Cold shards of rain began to pour down from the heavens, drenching both fiber and fur, intent on making Meruself and her new companion miserable. Meruself retrieved her dagger and sheathed it once more at her waist. She patted the wolf’s head and stood, breathing deeply and exhaling a long breath trying to center herself. The direwolf was looking up at her as if waiting for Meruself to give direction, a what now expression on its lupine features. The direwolf stood close to her, its shoulders pressing up against her hips, and Meruself’s fingers once again found its fur, tangling through the rough silk at the back of its neck. Meruself exhaled again, and as she sighed so did the direwolf. Meruself smiled.
“I think we’ll make a fine pair,” Meruself said out loud. The direwolf sniffed and dipped its large head as if it were nodding in earnest agreement. Meruself laughed and ruffled the damp fur. She looked up through the throng of leaves and chill raindrops splattered on her cheeks and in her eyes. What an unlikely pair they must make, the outcast and the lone direwolf. Both of them had been alone in this life, yet now they had each other, but for how long Meruself did not know. The only thing certain in this life was death.
True, the possibility of the goddesses being against her was something Meruself had taken very serious heed of, but she hadn’t expected any dangerous life threatening events this soon, however. If she had she would have been more vigilant. Opposition from the Norns was one thing, true mortal peril was another. Would the Mother Norns truly try and end her? Would they dole out the ultimate punishment to quell this latest defiance? Meruself’s own modest and earthly powers were finite and would not have been enough to save her from the daemon. If not for the appearance of the direwolf, Meruself would have been hard pressed to survive, if she’d survived at all.
Meruself’s eyes inevitably found the lifeless and still corpse of the daemon. Its death mask was horrid, its neck a ravaged mess, its body contorted and ghastly frozen in its last desperate motion. Meruself shuddered. The daemon had frightened her more than she liked to admit. Not even half a morning on her quest and already forces were moving against her. As Meruself’s eyes moved keenly over the dead and monstrous body, she decided that the Norns would not use one such as this to halt her journey. They might not be happy about her choice but this was not the kind of creature bound to do the bidding of the Nornir. It was a Feldark creature, yes, but a Feldark creature of a more menacing nature. No, something Other had sent this aberration. Meruself could feel it in the depth of her seer’s consciousness, the inner place she called the Knowing.
Yet it wasn’t just the Knowing that informed her awareness. Meruself had lived in Hella Wood for longer than she cared to remember and never once had she encountered a creature of its like. The day was usually a safe place, free of bandits, thieves and monsters; only the creatures of the forest — the more light oriented and usually benevolent deities, or nymphs, sylphs and spirits who were apathetic until something sacred to them was harmed or threatened — were to be found within Hella Wood’s boundary. And none of these were so dangerous that Meruself feared for her life. It was only during the dark of night that Meruself knew it wasn’t safe to wander around in the woods. The danger of crossing paths with the Beast of Hella was too great and a thing she dreaded.
Meruself turned away from the daemon and looked to the direwolf once more. How grateful she was for its reassuring presence.
Meruself began to study the direwolf more intently and noticed the animal was female. The direwolf was large for the female of the species, with a beautiful gold blonde and white coat with touches and accents of darker brown and soft powder greys. Its legs were solid and sturdy, its tail a magnificent plume, its paws overlarge with tufts of white fur peeking out from underneath and between its toes. Its body continued to press against Meruself’s legs and hips, generating a delightful coziness despite the falling rain. The direwolf had offered her its protection, now it offered her its warmth. She tangled her fingers in the fur of its large scruff again, unable to resist the contact and comfort. She smiled. The direwolf made her feel sheltered, something she hadn’t felt in ages.
“Your fur is so soft, wolf. I hope it keeps you warmer than my cloak does me,” Meruself said, laughing softly. At her words the direwolf looked up again, its vivid blue eyes shining with mysterious intelligence. It pressed its large body even closer to her and Meruself was taken aback anew by its huge size.
