by Zoe Dawn
Young native american woman and her star-crossed love for a man/wolf.
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Goodnight, My Wolf
Gold Aspen Leaf looked down into the water. Here the water gathered in a deep pool and slowed so that the surface was still and smooth as a whisper. Here you could see you own face staring back at you.
Gold Aspen Leaf leaned further over the pool and smiled gently. She had pulled her hair back with a strip of hide and bared the smooth, gentle planes of her face. Her soft doeskin dress lay on the grass nearby. If she leaned far enough forward she could see her own nakedness. She knew Many Hands and many of the other young men (the old men as well) found her pleasant to look at. Even her mother said she was beautiful and would make Many Hands a fine wife. Who could wish more than to be first wife of a great warrior like Many Hands?
Gold Aspen Leaf trailed her fingers through the water sending ripples across the still suface, turning her countenance into an image less than human. She did not feel as she should. Many Hands would make a fine husband. Any wife would be proud of such a husband. Imagine the bride price he could provide. In her head Gold Aspen Leaf knew this was right. Her heart knew something else. Her heart wanted someone else.
As the water stilled, Gold Aspen Leaf could see another figure reflected there. She had not heard him approach. For so large a creature he moved so very silently. Lifting her head, Gold Aspen Leaf stared boldly back at the large black wolf that stood on the opposite bank.
He might leap across the small bathing pool and tear out her throat in a single bite, but Gold Aspen Leaf was not afraid. He was the largest wolf she had ever seen, with thick silver tipped black fur,deep amber eyes and many scars. A great warrior.
Gold Aspen Leaf was never afraid when he came.
Gold Aspen Leaf smiled, “Silver Dog. I did not hear you approach. You are truly a great warrior to be so big and yet move so silently. You are the scourge of your enemies, I am certain.”
Lowering her eyes, Gold Aspen Leaf trailed her fingers in the water again, then breathing deeply, she threw her back her head, arched her back slightly and released her hair from its binding with a single quick pull. As her thick midnight hair fell around her shoulders she gazed into the wolf’s amber eyes, completely un-self-conscious in her nakedness.
“I am pleased you came, Silver Dog. It has been a long time, it seems.” Gold Aspen Leaf smiled, her eyes full of fire. “Will you stay with me while I bathe?”
For a moment Gold Aspen Leaf feared he might refuse, then the massive creature stretched upon the ground and lay his great head upon his paws.
As Gold Aspen Leaf stepped into the pool and began to bathe she spoke to the wolf. When she finally mentioned her imminent betrothal to Many Hands the great wolf’s head lifted suddenly and he stared at Gold Aspen Leaf for a long time without moving.
Gold Aspen Leaf feigned disinterest in the great wolf’s agitation but secretly she smiled. Then sadness overcame her again. Her heart yearned for something she could not quite understand. When he came to her she thought she did understand, only too well. But once he had gone her head seemed to take over, her heart seemed almost to forget. Many Hands did not seem so terrible then. He was a great warrior and he was handsome and had many horses and other things and he had not even taken a wife once yet. All the mothers wanted him for their daughters. Her mother was so proud that he had chosen her daughter.
When the wolf was not there the yearning seemed like a yearning for something dreamed. A longing for a vision in smoke. But when the wolf was here the yearning became almost desperation. She despised Many Hands then. She simply could not wed him. It was impossible. She wanted only one.
There was a faint rustle and Gold Aspen Leaf glanced around. The wolf had gone, and just then a man stepped from the shadow of the forest.
“Who was here with you, Gold Aspen Leaf?” Many Hands demanded “Who were you talking to?”
Startled, Gold Aspen Leaf hid herself beneath the surface of the water and crossed her arms over herself. Glaring at her intended husband, she spoke.
“I was speaking with no one. Now go and let me finish my bath in peace, Many Hands. We are not yet wed. You do not yet have the right to see me without my clothing.”
“I was sure I heard voices here." Many Hands frowned slightly, then smiled. “What does it matter, Gold Aspen Leaf?” He gestured at the doeskin dress on the bank. “We will soon be married. Tomorrow I will take the bride price to your father and we will all celebrate. Many Hands finally will take a great and beautiful wife. He will be the envy of all the men of the Mountain Cat clan.”
Gold Aspen Leaf couldn’t help but smile. Many Hands could be charming when he wished. It was times such as these that doubt all but swept away what she knew in her heart. It even almost seemed as if she had indeed dreamed the great black wolf on the bank.
Then the full impact of Many Hands' words fell upon her. Tomorrow she would be betrothed. Marriage would follow soon after. She would be a wife very soon. Then a mother. Together they could make many great warriors and many beautiful daughters, Gold Aspen Leaf was certain. But her heart did not rejoice, as it should at such a thought.
She did not want the children of Many Hands.
Keeping her head bowed, Gold Aspen Leaf spoke again.
“I am pleased at your news, Many Hands. I am honored, but we are not yet wed and I would like for you to leave me so I might bathe in peace.”
Many Hands watched her with narrowed eyes for a long moment; then, with a slight frown toward where the great wolf had lain, he turned and disappeared into the forest as silently as the wolf had done.
Once Many Hands had gone Gold Aspen Leaf finished her bath with tears upon her cheeks and dreamed daydreams of a fierce and handsome warrior with glowing amber eyes.
