The Lay of the Were-Wolf: In the Forest, No One Can Hear You Shapeshift

I think it is crucial that everyone in the world knows that Camelot has its own werewolf. I myself was unaware of this fact for too long and that’s just not acceptable.

The Lay of the Were-Wolf’, also known as ‘Bisclavaret’, was originally written in French by Marie de France in the 12th century. In medieval literature, a ‘lay’ or ‘lai’ refers a short romance written in octosyllabic verse. It’s delightful to find a female voice among all the men associated with Arthurian legend! I was undecided whether to cover this one or an alternate version of the same story, ‘Melion’, a Breton lay by an anonymous author, but an analysis I was reading described ‘Melion’ as ‘woman-hating’, so we’re going with the female author and hoping for the best. I am using a translation by Eugene Mason from French Mediaeval Romances from the Lays of Marie de France, published in 2004 as a Project Gutenberg ebook. It’s available here.

Amongst the tales I tell you once again,’ Marie de France begins, ‘I would not forget the Lay of the Were-Wolf. Such beasts as he are known in every land. Bisclavaret he is named in Brittany; whilst the Norman calls him Garwal. It is a certain thing, and within the knowledge of all, that many a christened man has suffered this change, and ran wild in woods, as a Were-Wolf.’ She goes on to explain what an evil, ravening monster a werewolf is. This is in direct contrast to the subsequent paragraph, which introduces us to a handsome and respectable baron, a favourite of King Arthur, who is married to an equally attractive member of society. The lady’s only concern is that for three days of every week her husband vanishes without explanation. That’s a lot of married life he’s missing out on and no one in the household appears to be in his confidence. Eventually the lady approaches her husband with a sweet, timid speech about how much she loves him and how much she worries about these strange absences. As well she might.

The baron is very reluctant to tell her his secret, sure that no good can come of it, but he loves his wife and eventually gives way. He regularly turns into a wolf. Surprise! “Within this wood, a little from the path, there is a hidden way,” he tells her, “and at the end thereof an ancient chapel, where oftentimes I have bewailed my lot. Near by is a great hollow stone, concealed by a bush, and there is the secret place where I hide my raiment, till I would return to my own home.” It is unclear whether this transformation is something voluntary or not; certainly it does not appear related to the moon in any way. Either way, it’s not a fun part of Bisclavaret’s life. The key to transforming back into a man seems to be dressing again in his own clothes.

His wife retains admirable composure under stress but really she is not taking the news at all well. About as badly as she can, in fact; she immediately starts planning how to get rid of Bisclavaret. She remembers a knight who tried to win her (married) favour, and who she had no use for until now. She writes to him and arranges a meeting, where she explains the full situation. The knight can claim her as his own…if her husband is not around to get in the way. The next time Bisclavaret disappears into the woods, he does not come back. His family and friends look for him, in vain, and the lady keeps her end of the bargain by marrying her co-conspirator.

Over a year later, King Arthur happens to be hunting in the wood. His hounds go after the wolf, until he’s bloody and defeated, about to be killed. To Arthur’s astonishment, the wolf runs to him as if pleading for mercy. Arthur calls off the hunt and returns to court with the wolf at his heels like a devoted dog. All the courtiers are warned to treat him well and he sleeps in Arthur’s own chambers at night. In fact the wolf becomes something of a mascot, very popular at court.

Arthur holds a banquet for his lords and among the guests is the knight who married Bisclavaret’s ‘widow’. The wolf recognises him instantly and lunges at him, for once like a wild animal. Arthur calls him off, but the knight is eyed with suspicion by the entire court, who take their wolf’s side and think the knight must have done something to earn that kind of hostility from everyone’s lupine bestie. As soon as possible, the knight escapes court and the wolf’s accusing growls.

When Arthur returns to the wood where he found his wolf, preparing for another hunt, he receives a visitor: none of than Bisclavaret’s ex, hoping to win favour with the king by bringing gifts. No sooner does the wolf see her than he goes on the attack, managing to bite off the lady’s nose before he’s driven back.

