Wolf’s Moon Night
By Steven D’Adamo
So venture not into the forest near,
Lest you're carried away into the night…**
The last few lines of the song flitted through Davlin’s mind as he padded over the soft grass of the pasture, humming to himself. It was a slow gentle tune, but the final words gave him the shivers, even with a bright sun warming the winter air.
Granma Delaea would sing it to him at night if he refused to lie down in bed, or sometimes when he caused mischief. That’s what she called it. Like when Davlin ran through the herds and tugged at the little tufts of hair on the sheep’s rumps, giggling with delight as they bleated and bucked. He got a hard spanking the last time he did that, and Granma Delaea wagged her fat finger in his face as she mimicked the song: “You’ll not do that again, boy, otherwise you’ll be taken to Raggy!” She always threatened to take him to Raggy.
Raggy was a cruel man who lived in the haunted forest, Glómfeld. The wolf men would take children to him, and they would never be seen again. Those stories weren’t true though. There were no wolf men who came from Glómfeld to take children, and there was no Raggy. Davlin had never even heard a wolf howl. Only the younger children were still afraid of the elders’ tales.
The grass grew in rough patches of brown and yellow, tough and dry. Few rains had fallen so far this winter, and they were already nearing Little Sun. Last winter the valley was blanketed in snow so deep that Davlin and his siblings had to help the village dig out a path to the huge pavilion near the edge of their village, where the herd was kept.
Father said that no rainfall before Little Sun was an omen. Father knew many omens. Little Sun was the day when the sun rose late in the morning and set early in the evening. Davlin was excited for Little Sun because it meant he could stay up all night for the Dark Watching. A hundred torches would surround the village guarding it from the darkness, and a ram would be slaughtered at daybreak for the feast.
Though he only had eight seasons, Davlin could remember celebrating Little Sun in years past. Everyone cheered and laughed as the sun returned after the long night, and Mother would wake the younger children as the feasting and dancing began. He would stay up all night this year.
After trotting over the hill on the east side of the village, Davlin found the herd in the pastures below. He smiled and jogged down the slope, causing some of the nearest ewes to start. But the herd always calmed once they saw one of their shepherds, and the sheep mostly ignored Davlin as he passed between them.
Walking on the balls of his feet to see over the hundreds of huge grey forms, Davlin picked out one particular ram sniffing and nudging around several ewes. The ram snorted and shook his head as Davlin neared, settling his cloven hooves on a patch of longer grass. Davlin approached the ram and laid a hand on the animal’s broad snout. The ram nudged Davlin in the shoulder lightly.
“Fentó,” Davlin whispered, and the ram nudged him again. Davlin laughed. Fentó was small, standing only at Father’s shoulder. Father said often that Fentó was much smaller than the other families’ rams, that he was not strong enough to slaughter at the feast.
Only the wealthiest families could afford to slaughter a ram, and slaughtering a poor ram would dishonor them. But Davlin did not want Fentó to be slaughtered -- he was Davlin’s ram. Fentó’s woolen hair was thickening through the winter months, like a bushy blanket draped over the ram’s back and hanging down from his stomach.
Davlin ran his fingers through the grey and white hairs along Fentó’s neck, grabbed a thick tuft at the base of the ram’s skull, and pulled himself up onto Fentó’s back. Fentó bucked his head once and gave a quick bleat, then waited for Davlin’s command. With a quick tck tck and a firm heel in the side from Davlin, Fentó started off, ambling through the herd.
Davlin held lightly to one of Fentó’s curling horns, not yet fully grown. He felt big riding his ram, like Gothel Hornbeam, the great warrior who rode into battle on the back of Thuminger, the biggest ram who ever lived. Those were the stories that Davlin liked to hear, of heroes and battles -- not about Raggy and his wolf men. But all of the men in the village rode horses, because they ran swifter than rams.
The mothering ewes mostly shied away from Fentó. Another young shepherd stared blankly at Davlin as he rode through the herd, but Davlin did not care. He let Fentó walk until they reached the far end of the herd.
Before them the grassy hills of Nól’Dan stretched out, rolling gently down towards the river a few miles to the east. Davlin pressed his heels into Fentó’s sides, and the ram took off. Squatting low on the ram’s back and clutching tufts of hair, Davlin laughed aloud as they ran. The wind streaked through his shaggy hair, and Davlin felt as if he could fly.
Finally, Fentó slowed to a trot before finding a soft patch of grass to nibble on. Davlin hurdled off of the ram’s back, still panting from his excitement. Turning his head, Davlin could still see some of the herd grazing on the higher slopes. Fentó had taken him clear across the fields. To the east, little shimmers of light glinted off of what must have been the river Stónburn snaking between the hills. Beyond the river was only shadow, the dark forest of Glómfeld.
