Authors: Selena Kitt
How strange it was, to be so suddenly alone, so estranged from the world, she no longer belonged anywhere at all.
How strange it was to hold a man’s hand who had, just a few moments earlier, been wielding a sword as some fantastical creature, the stuff of legend come to life.
How strange it was, to look up at this half-man, half-wolf, and feel things she never had before, things that scared her more deeply than wolves or even the threat of capture or death.
How strange it all was.
How strange indeed.
* * * *
It didn’t take as long as she expected to adjust to living with a pack of wolves. Or, wulvers, as Raife often reminded her. Sibyl was surprised how kind and welcoming they all were. She’d never been one to spend her time idly, even back home, and so it was easy to ingratiate herself to the wulver women by offering to help cook, do laundry, and take care of the pups. She thought it was funny how they called them pups, even though they were really all human babies, once they were born.
It took her only a day to insist Kirstin stop bringing her meals on trays, treating her like—and calling her—“Lady Sibyl.” She was tired of titles, tired of pretending to be a “proper highborn lady.” She’d had enough of that with the MacFalons. With the wulvers, she could be more fully herself than she’d ever been in her life. Here, they didn’t think twice about her ability to shoot a longbow or ride a horse astride—they had those too. The wulver warriors trained on them, riding through the valley, their hooves tearing up the heather.
She was free to come and go as she pleased, either in the valley or within the mountain, but the sentry on duty had warned her, and so had Raife, that she wouldn’t be allowed to depart the tunnel. It was for her own safety, Raife said, and she believed him. Alistair’s men were out looking for her and had come as far south as the mountains. But even if Alistair and his men found the entrance to their mountain, the sentries could hold them off until the warriors arrived to defend the den. Besides, the entrance was hidden, deep down, and there was an enormous rock that could block it, if need be. Raife had assured her they were safe here.
Sibyl took one look at the wolfen warriors swinging their swords and claymores and believed him without a doubt. She’d been a little afraid of them at first, even after they’d changed back into men and put away their swords, but once they all gathered for a meal in the dining hall at the center of the mountain, laughing and joking and talking—in Gaelic of course—Sibyl found herself relaxing.
The only one she was still wary of was Darrow. She didn’t see him much for the first week or so. Kirstin took meals in to Laina and he stayed with her much of the time, eating meals in their room. She only saw him out on the training field while she helped the women herd the sheep, feed the pigs and goats, or do the laundry, standing barefoot in the cold stream, beating shirts and plaids against the rocks. She tried avoiding Darrow’s gaze as much as possible, but it was funny, every time she looked up, it was Raife she saw, keeping a close eye on her.
Every night, she would ask Raife, when he knocked on her door to check on her, to say goodnight, if Alistair’s men had given up, and every night, he would shake his head, a sad look coming into his eyes. At first she thought it was because he didn’t like disappointing her, but as time wore on, she wondered if, perhaps, it was because she was asking at all. Asking meant she wanted to leave, didn’t it? And the truth was, the more time she spent with the wulvers, the exact opposite was true.
So she stopped asking Raife, but she still desired to know, so she gathered up her courage and started asking Darrow. Whenever she saw him, she felt his dark gaze, an unspoken hostility emanating from him. Raife said he’d accepted her, that he wouldn’t challenge his pack leader’s decision to allow her to stay, but she wasn’t so sure about that. Darrow led the men every day out of the mountain to look for any signs of the Scots and clan MacFalon. He was the one who would know.
It was on her first visit to see Laina after the birth she dared to ask him. She thought she would visit during the morning hours, when the men trained out in the valley and she knew Darrow would be out there. Laina was happy to see her, sitting up on her mattress, nursing the baby. She was still too pale, but the cut beneath her collarbone was healing and she smiled and beckoned when Sibyl knocked.
“Such a beautiful baby,” Sibyl exclaimed, smiling as she looked down at the child’s sleeping face. He looked so much like Darrow and Raife, with that slight indent in his chin and those full red lips. And that hair. All that thick, dark hair. “I’ve never seen a child with so much hair!”
“All wulvers have thick hair on their heads,” Laina smiled, brushing the baby’s locks away from his face.
“But nowhere else, I noticed,” Sibyl replied, flushing at her own observation.
