“Don’t look back, and don’t run. You must never run from anything immortal; it attracts their attention.” — Peter S. Beagle

Night had begun to cast its moonless pall on the red aftermath of battle. The anticipated and aspired moment of winning knighthood that I had envisioned would be one of radiant euphoric glory was grim and marred with blood and groans instead. I saw myself mirrored in the varnished armour of my lord king when I was bade kneel for my accolade. I suppressed a shudder at the touch of the sword, weapon that made men kings and kings monsters. The battlefield stretched before me in a terrible vision of red and black as gorging ravens swarmed the carnage in aerial revel. Raven feathers fell like black tears shed for my soul in sardonic mirth.

My eyes were met and transfixed by a pale she-wolf; her face and bared fangs were encrimsoned as she fell on a slain knight. The crimson gore was striking against her ethereally pale pelt. Her impossibly glacial blue soul-delving eyes never left mine. I had felt a kindred lycanthropic rapture when I had stood over my first slain enemy who had nearly sheathed his blade into my king’s chest. The blood had flowed down my face like red tears or tribal warpaint as I screamed a wild battle cry.

She did not recoil from our presence as most of her kind would. Her stare smoldered red in the weaving torchlight as the grim search to identify the slain commenced. The she-wolf raised her head in a ghostly battle cry over her kill, yet it seemed eerily human somehow, as if the banshee bemoaned the souls of the slain. The cries of distant packs drawn by the aroma of carnage answered in chorus. Her cry shivered through my soul.

“I admire her spirit,” the young king smiled.

“I admire that pelt even more,” he continued.

He reached for a bolt to load to his crossbow, yet when he looked up, the haunting magnificent beast had eerily vanished…inconceivably so.

But the terrible ordeal of battle could play its trickery on a man’s mind.

He fancied he’d mount her head at the court amid tapestries ordered to commemorate the battle. That would be a trophy fit for a royal hall.

The battle had nigh been lost that day. The scimitars of the enemy felled our knights inexorably. We faced the prospect of being completely vanquished. Our allies from beyond the distant range of mountains made their belated entrance with the twilight…but they did come. And no warrior could withstand their lances and blades. No sword it seemed could touch them as they tore through the enemy like a maelstrom of steel. I could see their dragon emblazoned banners flowing against the sunset, yet they remained aloof from our euphoria and mourning.
They had taken some pitiable remnant of the enemy alive.

Some of the high-ranking enemy commanders had every expectation of being ransomed.
Impatient ravens swarmed around the bound enemy commander as he writhed at the stake. I could see no master among them curbing their excesses.I turned my face from the grim spectacle of tortures inflicted. Their screams would haunt my nights.

Silhouetted against the vermillion splendour of the twilight, a knight clad in striking dark armour and astride a great black warhorse dismounted. The knights of the dragon banner stood down as the dark malevolent figure strode to the bound figure whose turbaned head slumped down as he shuddered spasmodically. The figure seemed mauled rather than tortured. The black knight leaned in as if to whisper a final gloating mockery and ravens rose as an agonised scream rent the air. A luxuriant cascade of hair spilt like wine from a chalice. A woman? Some trick of the dwindling light, surely, but her eyes seemed to smolder emberously like a beast’s. I knew our king had made a devil’s bargain for that victory. What he had vowed in return I knew not nor wanted to.


“Let’s have a party, there’s a full moon in the sky
It’s the hour of the wolf and I don’t want to die.”

Oingo Boingo, “No One Lives Forever”

Aloof from the hellish spectacle of the battle, the mysterious figure of the Ravenmaster lurched from the shadows of the castle’s towers, as if restless. Shadows were granted form and face. He was shrouded in a dark cowled robe that concealed the gaunt figure and wizened disfigured face. A great black raven of many winters was perched on his shoulder as he hobbled awkwardly on misshapen limbs and a gnarled oaken staff. He muttered cryptically. When he spoke, it was in a croaking gravelly whisper that seemed to usher in the night.

“Alas for the lord and heirs of the keep, I bear fell tidings from the tower’s shadow…lo your downfall comes hither…”

He raised his arms like the skeletal branches of winter trees, as if in the act of necromancy or conjuring. And like a great dark wave, a horde of ravens arose in a dark spiral to the fire-reddened moon.

Sensing imminent carnage, they were silhouetted in dark revel against the pale orb of the moon, like the Ravenmaster’s one sightless eye. His other irisless eye tucked shone beneath his cowl, entranced by a dark vision, shimmering like a lightless ember rekindled. He dangled a knight’s talisman on a claw like fingernail before fastening it to his old raven and releasing it to the skies.

“Make sure our good mistress gets it, will you not?” he chuckled sardonically before whispering like a dark rumour to the night…

“When the murder of crows take flight and cast their shadow long on the walls…only then will Darkness redeem itself in blood and then these walls and banners fall…”

We drew back to our lord’s castle, marching under frayed banners as night fell and I cast my eyes to the myriad of stars dreamily. For where else had man to avert his eyes and lift his mind when stupidity on earth was astronomical?
In the nights leading to the victory banquet the king was hosting for our knights and allies, I was haunted by strange dreams. Yet I was a knight now of an esteemed company and found some solace and pride. Rumours swirled about the anticipated debut of the princess of the mountain court. That eve as tapestries to commemorate the victory were unveiled and toasts rose as the court feasted on venison and boar.

