The Wolf In The Night

“Who’s there?

Who’s there, I say!

My heart holds fear for those who come as strangers in the night…for one such was the end of me.

He came, one moonlit night, to the Royal Stables that my Master tended for King Robert - Third to bear that name, then biding in the Castle of Stirling. A messenger, on business of the Crown. Delayed upon the road, he’d come too late to gain admittance to the Court. The night was cruel, and bitter cold. The stranger begged that he might warm his bones by our good hearth…aye, and sleep an hour or two, perhaps, for he had trod a long and lonely road and was sore tired. Sure, he’d be no burden to our house…and, by the coming of the dawn, would soon depart. He had conger in his eyes, and my Master offered ale and broth: but, no - he would not take e’en a crust to eat.The Wolf of Badenoch

He’d feast soon enough, he said, and bid us but to let him sit and warm himself.

My Master growled. He did not wholly trust this lean and hungry wretch…but it would not do to cast him from our door.

Still... he should not be left alone.

The household soon retired, and I was left to tend the fire, and, with the rising of the sun, bid our visitor depart. A bell was placed beside me, on the hearth: if the stranger show’d one sign of foul intent, my goodsir said, then I should all alarms raise!

Long hours I sat, eyes fixed upon the stranger – his face in shadow, save for the grim and knowing smile stretched thin upon his lips. I sat back upon my chair, half-closed my eyes against the bitter brightness of the candlelight, and sighed…and as I did the stranger stooped t’ward me, his eyes bright and black, and, for a moment, held me in his gaze. He thought I slept, and, thinking so, smiled then a cruel smile…

Eager fingers probed beneath his tunic’s folds, from which he pulled…a dead man’s hand…parchment flesh stretched, brown and withered over bone. He daubed one digit in the tallow-wax, and set it then to flame:

"Let them that sleep their slumbers keep!

Let them that wake, advantage take!

For the Wolf, and the Moon,

And the Blade and the Blood!"

The Wolf? Alexander: brother to the King: The Wolf of Badenoch. Wicked brother to the King. As bloody a brute as e’er our land had known. But, sure, he was dead...dead and in his grave these ten years past. Unless the tales were true...

Legend has it that The Wolf of Badenoch had died at Ruthven Castle. The storytellers had it that he played host to the Devil himself. They played Chess, sitting, long into the night, talking of how Alexander’s envy of his Royal brother – then but newly crowned – might be abated. The Wolf was brash, eager to best his new playmate, but the dark stranger frowned with each rash move; only through patience might their mutual interests be best advanced...but there would be a cost.

There was always a cost.

As dawn approached the stranger smiled and made his final move. Checkmate. As he rose from the table, the very air around him seemed to blacken; the walls shook with the crack of thunder...and the Wolf smiled, too.

The servants found the Alexander’s men dead at their posts by the day’s first light. Torn and bloody, as though attacked by some great beast...though how such a creature could have breached the castle walls unseen was a mystery. Their Lord himself was found in the banqueting hall: his own body unmarked...buried, not in the family toom, but in distant Dunkeld.

Some whispered that The Wolf had made a pact with his playmate, sacrificed his men in exchange for dark gifts which might aid him in his avarice... charms to change his form, to be fleet as hare or hound.

Foolish gossip...or so I thought until that moment.

Could this be the Wolf himself?

Frozen with fear, I watched the villain placed the corpse-light on the floor. He slipped the bolt, threw wide the door, and stepped into the wild and windy night. He howled….and, from that stormcast void his voice was joined by another, and another, and another…

I leap’d, quick, to my feet, slammed and bolted shut the door. I grabbed the bell my Master placed beside the hearth. But none answered its call. I cried for all to hear that the Wolf was at our door. The stables were in peril...aye, and p’raps the King himself…for if his fortress walls were now assailed King Robert would flee here first, to ready his escape.

Then, I to my Master’s chambers ran. I shook his arm. I beat his breast…but still he would not wake. "Let them that sleep their slumbers keep!…” ‘Twas a charm!! A binding! My Master could not wake so long as that foul Hand of Glory burned.

‘Twas left to me to hold back the beast? To me to save our King from tooth and claw?

To the hearth I hurried once again, grabbed the wretched withered thing…and cast it ’pon fire. As it cracked and burned the oaken door was shattered…splintered from it’s frame. There stood the snarling stranger. He fell upon me…his breath rank upon my cheek, his hands tight-clutched about my throat…and, as all life was crushed from me, I saw my ‘wakened Master, sword in hand, raise his blade behind the villain’s skull…

The hour was saved...but too late for me, I fear.

Beware, friends, of strangers in the night…!”

 

Taken from Stirling GhostWalk 2006

NOTE: I first heard this tale told by an elderly storyteller resident from Dunkeld, though I know of versions NOT relating to the notorious Wolf of Badenough, which are told in Cornall and Cumbria. Which is oldest? Who knows?

 

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