“The Wolves of Evanheir: Pt 7—Lineage”
The Queen’s Council met immediately after Anwir and his retinue cleared the palace gates. Her twelve advisors, peers of the realm representing every geographic region of Evanheir, were usually a sanguine group Asthore could rely on to chew thoroughly every problem. They liked to debate issues, see all sides, and try to come to consensus when they made a decision, hopefully one that was beneficial to everyone in the kingdom. They were also seasoned by years of experience. Some were soldiers, some businesspersons, some managers of large farming estates, some plied the rivers. Six were men; six were women. This discussion was a ticklish one.
Some of the counselors had fond recollections of Anwir—before he became enthralled to the sorceress—and thought he might be “salvaged” with the right influences. They also were more inclined to have a king for a ruler than a queen despite Asthore’s successful rule. Others distrusted him entirely because of that same relationship they had before and their own run-ins with him before he vanished twenty years ago. All feared a bloody contest and what it could do to Evanheir and her people. For the most part, they were a peaceful lot, but those who had sought conquest had learned that the people of Evanheir could be pushed only so far.
When the discussion went to the supper hour, a meal was ordered to the council chambers, and Asthore called a recess in the debate while they made their repast. She told them to proceed without her if she did not return when it was time to begin, and left them with some puzzled looks, but no one questioned her. Asthore wanted to seek out the one person she thought might shed more light on this topic, and she wanted to ask about the wolves, as well.
In a high tower of the palace lived a mage who had been chief teacher and historian and seer for at least three kings before Anwir ascended to the throne. Kunsgnos had foresworn any magic that might be used as a weapon, but he was a better historical record than any book in the royal library. Asthore trusted him explicitly because she knew he only had the welfare of the kingdom as his purpose. She always enjoyed speaking with him, and she looked forward to their conversations for the pleasure of his company as well as for his guidance.
“Come, Asthore. Welcome!” came the call from the other side of the closed door before she could raise her hand to the knocker.
“Kunsgnos, it is always good to see you, my old friend!” She stepped inside a warm and cluttered room and greeted him with an embrace reminiscent of childhood and a kiss on the cheek above his snowy beard.
“Ah, you flatterer. Sit down, my queen. Your tea is waiting there on the table by the fire.”
“I wish I knew how you did that,” she grinned as she took her seat. “I know I am not that predictable. If you knew I was coming, do you know why I am here?”
“I saw Anwir and his troop come and go…rather quickly after so long an absence, too…and assumed you would make your way here eventually, but I sense, too, that he is not the only purpose for this visit?”
“What? You mean I’ve stumped the Great Kunsgnos? It’s unheard of!”
“Oh, stop. You can flatter me, but do not flatter yourself, Your Uppityness.” He chuckled and Asthore stuck her tongue out at him. “I heard the wolves, also, and know that you have been into the mountains. It is time, I think.”
“Time for what, Kunsgnos? What do you think I want of you?”
“Answers, as always. History. Truth. I can tell the passage of time by the questions you pose. When you need to know something truly important, you come to me because it is time you knew. This time is one of the hardest, Asthore, but it is also the time with the most promise…but also a time whose coming I have feared the most.”
“Tell, me, Kunsgnos. What do you know of my wolves, and of Anwir?”
“Oh, your wolves? Yes, I suppose they are, my child. First, what do you already know?”
Asthore related the sketchy tale Aod had given her of the ancient transformation. Kunsgnos raised his eyebrows but did not say anything when she first mentioned that she had actually conversed with the wolves. It was obvious that she accepted it already as a Given because it did not even occur to her that he might find it miraculous!
“That fits with the old stories,” he said when she had finished her brief recitation. “You have, of course, guessed that there is more to it.”
“I had hoped as much, anyway. What can you tell me, Kunsgnos?”
