The very first time Gadriel saw Lily he lost his breath with the suddenness most people associated with the skill, temper and fists of a professional boxer.
Thered been hope to the name shed been given, as there is in the name of every newborn, but in Lily those hopes had died a very swift death: she was slim, yes, but with the graceful curves of spring all over her. Her skin was the lightest shade of caramel, and her hair the darkest copper. Her eyes were violets that had forgotten shyness. When Gadriel saw her that sunny morning on the road she wore a simple white shirt laced very tightly and a long plain skirt to keep her warm in autumns chill.
He stood for a few moments drinking in the sight of her, hair pinned up and every inch of her taking absent-minded delight in the world around her, then mentally turned around and gave his brain a swift kick, because she was suddenly less than fifteen steps away from him and a girl like that obviously has heard from every warm-blooded male within 15 miles of her vicinity. Work, dammit!, he yelled at his brain. His brain cursed him freely; what the hell did it care whether Lily remembered his ill-mannered master or not?
Gadriel could not think of a thing to say. You do not merely flirt with such a girl. You make sure she remembers you, or you might as well move over and let the next guy in line try his hand.
Excuse me? Lily turned to look at him and smiled, cautiously but amicably enough. Gadriel smiled back and his brain suddenly decided to cooperate. Would you please give me a hand?, he asked her, offering her one of the two baskets and three bags he was carrying.
Of course, whats
Before she could ask, hed managed to press the basket into her hands. This one, please? One bag. And this? The other basket.
Lily couldnt get a word in edgewise. Before she knew what was happening her arms were full. With a bit of irritation she stared at the stranger before her, taller than her, dressed as simply as she was and, from the smell of him, freshly washed and cleanly shaven. He had very pale green eyes and black, curling hair that had taken one look at the cord with which hed planned to tie his queue and laughed. What, she asked, her tone slightly sharper, is the problem?
Gadriel grinned and made sure his feet were planted slightly apart. Well., he held her eyes. You just stole my heart, and I figured there was only one place you could have put it. He let his eyes roll pointedly down. I was wondering if I should go looking for it.
Lily dropped everything and put her entire body behind the blow; Gadriel lost track of the world in a rush of colors, and by the time hed made sure he was still standing she was stalking away, her back rigid. He checked the bright red mark on his cheek and smiled. Oh, hed earned that slap. And she was well worth it.
It took him a long time a very long time- to change the welcome Lily gave him whenever they met from a narrow-eyed glare to a more civil nod, but Gadriel bore it all in silent triumph.
She remembered him.
When before he would only make the trip between his own hometown and Lilys much grander one whenever he knew for certain his wares would pay for room, board and whatever he needed to buy from the suppliers there, he suddenly found reasons to come by every holiday and day of rest.
He didnt wear her down, though many thought he had. He never apologized, either. Gadriel simply made himself into a difficult man to stay mad at, and Lily herself wasnt very good at holding a grudge. Other men brought her fruits and daisies; this sun-browned, tall, green-eyed stranger would bring her handfuls of violets and strings of honeysuckle, sticks of polished wood for her hair that hed adorned himself with amber and freshly tapped wild honey, sweeter than anything shed ever had.
After their first kiss hed have disagreed, but she never mentioned it.
It still took him well over a year before he felt he had safe footing so as to try a much greater leap and walked into the fitting store where she worked with a deep, deep breath. Lily came to see him at the counter, as she was suddenly the only one with nothing to do: someone had snatched her stitching and, apparently, hidden it.
You look happy today, Lily., he greeted her in his soft voice, as he always did.
How do you do., she replied, trying to sound business-like. How can we help you?
Id like to have a gown done. He lowered his eyes and she drew in a sharp breath, as she always did, but his gaze dropped all the way to the counter; she saw him hide a smile at that reaction, which shed never been able to stop.
She stared at him blankly, wondering what was brewing behind those oh-so-innocent-looking eyes. A gown? He nodded lightly and she tried to rally. He turned smug when he surprised her, which was, she had to admit, all too often. Whatever he was planning this time she would not be caught unawares. Well
ah, have you the fabric?
