Hector had done an outstanding job convincing the other hunters and the board of Peter’s usefulness. It was not the first time that the organisation employed a werewolf, but even so Peter was well aware that it was quite a controversial issue and one of which many did not approve. The doctor had not been present at the first meeting, but he had a fairly good idea of what Hector had said. Wasn’t it the hunters’ sworn duty to help people? Should they really ignore a desperate plea for help? And they needed doctors, did they not? Yes, this one would have to take off a few days every month, but he would be a valuable asset to the medical staff and would provide an excellent opportunity for them to study a werewolf.
After a lengthy interview, the decision had been made, and Peter was officially employed. A cage with thick metal bars was constructed in his room, and he was branded to show that he was affiliated with the organisation in case he should ever find himself in a situation where proof was needed, as they said. He shuddered at the thought of such a situation. They meant if he ever escaped during full moon.
But his first full moon in Frankfurt came and went without incident. At least without any that he was aware of. Peter had very little recollection of those days, but he knew that Hector had been there to feed him and to see how he was doing. He had expected the hunters to be more suspicious of him when he returned from his involuntary days off, but it appeared almost to be a rite of passage that made them more respectful. Perhaps it was because he had changed under their roof and no one had been hurt. Perhaps the majority of them had some compassion with him, after all.
His colleagues in the hospital wing welcomed him back as if he had merely been out of town to visit a patient, and that was that. He and some of the scholars already had plans of using him for experiments. Not in a perilous way of course, but it would be interesting to see how small doses of aconitum, extracts of which could be used against werewolf inflicted injuries, would affect him in the long run. They would study how his diet and the sedatives administered during full moon worked. It was generally believed that meat was not good for werewolves who tried to live amongst people, so Peter quickly decided to become a vegetarian. Not eating meat was the smallest sacrifice that he could imagine.
His first patient after full moon was a hunter around Peter’s and Hector’s age. He introduced himself as Tomas and seemed to be in a good mood despite a deep gash on his shoulder. He had patched up the wound himself, as he put it, but the sutures were clumsy and uneven, and the skin around the injury was red. Peter asked him to sit down on the examination table and carefully removed the thread.
All the hunters that he had treated so far tended to look at his work. It was completely different from what he was used to. Normally, people in his hometown looked away in order not to see what the doctor was doing. He smiled.
“What is so funny?” asked Tomas.
Peter shot him a glance. There was no blame in the question. Only curiosity. The young hunter was studying him inquisitively. He had friendly, blue eyes. He must be in pain, but it didn’t show. “I’m used to people not watching me work,” Peter replied and pulled out the last bit of the thread.
“I’ve seen worse,” Tomas replied. Peter had no doubt that he had. Although the blond hunter was quite handsome, Peter had immediately spotted a number of scars on his torso. “And … Well, you’ve seen my stitches. I could do with learning a bit.”
Peter nodded and put antiseptic solution on a cloth. “It’s hard to stitch oneself.”
“Have you tried it?”
“Yes. This will sting a little,” Peter added and cleaned the gash.
Tomas inhaled sharply and then gritted his teeth. It was quite an understatement that it stung a little. Peter knew that, but it was better than telling the patient that it was very painful so he was tense and scared before the doctor even touched him.
“When?” the hunter asked.
Peter had only known this man for a few minutes, but he already could tell that Tomas’ disposition was different from certain other hunters. Hector didn’t speak unless he had something important to say or felt he had to, but Tomas enjoyed casual conversation. And right now, he was also trying to distract himself from the pain by talking.
“I’m almost done,” Peter said. “Take a few deep breaths. And move your toes.”
“My toes?” repeated Tomas.
“It will help the circulation.” Peter put down the cloth. Now the gash needed sutures. It would take a few more than the hunter had estimated, but then it would heal faster and better.
“You didn’t answer my question.”
“When I was bitten by a werewolf. Before I came here,” Peter said and threaded a thin needle. His hands were pleasingly steady despite the subject.
Tomas did not reply at once. “I have never known a werewolf before,” he finally stated.
“Very few people probably have. Especially here,” Peter said, unable to hide a sigh. He did not like discussing his condition. The technical aspects were fine, but the personal ones he would rather keep to himself. Yet it seemed strange to refuse now that they had saved him and taken him in.
“No … We mostly just exterminate them.” Tomas smiled despite his words. “How … is it?”
“What?” Peter asked. Being a werewolf? Being bitten by one? Living with werewolf hunters when he was one? Stitching himself up when he was a doctor?
“It’s odd for us,” Tomas offered. “We know that werewolves are people, but mostly we just kill them. We don’t have a choice. Not really anyway. We save other people like that. But you …”
“I am grateful that Hector and Anita took me with them, and I am indebted to all of you for offering me sanctuary,” Peter said, a little too formally he realised. He pulled the thread through Tomas’ skin for the last time.
