The Legend of Alexander Wolfbane
The Legend of Alexander Wolfbane
There was once a man named Alexander Wolfbane, a great warrior. For he was strong and courageous, and he was praised across the land for his acts of bravery. He was tall, intensely muscular, and his hair flowed down onto his shoulders like a golden waterfall. Alexander had pale blue eyes, and a confident grin.
Since he was but a boy, Alexander fought the beasts of this land: bears, goblins, trolls, and of course, wolves; which is how he earned his name “Wolfbane”. Whenever a giant was stealing cattle, or a dragon was eating travellers, people would send for him. This story begins as he travels from the Eastern Sea back to the foot of the Great Mountain. He had received word that miners from the small town of Skruutal had unearthed an ancient tomb, and it was believed to contain much wealth. He strode confidently along the dirt road that he knew led to Skruutal. The noonday sun shone lovingly across the flamboyant life of summer, and Alexander breathed it all in with a smile. He had heard of lands far to the south that were like this all year round, which amazed him. He could not imagine a world without the winters that made even Hel seem appealing. But now, it was early summer, and the world around him flourished. He could smell the little flowers along the road, and the towering spruce trees that grew densely along the Northeastern horizon.
Three days later Alexander knew that he was nearing his destination. His rest in Skruutal had been short, for he had set off in search of the tomb the day after he had arrived. The directions he had been given led to a mine in the low foothills of the Great Mountain, and he could see the miner’s camp that had been described to him now. Alexander approached the few tents that surrounded a central fire pit, and could see a coal miner sitting and poking the smoldering fire with a branch.
“Oh, you’ve come!” The coal miner said as he looked up with a start. “News was run out a week ago, and we were beginnin’ to worry you weren’t coming.”
“I was occupied with other business to the East. Things there are-”
“Hey guys, the hero’s here! And he looks even stronger than they say!” Interrupted the miner, calling over his shoulder. Four more miners crawled out from the canvas tents. “What were you sayin’ … sir?” the miner said awkwardly to Alexander.
“Oh, nevermind.” Alexander said with a wave of his hand. “What is your name?”
“My name’s Grud, sir.”
“Well Grud, show me the way to the crypt.”
“Yessir!” Said Grud, as he leapt to his feet. The man was somewhat scrawny, but Alexander could see his moderate muscles that came from his line of work. Grud reminded him of the peasants that infested all of the villages that Alexander had visited. They walked along a rough trail in silence.
“So how did you come across these ancient ruins? Alexander asked suddenly.
“Well you see sir, we were mining as usual, whacking out the rocks and so forth, when a few rocks seemed harder to whack out. We looked at what it was, and we found bricks! The kind of cut stone you find in a ruin sir, and when we looked in, it sure was. Here’s the mine sir.” Grud said, pointing to a door sized opening held up with wood beams. “I’m sure you can find yer way from here, cause there ain’t much other ways but the one to the crypt. Good luck,” Grud turned and scurried away as if he could smell the death that must inhabit the crypt.
“Off I go,” Alexander said to himself with a grin, and he ventured into the Earth.
The walls stank of fungus and wet limestone, and the echoing drips were Alexander’s constant companion. Strange noises always seem to make themselves heard when you venture under the land, but Alexander still wore a smile like a wolf’s. The hooded lantern that he carried splattered light like wet paint over the walls, and the shadows moved with him. As he saw more and more evidence of man-carved cuts in the walls, he knew that he was nearing where the crypt must be. His leather boot kicked a stone further into darkness, and Alexander cursed the sting of pain he felt. He saw that there was many stones like it on the floor around him. They were the scattered bricks of the crypt wall. Alexander lifted the hood of his lantern a little higher, and saw a hole that looked like a gateway to the underworld. The soles of his boots slapped against the stone floor as he stepped down into the crypt.
“Who goes there?” Alexander called into the gloom as he heard a scrape of metal on stone. The creature that revealed itself was truly nightmarish. Eyes that glowed like blue fire looked at him from a skull-like face. It’s grey flesh was almost as tattered as the rags it wore, and it’s rusty sword looked vicious in the light of Alexander’s lantern.