Davlin stood still as stone for a few moments gazing at the immense forest. Davlin wanted to explore there, but he was not allowed. They said it was haunted. Davlin thought that if there were wolves or wolf men near his home, they would live in Glómfeld. One of the watchers on the village’s towers would surely stop him from getting too close to the river’s edge. Someone always stood watch over the river and the forest. A sudden gust of wind from the east pushed Davlin back a few steps, and he blinked away the sour stench it carried.
Shaking himself, Davlin walked back to Fentó, still grazing nearby. The ram snorted as Davlin climbed onto his back, and they trotted back up the slope towards the herd. Davlin stole a couple of quick glances back at the dark line of the forest. He did not like having his back to it, but he could not be afraid. Father did not fear the forest.
By the time they had returned to the herd and Davlin had climbed down from Fentó’s back, it was nearing evening. Davlin heard a voice calling to him from the village. He looked to the west and saw a figure standing at the top of one hill waving at him. It must have been Mother, come to fetch him for supper. Davlin weaved between the sheep and then jogged over the grass, waving at his mother.
“You know you should not be riding the rams, Dav,” Mother said as he neared. She wore a simple dress of plain linen and a woolen shawl around her shoulders. Her dark hair fell around her pale, narrow face. Despite her tone, she smiled as she kneeled down to place one hand on Davlin’s cheek. Her brown eyes glowed like amber stones in the fading sunlight. “Come. You must get washed up for supper.”
Supper that evening was hard brown bread spread with onion preserve and a stew of sheep’s bone and roots. The stew warmed Davlin’s stomach, but offered little else. He scooped the broth into his spoon and watched it trickle back down into the bowl.
The others were eating and chatting around him -- Father and Mother sitting on one side of the little cook fire in their hut, and Granma Delaea on the other. Davlin’s brothers and sisters were all chattering loudly. Dominik and Debora were the two eldest, and Mathew had ten seasons. Then there were the younger children, Devon, Katia, Markus, and the infant Katlyn on Mother’s breast. All she did was cry when she was not feeding.
“Davlin, boy. Don’t play with your food.” Granma Delaea was eyeing him and shaking her head. “You’ll need your strength if you plan to stay up all night this year.”
“Can I stay up too?” Katia asked, and Devon repeated. Mathew told them they were too young, and Granma Delaea told him to hush up.
“Settle down now, all of you,” Mother said in her calm voice. She smiled at Katia and the others. “You can try to stay up if you like. You’ll want to say goodbye to your father and Dominik before they leave.”
“Where is Dominik going?” Davlin asked. Father would probably go to the wooden watchtowers along the river tonight. Men in the village took turns manning the watchtowers.
“I’m joining the watch,” Dominik grinned. He had fourteen seasons now, nearly a man grown, with his shaggy hair pulled back behind his head in a tight knot.
“When can I join the watch?” Davlin looked at Father.
Father regarded him quickly over his own bowl of stew. “When you’re old enough. And when you stop behaving foolishly with the herds.”
“Raggy will come for you, boy, I swear, with all of your mischief…” Granma Delaea began.
“Mother, please stop,” Mother said to Granma.
“Henrik says that Raggy isn’t real,” Markus said. Henrik was another younger boy in the village. Davlin heard many of the children laughing about the stories that the elders told.
“You are all too young to remember. It has been many long years since the Wolf’s Moon rose on the eve of Little Sun,” Granma said, her voice dropping to a tone so hushed that Davlin almost did not hear her.
“We have watchtowers now. We are safe,” Father said to Granma, but he looked around to all of the children, nodding at Davlin.
“The younglings will learn soon enough what it means to cause mischief. That’s why the wolf men come,” Granma Delaea finished. Mother asked her to stop again, but Granma’s eyes were wide and stern. Father paused with a hard set to his jaw before returning to his food.
Davlin did not know what that meant, but he lowered his eyes. “Yes, ma’am.” The other children had continued talking with excitement about Dominik joining the river watch and their chance to stay up all night, but Davlin just sat in silence.
“How many will go to the watchtowers,” Mother asked Father.
“As many as are able,” Father responded. “Granma Delaea is right about one thing -- tonight is the full Wolf’s Moon and the longest night of the year. We’ll need as many eyes as we can have along the river.” Mother nodded, but her face looked troubled. She was frowning, and she kept her eyes on the table. Father put a hand on her shoulder. “There are carts and wagons ready to take you to the city gates if there is trouble. We will be safe.”
Mother nodded again, but Davlin did not think she believed Father. Davlin was not sure why his Mother was worried. They had never had trouble before. The watch was only to keep the village safe -- but safe from what? Davlin did not know of any enemies their village had, except the mountain cats who came to take sheep sometimes. Maybe they were watching for mountain cats. He thought he could chase a mountain cat away while riding Fentó.
