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Wolfe and the Witch

WOLFE AND THE WITCH
An Adult Fairy Tale

By Cate Duncan

Elianna can remember nothing before awaking in an enchanted cottage, one that fulfills her least and greatest wishes. They have only to do with her daily needs, food, clothing, warmth and comfort. Until she wishes for love.


The soldier his men call Wolfe thought he would die from his wounds. But somehow the odd lady in the forest eases his pain and gives him the strength to heal his torn muscles. Most miraculous of all, she accepts his curse, the one cast by a greedy wizard bribed by a jealous stepmother. Until he can walk away from his vengeance, he will always be part man and part wolf.


Both Elianna and Wolfe know that the cottage houses more than just the two of them and the animals that Elianna has drawn into her care. She has only to wish for food, medicine, blankets, even more space, and it appears. Of late, mutters and groans, even a chattering sound greets her requests as if she is unreasonable, now that Wolfe has  come to the cottage. Is there another being, one they can't see, who shares the Enchanted  Cottage?


Can the solutions to all of their problems be as simple as learning to love? The lady with no memory; the man who is part wolf; and the cottage that is more than just a haven in the forest? Read Wolfe and the Witch to find out.

If you are a publisher or agent interested in
   
WOLFE AND THE WITCH

contact Catherine at

montdawn@msn.com

PROLOGUE

 

The wizard Faxon became enchanted with the witch Hertha, not in the way that witches and wizards enchant ordinary people, but in the way that men and women enchant one another. He saw her  long, flowing, white hair, her piercing blue eyes, her shimmering silver robe with its diamond buttons, and became mesmerized in a way that no wizard should ever be held captive by another who held great power. When he asked her to let him kiss her, she rebuked him.

“What will you give me, you silly old man?” she demanded. For even then, Faxon had long silver hair, deep wrinkles in his face, and no one knew how long he had lived.

“Love like you will never know,” he promised.

But Hertha laughed at him, for she had lain with comely youths, soldiers, merchants, scholars and princes alike and thought she knew what love was. For an answer, she waved her shapely arms above her halo of white hair and disappeared from Faxon’s vision.

The wrath of any wizard can make the skies dark and stormy. The anger that came from the spurning of Faxon in such a manner left the land of Tempest with its name, although few understood how that horrible storm came about. No building not made of masoned stone withstood the ordeal. Farmers had to replant their crops, and the only reason the people did not starve was because the seven-day storm occurred in the spring, when there was time for another crop to grow. Faxon, in his penance, spent centuries serving as a humble apothecary and doctor, healing farm animals and injured peasants in the villages of the realm.

Faxon, however, would not let Hertha escape his wrath. Looking upon the ruin of Tempest, he cast a spell upon the witch who had spurned his love.

“You, Hertha of the Second Order,” he commanded, when he had gathered up his strength and potions and great power. “You are doomed to reside in the Cottage in the Forest for the rest of your existence. There you will serve travelers all of their wishes, without hesitation or guile. You will do this, until you learn to love, unconditionally.”

Then he cast his last Great Spell for two hundred years.


                                      * * *
 

It would take the Lady Esmeralda, her considerable charm and a great bribe to make Faxon cast another Great Spell.  

This Lady was the second wife of Wolfgang, the Lord of Wolfesgate, the last fiefdom before the Enchanted Forest. She had borne him a son, Lionel, of whom she was extraordinarily proud, and whom she spoiled without remission. As the second and younger son, he could not inherit the fiefdom upon his father’s death.

His older, half-brother, Wolfe, trained since birth to be a leader and a warrior, was all his father hoped for: brave, fearless, loyal and strong. The Lady Esmeralda could do nothing to turn her husband’s head to favor his younger son. In desperation, the Lady turned to her less wise advisors, and finally found a distant cousin who had heard strange tales about a powerful wizard who had caused great devastation in the realm of Tempest.

“Find me this Wizard,” she commanded. And she offered up as much gold as she could find from the considerable dowry her father had given to Lord Wolfgang to take her as a second wife.

After two hundred years, Faxon had tired of living in peasant villages and was ready to return to court. Although he did not need gold, he thought it would be pleasant to be around learned people again, so he accompanied the messenger that found him back to Wolfesgate. There he had an audience with the Lady Esmeralda.

“What do you desire more than anything else?” the Lady asked.

“Unconditional love,” he answered promptly, smiling sardonically.

