This story was chosen by Novels in Progress to represent their organization in the Columbus Invitational Arts Competition.
Heart of a Were
Strongheart surveyed the small valley before him lying under the clear moonlit sky. Something was amiss this night, something that made him edgy and nervous. His companion, Lightfoot, stood head up tasting the wind. Her fur, gray and brown and black, each hair tipped with a diamond of magic, brushed his muzzle as she passed him. Her warm scent distracted him from his surroundings.
They had been together for a year now, but only on the three nights of the full moon, and only when the moon shone bright and pure, and revealed by the absence clouds. What name she went by as a human remained a mystery to him – a mystery he knew he would one day have to solve so that they would be together in both worlds.
Strongheart first met Lightfoot on a night when he ran the ridges to the north of the farm. He caught her scent and went looking for her, angry his territory had been invaded. When he cornered her along a dried streambed, she snarled at him and snapped. Her lack of fear combined with her strength and splendor captivated him – so he let her live. Wolves mated for life. Yet, never during those moon times had she been in heat, so they had never become a true pair. Even so, he often speculated about her identity.
He truly wanted to know her as a human. As a wolf, he could read her emotions with a twitch of an ear, a flip of the tail, a turn of the head. His nose, always his nose, would tell him so much more – but not her daylight identity and not where she lived. Once he thought to give her his name by writing it on a piece of paper and taking it to her. It took all his concentration to force his wolf-self to carry it to their meeting place. She picked it up, dropped it, and left it there in the brush. After all, paper meant nothing to a wolf.
Strongheart had been turned at a very young age. He knew people thought being a werewolf cursed him forever. When he walked under the sun in the form of a young man, he understood that concept. Yet now when the darkness quivered with sound and taste, and more – smells, it wasn’t a curse, it was enlightenment. The ability to separate odors revealed the true difference between a man and a wolf; a man viewed the world through his eyes, while a wolf understood through his nose. Beyond that, the wolf’s freedom from the everyday human life and work served as a balm to his aching spirit.
His mother blamed herself for his change. Years before, he had read the diary she kept in her dresser drawer. She had been born to a poor family of strict values. When she had become pregnant at sixteen by a man who had drifted through her life like a brief summer storm, she refused to give up her child. Her family had turned her out into the world. Alone and without support, she wandered for awhile with him in tow. At last, she found a job as a groom for a farmer who kept draft horses and a few hunters for sport. She worked long hours. In return, the farmer let her have a small cottage as part of her wage. Summers weren’t bad but the trials of winter with the need for fuel and extra clothes were always a hardship.
On the autumn night his mother turned eighteen and was starved for laughter and music, she had bundled him in warm blankets on the bed and left him home alone while she took herself off to the pub down the road for an hour of light-hearted drinking and companionship.
He awoke to find a large furry face with yellow-green eyes peering at him. He remembered how he laughed when a puff of warm breath struck his face. He knew now the werewolf had teetered on the brink of killing him. If he struggled or screamed the wolf would have ripped his throat out. His laughter, on the contrary, must have stirred a paternal response. The werewolf licked his face. Then it nipped him just enough to break the skin…just enough to change his life forever.