Roamin’ in the Gloamin

The wolf lifted his nose to the night breeze and smelled humans. He was near the wall. Perhaps it was a patrol returning to their post late. One of the Empire’s minions would make fine food for him and his brothers. But as he raised his head to the moon to call, he scented more than humans. He smelled blood, and some other sort of earthy smell he did not know. The breeze carried distant screams to his ears. Instead of calling to his brothers he loped off to investigate.

Dervhla stood up and let the corpse of the Roman soldier fall to the ground. She could tell by the way he looked and the way his blood tasted that he came from Gaul, like herself. Only he served the Empire. Or rather, he did.

She was still somewhat hungry. She placed a foot on the dead soldier’s breastplate, reached down, and wrenched off an arm. After deftly stripping the flesh from the upper arm, she cracked the bone open and began to scoop out the marrow with her tongue.

As she peeled back the muscle from the bones of the forearm, she pondered the disposal of his body. Normally, she would leave no trace of a kill, but this time perhaps she would leave it. The Roman legions had driven her tribe out of Gaul long ago. They had sought refuge among the tribes here in Britanii, only to have the Roman conquerors follow. She gazed up at the expanse of Hadrian’s wall in the early morning darkness, her keen eyes picking up the soft lights of a Roman fort burning in the distance. She decided to leave the corpse there for a patrol to find in the morning.

“Let it serve as a notice that this daughter of Gaul has not yet been conquered.”

She nudged the corpse so it flopped over on to its back. She turned away and saw the wolf. It was large even for a wolf; its head was more broad and its snout not nearly as narrow as that of other wolves, but it was a wolf nonetheless. It’s eyes glowed softly with the distant firelight. She smiled and bowed, gesturing toward the corpse. “A present for you, fellow child of the night.”

Then she walked away past the wolf and away from the Roman blight that had infested her new home. Perhaps she could find refuge in the north, unmolested by the encroachment of Roman “civilization.”

She headed northwest toward the coast. It was June and the evenings were cool but mild. She spent her days resting in the rocky soil or nestled in dust and bones older than herself inside stone cairns that occasionally dotted the windswept countryside. Only a few nights passed before she began to note the tang of salt in the air and at times she would hear the distant sigh of the sea. It reminded her of blood; it reminded her it was time to feed.

She hadn’t encountered anyone since leaving the Roman wall; since Galgacus’ defeat many people had fled and settled in the highlands to the north and along the coasts. She stopped and scented the night breezes. She smelled only the ocean air, but in the distance she heard the cry of a wolf, its wail soon joined by others even more distant. She knew her night brothers’ calls. They were not merely baying at the full moon; there was game about. She preferred the blood of humans, but that of animals would certainly do. She began to run as she heard the howls again, this time closer to one another.

She came upon the pack in a moon-lit clearing, the animals hovering over the fresh kill of an old and lame cow. She walked into the wolves’ midst with a regal air, her hands on her hips. The wolves looked up and backed away, whining in deference, instinctively recoiling from her scent — all but one, who stood over the fresh kill, growling softly, ears laid back.

She fixed him with a cold stare. He was larger than his brothers. It was the wolf she had met at Hadrian’s Wall.

“Impudent whelp! Back off,” she snarled. The wolf snarled back and settled slightly on its haunches, as if preparing to spring.

Dervhla sprang first.

With preternatural speed she pounced toward the wolf, intending to tackle it and snap its neck. But for the first time in 500 years she had encountered a being as fast as she. The wolf ducked underneath her attack and then sprang after her with equal quickness. She rolled on the ground, trying to twist her body so her shoulder would take the brunt of the blow. She wasn’t quick enough. The wolf was on her, with it’s fangs buried in her neck.