As she returned to the village her mother and sisters and several other women greeted her, already full of the news of Many Hands' imminent offer. There were arrangements to be made, of course. So many arrangements. No one seemed to realize that her heart was not in it at all.
That night Gold Aspen Leaf lay down to sleep in her father's dwelling for one of the last nights she would spend there. As she looked up at the smoke where it gathered and curled out of the smoke hole in the roof, Gold Aspen Leaf once again imagined the face of a bold and fierce warrior, and of a great black wolf with glowing eyes.
Sometime in the night Gold Aspen Leaf felt a touch. She came awake with a start and a hard hand pressed over her mouth. He was here! Bright amber eyes gleamed into hers. Amber eyes, in the face of a man! And what a face! Gold Aspen Leaf had difficulty catching her breath.
“Come with me, woman," he whispered. “I have betrayed everything I am meant to be, all that I am, to come here this night. I think we can go, but we must do so as quickly as we can. What is your answer?”
Without hesitation Gold Aspen Leaf followed this man from her father's home. She didn’t care at that moment what the future might hold. She had the desire of her heart with her now.
She followed this man from the village, taking nothing with her but her single dress. She knew this man would give her all she would need.
Sometime in the wood the man stopped and turned. He smiled and said, “I cannot wait. You are the love of my heart. Why do you think I came so often to watch you and hear you speak; though I could do nothing else? I came to be near you if that was all I could have. Tonight I begged that I be allowed to come to you in this form, just so I could speak with you, I said. My wish was granted but I betrayed them with my thought even before I left them because I had already decided I would take you away with me. Will you come to me now, love of my heart?”
Without hesitation Gold Aspen Leaf slipped from her dress and moved into the arms of her heart lover. They stood body to body as Gold Aspen Leaf helped him from his own clothing then they began to move slowly to the most ancient dance of all times.
Some long time later Gold Aspen Leaf lay in the arms of her heart lover and knew nothing would ever be better. In their sated state neither of them was aware of the danger until it was upon them.
There was sahouting and a great crash of sound and Gold Aspen Leaf screamed as her heart lover lept to his feet with a cry that was not human. “Forgive me, my love! I believed it could be well for us. Please, forgive me!” he cried out, and in a moment the massive black wolf bounded away into the forest, the shaft of a terrible arrow hanging from his chest.
Gold Aspen Leaf screamed after her wolf. "Don'd leave me, Silver Dog! I cannot live without you!" Then Many Hands was there, staring at her nakedness with contempt, hearing her words.
“I thought to rescue you from a man who meant you harm. But I see only that you have taken a lover, even on the eve of our betrothal. Or, perhaps you have had a lover longer than that!” Many Hands spat contemptuously. “I have shot that great wolf animal of his and I will kill him as well.”
Weeping, Gold Aspen Leaf ran into the woods, trying to follow the wolf. She cared nothing for Many Hands or his ugly contempt. She could feel only for her Silver Dog and his agony. She had to find him.
All night Gold Aspen Leaf followed a trail of broken brush and drips of blood seen in patches of moonlight. As the sun finally rose on the day she was to have been betrothed she found her heart lover once again.
He lay on his side near a small stream. The shaft of the arrow had broken away sometime during the night but his thick coat was matted with blood, his muzzle thick with it.
Kneeling by his side, Gold Aspen Leaf lifted his head into her lap and buried her face in his bloody fur.
“Do not leave me, Silver Dog. I cannot live without you,” Gold Aspen Leaf wept. “You are my love, my heart. I need you.”
The wolf whined softly and Gold Aspen Leaf lifted her head, meeting the deep golden eyes. In those eyes she could see the man she had loved that night. She could see his sorrow and his pain. And she could see all his love.
As their eyes held each other’s, the wolf's grew still, as still as the water of the pool, and he grew heavier in her arms.
For many minutes Gold Aspen Leaf screamed out her anguish, finally collapsing into terrible weeping, then into exhausted and protective sleep.
She dreamed again of the great black wolf, only this time he spoke. He was leaving her but as he walked away he turned and words came from the wolf's mouth. “Forgive me, love of my heart. I believed it could work because I wanted it more than anything. But I deluded myself, and I have caused you terrible pain because of it. That is my punishment, even worse than losing you. Knowing how much pain I have caused you. I was a fool. I was not meant to be in that form, and there are many who do not take kindly to betrayal. So I have paid with my life and with your pain. Goodbye, love of my heart." Then the wolf vanished into the forest and Gold Aspen Leaf wept in her dream, longing to go with him.
Then another voice calmed her. “It is not time for you yet, Gold Aspen Leaf. The road ahead that you must travel will not be an easy one. Your actions tonight have made the way difficult, but they will also make it better. You have much to do before your time comes. Believe that or don’t believe. That is your choice. But I caution you, do not try to arrange things your way without regard to others, as the wolf has done tonight. Your way will be hard but if you are patient, you will receive the hope that is within you.”
When Gold Aspen Leaf awoke she remembered these words and smiled slightly. Pressing a hand against her flat stomach, Gold Aspen Leaf gently stroked the limp form on the ground, then looked up toward the aspen leaves glittering in the morning sunlight. Softly she murmured.
"Goodnight, my wolf…"