The Werewolves' Story
Healer and Hunter: Chapter Seven
On that first night, Rythri didn't leave the guard-room for more
than a few minutes at a time. He slept on the floor in front of the door; glared
at the priest-guards, who switched off at regular intervals, and at Jestin when
he came by to check on them. He sent Zzandoren in books, parchment, and ink when he
begged for something to keep his mind off the moon, and watched closely and
suspiciously when the priest-guards checked on him with their salty-smelling
spell-crystal things. And he worried.
On the next day, too confined by the tiny room, Rythri explored the temple grounds. He was responsible about it, though, and didn't change forms, no matter how much he wanted to further investigate the tempting smells or, a little more embarrassingly, leave behind some of his own scent. But he still glared at the priest-guards, though less fiercely, still resented Jestin's prying curiosity, still slept in front of Zzandoren's door, and still worried.
On the second night and day, Rythri paced up and down the hall unhappily. He could have run in the woods outside the temple grounds-- he felt desperately confined-- but it felt disloyal, when his friend-- his packmate-- was locked up and miserable. Zzandoren threw the books and parchment out of the room when they opened it up to give him his sunset meal. He still hadn't shifted, but he looked terrible, and growled that the books were only making things worse. Rythri slept in wolf form in front of the door that day in sympathy, though he still couldn't hear or smell inside. He worried even more, after the book-throwing.
On the third day, when they opened the door for the morning meal, Zzandoren, wild-eyed and panicked-looking, tried to bolt. Rythri helped the two acolytes wrestle him back inside, though the despairing, betrayed expression on Zzandoren's face made him want to bite something. When they opened the door for the evening meal, he lunged again, but this time it was with a snarl on a silvery muzzle and more muscle than any of them could have hoped to hold back. Rythri scrambling between him and the others gave the priests enough time to hurl a sizzling-smelling spell at him, which locked up his muscles in one sudden seizure and sent him crashing onto his side instead of forward.
Jestin, who never failed to be there when the door was open even if it wasn't actually his turn to guard, watched with morbid fascination. "We'll have to spell him as soon as we open it, in the morning," he remarked, though he didn't sound particularly concerned about it.
"What did you do to him?" Rythri asked, his voice shaking as he stared at the rigid wolf-monster. At his packmate.
"Standard werewolf binding," said the priest who had cast it, her voice sounding strained. "And I'm not going to be able to hold it for long."
"Well, he's not going to want the dried jerky, cheese, and bread anymore, if he's like that now," the second said critically, eying the platter they'd prepared, that he'd been about to carry in.
"I'll get him something fresher," Jestin volunteered, and darted from the room faster than Rythri had ever seen him move, before. Even so, by the time he made it back, the second priest had to add a second binding on top of the first, and Zzandoren was still twitching desperately, fighting the magic and growling threateningly. Neither of them had let Rythri creep inside and try to comfort him.
Panting like he'd run the whole way, Jestin skidded into the room and tossed a still-bloody haunch of elkariin meat into Zzandoren's cell. Without missing a beat, the nearer guard grabbed the door and yanked it shut. Both of them slumped down onto their beds as soon as the latch was thrown, wiping their faces.
"I hate the hunter-types," one complained wearily.
"At least we'll only have a couple days of this," the other sighed. "This time, anyway."
Unhappy and a little afraid, and very displeased at their attitude towards his packmate, Rythri growled at them both, making them stare at him with doubled annoyance, and stalked out.
Jestin followed him. "Don't be too hard on them," he said amiably, despite Rythri glaring at him, too. He seemed impossible to get rid of. "Werewolves like your friend in there-- I call them hunter-types, so the temple's picked up on it-- are awfully hard to control. Probably gave them both splitting headaches. They're going to be relieved now to sleep it off, actually."
Anything Rythri could think of to say sounded surly and ungrateful, even in his own head, so he didn't answer. Jestin just kept talking, in the absence of a response. "He seems like a young wolf-- no, not the body, the wolf," he said when Rythri snorted at him. "I have eyes, I know he's no boy. But the wolf is young. What is this, third moon for him? Second?"
"Second," Rythri confirmed grudgingly.
"I thought as much. I expect he'll get better at keeping himself contained as he gets used to things. You, on the other hand-- when were you bitten? When you were six?"
Surprised, Rythri answered, "Fifteen."
"Huh. And you're what, twenty-five now? Thirty, at most? You're an old hand at this."
He was older than that, but he didn't answer. He just shrugged, jamming his hands in his pockets and certainly not feeling like an old hand. He felt like a helpless child, in the face of all this, now. Maybe that's what scared him.
Jestin's hand clapped on his shoulder lightly-- not hard enough to be insulting, and not long enough to make him uncomfortable. Just how he knew how to gauge that touch, Rythri had no idea, but he did. "I know you don't feel like it now," he said, as if he'd been reading his thoughts. "You've probably never come across anything like your friend in there before. You turned him, didn't you?"
Suddenly struck with the guilt, again, of all this being his fault, Rythri cried, "I didn't mean to! I was just so upset-- he was just in the wrong place, and... I didn't mean to."
"Of course not, you're a good man," Jestin assured him, and Rythri felt himself warm to the priest for the first time in the past three days.
"I wish they'd let me in to see him," he complained. "He didn't hurt me last time, even when I got in his way."
"Last time he wasn't frustrated and caged," Jestin countered. "Believe me, he'd hurt you now, if you were in there with him, just because he can't hurt anyone else. He'll probably wind up hurting himself, flinging himself at the walls and door trying to get out, even if he doesn't claw and bite himself out of sheer pique."
"He wouldn't!" Rythri gaped.
"I'm afraid so," Jestin nodded. "I've seen it before. Demons, he's a priest, isn't he? He's got that all that healing knowledge bouncing around in his head; he could do some real damage if he figured that out. --Oh, probably not this time 'round," he assured Rythri, who had spun around to stare fearfully in the direction of the dormitories. "He's still young; the wolf won't even think of that until he's older and cannier, and gotten more used to the body and mind he's got a hold of. That's when we'll really have to worry."
"Do you-- see a lot of werewolves?" Rythri asked tentatively.
"Not a lot, really," Jestin shrugged. "I've seen a couple, and read everything I can get my hands on about them. You're a rare breed altogether, and rarer still when you actually need protection or sanctuary. Hunters, like your friend, they're rarest yet, thank the gods. At least he's of a mind to try and control it instead of set it free."
The idea of someone who didn't care if he went on mindless killing sprees gave Rythri a shudder. "I wish there was another way... that didn't need for him to be locked up...."
"Maybe when he's older and can keep a firmer hand on the rein," Jestin suggested. "But other than that, I've not found anything, and I've been looking for more than half a century."
"People are looking?"
"Oh, of course. There's a number of us out there who find your curse fascinating, and a few of us in that number who actually want to help."
"Not all of us want help," Rythri said immediately, and a little defensively. Zzandoren's curse might actually be a curse, but he couldn't imagine life if he weren't a werewolf, now.
Jestin didn't seem to take offense, he merely nodded patiently "But for those who do," he said, "we're certainly looking, for all the good it's doing. Well, I've got work to do-- a service to preside over, incense to light, gods to call upon. I'll leave you to your thoughts."
With another of his enigmatic, slightly disturbing smiles, Jestin slipped off towards the temple, leaving Rythri feeling entirely undecided if he still disliked the man. He might have to tread lightly around him, at the very least, just in case he decided he wanted to force his "help" on him.