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"A man who seeks truth and loves it must be reckoned precious to any human society."

- Frederick the Great

Sunday, 3 June 2012

A Lycanthropic Coming-Out in Eighteenth-Century London

“So just how many humans really do know your secret?” Brian had finished reading my last blog post and seemed sceptical. “All this business about ‘coming out’ seems rather dubious, considering that the laws of your Sisterhood prohibit revealing yourselves to humans. Or at least so you have told me: any human who learns the truth about you is condemned to be eaten. Obviously that doesn’t apply to everyone, or I should have long since been served up as a main course.”

“You’re more like an hors d’oeuvre,” I said. “We generally like a bit more meat on the bone.”

“But I weigh nearly fifteen stone.”

“I said meat, not fat. But to answer your question: I have only revealed myself to three humans who lived to tell the tale. The first was Lord Kendrick Llewellyn, twenty-fifth Duke of Caerfyrddin, the father of my eighteenth-century incarnation, who discovered my secret quite by accident on a December evening in 1755.”

“You mentioned him once,” recalled Brian, “saying that, of all the fathers in all your incarnations throughout the centuries, he was the closest to your heart.”

“That’s right, not least because he never stopped loving me, even after learning the truth – unlike the father before him, Rhioganedd Llewellyn, the twenty-first Duke of Caerfyrddin, who ordered that I be burnt at the stake for witchcraft in 1648.”

“Not very civilised of him,” said Brian, “but I suppose the seventeenth century was prone to that sort of thing. Tell me about Lord Kendrick.”

“He raised me alone after my mother had died in childbirth, and was always terribly concerned about my welfare, though his ideas of a proper upbringing for young ladies hardly coincided with my own. To put it succinctly: he intended to marry me off to some English gentleman to improve the family income, since we were richer in titles than in gold. However, once the killings began…”


“At the age of thirteen, I experienced my first involuntary transformation and began murdering people. No one had bothered to tell me that having my period would literally turn me into a monster. Father thought that a rogue wolf was loose in the district and sent me away to London for safety. Of course, the killings continued there too. The most infamous incident was the so-called ‘St Valentine’s Day Massacre’ in 1749. It was the talk of London for months, and the case was investigated by the famous Henry Fielding.”
“You mean the novelist?”

“Yes, he did dabble at writing in his spare time. Between the publication of Joseph Andrews and Tom Jones, however, Fielding was responsible for creating Britain’s first effective constabulary. In his capacity as Magistrate of Westminster, he came very close to discovering my secret on several occasions, but I managed to outwit him at every turn. Father himself was aware that lycanthropes were involved, at the latest in connection with the case called ‘The Were-Wolf of Brompton Lane’ by the London papers, but it never occurred to him that his ‘little duchess’ could be one of them. At least not until that evening six years later when he discovered an Apostate trying to perform a lobotomy on me.”

“What happened?”

“I had just returned to London after an extended tour of the Continent and was on diplomatic business for both William Pitt and Frederick the Great. They had charged me with facilitating the alliance negotiations between Prussia and England on the eve of the Seven Years’ War. Since the talks had come to a standstill, I asked my Aunt Margaret – Father’s younger sister and the maven of London society – to organise a reception for the Prussian delegation, to be hosted by the Duke of Marlborough. The party was held at Marlborough House on 12th December 1755, a Friday evening, and I can remember every detail as if it were yesterday. Father was there, as were Pitt and Andrew Mitchell, who was the chief negotiator for King George II, and Friedrich Wilhelm von Seydlitz, military attaché to the Prussian ambassador. As we were talking, I caught the scent of an Apostate, whom I recognised as an Austrian agent in the employ of Graf von Kaunitz. He was evidently conspiring with the Duke of Newcastle against the treaty proposal, and had spied out every detail. Obviously, I had to prevent him from reporting back to the Austrian embassy, so I followed him with deadly intent. Unfortunately, the Apostate got the drop on me, and I nearly died as a result.”

“But your Father saved you?”

“Yes, by taking me to the Sanctuary to heal.”