After dinner, he asked his mother again why he could not go with father and Dom, with the other men to keep watch. “Don’t be foolish, Dav,” she said, her voice hushed. “You are just a boy. You would get lost if you went too near the forest.”
That’s what the elders always said. But the great Stónburn rushed by between the pastures and the forest. How could he get lost so long as he stayed clear of the river? They were only trying to scare him again. He padded out of their hut and down the dirt path towards the village. They would be lighting the torches soon.
Their village was a collection of other huts and two big pavilions; one to house the herds at night and one for the traders and merchants to gather and sell their wares. The muddy paths between all of the buildings were filled with people tonight.
“Wait! Dav, wait!” Davlin heard the voice calling from behind him. He turned around to see Devon, Katia, and Markus running to catch up with him. “Mother says we must stay together,” Devon said.
The four siblings trotted through the village, eventually finding a group of other children playing at a game of chase. But Davlin did not want to play, so he skipped over to the pavilion where the sheep slept and stood by the thick wood-beam fence keeping them in. He did not see Fentó, but Davlin knew his ram was safe.
Torches around the village were being lit as dusk fell. The blue sky darkened to a deep purple, and the thousand eyes of the stars peeked down on the village folk. Davlin gathered with the other children as the adults gave speeches about keeping away the shadow and protecting their homes. They always said such things before the Dark Watching.
Granma Delaea was there, and Mother too. They watched in silence as Father and Dominik and the other men of the town mounted their little ponies. They all jingled with mail hauberks and glinted with swords and studded shields. Davlin smiled as he stood by the fence, dreaming about one day riding Fentó to keep the watch. The men gave a cheer and rode out of the village, through the eastern pastures towards the river to sit in their watchtowers.
Barrels were rolled into the center of the village as music began, and there was dancing. Davlin danced and played with the other children until they grew tired. Then he lay down on a patch of grass near the village square with Katia, Devon, Markus, and a few other children. They pointed out shapes in the stars above, like the Hunting Pack.
Father had taught them that it was an omen when the Hunting Pack ran with the full Wolf’s Moon, or when the Wolf’s Moon rose on the eve of Little Sun. All three happened on this night. Davlin did not know if that was also an omen, but he liked looking at the sky as a round, white moon like silver rose so bright that some of the stars disappeared.
Davlin yawned, and the other children grew quiet after a time. There was still music and dancing in the square, but he was comfortable lying in the grass. Tiny crickets hiding in the brush joined their songs to the music in the village, relaxing Davlin. He loved the sounds of crickets and frogs, or the tender call of a midnight loon. He would get up to dance and play again later on, but for now, Davlin wanted to listen. Soon, he drifted off to sleep.
Someone was shaking him. Blinking several times, Davlin felt someone hovering over him. “Wha…”
“Davlin, we must go. Come!” The voice was Mother’s -- at least it sounded like her.
Davlin sat up. He was in the large bed that he shared with his siblings, but they were not there with him. He was not sure how he ended up in bed, but he knuckled his eyes and yawned.
“Dav, now,” Mother called from the doorway. She seemed to be in a hurry. The air was cold, even in the hut, so Davlin threw a woolen blanket around his shoulders and tiptoed across the dirt floor. His legs felt wobbly. When he came to the doorway out of their hut, he stopped and stared.
The village looked bright with firelight -- the torches must have still been burning. People were rushing about in all directions, and there was yelling. Mother was corralling the younger children closer together with little Katlyn swaddled around her chest. Mother looked at Davlin and yelled something, but he could not quite hear her.
Mother grasped his arm harder than he had ever felt. She was pulling him towards the other children. His eyes floated to the scene in the village. Several huts were burning. Some villagers were tossing buckets of water over the flames. Others were mounting horses or wagons and driving their families out of the village. Where were they going?
“We must get to the city walls. We will be safe there,” Mother said, gasping.
Davlin was with his siblings now. Katia and Devon were crying. Debora was trying to console them, and Granma Delaea stood by a large wagon a few paces away. Where were Father and Dominik? No one answered Davlin’s questions.
A piercing, howl-like call cut through the night air like an icy wind. Davlin shivered. Then, everyone started screaming.
Mother was looking around with her eyes and mouth wide open. Davlin tried to run to her, but she staggered away from the burning huts with Katlyn held tight to her chest. The other children followed. Would they meet Father and Dominik and the rest of the men at the city gates? Where were the shepherds? The herds!
Davlin found himself running.Mother was calling after him. Flames licked at the roof of every hut and the air was rank with burning thatch and something sour. Puddles of dark mud like tar felt sticky on Davlin’s feet, but he ran.
