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Authors: A. G. Hardy

Wolfweir

BOOK: Wolfweir
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Prologue:

 

I, Alphonse Didier-Stein, suffering from congested lungs at the outset of this bone-cracking winter of 18___, have set out today to tell a fantastic and, some will say, crazed story.

 

Of the wolf girl, Lucia, and the King of the Man Wolves, Gar
Fith
, and of a war against a coven of
Vampyres
in which I played a more than minor role.

 

Out of modesty or mere shyness, I choose to recount the bizarre events as an objective narrator, writing "he" rather than "I."

 

Perhaps through this distancing tactic I will not only be able to gain a sweeping eagle's eye view, but will at last be able to put some of my more violent nightmares to rest.

 

May it be so!

 

This story begins on a calm and glorious spring morning in Paris.

 

In those days my father –- excuse me, Alphonse's father -- Professor
Rudolphe
Didier-Stein, a distinguished doctor and researcher, spent his days writing in a book-lined office at his home, a big 5th floor apartment on the corner of the Rue du Cheval and the Avenue
Dupin
in the 8th
Arrondisement
.

 

Besides his career writing for professional journals, Professor Didier-Stein also commuted twice a week to the Paris Asylum for the Mentally Disturbed to consult with the staff on especially perplexing cases.

 

It was calm, happy, well-ordered life

 

The Professor was much sought after in cultured intellectual circles for his perspicacity and wit. His observations and apercus were always delivered with an air of humble, quiet elegance. He was a handsome man, somewhat vain perhaps, promenading every afternoon in the Bois in his green velvet jacket and top hat.

 

His wife
Mireille
was sensual, cheerful, and neat. Their only son was spoiled by his mother’s
tenderness,
and looked up to his father as a demigod.

 

(Our Alphonse was a weak infant but he developed into a strong and agile boy; he took music lessons, and displayed a flair for the viola, penning and performing his own compositions. He also studied fencing at the renowned school of Mr.
Darbeneu
. By the age of fifteen his fearsome attack with the rapier was renowned throughout Paris, though he had of course never fought a real duel.)

 

On the spring day this story of evil, demonic possession, shape-shifting and violent revenge begins, Professor Stein arrived at the Asylum only to be greeted by the most bizarre news. A young girl had been found wandering dazed in the forests north of Paris, naked.

 

This girl spoke French with a heavy Italian accent, saying that her name was Lucia di
Fermonti
, and that she had been abducted by gypsies from her home, a kingdom strangely called Wolf-Weir.

 

This poor vagabond further claimed that gypsies had planned to sacrifice her, a virgin, in a magical ceremony in the forest. But as the full moon rose earlier than the gypsies had predicted, she transformed into a wolf and broken free of the gypsy cage, where she had been held in a barred cell strewn with straw, adjacent to a dancing bear that moaned in his sleep.

 

Lucia di
Fermonti’s
tale
Rudolphe
Stein found weirdly beautiful, much like an old storybook fable -- in fact, hearing it excited him so that the scratching of his fountain pen nib sometimes nearly drowned out the thin voice of the little blonde girl. He knew Italian, of course, and it was in this musical language that he conducted his interview with the damaged sprite.

 

At last he shut his
leatherbound
book with a thump, told the girl that she was extremely remarkable, as well as beautiful – look at those blonde curls, Botticelli-like – and, after apologizing once more for having to lock the door behind him, bowed like the gentleman he was and took his leave.

 

Of course the fine and gentle Professor did not believe a word of it. He was a modern man, a man of this
Enlightened
era, amused by superstitions and gently dismissive of all religious fervor.

 

Clearly hers was a case of delusional hysteria. The saddest and most complete he had ever seen! Incurable, no doubt!

 

The Boy Alphonse

 

How shall I describe the boy Alphonse to you, readers? Well, like all boys, he is a frenzied dreamer. He dreams of his future life, of the adventures he will have and the worlds he will conquer. Voila. Here is a loose page I recently found in the musty depths of an old steamer trunk that has been thrice around the world with these aged bones. Who knows when it was penned? Idealized, no doubt, yet the raw poetry contains a core of truth.

 

He rides horses, the boy named Alphonse Didier Stein, along the beaches of Normandy, in the long summers when the grasses whisper. He rides out from the stables of the grand hotel as the sun brims the horizon spilling red light and he returns in the late afternoon at a slow trot along the glassy tideline, the horse's hoof prints filling up with foam. What does he do all day, along the beaches, in the forests and open fields? He eats orchard-stolen apples, wild grapes, maybe a hunk of bread and cheese he's packed in his saddlebag. Sometimes, Alphonse rides up to a farm to beg a glass of milk. He dismounts under a tree in some stark meadow and lies in his shirtsleeves on the golden grass looking up at the clouds, chewing on a dry grass-blade, his ears alive with birdsong, while his hobbled mount grazes nearby.

 

When a sudden squall drives in from the Channel he takes shelter from the rumbling thunder and lightning and hailstones in some dark pine grove, patting and soothing his horse with whispers. Then, on the glassy beach in the last golden light at low tide, he suddenly whoops like an Indian and slaps the broad-muscled shoulders with the reins and is off at a raging gallop, land and sea jumping, all his heart and mind intent on staying in the saddle as the
mane
whips at his face and the salt wind stings his eyes, packed sand exploding into clumps under his horse's slashing hooves. At these wild, heart-in-mouth moments he is an Apache, Geronimo Jones, just as when he takes out the dinghy he is Pirate Jack Fury, with a talking black cat perched on his shoulder instead of a parrot.

