I am very excited and flattered to be allowed to put up this short story on the blog from one of my favourite UK YA authors - Sarwat Chadda. Sarwat wrote the whopping The Devil's Kiss published by Puffin here in the UK. We will soon be seeing the follow up novel The Dark Goddess from him, but in the meantime, he wrote this short story as a bridging link between the two stories. And as I am such a fan-girl when it comes to wolves and werewolves, I asked him permission to upload it onto the blog as part of our Monster Mash Up. And because he's a nice guy and he likes us, he said yes!
So, take it away, Sarwat:
The Bodmin Accord“We’re lost, Art.”
by Sarwat Chadda
by Sarwat Chadda
The flashlight came on and bobbed up and down as they ploughed across the muddy farm track. Percy kept his eyes on the few yards of rain-smeared earth and his hands tight around the steering wheel of Arthur’s old Jaguar.
“I told you we should have taken the jeep,” he muttered.
“Just...shut up, Percy,” said Arthur.
The underbelly of the car groaned as it scrapped over a semi-buried rock. Percy winced as he heard the exhaust rattle and break loose. Then it began clanging loudly, filling the interior with a dull metallic din.
Arthur snapped the ordnance survey map over and flattened it over the dashboard. The white beam of the torch splashed across the contours and narrow yellow lines of pathways and Percy caught a glance of Arthur’s old Royal Marines compass. The green cover was chipped and the lid held together with glue and tape. He’d told Art to get a new one but Art wouldn’t listen and there was no point arguing.
No one argued with Arthur SanGreal.
“Stop here,” said Arthur.
Percy slammed down on the brake, jerking forward so his face almost knocked the windscreen. He’d pushed the car-seat back as far as it would go but he’d still driven the entire journey from London with his knees up by his ears. He’d kept his head as low as possible but with all the potholes and trenches around here he’s spent the last hour banging his head against the ceiling. He unfolded himself out of the driver’s seat and groaned loudly as he stretched. He tilted his head hard sideways, pulling at his thick neck muscles until something cracked.
“Jesus, that’s better,” he said.
“Don’t blaspheme, Percy.” Arthur surveyed the dark moors with his binoculars. “Wake him up. We’re here.”
Percy hammered the rear passenger door.
There was shuffling from within and the door opened. Gwaine peered out, rubbing his rough hands across his face.
“We there yet?” He didn’t look impressed. “I’m busting.” He yawned and walked over to the opposite side of the car. There was a sharp snap of a zip and then the patter of urine on earth.
Percy buttoned up his jacket and pulled down his wool hat. The last time he’d been out here was his Escape and Evasion training with the commandoes. He’d hated it then, too. The moors lay dull and desolate under the brooding cloudy skies. The moon was well hidden, leaving only a faint halo of shimmering cold white beyond the few cracks in the cloud cover. Stinging icy drizzle swept across the rolling landscape, whipped up and over the low hills and dull valleys. He’d met Arthur here. They’d both applied to join the Royal Marines and earned their green berets together. He glanced over at Arthur. He’d been a different man then. Hard, practical, but a laugh, someone who enjoyed life no matter how bad it got. He missed the old Arthur and maybe, deep down, he hoped that man was there somewhere.
“What’s on your mind?” said Arthur, not lowering his binoculars.
“Better days, Art.”
Gwaine swung open the boot. “Let’s get this farce over with,” he said.
Arthur handed the binoculars to Percy and pointed to a gap between two hills. “There.”
Percy turned the focus until the stones came into view. This part of Britain was sprinkled by prehistoric stone circles. Most were moss-covered lumps, the stones little more than roughly chipped boulders. The stones down in the shallow valley were maybe waist high, nothing like the glamorous circle of megaliths at Stonehenge. The circle was incomplete, maybe some farmer centuries ago had carted a few off to help build a barn or store house, but the irregular ditch still marked the original boundary. Figures moved amongst the rocks, half a dozen.
“Maybe I should do this,” said Percival.
“No.” Arthur reached into the boot and drew out his sword. “We’ve been through this already.” He pulled it out the scabbard and turned the blade, minutely inspecting its slivery edge.
“C’mon, Art,” Percival persisted. “Think about it.”
God, the man was stubborn. Percival grimaced but Arthur glanced at him, face cool and eyes dead.
“About what, Percy?”
“You have a kid, Art, in case you were wondering who that child was in your house. I’m here to tell you she is your daughter.”
