“The resistance of a woman is not always a proof of her virtue, but more frequently of her experience.”
Ninon de L’Enclos
“What is this Kinbaku you spoke in the night?” The wolfkeeper asked her master.
He glanced her way, not sure if he should answer. Seeing her anticipation, a curiosity that seemed willing to explore further, maybe participate in learning, the master replied. “It is the art of rope binding. In this art form, the snared woman is the succubus of her dominus. It can take years to become a master in the art of tying the knots. It can take a lifetime to master the art of bonding a willing female to the art. In this bonding of succubus to her Dominus or master, the master is consumed and the woman transformed.”
“How is she transformed, master?”
“She must surrender everything in her free will and be reduced to that point of her emergence from the womb. She is naked and bound in intricate ways with each knot, each strand of special twisted rope, bringing her into a condition of sensory overload. Her agony becomes her greatest ecstasy.”
“But how is the master consumed?”
“The woman in her place between agony and ecstasy forms a sexual bond with her master. No man can walk away from this bond because of its addictive power and his innate nature of lust. She becomes his succubus consuming his dreams and draining his life energy through their insatiable sexual union.”
“Does the master die?”
“Only if the woman doesn’t.”
“If the master dies and the woman lives, what then?”
“She becomes the master and must find a naive apprentice before the madness takes her.”
“Can you tie the knots, master?”
They look into each other’s eyes for an indeterminable amount of time. The master takes the wolfkeeper by the arm and leads her away.
“The best revenge is to be unlike him who performed the injury.”
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
Wolves circled the castle staying inside the forest on familiar tracks their family pack had traveled for generations. The smell of blood and fear was everywhere. Stress filtered through the woods on a willowing breeze. The pungent odor of humans made the pack anxious and alert. Rolf’s breath was rapid and shallow. He felt an awful thirst and waited.
Rolf’s older brother led the way to the back of the castle, and they waited until no sign of human could be seen or scented. The group darted across the open estate keeping in the low ground between the hillocks that surrounded their den. They ran straight through a small opening in the wall shielded by two cedar trees with branches hugging the ground.
✽ ✽ ✽
Marius waited outside the study of Count Răzvan. Anger and indignation coursed through him and tightened his fists at his side. Hate welled up in him, constricting his throat, focusing his mind, and setting the stage for the inevitable bloody confrontation with those who dare such an insult to the people of the Wolf.
“The Count will see you now, Sir.” The Count’s aide de camp motioned for him to enter.
The study was as dark as the mood Marius felt. The room light’s were dimmed, and only the sunlight filtering through the window illuminated the Count’s desk and the green writing pad where commerce was inked into profits. The Count was only partially standing in the filtered sunlight, and the strong shadows half hid his face and eyes providing Marius with a formidable view of his master. No evidence of his benevolence was apparent in the dark shades of his eyes.
“What do you know of the Duchess’ shooting?”
“I know she was shot and her would be assassin is dead,” Marius replied.
“Pity, my Lord?” Marius struggled to control the vitriol in his voice.
“Yes, I would have liked to question him,” the Count said with the even tone of someone discussing business ventures instead of life and death.
“Ah, yes. Our enemies become quite chatty in your presence, my Lord.” Marius saw the Count smile under the eyes that shouted death in their unfathomable darkness.
“Our Duchess is in the castle infirmary. The doctors say she has a deep gash on the right side of her head. They suspect a brain bleed and swelling could result, so they have placed her in a shallow coma to keep her still and out of pain.” The Count explained. He walked out of the shadow to a sidebar, took out two glasses, and poured a brandy for each of them. Marius moved closer and accepted the offering. It was customary to share a drink over essential matters, and the Count did not ignore the customs of the Society of Wolves.
The Count’s eyes bore into Marius as they gave a silent toast to their future hunting successes. “Tell me what actions you’ve taken,” the Count asked.
“I’ve had the body of the assassin taken to the morgue for DNA testing and to see if what’s left of his clothes and any items on his person hold any clues to his identity. He was a professional. I expect little more than what the DNA will tell us. However, I do have his rifle and ammunition he used. We’ll check serial numbers and analyze what we can to find the origins and movements of the tools of his trade.” Marius briefed the Count in that emotionless cadence intelligence officers universally possess.
“How long will this take?” The Count asked.
“Six weeks, approximately,” came Marius’ answer.
“What are your plans in the interim?”
“We will continue to look for clues that will uncover the chain of events. There are people we will uncover that will tell us the next step up the chain,” Marius assured the Count.
“And if they don’t talk?” Asked the Count.
“Then the wolves will grow fat for the winter, my Lord.”
