And She Rode the Wolf

Once upon a time, long before your ancestors opened their eyes to

stare in wonder at the world, the folk that lived then, hunted and fished.

This was long, long before the days when sound could be made to stick

– to mark in wood or clay, and long before the science of seed and

furrow gave mankind wheat and other good things that grow.

A time when the night was lit by star and moon, when the eye could see
the celestial ribbon as clear as you would the sun in daylight.

A time when darkness was a live thing, not easily banished, merely
held back by flame that would gutter and leave only cooling embers
behind. A time when winter gripped men\’s bones and froze their blood,
so that they lay blue and cold \’til the sun made them  a banquet for
flies and carrion-eaters.

A time when sickness could strike any, when mothers lived or died by
virtue of their own strength as they birthed their babes. A time when
thunder scorched the sky and tore the air, when roaring torrents and
massive forests overshadowed the land with heavy green presences and
foaming might.

A time when the blue hours of dusk and dawn were in-between places,
doorways into might-be\’s so strange that all but the most brave or
foolish of folk  refused to enter; set off to find their secrets,
risking travel so far from kith and kin.

A time when terrible things stalked the margins, hungry and unafraid
of people. To stray too far beyond sight meant death, for it said that
beyond the fire lay wolf-kin and serpent folk; giants with the heads
of eagles and bears wrapped in human hide that had learned to walk on
their hind legs – having the seeming of man until they grew wroth and
tore off heads with foaming jaws.

But for all this, it was a good time and though the span allotted to
most was short, it was filled with laughter, joy and song despite the
pain and threat of death in every shadow. Hard was the world, and hard
the people; hard in their mirth, and hard in their wrath, hard in
their love too; harder than most could stand these long ages hence.

It was amidst a hard time that we find this tale, for winter had been
bitter and game was scarce, and the people were beset by weakness and
despair. Vulnerable and half-turned towards death, their strength
leaking from their bodies, they would make easy prey for the darkness
when it arose to test their borders.

Already it had taken some from the edges, filling up their eyes with
tears, filling their bellies with rocks and crushing their hearts
slowly with inexorable cruelty, \’til the darkness leaked out of their
skins to surround them like a fog and they simply lay until they died.
Others would do battle with the dark, until it hurled them over cliffs
or into the seas and rivers to rise again, bloated and clammy like
poisoned fish.

And so it was that the people were waning, til out of the blue hours
came the Stranger. Tall of form and different in feature to the
people, the gait of the newcomer ate distance as a man eats meat. One
moment a figure on the horizon, the next standing at the edge of the
people\’s village, the Stranger was an unknown thing.

Ever after, the people could not say whether the Stranger had come
from dawn or dusk, whether that figure was born of Night or Day, but
whichever it was, the Stranger met the strongest of the people there.

Grandfather was the fellow\’s name, and his skin was wrinkled and his
smile lacking some teeth, but his blood was fierce beyond belief, and
even the darkness had only taken the edges of him as tiny nibbles like
a minnow, unsure yet of his strength.

“Hail Stranger,” spoke Grandfather as he saw the figure standing
there. “What brings you here? Food, friends or fuck?”

Now in those elder days, hard as they were, it was not uncommon for
those three to be combined when a visitor, rare as they were, came to
the people. But the Stranger said nothing and Grandfather pressed

“Why have you come, oh  Silent One? Speak or I\’ll see you off with my
spear lest you be a bear that walks like a man!”

So saying, Grandfather gripped his spear, old and knotted though it
was, and shook it at the Stranger, proud in his defiance. Then, before
the old man\’s eyes, the Stranger grew in size until the figure was as
big as a house. Mighty paws grasped Grandfather\’s head and foam ran
from  terrible jaws as they bit down bit down with awful strength,
gobbling up the brains of the old warrior.

And where Grandfather fell, where his body lay and his blood soaked
the soil, sprang up a mighty tree, knobbly like an old man\’s spine.
From the flesh of the elder something emerged then, so fierce was his
will, and from the death of Grandfather up rose Father!

