31/10/2015 by paulinebsc
The night of the full moon was the best time to hunt. The light from the moon helped the two men to spot prey. William was the best archer for miles around and his thirteen year old son, John, was learning fast. The father kept their larder full with fresh meat, and supplied many other villagers too; at least those who weren’t inclined to frown on a bit of poaching. Leeches were failing to cure the soreness in William’s leg, so he paused, sitting on a root in the blackest part of the forest and letting John get ahead. This portion of the forest was notorious for people getting lost William assumed many of them ended up in the smelly bog of stagnant water which lay to the right of the road. William always kept to the left. He heard John’s voice talking to somebody and hurried anxiously to join him. The full moon lit up a clearing and William could see three men talking to his son. While William was still approaching the group he saw the men change. They all turned into wolves, but wolves which stood upright. Caught in shock, and without his bow, William was helpless as he saw them bite into John’s neck. William shouted, and ran towards them. The wolves dropped the boy’s body and dropped to all fours, running from William’s anger.
Hastily William ran to his son. The bite on his neck looked red and swollen, but when William fearfully put his hand on John’s chest he was relieved to feel his heart still beating. The pain in his leg forgotten William lifted his son and ran back to his house. His wife had died giving birth to John’s stillborn sister, so John was all the family he had. By the time night fell the bite looked less angry and John was less pale. William kept quiet about seeing the men turn into wolves. People of the fifteen century may be less superstitious than the people before them, but he was still worried about how people would treat him if they found about that. He even managed to convince himself that he had imagined the whole thing.
Before the week was out John rejoined his father on the hunt. His hunting skills improved enormously after the wolf attack; he seemed to be able to hear their prey and occasionally William thought he sniffed the air before loosing an arrow, as if he could smell the animals, even from a distance. The next full moon was cloudy and dark but William reluctantly agreed to John’s request that they keep hunting. His son didn’t seem himself. The boy somehow seemed more grown up that night, fiercer, less controlled. He watched John take down two hares in rapid succession and bring them back. As William took them he knew that what he had seen a month before had been nothing to do with his imagination. With horror he watched John’s face change, his nose and mouth becoming a muzzle, his legs and arms changing into hairy paws. John tore at his tunic and showed his hairy wolf-like body. He tore the hares away from his father and ate them whole, fur and all before bounding into the woods, presumably after more. William heard several howls from the bushes around him. For several hours William dithered, undecided whether to go home and hide under the bed, head into the forest after the wolves or stay here and hope John would return when the moon left the sky. He decided on the latter, although as the night shadows crept around the trees he had many doubts. Several times he climbed to his feet, ready to run for home but decided it may alert the pack to his presence and sat down again.
The trees were singing as birds declared their wakefulness. William held very still as one of the wolves walked into the clearing, its muzzle covered in blood from a recent kill. It yawned wide and curled up next to William who was afraid to move. Seconds later John was there at his feet, naked and yawning.
‘I had the strangest dream.’ He muttered as William helped into his clothes. William kept quiet. John obviously did not know what had happened so there seemed no point in worrying him. Privately William vowed to find something to help him.
Unwilling to talk to anyone in the village about his problem, William packed his bags and headed for the nearest centre of learning, Cambridge, telling everybody, including John, that he was going on pilgrimage. He found a hostel in the city and soon started to look for help. It was difficult to get access to the university, but luckily William met Salismus in a local tavern. The Latin-sounding name and the long forked beard made William certain that Salismus was a skilled doctor.
‘A wolf you say?’ Salismus appeared to believe William. ‘Mm, I’ll have to do some research, give me more details about what happened.’
After subtly persuading William to supply him with several pints of the landlord’s best ale, Salismus promised to meet William again the next day.
‘Would it be easier if I came to your dwelling, rather than meet in this inn?’ William wondered.
‘No, no. I don’t like people in my library, it upsets the salamander and the phoenix that live with me. Much better to meet here.’
Salismus slapped William on the back heartily, and the two parted.
Next night Salismus appeared as soon as William entered the tavern, almost as if he had been waiting for William to appear.
‘I think I’ve got the answer.’ Salismus told William as they settled down with ale. ‘It’s known as “Lupusiosis” or “wolf disease.” What he’s become is called a werewolf.’
‘Can it be cured?’
‘It won’t be easy. You’ll need the decayed bodies of seven wolves, four cloves of garlic three wild mushrooms and a slingog’s egg. Mix them up together and rub it into your son’s skin on the night of Halloween. That’ll cure him.’
William looked at him. ‘I can get most of that, but I don’t know what a slingog is. Is it some sort of bird? Where can I find one?’