“Noticed, did ye?” Laina grinned, showing a row of straight, brightly white teeth. Sibyl noted their canines were just slightly longer than most humans. She blushed even more when Laina’s fair brows went up and she cocked her head to look at Sibyl knowingly at her comment. “Aye, tis true. Jus’ t’hair on our heads—til we change.”
Sibyl hid her shudder. She was used to living with the wulvers now, but the transformation from wolf to human and back again still disturbed her.
“An’ I wish we did’na.” Laina sighed, leaning over to kiss the babe in her arms as he fell completely asleep at the breast, his lips sticky with milk.
Laina didn’t seem to care that she was uncovered. Modesty was the last thing the wulvers seemed to care about, Sibyl had noticed. Maybe if she’d grown up the way they had, changing from human to wolf, she wouldn’t care about clothes either. Kilts seemed the perfect solution, as they could tie them around their necks or waists and cover what they needed. There weren’t any bothersome buttons or laces.
“Change, you mean? You wish you didn’t change?” Sibyl frowned, pushing Laina back onto the mattress when she went to rise to put the baby in his cradle. It was wooden, small, and close to the floor, where the mattress was. The only raised bed in the mountain was in Raife’s room—the one Sibyl had been sleeping in every night. The rest of the wulvers slept on the floor on mattresses or rugs, rolled up in their plaids.
Sibyl took the baby, careful not to wake him, and put him in his cradle next to his mother. He stirred just slightly, settling on his stomach, sucking his fist in his sleep. He was a big boy already, growing fast, she noted.
“Ye do’na know.” Laina shook her head sadly, stroking the baby’s damp head. There was a fire going and the room was quite warm. “I’m so glad he’s a boy and not a girl.”
“Why?” Sibyl rankled at her words. How often had her own father wished she was a different gender? She couldn’t count how many times she’d heard it. It seemed, to her, having a gender preference one way or the other just made life more difficult between parent and child.
“Boys, they can choose, ye ken?” Laina lifted those incredibly blue eyes—all the wulvers had those same eyes—to meet her own. “Girls, we can’na.”
Sibyl remembered what Raife had told her about the wulvers, about Lilith’s curse, although she wasn’t really sure what to believe. It was like listening to the bible stories about Noah and the flood, or Jonah and the whale. Even as a child, Sibyl had questioned such tales. How could all of God’s creatures fit in one boat, even an enormous one? How could a man survive for three days in the belly of a whale? Even the story of the Garden of Eden seemed, to her, just another way the church made everything appear a woman’s fault.
“And boy wulvers, they can turn into those… halflings? Half-wolf, half-man?” Sibyl remembered seeing Darrow and Raife wielding their swords, growling and snapping at once another. “But women can’t?”
“Aye,” Laina agreed, leaning back against the mountain wall behind her. She was tiring, Sibyl noted, and told herself she’d take her leave soon and let the new mother rest. “If only I could find the huluppa.”
“It’s dangerous for you to take willow,” Sibyl reminded her, shaking her head vehemently. “It’s the reason you nearly bled to death. Please don’t take any more.”
“It’ll be safe, now he’s birthed.” Laina’s shoulders straightened, eyes narrowing, face determined. “I’ll find it. Tis out there. I know tis.”
Chasing rainbows. That’s what Raife had said, Sibyl remembered. But Laina seemed very determined to find the plant that might keep her from changing from human to wolf and back again.
safe,” Sibyl insisted. “You can’t go out there anymore. You have a child to care for.”
“Not when I’ve turned,” Laina said bitterly. “Once me moon-blood returns, I’m at the mercy of me cycles again. I will’na even be able t’care for ’im when I’m changed.”
It was a horrible predicament, Sibyl thought. So very unfair.
“What do wulver women do, then?” Sibyl wondered aloud.
“We care fer each other’s bairns,” Laina replied with a sigh. “But we’re all a’the mercy of t’moon and our cycles. If’n we could choose…”
Oh what a great freedom it would be, Sibyl thought, if
woman could choose. Wulvers and humans weren’t so different after all, she realized.
That’s when Darrow came into the room, opening the big door. Sibyl still wondered at the strength and craftsmanship it had taken, to carve out rooms in the caverns, to create doors and fireplaces. Sibyl froze in place, still sitting beside the baby’s cradle, her gaze meeting Darrow’s. His expression changed when he saw Sibyl, smile fading, eyes hardening to glittering points, sharp, blue jewels.