“Hruushhhkth,” the thing called towards him in a garbled rendition of the ancient tongue, for it was a draugr!
Although Alexander had met them before, this one still made his skin crawl and his heart beat in doubletime. He set his lantern down slowly, and drew his shortsword for the fight. His blade flashed like a bolt of lightning, and the draugr screamed at the sight of it. His axe and shield were still stowed on his back, so he fought only with the shortsword he had readied. The monster lunged towards him, and he raised his sword from instinct. Alexander’s parry left the creature off balance, and his diagonal stroke took off the clawed hand that had reached for him. Black blood oozed from the draugr’s left side as it swung at him enraged. Alexander knocked the blows to either side, then sidestepped the charge. His sword found its mark in the center of the draugr’s back. Alexander kicked it to the ground, and heard stumbling along the halls of the crypt. Slowly more of the things were revealed by the lantern.
Alexander fought his way through the halls of the crypt, all the while looking for the places in which lay ancient valuables. He picked up the things he deemed useful for his raid: potions, and bandaging supplies (that were not already rotting). Alexander stalked around the corners, always at the ready. He now wore his chainmail shirt, and carried his war axe in one hand, and his roundshield in the other.
The halls of the crypt were now heading deeper, and Alexander thought he could smell brimstone, as if he was entering the underworld. The light from his lantern that now swayed on his belt seemed to reveal monsters that were too ghastly to imagine, but Alexander strode on. He saw that the hall he was following opened up into a larger room of some kind. Since he only heard his own footsteps, Alexander tucked his axe into his belt and took up his lantern to better see into the room. Seats cut from stone rimmed the walls, and against the center of the far wall rose a throne. On this throne sat the decrepit body of a wolf-headed giant, but it did not seem animated. Alexander saw that on it’s right hand this corpse wore a shining ring. It looked out of place in this world of rust and grime, for it was beautiful; as if newly polished. Alexander found his eyes drawn to it, as if by some arcane force. He found himself across the room without knowing how he got there, and was reaching for the ring.
Voices in his head began to speak, saying: “This ring is not for you. It is too great a power for you. It will consume you.” But Alexander ignored these warnings.
As he took the ring he said aloud, “No power is too great for me! I shall overcome any curse!” When Alexander held the ring between his fingers, he heard a deep and hoarse growl from somewhere.
“That ring does not belong to you,” the growl said, and with effort he pulled his eyes away from the ring to see the body of the wolf-headed giant begin to stir. It rose to its feet, and its eyes were now burning with the same fire as the draugr’s.
“It does now!” Alexander shouted, and shoved the ring onto his right-hand. “You cannot stop me, fiend!”
“Then perish!” The beast roared, and raised a glaive that had rested across its lap. Alexander drew his axe with a practiced ease, and faced his foe with his shield raised. The monster struck first, and it’s wide stroke glanced off Alexander’s shield.
“Not too practiced after your century long nap I see!” Alexander cried, and swung his axe in a low arc, cutting across the wolf-man’s torso. The beast howled with rage, and knocked Alexander off his feet with a blow of its clawed hand. Slamming against the wall, Alexander remarked at the lack of injuries he was sustaining. And on top of that he could fight without struggle, even though he had been doing so for many hours. Alexander leapt to a ready stance, and began to slash furiously with his war axe. He could easily parry the creature’s strikes with a flick of his shield, and continued to hack away at the beast’s limbs. Alexander felt like he could be asleep and still vanquish this foe, and yet he relished every moment of it. The final blow was dealt after only a few minutes, and Alexander dealt it with a finesse he should not have managed after so much exertion. He quickly checked the room for treasure, then turned to find his way out.
The sunlight fell on Alexander like a warm blanket after a night in the cold. The new day was glorious, and as birds sang he smiled. Sitting on a mossy log Alexander rested before the short hike back to the miner’s camp. Surprisingly, he did not feel tired from his long trek through the crypt, so he headed off soon after. The short evergreens were swaying gently in the breeze, and Alexander felt like running. He ran back into the circle of tents at a gallop. Two of the miners that were cleaning some cookware stood as they heard his arrival, looking a tad worried to hear running feet.
“Who’s that?” yelled a familiar voice.