“There is a great deal more to that seemingly overnight transformation of ‘your wolves,’ as you call them, than Aod could tell you. It did happen long, long ago, before the Twelve Kingdoms had been carved out of the melting ice and snow which drove that wolfish clan of men into their sacred cave. Here is where their story and Anwir’s—and yours, actually—first begins. The sorceress, Bridniclir, is an ancient incarnation of malevolence in our land. Her powers were checked somewhat by a synod of all the most powerful wizards and sorceresses in the land when I was only becoming aware of my own abilities. In that early, coldest time, however, when she herself was relatively new to her power, she was challenged by the leader of those men of the cave. He knew she was evil, and he defied her when she tried to enslave his clan. A brave man, but not a man of magic, only his cunning and his truth of spirit saved him and his people.”
“Bridniclir heard his challenge and attempted to kill them all, but Edan, he who could be named the first king of all Tabrimon, knew the cave he had discovered was a place sacred to the planet itself, to all of Nature. He hurried his clan inside, hoping either to hide from the witch or thwart her power altogether.”
“Her killing spell proved ineffectual. Edan’s sanctuary saved their lives. If she could not kill them, however, she could curse them. So Bridniclir enchanted them, changed them into wolves, the ancestors of the pack that rules our mountains. They are beasts, but they are also cursed in that they are aware of their human natures. This spell, though, as with all spells, has a catch, a possible end.”
“A catch? What do you mean? Can it be reversed? If so, why hasn’t it?” Asthore was intrigued by this history, and, her sympathetic nature easily tapped, hoped that she might help if she knew how.
“The first part of the release from the spell seems to have happened,” admitted the sage. He looked at her closely then, and with a new appreciation of her. “The wolves are…or were…doomed to their speechless existence until they met a heart that would speak to them. You, my dear, seem to be blessed to have been their helper.”
Asthore gasped and felt as if her heart leapt into her throat; her hand covered her mouth. Then excitedly the young woman exclaimed, “It seemed so natural! Llyr simply looked up at me and spoke, and I heard him in my mind!”
“And who is Llyr?”
“He is the King in the Mountains, the leader of the pack. I went because I heard their cries the first night, and only his the next; when I couldn’t stand the sound of his pain, I went looking for him and found him lying beside his mate. They had both been shot. Cuini, his queen, was gone and I couldn’t help her, but I was able to remove the arrow from Llyr’s side.”
“You said this ability to speak to the wolves was the first part of their release. What is left to do, and what will happen to them if the spell is broken?”
Kunsgnos looked long at the young queen, then stood and walked to his window. There he remained for some time, silently staring into the moonlit mountain. Asthore knew he needed time to think, and she did not interrupt his deliberations. Eventually he turned and once more looked into her eyes as if trying to fathom the depths of her spirit.
“What is it, Kunsgnos? Tell me!”
The mage sat beside her and took her hands. With a sigh he recited,
“They will answer the call where their lord once stood.
They will hear the heart that is true and good.
They will acknowledge the power they cannot refuse.
They will honor the promise they dare not lose.
They will again be men as they are called by blood.
They will again be men as they are called by love.”
“But what does it mean?” cried Asthore.
“I think it means war, dear heart.”
* * * * * *
“The Wolves of Evanheir: Pt 8—Sorcery”
The council was still meeting, still debating how to react to Anwir’s reappearance and probable attempt to oust Asthore from the throne, when she returned from her conversation with Kunsgnos. Although she did not share with them what she had learned concerning the wolves, she did use the mage’s insights to convince them the kingdom needed to ready itself for battle. Generals were charged with seeing to their troops. The Palace Guard was put on high alert. Proclamations for the citizens concerning the events of the former king’s return and the possibility for war were prepared and disseminated across Evanheir. Couriers were sent to the other kingdoms to inform them, also, of the situation, petition these allies for promises of aid and to refuse sanctuary to Anwir.
By the time they sought their beds, it was well after midnight. Asthore stood on her balcony again and thought of all she had learned that day. It had been an amazing, confusing, and revelatory few days. Although she should be exhausted, she found that her mind was sharp and clear and her body tensed as if for immediate action.
“Llyr, King in the Mountains, can you hear me?” She softly spoke aloud and sent her thoughts toward the place where she had left the pack so recently.
“You call; I am here, Queen Asthore,” came his surprisingly strong reply.
“I need to meet with you soon. I have much to tell you, and I think I need your help.”
