Relating to 1791
Lord Hallowstone continued the tale of San Germán: “The trail was deeply hidden. It took weeks to sift through the casual acquaintances and unwitting suppliers of the conspirator. From London to Wales, San Germán followed what could have been a ghost: a tall blue-eyed man with a name but no other distinct physical description, a man with no friends but evidently of plenteous means, a man of no unusual vices, or at least that’s what his acquaintances thought. Few men are free of vices. But he did have an unusual profession: he was a chemist. And that combined with the mention of supernatural agencies was something San Germán was familiar with.”
The pause in the story was not necessary. Another audience would have been reluctant to believe what was to follow, but surely what he and Bernice had experienced together in Moldavia opened the door to all such possibilities.
“San Germán started interviewing the local farmers, the people of the Welsh countryside, and those that had travelled recently throughout that land, seeking evidence of the man’s presence. Soon he found the clue he was looking for. A stagecoach driver who had manned the route between Denbigh and Wrexham for six years had quit in mid 1790, changed his profession, and moved his family south to safer ground. His story, believed by some, scorned by none, was familiar to San Germán.
“One evening, an enormous wolf-like animal sprung out of the darkening woods after the stagecoach. For several minutes, the black beast, as long as the horses, raced alongside the carriage, keeping pace with the panicked animals. And then it leaped, fastening itself onto the neck of one of the horses. The force of the impact shattered the harnesses and overturned the coach. The driver and the lone passenger were thrown out of the wreck over the side of the road. The fact that they were knocked unconscious doubtless saved their lives. The second horse was found the next day several miles away, its skin still frothing from its gallop. The first one was found in the middle of the road, half eaten, completely torn apart.
“That attack had taken place under a blood moon, full and low on the horizon. In November of 1791 another such moon rose and the whisper “bad moon on the rise” quickly spread across that region. By that time San Germán had catalogued most of the cases of cattle and domestic animals said to have been killed by wolves over the previous two years. Using time of sighting, date and location, he had formed a hypothesis about the haunts of the creature. It, if there was only one, kept to a narrow geographical pattern that extended from Wrexham in the East to Bangor in the West; the waves of attacks started always in the East and lasted about a week.
“The sea coast is an unusual habitat for wolves. But the proximity of quarries to Bangor would be of interest to someone seeking certain minerals. Indeed, a man answering the description of the Frenchman was a common visitor to the local inns there and frequent passenger on the Bangor ferry. He had not been seen for a fortnight.
“San Germán purchased the fastest horse he could find and started working his way East from Bangor. Near Gresford he caught the beginning of the next wave. Following the tracks of an overgrown wolf, a farmer and a blacksmith had found themselves before a grisly sight: a snow-covered field dotted with the bloody carcasses of several cattle and sheep, and a sheepdog. In the nearby farm they found the owner of the dog, hidden under his kitchen table, armed with a pitchfork, and stammering a story about a huge wolf that chased him across his field, almost knocked the door off its hinges and even stood on two legs to peer in through the windows in search of another way in.
“Its eyes were blue and seemed intelligent to the man. The local parson organized armed patrols to search for the werewolf. Fortunately for them, all they found were its tracks. San Germán, headed West immediately and put his plan into action. He knew he was ahead of the wolf.
“On the way east he had stopped at every village with a church, and recruited local volunteers to stand watch on the bell towers on every clear night after a first signal was given at his command. The full moon and the snow-covered ground lit the countryside for miles. If the wolf ventured within sight of the bell towers, they were to ring two sets of three tolls. San Germán gave the command and every church within 40 kilometers of Wrexham sounded a four-toll signal announcing their readiness.
“During the worst blizzards San Germán took shelter at the roadside inns, but as soon as the weather cleared he returned to scouting the farmlands. All he had to do was think like a wolf, pick its next likely target, and wait. On the third night the bells of St. Justin’s announced a sighting. A few hours later a sister signal came from the nearest church to its north, two kilometers east of his location. He headed for the intervening farms. Within minutes he could discern the voice of a young lad calling out in the darkness.
“A cow had escaped from its stall, and the youth trudging through the new fallen snow was chasing it down. San Germán moved upwind of the pair and searched the horizon. His horse was the first one to detect the creature.
“At first it drew toward its prey in stealth but, as soon as the cow caught its scent and reacted in fear, the beast rose well above the snow as if relishing the panic caused by its immense form. The lad started to shout for help until he realized in dismay how far they had wandered from the barns. Instead of running, the young man dropped to his knees, crossed himself, and started to pray. The wolf interrupted its approach and circled to the left, offering its full flank to San Germán. It was a shot impossible to miss.