She threw her legs up in the air on either side of the wolf’s pelvis and brought them together like a vise. She felt organs crush and heard bones snap. With a grunt and a puff of putrid breath the wolf released her neck. She promptly grasped it’s head in her hands and began to twist. Despite its wounds the wolf still struggled, fangs barred and glistening with her blood. Just when she felt her strength began to fail, there was another loud crack of bone and the wolf’s body went limp on top of her. She didn’t hesitate to sink her own fangs into its neck and drink hungrily. She expected the rather blunt, dull taste of animal blood. But this blood was rich and vibrant. Almost as if it were human. But not quite. Perhaps her mind was playing tricks on her. It had been so long since she had fed.

The rest of the pack continued to watch her impassively. After a minute or two she tossed the wolf corpse aside and sat up while rubbing her neck, the puncture wounds already beginning to heal. Slowly, she got to her feet, eyeing the dead wolf. “What manner of beast are you,” she thought, “strong and with quickness to match my own.” All around her, the wolves began to howl in unison as if to greet their new master. She smiled and bowed, gesturing to the cow as she backed away.

“I leave you to your repast, brothers.”

She sought refuge from the coming dawn in the ruins of an old stone fort that stood at the head of a firth, it’s back to the cliffs that were being pounded by sea surf as they had been for thousands of years. As she gazed down from its crumbling parapets, she saw there was a narrow trail, hardly more than boulder-strewn crevice, making its way down the cliffs dappled with moonlight to a narrow strip of beach. Perhaps there had been a village here once, the women folk farming while the men put out to sea to fish. But it was desolate and unoccupied now; it was a perfect home for her.

She stood there for a long time just listening to the sea and watching the moon slowly slip below the horizon.When she first noticed the faint spread of light in the east, she climbed back down into the cool, dark base of an old tower to find a comfortable place for her day’s sleep.

She was awakened by a voice outside the ruins. Even in the shallow crevice where she had sought rest, covered with soil and hewn rocks, she knew it was only a few hours past sunrise. She could understand little of what the voice said; some of the words were of her native tongue, some sounded familiar yet distorted. Others were plainly foreign. The voice sounded angry; something about the death of a son. Could someone from the Roman garrison along the wall have followed her here?

The voice was coming closer now; it was inside the ruins. It said something about her scent. It was a woman’s voice. Then the owner of the voice began flinging away the rocks that covered here. Dervhla’s only hope while it was daylight was to kill the invader inside the ruins.

She burst forth from her bed, spraying earth and rock everywhere and sending her would-be assailant flying across the floor of the tower. The invader smacked into the far wall with a loud thud, sending puffs of mortar dust and a shower of loose stone to the floor.

Dervhla’s attacker slumped to the ground but was down for only a second. The woman sprang into a crouching position, ready to fight.

Dervhla stared at her, amazed. The force with which the woman hit the wall should have killed even the toughest mortal, and she could tell by her smell that she was not one her kind. Once again Dervhla knew a tingling of fear..

“What are you,” Dervhla asked, baring her fangs.

The woman’s eyes grew wide for a moment, then narrowed. She spoke quickly and angrily as she slowly stood up, maintaining the tension in her body. Dervhla caught her name, Veretissa, and the words “killed” and “son.”

She was dressed in a combination of skins and rough, bright colored wool common among the native tribes. She wore a chain of silver and where her skin was bare Dervhla could see intricate designs set into the flesh. The sight of tattooed skin set off something in the back of Dervhla’s ancient mind, but she thrust the questioning thought aside. “Whatever you are,” Dervhla said in Latin, “if your son was a Roman bastard, I’m glad he is dead. If it was by my hand, so much the better.”

The woman’s face contorted into an angry snarl. She advanced on Dervhla slowly as she replied in Latin as well. “Urfeth, my son, was no Roman soldier, but you are surely some Roman witch sent to harry us further. I will not be confused by your deceitful treachery. Is it not enough you defeated Galgacus’ army, chasing us into the hills, killing the wounded and enslaving the captured? Is it not enough that your sorties and patrols continue to harass us to this day? Is it not enough that you killed my son?” And with that Veretissa leapt at Dervhla.

