The Dread Wolf

By Dace - Dace.mcgraw@gmail.com
published June 17, 2020
8550 words
Summary

Cathal is sentenced to a trail by the gods for the death of a druidess. If he survives, he’ll serve them for the rest of his life. Odhran can’t bear the thought of either happening to the man he’s secretly in loved for years.

The torch light flickered around the rough stone of the dolmens, leaving flashes of grey and red as Cathal was pulled forward by the tight leather bonds on his wrists. He was a warrior in his prime, but having been severely beaten and left tied to a post for a night and a day without food or water had left him stumbling. They’d fed him some foul concoction before unbinding him, leaving him disoriented and confused as they led him towards the ritual circle. Now that they’d arrived, his vision was beginning to clear, but he was still exhausted and sore. It felt like at least two of his teeth were loose and his nose might be broken.

A low growl snapped his attention to the other occupants of the circle. Bound and tied in tight straps, a full-grown wolf was thrashing furiously on the ritual stone in the center of the circle, very much alive and angry. Adolescent druids were taking the torches from the warriors and gesturing them to the outside of the circle, though they didn’t dare banish the nobles with torcs around their necks. The tight circle of druids around the ritual stone faced inwards towards the wolf straining against its bonds, whimpering desperately to escape.

Forcing his eyes from that spectacle, he looked for Nuallan, the chief of his tribe. Surely, he’d stand up for Cathal, prevent this … farce. Cathal was one of his fiercest warriors, who’d led raids and defended their people in dozens of battles since his balls dropped. Finally, he saw Nuallan standing just outside the circle of stones, arguing with one of the druids. Odhran, one of his younger sons, was with him, looked past into the circle with obvious fear on his face.

That was the moment Cathal realized he really was in trouble. Odhran was very fond of him - perhaps in an unmanly way - and if it looked like Nuallan wasn’t going to get his way on this then Cathal might be well and truly damned here. He cursed quietly under his breath and locked eyes with the panicked wolf strapped onto the altar.

There was no way he could have known that the woman was a bandruí in training, one of the apprentices to the formidable woman with the stag-antler crown in the circle. He’d just wanted a roll in the hay after a triumph on the field of battle, and while the girl had been feisty there was no way he could have known she’d been a virgin. Or worse, that she’d be so overcome that she’d will herself to death just to spite him. It had taken days for them to even get around to telling him who the girl was or that she’d died, and there was no way he could be responsible for killing someone with his cock. Though a part of him dimly noted that claiming his cock could kill would make for a good drinking story, if a poor one for getting women into his bed. He could see the same desperate helplessness in the wolf’s eyes - the wrong place, the wrong time.

Nuallan finally entered the circle, eyes downcast, as Odhran tried to enter behind him. The druid barred the younger warrior’s way, starting another argument as the clan chief approached.

“You’ve cocked this one up, Cathal.” Nuallan sighed, eyes flickering to the two druids holding him down. “I’ll take him from here. It’s my duty.”

The druids exchanged a look, then passed the leather lead to his war-chief. Nuallan thumbed the leather thoughtfully, then looked to the still circle of priests and priestesses around the cairn. They’d fought and bled for each other for years. Cathal was his right-hand man, the one he could trust with anything. Surely, he wouldn’t let them … for a woman?

“Nuallan, you can’t … you can’t be serious.” Cathal coughed up a little blood, then looked up at his chief. “You can’t let them take me, please.”

“You bedded a bandruí without her will and treated her so poorly she died.” Nuallan shook his head, tapping the leash bound to Cathal’s wrists. “I can’t save you from this. It was all I could to avoid having to cull you myself.”

“I don’t know if I wouldn’t prefer that.” He looked at the wolf, now panting and heaving with only the occasional wriggle against its bonds. “Are … they going to feed me to that beast?”

“I wish I knew, Cathal.” Nuallan shook his head. “I’d have given you a clean death if the druids had been more pliable, but the bandruí there said you belong to her, now.”

“Nuallan, you can’t … you can’t let them take me like this. Please.” Cathal pleaded. Nuallan reached out and clasped the side of his head, eyes shining in the flickering firelight. Cathal felt a surge of hope - until his chief pulled him forward into the circle. “No, no, no nonononononono ….”

As they approached the central circle of druids, the apprentices began chanting lowly, some prayer or spell he couldn’t understand. The bandruí he’d offended glared at him over the whimpering form of the bound wolf, the stag points and woven flowers of her crown seeming to dance around her in the firelight. The nobles remaining in the circle all stood stiffly - they were permitted here only by virtue of their rank, and it was clear the only people truly welcome in this space were the druids themselves. The very air carried a cold current through it, like the site of a lightning strike, and it chilled his exposed skin even though the torches blazed brightly in the slight breeze.