‘Well they’re rare. There aren’t many left in England. I don’t know what we can do about that.’
He took a long swallow of his drink, unobtrusively watching his companion sink into despair. Salismus put his hand behind him, signalling to another man out of William’s sight.
Dogger slid into place at the table, greeting Salismus warmly.
‘Fancy seeing you in here, Salismus.’ He sat down and sighed theatrically.
‘What’s the matter? Business not going well?’
‘No, Salismus it’s not. I’m having to give the business up. With recent doubts about witchcraft I need to get rid of everything. Most of the herbs have gone. I still have to get rid of some frogs eyes, a lot of dragon’s feathers, two bezoar stones, a slingog’s egg and a goblin’s tooth.’
‘A slingog’s egg! What a coincidence, we were just talking about that. I told you how rare they are, and here’s somebody willing to sell you one.’
‘How much?’ William asked.
Dogger told him, and William gulped. It was very close to all he had left.
‘I’ll tell you what,’ Dogger added. ‘Come and see me here tomorrow and we can discuss it.’
William left, before Salismus decided he needed another round of drinks which he would not be able to afford if he bought the slingog’s egg.
Dogger and Salismus (better known to his friends as Tiny) did the mediaeval equivalent of a high five.
‘Nice work, Tiny. I should be able to get him for every farthing he owns to get the valuable egg.’
‘Fifty-fifty. And don’t you forget it.’
The pair laughed.
Next morning William headed back to Lothbury, happier but much poorer.
THREE MONTHS LATER
The weather was foul, but that suited William. He had been careful to position himself so that the wind blew away from the wolf pack he was tracking, so that they neither smelled him nor heard him. One shot from his crossbow had killed the wolf. This was the seventh wolf he had killed, now he could complete John’s cure. He trudged through a curtain of rain with the heavy corpse across one shoulder pushing his feet deeper into the clingy mud. It was a long journey back to Lothbury laden down like this. As he got close to home he flung a piece of sacking on top of the wolf to disguise what he carried.
Arriving home he opened the heavy trap-door which he had installed before starting this venture to hide any smells. As he opened the door he pulled back – the stink was overwhelming. Luckily the trapdoor was thick enough to disguise the smell. Once he had the body in the barrel he ran up the stairs, making sure he was well away before taking a deep breath of relief.
As soon as John had left the house that evening William braved the smell in the cellar to mix the final ingredients into the mix, finishing up with the precious slingog egg. He stirred the smelly mixture and took it upstairs.
Halloween came with thunder, lightning and flooding. William had no trouble persuading his son that going hunting was not the best thing to do in such weather, and they stayed at home, talking and playing games. As midnight approached William dipped a beaker into the mixture in the cellar.
‘I talked to a world-famous medical man while I was on pilgrimage. He told me to rub this into our skin to protect us against the Halloween ghosts and spirits.’ He held out the beaker.
John drew back, coughing violently as it came close to his nose.
‘You have to be kidding! I am not spending the night smelling like I’ve been with Sally from the slaughterhouse.’
‘Better that than be eaten by a ghoul.’
William vigorously rubbed the potion onto his skin, hoping to convince his son. Then he handed to pot over.
At midnight William heard a howling which sounded close. He moved to check on John only to see a grey furry tail leaving through the window. Looking out he could see a group of a dozen wolves gambling about, heading for the forest. He could see the grey wolf running alongside a smaller ruddy wolf.
Next morning John was back in his bed, with no sign of his nocturnal activities. In spite of all that he had paid for the slingog’s egg, Salismus’ potion had failed. William tried to go over all the steps he had taken, and could find nothing that he had missed from the instructions.
Three days later the rain stopped. Village houses were surrounded by a thick and slimy lake of mud, so William and John were surprised to hear a knock at the door.
It was the bailiff and one of his men.
‘I’ve been having complaints about a smell coming from your house, William.’ He sniffed the air, catching a whiff from the cellar. ‘Now I know why. Jed, search the house!’ he ordered the huge slab of a man who had accompanied him.
It didn’t take them long to find the barrel of putrid wolves in the basement, and William was arrested.
The horror on John’s face at the discovery convinced the bailiff of his innocence but his father was immediately sent for trial.
John continued to live in his father’s house until he married a sweet young maiden from another village (whose wolf was a beautiful russet colour on full moon nights). When he moved out there was a sudden drop in the number of people killed and partially eaten by wolves in the Lothbury area, but nobody connected this to John, and the problem went elsewhere.
This story was inspired by https://www.facebook.com/medievalmedicine/posts/363851320484473.