No matter how popular, you can’t let the king’s pet go around disfiguring ladies of the realm. That vengeance would probably have been it for the wolf if one of the king’s councillors had not remembered Bisclavaret’s disappearance. He advises the king look into the matter. By which I mean, Arthur locks up the knight and lady and has them both tortured until the lady confesses. Got to say, there is not a lot of chivalry happening anywhere in this story! It’s all very grimdark.

Learning about the trick of Bisclavaret’s clothes, Arthur lays them out before his wolf, who…does exactly nothing. The councillor tells Arthur that he’s humiliating Bisclavaret and should let him transform in privacy, which is actually a surprisingly decent point. Arthur takes the wolf to his own chambers and after an uncertain time waiting, returns to find a human man curled up asleep in his bed. Arthur greets his friend with a lot of kissing and heaps him with gifts as a thank you for being alive and human. As for the knight and lady, Arthur banishes them from the realm and they are not seen again.

One of the differences in Melion is that the werewolf lord starts off single and will only marry a woman who has never loved anyone but himself. His wife declares she must eat the flesh of a specific stag and in order to catch it, Melion transforms himself into wolf shape using a magic ring. He ends up drawing all the wrong conclusions from his choices (that women are terrible and men should not trust their wives; hardly an original sentiment). He is also quite keen to turn his ex into a werewolf, in an eye for an eye approach, but Arthur talks him out of it and he ends up just telling her to go to hell. I feel that her position as the King of Ireland’s daughter may have played a role in that act of clemency. There is a third Arthurian werewolf lay, Biclarel, also anonymous, also with a big downer on women. It begins with an admonition: ‘He is very foolish who marries/ A fickle wench:/ It is just not worth it for him to suffer/ And to expose himself to all that shame/ With great risk to soul and body/ From which he will never be free;/ And he who understood women’s hearts well/ Would never be in such peril.’ The real lycanthropy, you see, was the women we married along the way.

Bisclavaret puts me in mind of the water spirit Melusine from European folklore. There is a legend in which Melusine is a wife with a secret monstrous side who requires one day of privacy every week to be herself. Her husband cannot resist spying on her, and in doing so loses her. Notably, no one’s nose is removed in the process. The werewolf knight does have every right to his grievance, of course, being abandoned in the forest in the shape of an animal is a fairly horrendous way for a relationship to end, but I do find it interesting how completely unsympathetic all of these stories – and all of the characters in these stories – are to the wives. While I’m sure the king felt very secure in his relationship with his devoted wolf, he might feel differently were he married to him. This is not what Bisclavaret’s wife signed up for, and she has a very limited range of options to get out of a relationship she no longer wants. It’s the Bluebeard Clause: if you wait for him to reveal the room full of dead girls, it’s probably too late. That spiel about marriage being a risky proposition at the beginning of Biclarel applies to both parties, not just the werewolf knight. Trust has to go both ways, and in each version of this story, it goes neither.

You know what? I really want to know how Guinevere would have handled all this.

Sources: French Mediaeval Romances from the Lays of Marie de France – translated by Eugene Mason (Project Gutenberg, 2004), Melion and Biclarel: Two Old French Werwolf Lays – translated and edited by Amanda Hopkins (University of Liverpool, 2005)

Lancelot, Part Two: On His Way to Get Rescued by Your Girl

Trigger warning: reference to suicide

We pick up in Chrétien de Troyes’ ‘Lancelot: The Knight of the Cart’ where we left off last week, with the knight I am calling Wild Card finally arriving at the notorious Sword Bridge. It is an actual sword and guarded by lions. Wild Card’s companions think that maybe it would be a good idea not to cross a bridge like that. Wild Card thinks otherwise. Onward or die! Leaving the other knights in tears behind him, he takes the armour off his hands and legs and begins to crawl across the bridge, clinging on to its sharp edges. When he reaches the other side he looks up, expecting to see the lions – but his foster-mother’s enchanted ring reveals that it was all an illusion.

