Henry wakes up the next morning in a cell with his head pounding. He is naked and still cold, but no worse for the wear from last nights adventure. It wouldn’t’ matter even if he were for he never remembers anything when the change comes upon him.
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He looks around and sees that he is in an old dungeon of sorts. He has worked on shackles in the king’s dungeon so he knows what one looks like. There have been modifications made to this cell of course. Larger thicker bars and more formidable locks on the doors. There is also a window for him to look out of. He takes a peek though the pounding in his head doesn’t allow him much detail of the landscape. He can tell though that he is far up for he can’t see the forest as the cliff he is on is shrouded in fog.
“Good you are awake.” A woman’s voice calls to him. Henry spins around to see a woman of dark complexion standing in the other side of the door. In her hands she carries clothing.
“Please, put these on. I believe that they will accommodate you. Dress quickly, we want you to join us for breakfast.” She places the clothes on the cross bar of the doors and steps back. Sensing Henry’s modesty she turns away as he approaches to take the clothes.
“Thank you.” Henry says roughly. His throat is a bit dry and scratchy. He is about to ask her what time it is when she cuts him off.
“It is about 11:30. We have eggs, bread, some steaks and an herbal tea that will help with your head.” She says, turning back around. She produces a set of keys and unlocks the door to his cell. Hesitantly, he stands there a moment, before thanking her once again and slipping past her into the hall. She leaves the door to the cell open and replaces the keys in her belt.
“This way.” She beckons.
As they make their way up to the main hall Henry begins to take note of this woman. She isn’t very tall, but she is muscular. Her eyes are a pale blue, which, in contrast to her black hair and dark skin give her an eerie quality. Her accent gives her away as Italian, but what she is doing here in this god-forsaken country is anybody’s guess. Her hair is wavy and shoulder length and she has a black cloth covering it and tying it back out of her face. Her clothing is plain, but seems to be made of leather and deerskin. Not out of the norm for this area, but he also notices small buttons that run along the sides of her pants and blouse he has never seen anything like them on clothes before. She is very shapely and curvy in all the right places. As Henry is looking at her ass and the well toned legs beneath it, she looks around at him catching him in the act. She doesn’t say anything, just smiles at him and continues on through the decrepid building. Henry notes that the cave was better protection than this old castle. There are stones out of place and sections of the wall that look as if they waiting to fall in on a passerby. There is ice and water almost everywhere and every now and again Henry can hear stones falling out of place, the crash echoing far beneath them. The two finally come to what was once the owner’s dining room. It is small by today’s standards, but there is a fireplace in the back with a small fire going and it is warmer than the rest of the place. There is also a man in this room as well. He is much older than Henry, but not as muscular. His gray hair is also shoulder length, but tied back with a leather thong. He wears a full beard and was sitting down reading a book when Henry and his new friend walked in together. The room smells of food and good tobacco. The man places the book face down on a small table and the pipe along side of it in cracked bowl that is now serving as an ashtray. The man approaches Henry and with a big smile on his face he grasps him by the shoulders, gives him a big hug and kisses him on both cheeks.
“Welcome, welcome my friend.” His host says motioning them to sit down and eat. Henry looks over at the girl who is trying to hide her giggling under her hand as she sits. It’s been a long time since Henry has seen a woman this beautiful smile in his presence. He flushes at the thought of her.
“Please, sit and eat. Refresh yourself.” The man offers, breaking Henry from his daydream. He scoops eggs on his plate, then a couple of the small steaks and begins to eat.
The strangeness of this situation and of these people scares him. Henry has learned to be skittish around strangers. Instinctively, he turns and runs out the door. The man yells behind him, “Where are you going to run to? Back to the village, eh?” Henry stops in his tracks knowing that the man has a point.
“Perhaps you will go back to your cave.” The mans says beneath his breath, but the ears of the wolf hear it perfectly.
“Come in, sit down. Have something to eat.” The voice offers in a pleasing unassuming tone.
Carefully he walks back into the room where the two are consuming their meal. He sits at the empty chair available. They have already filled his plate with eggs and steak. The woman places a cup before him and tells him to drink.
“It will help with the headache.” She tells him, gently stroking his hand as she presses the cup into it. Henry flushes again.
“Bah!! Her and that god damn tea. What you need,” the man says pointing his fork at Henry and chewing, “is some vodka.” He takes another forkful of eggs and shoves it into his mouth. “That would set things right for you,” he says chewing again, “unfortunately there is none to be had here in this miserable country.”