Dervhla tried to duck and roll out of the woman’s way, but she misjudged her speed. Even as Veretissa leapt past her, she reached and grabbed Dervhla’s arm. Both of them went crashing into the near wall. The force of both their bodies was too much for the old bricks and crumbling mortar; the wall collapsed and sent them spilling out into the morning sunlight.

Dervhla stood up and with a scream that echoed throughout the hills as she threw up her arms to ward the sunlight from her face. Even as she did, she waited for the flames to immolate her. None came.

In shock, she slowly lowered her arms as she switched her gaze from her hands to the world around her. For the first time in centuries she stood bathed in warm sunlight. “By the Gods, what deviltry is this? I’m not dead … I walk in the sun!”

Veretissa gazed at her with deadly malice in her eyes from the ground where she lay. She had been stunned for a moment. Dervhla should have used that moment to kill her, but she did not. “Fool,” Veretissa thought to herself.

“You may not be dead, you evil bitch,” Veretissa shouted, “but I will soon fix that!”

Dervhla whirled to face her enemy with fangs bared. Whatever strangeness was afoot, she had nothing to fear now. “We will see who –“

Dervhla stopped. It suddenly dawned on her what the woman’s tattoo meant. “You are Cruithni! One of the Painted People,” Dervhla shouted. “I swear to you, I didn’t kill this Urfeth. I, too have fought against and flee from the Roman tyranny — “

But the woman wasn’t listening. She was changing. Veretissa’s flesh crawled, rippled and ripped, flowing over her like molten lava. Her clothing fell to the ground. And then standing in front of Dervhla on hind legs was a somewhat larger version of the wolf Dervhla had battled the night before.

She took a step backward, dread and uncertainty, both as unfamiliar to her as they were unwelcome, settling over her. “This is indeed deviltry,” she murmured. “Lycanthropy. Who is the witch now?”

She stood up on the balls of her feet, ready this time to meet the advance. She determined she would not surrender to this beast without a fight, even as she wondered if, after centuries, she had found her match, if not her superior.

Before she could find out, a booming voice came from the the edge of the tower’s clearing. The pronunciation was strange, but she recognized the word “stop.”

Before the two combatants stood a young man similar in appearance and dress to Veretissa. It was Urfeth, the one who had battled Dervhla in the guise of a wolf. Both women turned to stare at the young man, Veretissa slowly metamorphosizing back into her human form. Dervhla glanced from mother to son in confusion. Veretissa stood still, naked, eyes wide with shock.

“It is impossible” Veretissa said softly, still speaking in Latin. “I buried you myself this morning. And yet you walk. You live!”

The adolescent boy smiled warmly, revealing his new incisors. “Yes mother, I live,” he said. “I awoke in the grave you dug for me, very much alive. The others, they fled from me when I came back to the village, even our brothers. All except for father. He told me you had set out to avenge me with the death of my killer.”

“How is this possible,” Veretissa said, walking over to her son. “I saw your mortal wounds. We live long but not forever. Those wounds could kill even the likes of us.”

“I don’t know, mother,” he said, embracing her. They held each other close for a moment, and then she stepped back. Both turned to look at Dervhla.

“I was hoping she could tell me. She is the one who killed me.”

Dervhla was looking at the two men, but she had a far away look in her eyes. She was remembering the myths her teacher, the ancient Athenian who created her, used to tell her so many years ago. The truth of the matter was slowly dawning.

“You two are lycanthropists. Shapeshifters,” she said quietly.

“Yes,” Veretissa said as she walked over to her, gazing at her as if for the first time. “And what manner of witch are you?”

“I am not a witch, thank you. I am what some would call a succubus. Or a Lamia. I do not eat food or drink wine or water — only blood. My kind can live for ages. I challenged your son for his supper and killed him when he was in the shape of a wolf. Animals are not affected like humans do when they drink our blood. But your son was not an animal. And now not only is he a shapeshifter, but he is a Lamia as well. I have inadvertently given him the gift of eternal life.”