“So how do you think she’ll feel if you get yourself killed tonight? Let me do this.” Percival stuck out his hand.
Arthur slammed the blade back into the scabbard. He held it under his arm as he pulled on his leather gloves. “You’ll look after her.” He paused, then gave a casual shrug that may have fooled Gwaine but didn’t fool Percival. “Lord knows you’ll do a better job than me.”
Percival put his hand around the scabbard. There was no way Arthur could break his grip, Percival was almost two heads taller than the Templar Master and twice as huge.
“Let go,” said Arthur.
Gwaine pulled out a large revolver. One by one he loaded in chunky silver bullets. With a sharp flick the barrel snapped shut.
“Art wants to kill himself, Percy. You can’t stop him,” he said.
Percival peered down into his friend’s cold blue eyes. The creases around them were thicker than once they had been, his brown deeper with a constant frown, setting his eyes in a cavern of gloom. Friend, this man, Arthur, was his friend. They had no secrets from one another. They’d mingled their blood, sweat and fear on battlefields in Bosnia, in Iraq, in Africa. Once the join between them had been invisible, they’d been closer than twins. But after Jamila’s death a wall of cold stone had fallen across Arthur’s heart. He’d become a machine, alive only for the holy fight, the Bataille Tenebreuse.
Percival shoved the sword away. “You’re right, Art. Maybe Billi would be better off without you.” He’d said it to hurt him, injure what little spark of fatherly love there might still be. But Arthur just straightened his belt across his waist. His hand settled around the sword hilt.
Nothing hurt Arthur SanGreal. Not anymore.
“We’re wasting time,” said Gwaine. He pushed himself off the car and began down the slope.
Arthur looked at Percival, saying nothing. Then he turned away and left.
“Stupid, stupid, stupid,” muttered Percival. He grabbed his battle-axe, tearing off the oily cloth wrapped around the heavy steel head. He slammed the boot down so hard the entire car shook.
The other two were making their way across Bodmin moor towards the stones. For a second Percival was tempted to get in the car and just head back to London without them. If he was stronger, that’s what he should do. Instead he jogged after the two knights.
If there was any creature that Gwaine really, deeply hated, it was the werewolf. Mindless, bestial, savage like nothing else. They were machines of slaughter, which was why the Templar Rules clearly stated that any werewolf hunt should include a full lance per werewolf. Three knights per Hairy Scary.
So of course Arthur wanted them to take out an entire werewolf pack. Gwaine shook the mud off his boot, but it did no good. The field was just one huge quagmire and his legs were black with mud up to his knees. He swore and ploughed on.
The man wouldn’t listen to reason. Ever. Hadn’t he trained him? Hadn’t he brought Arthur into the Templars? He’d given the man purpose, pulled him, literally, out of the gutter. Now there were times when Arthur looked at him, well, it made Gwaine think he was something stuck to the Master’s boot.
The gutter. He’d found Arthur, in the gutter, under Waterloo Bridge. With the drunks, tramps, illegal immigrants. Snoring in his stinking old army sleeping bag, lying on a bed made of cardboard boxes.
He’d been kicked out of the Royal Marines after some bad business in Bosnia, and had spent six months in a psychiatric hospital. From there, out onto the streets.
Ghul attacks were up. He should have been suspicious, even then, that something was brewing. But that was all hindsight. No-one, not Lot, not Elaine, no-one could have predicted what was to follow. The Nights of Iron. The near-extinction of the Knights Templar.
A ghul had brought him to Arthur. The Unholy blood-drinker was feeding amongst the flotsam and jetsam that lived under the arches. It made sense. You drink from a kid, someone would investigate. You drink from some smelly tramp, even kill them, who’s interested? No-one.
Unless you pick a psychotic ex-Royal Marine with bad blood and an even badder head. The ghul had just sunk his needle-sharp fangs into Arthur’s neck and woken him. Strong as the undead was, even he was taken aback by Arthur’s ferocity. Gwaine had been trailing it, hoping to find its sleeping place and kill it during the day, but it had delayed, looking for a snack. A big mistake. A big, fat, fatal one.
Arthur had grabbed its hair and held it down with one hand while he pummelled its face with a half-brick. The concrete walls had echoed with the high-pitched screech of the Fang-face and Arthur didn’t stop until the only thing left was a smear of blood, brains and bone. Then he’d crawled into a corner and wept.
