Once there was a boy whose mother was killed by wolves. But the babe they took back to their den with them. Perhaps they meant to eat him at first, for he made such a terrible noise.
But when the lead bitch saw the tiny boy, she offered him her nipple to suckle on, for she had only the day before lost her own son. And while this boy was hairless and moved like a worm, still he was better than nothing. He was warm to snug up against and he eased the ache of her full nipples. And his face was expressive, for when he cried, he was as sad as any creature she had ever seen, but when he suckled from her, he was perfectly still and content. And when she played with him, he laughed as loud as the birds in the sky.
She became quite fond of him, though his teeth were weak and he could not run on all four limbs like the other wolves. In time, she began to think of him as her own son in truth. She forgot that he had been brought to her as an infant, the dead child of a woman they had killed and devoured. She thought of him as a wolf, as a wolf with certain abilities and certain disabilities.
He could sing and dance as the wolves could not. He could learn to imitate the other animals of the forest, so that he could call to them, and it was much easier to hunt with him than without. He taught himself to run as the wolves did, on all four limbs, and though he had a lopsided character to his running, it was nearly as quick as the wolves, and he could think in a way that the wolves could not.
He planned ahead when the winter was coming, teaching the wolves to bring in warm pine needles to line their den, and showing them how to use the skins that were no good for eating to warm themselves. The other wolves did not need such skins for their protection during the winter as he did, but still, it was pleasant to have more warmth than necessary. And the lead bitch was proud of her son for his ingenious thoughts.
But the day came that hunters came through the forest and the boy was discovered with the wolves. The hunters killed two of his packmates, then brought the boy down with them, and carried him back to the human dens beyond the forest. The bitch wolf who had been the boy’s mother said farewell to him in her heart and did not think to see him again. If he were not dead, it was as if he were dead to her, and she did not think more on it.
Until the boy returned. This time he was clothed as a human was clothed, and he strode on two feet as he had first learned, before the wolves had taught him better. He smelled as a human smelled, yet he spoke in the language of the wolves.
The bitch wolf ran from him, but he ran faster and farther. When he caught her, she trembled in his arms.
‘Mother,’ he called her.
And he brought her home to his new human den, to honor her.
But she was uncomfortable there. She could not bear the smell of the smoke, or the taste of cooked flesh. She hated the way that he looked, in his human clothes. And the soft touch of the furs under her feet here seemed wrong, for there was no contrast of hard ground underneath. She whined and whined at him until he let her go.
He mourned her loss, and taught his own son to speak the language of the wolves as he had learned it. They went often to the forest and called to the wolves, and though the boy’s mother was long dead, still the wolves knew him and did not fear him. They spoke to him freely, and his son learned in his turn the way to speak with wolves. And with other animals.
Many years later, the man came to the end of his life. He knew he was dying and he asked his son to take him into the forest, and to call the wolves for him, so that they might devour him, as wolves do humans, and in that way, he thought, he could be with his wolf family forever more.
The son did as his father commanded, but the wolves would not tear into the flesh of this human. He was both part of them and apart from them. Instead they tugged at him, and bit at him until blood ran down his face and chest and he cried out in anguish. The son begged for his father’s release, and suddenly the son watched as his father was transformed before his eyes.
First one arm, as it was held in the mouth of a wolf who had once been his brother, and as the blood dripped between them, he was able to hold to the shape. Then another arm, and his legs, each. At last, his head, as it was taken inside the mouth of a brother wolf, became a wolf’s head.
The boy who had been raised as a wolf had at last become what he had seen in himself from the beginning. He howled his pleasure to the moon. And his son went away, thinking that he could do worse when he died than to become a wolf and run with them until there was no more magic in his veins.
And so it went, from generation to generation, men becoming wolves, and other creatures, as they wished.
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