Why dont you chose it, Lily?, he replied. Its for you.
She paused. For me? A gown?
If its not too much to ask.
She had two options: refuse, and humiliate him in front of the seven girls in the store one look at him and she realized that was no option at all. Well
Well, lets look at what we have.
Lily. His hand over her shoulder was as gentle as the amusement of her voice. Not from those. She gave him a blank look; there were two shelves with samplings for anything from coats to gowns. Gadriel gently turned her around to the far corner of the store, where a much more elegant display held white, cream and pale brocade and lace. From those.
If it would be alright with you.
Lily turned around and glared up at him, and for a moment Gadriel thought she might slap him again.
Then she kissed him and burst into tears, and he might have died happy on the spot.
Lilys brother gave her away, looking very uncomfortable in his fathers old clothes although theyd been carefully fitted to him by Lily herself. Lily herself was radiant, and she was the only one who heard Gadriel stammer just a little- over his vows as the priest tied a long golden cord around their wrists.
Shed never been to Gadriels hometown, nor his home. From the little whitewashed farmstead that now fully belonged to her brother she found herself living in a stout stone-and-slate house with vast fields surrounding it. It stood at the very edge of the town, edged on one side by a narrow band of water that had once belonged to the river. It had belonged to Gadriels family longer than he could track back, and that was quite far indeed. It also had the more recent tracks of a man living alone whos made something of an effort to tidy up as he gets ready to receive guests, but she simply shook her head, kicked him out of the house for the day, and set to work.
It didnt take long after she moved in for the townsfolk to find out they had a fine seamstress in their midst. They were all happy for her marriage, of course all but the expected, jealous ones whod much rather have Gadriel in their beds than hers.
And while Lily considered these girls with nothing but a distant, amused part of her mind, it never occurred to her to look out of the window and towards the marsh.
It happened very early one spring morning. Gadriel walked into the barn, as hed done every day of his life in the farmstead, and was finally and abruptly dragged as awake as hed ever been by the terrified bleating of the sheep. Hed raced halfway into the barn, a pitchfork in his hands, when he suddenly realized the flock was terrified of him.
What went through his mind felt a little bit like death, and a lot like despair. He left the barn, least the sheep trample themselves in their horror, and walked down to the marsh, where he sat down and watched the ripple of the wind in the water.
He was eight-and-twenty. He was old. It could not be happening now. It could not.
In his mind an unforgiving hourglass told him there were only five days until the full moon.
He did nothing useful that day. The next it finally occurred to him that Lily might want to visit her brother. Once hed seen her off in the little cart and pony he so rarely used, one more day after the incident in the barn, he went back around the house and walked past a fallow field until he found the stone wall that marked the end of his lands. Against the opposite side of the wall, like a tumble of mossy stones, was a gate all but lost in the grass. Down he went.
When he came back out, one day after the full moon had graced the night sky and cast about for him without success, he looked around himself in bewilderment and spoke his first thought aloud without noticing.
I still love her.
The next time he found an excuse to be away, a long trip into the woods. He did not tell Lily that the rare mushrooms and herbs he was looking for were already waiting for him beneath the hidden door past the stone wall. He kissed her, and if he held her to him as if she might never see him again, Lily thought only of his strength and his love.
When he came back she fell into his arms and promptly forgot to tell him something had gone snuffling about the house a dog, or who knew what else. Had she said something
At the end of spring, Gadriel had to find no excuse. One of Lilys new friends was giving birth, and she hurried away with a kiss and a quick hug. Once, he thought as she dashed off, I dreamt of children too.
No room for that dream now.
It threatened rain and he hurried off across the fallow field. Three days later he came out of the hidden door screaming; the mud that covered him might as well have been a blanket of horror. How? How?, he kept screaming at his brain. How had he gotten out? How had it happened, how could it have happened?
His brain had apparently taken a leave of absence during the time of the full moon and would not answer him.
