Once upon a time in Brazene there lived a girl whose parents died when she was on the cusp of womanhood. Gibra was her name, and her tears fell lavishly upon the cloth as she stitched her mourning cape, darkening the scarlet fabric to the colour of clotted blood.
Gibra’s mother had shown no magical ability, and when she wed, she left her family to travel to the south of the kingdom with her husband, a herdsman. They had intended to send Gibra back to her Grandmother when she reached womanhood, to learn the ways of a Brazene witch. So it was that the orphan girl left behind the places and people she had known in her childhood, and set out across the kingdom to the mountains of the north. She took with her nothing but her mother’s three bejewelled bracelets, a basket of dried meats, and the clothes she stood in – including her new red mourning cape.
To reach the northernmost part of the kingdom, Gibra had three choices. She could climb the perilous mountain path, take the longest, safest route to the left of the mountains, or cut days from her journey by venturing to the right of the mountains, through the forest. Her father would have advised her “Do not go into the woods. Take the long road through the heart of the kingdom. A short cut through the fae forest may lead to a short cut through your heart.” Her mother would have warned her “Do not go into the woods. Better a hard walk with an empty belly than an easy one with a belly full of fae arrows. Take the mountain path.” But her parents were dead, and could speak to her no more, and so could offer her neither warnings nor advice.
With the impatient impetuousness of the young and untested, Gibra had no will to travel for weeks when she could make the journey in but a day, and no desire to climb up into the cold mountains when she could walk at her ease in the dappled sunlight under the trees. Truth be told, she was lonesome for family and eager to reach her grandmother as soon as may be, and perhaps too she had little care for her own life, for the pain of her fresh grief was a heavy weight within her stomach. Although she did not know it, it was not only heartache that caused the pain she felt, for as she walked, she was becoming a woman, and her first moon blood came upon her as she stepped into the shadow of the first of the forest trees.
And the smell of her blood sang to the dark creatures of the wood. And the pain in her heart also called out to them enticingly. And one such answered the call.
The forest was full of sounds, which, in the daytime, were pleasant enough. The songs of the birds overhead, the rustle of small harmless beasts moving through the undergrowth. Gibra grew used to these sounds, and did not notice when the rustle of footsteps on the path behind her caused the small beasts to scatter, she did not notice when the birds took flight, their songs replaced by a jaunty whistled tune. She noticed nothing, until the hand fell upon her shoulder.
The man who apologised for startling her looked strange to her eyes. Everything about him seemed over-large. He was tall, of course; his nose was long and pointed, sharp as a blade; and his eyebrows and beard were nearly thick enough to give the impression that his whole head was covered in black fur. His eyes were huge and dark as midnight, but twinkled as if unseen stars were held in their depths, and his wide friendly smile seemed all made of teeth. Taken individually, these features should have been frightening to a young girl, but when put together, the result was a compellingly attractive young man. Gibra was young, and lonely, and foolish. She accepted his apology, as well as his offer of company on the road.
So Gibra kept pace with the stranger, and they talked of this and that, of things of little consequence. He told her the names of the trees they passed, and she told him of her parents and grandmother. He showed her where the early ripe berries grew, and she showed him the bracelets she wore. And thus the time passed pleasantly enough, until they came to the banks of a river that blocked their path. This river fairly teemed with fish. Now, fish are rare in Brazene, and Gibra had eaten them but once, and liked them very well. At the sight of so many, her mouth began to water, and she glanced at her near-empty basket of food.
Her companion said:
“Sweet girl, this river I know well
And it is true, though strange to tell
This prey is trusting, tame and dim
And thinks no harm of those who swim.
You need no spear, no rod, no net.
If you are willing to get wet.
If you’re in water, not on land,
They’ll swim into your waiting hand.”
So Gibra coyly bade him turn his back, and took off her clothes and bracelets, then she jumped into the slow moving water with a splash. All this she did quickly, that he might not turn and see her naked. (Although she felt strangely disappointed that he did not.) And so it was that she did not notice the blood which smeared her legs and undergarments.
She crowed with delight as the fish swarmed around her, through her legs and over her hands, thinking herself able to procure many days worth of food in mere moments. Then her companion turned, his teeth shining white, bared in a grin. He was looking not at her, but at the water. She looked, puzzled, and saw a thin trail of blood lazily swirling in the current of the river.
“Sweet girl, it’s your blood those fish follow
And they will feed, they’ll bite and swallow,
Their prey is trusting, tame and dim
And thinks no harm of those who swim.”
As she began to scream, he moved upstream, and calmly rinsed her undergarments and trousers in the river, rousing yet more fish to feed.
Not long afterwards, a whistling figure wearing a red cape, with the hood pulled up to obscure the face, emerged from the forest into northern Brazene. Three jewelled bracelets jangled merrily upon one wrist, and a basket swung from one hand in time to the tune.
A knock sounded at the door of a house, and a high, girlish voice called out
“Open the door, Gibra is here
Let me in Grandmother dear.”
The grandmother was very old, and nearly blind, but she had not lived so long upon the edge of the forest by being an unwary fool, and so she did not unbolt the door, but called out “I do not see so well these days, but my wits are as sharp as ever. How shall I know it is truly you, granddaughter?”
The reply came: “Who else would wear this cape of red
But one with loved ones lately dead?
Open the door, and have no fear,
Let me in Grandmother dear!”
And the grandmother said “Well, perhaps it is you, and perhaps not. What else can you do to prove it is truly you, granddaughter?”
The reply came: “Your daughter’s bracelets on my arm –
Hear them jingle, fear no harm
Open the door, and see me clear
Let me in Grandmother dear!”
And the grandmother recognized the sound the bracelets made, for she had heard it often and again when her own daughter was young, and doubted no more. She unbolted the door and squinted up with her clouded eyes at the cloaked figure. “How you’ve grown since last I saw you!” she exclaimed “Come in and have some supper. Why, my Gibra, what a big girl I have!” And the Wolf smiled, showing all of his sharp teeth. “Oh thank you, I gave my lunch away, so I am quite famished.” and he followed her into the house, shutting the door behind him.