“Come when you can; we will be watching for you.”
As if he had made the decision for her, Asthore turned from the balcony and found her trunk and her hunting clothes. She would get no sleep this night.
On the other side of the palace mountain, in a darkness made of shadow and sorcery, Anwir fumed at his reception at his former court and rejection by Asthore. Beside him a woman as dark as the night calmly laughed at his tirade.
“Peace, Anwir,” advised Bridniclir, for this was indeed the ancient sorceress whose enchanted youthfulness belied her great age. “They have no hope of resisting our army or my magics. Tomorrow we will return and simply take what is yours. Then we will set in motion the conquest of all of Tabrimon.”
“I am sorry, my lady, but I do not yet have your confidence. My army is not large, and I do not fully understand your powers. Cloaks of darkness and some farseeing are not going to be enough against the warriors of my former kingdom, especially if they receive aid from Gallaghern and Haldis. Those two kingdoms bordering Tabrimon can send aid overnight.”
“The messengers sent to the other kingdoms will never leave Tabrimon tonight. I have already seen to that. You still doubt my powers, do you? In these two decades you have not gained confidence as you have watched me throw off the spells that were cast to bind me?”
“I have seen you become more beautiful, Bridniclir, as well as more demanding of me. But, yes, I have witnessed you bend time and space, cloud men’s minds, and even more recently wield a power greater than a company of men and dispatch our foes with terrible slaughter. It was a gruesome thing to watch, I must admit.”
“Ha, ha!” Bridniclir laughed with humorless mirth. “I am afraid you grow weak, Anwir, and I will not have a weak king. Trust me, obey me, love me, my pet, or I can most assuredly find someone who will!”
Each word she spoke seemed to become harder, to change the very air around them. Anwir felt it press against him, crushing him as if he were under a great rock. “Enough!” he strained to plead. “You are my queen, Bridniclir! I could not have another!”
“Good.” Her disgust was barely concealed from him. “Now listen to how we will deal with the upstart Queen of Evanheir and her pitiful armies.”
At the edge of the forest Aod again met Asthore and Ivy. With the wolfish grin that seemed to be his face to the world, he rose from the concealing snow and startled both horse and rider.
“Aod!” Asthore shouted as she fought to keep her seat when Ivy shied away from the sudden specter of the white wolf. “Your tricks are not funny!”
She could have sworn his quick bark was laughter at her expense, but Aod quickly apologized. “Forgive me, lady! I did not mean to startle you or your horse. I am eager to take you to Llyr and hear your news.”
Ivy had finally recognized her wolfish companion and calmed with that knowledge and Asthore’s handling. “Let us be off then, but I do not entirely believe you, King’s Jester! But it is good to see you again. Tell me how my patient is doing. He sounds hale after even so short a time.”
Still seeming to grin at her, Aod turned to climb the mountain path, and quickly leading them on, reported on his king’s health.
“Our healing is faster than most,” he said. “Some of the magic of our clan’s transformation, we have always thought, benefitted us in this way. Llyr is almost fully recovered with your medications and his own abilities.”
“That is truly miraculous! He was gravely wounded barely two days ago! The wound was terrible. I was not sure he would survive my surgery.”
“Some of this power is simply his will,” Aod explained. “If he had decided to join Cuini, you could not have saved him. I believe that your desire that he should live did as much as your ministrations.”
“Whatever the cause, I am happy that he is healthy. We are going to need all of you to help us.”
She did not explain further, despite Aod’s prodding. “I would rather go through this only once and with the king alone or with him and whoever he decides should listen. It is unusual and complicated.” Aod seemed satisfied and simply trotted faster up the mountainside.
Llyr met them at the gathering place. The rest of the pack was in attendance, as well. When Asthore saw him, she fairly flung herself from her saddle and, kneeling beside him, threw her arms impetuously around his neck. “Oh, Llyr! It is so wonderful to see you safe and well!” She exclaimed.
“My queen!” said the startled wolf, “How unladylike!” She could hear his pleased smile in his mocking address and simply gave him another hug.