His situation is bad enough without having to fight wild animals. The bridge has sliced up his hands and legs, and ahead of him is the impressive bulk of a great fortress: the keep of King Bademagu. The king himself is said to a great reputation for honour and loyalty; how this matches up with the whole ‘imprison every foreign traveller’ policy is unclear to me. His son Meleagant, meanwhile, has ‘a heart of wood, quite devoid of gentleness and pity’. Both men are now aware of Wild Card’s approach. Bademagu urges his son to make peace and return Queen Guinevere while there is still a chance at reconciliation. “Perhaps,” Meleagant says sardonically, “you want me to join my hands and feet in homage as his vassal and hold my land from him? So help me God, I’d rather become his vassal than give the queen up to him!” Bademagu warns Meleagant that he will not back him, that any action Meleagant takes against Wild Card will be his choice and his alone. “You be as moral a man as you like,” Meleagant retorts, “but let me be cruel.”

Bademagu goes down to meet Wild Card, who leaves off cleaning his injuries and stands up as if he has no injuries at all. Bademagu praises his courage and offers his hospitality while Wild Card recovers. The queen, Wild Card is assured, is quite safe and kept locked away from all men of the keep, including a very angry Meleagant. Wild Card refuses to put off the fight with Meleagant for longer than a day, insisting that he’s good to go any time, what bleeding wounds? Once he has been shown to a room and attended by Bademagu’s surgeon, the king goes to Meleagant to try and reason with him again. It is an effort doomed to failure; Meleagant is eager to fight.

The combat takes place the next day in front of the keep, with a large audience of Meleagant’s prisoners and Bademagu’s subjects together. Bademagu tries one last time to prevent the fight, and when that comes to no good, he goes up to the window where Guinevere herself is positioned to watch the fighting. The two knights smash into one another. They are well-matched, each inflicting heavy damage. Wild Card is already injured – soon the battle begins to take its toll on him. A young woman standing in the audience does some quiet equations about what it will take for Wild Card to win, and then goes to Guinevere to ask for Wild Card’s name. “Lancelot of the Lake,” the queen tells her, and the girl immediately yells out the window, “Lancelot! Turn around and see whose attention is fixed on you!”

Maybe not the BEST strategy when our boy is fighting for his life, but it does the trick – when Lancelot sees Guinevere there at the window, he is filled with fire and drives Meleagant back so ferociously that Bademagu asks the queen’s permission to intervene. “If I nursed a mortal hatred against your son, whom I certainly don’t love,” Guinevere replies, “nevertheless you have served me so well that, since this is your pleasure, I’m quite happy for him to desist.” Lancelot overhears her words and immediately lowers his weapon. Meleagant lashes out furiously in his humiliation and Bademagu has to send in his own people to restrain him. Meleagant refuses to acknowledge that he has lost the combat. The only way he will agree to give over the queen is if Lancelot agrees to fight him again within the year. Guinevere consents, which means Lancelot does too.

The deal is done – the queen is free, which means every single one of her people are freed with her. Lancelot is feted as a saviour, everyone wants to cheer for him, to be close to him, to touch him. All he wants to do is get to Guinevere.

The feeling is not mutual. Guinevere refuses to look at him, or talk to him, to everyone’s bewilderment. Even the injured Kay, who I think we can all agree is a bit awful and whose own first reaction to seeing Lancelot is essentially ‘how dare you win when I couldn’t!’, comes up blank when Lancelot despairingly asks what he’s done wrong.

Lancelot, bless him, buckles up to go find Gawain, who should have shown up by now and has not. Of the many newly freed captives, some decide to go with Lancelot and some decide to stay with the queen. Meanwhile, Meleagant still has a lot of popular support throughout the kingdom. They liked being an isolationist state! What happens now that people can just…arrive…and leave, as they PLEASE? They ambush Lancelot and his people, who are entirely unprepared for combat after their peace-making with Bademagu.

