felt bad for him.
Unfortunately for Talon, Arin had not forgotten.
He clapped him on the shoulder and grinned. “Come, come! I’ve found the perfect place!”
They began to move toward a copse in the woods, when Talon muttered something.
“What was that?” Heather leaned towards him, her voice low. Despite herself, she was a little worried.
Talon turned his head away, but consented, “He’s stinkin’ drunk.”
“Well… he always stinks.”
Talon made an odd, choking noise as he tried not to laugh. Heather smiled, pleased.
Suddenly, Arin stopped in front of them and put his hands on his hips.
“Here we are!”
“Here?” Heather looked at the little dip in the trees and the rocky overhang they stood on. The moon bathed them in its diffused light.
It seemed a little too exposed for such an event.
“Uh huh!” Arin turned towards them.
His face shone with excitement and he practically shivered with anticipation.
“Come on! No more waiting! I feel so alive tonight! I’m aching to tear something apart!”
Talon made a face, but there was something amusing about Arin’s mood. And it rang true- Heather could feel the sensation Arin talked of and being right underneath the moon only strengthened it. They all felt the ancient longing and it was both a blessing and a curse.
“Let’s get on with it,” Talon stepped toward Arin and began taking off his shoes.
Arin was already pulling his shirt over his head and Heather took several steps back.
She knew Talon was nervous, especially after Arin’s earlier comment, but he had agreed to this. It was not easy to back down from a bet and when it was a fight, it involved one’s pride.
Talon had to fight Arin. Heather shook her head. Boys were so stupid, betting who could best the other in a tussle of all things. Although, admittedly, a drinking match would’ve almost certainly gone in Arin’s favor.
When the two boys stood in the freezing air with nothing but their pants on, they turned to face each other on opposite sides. Werewolves fought bare skinned traditionally and since it was the Wolf Moon it only seemed right.
Arin nodded to Heather and she raised her hand. Since she had witnessed the bet, she would judge the fight and decide if the win was fair- which was always relative.
He smiled, rather like a feral animal and cracked his knuckles.
“Hey, Talon! Whoever loses runs at the back for a month, right?”
Talon raised his hands and nodded stiffly. “If memory serves.”
“Hah! This is gonna be great!”
And Heather lowered her arm.
Rather than circling as fights often began, Arin immediately went on the offensive. He leaped forward, hands outstretched and he moved so quickly, Talon barely swung out of his path. Heather watched, enraptured as Arin landed and turned, a smile still fixed on his angular face.
The fight had only just started and Heather’s heart was already beating faster. The shadows across the sharp lines of Arin’s face only made him look fiercer and more intimidating. She could smell Talon’s rising anxiety and for good reason.
Talon was significantly bigger than Arin, who had always been on the slender side, but it did not make Arin any less of a danger. Both Talon and Heather knew he was a formidable fighter, and clever too. They had witnessed more than one scrap of his where he bested opponents much bigger than him with surprising strength and agility.
And some in the Circle whispered that he seemed more like a trickster fox than a wolf.
Even now, his muscles rippled as he grabbed Talon’s shoulders and pinned him down.
Heather’s breath caught in her throat. If Talon stayed down too long, it would be too easy for Arin to strike at his vulnerable throat or belly.
But, Talon fought on and managed to kick Arin away. They stood apart from each other, already breathing heavily, gauging the other’s reactions.
She smiled with relief. She was used to seeing others fight and fighting herself, and this match was not a fight to the death, but, even so, it was the hardest one to watch.
All it took was one gash that went too deep, and it could quickly become lethal.
So, she stayed, as they continued to exchange blows.
Talon skidded backwards after Arin’s speed was too much. Blood dripped from his cheek where his nails had raked him.
“I guess being drunk didn’t dull your senses,” he panted.
Arin laughed. “Were you hoping it would?”
He lunged forward again and the dangerous dance persisted.
As Heather watched, it became apparent that Talon was having a tough time just avoiding Arin’s attacks and five minutes in he was only successfully dodging half of them. The rest left his arms and torso etched with bruises and scratches.
Heather was glad they had decided to fight in human form, or the damage would’ve been much worse. However, they had still lengthened their nails to ivory claws.
Then, finally, the fight began to near its end.
Talon lashed out as Arin was retreating after another of his rapid strikes. His punch was slow and clumsy, but, somehow, it connected with the line of Arin’s jaw and he was pushed back.
Heather leaned forward with a gasp. Talon looked as surprised as she felt.
Arin said nothing, but he did not try another close quarters attack.