The chant cut off abruptly, and the bandruí stepped forward into the circle of her fellow druids, right up to the slavering, panicked form of the wolf bound on the slab. She stared the wild animal down until it whined in submission, tugging feebly at its restraints as if to get away from her. Cathal sympathized; the woman was aged but beautiful in some fey way, the lines and crags of her skin making strange shapes and melting into her ritual tattoos, blending into the flickering shadows of her crown. Her eyes burned with green-blue color, pupils wide in the brightness as if seeing something nobody else could. In her left hand she held a wicked knife of carved bone, inlaid with symbols of gods fair and foul, and in her right, she held a silver chain collar, with curved thorns pricking inward from a stout bronze clasp.

“We gather tonight for a trial of justice before the gods!” the bandruí called out to the sky, eyes wide and staring into the penumbra of darkness defined by the dolmen-stones. “This man ruined a holy bandruí, leading to her death, sullying her body and leaving her soul to limp on to the Otherworld. He offends gods and men, and we claim the right to try him in her name.”

The bandruí stepped around the stone, coming to face him directly. The wolf’s eyes followed her warily, with a low, panicked whine slipping out as she turned her back to it, raising the bone knife high above her head.

“Cathal, offender!” she called out into the darkness, the world gone silent except for the sparking of the torches and the occasional whimper of the panicked wolf. “Do you deny the charge?!”

“Mercy, please.” He answered weakly. “Please don’t …”

“Do you deny the charge?” the bandruí demanded, the stars staring intently at them. “Did you rape her, and leave her to die?”

“… yes.” Cathal sobbed, throwing himself at the feet of the woman who would kill him. “Please, don’t feed me to that beast.”

“Very well.” He looked up in shock. The bandruí called out into the circle, bearing a slight, sly smile. “You will be given an opportunity to redeem yourself before the eyes of gods and men!”

Low mutters and confusion slipped from outside the dolmens, but he heard one sharp, sudden cry of relief. Odhran, held back by the druid apprentices between the stones, was staring at him, eyes wet with tears.

“What …. what trial must I pass?” Cathal looked up at the woman, still holding the knife high over his head. She reached down with it and traced a line along his jaw, by chance or intent where Nuallan had cupped his face only moments before. “What must I do to redeem myself?”

“Survive,” the bandruí whispered, knife tracing the heart-lines of his neck, “and you will give your life in service to the bandruí of these lands. Or die, and your body will be given up to the gods.”

She turned to face the wolf, which flinched away from her attention. The beast whined in panic as she walked to its massive, bunt head and gently stroked the knife along the ruff of its neck. Whispering something nobody else could hear, she threaded the delicate silver collar through the wolf’s fur, thorns facing in, until it made a loose chain just behind its ears and securing it with a bronze clasp. The bone knife seemed to glimmer with a fey light as she traced some sacred rune on the flat of the beast’s head, and the wolf’s whimpers died down into low, even breaths as she locked eyes with it. Her rite concluded, the bandruí gave a wicked smile to the creature, and stepped back as the other druids came forward to release its bonds.

The wolf waited patiently until all the ropes were cut or untied, then gingerly took to its feet. Cathal’s heart sank as the size of the monster became clear; whoever had gone into the forest to find it had risked life and limb to find the massive creature, surely the most wicked of its kind in all the land. The wolf shook its flanks, the very air shivering with its bulk in motion. It fixed eyes with Cathal and issued a low growl, snapping and slavering at him as if he were the one who had bound it instead of the druids. The silver collar danced in the firelight, alive with power.

“Cathal will face the wolf in single combat,” the bandruí called out to the crowd. “and should he be able to take its collar and put it upon himself before he or the wolf die from their wounds, he will be granted the mercy of a life in service to the bandruí of this land in recompense for his crimes.”

The outer circles of the henge erupted with whispers, some of shock and surprise, others with obvious excitement for the bloody spectacle to come. Cathal didn’t dare take his eyes off the monster resting on the altar before him. The bandruí approached, the silver-bone knife in a clenched fist. She gently cut his bonds, then proceeded to slice off his warrior’s garb, letting it fall to the ground of the sacred space. The chill air made him shiver and his cock shriveled unmanfully, but he took a deep breath all the same. His scars bore witness to the battles he’d survived, the hunts he’d won. This … woman could not take that from him, and she’d given him the chance to die honorably in battle. She leaned in to whisper to him.

“The gods are watching, you cur.” The bandruí smelled like peat and lightning, cut grass and honey. “How you fight and how you survive will determine just what service your life will take. So, fight well, fight honorably, and fight bravely, if you want to live to see the sun rise again. Or die quickly, if you want justice to be quick and sure, and give me vengeance for my beloved Méabh.”

He felt rage stir in his breast. This hag would win either way - if he died in combat, it meant he was guilty, scorned by gods and men. If he survived, he’d be her slave for the rest of her life. But she thrust the knife into the ground before him - uncomfortably close to his manhood, but he’d take it, if it meant dying with a weapon in his hand. Or surviving, to spite her and the cruelty of the bandruí. Maybe it was in the hands of the gods after all.

The wolf tensed on the altar as the bandruí stepped away to join her peers in the spaces between the dolmens, the nobles slipping out of the way to leave only Cathal and the beast in the stone circle. The wolf slavered and snapped at the air, fixated on the warrior as he pulled the knife from the ground and stood. For a moment, the world was still as they locked eyes - beast possessed by divine fury and man, driven by mad hope.