When he’d stopped sobbing, Gwaine spoke to him. Told him that other monsters were out there, tonight, doing what this creature had tried to do. He’d asked Arthur if he believed in God. He’d asked Arthur if he wanted to help fight against theses monsters, these Unholy. Arthur had only asked one question.
Gwaine smiled as he pushed himself through the deep, sticky mud. He’d given him the only answer a Templar could give.
Okay, Arthur was still deeply disturbed and unstable, but now his rage and anger at the world had direction, focus. Gwaine had been pleased. It was simple. Just point Arthur in the right direction as send him on his way. The details were irrelevant, but his successes were legendary. The guy was just born to slaughter. With guns, swords, knives, his bare hands. Uncouth, lacking technique, just simple and direct.
Then he met Jamila. God, what an evil day that was!
She’d been a doctor working at the psychiatric hospital where he’d been a patient. She specialised in Post-traumatic stress disorder and while he hadn’t been her patient, she remembered him. They talked. They swapped numbers.
They fell in love.
The day they married Arthur should have been kicked out. Simple as that. No Templar was allowed to marry. Relationships were an unnecessary distraction. You needed to have one focus, one love. The Order. Nothing else. God had given the Templars a holy duty and it was not to get married, happy and lazy.
The less said about the kid, the better. Uriens was insane to let Arthur stay when they discovered he was about to become a dad. Insane.
Then Jamila died. The ghuls killed her and Gwaine got the old Arthur back. No, he got something better. Or worse. His hate was like a laser beam: pure, narrow and devastatingly intense.
With Uriens one of the first killed, Gwaine was finally in charge. Or should have been. The Nights of Iron were mad times. Death-dealing times. Truth be told, they all thought they were going to die. Knights were being picked off, the ghuls attacked in hordes. Gwaine tried to organise some defences, he’d even contemplated going for help. He tried to think things through. Like a proper Master. Conserve their strength and try and understand what was going on.
But total chaos reigned. The other Templars realised if they were going down, they were going down fighting. They took Arthur’s lead: Total war.
They killed and died and it was a close run thing. Out of the forty knights that had served under Uriens, less than ten survived. Gwaine’s strategy had failed. War was madness and it needed a man like Arthur to wage it.
The stones came into sight and they stopped. Torches flared around them and figures approached, cautiously.
Yes, times were mad. A man married to a Muslim led the Knights Templar. Hope rested on the shoulders of children. Here they were, fighting for a boy that all sense dictated should die.
Gwaine peered amongst the gathered figures, darkly robed in long winter coats or rough builders’ jackets. They looked like gypsies. Then he caught sight of him. Small, skinny and huddled against a rock, his hands tied together like a lamb ready for the butcher’s yard. The social services report said he was ten, but he looked younger, skinny with malnourished, sunken cheeks. His hair was silvery-white and crudely cut, half-covering his shining too-big blue eyes.
Gwaine scowled. They were risking their lives for this boy. Their eyes met and a chill crept up Gwaine’s spine. If he was a powerful as Elaine suspected, better they kill him quickly, here and now. Leave him to the wolves.
The boy called Kay.
Who do I kill?
Arthur gazed around the slow-gathering crowd, palm resting on the large iron pommel of the Templar sword.
He counted twelve, a mix of ages and equally divided between men and women. The Bodmin pack didn’t look like much. One, an old bloke with a faded red scarf wrapped around a scrawny neck, snarled at him. Most of his teeth were long gone, his gums pale and wrinkled. A few deformed canines dangled somewhere near the back of his mouth but his body was stick thin, buried deep under a heavy coat and bundle of blankets.
As Arthur watched them he saw the sluggish movements, the deformities and dull stares of the Unholy.
The Beast Within was nearly extinct. Elaine had been right. This kidnapping was a last ditch attempt to hold off the inevitable; the end of the werewolves. Where the Templars had failed, technology and civilization had succeeded. The fumes belching from the millions of cars, the soot rising out of the factories and mines, the day by day erosion of the wild countryside, bound into parks or cleared away for fields of dumb sheep and cattle, all heralded the end of the werewolf. Soon the last of the wilderness would be tamed and the curse of lycanthropy would vanish. The Beast Within would fall silent forever and the last link between Man and Animal would gently rust away into nothing.