“Sanctuary? You haven’t told me about that yet…”

“In most large cities, the Sisterhood maintains a Sanctuary – usually a hidden underground chamber – where we can seek shelter from marauding Apostates and humans with torches and pitchforks. In London it’s located beneath the ancient Roman fortifications near Ludgate Hill. On the walls of every Sanctuary are inscriptions and frescoes telling the history of the Sisterhood – that’s how I myself first learned the truth about my origins. The Sanctuaries are consecrated to the Divine Mother and possess healing powers, among other things. Taking refuge in a Sanctuary is virtually the only way to recover from an Apostate attack or a silver-inflicted wound.”

“Right, so your father took you to the Sanctuary. But he still didn’t know that you were a werewolf?”

“It would be simpler if you just read about it in my memoirs. Do you remember the CDs which I left here for safekeeping? The incident is described in the first part of volume three. It’s the disc labelled 1755-1757.”

Brian rummaged about in his desk for a few minutes and finally produced a case marked Memoirs of an Eighteenth-Century Werewolf.

“Is this what you mean?”

“How many other eighteenth-century werewolves do you know?”

“Good point,” he said, and inserted the disc into his computer.

* * *

London, December 1755 - January 1756
I hurried downstairs just in time to see the Duke of Newcastle conferring with the Austrian agent. The stench of decaying flesh here was overwhelming, so it was evident that this Apostate had been present in the house for some time. Since his lycanthropic hearing was every bit as sensitive as my own, he would surely have overheard my entire conversation with Pitt, Mitchell, and Seydlitz. If word of our secret negotiations reached Vienna, this would give Chancellor von Kaunitz an opportunity to counter the Anglo-Prussian alliance before the ink had even dried on the treaty. Therefore resolute action was called for: Kaunitz’s agent could not be allowed to leave Marlborough House alive.

As I approached the corner where he and Newcastle were standing, the Apostate regarded me with an expression of triumph and contempt. Clearly he did not consider me a threat, since his greater strength would afford him a decisive advantage in single combat with tooth and claw. Giving me a parting sneer, the Apostate said good-night to Newcastle and departed by the front door, as if he hadn’t a care in the world. A few moments later, I followed him discreetly into the night.

I was not feeling particularly chivalric and had no intention of engaging the Apostate on equal terms. As always, I carried two triple-barrelled miniature pistols beneath my gown, loaded with six silver bullets. My opponent was some thirty paces ahead of me when I drew my weapons. It did not seem civilised to shoot him in the back, however, so I called out a challenge. The Apostate stopped in his tracks. I could see that he was manipulating something with his hands, which I assumed to be a weapon as well, and levelled both pistols at the space between his shoulders.

“Turn around slowly,” I said, “or prepare to receive my fire as you stand.”

When he did turn, I saw the reason for his fumbling: the buttons on his waist-coat and breeches were open. The Apostate was preparing to shift. Even though I knew what would happen next, I hesitated a second too long, allowing him sufficient time to effect his transformation.

Just as I fired, the wolf-man dropped to the ground and both shots missed their mark. Calmly I twisted the barrels to bring the next rounds into firing position, but the creature was upon me before I could cock the hammers. With a mighty swipe of his paw, he knocked one pistol out of my grasp, simultaneously opening the flesh along the length of my arm, right down to the bone.

Clenching my teeth against the pain, I fired the second pistol. The beast yelped as the silver ball tore into his lung. Now I readied the third round and fired again, this time hitting him in the abdomen. The creature went down. If the shot had pierced the liver, the wound would prove fatal, but it might take several minutes for the monster to bleed out. I had to find the other pistol and finish him, or he would kill me first.

I searched the ground for my weapon, but the creature’s blow had sent it flying some distance. By the time I finally spied it, some five yards away, the Apostate had regained his feet and was approaching from behind. He would be upon me before I could reach the pistol, so I turned to face him, drawing the silver knife I kept for such emergencies.

Though mortally wounded, the creature was still quite agile, and he sprang for my throat. I dropped to one knee and slashed upwards across the belly, spilling the Apostate’s guts over me. At the same moment, however, the monster raked his razor-sharp talons across my chest. The pain told me instantly that I had suffered a disfiguring wound. I had to reach that pistol.

