Chapter 5 ♕
“So tell me, do all humans pass out as simply as you, or are you an exception? Because this is the second time in the short time that we have known each other. That must have some kind of record attached to it” said a distant voice.
It took me a while to register the words, but slowly I came to and automatically my mind tried to put together an answer. Unfortunately, my sanity got me no further than an unintelligent moan.
“Thanks for that clarifying answer,” the voice spoke again, amused this time.
I opened my eyes and immediately felt the difference. Where I had woken up with stiff muscles last time, I now felt rested. And my next discovery was even better. Apparently, in my absence, my brain could have gotten used to the baffling fact that I had seen a girl turn into a wolf, because when I saw Bethany sitting at the edge of my bed again, I didn’t want to freak out. Not even a little. Instead, I smiled at her.
She seemed taken aback by that. It was almost as if she had been preparing to calm me down the next time I went berserk. I saw her whole body relax. Her smile widened and her eyes lit up. And to think that I thought she was beautiful before, I heard myself think.
“But to answer your question. Any other human would have done the exact same thing in this situation, so no. I’m no exception,” I said, gathering my hair together and trying to turn it into a decent ponytail. This time she laughed out loud.
I was no longer in the infirmary. Instead, I was in a bed that had enough room for two extra people on either side. “We thought you might feel a little better here. The infirmary is not the most atmospheric room in the castle,” Bethany explained.
I heard every word she said. Castle. Fantastic, another point for the list of things I had questions about. I sighed and decided to just be straight. “Listen Bethany. In all honesty, I have no idea what’s going on here and I don’t like that feeling. So what do you say if you explain everything to me perfectly during the walk to breakfast” I suggested.
And as if he had been waiting for an announcement before taking the stage, my stomach began to growl loudly. Bethany looked at me for a moment before she started moving and motioned for me to get up. “Then what are we waiting for?” she said. She handed me a set of clothes and after a quick shower I got dressed and we left the room together.
The fact that I was already amazed at the sight of just the hallway promised more than enough for the rest of the tour. I admired the high ceilings, the artwork on the wall, and the carpet dampening my footsteps.
Back in the day, during our family vacations, my parents liked to visit old abandoned castles whose rooms were filled with precious antique properties. But as we made our way deeper and deeper into the heart of the castle, I could say with certainty that none of the buildings in the past could beat this one.
Even though Bethany had shown me every room of the palace by now, she had not yet begun to explain everything. And I needed that. Because as much as I enjoyed all the expensive and shiny objects that she proudly displayed to me. I did not fail to notice that anyone passing us either averted their gaze or raised their nose as if they smelled something dirty.
“Why are they doing that?” I asked out of the blue, interrupting Bethany in the middle of her story. She looked at me in surprise, and I gestured over my shoulder at the two chambermaids who, with their heads together, cast sneaky glances at us.
The reason was unclear to me, but suddenly Bethany seemed nervous about something. “Oh,” she said blankly, “there could be several explanations for this”. Then she kept her mouth shut. I looked at her expectantly with raised eyebrows, which meant that she should keep talking. She took a deep, heavy breath, as if I had just asked her to jump from the highest tower in the palace. “Statements such as” I urged her. We walked down the umpteenth hallway, without any destination in mind this time.
My stomach didn’t like the fact that we both seemed to have forgotten that we were originally on our way to breakfast, but that nearly two hours had passed by now.
“Well, for starters you are human,” she said, as if that explained everything. I looked at her strangely. “Sorry about that,” I said scornfully. “No, I didn’t mean it that way. It’s just that we’re not used to seeing humans here. This castle and the ground around it is a safe place where wolves can be themselves. Nobody here is used to your scent. You smell different. That’s probably why they raise their noses”.
“But that doesn’t explain why everyone looks the other way. You’d think they’d all start staring if no one ever sees humans here,” I said.
“Everyone looking the other way is probably my fault. Or rather, my brother’s. Seeing the fact that he’s the king and all, ruler of everything, say” Bethany said, making a meaningless gesture with her hand. I froze where I stood. Bethany stopped a few yards away and looked at me uncertainly from over her shoulder. “Your brother is king. A werewolf king. The same kind of werewolf you turned into yesterday” I asked uncertainly.
Bethany immediately started to laugh and I relaxed for a while. “Of course not, silly. My wolf is nothing compared to my brother’s. Although he cannot really be called a wolf. My brother is different. I think that’s the best description right now,” she said concentrated.
Different. Her brother was different.
Only now did I realize. All morning I had seen emotions on the faces of every passer-by, but had not been able to place them. Only now could I put it into words. It was fear.
My brain was working overtime. If what Bethany said was true, and everyone within these walls had a ability for transforming into a murderous predator, how intimidating had that so-called king must be to make everyone tremble with fear.
This was way above my head.
The fun and the jokes were over. I took Bethany’s arm tightly and looked her straight in the eye. “From the beginning. Tell me everything. Right now,” I said.
Slowly but surely the days passed. My wound had healed completely. Unfortunately it would leave a scar, but that added to the scars I had recieve during my work with fearful animals, he made a nice addition to the collection.
Originally my plan had been to go home that same day, but Bethany had convinced me to stay at least for her birthday. Which was only a few more days away.