Heather gradually became aware of the werewolves who were now watching the fight with her, drawn by the faint, yet distinctive sounds of combat.
Both boys were at a standstill, neither one making the first move. Until, Talon shifted his feet, sending a pebble skidding. Arin seized his chance and rushed Talon.
But, Talon’s confidence had grown since he landed a hit; Heather could see it in the way he turned to meet Arin.
He met with some success, snagging Arin’s arm in one hand. However, the smaller boy brought up his legs and pushed him away while twisting out of his grip. Now, they both danced on the edge of the crumbling cliff.
Chests heaving and bodies streaming with sweat, anyone could see that both fighters were stretched thin.
All it took was one mistake, and they didn’t have to wait long.
Backed against the cliff, Talon was forced to fend off Arin and fight to keep from falling to a painful death. Heather could hear bets being tossed behind her and not many were in Talon’s favor.
Until something unexpected happened. Arin crouched down, his lips rising in a dangerous smirk… and slashed at Talon’s legs.
To most, it looked like an accident, as Talon skipped to avoid Arin’s sharp claws. A simple twist to the fight when he pulled back his arm and responded in kind.
Then, a tremor shook the entire rock ledge and a cloud of dust rose up, shielding the outcome from the onlookers’ view. Heather coughed and blinked the dust out of her eyes.
She raised her head and was shocked to see a huge crevice in the rock, which led off to where an entire chunk of the cliff had been broken away. And there, lying on their backs, covered in rubble, were Arin and Talon.
The combined force of their attacks had broken the earth itself. A flurry of muttering and excitement came from the other werewolves, but Heather began to walk towards them, concerned for their well-being.
Suddenly, there was a sharp cough and Arin sat up. He blinked, looked around at the destruction he’d caused and shook his head like a dog ridding itself of fleas.
Talon also came to, bewildered, but intact. Heather suppressed a smile of delight.
They were covered in blood and coated in a fine layer of dust, but they were okay.
And the fight had ended in a draw.
Arin stood and sighed, “It looks like you don’t have to humiliate yourself after all, Talon.”
Talon jumped up with an indignant protest.
“It could’ve been you just as easily!”
But, Arin turned, picked up his clothes and began to walk away. “We’ll have to finish this another time.” He raised a hand. “See ya!”
As he passed, Heather spoke.
“You planned for this, didn’t you?”
Her cousin paused, and glanced back.
“Now, why would I do that?”
But she didn’t miss the slight upturn of his lips.
Heather allowed herself a small smile. A tie was certainly acceptable after such a display.
Beside her, Talon wasn’t so pleased and he grumbled, “It’s almost like he won anyway…”
She shook her head and nudged his shoulder. He winced and Heather took pity on him.
“Come on. I’ll patch you up.”
They sat down on a cluster of boulders along the rock ledge, their watching clan mates had wandered elsewhere and, knowing Arin, he was probably getting himself into more trouble. And, like old times, Heather was alone with Talon.
After she dabbed ointment on his scratches and roughly bandaged the deeper wounds left by Arin’s claws, they sat in companionable silence.
The Wolf Moon was still high in the sky, yet, for the first time that night, the manic energy rushing through her veins had quieted. Gazing at the great orange orb, she could only think how happy she was to have a moment where nothing mattered but the here and now. It was a perfect night.
No hiding, no whispers of rebellion, no stiff rules set by stodgy old men and women…. And it was only made better from the relief she had felt when both Arin and Talon emerged from their bet little worse for wear. She felt another wave of gratitude to Arin.
Thanks to him, Talon had been able to end the fight honorably, and Heather could call it over as soon as both participants were unable to stand.
But, Heather still wondered, what would Talon have done if Arin had not begun the series of events that broke apart the very ground they stood on? Heather doubted he would’ve surrendered. The words of the elder’s story floated through her mind again.
She entertained the notion for a second, before brushing it away like so many other cobwebs of thought.
Suddenly, she felt a pressure on her shoulder and she looked down in mild surprise to see Talon leaning against her. His breathing rose and fell in peaceful sleep and his scratched face looked so childlike, nostalgia rose in Heather once again.
Heather smiled and put her hand on his head. They stayed there before the Wolf Moon, not prostrating, nor pleading- simply being.
Neither she nor Talon would be compelled by its promise. They would not be swayed to submerge their entire selves in its frenzied energy.
Rather, they would command that powerful gift and the moon would be theirs. Yes, Heather liked the sound of it, as she leaned against Talon and relished the night. It was their moon- a wolf’s moon.
And the melodies both human and wolf sang its truth.

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