That first night and for several nights after, Jae was sick and in so much pain. Her leg burned as though it were on fire. She remembered flashes of her mum crying and her da holding her still while Simon worked on her leg, putting awful smelling poultices on it. He made her drink and they put wet cloths on her and her fever finally ran it’s course. She heard snatches of conversation but most of it just confused her.
“Do you think she will turn?”
“I don’t know. She will live is the only thing I can know for now. We will have to wait and see.”
“What will we do?”
“I will take care of her, no matter what happens.”
One morning she woke up and opened her eyes and saw the sun shining in the window. “Are you hungry, child?”
“I…I think so. How long have I been here? Where are my mum and da?” Jae sat up, still a bit shaky.
“Breakfast is almost ready. You are going to stay here for awhile until you get stronger. Your mum will come see you though. Here you are then.” Simon set tea and bread on a tray and brought it to her. She had never eaten in bed before. “When you are through we will see about getting you up and outside.”
Jae liked Simon. He took care of her leg and now that it was healing, he showed her how to take care of plants and taught her what was good to eat and what cured sickness. He taught her about animals and all about everything in their valley. Her mum and da came often.
One day they came and they ate out under the trees. Jae played an instrument that Simon had taught her. Before they left, her mother turned and hugged her tight. When she turned away again Jae was sure she was crying.
Simon was gathering some bread and cheese and a skin of water. “Where are we going?”
Simon smiled. “We are going up the mountain, to a special place. When we get there, I have a story to tell you. Get your cloak and your walking stick. We will be gone all night.”
Jae’s leg still got tired sometimes so Simon had carved a walking stick for her and helped her decorate it with clay beads and some feathers. “Is it very far?”
Simon held the door for her. “It is pretty far but we shall be there well before dark. They followed the path that led out of the valley and then took a turn in a direction Jae had never been. As they climbed, the air cooled and the vegetation became sparse. They didn’t speak for awhile as the way was steep and rough.
“Let’s rest a moment. How is your leg?”
“It’s a little stiff but I can keep up.” Jae grinned at him and he smiled back. He had grown to love her like a daughter and his heart was breaking. He knew there was nothing he could do to stop what would happen, but he hoped he could help her through it.
“Look behind you.” Simon’s eyes were aglow. Jae turned and caught her breath.
“It’s so beautiful!. They sat on a felled tree and Simon handed her the waterskin and broke the bread to share with her. The sky was crimson and orange. When they had eaten, Simon stood. “We are almost there.” He poured a little water on the ground and sprinkled a few crumbs around. Jae watched him. “We should always give thanks for what we have and what the earth gives us.”
Jae tore the few pieces of bread she had left and gently laid them on the tree. “I am grateful for this place to rest.” She said. Simon nodded and they continued on their way. They had not climbed for long when they came to a clear flat place There were tall evergreens shading all around the clearing and a cave nearly hidden in the side of the mountain. “This is it.” Simon said.
“What is this place?” Jae looked around and tried to peer into the cave. “Are we going in there?”
“In a moment. First, let’s sit here a moment. There were rocks at the edge of the clearing, worn smooth as though many had taken their rest there over the years. The remains of a campfire could be seen in front of the cave.
“I have a story to tell you now and it will take courage to hear. Do you think you have courage?”
Jae tilted her head to the side as she thought. Simon never asked simple questions and she knew from experience he did not want quick answers. “I hope I do. I don’t think anyone can know for sure until they are tested by trials.”
Simon smiled. “That is a very wise answer. I want you to listen now. You may be tested but know that no matter what, I will be with you.”
Jae shifted nervously in her seat. This didn’t sound like a good story. Simon asked her about the night the wolves chased her and her da. He told her stories about people who had been bitten. “Sometimes when a human has been bitten by a wolf, it changes them. Before this night is over we will know if you are one of those.”
“Is that why I have stayed with you?”
“Your mum and da love you, but they would not be able to control you if you changed. You could hurt them.” Simon watched as she absorbed what he had told her. She crossed her arms and stuck her chin out. “I would never hurt them.” She said.
“Not unless you were something other than yourself. That’s why we have come here. There are chains in the cave.”
She glanced nervously at the cave and then back at Simon. “You mean to chain me up?”
“Only for this night. There will be a full moon and if you have been affected, we will know tonight. I will be right here the whole time.”
“I can’t ever go home, can I?” Simon’s heart broke for her. She looked so small and scared.
“You will be able to live at home but you will have to come here when the moon is full. I will come with you. I wish I could do more…” Simon’s voice trailed off. He sighed and stood. Let’s get a fire going and light a torch to take into the cave and I will get you settled. Do you trust me?”
“Yes.” Jae had heard stories of sheep being killed and once a child had been taken from there valley. Would people know? Would they be afraid of her? What if they wanted to hunt her down? She helped Simon gather kindling and larger pieces of wood for the fire and soon it was blazing. Simon tied a bunch of brush together and created a torch that he lit from the fire. Jae followed him into the cave. There were chains attached to the back wall and she looked up at him and then squared her shoulders and walked over to the chains. She positioned herself to match the location of the chain and Simon wrapped it around her and fastened it. “How do you know this will be enough?” She felt a little silly asking that. She was small but Simon had said she would be very strong if she changed. Maybe this was all for nothing. Maybe the wolf that bit her was not infected. “It’s going to be dark soon. You better go out by the fire. Will you talk to me some so I know you are still here?”
Simon placed his hand under her chin and bent to kiss her on the forehead. “Of course I will, daughter of my heart.” Jae’s eyes filled with the tears she had been holding in. She blinked hard and smiled defiantly.
“We shall see just how much courage I have, tonight!”
Simon smiled sadly. “You have more courage than most men. I am proud of you.” He turned and walked out of the cave. Jae watched him go and finally let the tears fall.
Out by the fire, Simon took the lute and a pipe from his pack. He filled the pipe, talking as he did, about the valley and this mountain and how he had been here before. He lit his pipe and while Jae could not see him, she was comforted by the familiar smell of tobacco. As darkness fell she began to sweat though the night was cool. The light from the flames outside flickered around the cave, throwing forbidding shadows all around the walls. She was frightened and angry and hungry.
Outside, Simon had set some traps just out of the clearing and as he heard them spring, he went and found rabbits and squirrels. He finished ringing the neck of one that didn’t die, but was badly injured. He brought them to closer to the fire and now it was nearly full dark he sat down next to his lute. He could hear moaning coming from the cave and knew it was beginning. He shook his head sadly, not really surprised. He had known from the time Jae had been brought to him that this would be the outcome, but he had planned for it. He continued to speak to her, not sure she could understand anymore.
In the cave, Jae had felt as though her skin was too small and her bones felt like they must be breaking. She let out a final scream that turned to a howl before it’s completion.
Simon called her name and got a growl for an answer. He stood and threw some of the animal’s he had trapped into the cave, and quickly retreated. he picked up the lute and began to play, singing songs he had taught Jae. The growling subsided.
Jae smelled fire and meat and man and a million other things that she wanted to go investigate. She threw herself at the chains and when she realized she could not get loose, began to howl. The man smell, threw meat into the cave and she fell on it as though she had not eaten in weeks. Hunger abated, she looked around, ready to begin howling again, when she heard the man. The sound he was making, coupled with her full stomach, made her sleepy. She curled up, tail tucked, and listened to Simon. She would worry about getting out later.
Morning and Simon was still awake. He had played and sang for much of the night, only stopping when he lost his voice. In the stillness, he half expected to hear her again but she must have finally fallen asleep. Simon pulled his cloak around him and slept for a little while.
More Wolf Moon Stories can be found here