That had nothing to do with the fact that they had apparently flew me halfway around the world and something went wrong during the flight, so they had to make an emergency landing and the plane was only able to fly again after her birthday. At least those were her words.
Bethany kept nagging me. Trying to persuade me with begging and unnecessary promises, in the end I had no other option but to accept that I was stuck here and so accepted her invitation with a forced smile.
She turned eighteen. And apparently that’s an important age in the werewolf community. Although no one would tell me why. I couldn’t understand why she wanted me to attend her party, but she assured me it wouldn’t be the same without me.
After my almost nervous breakdown, I forced Bethany to tell me everything. I could no longer stand the uncertainty and the ignorance. She had taken me to the breakfast room, turned everyone away and told me everything as soon as we were alone. It was an awful lot to process. Learning that there were beings among us who could do things that humans could not imagine.
After letting it all sink in, I decided there was no point in moping over every pointless detail, so I decided to just go with the flow. That didn’t mean I didn’t have to suppress at least five near-nervous breakdowns in the following days.
Although I didn’t want to admit it, there was one subject that kept working its way to the forefront of my consciousness. The big brother who was different. Time and time again I expected to bump into him in the hallways, but it never happened.
I started to get nervous, anxious even.
On my fourth day being here, I decided to just play open cards and ask Bethany about it. It was the day before her birthday, and also my last day. That was something I was desperately trying to forget. I had become used to the company, the luxury and especially the food. Bethany had continued to become a dear friend in just a short time, even though we were not alike at all.
We got to know each other better and I even told her a few things about my past. I was not used to opening up to people as I have been dealing with no one but myself for a long time. But it seemed different with Bethany. She tried to open up, although I could see it was as difficult for her as it was for me.
I put down the sketchbook I was scribbling in and looked up. Bethany, sitting at her dresser at the time, brushing her hair, seemed lost in thought.
“Where are you with your head?” I asked curiously. She was startled. “Nowhere,” she said, nearly dropping the brush from her hands. “Beth,” I said meaningfully. Aside from the fact that we had been about inseparable for the past few days, Bethany was also incredibly easy to see through. Every little emotion could be read from her face.
“Why are you acting so weird? Are you really that nervous about your birthday?” I asked gently.
She shook her head slowly. “Yes and no” she began, “it’s not so much the age. It’s more what comes with it”.
“Now you’re losing me,” I said, laughing.
Bethany sighed deeply, which told me this was not a joke. This was serious to her. She turned her whole body towards me.
“You know you can tell me anything, right Beth,” I said.
She nodded with a shy smile. One last deep breath, then Bethany began to speak.
“When wolves turn eighteen we are able to find our mate. Or in human terms, our soulmate. Our other half, a perfect match chosen especially for us by our moon goddess. The mother of all wolves. Our mate must keep us in balance, make us stronger, protect us. A mate for a wolf is like a true love for a human. You only have one,” said Bethany.
From the adoration in her voice, Bethany cared deeply about her faith and the idea of finding her mate.
“That sounds like a dream,” I said with a smile, “at least it explains why you seem so upset. What are the chances that you will meet him tomorrow?”. The curiosity is very clear in my voice.
“It’s not unthinkable. Many wolves meet their mates the year after their eighteenth birthday,” she said happily. Obviously hoping she belonged to that number.
As Bethany stares dreamily ahead, I allow myself to do the same. A true love. That almost sounds like too good to be true. I was in my early twenties, but never before had I harbored any feelings for any boy. Then I have to admit that I never thought about it for very long. I had always gotten enough love from my parents, but when they disappeared, there was no one else. From then on I started to isolate myself from people. I didn’t let anyone in anymore, too scared to ever be left behind again.
I looked out through the tall windows. Meanwhile it had already become dark. Out of nowhere my head suddenly took a surprising turn. I couldn’t resist and the question had already left my mouth before I realized it.
“What about your brother? Has he found his mate yet?” I said.
That question prompted Bethany to emerge from her dreamy state. Her whole face fell and all joy had disappeared instantly. She shook her head. “My brother has no mate. Nobody knows why. He himself is convinced that he does not deserve it, because of everything he has done in the past. That the moon goddess does not experience him as worthy, but I do not believe it” she said.
I let that sink in for a moment before I asked my next question. “Where is he actually, in general I mean? I had expected to bump into him somewhere,” I said, looking absently through the sketches I had made.
I used to draw a lot, but since my study and job I had not had time for that anymore. It felt good to find old passions back.
“My brother isn’t home right now,” Bethany interrupted my thoughts, “that’s been the case for a long time. Something happened two years ago. He immediately left. He had something to handle. I never spoke or saw him again after that”.
“You must miss him terribly,” I said softly.
“I miss a part of him,” said Bethany.
I wasn’t sure what she meant, but it was clear from her face that she was not in the mood for questions.
A yawn escaped me that I quickly tried to hide. I got up, pressed the sketchbook to my chest, and walked over to Bethany. She had never told me what had happened to her parents, but probably no one understood better than me how painful that could be. If she ever wants to say anything about it, I'll be willing to listen to her. I leaned forward and gently kissed the crown of her head.
“You will see that tomorrow will be unforgettable. Go to sleep now,” I said and smiled reassuringly.
“Thank you Maggie,” Bethany said, “I’m glad you’re here”.
“Me too, Beth,” I said and meant it.