It was atrocious. A large wolf with white fur and glowing yellow eyes, now spattered in red as it ate. To lure it into his silver cage would be enough, if it did not attack him first. Once there it would be forced to return to a human shape and could be killed as easily as any other human, and his job would be complete.
Werewolves were not new in this land, but in the past few years they had become bolder. Living openly among humans they tried to gain acceptance, citing magicians that took animal form as being seen as human by the nobles and lords. Some were considering it, but until the king spoke his view they were just animals. If they harmed no person they were tolerated (in theory), but once someone died by their teeth they were to be hunted down. He, who had been taught to kill them from the time he was a child, saw them as demons and rarely waited until they had taken any life. A werewolf was simply to die.
This werewolf was loose in the capital, eating the livestock of nobles and royalty on most nights. The king wanted it dead even before there was a human life taken. There was too great a risk that a young lord, or a prince, would die. And it would happen, for a man that became a beast lost all morals of humanity and laws of the forest. They would kill for pleasure, torture for sport, and finally in death be damned.
The hunter backed into the woods, moving slowly to hide his movement and any noise. He was downwind, but even if there was a shift in the breeze its nose was far too full with the scent of blood. All it had caught, though, was a young doe that was more bone than flesh. It would still be hungry. Now to just leave it a second meal.
Out of its range of view and hearing he ran back to his camp and his men. A large cage, made from melting much of the royal silver, was hidden among the vines and trees nearby where he would trap the beast. They would leave a meal there, and wait in the foliage until the cage closed. The king himself would then be sent for, to see the execution with his own eyes.
With tonight’s new moon it would be difficult to see, even for a wolf, and so tonight was their best chance for weeks.
“The calf,” he ordered. “Take it to the cage and stab it so it bleeds and screeches. It’s eating, but only a small meal. It will want more. Archers, keep your arrows on it. Do not shoot until it is human again.”
“And how long will this take?” The voice was one known to the hunter, and all else around, for all felt to bent knee when the king spoke.
“Your Majesty,” the hunter began, but the king raised a hand to silence him. Another motion and he silently ordered everyone to stand. “I do not like to wait, and if this wolf is caught it can die right away if I am already here. Now, do not make me ask again.”
“A few moments,” he said quickly. “The silver will make it feel uncomfortable, and then weak, unless it changes forms. Then, at your word of course, it will be shot.”
Everyone went to their positions, the hunter and the king standing where best to view the opening to the cage. The stars allowed them to see only so much, and no torches were to be lit until the cage closed. The calf, now tied to a sapling and bleeding out, was still trying to free itself and run. It made a lot of noise and the smell was almost too much for the men. A werewolf would never sense the danger if taken by bloodlust.
They waited, silent, the only noise the calf’s weakening voice. Then there was movement in the forest and the great wolf appeared. It seemed to glow in the starlight, the blood patches even more prominent than before. It scanned the perimeter, huffed, but sneezed when all it caught was the scent of blood. It tilted its head at the calf, growling low.. but hunger won over caution and the wolf stepped into the cage.
As soon as its muzzle was inside the calf, the great hinged door snapped shut. It jumped, whirled around and growled again into the darkness. Slowly everyone began to step out of their hiding places and surround the wolf. Torches were lit and everyone looked at the beast that had ruled the night for almost three weeks.
The king seemed curious more than fearful. He walked right up to the edges of the cage built from his grandmother’s famed silver collection. The wolf looked him over, sniffed again, and then calmed down. It curled up into a ball and closed its eyes.
There was silence as the fur began to fall away, and limbs twisted and turned. Some of the fur changed to hair and turned gold in color. When it was again human, lying naked, her face hidden in his arms, the unnatural silence continued. The great beast that had taken down a bull by itself last week was this woman?
“Arrows away,” the king ordered, even before she had shown her face. He seemed somehow also thrilled at seeing her.
“Your Majesty,” the hunter said. He was truly pushing his luck by talking back to the king. “It was by your order she die as soon as it is possible. I understand this is the capital and perhaps she is a noble woman, but–”
When she stood the king only smiled, while everyone else turned their eyes away. The queen stood before them, still covered in blood, leaning on the silver bars.
“Husband,” she spoke. “Did I not tell you the beast would not harm our children, or any of the other people in our town? Though I am glad you have put the silver to use since I have stopped being fond of it.”
“You did, my dear. Forgive me for not listening to my intelligent wife.” Everyone else was still too terrified to look at the queen, though the hunter gaped in shock. The banter of a couple was not what he had expected to hear, even given her status. Whyever was the king humoring a woman that would surely die in several moments.
“Your majesty,” he said, “If you could step away so the archers can find their mark–” he stopped talking when the king’s sword was at his throat. So perhaps the rumors that the king saw the werewolves as people were actually true?
“Give me the keys,” the king said. Now shaking, the hunter grabbed them and handed them over. They were then passed to the queen, who unlocked her own door. A servant hastily took off his cloak and gave it to her to wrap herself in.
“Darling,” the king continued to his queen. “Remind me tomorrow to outlaw the killing of werewolves purely on their race. Have some of the royal hunters visit, and the lords of land where we know are werewolves. We seem to have been misinformed of the innate evil of the species.”
“Of course, my love,” she said.
“You are still hungry, yes?”
The king slashed the hunter’s throat.