“You will just have to get used to it, my lord king,” she said with feigned haughtiness, “for this is who I am in the mountains and always have been!”
“Yes, Asthore, we know. We have watched you grow into your crown after seeing you nearly break your crown numerous times tripping on branches and stumbling over rocks. I seem to remember a rather spectacular tumble into a very cold creek some years back!” Now he was outright laughing, and the pack joined him in a barking, howling chorus.
Asthore blushed. “It isn’t very polite to spy on a lady, you know!”
“I’m not sure ‘lady’ is the word I would use to describe the wild young woman we were watching!”
With that Asthore stood and drew herself into a regal, nose-high pose and turned on the gathered pack. “That will be enough from you!” She ordered in her most commanding voice. The assembly hushed immediately and lowered their heads. Some even rolled over in submissive poses until she laughed at them. “So there!”
“Now,” Asthore continued, we have serious matters to discuss. “I think you heard me on my way here as I explained the situation at court. Another, darker aspect of that has arisen, however.”
“What do you mean by ‘darker’?” questioned Llyr.
“Magical,” she informed him with a shudder.
“Then perhaps we need to go to a safer, more private place. Follow me. It isn’t far.”
Leaving Ivy safely stabled in the arena’s shelter, Asthore and the pack moved quickly around the great rocks. Not one hundred yards from there, even as closely as she was following, Llyr turned to his right and seemed to disappear into the mountainside. Another couple of paces and Asthore realized that he had slipped through a narrow split in the massive granite face of the mountain that was hidden from view by a switchback and the shrubs and trees that grew around it.
The wolves could see well enough in the immediate darkness, but Asthore was blind. She stopped briefly to dig in her satchel for a candle and sulfur matches. Its feeble light showed her the path and then was almost swallowed up by the chamber they entered. Llyr climbed onto a rock shelf that formed a ledge around half the chamber. Asthore followed, and the pack filed in and sat below them to listen.
“My friends, I have heard more of your history from Kunsgnos, the Mage at court.”
“We know him as a very old friend, Asthore,” replied Llyr. “Although we could not speak to him, he seemed to know us and did not fear our presence when we followed him on his treks through the mountains. I know he is very old. Even my grandsire spoke of Kunsgnos as an old man! I am glad to know he is well. We have not seen him in some time.”
“Yes, he is definitely ancient, but he does not look any older to me now than he did when I was a toddler applauding his entertainments. What he told me earlier today, however, was more curious knowledge than anything he has ever imparted to me.”
As she related the history of Edan and Bridniclir and the resulting transforming curse, she could feel the anger and tension and exasperation the gathered pack emanated. Llyr explained that some of this was part of what they knew, but when she further explained that there was a possibility of ending the curse—and that Asthore was, perhaps, the key—created a cacophony of questions in her mind and a howling, barking din in the cave.
“Quiet, please!” commanded the king, and soon Asthore had peace again. Sensing her anxiety and knowing the daylight was soon upon them, Llyr moved to another problem. “And now, my queen, how is this of a part of Anwir’s visit and your need of us?”
“We believe Anwir is plotting to take the crown by force since we did not just hand it back to him. And that Bridniclir is with him.”
This revelation did not result in the uproar of her earlier news. Instead it produced from each throat a spontaneous growl, and the hair rose on the back of the queen’s slim neck.
“Although I did not growl,” she said when it was again quiet, “I admit that I felt the same way. We are preparing for war, but no one seems to know where Anwir and his troops are or how large a force it might be. Whether or not the sorceress is able to provide deadly aid in battle is a serious question, as well.”
“I think we can find them, wherever they are in the mountains, and we can let you know of their movements. We will also harry and hinder them as much as possible.”
“Please,” begged Asthore, “do not put yourselves in harm’s way! We can deal with this threat, I’m sure. I do not want any of you hurt or killed because of this usurper and his witch.” What she had not given in her account of the curse was the verses Kunsgnos had recited. She could not bring herself to allow them to come to harm as prophesied in the rhyme. The second half of the spell would have to be broken some other way!
“We will see what comes,” said the great black wolf, and he looked squarely in her eyes and wondered at that closed place in her mind.