Extricating myself from the intestinal mass which entangled my arms, I tried to scramble away. But before I had crawled more than a few yards, the Apostate drove his claws through my feet, pinning me to the ground like a vivisectionist’s frog. Then he worked his way up my legs, rending flesh and bone with each blow. By now I was bleeding so profusely that only a few minutes of consciousness remained to me. The pistol was still just out of reach. As I stretched for it, the creature fell upon me, sinking his fangs into my back and tearing out huge gouts of flesh. My knife had been lost during the mêlée, so I was now entirely defenceless, and no longer had the strength to shift. I could feel the creature’s foul breath on my neck, and knew that soon his powerful jaws would sever the spine. After that, he would crack open my skull and feast on my brains, heedless of his own impending demise.

In these last seconds of my life a strange thing happened. It was almost as if time itself came to a halt. All fear left me and the pain ceased as well. Suddenly I was a child again back in Caerfyrddin, and Father was holding me in his arms. Then I saw Lysandra, with her golden eyes and snow-white hair, smiling her coy smile. Finally I was surrounded by all those humans I had killed over the years – strangers, friends, family, and lovers – all beckoning that I should join them in death. It would have been so easy to let go…

Suddenly there was deafening crack, and the Apostate was knocked over backwards. As I lay there, I heard the scrape of the pistol-barrel being turned and the click as the hammer was drawn back.

“Leave my daughter alone,” said a voice, “and return to the hell whence you came.”

Father pulled the trigger, and the third shot struck the Apostate between the eyes. After assuring himself that it was dead, Father knelt at my side and inspected my wounds.

“Oh dear God, Andronica, what has it done to you? I must get you to a doctor.”

“There is no time, Father. I am dying.”

“No, I cannot lose you like your mother. I won’t accept it. Tell me what to do.”

“There is one chance,” I gasped. “You must bring me as swiftly as possible to a place near Ludgate. I will explain where. Hurry, there is not much time.”

Seconds later I heard a horse’s hooves and felt Father’s gentle touch as he lifted my torn body into the saddle. From the expression on his face I could see that he did not believe I would survive. He mounted and urged the horse forward.

“Follow the Strand into Fleet Street and on to Ludgate Hill.” My voice was a rattling whisper, as blood filled my lungs. “Just before the old Roman wall…turn to the right and follow the alley-way until you come to an old abandoned tavern.”

“This is insanity,” he said. “I beg you to let me fetch a doctor.”

“Physicians cannot help me, Father. My only chance for survival is to reach the Sanctuary in time.”

“What Sanctuary do you mean? St Paul’s Cathedral is not far from where you describe…”

“Just ride. I will explain when we arrive at the tavern.”

At a full gallop we reached the Sanctuary in just a few minutes time. Father looked at the weathered sign hanging crookedly above the door. Barely recognisable was the name Boadicea’s Helm.

“This is where the ‘St Valentine’s Day Massacre’ happened back in ’49,” he said.

“Never mind about that now...just take me inside. At the back there is a stairway...into the cellar. Behind the bar are some candles...place one at the top of the stair...another at the bottom. Then carry me down the steps.” I smiled faintly. “Be sure to mind the spiders.”

Father did as I said, and soon we were standing before the secret door into the Sanctuary. I was slipping in and out of consciousness and my limbs were growing cold.

“Now…look at the wall…do you see the symbol…the She-Wolf of Rome? Push on it…and a door will open. Take me inside…and…light another candle.”

Once we had entered the Sanctuary, I asked Father to remove what was left of my clothing and to describe the injuries.

“Your…oh I cannot bear to say it…your left breast has been nearly severed. Your back is a mass of torn flesh, and it appears that the monster’s fangs penetrated between the ribs into your lungs. The left arm has been sliced open from wrist to elbow, and your legs are mangled almost beyond recognition. Oddly, the bleeding seems to have stopped.”