He spent several days working beneath the hidden door, as Lily and the rest of the towns women were busy cooing over the new baby. Lily left again, to see her brother, although Gadriel could not talk her out of inviting Darryl back for a visit it would only be fair hed reciprocate, wouldnt it?
There was no mud that time, but he could not help but feel as if hed missed something. He stared at the marsh, trying to see, trying to scent something that he felt he must not forget. His shoulders tightened sometimes as if hackles he didnt have had gone up, and he wanted to growl and snap at shadows and ghosts that even he knew werent there.
With the arrival of fall, the sheep began to die.
Ive gone rabid, was his first terrible thought when he first found the lamb not one of his- with its belly torn, on the grassy knoll that he shared with five or six other homesteads. As he knelt and wrapped the body into a sack, however, he realized there were too many wounds and tracks around the lamb to have come from just one animal.
He smoothed the tracks away before he left.
Sheep are lost to wolves in every place that breeds them. They always have, they always will. But its one thing when one or two lambs go missing, and quite another when torn, maimed and uneaten bodies show up, abused as if a demon were trying to exorcise its fury with them, with the regularity with which the sun and moon turn.
Gadriel truly considered killing himself. Then he considered leaving.
Then, one very damp morning, after shed woken him up and loved him until his breath was scarce, Lily had straddled him and whispered against his neck, Im pregnant.
My God, he thought as he held his wife to him. Ive killed her.
And he could not have said why the thought was true.
She found him in the woods, out looking for a solution that still escaped him, and brought with her memory.
Gadriel had claimed he would like to provide the wood to be used for the cradle, but in truth he merely sat in a clearing, staring at the ground. Cant leave. Cant die. Will kill.
He looked up because there were eyes burning into him and saw her standing at the edge of the clearing.
Silver, she was, the dark silver of oak leaves edged in moonlight. Her eyes were blue and yellow and her chest wide, her paws made to race forever under the night sky, and her scent was as familiar to him as his own. There was fury in her upraised hackles and a wound in her eyes that demanded an explanation. Humans rarely mate for life; they dont understand what it is to be alive, let alone to live a lifetime. But wolves always do, and she stared at him and her gaze might as well have been a scream.
I love you, those moon-full eyes said. Why dont you? Why another den? Why another pack?
Why another mate?
No. He sprung to his feet at that.
She flattened her ears but would not budge. Inexorable instinct spoke within her, told her and Gadriel, through her moonlight eyes- the same unerring truth it told all ruling she-wolves before her: a dead female is no competition. A dead female bears no cubs to a wayward male.
No!, he snarled at her, closing in until he could smell the high scent of her, wild and strong.
That scent, itd been that scent that drew him out, that made him dare the prison hed locked himself in. No metal, wood or stone would have held him as his nose caught the scent of a female, high in heat, snuffling at the mossy stones over the hidden door.
He found a pack, small and shy, outside, circling, whining, snuffling, and doing their best to avoid the nips and snarls of a very ill tempered she-wolf. Her mate had died that winter, of old age. Unlike her, unlike Gadriel, hed not been Moonblood.
The pack had seen a curly-haired black wolf with pale green eyes, slender and dazed. She had seen the mate shed been looking for. The mate shed keep with all the wild strength of her heart and her fangs.
No!, Gadriel moved on her, thinking to strike her, but before he knew what had happened he was over her, fangs to her throat, a thing neither wolf nor man but more and less than both, and in this shape he had no problem pinning her down though she might be half again his size as a wolf. She yelped and whined and submitted as no wolf would have, unafraid of the Moonblood in him, and in the end had to bow down to his will as he snarled and forced from her safety for Lily. Only then did he release her, and she fled with one look back at him, her eyes wounded anew.
The first girl died two towns away.
The next one died on the other side of the marsh, while shed been doing her wash, and it took a whole day to find out who shed been because whatever had killed her had torn her throat and her head could not be found.
Of the one after only bloodied pieces were found.
Lily and Gadriel never heard about it.
By then Lily knew something was wrong.