The peace broke with a roar as the wolf leapt from the stone, crashing towards Cathal in a mad rush. The warrior danced aside, hefting the knife and cutting the air to keep the wolf at bay. The bandruí had said he’d need to get the collar on himself before he or the wolf died of their wounds … so that’s what he’d do.

They dodged and danced back and forth, bone knife flickering to fend off fang and claw, thick fur shielding cuts and slashes as man and beast yelped and struggled. Cathal scored a lucky hit to the wolf’s foreleg, leaving it limping gingerly on the wounded paw. But then the beast ripped a chunk out of his right arm with a lucky bite, knocking him down and shaking him like a girl-child’s doll before he was able to whack it away. Cathal stumbled to the knife, dropped in the struggle, and they circled warily, blood seeping into the ritual circle in steady trickles. The wolf stumbled, growling in pain, then resumed their combat. Back and forth they lurched, barley fending off desperate offensives and inflicting wounds wherever they could. Cathal’s chest heaved, covered in blood from a dozen small scratches, and the wolf’s flanks were matted with muddy blood from cuts hidden deep in its fur.

The crackling of the torches and the heavy, strangled breaths of the combatants were the only sounds in the world as every eye turned to follow their motion through the stones. Feeling his strength wane, Cathal stumbled to the altar in the center of the circle, using it to shield him and keep his balance as the wolf staggered around him. He was so … tired. But he would see it through.

The wolf leapt, and Cathal screamed defiance as he shoved himself off the altar to meet it. The warrior and the wolf collided mid-air, falling to the bloodied dirt in a frenzy of stabbing, frantic snapping jaws and swinging limbs. At last, there were only the low breaths of a broken man and a dying wolf, but Cathal found the strength to reach out and pry the silver collar from the beast’s neck and achingly, painfully drape it over his own neck. The bronze clasp was broken from their struggle, but the collar sealed itself all the same against his throat, the thorny spines prickling his flesh like needles.

The last sight he could summon before he passed out was the visage of the bandruí looming over him, fey eyes burning over a scowl as he passed into darkness.

When he awoke, it was to a burning pain around his neck. He clawed at the agony before really coming to full awareness, and found his hand grasping Odhran by the wrist. The younger man had a wet cloth in his hand and was looking at him with care and … pity. That stung more than anything else, because Odhran practically worshiped him. How badly had he been hurt, that this young whelp could see something to pity?

“Cathal, you should rest. You’re not fully healed yet from the … trial.” Odhran swallowed, then gently pried his hand out of Cathal’s grasp. “The burn on your neck is … still healing.”

“The burn?” Cathal asked. “What do you mean?”

Odhran cursed and searched around for a moment before holding up a polished bronze mirror. He hesitated, but Cathal grabbed it anyway with a snarl. The boy had no place to pity him.

Looking at it in the foggy image of the mirror, Cathal could see what he meant. Somehow, the collar he’d managed to drag onto his neck while the wolf slowly died above him had left some sort of terrible scar. It was probably a miracle those thorns hadn’t cut the heart-threads in his neck, come to think of it. The skin was red and puffy like a burn though, no doubt. Still, he would bear the pain like a man. He batted Odhran’s hands away as he carefully levered himself upright, gingerly checking his other wounds. The chunk missing from his arm was bandaged and felt surprisingly good, and the scratches on his chest were healing well. A slow, thorough inspection proved that the rest of him was in working but battered shape - not in the least from the beating he’d taken before they shoved him into the center of a henge with a wolf driven mad by the gods.

Odhran helped him upright and led him out of the healer’s hut. They’d brought him to the village, but he loathed what might come next. He’d survived, which meant that the rest of his life would be spent in bondage to the bandruí, doing whatever they asked. And he imagined they wouldn’t be terribly kind to a man who had slain their sister. Odhran led him to the chief’s hut, where he could see the bandruí who had administered his trial was sitting and chatting with Nuallan.

“Hello there, cur.” The priestess said calmly as they approached. Nuallan turned and gave Odhran an inscrutable look, then returned his attention to the priestess. “Are you ready to go, my pet?”

“He’s still healing, you can’t expect him to -” Odhran objected, stepping forward with anger on his face.

“Odhran! Step down, boy, or she’ll order him to kill you.” Nuallan ordered. “And he’d have to, now, as a matter of honor.”

The young warrior turned to look at Cathal. That wasn’t … yes, it was true. If the bandruí ordered, he would have killed Odhran where he stood. The young man’s fair features met his eyes, and for the first time Cathal realized how precious the little noble was to him. He shouldn’t die for Cathal’s impertinence. A low, sinking feeling settled in his chest as he nodded to the youth, whose face screwed up in anger and … terrible, terrible loss. Cathal could practically - no, he could smell the fear and fury on him, and the salt-warm scent of tears, distinct from the bandruí and Nuallan as clearly as a red post stood out from green or blue. He put a hand on the furious young warrior and looked him in the eyes. A low, burning feeling in his chest rose into his lungs and seemed to buzz in his mouth, like the feeling when one bit thin metal.