“You may have the love of my first grandchild if you will guarantee that my son rules this realm,” she promised.

Faxon leaned back in his chair, considering the possibilities. A female child would amuse him in twenty years, and if he had the entire child’s life to train her, she would love him. A male child would also inherit, and would also amuse him, although in other ways. Yes, this could be a very lucrative bargain. He liked the deal.

“You will assure me the love of the next generation at Wolfegate is mine, unconditionally, if your son inherits the fiefdom?” Faxon clarified.

Esmeralda nodded, not noticing that he had changed the price of his powerful enchantment. So it is that the ungifted are drawn into the snares of the great and magical.

Faxon smiled. “Your wish is my command, Lady. Let me advise you. I can only set your son’s destiny in motion. It will be his task to take it to fruition. I see a way to change the course of history, to make it possible for him to become Lord of Wolfesgate. He must make the fiefdom his own.”

The Lady, thrilled to hear the news that her greatest desire could become reality, assured the great wizard that if he could change her son’s opportunities, she would see that he did not let them slip through his fingers.

“I will need a tower to myself, a place where I can watch the inhabitants of this fiefdom come and go. It is there I will live, and there I will prepare my spell,” Faxon said.

The Lady Esmeralda clapped her hands, partly in great joy, partly to call housekeeper and make the arrangements for the southeast tower to be given over to the wizard. Faxon affected a subservient demeanor and left the presence of Wolfgang’s Lady.

For three days and three nights, storm clouds gathered. Those who were wise and remembered the old tales recalled the days of the Tempest that gave the realm its name and advised the farmers to look to their fields and livestock. The coming of the wizard was haled as a bad omen, and devout folks for fifty miles  around, even to the eaves of the Enchanted Forest, flocked to Wolfesgate. There they crowded the small sanctuary of the new Church, praying to the One God that had come in the years since the Tempest to keep them from the scourge of the poverty, disease and starvation that followed great storms.

The fourth day dawned bright and beautiful, more clear than any those living – except Faxon, who remembered the clear after the Tempest – could remember. By noon, the priest proclaimed the people’s prayers had been successful, and a great feast began. Esmeralda and Wolfgang opened their larders, and that evening, they invited all of the people of the land to a great feast of Thanksgiving. Lady Esmeralda, in particular rejoiced, for she knew the bright, clear weather heralded the news that Wolfe, the first son of Wolfgang, would fall from his inheritance. In his place, Lionel, the second son, would rise to seize his opportunities.

Due to the fair weather, the feasting and celebrating took place on the great lawn that spread to the west of the castle gates. Long tables piled with food for the masses covered the clipped grasses. Musicians played as they had never done before, and all feasted until they could hardly move. All were satiated with food and drink.

The nobility sat on a raised dais at the east end of the lawn, with their backs to the castle, gazing into the setting sun. Gay pavilions provided shade until only the last few moments. The Lord Wolfgang took center stage, with his lady to his left and his oldest son, at 16  years of age, to his right. To Esmeralda’s left sat her son, Lionel. The members of the court graced the rest of the U-shaped table upon the dais.

As the sun dipped to the horizon, Lord Wolfgang rose to his feet, and began his customary speech upon such occasions. It was expected, and all fell silent to hear the Lord’s speech. As he was a fair man, and had provided for the celebration, all eyes turned upon him and listened to his words. He squinted into the light, but did not have to do so long, for the bright beams lessened, and then suddenly darkened as the sun sank below the tall pines at the west edge of the great lawn.

At his words, “And so we come to the end of a time of darkness…” his audience gasped. The Lord was not prepared for that reaction, quite the opposite. He laid his hand on his heart and glanced at his wife. She did not look at him, however, but rather at his son, Wolfe, to his right. Turning his head, the Lord Wolfgang staggered away from the beast that had taken his heir’s place.

A large, gray wolf glared at him with golden-brown eyes and a toothy grin. It stared first at the Lord, then at the Lady, over-long, the Lord thought. Wolfgang drew forth his sword and stood between the beast and his wife and younger son who cowered behind his mother.

“Begone you monster!” Wolfgang cried! “As the crest of my house, I will not kill you. But at the same time, I will not let you threaten my family!”

The wolf struggled briefly with the crested surcoat wrapped around its torso, the boots at its feet, and the weapons that had fallen from its waist into the great chair. It eyed the soldiers advancing with spears and arrows. Giving a great howl of misery, it leapt over the back of the chair, snarled at the soldiers, and then dashed for the woods.