“He was armed with an American flintlock, a rifled gun by Haga of Pennsylvania. It still hangs in the hunting room.” Santiago pointed towards the south side of the house. “He hit the beast right behind the left shoulder blade; the shot should have gone through at least one lung and the heart. It should have been dead instantly. The impact threw it to the ground but within seconds it stumbled to its legs again.
“Before the wounded beast could decide to spend its rage on the lad, San Germán ran out of his hiding place shouting and drawing his hand gun. The wolf measured the intruder, started to crouch to attack him, and then visibly staggered. With a backward glance at the moon it growled at its assailant and dashed away into the trees.
“The rich puddle of blood in the snow proved he had hit the animal, and yet it ran. San Germán sent the lad home and followed the wolf. Twice that night he saw it in the distance. Each time it had stopped at the top of a hill to howl at the moon. Each time it left that hill with longer bounding leaps than the ones that had taken it up. Two hours before dawn, the last church on his well laid trap sounded the sighting signal. Impossible as it seemed the black monster stayed ahead of the horse and slipped out of his noose. But San Germán knew where it was headed.
“By late morning he had reached Bangor, and verified that the Frenchman had gone across to Anglesey. To those he interviewed, the man had appeared listless but otherwise in good health. By evening he had tracked him to Dulas. By the time the moon was at its zenith, San Germán discovered the ruins of Hallowed Stone, glowing with a light from within.
“He maintained vigil from a distance with his spyglass until, around midnight, a cloaked man ascended from the base of the western wall of the ruins. As soon as the figure had disappeared into the northern woods, San Germán went in. The charred remains above ground were all that was left of an ancient fortified manor, perhaps owned by a chieftain of the Druids. The only thing standing taller than a man, was a portion of the northwest corner of the outer wall. But underneath, the building was intact and refurbished.
“The stone floor next to that wall, where a hearth or altar had stood, had caved in or had been excavated, its debris forming a natural ramp to the space below. The interior had been segmented into rooms, with the innermost one holding several work tables, fuel lamps, glass-working equipment and shelves full of bottles, vials, and boxes. The shelf on the left held an elongated wooden box with a dozen fist-sized glass spheres, like the one Frith had held, embedded halfway in fine talcum.
“The full moon supplied enough light to inspect every corner of that room. The adjacent room, poorly hid by a curtain had a light of its own. This had been the source of the glow San Germán had noticed in the distance. It was the glow of candles arrayed at the points of a pentagram painted on the center of the floor.
“San Germán had seen enough. He made his way out of the ruins towards his hiding place beyond the pond. But his horse was no longer there. Instantly, every sound of the forest became magnified in his ears, every smell a measure of the field upwind; every ripple of moonlight scattered by the water onto the trees shone like the beam of a lighthouse in a stormy sea. Fear, doctor, is a most useful thing.
“San Germán followed the sound of labored breathing to the edge of a clearing, knowing that that was what it wanted him to do. And there, lying on its side in a pool of blood was the horse, its mouth muzzled with a rope, still alive only because the beast at its throat had purposely missed the jugular.” Santiago omitted the description of the grievous wound across the horse’s belly and the look of panic in its eyes; but the anger that spread across the Spaniard’s forehead was evident.
“The wolf turned its eyes from him to the horse and back to him, methodically turning its head from side to side to let the moon glisten on its bloodied maw, making it plain that this was the fate that awaited the man.
“San Germán drew the one pistol he carried on his person. The rest of his guns were scattered across the clearing with the horse’s shredded saddle. The wolf took a step back and offered its chest defiantly. At the raising of the weapon it raised itself slowly onto its rear legs until its portentous size was fully revealed. And from that nearly human posture it growled its challenge.
“San Germán swung the pistol down and fired its shot, ending the horse’s agony. In the same movement his left hand snatched the hunting knife from his belt and sent it slicing through the air at the startled monster. Its edge cut deep into the beast’s throat. Its first roar, pure anger, echoed off the trees like thunder, but its second barely gurgled in its throat as it choked in its own blood. The fire in the blue eyes turned into horror. San Germán’s knife, a gift from a gypsy matriarch, was plated in silver.
“The wolf’s mad pawing at the knife only tore the wound further. The monster dropped to all fours, rolled in the ground and howled with an indescribable voice. San Germán retrieved his rifle, took aim, but an impossible sight froze his finger. The wolf’s right paw splayed itself open, its claws retracted, and a human hand grabbed the knife by the hilt and wrenched it out of its neck.
“The transformation spread from that extremity to the rest of the arm, the chest, the body… until a naked man, covered in blood, growled an inhuman curse at him, and ran, casting away the knife into the depths of the woods.
