… I sprawled across Jack, closing my arms around his neck. I buried my nose into his strong neck, inhaling his scent, both animal and human, familiar, warm and natural.
Jack lifted his head toward the night sky. “Do you know that the Chinese call Sirius Heaven’s Wolf? It guards Heaven’s Palace, which is our Ursa Major,” he said. “We also call Sirius the Dog Star. We can’t see it now. It becomes visible just before sunrise around summer solstice.”
“The wolf has an important place in many cultures and civilizations.”
“Yes, but it symbolizes different things: in Japan, he’s regarded as a protector from other wild animals. For North American Natives, the wolf is a warrior allegory because of his strength and courage. In many cultures, he represents passion, love and fertility. In Anatolia, barren women in rural areas pray to a wolf to help them get pregnant. There are many human legends that talk about a union between a woman and a wolf. In some other societies, however, his ranking is pretty low.”
“In Western civilization,” I said. “In Greco-Latin mythology, with the exceptions of legends such as Romulus and Remus, the wolf is mostly pictured negatively. Later, wolves became connected with witches and evil forest spirits. In many cultures, he represents the underworld. Not very flattering. And utterly unfair.”
“Do you know the story about the first Ellida?”
“No. Tell me, please.”
“Are you warm?”
“Are you? You’re lying on the snow.”
I heard his soft chuckle. “I’m okay for now. Don’t worry, I’m well protected. So…
Long ago, there were two mighty asyrs, the wizard kings. Affan was a good ruler, whose kingdom thrived until the bad wizard, king Studen, the ruler of the far, frozen North, stole Affan’s Horse with the Silver Mane, and his beloved daughter Illeanna. Heartbroken and without his magic horse that made him undefeatable in battle, he turned to his friend, blaidd Harlan, for help. Harlan had been in love with Illeanna for as long as he could remember, but never dared to ask Affan for her hand, even though he was the Einhamir. ‘Bring me my daughter and the Horse with the Silver Mane back, and’—this is a very important detail, Astrid, you’ll like it—‘if Illeanna agrees, with my blessing she’ll become your wife,’ Affan promised.
“Harlan changed into a wolf. He didn’t stop running for three days and three nights, until he reached king Studen’s palace. He found the room where Illeanna was sleeping. He woke her up and scared her to death because he hadn’t come to her as a dyn–a man–but in his wolf shape. As they brushed against each other, they felt the warm current of the bond run through their bodies. And Illeanna, who had never given Harlan a second thought before, fell in love with him.
“Being a clever asanni, Illeanna didn’t exactly sit in her room and mope waiting to be saved. She had prepared a magic powder and used it to enchant the palace to secure them enough time to escape. They rushed to the stables and took the Horse with the Silver Mane and ran from the palace. They’d almost made it when the guards saw them and closed the gate.
’Get off the horse, Illeanna!’ Harlan said. ‘It can jump over the gate, but not with you on its back! You’re going with me!’
So Illeanna climbed on Harlan’s back and they jumped over the gate. The Horse was already waiting for them on the other side.
“King Studen wasn’t ready to accept defeat. He raised his army and marched to Affan’s kingdom. There he met not only King Affan’s soldiers, but also Harlan’s warriors, who came to fight alongside Affan. It wasn’t long before king Studen was defeated. King Affan kept his word and gave his daughter to Harlan. ‘As I promised, I’m giving you my daughter to be your wife and the mother of your children, Harlan,’ the king said. ‘She’ll bear you many sons, but your first child is going to be a daughter. She will be an ellida, and she’ll bring happiness and prosperity to your people.’
“And from now on, when a werewolf clan proves to be strong enough in its spirit and good deeds, a female child from a union between our two kinds will become the clan’s Ellida. She will be a powerful force of life and good, and a token of the alliance between my people and yours.”
Jack finished the story, but the sound of his soft voice still echoed in my ears.
“That’s a beautiful story, Jack. Thank you.”
He shifted slightly under the weight of my body. “It has many similarities to a Russian legend about—”
“—King Afron, Yvan Vyslavovich and Elena the Beautiful,” I finished. “Yes, it does. But then Afron wasn’t a wizard and Yvan wasn’t a werewolf, although his best friend was. There was no Ellida and the horse mane was gold.”
“And for us, it’s not a legend. It did happen. Affan lived long ago. Illeanna did marry Harlan, and they had a daughter who became the first Ellida of our realm. She still is.”
“I know,” I said. “Morgaine told me she’s sort of the ‘Reverend Mother’ of our sisterhood. The name, Ellida, reminds me of Elatha, or Elathan, from Celtic mythology. He was a Moon God; he was forever young, had silver hair and sailed in a silver vessel. It was said he had a sense of humor and sense of nobility.”
“Ah, I wondered if you were going to make the connection. Do you know what your wizard’s chronicles say about him?”
“No. I was raised more or less as a human girl, remember?”
“I know, love. Well, according to your sources, he was indeed a noble and wise man with a nice sense of humor. He was a wizard, not a god, of course, but for the people of those times, there wasn’t much difference between the two. He was an Albino, hence the silver hair. He introduced agriculture to a small group of hunter-gatherers, saving them from starvation during long winters. They thanked him by turning him into a mythological being. Affan lived many centuries after Elathan’s time, but Affan must have known about wise, noble and altruistic Elathan. And if you want to describe an Ellida in a few words, what would you say? Wisdom, humanity and nobility—the principal qualities the vast majority of you possess…”
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