Silence met the wolf’s departure. A rush of human gabbling swelled at its disappearance.

“What was that?” demanded Lionel, coming out from behind his mother’s skirts.

Faxon, the wizard appeared from nowhere, it seemed. In the sudden silence that fell at the head table, he looked the Lady Esmeralda in the eyes.

“Wolfe,” he said in a bare whisper.

She paled, her hand going to her throat.

“We could all see it was a wolf,” Lionel stated what he believed was the obvious. “But where is my brother?”

Faxon turned to the boy and smiled grimly. “Wolfe. Wolf. They are one and the same. Man by day and wolf by night. Guarding Wolfesgate. A good job for a soldier, don’t you think?” He paused. “My Lord?”

The wizard held the boy’s eyes for several seconds before he turned to Lord Wolfgang and repeated his last inquiry. “My Lord?” Those listening did not know if he addressed one or two lords.

                                      * * *

 

A week later, Lord Wolfgang of Wolfesgate disinherited his first son, Wolfe, and made him Captain of his Guard. He made Lionel his heir.

                         * * *
 

The crumbs and remnants of the feast drew rats from the nearby forest. They invaded the castle, spreading disease. By night, Wolfe haunted the lawns of Wolfesgate, hunting rats. Early one morning, as a wolf,  he almost caught a big black one before he changed to Wolfe, at the very gate to the castle. Ashamed of his nakedness, he crept into the shadows to find the tunic he had left for just such an occasion.

The plague-infested black rat dashed through the early morning courtyard of the keep, avoiding the dogs and cats in its search for more food scraps. Making its way into the great hall, it found what it sought, leavings from the meal of the night before.

The plague had come to Wolfesgate, and so much of the kitchen staff had taken ill that the few remaining had left the evening clean-up to the morning. Drawing more rats,  the disease would get worse before it got better, before Faxon saw what he had started with the celebration for the end of his storm and put an end to the escalating plague. But first, the big, black rat would brush up against the red surcoat of the Lord of Wolfesgate, left at his chair at the head of the table. Several fleas would fall into the folds to nest there until the Lord dressed for dinner the following evening.


                                        * * *

        Two weeks later, the castle at Wolfesgate mourned the passing of the Lord Wolfgang, and welcomed its fourteen-year-old Lord, Lionel.


 

 

 

 

                       CHAPTER ONE

 

The climb from stark terror to blithe contentment couldn’t be counted in days or weeks.  Elianna  didn’t try. Letting time slip by, finding comfort in the lack of confrontation, the growing absence of pain, and a blooming awareness of silence, she discovered she lived. She realized she had been climbing only when the smell of freshly baked bread reminded her that she once preferred some sensations to others, that hunger felt uncomfortable and that there might be more to life than simply lying still. Even the agony of movement might be worth the pleasure that would come of tasting that bread.

The movement didn’t bring pain. Her eyes opened on a strange room bathed in a pale, yellow light. Believing only the one sense that gave her reason to do anything other than lie still in the dark, oblivious to all, she followed her nose to a table. A light brown loaf, still warm from the oven, sat on a carving board, a bowl of creamy butter and a long serrated knife lay beside it. She needed no further prompting. She sliced off a thick slab of the bread, looked for the butter knife, found it hidden just beyond the loaf, and slathered on the butter.  As she bit into the food, she felt like a young maiden experiencing her first lover’s kiss, ready to yield herself to all that he would do to her.

Joy. When had she forgotten joy?

The climb had not been easy, but then nothing before that had. Not that she thought on it. The place where she found herself that morning, with its soft light, warm air, stillness, and peace, where all she had to do to find anything she needed was look around for it and soon she had it, became the sum of her existence. She could remember no other. Indeed, why should she?

 

Living only in the here and now, enjoying the color of the light, as it played across the surface of the worn, leather couch before the fire burning at the hearth, noticing a gnawing pain in her stomach and thinking she was hungry, turning to the table, to find a plate of stew set out and ready to satisfy her hunger, turning a corner, and tumbling into the soft bed when she was tired, these were the sum of Elianna ’s days. No surprises, no cares, nothing to upset the even rhythm of breathing, eating, taking care of her basic needs. She felt cool, she looked for a shawl and found one. She needed food, and it appeared at the table. When, at long last, she looked for something to do, she found a sock that needed mending. Yes, it might be hers, she wasn’t sure, but not far away was a darning egg and needle and thread, and she knew how to do the job.

