Denby Hall, September 1801
I don’t usually get the opportunity to say much. It’s not that I’m henpecked, you understand, but—well—my author is female and she lets my beloved, Rossalinde, tell the story. So it’s nice, for once, to be able to speak for myself rather than letting my actions speak for me.
Let’s get the important bit out of the way first. I’m Corwen Deverell and I’m a wolf shapechanger—not a werewolf! I sometimes have to make that very clear to people. I’m not moon-called, which means if you’re with me when I change into my wolf, I’m not going to tear out your throat and crunch your bones. Please don’t get the wrong idea. I can, but I won’t. No, that’s all right, don’t apologise. I didn’t know the difference between a werewolf and a shapechanger at first, either. I was, after all, only nine when I changed the first time.
I’m the youngest son of a respectable family. My father is a gentleman of means with an interest in the cloth trade. No London seasons for us, though my mother prides herself on the fact that we count for something locally, amongst the society of the West Riding of Yorkshire. Our house, once modest, now boasts two new wings, the lower floors added by my grandfather and the upper ones by my father soon after my twin and I came into the world. He said that if he was going to produce children two at a time, that he’d better make sure he could house us all comfortably. My little sister was the survivor of a second pair of twins. Lily was still a babe in arms when I became a wolf.
After that there were no more children. Who wants offspring who might turn and devour them?
My first change was brutal. My bothers, both witnesses, were terrified, however my mother reconciled herself to it once she’d spoken to her sister and found out that shapechanging ran in the family. It had skipped a generation so no one had thought to warn her. My father never accepted my wolf, however. He believed I was changing to taunt him and that I could simply stop being a wolf whenever I wished. To a certain extent I can—now—but as a child, the changes were involuntary. He decided to beat it out of me until one night when I was about fourteen. I’d been out running—there may have been a lamb involved, I’m not proud of that—and I crept into the house via the back door, naked and muddy. Father had been waiting for me all night. He had a cane in his hand that he swished against his boot. He cornered me in the hallway. By that time changing was easy and quick, so I allowed my wolf to let him know that beating me was inappropriate. What can I say? I was at that snarly age. I didn’t bite him, but he suddenly saw the wisdom of leaving me alone.
Let’s skip over a few years. When I was nineteen I left my parents and siblings to their normal life. My mother didn’t want me to leave, but she’d spent a decade trying to protect me from discovery and I thought she deserved a rest. My brother Jonathan, whom I loved dearly, had new-fangled ideas about agriculture and spent a lot of time on our estate. My father’s biggest interest was our woollen mill. He was thinking about getting one of those fancy new steam engines made by Mr. Boulton and Mr. Watt, and it was all he could talk about. My twin brother, Freddie, who hadn’t shown any wolf-tendencies at all, was still at Oxford, and my little sister, Lily, was the apple of our father’s eye. They were a normal—if privileged—happy family—much better off without me. So, after one final row with my father, I found a place for myself with the Lady of the Forest and the Green Man, good people once you get to know them.
I became an agent for the Lady, able to pass between the magical and the mundane worlds easily, fitting into both, gathering intelligence, solving the occasional problem. When not on one of her errands I spent my time in the forest, running as a wolf with the Lady’s retinue.
That’s when I first saw Ross. She was on the run, a pirate’s widow with a price on her head for a murder that she didn’t commit. It’s a long story, and Ross told much of it in Winterwood. The Lady asked me to guide Ross and her two companions out of the forest safely to the Bideford road. Even dressed in man’s array I could see how beautiful she was. I’m always surprised that people don’t immediately spot Ross’ gender. She always looks feminine to me. Ross thought I was simply a trained wolf, of course, but right then I wanted to chase her down and eat her. Hmm, eat may not be quite the right word to use in this context, but it’s all I’m going to say. I was a civilised wolf, just as I’m a civilised man, so I let her go on her way, not without regret.
She didn’t even recognise me the next time we met. There was no reason why she should, of course. I was in human form then. The Lady had seen things coming that neither Ross nor I suspected, but as a precaution she sent me to be Ross’ watch-wolf. Ross didn’t take too kindly to that. It took a while for her to trust me, but when she did, we… Well, actually we didn’t, not right away. There was a small problem. Ross wasn’t disinterested in sex, and by that time she was starting to see my worth. She was a widow, dammit, not a blushing virgin. It was her widowhood that was the problem. Her late husband, William Tremayne, was still hanging around. It’s hard enough to compete with another man for the woman you’ve come to love, but when your competition is a ghost, and the ghost of a much-loved, much-missed lover at that, it’s almost impossible. I mean, how are you ever going to live up to the memories of a perfect man? Yes, I know Will Tremayne wasn’t perfect, but he was Ross’ idea of perfect.
The Lady of the Forests had sent me to do a job, or rather to ensure that Ross did what was needful to free the bonded rowankind, but the nearer we got to knowing what that was, the less I liked it. This thing that Ross had to do could suck the life right out of her. For a while I thought she might refuse to do it. There were issues other than her personal safety, and she wondered for a time whether doing it was the sensible thing to do. I had no doubts that she would do it if she thought it was right. She wasn’t lacking in courage, but part of me hoped that she would decide it was too big a step to take. It could do more harm than good—even cause a social revolution. Part of me hoped that in the weighing up of potential consequences, she would decide against it, but she didn’t, and all I could do was to support her as she risked herself to right a wrong that had been done two hundred years earlier.
You’re still reading this, so you’ve realised that Ross didn’t die, or I’d have been running round the forest howling at the moon by now, mad with grief.
We had a brief chance at a happy-ever-after, but that didn’t last. With the rowankind freed, it seemed that Ross had opened the gate for a lot of other magical creatures to find their way into the world, and the Lady asked us to deal with a kelpie who’d been eating children in Devon.
If that had been all we could probably have gone back to our happy-ever-after, but that wasn’t all. A letter called us back to Yorkshire, to my family home. Yes, I know I said I was never going to go back, but things had changed, though until my sister Lily wrote I didn’t know any of it. My brother Jonathan had died. The number of times I’d been near to death because of some injury—protecting Ross isn’t without its hazards, so it’s lucky that I heal quickly—and yet Jonathan, always healthy and never in trouble for anything, had succumbed to a burst appendix. Our father had suffered an apoplectic fit at Jonathan’s funeral and my twin, Freddie, just when he should have been taking charge of the family, had ducked out and run off to London to enjoy the season with his disreputable friends, rakes all of them.
Anyhow, I won’t go into all that, Ross has told that story in Silverwolf. And yes, despite everything, we found time to wed. I thank providence each day that she loves me in spite of everything. I never thought I’d marry. Finding a wife is difficult enough, but when you need one who won’t run away screaming if her children turn into cubs one day, you can’t just attend the next assembly and court a pretty lass for her looks or her graceful dancing. (And believe me that’s all that’s ever on offer as the proud mamas show off their daughters in the hopes of a good match.) Ross accepts me for what I am. That’s one more reason why I love her. Did I say she was beautiful, and brave, and resourceful? I probably did. So if I’ve started to repeat myself I shall put down the quill, blow out the candle and go to bed. Ross should have warmed it by now and with any luck she won’t be asleep yet.
If you want to catch up with all this from Ross’ point of view the stories are here in the first two books of The Rowankind. As for how the story ends, well, you’ll have to wait for the third book.