“I must go with them, Odhran.” His voice seemed to resonate oddly in his ears, but he paid it no mind. The burning in his chest flushed out of him with each breath, leaving him hoarse. “But I will miss you.”

He turned to the bandruí and looked to her feet. “I am … ready to go, mistress.”

Over time it became clear that his service to the bandruí would not be the mere slavery he had in mind. The burns on his neck scarred over into whorled knots, but the rest of his wounds healed cleanly - some, even better than new, as if the scars from years of combat became pliant again and old aches were banished. The bandruí played coy with them as he entered their sacred circles and secret groves, but the sight of their bodies did not excite him; he wondered if they’d somehow gelded him with their curse. They taught him how to control the strange voice he could summon; the tripartite songs of Brigid the Forgemother, and the two-tongued voice of the wolf spirit that had been burnt into his skin by the ritual. Even as they explained these secrets to him, they gave sly looks about the path ahead for him and his last trial before the gods. He was never fully within their trust, always at an arm’s length.

The first full moon he was with them, they led him to the standing stones again, meek as milk. He trembled at the thought of another humiliating ritual, another descent into the madness of fey curses and cruel druidic spite. As before, he was stripped naked to the night, but unlike his trial he was soon left alone except for the bandruí, who looked at him expectantly. All he could summon was a sullen stare as she paced slowly around the circle, waiting.

Then the clouds drifted aside, filling the dim circle with silver-white light, and the scar around his neck lit up in agony. Unbidden, his chest began to burn with the divine speech, unleashing words he didn’t understand, flowing through his mouth like hot slag from the smith’s fire. The bandruí watched with interest as the magic burned out of his throat, leaving only a hoarse groan as he collapsed to the dusty ground of the ritual circle.

Cathal thought his trials might be over then - that all they’d wanted out of him was to suffer and play puppet for the speech of the gods from time to time. He groaned, trying to summon the will to stand and regain some of his dignity, but something wrenched in his back as he did, and he collapsed again in the moonlight. It felt like his skin was afire, a thousand threads prickling along him like a bed of needles as he twisted and thrashed against the renewed agony of his muscles clamping and clenching. His mind caught fire with the pain, with flickering memories of the wolf and the trial, Ohdran’s terrified face, Nuallan’s resignation and disappointment - and the cold, spiteful visage of the bandruí as she condemned him to servitude.

The pinpricks of pain along his skin became little flecks of pleasure as they resolved into some slow, easy relaxation of some muscle he’d never known he had, and he forced his eyes open to inspect them. His arms were covered in tiny, dense hair - no, it was fur, and it was growing rapidly, darkening his skin and spreading faster than an oil burn across his skin. The bare moment it took for him to contemplate it was all he had before another massive twinge hit his body, each of his muscles cramping then releasing in turn, flexing in pain then going slack with release, then clenching again. It took all his strength to grasp the ledge of the altar and force himself aright, but as he did he was able to look down at his body - and watch as it began to transform before his eyes.

His rough feet, accustomed to the dirt of the road and increasingly worn boots, were thickening, the bones stretching under skin and fur, the nails hardening and sharpening into claw-points as they turned dark. The muscles of his leg tensed in pain - then in pleasure, as they seized and flushed with new growth, his bones and tendons realigning with a snap that fuzzed pleasantly along the new corona of hair thickening across his flanks. The air seemed to thicken in his magic-burned throat, and deep, probing pain along his jaw clamped it shut as his face and mouth warped, taking on the shape of a wolf-snout.

Lost in the sensation of his body’s changes, he could barely control himself as his hands cracked and bent, fingers growing thick and nails hardening into claws. Last of all, though, he could feel his chest burning - pleasantly, to his surprise, as his muscles realigned and shifted, flexing around his bones. It left … little shocks of fire along the dense fur, and he could feel his prick stiffen and change as it took on features of the wolf-curse as well. Despite the humiliation of the bandruí’s gaze, he couldn’t resist the sensation and felt the now-sharp touch of his fingers graze his sack and the sleeved length of his cock, sending waves of hot pleasure through his system.

Heedless of his witness, Cathal lost himself in the exploration of his body, claws tracing through new muscles and feeling the flex of tendon and sinew under fur. Every touch of moonlit flesh was fed him pleasure, and he writhed with it as he stretched and bent himself to its whim. The gods were cursing him, letting chase constantly at the compelling pleasure of his climax without granting it, even as he knew it was inevitable. Every tension in his body surged and slackened against his will, leaving his tossing and turning in pursuit, his cock swelling and dripping with need he couldn’t fulfill. The urge to rut, to surge into flesh and claim it consumed him - and he whirled, growling at the bandruí. She reeked of prey, blood and secrets and mysteries he would never conquer, and if he could take her, then he would be free.