The werewolves of Bodmin had become civilized. That was their doom. Enclosed, isolated and lonely, they’d interbred for generations, hoping to protect the Beast within the intermingling of blood. Arthur could see the folly of it. The children were pale and puny. The Beast Within existed within everyone. It was a person’s capacity for savagery. For rage, raw action, for revelling in the hunt and the scent of blood in the dawn. The werewolf’s bite merely activated the Beast, brought it to the fore and allowed the person to truly awaken his animal soul.
But civilization dulled the Beast. Concrete imprisoned it. Words and letters and language baffled its senses. So as mankind marched towards a technological utopia, the Beast withered in mens’ souls. Britain, with hardly a forest or wild place, was especially hard. Dartmoor and a few places in Scotland offered some haven, but even these became tainted as they built roads and the horizons filled with houses and shops. There was no room now for wilderness, not on these shores.
Elaine had warned him. If he was bitten Arthur would succumb to the Beast. Not because he was weak, but because he was strong. The Beast fed on blood-lust and Arthur was all about blood-lust and battle-madness. The Beast Within howled day and night in his chest and a bite would allow it to break free. And once free there was no going back. Given the choice between true, bestial freedom and the constraints of being human, of being civilized, who would pick the latter?
Freedom. What he wouldn’t give to have it. Arthur would have let the werewolves be, in another generation they’d be gone and he would have been happy to play the long game. The battle had been fought for seven hundred years, what difference would another twenty have made? The Templars would have won.
Except for the boy.
Arthur tried to avoid looking at him, in case he betrayed how important the boy Kay was to him. An Oracle.
Elaine had tested him and his powers were off the chart. ESP, precognition, telekinesis, telepathy. The boy would save the Order. He was a Mentalist of extraordinary potential. True, he couldn’t control any of the gifts he had and they were driving him slowly mad, but under Elaine’s guidance, he would be saved. Arthur had Kay’s future mapped out. Maybe that was why he’d run away.
Straight into the claws of the Bodmin pack. Arthur knew something of their legends, of their religion. The werewolves followed ancient, pagan ways. Of gods of thunder, battle and night goddesses. They believed they were the first witches, taught the art of transformation, of animal tongue, command over the elements by their ancient goddess. Gaia. Morrigan. Parvati. Hecate. Kali. She had so many names but she was the first. Even now they sacrificed to her and what she savoured more than anything was the blood of the Spring Child.
In the dead of winter the ancient tribes would pick a child, one pure and beautiful and perfect, and cut out its heart and splash its life-blood over the earth, a sacrifice to summon spring out of the winter darkness. Back then, the magic had been stronger. Now, only a few Spring Children came along. The Gifted. Like Kay.
The Gifted indeed. Arthur had studied the Templar dairies, even though he struggled with Latin even now, the message was clear. In the Bataille Tenebreuse the Templars needed such recruits. Now they were called psychics. Once they would have been prophets, witches, magicians.
Mentalists like Kay. Able to access the hidden secrets of the mind, control thought and matter with just the strength of their will.
Mediums, who communicated with the Ethereal Realm. Who could speak with the dead, with the beings of Heaven and Hell.
Elementalists. Humans who commanded the wind, the earth and beasts. They could raise storms with the clap of their hands and summon earthquakes with the stamping of their feet.
But the Gifted were extraordinarily rare. Which was why everyone fought over them. The werewolves believed the blood of the Gifted could renew the earth, that their flesh would awaken the Beast. The Spring Child was a pack’s salvation.
Arthur had heard rumours that others too recruited the Gifted. The Inquisition had a secret seminary high in the Italian Alps where they trained demonologists and exorcists. Even the Assassins of Alamut were said to have killers who could disappear from plain sight and walk through walls. The tales were fantastical, but that didn’t make them false. He’d seen enough to know there were few limits.
"Where’s Nuada?” Arthur asked. Neither side could face a war, even over one of the Gifted. So a duel had been agreed. Arthur versus the pack’s alpha. The winner would take Kay.
Gwaine had argued for an ambush. Get the werewolves all together and wipe them out. Once, maybe, Arthur would have agreed. He had washed in so much blood, what difference would one more massacre have made? But as he’d made his way to the conclave he’d passed Billi, laughing at some stupid cartoon on the telly. She’d been sitting on the sofa with Balin playing baby-sitter. A plate of bread crumbs and glass half-full of milk lay on the floor beside her. How she laughed when she didn’t know he was there.