 

The Salle
d'Armes

 

So.
We were describing young Alphonse Didier Stein -- or A.D.S., as the engraved initials on the silver knob of his sword-cane has it.

 

This sword cane is the very antique bequeathed to him by his grandfather, its blade wrought of fine tempered and gleaming Toledo steel -- a cruel blade and a practiced one, for not only was A.D.S's grandfather a noted swordsman and a fatal quantity to his half-dozen dueling opponents, but he, the boy Alphonse, often takes this sword-cane with him to the Bois and lets it taste air and sunlight in some leaf-shadowed grove where he practices cutting up fantasized pirates, brigands, highwaymen,
vampyres
, and the like until shaky-limbed, sweat-drenched, and blurry-eyed.
But happy.

 

The boy Alphonse studies the keen, absorbing science of fencing three afternoons a week at the famous Paris school of M.
Darbeneu
-- a former prodigy of the great one-eyed Viennese fencer Maestro Rudolf Von
Gorith
.

 

Picture now Alphonse in fencing whites, the high silk collar buttoned to his chin, the oval black-meshed face mask shrouding his sharp features, assuming an elegant stance of readiness and saluting his opponent; picture a whirling blur of speed and subtle control, steel foils whipping and clashing and gliding together,
slippered
feet hopping lunging gliding and stamping, and then -- a hit, a palpable hit.
but
you cannot picture it clearly unless your own eyes have beheld a great swordsman at practice in the Salle
d'Armes
.

 

**

 

Our Alphonse is not only a quick intuitive learner but also a genius, native to the sword (says M.
Darbeneu
) as if born with a foil in his right hand.

 

M.
Darbeneu
himself sometimes enters the fray to engage students, trying to work them fully, to bring them up to peak performance. Only Alphonse affords the maestro moments of panic, the buttoned steel
swordtip
whirling around his face mask like St. Elmo's fire and darting at various vital points on his tightly sheathed body like a cloud of enraged hornets. Some days, it is all he can do to keep Alphonse’s sword tip from kissing him; others, drawing upon all of his skills and practice, he still successfully masters, controls, and finally disarms or scores on the upstart boy, an effort of many passes that leaves his heart hammering and his fencing whites dark with sweat.

 

**

 

M.
Darbeneu
claps sharply to end the day's efforts and the fencers, all boys, step back saluting each other with an elegant downward sweep of their weapons, leave the gym-floor to return their glittering foils to the sword rack, then divest themselves of those ant-like helmets and unbutton the choking collars and tear off the epee gloves, and soon they are strolling and jumping and lolling about like actual schoolboys -- all still in a fine sweat, their cheeks flushed red from exertion.

 

Do you see it?

 

Fencing is like dancing, but it is a deadly dance, for your aim is not to amuse and soften and become intimately known to your partner and even loved and admired by him or her, but to force him or her up against the nearest wall and pierce his or her beating heart clean through with a whip-thin length of sharpened steel.

 

**

 

Done fencing, Alphonse puts away the rapier -- buttoned, it is an epee -- into its handsome rosewood sword-case, alongside his Russian cavalry saber. He then tucks the polished, oblong object under his arm and, tipping his hat to this or that classmate, exits onto the Rue des
Pyramides
.

 

It is raining a clean, April rain. He inhales the freshness deeply with quivering nostrils and, turning up his collar, dashes to a cab stand. This evening is his parents' twentieth anniversary of contented matrimony. He is meeting his mother and father for a twilight dinner in a glass-walled restaurant near the Victory fountain, followed by a sedate walk in the leafy Bois.

 

Yet is on this perfect evening, after a lingering supper, as Alphonse and his papa and mama are strolling along the paths of the Bois (
Rudolphe
twirling his elegant cane and doffing his top hat to the smiles of strolling ladies under rain-bright parasols; the small cheerful and neat
Mireille
at his elbow wearing a pretty blue wide-brimmed hat trimmed with lace, and Alphonse bringing up the rear in his nervous little jump-steps holding the polished
swordcase
under a skinny elbow; the smart black hansom cabs drawn by big, tired old clopping draft horses flicked by the whips of smartly liveried coachmen rattling past them into the Paris dusk toward the beaming Eiffel tower --
ah
the Paris dusk and the lit-up and sky-beaming Eiffel Tower!) – I say it is on this carefree, imperturbable, typically lighthearted Paris evening that everything explodes, that everyday life turns a crazed and malicious somersault and the sedate, clean well-lighted world of the young Alphonse Didier Stein wobbles out of orbit and goes dangerously topsy-turvy, if not in fact stark raving mad.

 

For it is while
strolling
the wide, well-illuminated paths of the Bois on this fateful evening that Alphonse and his parents first behold the pale, vicious, elegantly attired LORD AND LADY EDWARD AND EDWARDA BLACKGORE.

 

A Challenge

 

It is dusk, the rain has ended and a three quarter-full moon is soaring over the black leafy treetops. The Eiffel Tower beams an effulgent ray of light into the spring sky.

 

Alphonse, prancing a few steps behind the laughing
Mireille
, careful not to tread on her swishing blue skirts, beholds a tall, pale dandy in a wide black cape lined with crimson silk suddenly swerve -- stepping right into his father's path.

 

BOOK: Wolfweir
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