He lunged at her, his howl filling the sacred circle with blood-thickening racket, intent on despoiling the woman who had laid him low and -

He couldn’t. The burned, scarred flesh of his collar restrained him, but the serene face of the bandruí stopped him cold. The pent pleasure and rage boiled beneath him, and he snapped and slavered a mere handsbreath from her, looming over the small, frail creature that held his dominion. A low whine of agony issued from deep in his chest, muscles clenching and trembling with need, and he stumbled back into the center of the circle, clawing at himself for … release, for deliverance for anything that would bring conclusion to the glorious agony of this form.

The moon hone above him, a perfect, silver circle, and in it he saw his reflection - the monstrosity he’d become, the beast whose form he’d taken - and the wretch within. Within that vision, he saw his failures, the mean misery of his life, and the glory offered and squandered by his pettiness. In that tiny shard of realization, he felt a chain-link of his mind crack, falter, and shatter like a broken plank. With it, his body gave one, convulsive wrench, the pleasure finally overwhelming pain and driving him to climax. His cock, slipping from the wolf-sheath and dribbling clear slick, erupted with cum that fell on his legs and his flanks, draining away as his body trembled and twitched.

Standing in the henge-circle with the bandruí, his chest heaving with the pain of transformation in the light of the full moon, he felt part of himself wash away at the will of the gods. He was truly bound, heart and soul, to the service of the bandruí, to prevent them from coming to harm. When his humanity returned, full of pain-pleasure and agony in equal measure, he begged forgiveness at the feet of the bandruí who had judged him, weeping for the desecration he’d wrought in the death of young Méabh. The thought of who he’d been - a brash, violent warrior interested only in his own urges and glory - filled him with disgust and shame.

He spent the next years following the bandruí in their duties, subservient and silent. He hunted in the moonlight for the prey needed for their rituals and defended their honor. Once, he even took the form of the wolf and stalked a man who had blasphemed against the bandruí, mauling him, and leaving him a cripple for life. In time, the bandruí returned to the village he’d grown up in, escorting the bandruí Luidsech who had last visited on the occasion of his trial. She was in simpler garb than last time, but still unmistakable, as she greeted his tribesmen by name and inquired after their health and affairs. Cathal kept silent, obedient to her needs, as they moved towards the chieftain’s house. Nuallan had fallen in battle during a cattle raid over the winter, and his oldest son had become the new chief, but otherwise much was the same. The change of leadership with the stasis of the rest of the village left him feeling stuck in time, like one of those insects in the golden-colored rocks the sea-traders brought from time to time.

All seemed well until he saw Odhran, lurking under the eaves of the houses and staring uncomfortably at the bandruí as she chatted amiably with Aed, the new chief. The nape-hairs of Cathal’s neck rose as he scanned the village for threats, the scent of … menace flowing in the air. He took a deep, slow breath, his mind soaking in the countless aromas of his former home. Sifting between them he found … yes.

Fury, pain, loss … and Odhran.

His eyes snapped open to the sight of the young warrior dashing forward in a silent charge towards the bandruí, bronze sword held in a loose, fluid grip. Cathal felt panic rise in his breast, the thought of the bandruí coming to harm warring with the sudden, cruel need to protect and guide the young man who had gently tended his wounds. With a strangled growl he lunged between Odhran and the druid, bracing his body for the pain of the wound and the shock of collision as he knocked the younger warrior aside.

The sword cut into his side, Odhran beneath him, as Cathal fought the bestial urge to tear the young man apart. Below him, Odhran broke into anguished tears, sobbing something inaudible between heaving breaths. It felt … good, to touch him, even though the scar around his neck blazed in fury as the curse urged him to rip and rend with gory abandon. Resisting the wolf-spirit slavering and raging within him, he yanked the sword out of Odhran’s hand and pulled himself aright, tossing the weapon out of reach. The devastated youth looked up at him weakly, then curled in on himself and sobbed, his whole body radiating heartache.

“This was the boy who tended your wounds after your trial.” The bandruí said quietly as she approached the tableau. Her face was full of sympathy, though she didn’t spare a glance for his wound or Cathal’s own distress. Instead, she crouched down over Odhran and soothed back his hair. “You poor child. I take it you loved him, and he never loved you back?”

“Yes.” Odhran cried, and something small broke inside Cathal at the sound. He’d never … no, he had known. But he’d hated the idea and had thought less of Odhran for his weakness even though the other man obviously worshiped him and didn’t care how obvious it was. The silver-burn collar around his neck churned with agony at the outrage of an attack against the bandruí, but what remained of his human heart broke for the sweet man before him driven mad by love.

“There, there.” The bandruí stroked the pained face of the young warrior, gently wiping away a tear with her thumb. “I understand, my child. I understand.”

“Holy bandruí, I … apologize for my little brother.” Aed broke in, obviously terrified. He was Odhran’s senior by a few years, but he was still a young man and for the bandruí’s first visit under his rule to be marred with something so horrific as her attempted murder …

“Chief Aed, what would you do if I claimed your brother to the service of the bandruí for his … transgression?” the druidess asked. The onlookers - for they had drawn a small crowd - murmured in shock and surprise. “I know that we have already taken Cathal as penalty for his crime, and I do not want your tribe to be seen as unfairly favored or … preyed up, by my attentions.”