The pavilion where the herds were kept was not burning. Fentó! Davlin knew that if he could get to Fentó he could jump on the ram’s back and ride away. Maybe he could find a great axe and shield and charge through their enemies, cutting them down like Gothel Hornbeam!
Crouching behind the nearest hut, Davlin watched the pavilion. The sheep were afraid, bleating loudly for someone to set them loose. Just as Davlin was about to make a run for the pavilion, he saw them.
Thin, pale figures emerged from the blackness outside the village. They looked like men, but far more terrible and beastly, with long limbs and stringy black hair. Were they wolf men? No, the wolf men were not real. These creatures rushed into the firelight, hacking and slashing at anyone who came too near. The world was red. Fire lit the sky as blood ran to the ground.
A pale figure hunched like an animal opened the gate to the pavilion, and the herds poured out of it, fleeing in all directions. One ram charged out of the gate, bucking wildly at everything.
“Fentó!” Davlin yelled, and the ram stopped for a moment. Several of the pale figures surrounded him, and Fentó began kicking again, sending them flying with his hooves! Davlin was cheering and wanted to run to Fentó, to climb on his back and fight off the pale creatures!
Then one of them jumped onto Fentó’s back. Still the ram was bucking until the creature opened Fentó’s throat with a single motion of its arm. Blood spilled out of Fentó’s neck as he tried to kick, slumping to the ground. Davlin screamed. Another figure came upon Fentó now as the ram twitched on the ground. It raised a glinting sword and chopped off the ram’s head. Raising the severed head by one horn the wolf man howled to the Wolf’s Moon overhead. The others joined in a deathly chorus.
“No!” Davlin could not turn away. His bottom hit the ground hard and he was sobbing. Where was Father? Where did Mother go? A pale figure loomed closer to him, hands dripping with blood. The creature’s white face was streaked with black, rotten scars. It moved like a wolf, but on two legs and only a thick cloak of fur covering its back. Moonstones shone from its eyes, and terrible red teeth in its vicious grin. A wolf man.
“Davlin! Davlin no!”
Davlin turned and saw Mother, but she was alone. “Mother!” He stood to run to her. Something cold and west clasped his arm and wrenched him to the ground. Davlin cried out as the pale wolf man’s face smiled down at him, with a nose and chin like a man. Its breath was sour. “Raggy…” Davlin whispered.
The wolf man chuckled or growled and lifted Davlin from the ground with little effort. He screamed again and reached out for Mother, but she was fighting off two other wolf men. Davlin kicked and punched with all his might until the wolf man threw him to the ground. Trying to shake off the impact, a hood was pulled over Davlin’s head and the world turned black in an instant. Something struck him in the head and he felt dizzy.
Davlin was lifted again. He thought he heard Mother screaming, but it was muffled and distant, too mingled with other cries of terror. The wolf man’s shoulder was pressing into Davlin’s stomach. The wolf man was running, its shoulder digging into Davlin’s stomach, but Davlin was too weak to stop it. The screams, the sounds of dying, the smell of blood, and burning thatch all faded. Even under the hood, the darkness around Davlin seemed to thicken. The running was endless, and Davlin shivered and sobbed. It was so cold. Father had to come for him. What happened to Mother? Where was Dominik?
He heard splashing. Were they crossing the river? But that meant they were going to… Glómfeld. The wolf man grunted and strained through the freezing cold rapids of Stónburn. Davlin was soaking wet in moments. Then he was dunked into the water. He could not breathe. The hood stuck to his face. He fought and gasped, but he was being pulled. He felt nothing but cold. Then he was in the chill night air again, coughing and shivering. But it did not feel like night. There were no crickets or frogs. No midnight loons. No music to dance to. There was only silence, weighed down and muted as if by a great curtain.
Davlin was not crying anymore. His tears had dried or been washed away in the river. He was lifted again. Running. They were running through the haunted forest. Others were running with them now with footfalls like so many breaths of wind. The Hunting Pack -- they truly did run with the Wolf’s Moon.
Granma Delaea was right. The wolf men had come for him. He was being taken to Raggy. Davlin hummed to himself a slow gentle tune and felt his own voice floating away into the stillness of the black trees. He did not feel the cold any longer.
So venture not into the forest near,
Lest you're carried away into the night
By the beasts of Glómfeld under Wolf's Moon bright.
Davlin, (DAV - lin)
Delaea, (de - LAY - uh)
Fentó, (FEN - tow)
Glómfeld, (GLOAM - feld)
Gothel Hornbeam, (GOTH - el)
Nól’Dan, (nole - DAHN)
Raggy, (RAH - gee)
Stónburn, (STONE - burn)
Thuminger, (THU - ming - ger)