Deep in the enchanted forest by the Silver River which flows through the Wylder Mountains, is a village of the Forgotten. Before Soraya the Enchantress cursed the land, the King declared war against all majikal peoples. Clans and villages scattered throughout the Wylderlands banded together to fight a losing battle against the King’s superior forces. Until only a single village was left, a remnant of the Forgotten and displaced. The King’s former wolfmen warriors chose to abandon their liege and named themselves the Forgotten Protectors of the land.
Soraya cast her curse, a final effort to rid them of her husband’s evil. Her majik succeeded in protecting the people so long oppressed but then twisted as time passed. Young women were lured to the Lost City by Soraya’s majik, women of the old bloodlines, but none were the foreseen curse breaker.
An age later, the Forgotten Village survives. The leader of the pack of Protectors is Baalor Iceveins and while he tracks the last humans in the mountains, the curse breaker draws near. Little does he know his daughter, Erythea will be the one to meet her first.
Some were born with ice in their veins, so it had been told to her, so she knew it be true. Father would never lie to her. Anything he thought her too young to know, he simply refused to speak of. Instead he would smile, ruffle her curls and absently say, “Let it lie, little love.”
Grandmother whispered the secrets Father refused to tell, on nights he was away. Like how her mother was a truly wyld witch, of human kind rather than Wolv or one of the forgotten peoples.
“Aren’t humans evil, Grandmother? Isn’t this why the pack hunts them?”
Grandmother’s black eyes sparkled in the candlelight. “The villagers will tell you that majik is evil, but what do you believe, lass?”
Erythea held up her fingers and watched the shadows cast on the wall beside her bed as she considered. “Everyone says they are cruel and evil. But in the old stories you told me, majik wasn’t always bad, was it?”
Grandmother hummed in the back of her throat and returned to her knitting. The click of her wooden needles filled the silence and Erythea knew she was waiting for the thought to turn.
“I think,” Erythea said, “maybe majik wasn’t always bad, like the humans weren’t always evil.”
“Why must the pack hunt the last humans, then, do you suppose?”
She scrunched her nose, amused by Grandmother’s question. “You already know…”
The clacking of needles paused, so only the tapering flame filled her ears, and then after a pause, “Of course, little one, but I am asking you.”
Erythea huffed and dropped her hands onto her fur covers. She ran her fingers over the soft surface and wondered if Father’s wolf coat was this soft, wondered for the umpteenth time what his other shape looked like.
Grandmother cleared her throat, resuming the click of her needles as though to say, well?
“I think the humans must have done something very bad once. Like how Mother did something bad to Father and that is why he never speaks of her.” Father never spoke of her mother, but she knew mother must have been evil as well. Mother’s face was a blurred memory, her voice lost to time, still some nights she heard her whispering softly. And the edges of her vision would blur at times, as the air thickened with a sickly-sweet smell.
Grandmother caressed her hair. “Trust the candor of a child. Yes, my love, the humans were bad, just as the curse is bad. Fear can turn people into monsters. And something that was not meant to be evil can be twisted by fear.”
A lump formed in Erythea’s throat as a familiar ache settled in her chest and she wished to the stars beyond her bedroom window, “Please…I wish, oh I wish…” So she wished as she had every night of her reckoning, for a mother who wouldn’t leave her behind.
Though Erythea longed to understand her grandmother’s words, the full meaning of them slipped to the back of her mind, a package to be opened another day.
The following morning, she raced downstairs, hoping to find a head full of silver hair hung over broad shoulders beside the hearth fire. Instead Grandmother’s long white braid greeted her, followed by her black sparkling eyes as she turned her head to greet her.
“Good morning dearie. Come eat your porridge while it is hot.”
Erythea tried to swallow her disappointment. “Where is Father?”
Grandmother sniffed. “Chasing humans, no doubt. But you never mind that. I want you to do your chores as soon as you finish breaking fast. No mooning about today, little pup.”