“I …” Aed looked between his brother, obviously unmanned and driven mad, and the serene grace of the bandruí kneeling beside him. “Yes, bandruí, that would be acceptable. His service would be a gift to you that honors us all.”

Odhran was light in his arms as Cathal carried him into the healer’s hut, laying him on the same bed where his own wounds had been tended after the trial. He didn’t know what the bandruí had in store, but he couldn’t help but feel a … tenderness towards the young cub. Love of another and driven him mad, even if it had led him to try to commit such a heinous act. Love of … him. The deep well of shame and horror at his own transgression loomed over him, the unforgivable wrong he could never correct. But despite that, Odhran … loved him, to the point of his own ruin. Some part of Cathal, stirred, for the first time since his trial. The sensation of … care, desire, and attraction he’d assumed was lost forever as a price of his crime was alive, bound up in the slender form of the young man before him. He smelled like … woodsmoke, well-cured leather, and the wildflowers of the meadows. It was a good smell, whole and complete, but for the sheen of agony on its surface.

Cathal tugged a blanket over the young warrior and left the hut, approaching the bandruí as she reclined under a nearby tree.

“What … what will you do to him, mistress?” he asked, haltingly. Whatever answer she gave, he felt fear rising. His own concern unmanned him, even though he was beneath shame due to his crimes.

The bandruí looked at him contemplatively, then scanned the village. Farmers, women, and warriors walked by, going about their business, but every eye sooner or later darted to Cathal and the bandruí, wondering what might transpire. There was tension, excitement, fear - the air was full of the sour smells of human uncertainty, the acrid scents of trepidation.

“What do you smell, my cur?” the bandruí asked with affection. Her serene gaze drifted across the false peace of the village, alighting on noble and vulgar alike.

“Confusion. Fear. Uncertainty. Relief.” Cathal answered, honestly. “… and from Odhran, pain. Heartbreak.”

The bandruí nodded thoughtfully. She stood, leading Cathal back to the healer’s hut. There, she carefully tended to Odhran, gently soothing him back to himself. With a gentle touch, she explained that a … simpler version of Cathal’s own penalty would be applied for his attempted crime. But with a warm smile, she explained one thing further: that he and Cathal would not be separated, by custom or distance, once they shared this burden.

Odhran wept, but he accepted. Cathal and the bandruí took him from the village that night to the standing stones, letting the sunlight fade until they were braced in the cool light of the moon. The bandruí summoned her bone-athame from the deepest shadows of night, and with it wove the collar-chain of Odhran’s curse, knitting moonlight into solid silver as the two men watched, spellbound. Cathal released his clothing, then roughly stripped Odhran of his, baring their skins to the moonlight. The bandruí led the shivering warrior to the altar, gently placing his hands on the cool, rough stone. He’d never … dwelt on it before, but Odhran was a comely lad, with tawny hair along his chest and a well-formed body lithe with youth and practice at plow and sword.

“Cathal was accursed as part of his trial. You are accepting this curse onto yourself to share the burden of your beloved, and it will bind you and all your blood-spring, from here until the moon shines no more.” The bandruí intoned, weaving their hands together so they were clasped, wrist to wrist. Cathal felt the thready pulse of Odhran’s heart and the scent of … resignation, hope, and fear. He felt his manhood rise gently at the thought that Odhran … truly wanted this. Wanted him, and was so willing and ready to give up everything for it. The bandruí gently slid her knife into the knot of their clasped hands, just barely breaking the skin. “Odhran, do you accept the judgement of the gods, who may strike you down now in retribution for your crimes?”

“I do.” Odhran whispered, eyes wide and locked to Cathal’s own. The young warrior cleared his throat, then repeated himself, confidently casting his voice to reverberate through the stones. “I do.”

“Very well. Cathal, speak the truths of your curse.” The bandruí commanded, then gently draped the thorned silver chain around Odhran’s neck. It looked … imposing, almost unnerving, to see it on the face of the sweet boy who had wept for his wounds and been driven mad by his absence. It was a transgression, a wrong in the world, that this had come to pass, but come to pass it had. Cathal felt the burning heat of the tripartite voice of the gods surging in his got like liquid fire, a deep breath drawing it along his body like vinegar-acid burning along the veins of his heart, even as he despaired for what was going to happen to Odhran.

“We are bound to the bandruí, heart and soul, to serve without question or reserve.” the words flowed out of him from some alien place, three tones speaking as one. “We are bound in silver to the will of the gods, and the merciless face of the moon guides our fate. This is the judgement of the gods, and none may forswear it. Our curse is that of the wolf, to cull the wicked and protect the pack.”