“You see, San Germán’s experience with these creatures, up to that time, agreed with the judgment of Pierre de Lancre and the doctors of the Church. There could be no such thing as a transmutation of man into beast. When so reported, the witnesses had been fooled, confused. No, it was always a real wolf controlled by a human vessel, a human vessel entranced in the safety of its lair. Further, all evidence pointed to a connection between man and beast so deep that any wound inflicted upon the animal appeared in the man.
“But here, before his eyes, wolf had become man. He lost the figure in the darkness of the woods before he could fire. So he followed. But the man, instead of returning to his lair in the ruins as he expected, headed straight for a hillock, in plain view of his hunter and the moonlight. A second time San Germán hesitated. The man stopped running, raised his arms to the moon above and howled like the beast. His first cry was uncertain, the second stronger, the third triumphant.
“The Frenchman turned slowly toward his pursuer who was by then at the foot of the hillock. ‘This feast, I will enjoy.’ Those were his words. By his second step his skin was covered in black fur. By the third, he was all wolf. San Germán fired the rifle, striking the advancing monster in the chest but missing the heart. The creature stopped and shook itself. Howling at the moon again, it drew itself up on its hind legs and smiled as only a wolf can smile. With a giant claw it pulled out the lead ball from the wound and tossed it at the man.
“San Germán had only the second pistol and his sword left. The wolf flicked its muzzle toward him in defiance at the sight of the hand gun. Without hesitation he fired at the beast’s right eye, and ran. The roar of pain behind him lasted for a few seconds, then came the howling, and then the heavy pounding of its ponderous paws upon the snow-covered ground.
“He turned just in time to slash his sword across the beast’s neck as it pounced at him. The wolf finished its soaring arc against the base of the ruins while San Germán rolled over the snow. Again it was less then a minute’s respite before the moonlight played its healing rays upon the creature. ‘Antaeus’, the ancient myth of the giant who could never be slain whilst he was in contact with his mother Earth, crystallized in his memory.
“The beast was almost on its legs again. San Germán leaped upon it and drove the sword up to its hilt into the creature’s side. Then wrapping his arms around its massive chest from behind, he squeezed with all his strength. He squeezed until he felt his own head starting to swim, and his muscles burn. He squeezed until the creature’s chest started to collapse in a riffle of snapping bones.
“He dropped the writhing monster into the opening in the floor. It bounced across the stones into the room below, impossibly howling its cry to its mistress above. The moon, he had to cut off the moon. The north portion of the wall was tall enough. He threw himself at the corner and heaved against its crumbled base; and the entire wall toppled inwards.
“There was no time to leap out of the way of the avalanche. He rolled ahead of the boulders, down the ramp, and into the cloud of dust and darkness spilling into the room below.
“He knew it was not over. For surely there was another way out of the lair. And once in the moonlight again, the monster would be invincible. There was no time to accustom his eyes to the darkness. A claw ripped through his cloak and cut into his shoulder to the bone. There was only time to act, on memory, in the darkness. His hand found the edge of the wooden box, his fingers dug into the talcum, and as he felt the fetid breath of death at his neck, he spun and plunged one of the spheres into the monster’s maw.
“From below and from above, he smashed the jaws shut and locked his arms around them as the beast tumbled back, and the glass shattered, and an explosion of fire ripped inwards through the monster. San Germán stepped away barely in time. It took mere seconds for the blue flames to envelop the thing and less than a minute to reduce its form to black smoldering soot.
“A week later, he reported his mission accomplished to the King, insisting he needed no reward. But the King prevailed, and there he created Rosendo De Soray, Conde de San Germán, as Lord Hallowstone, granting him one league of the land of Anglesey surrounding the ancient ruins.”
Santiago regarded his audience. None of the skepticism he had expected surfaced in the doctor’s face. She had only one question.
“The glass spheres, what did they contain?”
Santiago pushed on the corner of the third brick above the hearth’s right edge and a section of the adjacent wall opened inwards to reveal a hidden panel full of shelves. Weapons occupied most of them. Out of a box he drew a glass sphere; a hole had been cut in its upper half with a diamond. He dipped a spoon into the powder inside, placed it on a plate and decanted a few drops of water into it. The mixture swelled into a morsel-sized blob of gelatin. With the same spoon he scooped a thimbleful of the compound and cast it onto the base of the firebox. The ensuing flash of blue flame filled the fireplace, and lit the room for an instant.
“Archimedes’ fifth formula: Otherwise known as Grecian fire, a highly volatile mixture of naphta, nitre, and a dozen other chemicals in a base derived from palm oil… pernicious and utterly deadly.”