When food is difficult to come by, the animals of the forest make the long journey to the forbidden well.
It’s not easy to get there. You have to climb an interweaving ladder of branches and run along the tops of the trees. You have to wade through mud chest-deep on a deer. You have to crawl into a blind tunnel and squeeze past the insects and the water on the walls. Then you’re there.
There’s a peace that governs by the forbidden well. It’s a tentative peace. It’s not magic. It’s just something that the wolves want.
What the wolves want in the forest, they tend to get.
The forbidden well is always full of sweet nectar. A few sips give enough calories to carry an animal through a day. In a hard winter, or a drought, or in times of plague, the well keeps the animals of the forest alive.
The wolves are supposed to keep the animals strong, and it doesn’t breed strength when animals can sup on sweet nectar all the time. So for the most part the well is forbidden. But the wolves make exceptions, sometimes, when times are hard, because of Mawndrad, whom they’d loved.
Mawndrad was a hero, in clean and billowing white clothes with a sword like a blue nail. He was handsome and bright and sometimes when he was really sleepy or really happy, he’d have a shiny black wolf nose instead of his own.
He loved Tamarella.
Tamarella was stocky and a miracle girl—you know, the kind who could do things that you hear about in the stories. She could throw a charging bull, just catch it by the horns and fall back and it’d go flipping and tumbling by her. She could bake enough for a ten-person feast with just a handful of flour and some water and some spice. If you’d lost a button in a field, she’d tie tiny rakes to dormouse tails and they’d run around until they dragged the button up. That was the kind of girl that Tamarella was.
He saw her once as she was pulling a giant’s plow, bit by bit, with a block and tackle anchored by an oak. She was straining in her plain grey clothes just to get the tiniest bit of movement from the plow, and the giant was laughing and cheering her on, and when she finally got the plow across the field she’d won all the giant’s gold.
And Mawndrad’s heart.
Mawndrad brought her dead animals. He left them on her doorstep. He gave her cute little mice and bits of elk and, once, a bear.
That was the last evening of his life; and this is how it was.
Tamarella’s sitting in her kitchen and she hears him dragging the bear up the walk. She goes to the front window. She puts her hands on the windowsill and she sticks her head out.
“Don’t do that,” she says.
“It’s a bear,” he says.
His chest is puffed out. He’s pretty proud, because it’s a twelve-foot bear and those are even bigger than you might think.
“I don’t need any dead animals,” she says, “There’s a general store.”
“It’s for you,” he says.
And when he’s staring at her, she sees his wet black wolf nose and it’s totally charming. Not sexy, like he looks when he’s got the normal nose and his muscly chest and his loose archaic shirt, but charming. Drop-dead adorable. His ears even twitch.
So she laughs and she says, “Well, come in.”
And he leaves the bear outside and he comes in for tea, and they talk long into the night, and nearing the end of it, they realize they’re in love.
“I love you,” he says.
“I love you,” she says, “but you’ve got to leave.”
“In the morning,” she says, “my father’ll come home.”
Now Tamarella’s father was a priest, a priest of that new Christian God, and he was also a necromancer. Some people found that combination a bit odd, but Tamarella’s father never did. He could reconcile it pretty easily in his head.
“After all,” he’d laugh, “didn’t God himself raise his son from the dead? Well, why can’t I do the same?”
And if you tried to tell him that that wasn’t the point of that story, he’d kill you and cut your bones out to make skeleton monsters from, which goes to show that perspectives can reasonably differ.
So late at night Mawndrad and Tamarella say their goodbyes, and they have a parting kiss; and that leads to a few more words, and a few more, and pretty soon an hour’s passed within the night.
And sweetly they part again, and he goes down the path, and then he comes back and knocks on the door, because it suddenly occurs to him to tell her she has lovely hair, and the words burst up so hard in his heart that he just had to share them.
And one thing leads to another.
And then it’s dawn, and Tamarella’s father comes.
Mawndrad was a scary youth. He wasn’t a pushover. He thought that he could take down a necromancer pretty well.
He wasn’t afraid.
When Tamarella’s Dad came home, Mawndrad didn’t hide in the closet. No.
He danced at swords with Tamarella’s father. He tried to cut the man. Mawndrad was strong and fierce and he should have been victorious, should have won the day and brought an evil to the end, but things just didn’t go that well. Hands of bone rose from the ground and grabbed his feet. Tentacles of spine wrapped round his arms. His sword fell to the ground and he was helpless.
“Don’t hurt him, father,” pled Tamarella.
And her father looked at her, all cold, and said, “You are mine until I give you away in marriage; and so this night you have defiled me.”
And he chopped up Mawndrad and he chopped up Tamarella and he took their bones and flesh out to the well and dropped them in, this being acceptable behavior under the English law of that time. And he set his snares for ghosts, because he knew that death cannot stop true love; that death cannot even stop puppy love; and that Mawndrad and Tamarella must have dwelt somewhere between.
And in this he was correct.
At midnight on the following night they rose, the ghosts of Mawndrad and Tamarella, briefly stealing back from the other world to exchange a final kiss.
“None of that,” said Tamarella’s father; and he caught the ghosts with snares and chains and pulled them far apart.
He hung them on opposite sides of his dungeon and for years they strove, pulling the chains a little looser every day. When they were within an arm’s length of one another Tamarella’s father swore irritably, chopped up the ghosts, and dumped the pieces of their souls into the well.
The distilled essence of the lovers rose in great clouds from the well. It was no longer distinct in its identities, but it still remembered love; so Tamarella’s father caught it and strained it down to nectar, such that the liquid in the well was a thick sweet concoction ninety-eight parts water and two parts thrice-dead people.
After that no more killing was necessary.
The nectar of Mawndrad and Tamarella was still.
“There,” said Tamarella’s father, with a feeling of completion.
He dusted off his hands and he went home.
The animals drink of Mawndrad and Tamarella when times are difficult. When times are very harsh, so also do the wolves.
“These are the dead who will never rest and never wake,” say the wolves, as they lap at the sweet nectar.
It allows them to survive.