“So what am I to call one such as you? Seems that such a noble creature as you would have a mighty name,” Meruself mused aloud.
“Wolf,” was the word Meruself heard inside her head. The voice that uttered it was not her own. It was deep yet feminine, a rich sound that was filled with the wisdom of the ages. It startled Meruself, as it was unexpected. Yet in a strange way she had expected nothing less.
“Why did you choose me, I wonder?” Meruself marvelled aloud. As if to demonstrate that it did not intend to give a reason, the direwolf gave itself a mighty shake spraying large rivulets of rainwater everywhere, splattering Meruself’s face, clothes and hands. Meruself laughed again, the sound lighthearted and brightening the darkness of the forest. “Alright, alright, Wolf, I guess the reason is not important.”
The direwolf fastened its intent gaze on her and Meruself was drawn into the powerful vibrant blue depths. Within its mind she saw a lifetime of memories and the forming of the worlds. She saw the stars travelling throughout epochs and recollection, lighting the cosmos with their brilliance. She heard laughter and felt sorrow, felt loneliness and loss, and then once again she felt an immense joy as a new life was birthed and nurtured. Immersed in the visions the direwolf gave her, Meruself lost all sense of space and hour. And when she saw the great tree Yggdrasil itself Meruself understood. This direwolf was of the gods, if not a god itself.
The direwolf released her and Meruself stood in awe of the ancient creature before her. She didn’t know how long she had been entranced but the rain had stopped, and a beam of watery sunshine shone down upon her, warming her.
There was more to this direwolf that could only be revealed with the passing of time. For now Meruself must accept that it had chosen to aid her on her journey, at least for the time being. Anything beyond that was left in the hands of the gods, for she knew now beyond the shadow of a doubt that they were watching. And the daemon that had tried to prevent her from leaving the forest was proof enough to show her that not all of them were pleased.
What god or goddess had championed her purpose she did not know yet, but she would accept the help offered gratefully. Perhaps it was Eir, the goddess of help and mercy, the one and only celestial entity that seemed to lend an ear to her pleas and prayers.
“My gratitude to you, Goddess Eir, champion of those that are in great need of healing,” Meruself whispered her heartfelt thanks to the gentle goddess.
Meruself wondered if the Norns would watch over her at all. They had turned their backs on her long ago so she had long been without their care, had become accustomed to it. And perhaps even this act of willfulness was insignificant to them, perhaps Meruself placed too much value on her doings. The abandonment of the Norns haunted her still, the pain rising like a great restless dragon with each and every thought she gave to them. It caught her off guard even now, the passage of years hadn’t lessened the pain; it felt fresh and new still. Once she had been able to call on them for guidance, for affection, for succour; life without them was a bereft place.
The brief moment of gentle sunshine and respite from the rain ended, and with the return of the rainfall a deep and hollow yearning was awoken once more.
“Come, Wolf,” Meruself said, shaking off her unwelcome reverie. “If we hurry we can make it to Saga and back before nightfall.” The great wolf snuffle sneezed and looked as if it nodded its head in agreement.
They walked through the forest at a brisk pace in an easy silence, the day slowly passing as they made their way to Saga. Near mid-afternoon they emerged from the foliage and made their way down the mountain pass. The incline was gradual and their descent was easy and when they finally made their way to the green grass of the plateau Meruself sighed in relief. They were almost there.
She bent to drink from the clean water that trickled down from the mountains and ran along their base in a small creek. It was cold, even this close to midsummer, and Meruself shivered. She was soaked through and longed for the warmth of a fire and something hot to drink. Meruself thought of her own hearth and smiled; eager to continue her trek to Saga. She felt weary all of sudden and decided to sit for a moment and rest.
But when Wolf growled low and menacing, Meruself stood, her hand reaching for her dagger. The direwolf was looking up the mountain trail and into the darkness of Hella Wood.