“I don’t doubt that. It’s just strange because you’re so … You’re a normal human being right now. You help people. You help us. Even if we kill other werewolves.”
Peter cut the thread and put his tools down. He studied Tomas for a moment. “I don’t think of werewolves as a race or a kind,” he said. “I think of them as a disease. Some or most of those who are infected cannot be saved, but I was lucky. I was sentenced to death, but the sentence has been annulled or at least postponed because you have the means to allow me to live here.”
Tomas’ cheeks had regained their colour now. In fact they were rather pink. “Yes … Yeah, I understand that,” he stammered. “I wasn’t trying to …”
“I know, and I did not take any offence,” Peter replied. “We’re done now. Come back in a week. I’ll remove the sutures if the injury is healing properly, but if it gets more red or swollen, please do some back. Make certain that you do not get any dirt in it.”
“Yes. Thank you, doctor,” Tomas replied. He gingerly put back on his shirt and jumped off the examination table.
Peter bid him goodbye, washed his hands and sat down at his desk. He kept a journal of who came to him and what treatment he gave them so that the other doctors could stay up to date. Working here was different from working alone in a small town. Here he was part of a large staff. And they certainly needed the extra hands. Once in a while a doctor was called out to another town, and the lead physician was so old that she was bound to retire in a couple of years. Everybody worked hard. It suited Peter fine. He wanted to do his best to help. It was the least he could do.
The man in the corner was suspicious. Hector purposefully ignored him when they entered the inn of yet another small town with a name that Hector was soon going to forget unless there turned out to be trouble or a job in it. He had stayed here on his way south earlier, and it seemed to be a peaceful town, but he quietly told Royer to stay close to him while they waited for the innkeeper to return to the counter. He was talking to another patron at one of the tables now. Not that Royer would leave Hector’s side. Every time they stepped into human settlements, his mood changed and he became more humble and quiet. It was not strange. His experiences with humans were limited, and he had been brought up to hide who he was and have as little to do with humans as he could.
“Yes?” the innkeeper said as he bustled back to them.
“Do you have a vacant room?” Hector asked.
The man smiled at him. “You were here a few days ago, wasn’t you?”
“Yes, I was.” Was the man going to comment that the hunter had brought company this time?
“Just one room?” The man looked from Hector to Royer.
“Yes, please,” Hector replied. “We can share for one night. And now that we are here … Dinner?”
“Of course. Have a seat.”
Hector thanked him, and the two sat down at an empty table.
The suspicious man was still scowling at them. Why? Didn’t he like hunters? There were people who thought that they had too much power or disapproved of their methods. Or was the man wondering about Hector’s companion because he had seen him alone the last time he was in town? No, Hector was almost certain they had not met before.
“What is the matter?” Royer asked.
“Nothing … What makes you think that?” Hector said.
The wolf man cocked his head slightly. “It feels like you are worried,” he muttered.
Hector smiled. It seemed like Royer already knew him quite well. But then, the young man did have the ability to detect his mood. “I’m not worried as such. I’m only making sure that we won’t have any trouble with anyone here.”
They would reach Frankfurt in a few days. There was still a lot that Hector wanted to know about Royer, but the most important thing was that Royer was reliable. That Hector could stand up to the board and Peter and all the other hunters and tell them without a doubt that he trusted Royer.
He also found himself hoping that Royer trusted him. It felt like he did. Hector watched Royer as he began to eat the food that the innkeeper placed on their table. It was not the first time the hunter brought someone home with him from his travels. It was also not the first time that it was someone not quite human. But it certainly would be the first time that it was someone like this.
The man in the corner was still glancing in their direction now and then. It was more than a strange disgruntlement. Hector considered briefly if he ought to avoid the man entirely or confront him.
“Excuse me for a moment,” he then said to Royer. “Stay here.” He stood up and approached the table where the scowling man was nursing a drink.
The man looked up at him with a hesitant expression. “Yes?” He looked ordinary. Was wearing work clothes with dark sweat stains and a smell of soil and wheat.
“Good evening. My name is Hector,” the hunter greeted him and held out his hand. He let his sleeve slide up a little so the silver bracer would brush against the other man. Just to make sure.
“Good evening, hunter. Heinrich Müller,” the man replied and shook his hand. He hesitated, but he did not react to the silver touching him.
“It’s hard to miss that you are looking at us. Is there anything I can do for you?”
The man looked at Royer and then back at Hector. “Where did he come from?”
“My partner? He’s of French descent. But he speaks German well enough,” replied Hector.
“No, I mean … You weren’t with him before.”
“Ah.” So perhaps he had seen Hector alone a few days ago, after all. The hunter had an explanation ready. “No, we are often stationed in different places. I met up with him in a town to the south. We are on our way to Frankfurt together now.”
The man nodded, thoughtfully. His glance was suspicious and challenging when it met Hector’s. “And where is your dog?” he asked.