“Leave no stone unturned. Suspect everyone until you know they are not part of this plot to destroy our rebound from obscurity,” The Count demanded.
“As you command, my Lord.”
“One more thing, my faithful friend. We’ll do everything covertly. We will announce that a poacher’s errant shot frightened the Duchess and such was the realization of his mistake that he fled and has not been found. We’ll give our enemies a smoke screen to blind them while we cut down the low hanging fruit on the way to the top.”
“Yes, my Lord. With pleasure.” Marius met the Count’s grin with his own sardonic smile.
“You need not kill everyone. Only the ones you think need killing.” The Count signaled the discussion was over by turning his back to Marius and setting down his empty glass.
“My pleasure to serve, my Lord,” Marius replied while setting his glass next to the Count’s in a noble gesture of solidarity, duty, and service to the Society of the Wolves and the Society’s aristocracy.
Marius left the study and acknowledged the aid de camp as if to say, it is done. He made his way through the labyrinthine castle to the sub-basement where the medical facilities were. In the Duchess Drăgana’s darkened room, he ran out the nurses and doctor attending her.
Dear gods, he thought. Her face was swollen and purple. Dried blood still matted her hair. He pulled down the covers and gazed at the athletic body laid down by the avarice and power hungry outsiders. He noted Alexandra had no other injuries other than some bruising from her fall off the platform. He placed his hand on her sternum and felt her shallow respiration, her warmth, and beating heart.
Marius closed his eyes and felt the energy of his revenant Duchess. He leaned down and spoke in her ear as his hand slid intimately up to her neck in a gentle hug. “I pledge my life, my sword, my men to you. Those that would harm you are destined to the belly of my wolves.” He rose and saw the fingers of Alexandra’s hand flex. The thumb rose above a clenched fist.
“There is no escape—we pay for the violence of our ancestors.”
Frank Herbert, Dune
Warriors. That is what they were, Marius mused. He took out a bag of the castle’s feed for his wolfpack from the hunter’s shack at the trail terminus and placed out several pans for his wolves. They attacked the bowls of meat and grains ground into a texture and taste the wolves ate with ravenous hunger.
Perched above the field and pavilion where the escarpment was bisected by an ancient road through the dark forest, Marius surveyed the unfolding scene below him. His field glasses framed faces intent on being first at the long tables of food and drink at the edge of the parade ground. There were mounds of pork, lamb, and beef on every table with potato and vegetable dishes, fresh cheese, and round hard crusted bread loaves shoveled into plates and bowls by castle staff for the crowd. The men gathered in clusters to smoke and boast around the line of beer kegs while women collected food for children and the men. Everything appeared normal as if nothing unusual had happened.
Rolf settled next to his Alpha, head on his outstretched paws. His full belly made him lazy. He watched Marius engaged in a peculiar study of the people below. His eyes followed his master’s. The food and people were no interest to the young wolf as he scooted closer and nuzzled the hand next to him. Yes, a good petting was what he needed to help him sleep, and Marius always obliged.
The royal party was gone and the pavilion deserted except for the guards that kept curious onlookers away. It was too normal. “Looks like I’ll need to go down and sniff around a little,” Marius told Rolf who only perked up one ear as his eyes rolled slowly back into his nap.
A butterfly alighted on Rolf’s nose. Both eyes popped open in alert surprise. It spread its black wings to reveal a band of pure white spots. Rolf’s eternal friend who helped him hunt the Alpine meadows of tall grass and wildflowers tickled Rolf’s nose with its delicate feet. The butterfly’s long drinking straw of a mouth tapped on the flared nostril of his companion to draw moisture. Rolf always felt the pecking touch as an intimacy that bonded them as friends and allies in the endless seasons of life and death.
The security officer clamored down the embankment to the roadbed and made his way to the back of the pavilion. A soldier of the royal guard snapped to attention as Marius rounded the corner. “Sir,” he acknowledged in that sharp tone of discipline.
“What has happened here?”Marius asked. He observed the soldier’s hesitation, he saw the moisture increase in the soldier’s eyes that danced nervously from the castle back to his superior.
“There was a shooting, sir.”
“Was anyone injured?”Marius inquired in a practiced casual tone while his heart pounded.
“The Duchess was shot, sir.”
“What?” Marius felt his stomach bile rise in his throat.
“The Lady Drăgana was . . .”
“Where is she. Where is the royal courtiers?” The officer demanded to know.
“They all hid the scene from the people and whisked her away toward the castle. That’s all I know sir.”
Misted eyes and grief clouded the soldier’s face and speech. Marius could see he was in shock and yet he held his post not allowing for the crushing blow that he and his fellow soldiers had failed to keep the Duchess safe.