“And you are now one of us,” said Urfeth, walking forward to stand by his mother.

Dervhla smiled and looked about. “And I can walk in the sunlight for the first time in centuries.” She turned her gaze back to Urfeth and Veretissa.

“Tell me, how do you change shape? How do I become a wolf?”

“I’m not sure you can,” Veretissa said. “Children our race sires by birth can change at will, but those we create by attacking but allowing to live change only during the full phase of the moon. If you can change, simply imagine it. Will it. It will happen.”

Dervhla concentrated, picturing a wolf in her mind’s eye and imagining here flesh beginning to change. Suddenly she felt herself shrinking in size. Her legs disappeared from under her and instinctively she began flapping wings. “My wings!” She thought. “I’m flying!” She wheeled through the air, feeling the wind rush over the membranes of her wings. She could not see so much as sense Veretissa, Urfeth and the stone ruins below her. She wheeled through the air, exhilarated by the feeling. She swooped down over Veretissa and her son, wheeled about and came fluttering to a stop in front of them, willing herself back into her human shape.

She looked at the gaping mother and son. She was at a loss for words herself, even as the truth of what had happened to her took hold. A broad smile came over her face, her fangs glistening in the sun.

“I am a creature of the night. So naturally the lycanthropy would affect me differently. I change into a fellow creature of the night: the bat. What a marvelous power!”

Urfeth’s son looked at his mother and then at Dervhla and smiled. “Will I always be able to recover from mortal wounds?”

The vampire smiled back. “Yes, unless your head is separated from your body for more than a brief time, or you suffer such a wound in the chest that your heart is destroyed beyond recognition. Even then, sometimes recovery is possible. Being burnt to ash is the only other way we can be destroyed.”

He looked at his mother, excited. “Mother, do you know what this means? We must take this new gift to our brothers and sisters. And we must bring others into the fold. The legions of Rome will fall before us.”

Veretissa switched her battle hardened eyes between her son and Dervhla. “Don’t be so sure. Rome has spread like a cancer throughout the world. Would you change everyone? But perhaps we can keep them from encroaching on us further.

As for you,” said she said, looking pointedly at Dervhla, “since my son has returned from the grave, I have no quarrel with you.”

Dervhla smiled back and bowed. “Indeed not. I owe you, Cruithi, a debt of gratitude for your son’s wondrous gift of sunlight and flight.

“And as for fighting Romans, trust me, there is no love lost between me and the Empire. I watched the legions spread across Gaul like a plague as my tribe was driven from its home again and again. Perhaps you need allies …”

AUTHOR’S NOTE: OK, some of you may need a history lesson. I refer you to the Druid Princess’ website. Everything you ever wanted to know about Scotland is either there or linked there. She was gracious enough to assist me in finding some sources for Pictish names. Picts were the tribe of people living in Scotland long before their was a Scotland. The Romans called them “Cruithni,” or Painted People, because of their practice of tattooing their skin. A matriarchal society that for centuries had their women fight alongside their men, they were never actually conquered outright by the Romans.

The kindly Princess also suggested the great title; it’s the name of an old Scottish song. For the the thick headed, I will point out the obvious double-entendre, as in Roamin’/Roman. Gloamin refers to twilight in Scotland, and comes from Old English and Old Norse words for moon. Cool, huh?

And I have to give credit to my friend Lori; she planted the germ of the idea for this story after we watched An American Werewolf in Paris. Actually we got into a discussion about who would win in a fight, a werewolf or a vampire? I kind of copped out on that question this time around — I got more interested in what would happen to a vampire if bitten by a werewolf and vice versa. I don’t know where the Romans and the Picts stuff came from. Perhaps my muse is a wee lass from the land of the best liquor in the world, Laphroig single malt Scotch.

P.S. Yes, geography scholars, I know the castle in the picture is on a rocky peninsula, and not a firth. I couldn’t find a picture of ruins on a firth, and anyway, I think you get the idea.