Wolfskin

Lady Wolfskin gazed absentmindedly at the patterns of limned frost rimming the glass of the parlor window. Beyond the confines of the translucent pane, she observed only a shifting expanse of icy white, restless and opaque. The biting wintry winds, having gained in intensity mere moments before, proceeded to fling the abundant snows about with reckless abandon, quickly escalating into a full blizzard. In the far distance, its timbre occluded by the wuthering of the winds and shuntering of snow, a lone wolf howled.

Lady Wolfskin shuddered, half with cold, half in reaction to the eeriness of the distant howl. She drew her myriad shawls tighter around her dainty shoulders and sank further back into the warm confines of her fireside wing chair. Lord Westford would be arriving any moment now, so the Lady used what fleeting time remained to bask wholly in the heat of the flames. All too soon, Lord Westford arrived, and Lady Wolfskin rose to greet him, barely suppressing a sigh as her back was exposed to the chill air.

"Good evening, Lord Westford."

"Good evening, Lady Wolfskin." He was tall and broad-shouldered; the layers of furs piled upon their breadth making his shoulders seem moreso. Tanned and dark of hair and eye, Lord Westford was unaccustomed to the cutting chill of the northern reaches, and though encumbered by a great quantity of thick pelts, he still ached from the cold.

"Come, sit by the fire," Lady Wolfskin said, gesturing with long-practiced grace towards the wing-backed chair opposite her own.

The young Lord sat gratefully down in the proffered chair, the fire-warmed cushions enveloping him in much appreciated heat. On the small ebony table placed between the massive chairs, a servant set down a tray. Upon the simple wooden tray rested an unadorned pitcher, filled to the brim with mulled wine, spiced and steaming, and two plain pewter mugs.

Once the wine had been poured and both parties handed their drink, Lady Wolfskin dismissed the servant and plied her full attentions to her guest.

"I am afraid we have no such finery as you are accustomed to in the southern courts, but I do hope things have been satisfactory thus far in your stay with us."

"Things have been more than satisfactory, my Lady," Lord Westford replied as he surreptitiously leaned closer to the blazing fire. "Indeed, I am quite looking forward to meeting with your husband. The histories of the Founding Families has always been a source of fascination for me."

"Then you must already be aware of the origins of my husband's name."

"Indeed; Lord Arrun is legendary. However, there is a distinct lack of official documentation, which is why I was sent to collect it."

"Of course," Lady Wolfskin nodded in compliance before looking up at her guest. "Would it interest you to learn that there is another version of the name's origins?"

"Indeed it would," Lord Westford replied, his enthusiasm politely restrained.

"You have to understand, though," Lady Wolfskin dithered, "that this is merely local lore, and, well, you know how the peasantry are with their superstitions and magic."

Lord Westford could hardly conceal his boyish eagerness. "Of course, of course," he replied with nonchalance, waving a hand in overenthusiastic dismissal. "Please do tell; it is always amusing to hear the wild tales the peasantry conjure up."

"Very well then." Lady Wolfskin paused a moment to inhale deeply before she finally began. "As you know, Lord Arrun was raised from infancy by wolves. Common knowledge has it that he considered himself wolf's kin, and thus was he and his line named.

"However, local lore has it that Lord Arrun was kin to the wolves, not just figuratively, but literally."

Lord Westford nodded impatiently, silently urging his hostess to continue, leaning closer in rapt anticipation. In all his eagerness, the young Lord had utterly forgotten the cold and so made no motion to correct his fur cloak as it slid askew.

Unlike her counterpart, the Lady Wolfskin remained well aware of the all-pervasive chill and so kept her shawls tight about her shoulders as she leaned forward in own her seat, the firelight casting her weathered face into sharp relief and lending her eyes an unearthly glow.

"They say," she whispered conspiratorially, "that Lord Arrun and his direct bloodline could change shape into that of a massive wolf by means of wearing a wolf skin. They also say," the Lady said, her teeth glinting wickedly in the light of the flames, "that every full moon's night, heirs of the Wolfskin blood would change into their beastly forms and hunt from among the peasantry, howling in glee whenever they killed."

In the snow-shrouded distance, the lone wolf howled, its sonorous cry rising to haunting new heights. Lord Westford abruptly sat up and shivered once more, not entirely from the cold. With shaking hands, he swiftly affixed his fur cloak in its place, vaguely wondering when it had slipped.

"This merely local lore, of course," Lady Wolfskin said, very matter-of-fact, as she leaned back into the comfortable embrace of her flame-warmed chair. "I am certain my husband has a more accurate, official, and far less superstitious account of the origins of the family name."

"Of course," Lord Westford replied, reassuring himself with the sound of his own voice. He sipped from his mug of now-lukewarm wine.