Greatly exaggerated word reaches Guinevere that Lancelot has fallen to rebels. She manages a speech for the benefit of her people before retreating to have a breakdown. She is so overcome by the dreadful memories of turning Lancelot away that she tries to strangle herself. In true Shakespearean fashion, a rumour spreads that the queen is in fact dead and Lancelot hears it. Now it’s his turn to attempt suicide, and he nearly succeeds. The only thing that rouses him from his miasma of despair is learning that actually, the queen is alive! Guinevere is informed that Lancelot is likewise still breathing and on his way towards her and everyone calms down for A GODDAMN MINUTE.

Bademagu greets Lancelot’s captors with outrage and Lancelot, being Lancelot, takes it upon himself to bring about a round of forgiveness. Then he gets his take two reunion with the queen, who hurries out to meet him, glowing with happiness. They talk non-stop about everything under the sun and Lancelot gets up the courage to ask about why she was unhappy with him in the first place. “Were you not then ashamed and afraid of the cart?” Guinevere inquires. “You showed great reluctance to climb in when you hesitated for the space of two steps.” How could she POSSIBLY KNOW? Where is she getting her information? Lancelot, who doesn’t bother himself with questions about his queen’s spy network, acknowledges her point as totally valid and promises to never to do it again.

That night they meet again for a secret rendevous. Lancelot goes to the queen’s window, which is barred with iron, and reaches through to hold her hand. He claims that the bars couldn’t keep him from her, if only she would give him permission – our boy is all about full informed consent, thanks very much – and when Guinevere gives her approval, he BENDS THE IRON BARS out of the way. In the process he cuts his finger, but is so ecstatic about finally being alone with his love that he doesn’t even notice. They have life-affirming sex throughout the night. Chretien’s delicate commentary is that ‘the supreme and most exquisite of their joys was that which the tale conceals and leaves untold’, which is why generations have been writing myth fanfic about these two.

Lancelot departs the next morning, straightening the bars behind him, but unknowingly leaves the queen’s sheets stained with blood. The first person to enter the queen’s room that day is, in the most unfortunate and creepy turn of events, none other than Meleagant, who promptly puts two and two together and comes up with eleven. He accuses Guinevere of sleeping with the injured Kay. Guinevere, with great dignity, insists she had a nosebleed during the night. Menstruation would probably have been a better excuse, more likely to embarrass Meleagant into silence, but the poor woman is having to think on her feet. Meleagant, refusing to take Guinevere’s word, runs to his father to bemoan Kay having access to the queen’s body when he doesn’t. If only Lancelot had thrown him off a cliff. Oh well.

Kay is shocked at the accusations, as well he might be. He tries to challenge Meleagant to combat to clear his name, but Bademagu scotches that, pointing out Kay is in no state to fight. Probably in no state for athletic sex either, in that case! Guinevere declares that she already has a knight to fight for her honour and at this moment Lancelot enters like the beautiful drama llama that he is. “There is no need for you to plead in your defence,” he says passionately, “so long as I am present…No one, so help me God, who has known Kay the seneschal has ever suspected him of such an act.”

Lancelot and Meleagant both swear to their different versions of events. Lancelot adds an extra touch. “No matter whom it may displease or vex, if today I may be enabled by the sufficient aid of God and these relics here to get the better of Meleagant,” he vows, “then I shall never have mercy on him.” The two knights go at it with bloodthirsty eagerness, but Bademagu once again intervenes. He reminds them that a combat has already been arranged, for Meleagant to face Lancelot at Arthur’s court in a year’s time. Lancelot follows his queen’s lead and accepts the delay.

He turns his attention back to finding Gawain. On the way to the underwater bridge, they meet a dwarf on horseback who convinces Lancelot to follow him, alone, to an undisclosed location. Lancelot is of course captured again. His companions, after waiting in vain for him to reappear, continue to the underwater bridge to hunt for Gawain. They find Gawain in the deep water, on the verge of drowning. Lancelot’s people haul him from the water and he hacks up half the river, barely getting his breath back before spilling out anxious questions about the queen. Gawain’s rescuers immediately tell him how the dwarf led Lancelot away into who knows what danger. This message is then relayed to Guinevere. While she’s deeply relieved to see Gawain safe and sound, she’s filled with dread for what has become of Lancelot.

