copyright Jennifer Denys
As the elimination of the wolf population as ordered by the King continued to sweep the land, Ceri’s father grew more and more agitated. Not only were wolves being decimated, so too were his race, the werewolves. Already his people had moved away from the main population areas to the north toward Scotland and the west in the border lands of Wales, the Welsh Marches, but as they went rumours abound of more and more killings. It seemed the humans of his country were determined to annihilate his race along with the animals which attacked their livestock. Lords were appointed by the King to protect their lands from ‘enemies and wolves’!
He looked down at the body of the latest victim. Although wolf form in death, he knew it was a neighbour and made a decision. It was time to leave England altogether. He turned and looked westward and hoped that Wales would be a safe haven for his family. It had better be. He understood there were only sea or islands beyond that point. The problem was wolves were territorial, and werewolves no less. How many other families were already hiding out in this country which bordered his? Would they be accepted or would they have to fight for land—for refuge? Time would tell.
Twenty three years later
Two groups stood on either side of the cleaning in the dense forest not far from Ruthin, but far enough away that humans did not venture here.
Neither group was smiling. Instead mistrust, hatred, anger, and sarcasm were the looks on the faces of both groups. And in the middle of the open area stood Ceri who sighed as she looked around her.
A booming voice rang out startling her. The sing-song intonation told immediately that this was a Welsh-born person. But that didn’t say much, most of her people had been born in Wales since they arrived here fleeing from those that would kill them in England. However, members of the pack standing opposite her regarded her people as English interlopers, stealing their land, their food, their women.
“Drystan, you have agreed as part of this truce that your daughter, Ceri, will be wed to my son, Rhys. I now affirm this marriage in accordance with the laws of our people in the hope that peace will prevail amongst us.”
Ceri glanced over at her betrothed. He was looking daggers at her. She flushed. Ceri knew she wasn’t particularly attractive and preferred wearing male clothes to the hated dresses her mother tried to get her to wear. Rhys, meanwhile, was very handsome—and he knew it.
She sighed and resisted the urge to look over her shoulder at Arran, a member of her own pack. He wasn’t particularly tall like Rhys, nor well built. Okay, so he was downright skinny and had a scar down his left cheek, evidence of a fight some years ago, but his long fair hair was silky smooth. She much preferred it to Rhys’ thick, stubby, dark hair.
“Come here, girl,” Drystan called.
Ceri swallowed nervously as she stepped forward. This was part of the ceremony that she wasn’t looking forward to. Hell, she was downright loathing it.
“I will now mark both your bodies and you will mingle the blood to bind you to each other forever. This mark will be on your chests, therefore hidden beneath your clothes to prying human eyes, and even when in wolf form it will be on your underside.” Drystan then took hold of Rhys’ shirt and ripped it in two.
As he turned toward Ceri to do the same she stepped backward.
Her father growled at her. “Do not disgrace me, child.”
Obeying her father she stepped forward. Admittedly it was a very shaky step. Then she closed her eyes and waited for her shirt to be similarly torn in two.
She heard a gasp and frowned. Opening her eyes she could see that Rhys was staring at her breasts. Her now unbound breasts, which were naked to the air, and to the eyes of all those present. What did his gasp mean? Werewolves usually shed their clothes to shift into their animal forms and so nakedness was not uncommon amongst her people, but the time she spent naked as a human was mercifully short. She did know, though, that her body was as other females and her breasts of a normal size, her nipples dusky pink.
As Rhys continued to gaze at her and mutters went around the groups, Ceri wished Drystan would get on with the ceremony. She breathed a sigh of relief when he was presented with the ceremonial knife. It was a beautiful piece of work, its handle a fine design of twisted leaves.
Without waiting another second, nor uttering anything more, Drystan slashed Rhys’ chest about half way down. Ceri held back a cry, her eyes drawn to the welling blood. Shit, this is going to hurt.
Thankfully it was a much smaller nick, between her breasts, but is still stung. Ceri gritted her teeth. Then she remembered what came next and groaned inwardly.
“Rhys, you must now take your woman and show the packs she is your wife.”
The look on Rhys’ face was unreadable as he stepped toward Ceri. As she was pulled forward, her feet stumbled a little. They were chest to chest. His cut was higher up than hers so he took hold of her under her arms, easily lifting her with his powerful arms that belied his wood-felling job, until her bosom was tight against his chest, his wiry hair tickling her as the blood from their two cuts mingled.
His eyes then narrowed before he dipped his head and bent to take her lips in a forceful kiss.
A cry went up from everyone, native Welsh-born werewolf of longstanding tribe but also the newer Welsh-born in addition to the few English-born still alive. Their packs had been devastated by the battles between them until it made no sense to remain two separate packs. Not when they had the humans to contend with. And the English humans in particular who were continually making forays into their country.
“Tangnefedd!” But would it be peace for now on? Could their two peoples live happily together? Could they remain undetected from the invading English? Would her life with Rhys be happy? And could she forget Arran?