“Yes, Grandmother.” Erythea swallowed another mouthful and then sighed. “Why is Father so worried?”
“He thinks he has need to worry so you don’t need to worry, and there’s an end to it.”
Erythea recognized the hard set of Grandmother’s shoulders and knew better than to push further. Better to snoop about the village later and see if she could hear anything. Maybe she could ask Tche later. He always told her things. The other kind were a lot more talkative than Wolvs, she had learned.
With this in mind, she rushed through cleaning house and was on her way to checking her traps in the nearby thicket. She tried not to worry after Father and failed, as usual. Why he hunted humans when her mother had been human was a mystery to her. Humans were a cruel and evil race, everyone claimed. So many times she begged her father to forget the humans and stay close to the village, but he only ever ruffled her hair and kissed her brow till it smoothed.
Erythea felt a frown furrowing her brow now as she checked her second empty trap and sighed as she walked further from the Iceveins cottage and deeper into the forest. She wished her nose was as sharp as Father’s. The familial Wolv traits had yet to manifest after her eleventh birthday, however. Which is why she didn’t hear the approach of the other children until they appeared suddenly across from her in the clearing.
Dread coiled in the pit of her stomach. Wolv children, and not just any but the three who liked her least.
“What do you want, Aelon?” She eyed the tallest and took a cautious step back, slipping her hand behind her cloak to grasp her knife by its hilt. She didn’t have claws like them yet, but she did have steel.
Aelon sneered down at her and took a prowling step forward. “You know what we want.” He lifted his hands to the Ironteeth siblings at his sides and flashed her a sharp toothed grin. “Show us your claws.”
Erythea squashed her rising fear, knowing they could smell it on her. “I don’t have to show you anything.”
He snarled at her. “That’s because you don’t have any claws, isn’t it? You’re a witch, not a Wolv and everyone knows it!”
Despite her best efforts, fear covered her like a second skin with his words. This wasn’t the first time the children teased her for being half human. But she had always clung to the hope she would take after her father’s Wolv side. Maybe then they would accept her. Deep down she knew better.
Aelon sniffed and stalked around her, the Ironteeth siblings at his heels. “I can smell your fear, witch. Why don’t you show us what you really are?”
Erythea pulled out her small dagger and slashed air. “Stay away!”
Aelon grinned. “Say please.” Before she could stop him, Aelon knocked her steel aside. She gasped as he pounced, forcing her into the snow and his fist collided with her cheek. “Show us!”
Erythea tried to throw her hands up but the Ironteeth siblings grabbed her hands. Her fear grew and with it the majik she tried so hard to keep hidden.
And then the snow began to tremble around them. A blue light filled the air and Aelon opened his mouth only for a ball of snow to fly into it. The Wolv children stumbled back as the snow around them rose from the earth and pounded their flesh. Erythea laughed as the light faded around them.
Some were born with ice in their veins, she thought with glee.
Aelon growled his fury at her as he rushed forward.
Erythea shrieked as his fist came down again.
“You are a freak, just like your mother! You think ’cause your father is pack master you can get away with it?”
This time she could see he meant it. He would kill her if she didn’t move. Pack matters like this meant no adults could interfere. It was how they learned who would run with the alpha once they grew up. No one suspected Erythea took after her human mother, at least not in public. But the children knew because their parents told them, whispering of their pack master’s treacherous human wife.
She feared the pressure building inside, growing as the Ironteeth twins tried to pull Aelon away in vain. And then a growl ripped through the small clearing, unlike anything they knew, more wyldcat than wolf. The children barely had time to look up for the source of such a monstrous sound, when Aelon was thrown up into the air by a fur garbed figure with long curling hair.
After the strange creature crouched over Erythea and snarled at the other children until they scrambled off in fear. Once they were alone, the creature twisted around to look over her with the fierce golden eyes of a wyldcat set in a strange, but beautiful foreign face.
LEARN MORE OF ERYTHEA’S TALE IN
SCARRED BEAUTY: WYLDER TALES VOL. 2