Father was strong and his spear was straight and mighty, fierce was
his gaze as he stood before the Stranger. “Why have you come, oh
Silent One? Speak or I\’ll see you off with my spear, lest you be

So saying, he stabbed at the Stranger, proud in his defiance, but the
Stranger stood no more before him! Father was wrathful and looked
about him, until he heard the sound of scales, and looked to see a
gigantic serpent coiled around the base of the bone-tree, tongue
tasting the air.

Wrathful Father struck the snake then, but the serpent unhinged its
jaws and swallowed his spear and brawny right arm. For three days man
and wyrm wrestled, \’til at last the snake bit down and severed the
limb. Still screaming defiance, Father fell, his blood staining the
ground beneath the tree, and as he died, he saw his very own spear
plunged deep into the tree\’s base, the Stranger looking on, all

But as we know, that blood was fierce, and so it was that Mother rose
up beneath the tree amidst the blood, called by the death of her folk
from her place within the fastness of the earth. For nine nights she
sat and watched the Stranger with even gaze, and as the blue hour came
at the dawning of the tenth day, she took down that spear and laid it
across her lap, breaking it in two. Rising, she touched the wounded
tree and felt its sap as blood, and then she spoke to the Stranger.

“Why have you come, Silent One? Speak, or I shall descend once again
and you will never know more and the darkness shall take you!”

So it was that she stood beneath that tree and issued her challenge,
and so it was that a great wind sprang up over all the land, and a cry
echoed out over all the worlds; a wordless scream from the throat of
the great black eagle which came to roost at the apex of the bone

And in the shadow of its wings, Mother rested and leant her strength
to the people, as the darkness came and was met by the by the power of
shade, twilight and the in-between. For as we all know, shadow is
there wherever there is light, and present but unseen in the heart of
even darkness itself. So it was then that Mother waxed like the moon
and from her belly sprang up a youth, though she herself had departed
when the moon was dark, back into the earth where she waits still.

Son rested there, back against the tree, until the blue hour came and
he awoke before the dawn, to find the Stranger there, watching.
Meeting that gaze levelly, Son inclined his head in greeting. As if in
answer, the silent figure looked back, and Son smiled a bright smile.

Whereupon he took up the shattered spear his mother had cradled in her
lap, and his touch, it sprang together, whole once more. Gripping it
firmly, he turned to meet the snarling wolf his blood whispered would
be waiting.

Mighty were its jaws, burning were its eyes, terrible were its teeth.
Its growl set the earth to shudder and the rivers to burst their
banks. Mountains trembled at its footsteps, and hills split asunder by
its howls, yet Son met its eye and smiled in understanding.

With practiced ease, he marked himself deeply with that same spear,
until blood flowed like a river and leapt to meet the wolf, eager to
face his fate! No darkness in this one, spearborn of earth and sky,
twilight and dawn, of tree and blood, Mother\’s love and eagle\’s wings!
Only fierce joy and furious blood.

Into the jaws he went, as those teeth tore out his throat and drank
deep of him, devouring him almost  whole. Yet where his blood fell
from his marking, there quickened a form most fair, a maiden fierce
and bright as dawn, yet wise in the ways of shadow. It is she who went
to the wolf with bloody maw, as ravens  picked her brother\’s bones,
and laid a hand on that fierce head, fingers running through fur made
of rainbowed night.

It is she who rode that great beast beyond the dawn and dusk.
Wolf-rider they call her, Stranger-kin she is named, she who taught
the ways of shifting form and the secret knowledge of the earth to
mankind. Witch-woman and battle-bright, friend to wives and women all,
secret heart of men and desired by all, yet never kept.

Some say that she rides the wolf across the sky, witches and awful
dead as her retinue, searching for the Stranger, while still others
say that the wolf is the very same. But others recall the bone tree
and wonder if the Stranger waits there for any brave enough to face
the silence, or if that silent figure still wanders the worlds in
myriad shapes.