Bademagu is hit pretty hard too. It’s hard to be a just and honourable king when your houseguests keep getting abducted and your son is a treacherous misogynistic excuse for a knight. He sends messengers throughout the kingdom to seek out Lancelot. Gawain and Kay are about to set out to search as well when a boy arrives with a letter, seemingly from Lancelot, stating that he has returned to Arthur’s court. The queen is uplifted; Bademagu is relieved. The two part on excellent terms. It is not until Guinevere is reunited with her husband, who assumes that Gawain came to her rescue, that anyone realises that Lancelot’s letter was a forgery.

Arthur’s happy; he’s got his queen back. Guinevere is on an emotional rollercoaster and probably contemplating locking Lancelot in a tower herself, just to keep consistent tabs on him.

While the queen was absent, two of her gentlewomenthe Lady of Noauz and the Lady of Pomelegloi – decided to becomes medieval Bachelorettes by throwing a tournament with their hands in marriage promised to the victors. Word of the competition spreads and reaches Meleagant. It also reaches the ears of Lancelot,who is being held prisoner in a quite civilised household whose mistress is keeping a weather eye on his emotional wellbeing. She notices how dejected he seems and he tells her that he longs to be at that tournament. She would happily let him go if not for, you know, the whole Meleagant situation. “My lady,” Lancelot says eagerly, “if you’re frightened that I wouldn’t return to my captivity with you immediately after the contest, I’ll take an oath that I shall never break.” Oh, honey. Really? Are you really doing this?

The lady of the household has an entirely understandable crush on Lancelot and a very shrewd recognition of his martyrdom to honour. She arms him with her husband’s gear and sends him forth to Noauz, where the only people who recognise him are an adoring herald and the keen-eyed queen. She sends word to Lancelot to ‘do his worst’; he humiliates himself on the field for her. She then instructs him, via her messenger girl, to ‘do the very best he can’; he conquers the field at her word. Guinevere, watching on, is amused to hear the admiring murmurs of her ladies. Thanks to Lancelot, not one of the women attending the tournament will pick a husband, but none of them have a hope of claiming him either. Guinevere owns Lancelot body and soul and she knows it.

His honour, however, is a force equal to his heart. After the tournament he returns faithfully to captivity. Meleagant finds out about what happened and decides he needs to arrange a closer confinement. He has a tower constructed on an isolated island and walls Lancelot up inside it. After that, he is so satisfied with himself that he parades before Arthur’s court, gloating about Lancelot’s absence. Guinevere leans towards her husband. “Do you know, sir,” she remarks coolly, “who this man is? It’s Meleagant, who abducted me when I was being escorted by Kay the seneschal, on whom he inflicted a good deal of shame and injury.” I love her. I love her so much. Gawain leaps up in Lancelot’s defence. “Please God, he’ll be found before the year is out,” he says, “unless he’s dead or a prisoner. Then, if he doesn’t come, grant me the duel, and I shall fight it.”

Meleagant then takes his obnoxious self to Bath, like this is a Regency novel and he’s the wicked rake of the family, to crash his father’s birthday celebrations. He gloats about securing a match against Gawain, since Lancelot has vanished. Bademagu scolds him for his arrogance. “A curse on anyone who will ever believe that the courteous Lancelot, who is honoured by all but you, has fled through fear of you! But perhaps he’s in his grave or shut away in some prison.”

Now, Bademagu has a daughter as well, and she’s listening in on this conversation. She is convinced that Lancelot is being held captive and she’s damn well going to do something about it. She rides off at once to seek word of his whereabouts.