I felt flushed, almost feverish and I sought the chill air of the battlements. The cries of wolves haunted the night, more than I ever heard in eerie choir, as if they were heralding something that only the beasts could sense. I returned to the hall as a carriage drawn by white-plumed horses and escorted by an entourage of knights approached.
The troubadours played raucous ballads called out for by the retainers. Suddenly, the hands stopped at lute and harp mid-song. Yet I could hear music as she made her entrance announced by the herald. The Countess of the Northern realms. She was gowned resplendently in ethereal gossamer and white silk adorned with spangles. The albinism of her features seemed rendered all the more melodious by torchlight that seemed  to sigh in crimson homage at her presence. It seemed midsummer eve’s moonbeams were granted radiant form and face.

Her eyes in their impossibly sapphiric mystique were silence set to nocturne. A cascade of hair caught the light and breath like pale gold as if by an alchemist’s art. A vision of captivating beauty gracing the hall behind enigmatic impossibly blue eyes. Those eyes cast their spell like the vexing, maddening light of the sanguine moon. No witch or warlock would have dared aspire towards that maleficence.

I stood before her as she seemed to glide rather than stride down the stairs. She seemed to usher in the moon-haunted night. I kissed the graceful silk-gloved hand in courtly fashion. The king stepped arrogantly between us, not about to let a lowly novice knight usurp the object of his desire. She looked up at me over his shoulder, the glacial blue of her eyes smoldered crimson in lycanthropic rapture and blood trickled from her lips. She smiled sensually. She leaned in and whispered:

“Just another trophy to an ambitious lord.”

Her voice was venomed honey and lips like a wound reopening. Her voice caressed my heart with a ghostly touch. Her features lost something of their pallor and her façade rejuvenated. The courtiers and knights all ceased their movements, as if they were taxidermied trophies in a huntress’s hall. She gestured to the ballroom floor. Her gaze whispered its soundless intoxicating incantation.

I felt the sensation of flight in the turns of our waltz. It seemed I danced alone, for she could not be seen in the reflections of varnished shields on the wall. The candles merged to coils of fire around us. The rebel angel soul in me felt granted wings in her embrace and dance, and like a castaway swept overboard in a maelstrom, I felt the sensations akin to dark lethean waves draw me down into fathomless darkness…drawn down further by the Endorean bewitchment of her eyes…then uplifted as if to the stars, radiant and immortal as her.

The bloodchant of my heart quickened like ritual drums as a dark rite reached its climax. Her eyes read my dreams, desires, and nightmares like an unsealed diary. She held my arms even as I tried to draw the blade reflexively as dark figures appeared at the thresholds and blades were unsheathed like bared fangs.

Screams were heard amid the clatter of silverware and broken platters.

The crimson-frilled jester raised his head from a secret jest and chuckled like a hyena, his eyes shimmering red and baring serrated fangs.

In the eye of a red storm as carnage swirled kaleidoscopically around us.

I felt her breathless lips on my neck. I closed my eyes in expectant ecstasy.

“Join me, then. Together, we will rule the night.”

The talisman of a silver crucifix entwined with a rose slipped out of my collar.

She recoiled from me, then beckoned to me hungrily. I brandished the crucifix and she seemed struck by a ghostly fist. I pivoted and fled. Taking a horse from the stables, I rode from the causeway, feeling her watching eyes burning into my back. My horse reared, nearly throwing me as the vampire jester hung upside-down from the gateway. Like a carnivorous hybrid of rose he seemed, in his red frills and bared fangs. I drew my sword and its consecrated steel shimmered in his unhallowed presence. I struck him aside and rode explosively into the night. The Countess stood on the battlements and languidly raised her arms like a stage illusionist in the act of conjuring. Bats swept past her in a torrent like an eruption of underworld fire.

Like rapidly shifting maelstrom formations gathering form, the swarm morphed into a horde of knights astride dark horses. I heard their shrill echolocative cries as they sought me in the cauldrenous dreamscape of mist and the cries of wolves like hounds of a dark huntress leading a royal hunt. I fell chest heaving in the shadow-haunted ruins of a remote pilgrim’s shrine. I beheld their shadows circling and pacing, their torches casting crimson splashes that glowed in their eyes. They were held at bay by the consecrated ground. I heard the silvery siren’s song of her voice beckoning and I rose like a somnambulist to answer. Blades were drawn in expectation. The silver talisman held me forcibly back. Writhing from the red visions of nightmare-haunted sleep, I rose with the dawn and I rode as a landless knight to seek service in the courts of distant realms…

Yet my dreams were always haunted by the eyes of wolf and princess and knew somewhere in the night our dance would be finished.