It had cut him straight through. His legacy was one of fear. Arthur brings nightmares to the monsters. That’s what they said about him. But at that moment he’d seen the legacy he’d left for his daughter. She feared him too.
She would be better off with Percy.
He’d kept his Templar life hidden from her. He knew she was suspicious, but too afraid to ask. He couldn’t tell her. He owed Jamila that. He would keep Billi away from the Knights Templar. She would not share his dark dreams.
“Here, Templar.” A man came through a gap between two weathered boulders. He wore his blonde hair in long plats, decorated with beads and feathers. His naked body was covered in Celtic patterns, deep blue spirals and knots of elaborate beauty. Beside him was a small boy with wild blonde dreadlocks. He hung onto his father’s hand and stared at Arthur with desperate, fear-filled eyes.
I am his nightmare, too, thought Arthur.
The pack alpha peered passed Arthur at Percy and Gwaine. Arthur could see the calculation in the man’s eyes. There were a dozen of them, only three Templars. But a dozen what? Old men. Sick children, weak-limbed adults. It wouldn’t be a fight. It would be a massacre.
“To the death, then?” said the man and in that moment Arthur knew he’d won. He watched the man unwrap his son’s fingers from his hand and the boy fought back tears. The old man put his hand on Nuada’s shoulder then led the boy to the side. A loose circle formed.
He just wants to live.
Why don’t I feel that? He wondered that and felt there was something wrong with him. Arthur didn’t fear because he didn’t have anything to live for. His wife was long dead and his daughter a stranger. He was a useless father. He’d been a poor husband. He’d ruined what few relationships he’d had and would ever do so. Percy stuck by him for old times’ sake, vainly hoping Arthur would change. But how else could he do what he did? He’d buried pity. Buried compassion. Buried his love.
“Yes, to the death,” answered Arthur. He drew out his sword and held it low and ready to his side.
“C’mon, Nuada, kill the bastard!” shouted someone. Nuada took a step sideways, hunched with his brawny arms spread out in front of him. His nails lengthened into yellow long hooks. Blonde and light brown hair thickened across his shoulders and his jaws stretched, fangs rising from his jaw.
Arthur didn’t move.
The transformation was gradual, disjointed. Nuada howled as his spine mutated and his skull lengthened. He walked on two legs, a grotesque man-beast, powerful forearms and reverse-jointed knees, thick corded muscle, locking immense strength within his legs. Only the eyes remained human, they never changed.
Arthur moved. His sword flicked up into a two-handed grip. The werewolf howled as the Templar Master stepped within range of his lethal claws. The monster’s eyes blazed with eagerness and he swept his right claw in a throat-ripping arc.
Arthur drove the sword blade upwards, catching the werewolf through the elbow joint. There was no resistance against the razor sharp steel. He turned into the blow that never came, instead Arthur was sprayed by arterial blood as the arm, completely severed, flew away. He twitched his wrist, reversed his grip and slammed the pommel square in the werewolf’s forehead. The creature wobbled and Arthur roared as he smashed the pommel once more across the beast’s jaw.
The beast collapsed and lay panting in the mud. Arthur pushed his boot onto the creature’s chest and held the sword high, ready for an executioner’s chop. The fight had lasted a few seconds.
“Not my da! Not my da!”
The boy broke free of his grandfather and threw himself against Arthur. He punched and kicked him, tears streaming down his pallid face. The grandfather jerked forward, but stopped. This was Arthur SanGreal.
He felt the terror amongst them. It made him sick. They were the monsters, and yet all he saw were a pitiful bunch of beggars, dressed in clothes gathered from charity shops, undernourished and so afraid. They had no hope, these predators. They saw the future and it was without them. Despite their claws, fierce fangs and howling, it was futile. Man had won. They lived in half-worlds, trapped between wolf and man, and they suffered.
Arthur lowered his sword and stepped backwards.
Instantly the boy threw himself onto his father, hugging the panting monster around its massive neck. The beast stared up at Arthur, blinking and bewildered. Then he nodded, slowly.
The crowd parted as Arthur approached the boy huddled against the rock.
“Come with me, Kay,” he said. He helped him up and drew the blade against the rope knot and the threads peeled apart.
Kay looked up at Arthur.
Arthur smiled. “You’re safe now, boy.”
Kay shook his head. “Not anymore.”