Cathal’s tongue burned with the truths of the curse surging in his veins, bringing liquid agony to the scar around his neck. His hand flinched in the agony of it, driving the bone-knife into his hands and cutting into his flesh - as well as Odhran’s. Copper scent filled the air as their commingled blood dripped onto the stone, a faint current of rising in the air and making hair stand on end. Odhran’s eyes met his own, and for a second Cathal saw pity in them through his own agony, a mirrored reflection in moonlight …

Odhran saw him, tortured by his past, the silver-scar of his curse inflamed, but his shoulders strong, firm muscles rippling in agony and the pain of heartache on his own face as the curse burned between them. He was taller, older, his scarred body nevertheless alive with youth and strength like Odhran’s own, and he felt … desire. Love. Hope, delirious hope. It broke his heart, and in that moment, the gods struck them down.

The silver collar around Odhran’s neck writhed to life, constricting around him like a coil as the young warrior yelped in surprise. The knife, slippery with blood, fell onto the altar as Cathal leapt to catch the youth as he twitched and yowled in pain. The silver pricked, then clawed at the flesh of his neck, leaving him screaming as blood flowed freely in a rush, drenching them both.

“No, no, no, no …” He couldn’t tell if it was Odhran speaking, or his own voice, but he finally didn’t care, his own desperate heart leaping as the lifeblood pulsed out of the young man. “Please no, don’t take him, please.”

The gentle hand of the bandruí reached down and stroked along the line of Odhran’s jaw as the youth looked up at her, his mouth flecked with hearts-blood but his eyes filled with painful hope. The druid smiled, and slowly reached down to press her lips to his brow as Cathal cradled him, sobbing.

“I gift you life, little wolf. Teach this cur that there is more to it than death.” the whisper of the bandruí rocked the foundations of the universe, the dolmen-stones groaning at her words and the stars brimming with expectation. The air filled with power, fey light dancing and swarming as the silver around Odhran’s neck flowed slowly, then quickly, into his skin, leaving only a puffy, raised pattern of skin like a mantle around his neck, countless whorls of burned flesh scarring over. Odhran twitched, then contorted in his arms, groaning in pain as the curse took hold in his bones, but Cathal held him tight against his chest as he struggled, sobbing with relief. The bandruí stepped between the stones, resting her hand on one and looking back at her cur with a little smile. “I’ll be back here in the morning, my pets. Enjoy yourselves.”

For a moment, it was all Cathal could to breathe, holding the young warrior to him tight and rocking back and forth to soothe him. He was babbling incoherently, arms locked around Odhran until the other man stirred and gently pried himself free. They stared at each other, naked save for the whorled scars glowing in the moonlight, and for a moment all the worlds of gods and men were lost in their shared gaze.

“I had no idea,” Cathal began, “I’m so sorry, Odhran. Please, please forgive me.”

The younger man came forward, his face tender, and gently held his hero’s face in his hand. Odhran came in gently, brushing their lips together in a delicate kiss until Cathal whimpered in need, lunging forward in an embrace, and fiercely kissing him back. They wound themselves around each other in the stone-dust of the dolmen circle, alternately weeping with joy and crying out with desire. The silvered moonlight glowed off the standing stones like silent witnesses as a lifetime of pain unraveled between them, washed away in the cool gaze of gods and stars alike.

In a pause between their desperate embraces, Odhran leaned forward and took a deep breath from the muscled planes of Cathal’s chest hair, rubbing blood off his blond scruff into the thick, dark hairs that grew there. Cathal rolled the smaller man on top of him, letting their manhoods press together pleasantly as their warmth radiated from skin to skin.

“I forgive you, Cathal.” Odhran whispered at long last. “I’m so sorry I was never brave enough to …”

“Shhh … no, no, please.” Cathal pleaded, gently lifting his lover’s gaze to meet his own. “I was … a terrible person, and I did terrible things. I thought so little of you, for the barest affection you showed me. The bandruí is right to call me a cur.”

“Not anymore.” Odhran responded defiantly. “I’ll … show her. Wow. I can’t even … think ill of her anymore, can I?”

“No. We serve the bandruí, heart and soul.” He recited, though the burning-heat of divine speech thankfully didn’t return. “You’ll … understand more, the longer you work through it. I’m still … sometimes surprised. And ashamed. I’m so ashamed of who I was, and I can never change what I’ve done.”

“You …” Odhran broke their eye contact. “You were always a good person, deep down. You just couldn’t show it, and thought the only way to be strong was to be cruel.”

“Yes.” Cathal sighed, stroking the loose ruff of his lover’s hair. He felt their cocks stir between them, the slight shift of Odhran’s body above his. Cathal traced his fingers along the muscled flanks of the younger man, gently leading to supple buttocks and traces of fine blond fuzz. “And I … missed this. This intimacy. It could have been ours all along.”

“Shhh.” The blond looked up at him again. “We have it now. And I want it now.”

Their kiss had a deeper, primal urgency now, a desperation seated as deep as the wolf-curse if not deeper. Odhran’s hunger locked into him, the scent of need flowing off him like mist from a waterfall. Cathal’s own cock was thick and full, leaking the clear run of his arousal in a slick pool on his muscled belly as Odhran’s more slender rod rolled forward, their hips bucking together. Tense muscle grappled and rubbed against smooth skin and tickles of hair as they writhed, reveling in each others’ presence. Low growls filled their throats and their bodies cried out with need, fingers clutching and groping into each other with a ferocity they could have never imagined.