By then Gadriel had discovered he could hear the moon singing in his blood two to three days before she shone bright and full over the marsh, and realized he was as good as damned.
She would ask, and he would tell her one platitude or another, and every lie hung immense between them. She screamed and cried when he said he was leaving for a week and relented only when she saw him in the doorway, ready to go, his heart in his eyes.
Gadriel, whats wrong?
He crushed her to him. Is it wrong to love you too much?
Then there is nothing wrong.
Lily was left to sit at an empty table in an empty kitchen and cry quietly. When Darryl, thinking to surprise his sister and her husband, showed up at her door just a little before dusk, she clung to him as if to a miracle.
Darryl was a lanky, not yet grown man, a yearling bull still getting used to all his limbs. His sister was everything to him, but he could no more make sense of what she was telling him as she held onto him by the door than he could of a nightingales elaborate song. Alright, alright., he pleaded at last, hoping for some sanity. Let me
Let me get the horse in the barn and well talk, alright?
Lily watched him step back to the horse and pause. Lily, close the door until I come back.
Darryl came around the barn the long way, curious about his brother-in-laws homestead as another man with the same life can be, and found her waiting behind it. Moon-full eyes pinned him in a storm of fury. There was blood on her muzzle and a terrible rage all over her strong lines, and she was alone.
The pack would no longer have anything to do with her. Not since shed killed the first lamb and torn it apart in a wild frenzy, and not since shed torn the throat of the first girl. They knew, as wolves know, what comes of provoking men. They did not care why she did it, they knew only that the killing was pointless and that her rage would not let go of her no matter how many throats she tore. They knew her mate was not there. They had left her, and she could not bear it. She stared at this
thing that smelled like the female she could not, should not kill, and the differences between Darryl and Lily were rendered moot by the shared blood in their veins.
My mate, she snarled.
Die, Darryl understood.
She sprang at him. The horse shrieked and reared, throwing Darryl back, which was just as well since she crashed into his arms rather than his chest as he flailed for balance. He felt something warm and damp against his face and a moment later shed crushed his right hand useless.
Kneeling in pointless penance in his cell, Gadriel heard the second scream, but it meant very little to him, his senses dulled by the lack of moonlight at a time when every inch of his body yearned for the full glory of the Silver Lady.
Then he heard the third, thin cry, and the bars might as well have been made of paper.
Who knew which of his unknown ancestors had first found the cave, deep and small and dry, that hed then lined with stones, but it had seen use all the more often as more and more of Adams Get moved into the area, because back then, in the wild times, the Moonblood had already known, as wolves do, that it does not pay to provoke humans. The first barrier was the door, with its rowanwood planks, bound in cold iron. The second was the sharply angled stairwell, hard enough for a human to manage, all but impossible to a thing on four legs. The last was the cage at the bottom, every thick, slick, cold bar solid silver.
Gadriel took the bars off their stone settings with one snarling charge when he heard his wife scream. Half caught, as he was, between man and wolf, he was more than agile enough to leap up the stairwell, and slam muzzle-first into the rowanwood door. To the side was a crack, where the stone wall above had slowly breached the cave, but while small enough for a slender, curly-haired wolf to pass through, there was no way a man or him- would make it through.
The doors would not budge, and he could not budge them outwards. Somewhere outside Lily screamed again, and Gadriel drove his claws into the seam between iron and wood and tore the door inward instead, flinging it aside and leaping forward. He burst out into the shy light of the rising moon and didnt even notice it.
Wolves mate for life.
One leap and he was over the wall. Five running steps and he was by the barn. One more and he came around, a black fury that barreled into the she-wolf and bowled her over from where shed brought Darryl to the ground before Lilys sight had overrun anything and everything she might have promised her mate. She could smell Lilys pregnancy, she could smell her mate on the humans skin. She howled and lunged and Gadriel caught her mid-leap; they both went tumbling.
