Hector rolled over in the bed. He wasn’t fully awake yet. Just enough to have a feeling that it it was morning and that it would be a good idea to get up soon. But for now, he stayed put. Enjoyed not having to think or make decisions or act. In moments like this, he never noticed if something hurt or if the weather was bad or even if he had lost a friend or a colleague the day before. The moment needed to be sacred for as long as it could last.
He smiled to himself. But the moment was already fading. What was he …
Something touched his feet.
Hector threw himself to the side, instinctively reaching out for his revolver under the bed. Realising what was going on, he stopped himself mid-movement.
There was a wolf in his bed.
“Wh… You …” stammered Hector.
The wolf sat up and opened his mouth in an enormous, toothy yawn.
“Royer,” Hector finally said. His heart behaved as if he had been running frantically. He could have shot the wolf. It could have gone so terribly wrong. “Royer, you are in my bed.”
The wolf whined softly and cocked his head.
They had rented a room the night before when they arrived in Kleinburg. It had been around midnight, and the innkeeper looked like they had woken him up. But he had not been too sleepy to look surprised. The hunter had been there the alone earlier, and now he had a young man with him. The innkeeper hadn’t asked, though. Perhaps he thought the other man was a hunter as well, but it hardly mattered. They asked for one room because Hector did not want to leave Royer alone. He had offered to sleep on the floor, but Royer said that he preferred to be a wolf when he slept, so he didn’t mind the floor.
“I didn’t … Please be careful,” Hector said. He ran a hand through his hair and swung his legs out of the bed. Behind him, he could hear the wolf moving around. Royer was turning back into his human form.
Hector inspected Royer’s leg. The stitches were holding, and the gash was closing nicely. Hector had been wondering what turning back and forth from human to wolf would do to it, but it did not seem to have caused any complications. In fact, it seemed to be surprisingly easy for Royer to do. It was nothing like werewolves. Normal werewolves. The strangest thing, Hector mused, was that everything seemed so natural. Sometimes Royer was a man, and sometimes he was a wolf with a man’s mind. It was maddening simple. Yet Hector felt quite certain that he was not going mad.
After a quick breakfast, Hector introduced Royer to his horse and made sure that they had time to smell each other. The Friesian nudged Royer gently, and Royer looked startled at first, but then he smiled.
Hector had considered getting one more horse although he really could not afford to buy one without giving away his spurs or his remaining silver bracer. But Royer had never been on a horseback until the day before, and he said that he would prefer to walk. When they were alone on the road, he could turn into a wolf and easily keep up with the horse.
Since they left Niedermark, Hector had counted the days until full moon a couple of times. Royer claimed that he retained his personality even during full moon, but Hector didn’t want to risk it. It was going to be a little too close for comfort, but they would make it to Frankfurt in time.
Royer was riding the first bit of the way until Hector found that they were far enough away from human settlements for him to transform. “I don’t think I have ever been this far away from home before,” he said once they were on the road. His voice had that mixed tone to it again. But it wasn’t strange if he were upset. He had been hunted and imprisoned, and who knew what before that. Hector had asked him some questions the day before and had been given snippets of a story that he would not have believed if he hadn’t seen the wolf man transform before his very eyes. Royer had lived with his own kind, neither human and nor wolf - or perhaps rather both man and wolf. They had kept to themselves because humans would kill them out of fear, though Royer didn’t seem to understand why. It was merely what he had been told. He had been taught to speak German so that he could sometimes visit human villages to trade.
“Did you have a family?” Hector asked.
“Yes …” Royer replied slowly.
“I’m sorry.” Hector could not tell if the hesitation was because Royer did not want to talk about it or due to mistrust of him, but there was no malice in Royer’s voice.
“Thank you.” There was a pause, then Royer regained a slightly more cheerful expression. “You said you had no family. No mate or offspring either?”
Hector shook his head. “No, I never married.”
“Why not?” asked Royer.
Hector adjusted the revolver holster on his hip. “No room for it. I’m a hunter.” He had only had one romantic relationship with ambitions.
When he met Rebekka, Hector had just become officially licensed. He had lived in the hunters’ headquarters since his family had died. They raised him there, and his aunt, Regina Rothenberg, was aiding him and took care of the practical things. She was not trying to replace his mother, just like Stephan didn’t try to replace his father. She had her own family and lived with them at her estate on the edge of Frankfurt. But she cared about him, he had no doubt of that, and he went to her when he needed counsel of the intellectual or financial kind.
Rebekka was one year younger than Hector and lived in Frankfurt. A merchant’s daughter. Hector met her when he was in her father’s store to buy … something. He couldn’t remember anymore. The store had jars of preserved fruit and spices, packages of tobacco and bottles of wine and boxes piled from floor to ceiling. The girl stood behind the counter and smiled at him and wrapped whatever it was that he bought. Her name was Rebekka, she told him. She had a nice smile and pretty brown eyes that widened when she asked if he were a hunter and he said yes. She asked if he had seen a werewolf, then. Hector grinned and said that he had indeed. At the end of the barrel of his rifle.