“Grud, my friend!” Alexander called. “I come clad in success! The crypt held great treasures, and no monster that stalked those halls was too much for me!”
“That’s plenty good to hear sir,” Grud said as he and his fellow miner seated themselves again. “We just finished breakfast, but I’m sure I could scrounge up a bit more.”
“Not at all needed!” Alexander replied. “I feel like starting my journey at once, for I am in a wonderful mood! Would you like to come along, and split a bit of the best loot?”
Grud looked very pleased by this proposition. “I’d be jolly glad to sir! I could help you carry the things of course,” he replied.
“My thoughts exactly!” Alexander beamed. “Pack your things, and off we go!”
“All right then sir,” Grud smiled back.
The fine weather prevailed as the travellers began their journey, and Grud had some trouble keeping up with the prancing warrior.
“Sir, would you be alright with a little bit a rest? I’m a tad winded,” Grud called.
“Of course not Grud, the day is fresh, and so am I!” Alexander replied. “I feel as if I could run a mile with you on my back! Now that I think of it, would you care to give that a try?”
“I wouldn’t want to burden you sir,” Grud said cautiously.
“Why of course not!” The warrior cried, and lifted Grud off the ground. Grud was not a small man, and yet Alexander carried him like an infant in his arms.
“Have you put on some muscle?” Grud said in surprise.
“I don’t feel any different,” Alexander said dismissively.
They continued like this until it grew dark, all the while at a sprint. Grud was amazed at Alexander’s newfound stamina, but he also felt an unsettling feeling creeping around the back of his mind. They passed an old fire pit, and Alexander came to a stop.
“I better get a meal goin’! After all that you must be tired sir! Grud said.
“I feel better than ever, my friend! But a little food would definitely do me good.” Grud unpacked the single pot along with the other supplies he had brought.
“If you could get a fire goin’ it’d be good,” Grud said as he sliced an only slightly old carrot.
“Gladly,” Alexander replied, and showered sparks over the kindling he had just prepared with a single stroke on his flint.
“It usually takes me a few whacks,” Grud said in amazement. He turned back to his own preparations, and then threw the various ingredients into the now bubbling water that Alexander had set on the fire.
“That was a delicious meal,” Alexander said as he scraped the last few drops from his bowl. Grud sat in stunned silence, for Alexander had eaten more than any man he had seen! They even had to prepare more to conquer the warrior's appetite. As Grud cleaned the few utensils they had used, Alexander unrolled Grud’s bedroll for the night.
“Why don’t you unroll yers too?” Grud asked.
“I’m taking first watch, and besides, I would like to sleep on the grass tonight.”
“Suit yerself,” Grud muttered as he fell asleep.
The night passed uneventfully. Grud was startled when he woke to see yellow eyes staring at him.
“Ah!” He yelled. “Oh it’s you sir! I didn’t recognize yer eyes for a bit there.”
“Really?” Alexander asked. “What’s different about them?”
“I hadn’t noticed they were yellow before. That’s all.”
“My eyes aren’t yellow,” Alexander responded, confused.
“Aw nevermind. I’m sure it’s just a trick of the light.” Grud said. He took his watch till sunrise, and then began to prepare breakfast. When Alexander woke, Grud sent him to fetch water, and when he returned Grud made a bowl of porridge for them both. By the time Grud had finished eating, Alexander had packed up all the supplies.
“High time we started moving again,” Alexander told him. “I’d like to make it back today.”
“Alrighty then. But this time I think I can walk by myself,” Grud replied.
“No time for that,” Alexander said, and slung Grud over his shoulders like a sack of grain. Off they went, and in what seemed a few hours Skruutal was in sight. It seemed a little longer for Grud though, because of his slightly less than comfortable position. Alexander continued into town at his jogging pace, attracting the eyes of every townsperson around. He stopped outside the nearest general store, and set Grud back on his feet.
“Time we found the value of this loot, my friend!” Alexander said with an ever so slightly unsettling grin. They walked in, and began unpacking their treasures.
“Ah, what glorious artifacts you bring me Alexander!” The shopkeeper bellowed. “And what an honour it is to have the great Wolfbane in my humble shop!” The shopkeep was a stocky man. Obviously he had dwarvish blood, and it served him well. Few had better eyes for appraising gold and jewels than the dwarves.