Marius felt the ache of dreams dashed, and duty failed.“Thank you. Carry on,”was all the officer could get out of his constricted throat.
An agonizing climb up the stone treads to the pavilion led Marius to the scene of the shooting. Near the steps and on the ground below were pools of blood. On the raised platform of manicured grass was a tuft of braided hair still attached to a piece of Alexandra’s scalp. “Dear gods,” Marius exclaimed at the unnerving sight. He looked to the tree where the Duchess and Viscount had exchanged tender looks and saw the bullet had skimmed the tree leaving a fresh wound of torn bark and splintered wood. In the small branches just back of and above the pavilion were strands of long black hair glistening in the sunlight as they waved like prayer banners in the breeze.
An aching sickness gripped Marius. The proud officer’s dry throat burned. He was no stranger to the gore of violence. Hadn’t he stood over the torn body of the sniper without remorse or even the slightest unease? Yet, here on the ground was the blood of generations of hope that one day the long scattered aristocracy of Dacia would unite again to take back their ancestral lands and return their culture of the wolves to the present. Hope has many enemies, Marius reflected as he looked to the sky and murmured, “The gods be damned.Now, the blood of the Duchess requires another era of blood for blood. Endless war for 5000 years. I am weary of this fight.”
A corporal of the guard approached his officer with quiet respect. He waited for Marius to recognize him and give him permission to speak.
“What news have you, corporal?”
“Sir, the Count requests your counsel immediately.”
“Very well, corporal.”
The two elite soldiers of the royal guard, the Black Wolf Brigade, made their way to the waiting vehicle. Marius gave a brief order as he buckled into his seat.
“Radio the operations center and have several squads canvas the area for evidence and have the corpse at the back of the parade field taken to the castle morgue for identification.”
“Yessir,” the radioman replied and relayed the orders into the microphone to a tinny voice on the other end.
Marius held an outward appearance of calm leadership in the shock of crisis. He looked out the window at the passing scenery of forest and rolling meadow and attempted to find the wisdom in his ancient soul. He felt nothing there except growing rage, seething anger, and a need for the blood of his unknown enemy.
Marius knew the shot fired under the savage attack by his wolves sent the bullet on an unknown course. The silenced weapon only coughed like a reticent plague behind which death followed, prepared to scythe down anything in the path of the bullet’s trajectory. He felt an enormous pain in his chest. It was an agony brought on by complete awareness of what would follow. Damn them! Why must we eternally fight with the only result a sybaritic illusion of victory and glory?
He watched as the assassin fought with determination to free himself from the tearing fangs. Marius observed the wolves had every advantage against the man. They were careful but never fearful. For their prey, there was never compassion or empathy. They did not strategize in deep contemplation. They merely attacked and with innate skill, took down their target. This is my eternal fate too, it seems.
The crunch of bones with wet huffs of fury blasted out of clamped jaws, and straight tails pirouetted in the air in a frantic dance with death. The scene was horrifying and mesmerizing at the same time. The chief of security to the House Răzvan watched from a safe distance as the wolves dispatched the man. The jaws clamped on his throat muffled the screams of suffering death.
Marius approached with care until he stood over the man whose eyes stared up at him in wide open disbelief. “To be eaten alive is the reward for placing duty and enrichment before a moral code of honor,” he said to the dying man. Recognition stared up into the sky as black pupils widened under the brightness of day. There was a flicker of understanding before the prey of Dacian wolves passed on.
“Do you know what the difference is between you and I, besides the obvious? Marius questioned the corpse frozen in death’s grimace. “Ancestral memories,” came Marius’ answer. “Mine come to me as experiences lived over countless centuries. You followed only hearsay, for the sake of a misguided belonging to a tribe who would take from me what is not theirs to take. Did you believe killing the Duchess would somehow make life better for your clan?
The wolves sat on their haunches and tore at clothing and flesh. They were difficult to tear away from the spoils of their hunt so fierce was their hunger for reward. They obeyed their Alpha and followed Marius as he hurried back to the pavilion to find out what had happened to his Duchess. The crowds were agitated but not panicked. The masses milled around slowly dissipating in every direction. The band played. The Honor Guard kept curiosity seekers away.
Rolf trotted behind his Alpha. The taste and smell of the man’s blood and flesh was satisfying but a new scent filled his nose. From the pavilion, Rolf smelled new blood and he whined to hasten his Alpha.
“Hatred is a fire only man feels, he does not hate the beast that comes in the night. They don’t hate death. They hate each other.”