“Don’t mind him,” the woman says kindly, “he is always miserable in the mornings. I am sorry, but there isn’t any cream or sugar and I’m afraid the tea is bitter, but, it will stop the headache shortly.” She offers.
Henry sniffs the tea. It smells of grass and something antiseptic. He sips it. It is quite bitter, but it isn’t hot. Quickly he downs the entire cup and replaces the empty on the table before him.
“Good,” the man says clapping him on the back hard, “now that we have that out of the way introductions should be made. Wiping his right hand on his pants he offers it to Henry, “I am Zaroff Mikhael Dismarovitch originally from Russia, currently from this shithole castle in the Carpathian mountains. I am glad to make your acquaintance,” he says pumping the man’s hand furiously while smiling almost madly, “you may call me Zaroff.”
Letting go of his hand he turns to the woman. He offers her hand not to shake but to kiss.
“I am Katerina Pasquali. I am originally from Rome, but now I make my home wherever Zaroff leads. He takes the hand and leans in to kiss it. Before he does however he smells something on her skin that seems familiar, but he just can’t place it.
“My name is Henry Marsden. I’m originally from Wellsmith, England and currently I have no home. Unless of course you count that cave.” He says dryly.
This brings small laughs from both Katerina and Zaroff. “That’s good. A sense of humor will serve you well in these dark times.
Henry was smiling, but the reminder of what and why he is here wipes it from his face almost instantly. The trio eats in silence for the remainder of the meal. Once finished, Katerina clears off the plates and Zaroff goes over to fetch his pipe. He brings it back over to the table and sits back down next to Henry. When Katerina is finished, she comes back and takes the other seat to Henry’s right.
“We know why you are here.” Zaroff says as he taps pipe against the heel of his boot to clean out the ash.
“You do, do you?” Henry replies as he shifts uncomfortably in his seat. His heart starts to pound in his chest. He begins to think that he made a mistake coming back into eat and talk with these people. They may have been hired by the village to hunt and kill him and this is a part of some sick game that they play with their prey before they kill it.
Sensing his tension Zaroff tries to reassure him, “You have nothing to fear from us.”
“Who are you people?”
Smiling, Zaroff leans in close to Henry. “We are brothers in arms, my friend and we have been searching for you for some time now.” He then stands and walks over to a hole in a wall that is serving as a window. Looking out over the landscape he begins to explain himself.
“I was born many years ago in Russia. When I was a boy we would raise goats and some sheep in the hillsides until the cold weather set in and then we would barn them up for the winter. Eventually I married. I had a good wife and many fine sons,” the man recalls with a painful nostalgia that Henry easily recognizes. He continues, “My life was very good. At least I always thought so. Anyway, one evening before the weather broke for spring I was feeding the sheep when I heard one of the horses braying and raising a fantastic ruckus outside. Naturally, I went to investigate.”
He turns and walks back over to the table. “See there was much unrest in my country at the time. As a result, food was becoming scarce. Many turned to killing beasts of burden to survive the winter. As I went out to see what was happening I came upon some growling and barking. I thought it was only wolves come down to try and steal a sheep or goat. Instead I saw this monster killing my horses. Scared as I was I needed the horses more than my courage. As I saw the creature’s face I fired my weapon. I had hit him squarely in the head, dead he fell or so I thought. As I investigated the carcass, it came back to life, bit me on the shoulder and ran off into the night. While the bite was not bad, it burned and throbbed more than any other wound that I have ever had in my life.” To prove his point Zaroff undid his tunic to reveal a scarred bite wound on his right shoulder.
“This is the last scar, the only scar that remains on my body.” He comments to Henry as he buttons up the tunic. “I believe that you have a similar scar somewhere on your body.”
Henry can only blankly nod as he rolls up his left sleeve to reveal a similar bite mark on his bicep. Zaroff nods empathetically.
“The next month was great for me. My wound healed and I began to enter what I thought was the golden years of my life. I seemed to have more energy and strength and more virility. I didn’t think anything about the wolf creature or the bite until the next month at the first full moon. That night my golden years became a nightmare. That night on the rise of the full moon I was wracked by pain the likes of which I had never known. I eventually passed out from it, thankfully. The next day I woke up in the middle of one of my fields. I was naked and covered with blood. When I made my way home I found that my entire herd had been slaughtered as well as my family. I didn’t know what miracle had left me unharmed in that field. Eventually, my village figured out what I had become and hunted me down. I escaped with my life, but wandered many years desperate to find a way to break the curse or work up the courage to end my life. I traveled, no, wandered through many counties, living in the edges of civilization trying to survive and not harm anyone.”