Odhran pulled them over, his legs locking around Cathal’s waist and pulling him in. The scarred warrior looked down at him as Odhran gently pulled him forward, letting his thick cock rest at the cleft of his ass and gently prod against the softness there. Cathal couldn’t help but look at the smaller man in delirious confusion and delight, but Odhran smiled warmly and nodded, hitching him forward so the blunt head of his prong pressed info the firm flesh beneath.

“I’ve wanted you for so long, Cathal.” Odhran whispered, pulling him down for a kiss. “I’ve waited for too long. Please, Cathal.”

Fear and apprehension drained away, and the scent of … total acceptance, anticipation and joy drifted from his lover. Cathal gently … so gently, why had he ever thought his cock was about bringing him pleasure? The look on Odhran’s face as his prong slowly bulged into the smaller man was revelation, a pleasure he could have never anticipated before. The thickness of him sank into the tense, slick flesh of his lover, clenched in a tight caul of warmth and movement that stripped his mind of speech and left only the trembling joy of his lover, the hot, wet tension of Odhran’s pre-slick dribbling onto their chests, and the fierce pressure of the youth urging him deeper, harder, into the yielding muscle beneath him.

Finally, his cock was fully sheathed in his lover, who cooed gently in his arms as he gave delicate kisses along his neck and collarbone, bristled beard gently scratching at the silver-scars there but bringing no pain. Odhran was slack beneath him, a warm knot of muscle, tendon, and pleasure radiating satisfaction. Cathal’s manhood twitched inside him, sending jolts of sensation through them both until Odhran was bucking beneath him, writhing with joy.

“More,” Odhran gasped, youthful face framed by a corona of blond beard and tangled hair, eyes wild with need. “More, Cathal, please.”

“Yes, my love.” Cathal began rocking in and out, his thick cock rolling into the smaller man’s hips with steady, disciplined thrusts. The sensation of Odhran wrapped around him, the tension on his cock - it was incredible, more intimate than he could have ever imagined, but the look of joy and abandon on the younger man was sublime. He became lost in Odhran’s gaze as he sawed back and forth into him, his prick gently but firmly riding along every ridge and sensation of Odhran’s body. The loose folds of Odhran’s balls rose up, rocking and bouncing between them as his slender cock slapped back and forth, hooded head sending flicks of clear slick every which-way as the young blond began to growl and howl with delight.

When he came, it surprised them both; Odhran’s prick surged and sent silver-white cum across his body, thick globs of seed dripping along the muscled chest and belly of the blond youth. The tension of Odhran’s climax clasped Cathal’s cock in a fierce grip, tensioning him towards his own bucking peak. He felt his seed surge in thick waves into Odhran’s gut, his balls drawing up with release as his strength gave out and he moaned with joy.

They rested, wrapped around their own mess and filth in the circle of stones, with only the silent dolmens and chasing stars for company. Odhran’s finger gently traced the burn-scars of Cathal’s chest, the messy warp of knotted tissue where he’d haphazardly cast the silver chain on the night of his trial. In comparison, Odhran’s curse-scar was neat, almost elegant, in a careful band sculpted to the bend of his collarbones and curve of his shoulders. Cathal couldn’t help but brush it gently, then lifted his lover’s chin to match his gaze.

“Thank you, Odhran.” Cathal whispered. “For … caring. For giving me something to live for, beyond the curse.”

The youth’s face screwed up, not with pity, but with heartbreak, and leaned up to give him a tender, slow kiss.

A discreet cough announced the return of the bandruí to the circle of stones. Odhran flinched, then relaxed as the curse wound its way through him. It was odd to observe on the face of another something that had surely been on his face for years. No wonder the younger bandruí had been so coy and sly. Cathal roused, unwinding himself from Odhran’s arms and reaching for his garments. He handed over the rough-treated clothing torn off his beloved as well, though they laughed over the torn shirt as Odhran discarded it. They followed the bandruí back into the village, pausing only to wash blood, filth, and their own emissions in the creek. The bandruí was remarkably patient, perhaps indulgently so, as they made their way back on her rounds.

When she sent Odhran out to hunt for their evening meal, Cathal broached a question to her.

“Why … did you spare him?” It had rested in his mind for a little while, that she wasn’t known to be terribly merciful, with his own example easy to hand. “You didn’t have to.”

“No.” The bandruí contemplated him for a moment. “I didn’t. But this, my cur, would have offended the man you were more than anything else, I think. And I think all the same it brings a little good into the world, even if it is born of spite.”

She looked up at the stars for a moment, then lit the fire with a gesture, twigs catching alight with flickers of fey light before burning a more normal shade. The bandruí whispered something else, too low even for the wolf-cursed man to hear, before dismissing him to assist his lover. The bandruí stared into the delicate flames for a long while, remembering the young girl she’d watch waste away, and sight of the two young men entwined in satiated love.

Alone but for the merciless light of the stars, the bandruí wept.

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