“That means that the healing effect of the Sanctuary is beginning to work. Now listen carefully to what I am about to say. I will die if I remain in this form. To have any chance of recovery, I must…change. Whatever happens, remember that regardless of my form, I am your daughter and I will always love you. Now behold, Father. This is what I truly am.”

As I willed the change, all colour drained from the room. The last thing I saw was Father’s face, fading into monochrome.
* * *

A moment later, I found myself lying on the stone floor of my lair, in intense pain. A two-legs was standing above me. Instinctively I wanted to kill it, since this animal was defiling the sacred place of my kind, but I was too badly injured to move. I stared at the human and it stared back, unmoving at first. Then cautiously it extended a fore-paw to touch my head. The creature’s scent was somehow familiar. Its fingers ran along my snout and probed between my teeth. Then the two-legs stroked my back and flanks with both paws – I saw that they were covered with blood. Suddenly it stopped and began removing the strange fur it wore. Using its puny teeth, the human tore the fur into long shreds, which it bound around various parts of my body. Finally it knelt down beside me and put its fore-legs around my neck. It buried its head in my fur, making a sound like a young cub. I slept.

A sharp pain caused me to wake. The two-legs was pricking me repeatedly with some kind of thorn. I growled weakly, but it massaged my muzzle and ears and made its strange human sounds. After it had finished pricking me, the creature gave me a bitter liquid to drink. I lapped the foul water greedily, as my thirst was unbearable. Soon after, I slept again.

Time passed, and my injuries healed slowly. Often the two-legs was present. He usually sat beside a small fire, watching me. I was afraid of the fire at first, but it made more light than heat. Sometimes he took the fire in his hand and examined the walls of my lair. The human brought meat and always the foul water, which seemed to lessen my pain. He inspected my injuries and cleaned them regularly, all the while making his human sounds, which were somehow comforting to me. Gradually I gained strength, and was eventually able to stand. The human helped to steady me, and walked with me around the enclosed space of my lair many times until my legs felt firm again.

One day, when I had recovered the better part of my strength, the human sat down before me, making his sounds and waving his paws in the air. It seemed he wanted me to do something. I began to listen more closely and discovered that the human’s cries were not mere noise, but consisted of many subtly different sounds. The more closely I listened, the more varied the sounds became. The patterns were vaguely familiar to me, if I could only remember…

As I listened, the words began to make sense. Staring at the human’s small fire, I watched as the white flame took on an orange glow…
* * *

…and I suddenly found myself in the Sanctuary, naked and entirely disorientated. How did I get here? What had happened? Then I remembered dimly. The Apostate… the struggle… the claws and fangs. And then? There had been a pistol-shot. Father!

With a start, I sat bolt-upright.

“Good morning Andronica,” said Father. “Welcome back.”

“How…how long has it been?”

“The day after tomorrow will make four weeks,” he said. “Today is Wednesday, the 7th of January in the Year of Our Lord 1756.”

“Have you been here the entire time?”

“Nearly so, except when I needed to eat or obtain meat for you. For the first two weeks, I gave you laudanum regularly so that you would sleep, but I have been reducing it since Christmas.”

“Can you tell me what happened? The last thing I remember was the Apostate about to have my brains for breakfast. Did you kill it?”

“Yes, but let me tell the story from the beginning. You had left me with Pitt, Mitchell, and that Prussian officer quite abruptly so I followed you downstairs. I was searching from room to room for you, when I heard a firearm discharge outside. As the orchestra was playing rather loudly, I was apparently the only one who heard the shots. I slipped out the front door, and perceived a frightful noise – growling and screaming. When I came upon the scene, I found that…creature…on top of you. Seeing your pistol on the ground, I picked it up and shot the monster dead. Then I brought you here, according to your instructions. This place seems to have almost magical power. You were dying when we arrived, but no sooner had we entered this room than your bleeding stopped. Then you…changed.”

“So now you know that your daughter is a monster as well.”

“I would hardly call you that.” Father smiled. “You are the most beautiful wolf I have ever seen.”

“Lysandra is more beautiful – she’s the white one there on the wall.” I pointed at the painting.