She is as persistent a champion as Lancelot could hope for. She has searched high and low across many lands when, after so long without success, she happens to see a lone tower in the distance. Instinct tells her that she’s finally found what she was looking for. She walks around the tower, noting the lack of doors and the single window. As she stands there, she hears a man’s voice lamenting above. Meleagant’s sister calls up to Lancelot. She explains that she was the woman who directed him to the Sword Bridge – and she was the woman who asked for the knight’s head, and got it. That was the favour that Lancelot owed her. It wouldn’t surprise me if she was also the woman who called out Lancelot’s name during the first combat against Meleagant. “Never fear, my friend,” she calls, “that you’ll not be freed from here all right!” She produces a pickaxe and sends it up to Lancelot, who hacks around the window until it is large enough to let him through.

His long imprisonment has left him greatly weakened. Meleagant’s sister mounts him up on her mule and leads him to a bolthole of hers, where she nurses him back to full health. He showers her in words of affection and gratitude, but inevitably asks leave to return to Arthur’s court. On the way, Lancelot’s one-track mind fixes on Meleagant.

Meleagant, meanwhile, is demanding that Gawain fight him, in the light of Lancelot’s continued absence. Gawain has just armed himself when, to his intense relief, he sees Lancelot ride up. The entire court is overjoyed. Arthur asks Lancelot where on earth he’s been all this time and Lancelot unleashes the whole story. “I wish to pay his due at once, without delay,” he says furiously. “He’s come to ask for it and shall have it.” Gawain offers to fight in his stead, since he’s already fully armed, but Lancelot won’t hear of it. This is personal.

Meleagant can’t believe what he’s seeing. Still, he’s committed to combat now. Arthur chooses a scenic location for the battle and his court gather around to watch. So ferocious is the enmity between the combatants that even their horses are out for blood. Lancelot is a force of nature, pushing through Meleagant’s defences and hacking off his arm. Meleagant is driven into such a state of pain and rage that he runs straight at Lancelot to try and wrestle him. Lancelot then swings a killing stroke, cutting off Meleagant’s head at a blow.

And not before time.

Everything from Lancelot’s imprisonment in the tower to his victory over Meleagant was completed by a second author, Godefroi de Leigni, which might explain the abruptness of the ending. I would have liked a check in with Guinevere, but instead the story concludes with the celebrations of Arthur and his court.

Still, many thanks to Godefroi for Meleagant’s unstoppable sister. I don’t understand why she was not given a name, being such a significant character, but I’ll never be over the gender-swapped Rapunzel scene where she becomes Lancelot’s axe-wielding saviour. That’s what I’m here for: Lancelot being the indignant beam of light that he is, and the powerhouse women around him making all the decisions.

Messing with the ladies of Camelot does not tend to end well for anyone.

Humanity for Beginners: Chapter Eleven

Humanity for Beginners

by Faith Mudge

Chapter Eleven

It was Damien and Eben who dealt with the mess. Trust only went so far; they stayed behind locked doors while the wolves roamed outside, protecting their territory. Come dawn, there was a tranquilized boy lying naked in the middle of the drive and four women in an equal state of undress to track down. Eben went around with blankets while Damien located the pack’s transport, abandoned nearby down the road, and hauled their trespasser into the back of the car. The other boy was already there, flinching back with hands raised.

“I told him he should get going,” Damien reported later, once Gloria was in a more human state and had scrubbed her teeth three times in a row. “They had the keys, and wherever their bastard alpha went to lick his wounds, he’d have a hard time catching up on foot.”

“Did the kid listen?” Gloria asked.

Damien shrugged. “I hope so. Left him to it.”

The kitchen went quiet after that. They were all grouped around the table, Lissa and Louisa with their arms around each other, Eben sitting with his hands locked around a cup of coffee and his gazed fixed downward. A box of cereal sat in the middle of the table, a stop-gap until Nadine felt like making breakfast. She was leaning her head against Gloria’s side, a small smile playing around her mouth. While Gloria was feeling vaguely appalled at herself, it was clear Nadine had enjoyed the evening enormously.

“Do you think he’ll come back this time?” Lissa asked. “The alpha?”

Nadine snorted. “Hardly an alpha any more. A jumped-up cub whose friends have seen he’s an idiot, more like. No, he won’t be coming back any time soon. Anyone from a pack would smell the defeat on him.”