“I… should go.” She got to her feet, moving toward the door, toward escape. Of course, that meant moving toward Darrow, which required a great deal of courage on her part.
“Ye do’na’ave t’go, Sibyl,” Laina protested, holding a hand out to her husband. He went to her, moving past Sibyl, and she breathed a sigh of relief when he sat beside his wife on the mattress, when he was no longer between Sibyl and the door. “We’re jus’ talkin’bout findin’ the huluppa, Darrow. He’s been helpin’ me look fer it.”
Laina reached out to touch her husband’s cheek, a look of love passing between them that made something buzz like bees in Sibyl’s lower belly. She’d seen men and women look at each other with love before—even lust, she thought, remembering Rose—but this was different. There was a connection between the two of them that made human lust, and even love, seem infinitesimal in comparison.
“I can help you find it.” The words come out of her mouth without a second thought. She’d told Raife she would help Laina find it, and if she had to be there, why not? “I know plants and herbs very well. I was taught by a healer and an apothecary. That’s how I knew what would help stop your bleeding.”
“Aye?” Laina’s fair, arched brows went up in surprise. “Oh, Sibyl, you do’na know wha’t’would mean t’me!”
“Laina, mayhaps, now t’bairn’s birthed…” Darrow hesitated, glancing at the baby asleep in his cradle. Sibyl knew, from the look on Darrow’s face, what he was thinking, the words he didn’t say. He wanted her to stop looking for the plant, that much was clear, but he was torn. He could see how much it meant to her. So could Sibyl. “I do’na wanna leave ye.”
“But she’ll help ye, Darrow!” Laina turned shining eyes to her husband, ignoring his unspoken message. “I know ye’ll find it!”
“Mayhaps.” Darrow frowned, turning his gaze back to Sibyl again, still standing in the doorway.
“With Alistair’s men still looking for me, though…” Sibyl bit her lip, meeting Darrow’s eyes. They were as blue as the rest of the wulvers, but they could darken, like his brother’s, like the sky when it was ready to storm. They were dark now.
“Aye, he’s lookin’ fer ye.” Darrow frowned. “But I’ll keep ye safe, if’n ye’re really willin’ t’go out and look wit’ me, lass.”
“I’d be happy to, while I’m here,” Sibyl agreed, smiling at Laina. If it would keep the woman from roaming the woods in search of the elusive plant, Sibyl really would be happy to do it. Although she didn’t relish riding out into the woods with Darrow. But he wouldn’t hurt her—not with Sibyl under his brother’s protection. Would he?
“Thank ye, lass.” Darrow gave her a nod. “I’ll come fer ye on t’morrow. After trainin’, ya ken?”
“That would be fine.” Sibyl nodded, shutting the door behind her.
She walked back toward her room, thinking about Darrow’s obvious distaste of her. Even after she’d saved Laina’s life—twice—the man didn’t seem to like her. She wondered at it. Most of the wulvers had gone out of their way to make her feel as at home as possible. They didn’t tease her about her English accent, like the Scotsmen at Alistair’s castle had. They didn’t make fun of her penchant for baths like the Scottish, or her insistence on things like her own silverware and tin drinking cup. Of course, Raife had a lot to do with that, she knew. He, too, had gone out of his way to make her feel as at-home as possible.
Sibyl opened the door to her room, thinking mayhaps, if she went out into the woods with Darrow, looking for the elusive huluppa, he might eventually warm to her. She couldn’t figure out if it was because she was English, or human, or what. She was so lost in thought, she didn’t notice the door to the hot spring cavern was open, the orange glow of a torch lighting the way. She didn’t notice until Raife stepped into the room, his long, dark hair wet, his body beaded with water in the low light of the fire.
He was stark naked, his plaid just thrown over his shoulder, hiding nothing. They stared at each other, unblinking. Sibyl felt her cheeks redden and knew she should look away, but she didn’t. The man’s body was as hard as rock, chiseled like granite, shoulders wide, chest hairless but thick, his waist narrowing, abdomen so ridged it was like a mountain range in its own right. Sibyl followed the terrain of his body with her gaze, the water running down his tawny skin in little rivers, seeing that Laina had been wrong about the wulvers being completely hairless except for the locks on their head. Raife had a thick, dark patch of hair between his legs, the snake there slowly rising to point in her direction.