Much Fall Of Blood — Snippet 53
The great gray wolves ran on, covering the miles with an easy, distance-eating lope. They conversed as they did so, in the way of the wolf which is far more complex than mere words, communication at the level of scent, tiny movements and postures of the head, ears or tail, with the smallest yelp meaning many things through these filters. Human speech had its advantages, and a greater range of vocabulary. But now . . . this seemed very free. They had kept to human form for a long time.
They paused on the ridge-line, tongues lolling, with the folds of the world trailing out raggedly to the lowlands. If anyone had been watching they would have seen how the three blurred and faded and became three men, lean gypsies in ragged bright clothes.
“We should be there by the hatching.”
“At least now that we can run properly.”
“And hunt properly.”
“Still. There is much weighted against him. Perhaps one of us should have stayed.”
Angelo shook his dark ringlets. “No. He must find the path himself, without us. We have done enough. Too much, without the compact.”
“Times and circumstances drive,” said Radu.
Angelo took out his pipe and played. The ancient threnody, sad, sweet and compelling, came back in echoing snatches, as if the land itself was answering. Perhaps it was. He stopped and let the silence of the mountains return.
Eventually, he spoke. “We are creatures of the compact, born to it and shaped by it. Without it, we will die.”
Grigori shrugged. “So will he. So will his people.”
“This is true. But that will be of no help to us.”
“It’s in the blood,” Radu said. “I could smell it. He will come to us. Blood calls to blood.”
“But it is still his choice and ours,” said Angelo. “The compact is a thing of willingness. The blood must be freely given.”
“And if it were not? If it were taken forcibly?” asked Radu, curious. “That would not be easy, but it could be done. There are magics . . .”
“It has happened before,” admitted Angelo. “The hunger born of it is terrible, as are the creations thereof. When the time came on them . . . The creatures of the shadows stalked the night and fed on the blood of innocents. Or any other blood they could find.”
Grigori shook himself, and spat. “Half-creatures. Loup-garou.”
“Indeed. Neither man nor of the old blood, and not constrained by the compact. The legends still remain,” said Angelo, grimly. “They are hard to kill.”
“I still think we should have told him more,” said Radu.
Angelo shook his head. “Part of the magic requires innocence. To take the step willingly, not knowing entirely what the risk or the price will be. Humans take innocence as virginity.”
“It has parallels, I suppose.” Grigori grinned toothily. “Although it does assume that a piece of skin equates with innocence.”
“A large assumption, and sometimes false.”
A little later they set off again. The moon would be full in three days time and they had many miles to cover before then. The distance on a map it was not so great, but there was a complex terrain both physically and spiritually between them and the heartland in the Faragas Mountains and the Lacul Podragul.
And with steady inexorable precession, the syzygial dance of earth, moon and sun moved on to the point they had last occupied forty-four years and one month before. The exeligmos. The full turn of the wheel.
* * *
Duck eggs are frequently given to chickens to sit. Mother hen will dutifully turn them and them keep them the right temperature, until they hatch. To sit a wyvern egg, the wolf-people knew, you need a mountain. And not just any mountain. It had to be the one called Moldoveanu. It was a fitting place for such a thing.
Alchemists would pay a great deal for something as rare as a fragment of wyvern eggshell. The cave was littered with them, still golden in the candle-light.
Yet it would not be easy for anyone to ever find this place in the roots of the mountain. Were they to somehow evade those who guarded the place from within the dark trees on the lower slopes, climb the ravine, pass the waterfall and the guardians in the water, they would find the place itself was full of strange and unpleasant sulfurous reeks. The breath of mountains can kill, and here it was so bespelled that it would, if necessary, to defend this place. Set on a small fissure that steamed gently, the egg rocked. And rocked again. There was a sharp sound, like the touch of fine crystal glassware. A tiny hairline crack shivered across the iridescent gold surface of the egg.
From long experience the wolf people knew that the shivering would be matched in the otherwise still waters of the Lacul Podragul. This was not a mystery that they had thought upon, it was just the way that the mountain was. They knew better than to set up camp too close to the lake edge, because they knew what was coming next. On the steep rocky bluff they sat above their multicolored carts and tattered tents in the moonlit darkness, looking out over the water. They watched how the water suddenly shivered although there was no breath of wind. No one spoke. It was a time both enchanted and fraught with perils. The little ones within would be weak, and the shells were close to being as hard as adamantine. When they were full-grown, adamantine would be as soft as velvet compared to them. But now, they had to fight free.
In the cave, Angelo waited, as was his duty and right as the oldest. He had with him a flask of the only food that could nourish a young wyvern. A second crack splintered into the surface of the egg. There was nothing musical about this one. Instead it sounded like a wagon-load of glassware crashing down a cliff.
Angelo knew that the Lacul would be a torment of waves now. He braced himself. There would be more. But at least there was a second crack. With creatures that had to be born as twins there was always the fear that only one would survive. He waited for the next assault on the egg and its membrane. A few moments later he was rewarded by a piece of shell ricocheting like shrapnel off the walls, and the appearance of a dragonish snout with a little sharp white egg tooth on the end. The baby snorted out egg-fluid, and sniffed, tasting the air. A second snout pushed its way next to it through the same gap, and repeated the performance.
Angelo realized that he had been holding his breath, and he exhaled in a long sigh of relief. The two noses twitched at him synchronously. The shell cracked and shattered with a noise like a chandelier cascading down several flights of stairs. Two pairs of little red slit eyes looked at him, and blinked simultaneously. Both gave a curious high-pitched creel and began struggling their way free of the egg membrane.
Mothers were reputed to gash their own breasts to feed their offspring. Perhaps they would, if they could survive laying the egg. Angelo had a flask of their mother’s blood for them. No other substance would nourish the chicks. Fortunately, as long as it was kept from contact with the air, wyvern blood appeared to neither coagulate nor decay. Magic gave, magic took away.
It was a rare and wonderful blood and it was not only the chicks that needed it. Angelo did not know quite when the relationship between his kind and theirs had begun, or just how it had come into being. But their care of the hatchlings was an ancient and sacred trust. His people believed that without that blood the tribe would return slowly to its roots. Either a nomad or a wolf pack, depending on just who told the story. Neither was an option that anyone wanted to take a chance on.
This land was full of old things, creatures from before man’s settlement. Most were subject to the compact. But only Angelo’s kind were unsure just where they stood in it all, if it failed. All they knew was that it would cost them half of themselves.