“There’s a primal truth for you,” Damien said, with immense satisfaction.

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Humanity for Beginners: Chapter Ten

Humanity for Beginners

by Faith Mudge

Chapter Ten

Because it seemed no week could go smoothly any more, Graham Seymour made a reappearance the next day. Not in person, since Gloria gathered that it took only the most serious crisis to induce that level of parental involvement, but he demanded a Skype session that his son and daughter duly sat through in the privacy of Louisa’s room. Lissa prowled unhappily outside, hugging Wellington against her chest.

He doesn’t like me, she said.

Of course, he does, Gloria said. I just don’t think he wants to be hugged right now.

I mean Louisa’s dad. Lissa turned big, sad eyes on Gloria. I don’t know what to do. How to look like a good girlfriend, how to be a good girlfriend. Louisa can do so much better. She’s so pretty and so clever, she can do all sorts of things. She can play piano, did you know?

I didn’t know that.

I can’t do useful things, Lissa muttered. She’ll be getting a degree, and I’ll be weighing her down. I should just… I shouldn’t do that to her.

Lissa. Gloria gently pried Wellington out of her arms, putting the relieved cat on the ground. I don’t know how to be a good girlfriend either. It’s not like you get a manual. This is something you work out as you go along. And take it from me, sweetheart, dating really isn’t a decision you make alone. Make absolutely sure you and Louisa are on the same page before you try and be self-sacrificing. Do you actually want to go to London?

Lissa was biting her thumbnail, a habit Gloria hadn’t seen in months.

I don’t know, she said. I want to be with Louisa. But I can’t. I’ve done this before. It’s bad. They pay for things, and I’m in the way, and it’s like being in a cage―

Gloria had a feeling Lissa was talking about her time in foster care, but she didn’t know much about Lissa’s dating history either. She put a hand on Lissa’s shoulder and squeezed gently. Gentleness did not usually come as easily so close to full moon, but Lissa brought out all Gloria’s protective instincts.

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Humanity for Beginners: Chapter Nine

Humanity for Beginners

by Faith Mudge

Chapter Nine

What, Lissa said bewilderedly, you weren’t together? Until now?

Ha! Nadine said, giving her an approving nod. She was whipping up pancake batter and not looking remotely embarrassed at the scrutiny now being inflicted on her love life, so Gloria decided to follow her example and just shrugged. That was enough for Lissa. Not for Damien.

So you finally got your acts together? he said smugly, as if he could take any credit for it whatsoever. Love is in the air! I mean, obviously Nadine deserves better―

Nadine swatted him lightly over the head with a frying pan and he yelped indignantly.

Love and violence, he complained.

Go outside and kill some weeds, Nadine instructed him, and he did. Gloria kissed Nadine’s cheek on her way to the sink and Lissa beamed, starry-eyed.

Off to work, Gloria said, making a shooing motion. Reluctantly, Lissa and Louisa left to set up the buffet. Eben had already vanished, presumably returning to his room. Gloria finished her tea while Nadine made stacked pancakes on the griddle with flip after practiced flip, and it could have been any morning, nothing special, nothing new, only now it was right.

About that pack,Nadine said after a while, wiping her hands on a dish towel. I’ve been thinking. We know there’s at least three of them, and they’ve been close enough to the guesthouse to identify our scents. But they haven’t come in person, which is odd for an alpha.

Are they being cautious?

I’d say so, except they phoned us, and that’s stupid. It’s like they think they’re in a mobster film, next there will be an offer we can’t refuse. Nadine looked out the window. I think the alpha is very young and he doesn’t want us to know it. It might be he’s left a bigger pack to start his own, that happens quite often–the males start fighting when they get older, to sort out the hierarchy of dominance, which is why alphas always encourage them to mate young. As a distraction. She caught Gloria’s revolted expression and smiled a bit tiredly. It doesn’t have to be so… feudal. It depends on your alpha.

Gloria shuddered. I think I need a shower, just from hearing that.