Immediately he began to look through the things the travellers put on his counter, writing on a little board all the while. In maybe half an hour the merchant had gone through the whole pile, and was now totalling up the numbers he had written. With great reluctance, Alexander asked if he would look at a final item.
“Why of course my friend!” The shopkeeper beamed at him. “You are going to be a very rich man! Well, richer I guess I should say.” Alexander held up his right hand and showed the dwarf his ring. It had a bright blue gemstone that shone, almost with a light of its own.
“There’s also th-”
“How could you bring something like that into my shop?” the merchant interrupted Alexander. “Do you want us all cursed? Get out of here at once! And take your filth with you; I don’t want any of those witch-groped trinkets!” Alexander and Grud hurriedly packed away their loot before being bustled out of the shop. They were entirely bewildered, as they stumbled out the door.
“No worries,” Alexander said to Grud. “That dwarf is known for his superstitions. We only need to find another shop.” But when they found another, the same thing happened! They were sent out the door as soon as the shopkeep saw the ring, just like the first. They couldn’t even get a room to stay in, for either word travelled fast, or everyone could see something off about it. Grud was beginning to get worried, and he wondered what was causing all this fuss.
“Sir, maybe we should go to a different town,” he suggested. “We could go to Rokstead.”
“That’s a decent idea,” Alexander replied in a tired way. “Maybe they will be more open to the idea of glittering treasure.” So they headed off.
Sadly, Rokstead was not any more welcoming to them. Grud began to feel as if he was living out a nursery rhyme. The type of thing that repeats over and over, because that’s what happened. Each time they visited a new place, they were greeted for their treasure, but sent away in a flash as soon as the ring was sighted. The pair decided to head off again, but now Grud was really worried. Not only were they not welcome anywhere, but Alexander was beginning to act strange. Grud would see him panting like a dog after running, or he would see Alexander eating meat raw. When he asked him where he got the ring, or what it was Alexander would growl at him.
Soon, Alexander began to grow fur, such as you’d see on an animal. And perhaps strangest of all, was how he fought. Gone was the noble warrior; now Alexander would throw himself into battle with abandon. He tore at anything that attacked them like a rabid dog. One time a couple of bandits tried to waylay them for their gold, but Alexander mauled them. Yes, mauled them! Grud now tried to stay away from the thing that was Alexander, but he still followed him for the safety he provided. For even though his humanity seemed to be almost gone, the beast did no harm to Grud, as if a few memories remained in the creature.
One night when the full moon rose high, Alexander was fully gone. Grud had been strolling along behind the creature when he looked up to see its yellow eyes upon him. He stood motionless in complete terror, and now he saw the full transformation that had taken place. Alexander had been replaced with a gigantic canine beast! “Will the beast turn on me now?” he wondered in his thoughts. But the monster turned its muzzle away, and galloped off. Grud heard a wolf-like howl pierce the night, and that was the last he ever saw of it.
Days later, when Grud had made his way to the nearest town, he heard some men talking in the tavern.
“I heard from my brother who lives a ways to the south, that a huge beast has been roaming the land!” One said.
“I heard of that too,” said another. “A giant wolf, with the body of a man! It has been killing cattle, and even some farmers.”
An older man spoke up: “I heard from my nephew that word has been sent to the west, calling for heroes to come and slay the beast. The Jarl has put twenty thousand gold pieces on its head. Quite a bounty, eh?”
“You can say that again!” Someone said, and they all laughed.
A few weeks later, Grud heard the same sort of thing at a different bar, but this time people said a warrior had arrived to vanquish it. The next week, stories of Fandish the Brave were being spread; “the man who had slain the wolf-headed giant.” Grud sat and pondered these stories, and how ironic it all was. Alexander had been such a gallant hero, but now he became like one of the many monsters he killed to gain his fame. Now another hero had come to slay him, just like he had been called to do on so many occasions. “If only Alexander had not taken that cursed ring! If only he had not been so greedy!” Grud thought. He mourned in silence for his long lost friend, for now he was truly lost.