TOUCH OF THE WOLF By Susan Krinard
TOUCH OF THE WOLF By Susan Krinard
Northumberland, England, 1860
Braden stood in the broad shadow of his grandfather, Tiberius Forster, earl of Greyburn, and gazed about the Great Hall into thirty pairs of eyes. Eyes that, like his, seemed human but were not. Watchful eyes: fierce, ever alert, weighing every other man and woman who waited in silence for the earl to speak. Even now, at this ninth great meeting of the families, the delegates never forgot what they were.
Loups-garous. Werewolves. A breed apart from mankind, but living among humanity. A race that would have faced extinction if not for the earl of Greyburn’s great Cause.
Braden had been told the story so many times that he knew it by heart. Tiberius had spent his youth searching for his scattered people—in Europe, Russia, Asia, America. His special gifts let him sense them wherever they survived—among the aristocracy and elite of their homelands, more likely than not; more rarely among the common folk, hiding what they were.
The hiding was always necessary. It was a world of humans, and humans far outnumbered the wolf-kind. Yet the loups-garous had intermarried with humans and ceased to breed true.
Tiberius knew that their people would die out, fade to nothing in a matter of years or decades—inevitably—unless the blood bred true again. Unless those purest of lineage and power were joined to others equally pure.
There was only one way it could be done. Boundaries must be set aside; old national rivalries, old hatreds forgotten. The loups-garous must come together, must make a great pact to preserve their race. Tiberius had cajoled, threatened, pleaded, argued, and used his considerable power to bend others to his will.
And they had come, to this stronghold in the inner heart of Northumberland, where the Greyburn Forsters had held their land for hundreds of years—Forsters who shared a surname with humans but were so much more. That first Convocation in 1820 had been fraught with peril and suspicion, but in the end the loups-garous had chosen their salvation. The first marriage contracts had been negotiated, bloodlines traced for the new records.
So it had been now for forty years, twice each decade. But this was Braden’s first meeting; at fourteen he had learned to Change, and was at last worthy of taking part in the Cause.
He stared under drawn brows at the Russian delegate, the father of the girl who had been promised to Braden at this very meeting. A great landowner, this prince, who ruled a virtual kingdom of serfs in his distant country. The Russian blood was strong yet, and when joined to the ancient British strain…
Braden shook his head. It was too much to consider here, in this forbidding place with its banners and cold stone. He looked instead at the other delegates, memorizing faces: dour Scots from Highland and Lowland;
French aristocrats, who with their powers had survived the purging of the nobility in their land; the wary Austrians and Prussians; the small conclaves of proud Spanish and Italians from warmer climes, where their people clung to the mountains; Norsemen who crossed the sea to land again on shores where once their ancestors had raided and conquered.
There was a handful of guests from more exotic lands, who had come but reluctantly: an Indian prince, a sheikh from the deserts, the last survivor of a venerable clan in Nippon. Only their nonhuman blood bound them to the others.
And then there were the Americans. They fiercely guarded their independence and looked askance at the British nobleman who claimed leadership of all who ran as wolves and men. But they, too, recognized Grandfather’s warning, and so they had arrived at Greyburn—to talk, debate, hammer out compromise.
Today, the ninth gathering of the families was at an end. The delegates would scatter for five more years, but new contracts were set in place, and there would be another generation of children born to carry on the revived bloodlines. Just as the first contract had bound Braden’s late father to Angela Gevaudan of the old French blood. Angela had dutifully borne the Greyburn heir three children: Braden, Quentin, and Rowena. Each would, in turn, marry as the great Cause dictated; and their children would follow suit, on into the future when the loups-garous would become the powerful, fearless people they were meant to be…
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