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Humanity for Beginners: Chapter Eight

Humanity for Beginners

by Faith Mudge

Chapter Eight

Note: This chapter contains mild sexual content.

Nadine had run out of things to chop. It had to happen eventually. She was sitting at the kitchen table with her back to the door, head bent over the crossword, and it twisted in Gloria’s stomach to see her doing it alone. She stood there for a moment to marshal her thoughts, since Nadine knew perfectly well who was there and had decided to ignore her.

“You don’t have to deal with this,” she said at last.

The line of Nadine’s shoulders went taut. “What do you mean?”

“I mean,” Gloria said, and she could hear her voice slipping into the crisp, business-like tone she used for delivering bad news, “this is my problem. They’ve spoken to me, briefly to Lissa, but they don’t know who she is. I own the guesthouse. If it’s too much, you don’t have to stay.”

Nadine drew in a sharp, shaky breath and did not answer.

“You have to know,” Gloria said, her own voice not very steady either, “you could go anywhere. I mean, you’re brilliant. Anyone would want you.”

“Except you don’t.” Nadine twisted around in her chair, one hand fisted on the table, her eyes wet and hard. “God, Gloria. Every time. When anything goes wrong, it’s the first thing you think of. You can leave. Every fucking time.”

Gloria could not have been more stunned if Nadine had set fire to the table. “What?”

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Humanity for Beginners: Chapter Seven

Humanity for Beginners

by Faith Mudge

Chapter Seven

Graham Seymour did not stay long. Gloria had the strong impression he was the sort of man who did not stay anywhere long except his office; possibly the financial infrastructure of the United Kingdom would fall down without him, or he thought it would, but after a very awkward dinner at which he did indeed try to pressure both his children into returning with him to London (a conversation Nadine derailed by ‘accidentally’ knocking over a pitcher of water and soaking his crisp trousers) he drove back alone. Louisa had stood her ground on sticking out the summer, and Eben had gone so quiet that it wasn’t until morning Seymour realized his son had not agreed to anything either.

“If I’m not in the way,” Eben said uncertainly to Gloria.

“You are very welcome,” Nadine said decidedly. “Of course you can stay.”

“It’s up to you, Eben,” Seymour said coolly. “You’re a grown man.” His tone implied exactly the opposite and maybe there were other criticisms hidden there as well, because Eben looked at the ground and Louisa gritted her teeth. But Seymour did not push any further than that; with a last nod to his children, he slid into his sleek silver car and drove away.

Nadine put a hand on Eben’s shoulder. “Come and chop onions for me.”

She was not happy with Gloria. It was a low-level unhappy that did not come out in Nadine’s usual ways, which tended to involve snapping accusations or slamming cupboards until whoever had incurred her wrath broke down and apologized. Gloria knew how to handle that, what to do to make things right. This time it came out in uncharacteristic quietness, not as if Nadine had nothing to say, but was deciding not to say it.

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Humanity for Beginners: Chapter Six

Humanity for Beginners

by Faith Mudge

Chapter Six

Gloria woke up naked on the floor with a pounding headache and a soreness in her limbs like she’d been running all night. Maybe she had. It was a big basement and the wolf liked testing the boundaries its human self had so carefully set. Someone had used the paddle pool because the floor was splattered wet and there were paw prints on the wall beneath the window like one or more wolves had been leaping for it. The chew toys had been dismembered.

Gloria rolled stiffly onto her knees and groped for her bathrobe, folded up on a high shelf. Nadine was already up, stumbling for the door. Curled in a ball in a corner, Lissa whimpered softly in her sleep–Louisa, wrapped around her protectively, twitched and stirred. Gloria let them sleep it off, following Nadine out.

The news was never good around full moon. Disturbing footage from the Forest of Dean―evidence or hoax? The Big Bad Wolf: hiker reported missing from camp ground in Scotland. What Big Teeth You Have (how to tell if you’re dating a werewolf).

“Do they have to make the Red Riding Hood reference?” Gloria grunted.

“The day they stop is when they take us seriously,” Nadine said. “It’s still a joke.”

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