He moved so fast Lily didnt quite register the monster in him until after shed recognized him as her husband. Then the moon decided to bear full witness and Gadriel was suddenly a wolf caught in a fight he was not going to win. She bore him down with her greater strength and bit him, hard enough to blood him but not to maim. Mine, her bites said, and her snarl commanded recognition from him.
But that day in the clearing she had brought him memory, and memory is a two-edged sword.
Gadriel would not submit. Lily, his mind said. Not you, his pale green eyes told the she-wolf. She bit harder.
Mine, she growled, her teeth at his throat.
The shot caught her high, over the ribs, and staggered her enough that Gadriel could squirm out from under her as she turned to nip at it. He ran for Lily, unawares that he was leaving Darryl facing the furious she-wolf with an ancient rifle he was taking very long to reload one-armed. He found his wife kneeling before their home, her face blank and ashen.
Lily looked up into those pale green eyes and knew him at once. Gadriel. She held her arms out to him and held him, bloodied and bruised, as he whined his misery and rumbled his love all at once. A second shot made them both jump and he was instantly moving again, teeth into her skirt, struggling to pull her on his feet and into the house. They moved into the kitchen and barred the door, and still he urged her on. They moved into the bedroom and as she closed the door they both heard the crash of something taking down the other door. A howl of fury thundered against the stone walls.
She, too, had remembered what it was to be a Moonblood.
In the house, outside of direct moonlight, Gadriel found himself enough that he could speak. Lily. She turned to look at him, her eyes huge and frightened. Lily
window. They slipped out as death sniffed for them in the hallway. Lily, expecting somewhat human arms to receive her as she climbed down, fell instead on the black wolf. They ran for the barn, where Gadriel fought himself back into human thinking just barely. There would be a time, he knew, when he would no longer remember such things. Lily, horse. Go.
No., she wept, clinging to him.
Would that he loved her less, he might have pushed her away.
Silver and towering she burst through the barn doors with a howl of victory. Found!, she howled. Mine! She was not much taller than Gadriel, sinewy, and even though she was neither human nor wolf he could tell she was beautiful.
She lunged, not at Gadriel but at Lily. Gadriel pushed his wife away and caught the she-wolf on the side shed so carelessly presented to him and they fell into a snarling knot as everything in the barn went berserk with fear. Gadriel dared to hope he might have a chance, with so much noise, with so much prey, all around them, and didnt realize that she, too, had found cleverness until he found himself a wolf beneath her massive strength: shed dragged him over to the open doors, where the moonlight shone full on him and he could not remember how to be a man.
Mine., she snarled at him.
Gadriel yelped and snarled back.
She broke one of his shoulders. Mine. Mine. Mine.
Gadriel bit her.
She picked him up in her jaws and shook him like a rag doll, then slammed him into the ground again. Mine!
Not yours., he gasped. Never yours.
Her eyes caught sight of Lily then, and she understood at last. Shed never been the lead female for him. She had been the second, the she-wolf who hides her cubs in the underbrush. Without lifting a finger the human
thing before her had dethroned her, taken her pack, her mate, her cubs, everything. She went at Lily with a howl, but as she turned she had perforce to let go of Gadriel who turned and lunged at the back of her neck, locking his jaws as only a wolf knows how. Shed never even noticed that shed brought him out of the moonlight again. It took him only a few eternal seconds to break her spine, then they both fell and rolled, and he was back into the moonlight and what little hed clung to of being a man slipped away from him despite his best efforts.
When Lily picked his head up and kissed him, he could only whine at her like a wounded beast. Moonlight might have healed him, as it heals all things that belong to the Silver Lady, but the she-wolf had broken far too many things inside him. Darryl might have gone for help, but he was a broken thing by the edge of the marsh, and his horse was already rousing the alarm among the neighbors, riderless and hysterical. Lily plucked at the curly black hair, thinking that nothing she knew had taught her how to stitch life back into her world as he bled to death in her arms. The neighbors would find her there, cold and unresponsive, when they arrive to find out what had happened to a man always isolated, but never unkind.
Do you know?, she whispered at him. Do you know I love you?
His tail shook against her. Gadriel the man died a wolf.