Before the conversation could resume, a servant entered the parlor and announced that Lord Wolfskin was ready to see his guest. Lord and Lady followed the man into the main hall, a long, dank, and drafty affair with its cold stone floors devouring all warmth. The tapestried walls, hung with legends, myths, and histories, were interrupted every so often by mawing entrance holes and mounted torches, the lights of which flitted across the likenesses of creatures phantasmagorical, lending to them an air of malevolent life. Icy breezes blew through the hall, wailing and howling through hidden chinks in the stone, the currents of air causing the torches to flicker wildly and, sometimes, to sputter out.

One such wind had snuffed all the torches outside Lord Wolfskin's study.

Through the frozen gloom, the servant calmly led them, Lord and Lady, to the door of his master. After knocking upon the icy oak and receiving an affirmative, the servant opened the door and held it wide as the Lady and the visiting Lord passed through.

The study was dimly lit, the candles insufficient in number, with uncertain shadows dancing across the piles of paper and books and scrolls strewn upon the massive mahogany desk. Lord Wolfskin was nowhere to be seen, though Lord Westford attributed this to the overall lack of illumination.

As he peered more closely into the shadows, however, Lord Westford discerned movement near the base of the desk, coupled with faint sounds of shuffling.

"Lord Wolfskin?" he inquired, trying to get a better glimpse of his host.

"Ah, Lord Westford! I'll be with you in a moment. In the meantime, you wouldn't happen to have seen my spectacles lying about someplace? I seem to have misplaced them."

Lady Wolfskin sighed, aggrieved. "Again?"

The shuffling grew louder. Suddenly, there was a loud thump, shortly followed by muffled cursing on Lord Wolfskin's behalf. Lord Westford stepped forward to offer his assistance, only to freeze in abject horror.

For there, at the beclawed foot of the behemoth desk, huddled a wolf of monstrous size. However, the most frightening aspect of the beast was not its size, nor its presence; it was that the voice of Lord Wolfskin issued forth from the wolf's sharp-toothed jaws. The beast soon recovered from its self-inflicted injury and gazed up at Lord Westford with inhuman yellow eyes.

"Oh, yes. The genealogy," the wolf mumbled as it thoughtfully shook its ruff. "You'll find all the papers on that table over there." Lord Wolfskin gestured towards the appropriate table with an upraised paw before resuming the search for his spectacles.

Lord Westford choked out a "Thank you," before retrieving the indicated documents and rushing out the still-open door, almost tripping in his haste. Lord Wolfskin took no notice of this however, so absorbed was he in his search.

Once the echoes of Lord Westford's retreating footsteps could no longer be heard, Lady Wolfskin produced her husband's spectacles from where she had concealed them – a smallish pocket hidden by the folds of her skirt. She glided over to her husband, holding out the purloined eyepiece.

"Dearest."

"Hm? Oh! You've found my spectacles!" Lord Wolfskin stood and gratefully claimed the bifocals from his wife, the hood of his wolfskin coat slipping down to reveal an elderly man with whitened hair. After carefully perching his spectacles upon his nose and rearranging the paws of his coat so that they were out of his way, Lord Wolfskin peered about the room properly and noticed Lord Westford's absence.

"Where is Lord Westford?" he queried, thoroughly perplexed.

Lady Wolfskin had ensured she would be examining the cold black maw of the unlit fireplace when this question finally arose, and thus replied, offhandedly, "He felt quite ill and had to leave. I do believe it was your coat that triggered his malady. By the way, Dearest, how can you bear to stay in this room without a lit fire?"

"My coat?" Lord Westford hugged his prized coat protectively, completely finessing his wife's question. "What does my coat have to do with anything?"

Lady Wolfskin sighed with a long-suffering air. "I've told you for years, Dearest, that your coat is in terrible taste. If you had kept just the tail, it might have passed as acceptable, but the head and the paws and the teeth and the claws – horrendous!"

"But what does that have to do with Lord Westford becoming ill?"

"Why, everything! You know the southern lords are more sensitive to certain things, fashion being one of the more predominant. To come across a fellow lord attired in such," words failed Lady Wolfskin, and so she gestured emphatically with a well-manicured hand, "it must have come as quite a shock to his southern sensibilities. I would not be surprised if he left overwhelmed by mortification."

"We have been over this before; I am not getting rid of my coat. It is a very good coat and it keeps me very warm."

"Yes, yes, Dearest. I wouldn't dream of parting you from your precious coat." Lady Wolfskin rolled her eyes. "However, you will have to get rid of the head and the paws at the very least. If you want, we can mount the head in the Great Hall so that you still have your trophy, the legs and paws could be used to make matching gloves, and the tail will make the most wonderful collar..."

As his wife drifted off into visions of fashion, Lord Wolfskin sighed in defeat. "Very well, then. I'll give orders for the tailor alter the coat tomorrow," he conceded, taking seat behind his paper-ridden desk to deal with pressing matters of the estate.

"Wonderful!" Lady Wolfskin smiled, satisfied. "I shall send in one of the servants to rekindle the fire." Lord Wolfskin waved a hand in compliance, his eyes never leaving his paperwork.

Just as she turned around to leave, however, the Lady remembered one other item she wished to discuss...

"Dearest, while we are on the topic of clothing, you really ought to stop wearing black so often."