― Meagan Spooner, Hunted
Rolf trotted along the path that followed the escarpment above the field just inside the treeline. He kept a wary eye on the throngs of people below him. They were not his prey today. Still, they were never to be trusted except for his Alpha, they made better meals than packmates. He stopped and looked around, looking for odd contrasts that didn’t belong in the forest, his home. His labored breath held for a moment as he scented the air. He sensed the interloper and the aromatic esters of gun oil and nervous sweat. He trotted on, following the scent as it grew stronger, pungent, swirling in his nostrils, and fueling his fury.
Rolf’s brothers and sisters scented this insurgent essence and howled their acknowledgment. Rolf halted on his haunches and replied, his hot breath a vaporous funnel of haunting sound. He sensed the sea of people below growing nervous and fidgeting. Let them be fearful. Rolf hurried now as the adrenaline of the hunt pressed him and caused him to salivate from his gaping maw. Fangs the size of a man’s little finger glistened in the rays of light penetrating the forest canopy. Rolf’s burning chest yearned for the taste of blood. He ran in a dodging pattern toward his prey.
✻ ✻ ✻
The priest now queried the Duchess Elect. Would she accept the role of Duchess of Wallachia? She did. Would she rule with justice by the laws of the people? Yes. Would she live to see her people live free and well and would she regain the lands of Wallachia for her people? Yes. The priest’s voice resounded through the speakers and echoed across the silent sea of people standing reverent and proud. This was their moment of glory.
Marius listened to his surroundings while monitoring the action at the pavilion. Rolf howled again in response to his pack hunting someone or something in the forest. Marius could tell they were closing in on a knoll at the back of the parade field. The perfect high ground for a sniper. Marius laughed to himself. It’s too late for our enemy. The wolves have unnerved them and will tear them apart before they can fire a shot.
The hunter slowed his pace and looked back at the Lady Drăgana through the gaps in the trees. She was seated on the Dacian Throne. The priest handed her the sword and dagger of Wallachia. It was done.
✻ ✻ ✻
Alexandra lowered the sword and dagger to her lap and placed her hands over the blades, their jeweled and golden wire hilts glittered in the filtered sun overhead. The girl who dances with knives would surely dance well with these, she thought.
Anxious sweat that cooled on her skin regained the warmth of fulfillment, of recognition of her terrible task, of realization this moment was her fate. All that had passed before in her life brought her here to do this one thing. She would regain the lost land of Wallachia with blood, vengeance, and the hatred necessary to spill the lives and souls of her Army of believers into the soil of time.
The wolves howled again and Alexandra felt herself grow moist with a sensual tingle as the sound punctuated her thoughts. The Society of Wolves emerged from the darkness of defeat to hunt again. She knew she was the ultimate Huntress in these lands, so let the hunt begin.
✻ ✻ ✻
The Count and Viscount of Răzvan kneeled at the Duchess’ feet and pledged their swords and lives to her. The Duchess accepted and vowed to hold their lives and service dear to her heart. Cezar looked up into her eyes and saw her courage. His harsh query into her eyes was met with unblinking awareness. An awful burden lifted from the viscount as he rose to his feet with his father and saluted the Duchess of Wallachia. Next, in a continuous procession came the royalty of the land she now ruled, each pledged their lives and loyalty, their soldiers and wealth to defend and honor her reign.
At long last, it was her time to address the people who cheered her without pause. Scanning the crowd of uplifted faces, Alexandra saw their unwitting devotion to the idea of being their own masters again.
The Duchess stood in a wide stance like a fighter and struck her sword and dagger together over her head with such force that an arc of sparks flew above her and rained down in a thousand points of light. The crowd went insane with celebration. Alexandra saw in her new subjects a fulfillment of destiny that she was some kind of symbol of their future. No matter what they thought or interpreted, the warrior duchess was their’s and many would lay down their life for her if necessary. A champion’s smile crossed her face.
✻ ✻ ✻
A lone figure lay across the tall grass on the high ground at the back of the parade ground. The sniper’s rifle scope drifted across Alexandra’s chest some 500 meters away. He admired her body, which was tall and slender yet presented an athletic, feminine aesthetic. He did not hate her. What kind of man could hate such strength and beauty? He thought of what pleasure it would be to mount her, to pull her head back with her long black hair and strike her hard, pulling her back into his groin. He felt the drug of violent lust surge through him. Not now, duty called as did the damned wolves. He was paid well to kill her, and he had to do it now before it was too late to escape. Muscles tensed. The sniper shifted his weight to become one with the ground. He braced himself and held his breath. The gods damn those lupine devils, he whispered to himself as he took up the slack on the trigger to the breakpoint, locked his body, and prepared for the recoil.