Wooden legs screech across the stone floor. Zaroff leans in close the smell of his last pipe lingers in his clothing and hair. The man is very close to Henry, who sits there is astonishment his tale. The two lean close to the table as if sharing some conspiracy that the wind might carry back to the village below.
“Finally, one year I was wandering around the wilderness of Northern Tibet,” Zaroff starts again in an almost whisper like somber tone, “it was bitter cold, but as you know the elements don’t really bother our kind. I thought I was about fifty miles from any civilized location when I awoke one morning near a remote and very small village. The villagers took me in and it wasn’t long before I realized that they knew what I was. My first reaction was surprise since they weren’t frightened of me.
Having spent quite a few years in Tibet I understood that their legends of the abominable snowman or yeti were really one of our kind. They told me that yeti often passed their village on the way to be cured. I have to tell you I broke out in a cold sweat when they told me about a cure.” Zaroff leans back and once again reaches for his pipe. Henry is licking his lips in anticipation for the climax of his story. Reaching into his pocket, Zaroff produces a small leather pouch and begins to pack his pipe.
“Stop torturing the boy.” Katerina chides softly. “He’s been through enough.”
After lighting the pipe he leans back in and begins again. “They took me before their chief and village elders. They said that there was a secluded monastery located about sixty miles to the north in the middle of the mountain called Pumori. The elders said that monks who practiced white magic populated this monastery. They said it was magic because the monks never left the monastery and no new monks ever came to replace the ones that should have died. As far as they knew no monk living there had ever died. Because of its location next to Everest and Nuptse, Pumori is quite sheltered. It is cold and very treacherous to travel. The elders said that the monks with all their wisdom and knowledge have managed to cure the yeti.” Zaroff stopped here to relight his pipe. As the smoke encircled his head he tamped down the tobacco with a bit of deer horn. He relit the pipe again, took several drags and then continued on with his story.
“I wandered around those mountains for months. I would go through a cycle and then it would take days to get my bearings and start out again. Eventually though,” he smiling through the smoke, “I found the monastery. At this point I was hungry and in rags I had watched, painfully, my extremities get frostbitten and fall off only to re-grow and continue the process. The monks cared for me and took me to the head of their order. He told me of how a young man came here cursed like me by a werewolf that had bitten him. He begged the monks to end his life or imprison him so that he would not harm anyone anymore. Instead, the monks pooled their knowledge and wisdom and tried to cure him. Years of trial and error followed the monks tried everything that they knew about animals and nature. They were not able to cure the monk, but they had discovered several herbs and tinctures that would make the beast more docile and less dangerous. Still these were hard to procure and produce in their secluded habitat. Finally they decided to take the best of their medicines and combine their chief ingredients. When they were finished they had an elixir that they thought would cure the young man once and for all. They gave him the mixture over the course of several cycles and soon the curse was broken. The young man was so grateful that he stayed in the monastery and eventually wound up leading the order.” Zaroff stopped here. He could see that Henry was at the edge of his seat. He was like a man who knew that his future and his very soul hung on what Zaroff had to say. For his part, the normally jovial man he had met early this morning had become most serious. His eyes darkened as he pulled the chair over to lean in close to Henry.
“There was a price to be paid though. The mixture was painful to imbibe and took long to break the curse. Also, there was a chance that it would not work and the man would be damned to remain a wolf always. I was desperate though. There was, and still is, so much blood on my hands that I couldn’t bear to live another minute. I begged the monk for the cure and he obliged. After six treatments I was able to look upon the moon as a man. It was like a nightmare lifting from my eyes. I stayed there for many years helping the monks perfect the cure. Finally, I was able to distill their elixir into an injection that, once taken, would break the curse of the wolf and restore the bitten’s humanity within one cycle.” Again Zaroff stopped. He leaned back in his chair and smugly puffed his pipe. Katerina had gotten up to warm up the steaks from this morning and mix the other leftovers into a stew for supper. As she clanged and mixed, Henry’s mind moved with the possibilities. He could have his life back, maybe become a black smith elsewhere. He was about to speak when Zaroff started again.
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