He met her again only a few days later. If he actually had an errand there or if he found an excuse to see her, he was not sure anymore. But he was fairly certain that the reasons were excuses the third and the fourth time he came to the store. Each time they talked for a while, and the fourth time, they were all alone. Her father was out doing business somewhere. Hector stayed in the store and helped her lift some heavy crates and put them on their shelves. He turned around and found her standing very close to him. So close that he could smell the flowery fragrance of her hair. Her cheeks were pink, and she was looking up at him expectantly.
“Is there anything else I can do to help?” he asked.
“If you want to,” she replied and stepped even closer. She really was pretty. And it had been nice to help her a little.
Hector hoped that he was not seeing an invitation where there was none, but he reached out and held her face in his hands and kissed her.
And that was when the doorbell jingled madly. They jumped backwards. A customer entered and greeted them both by name. Rebekka was blushing and fumbling with her work when she wrapped up the goods for him. Hector leaned back against the counter. The customer gave him a small, acknowledging nod. Hector smiled, nonchalantly he hoped, and enjoyed the moment.
The next time he saw Rebekka, he kissed her again. She wrapped her arms around him and laughed. Hector was rather certain that she wanted more than just to kiss. He tested the theory by running a hand down to caress her breasts. And this time they were not interrupted by a customer, but she pushed him back a little when his hand found its way up her skirt.
“Hector,” she whispered in his ear. Her voice sent little shivers down his spine.
He stopped and looked down at her. “Yes?”
“Do you … want me?”
He nodded. Yes, he did. All that touching had made him very eager. Another man may have courted her longer first, but who knew when he had to leave Frankfurt with Stephan again? Who knew if he would even come back?
Rebekka smiled, but she could not hide her nervousness. “You have to be gentle. Will you promise me that?”
He nodded once more. “I promise.” She had not tried it before, he realised. And she expected him to take charge. It was his duty because he had. He kissed her again and took her hand. “Come on.”
They went to the backroom. If anyone entered the store, they would think that the merchant was out there to get some goods. A blanket was draped over some sacks of wheat. Hector took it and put it on the floor, and they lay down on it. Hector could see the pulse on her neck. “Are you scared?” he asked.
She shook her head. “No. Not of you. Of it.”
Hector let his hand slide up under her skirt once more. He found the edge of her underwear. “It has to feel good,” he said. Stephan had told him that. It was a matter of respect for the woman as well. Otherwise she didn’t want to do it again, and it was unmanly to force another person to do that sort of thing. There were men, Stephan had explained, who boasted about all the women they had taken. Told everybody that they had taken them while they cried or begged for mercy or protested until the moment when there was no turning back. But who was most manly? The one who forced a woman to have sex with him, or the one who seduced her? When Stephan said that, Hector had asked him how the brothels fit in. His master had cleared his throat and explained that it was a matter of trading. He paid for a service, just like if you rented a horse or bought a rifle.
It was not long after that conversation that Hector found himself with a woman for the first time. He had finished a mission with Stephan. They had killed two werewolves, and the people in the nearby town were exuberant. They celebrated the hunters as heroes. It was the first time Hector experienced such a reception. He drank with so many people that night that he was warm and a little lightheaded and very happy. There was a woman a few years older than Hector celebrating with them, and she certainly had tried it before. She dragged him upstairs to the bedroom and loosened her clothes while he was looking at her. Her breasts were round and looked so soft that he had to touch them. Her corsage and her skirt fell to the floor, and Hector could not forget the way she laughed then. It was not mocking. But she realised that he was a novice. Then she helped him out of his clothes and pushed him back on the bed.
But with Rebekka he had the experience. Not great amounts of it, but more than she had. He kissed her and caressed her. It was not quite as easy as he had expected, but it felt right. He held her hand in his, and she was clutching him.
Afterwards he was fairly certain that it had not been as nice for her as it had been for him. But she embraced him and kissed him, so it couldn’t have been that bad.
Louis explained to him later that it hurt girls the first time. It didn’t mean they wouldn’t want to do it again, he had reassured Hector. They were the same age, but Louis always was one step ahead when it came to that sort of thing. But that was all right. Hector was one step ahead of him when it came to fist fighting. And it turned out that Louis was right. Hector was glad that Rebekka wanted to see him again.
It was not long before he was invited to Rebekka’s home for supper and was studied appreciatively by her mother and interrogated by her father. At first the man did not seem happy that a young fellow was courting his daughter, but it helped considerably that he was a hunter and that his surname was Rothenberg. It gave him the stamp of approval as a son in law.
He saw Rebekka regularly for almost a year. Back then it felt like an eternity. He travelled a lot, but when he was home, he was with her. He brought her back to headquarters once in a while, but he preferred to visit her or take her somewhere else where they could be alone.
It was expected that Hector proposed to Rebekka. Her father had told him more or less directly, and it was something that Hector had accepted. He didn’t see other girls, and she did not have other suitors. She was always interested in hearing about Hector’s work and understood what it entailed. Being a hunter was dangerous. She could end up a young widow. When they spoke of it, she kissed him and told him that she would pray for him when he was away.
Perhaps it would have worked out that way if Stephan had not brought Hector on a large-scale mission soon after. Because that was when he changed.