One morning, she thought she might go outside, and to her unexpected delight, found hand tools and pots and bags of familiar seeds near a plot of ground fenced with interlaced cane. A garden. How wonderful. She fell to her knees in the freshly turned soil, pulling out the snippets of weeds that the unseen gardener had left behind when he had spaded out the plot for her. She spent the day planting peas and carrots, radishes and herbs, beans and lettuces and some things she wasn’t quite sure about. From that day on, she did not miss a morning or evening working in her patch of earth and growing things.

Elianna  startled herself one morning when she  heard a pleasant humming coming from her throat. Soon enough she realized she made the sound herself, and all she did was hum a little tune, something a child might make up. Why should that seem unusual? It bothered her more that she should be frightened of her own voice than that she had tried to hum a song.

“Perhaps I need some company,” she said aloud, thinking she had had too much silence.

Not five minutes later, a bright yellow canary flew in the window of the cottage and landed on the sill, pouring forth a song so sweet, so fluid that Elianna ’s heart nearly dissolved. She sat still as one of the trees in the forest, afraid to move, wanting more than anything she could remember to reach out and touch the soft, delicate feathers. The bird sang as if nothing could stop the rush of notes from its throat. Indeed, when it paused for breath, it only looked around, and then continued its song.

Elianna must have sat listening for hours, but even her fascination with the tiny songster eventually yielded to hunger. When she dared to rise and move away, the canary simply cocked its head and flew before her into the kitchen, landing on the table and pecked about for crumbs and pieces of grain. Clapping her hands in delight, Elianna grabbed up a crust of bread, crumbled it between her fingers, and spread it on the table for her new pet.

She never tried to cage the bird, although wishing for sturdy straws and a flat basket, she wove a small house and compartment that the canary could use as a nesting and resting area.  Lined with rags, the little bird’s waste and feathers could be confined to one part of the house. Elianna was delighted with her new companion, and soon took to calling him Dandy-Lion, for his color and his ferocious way of attacking the world each morning.

As time passed, she would occasionally wonder if she was lonely. She knew that no one lived alone, although she refused to remember the time before she woke in the cottage. Once she thought about books, and a fleeting memory of enjoying reading a fairy tale crossed her mind. When she approached the big, comfortable couch before the hearth, a volume of those sorts of stories lay in a leather binding, waiting for the evening hour and time for her to read them. A new pleasure was added to her daily routine.

In these tales, everyone lived with other people. While not all of the characters enjoyed the people that shared their lives, most folks had those they loved and those they disliked. She knew it must have been that way for her. She was very careful not to wish for any people in her life. She did not know if she wanted anyone to mar the peaceful and delightful routine that she had come to enjoy.

But dogs, now, they seemed to be quite interesting. After one particularly exciting story about a very faithful and heroic canine, Elianna impetuously exclaimed, “Oh, we do need a dog, don’t you think, Dandy?”

The expected yip was heard only moments later. Elianna dashed out to her back yard to find a half-grown black and white shepherd mix of some sort pawing at the back door. She growled at Elianna, then dashed past her into the main room, sniffing for villains or wolves. Having satisfied herself that none lurked in the that part of the cottage, she tracked Elianna’s spoor into the kitchen, where she immediately began licking food crumbs off the floor.

The mistress of the cottage knelt down beside her with a bowl of water to introduce herself, and the puppy climbed into her lap. It was, of course, love at first tumble. So it was that Blaze, for the marking on her face, joined the household.

Others came, a nanny goat, a sow, a brood of chickens. Most obtained names in short order. All had some use, but mostly served to provide something for Elianna to do and gave her companionship. If she dreamed of an earlier life, she did not remember on waking.

 

Then things changed.  Elianna stayed up after dark one evening in the autumn time, reading a new book later than she usually did. As she finished the story, she lay back  in the comfortable couch and mused on the tale of lovers who had spent years trying to overcome obstacles and be together, at long last.

“I wonder what it would be like to have a love like that?” Elianna wondered, in a soft whisper. “To have a man to care for, and for him to care for me that much, that he would sacrifice all he has worked for, to be with me?”

She hesitated, closing her eyes.

“I think I would like that. To be loved so. For that, I would leave here. For that kind of love, I would love in return.”

With those thoughts, she fell asleep on the couch instead of her bed. She did not hear the cottage sob in anguish.

 

 

 

 

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