“I know. And that is you, sitting beside her. You never knew that I could read Greek, did you? I read the names and the inscriptions on the walls, and know all about your Sisterhood now. During your convalescence, I repeated this word here – Namashchandikaayai – at least a thousand times, in the hope that it would speed your recovery.”

I checked my wounds, beginning with the left fore-arm. There was a very fine white scar, almost invisible except to close inspection. And my breast?  Father watched as I felt gingerly to see if it was still there.

“You have healed better than I could have hoped,” he said. “This might be partly attributable to the suturing I performed that first night, but I think your Sanctuary has done the rest. The worst scars are on your back and legs, but even they are hardly noticeable.”

He tried to put a good face on things, but I was horrified that Father had learned the truth about me. I felt the need to justify myself somehow.

“Father, there is something you must know. I cannot help what I am, and hardly a day passes when I do not wish that everything were different, that I could be your little duchess again, just an ordinary human.”

He looked at me in puzzlement.

“Andronica, I don’t understand you at all. When I read these inscriptions here, I stand in awe of you and your Sisterhood. You are the protectors of this world against an unspeakable evil. I should prostrate myself at your feet in gratitude. The task that you and your Sisters perform is important beyond measure. How can you wish that you were otherwise? I am humbled and honoured to be your father.”

“But what will you do now with the knowledge of what I am? We can never go back.”

“During your convalescence I have had much time to think about this,” he replied. “I read these inscriptions many times, and have tried to understand your purpose as part of this Sisterhood. You have a duty to perform, just as any of us do. I am a soldier, and must go into battle when called upon. From what I can tell, you are also a soldier in your own way, and I have seen you in battle with my own eyes. Your enemies, these Apostates, are far more daunting than a few Frenchies. That you can face them without flinching, as you did outside Marlborough House, is a testament to your bravery and your integrity. Now that I know the truth, some things will be different of course. But you will always be my little duchess, and there is no power in this world, or outside it, which can change my love for you.”
* * *

“What a remarkable story,” said Brian, turning off his computer. “What happened to your father afterwards?”

“He was sent to fight the French in the forests of North America.”

“And died in battle?”

“Not exactly. Just before the Battle of Québec, he encountered General James Wolfe, the Apostate I had castrated in the gardens behind Carlton House in September 1752, after he had attempted to rape me. Wolfe recognised Father and exacted his revenge on me through him. I was there when it happened.” Overwhelmed by a flood of memories, I began to cry. “Please understand that I would rather not talk about it right now, but you can read the story in volume five of my memoirs.”

“Andronica, I am very sorry for the loss of your father. Even though that was more than two hundred and fifty years ago, I can see the pain it still causes you.”

“Begging your pardon, but you haven’t any idea what pain it causes. Read the account. There you will learn the extent of Wolfe’s revenge. It was more horrible than you can possibly imagine.”

“At least Wolfe did not live out the day,” offered Brian. “Every schoolchild knows the famous painting by Benjamin West, The Death of General Wolfe. Wait. If he was a lycanthrope, then how…?”

“Silver bullet. From my pistol.”

“And to think that Wolfe is regarded today as a national hero in Canada. If people only knew the truth.”

“Truth? There are many truths which are not recorded in the history books. I’m not sure that people really want to know them. You humans believe that you are masters of your own destiny. What would happen if the truth were told: that your destiny has always been in the hands of the Apostasy and the Sisterhood?”

“Let’s find out,” declared Brian. “Give me the CDs of your memoirs, and I’ll see to it that they are published. At the very least, the truth will be told, even if nobody believes it. And perhaps Lysandra will read it and come looking for you.”

“I doubt that anyone would be interested in buying a nine-volume history of werewolves in the eighteenth century. Maybe it would be better simply to publish a chapter at a time in my blog?”

“As you wish,” he shrugged. “But I would be happy to serve as your editor, just to give it some polish. You’re always writing ‘publick’ and ‘gothick’.”

“Well that’s how we spelt the English language in the eighteenth century. Very well. Just don’t change anything or put any words in my mouth. In those days, things were not ‘cool’ or ‘awesome’.”

“Perhaps not,” said Brian, “but your story is.”

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