Storm Wolf By Stephen Morris Genre: fantasy/historical fantasy
"LIBAHUNT!" Alexei breaks the terms of the wolf-magic he inherited from his grandfather and loses the ability to control the shapeshifting. His grandfather's magical wolf-pelt was meant to protect their rural village in 1880s Estonia by fighting the terrible storms in the sky but instead, it drives Alexei to kill, slaughtering his neighbors, his friends —even his family.
Heartbroken, Alexei flees his home in search of an enchanter to free him from this hideous curse. Wandering through Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Bohemia, he encounters the Master of Wolves, who forces Alexei to terrorize and murder the local farmers, and the infamous Frau Bertha who traps all those who anger her by turning them into wolves. Will Alexei find a sorcerer who can free him?
"Morris' werewolf isn't a fur-coated romantic, but a refreshingly murky protagonist who's both flawed and sympathetic; he kills innocents, but never intentionally. There are quite a few werewolf onslaughts, which the author unflinchingly portrays as bloody and brutal.... A dark supernatural outing, featuring indelible characters as sharp as wolves' teeth." -- Kirkus Reviews
"...a unique weaving together and retelling of central and eastern European werewolf folk tales. Set in 1890, when such tales were still being told, Storm Wolf stands apart from contemporary myth and legend retellings... The magic--Alexei's battles with storm creatures, the conjuring of a snake demon from pipe smoke, a witch's talisman of skin stripped from a sailor--is extraordinarily well imagined and described here. Dollops of regional history and glimpses of customs and legends are fascinating." -- Blue Ink Review
“…the beginning of the book also serves to give us a thorough grounding in the setting, which is impressively fleshed out by Morris, and provide an unusual as well as detailed folkloric background for the tale. Morris has done extensive research about the folklore, customs, daily lives, and language of the people of 19th-century Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, and it shows. Morris’s initial premise—that of a man who becomes a werewolf willingly to protect others—also puts a welcome and unusual spin on things.
Alexei is also a highly sympathetic, realistically flawed character who the author is clearly invested in, and this enthusiasm is infectious. Trouble seems to hound Alexei (forgive the pun), both as a result of his inner wolf and some seriously bad luck, and it’s easy to root for him to find peace with himself and the world. Morris also takes care to give us enough information about secondary characters for readers to care about what happens to them, sometimes—perhaps especially—when they are in danger of meeting bad ends.
Filled with details that make for a sincerely rendered world, peopled with characters who breathe; STORM WOLF is a thoughtfully constructed fantasy tale filled with emotion and action.” – Indie Reader
Chapter 1: Libahunt Edvin (Estonia, Winter 1815)
The wolf, its thick silver-gray fur bristling and standing up along its neck, stood its ground, snarling as the humans approached. Edvin and his father drew their hunting knives and the wolf fought to free itself from the clanking trap, even as it knew that it was doomed. Edvin and his father stood before the trapped animal. Edvin heard a quiet whisper. “You’ve seen this done before, Edvin. You helped skin the wolves last year and have been practicing the kill all summer.” His father paused. Edvin’s eyes locked with the wolf’s squinting eyes. “Why don’t you kill this first one of this season?” The boy glanced at the older man out of the corner of his eyes and slowly nodded. Edvin was able to slip up through the quietly crunching snow to the wolf from behind as it continued to glower at Edvin’s father—yellow eyes glinting, upper lip curled back, and snarl rumbling in the back of its throat, free legs poised and ready to leap at whoever would attack first. When Edvin leapt onto its back and held on with his left hand, the wolf twisted through the air, jaws snapping at the teen. Edvin wedged his knife into the wolf’s throat and pulled the knife back towards him, ripping the muscles, tendons, and arteries in ragged, jerky motions. Blood sprayed out in great bursts as the animal’s heart pumped vigorously in its breast. Edvin held on, terrified of the still snapping jaws and knowing that the only safe place was on the giant’s furry back. It seemed to be forever before the monster gradually slowed its writhing and abandoned its attempts to bite Edvin’s young head off, before the shower of blood was reduced to a trickle, before the beast slumped down onto its haunches and then finally collapsed in the now bright-red snow. The iron trap lay still and silent. Edvin pushed himself up from the carcass, panting. His breath hovered in frosty clouds before his face. He looked across the corpse at his father. His father grinned broadly before coming around behind and clapping him on the back. They surveyed the carnage before them. Dead, the wolf seemed even larger than it had when it was alive and standing before them, crouching and ready to attack. It seemed the largest wolf Edvin had ever seen. As big as, or even bigger than, the wolf Fenrir that the old stories said would devour the sun at the end of days. Together, Edvin and his father hoisted the wolf onto their nearby sled and brought the creature back to their house on the edge of the vast forests of Estonia. Edvin was given the honor of skinning this, his first kill. He was careful to keep the gray pelt with its tawny streaks intact, rather than cutting it into easier-to-handle smaller strips. Then the whole family undertook the job of butchering the meat to be smoked, dried, or eaten that evening. There was enough to feed them for at least a month. The skin was large enough for Edvin to wrap around himself three or four times, with the head—easily half again as large as his own—hanging over his left shoulder. The thing was huge, lush, and warm. It was beautiful. Edvin’s youngest sister wanted to add it to her wedding chest, but everyone else agreed that as Edvin’s first kill, it was his to do with as he pleased. He kept it on his bed but would, on occasion, wrap himself in it and play with the younger children, chasing them and catching them, pretending to devour them as they collapsed in giggles and laughter. It was five years later that the terrible storm had appeared on the horizon.
Edvin’s marriage to his sweetheart in the village had been arranged for late in the summer of 1820. It was in the early summer, though, when the fields and gardens were full of the wheat and vegetables to feed the village during the coming year, that a tremendous storm appeared on the horizon, beyond the forest. As the massive thunderclouds slowly approached the village, they seemed to hang so low that they scraped the treetops. Ribbons of storm cloud streamed out behind them in the wind, and lightning flickered high in the sky. Deep within the clouds, thunder rumbled. Treetops tore rips and tears in the heavy, low-hanging thunderclouds and out came the howls of ghosts and devils. That was when Edvin took the wolf pelt to the local nõiatar, the village cunning woman. In Estonia, in the traditional village practice away from the German and Russian landowners, it was the responsibility of the libahunt or suteksäija--the vlkodlak, or man-wolf, as many who do not speak Estonian might call it—to drive the storms away from the farmlands and villages. The werewolves of Estonia had been known to fly into the storm clouds and fight the spirits there, the ghosts and devils that bring terrible storms and blizzards that destroy crops and homes. But there had been no werewolf in Edvin’s village for many years, and he knew someone had to defend the farmers against the storm everyone could see coming. Because he didn’t know how to make the werewolf, he took the pelt to the cunning woman—he knew that she would need that to work with, at least. The nõiatar took the pelt and rubbed it against her deeply lined face. The fur was thick and soft. Rarely had anyone killed such a large wolf, and keeping such a large pelt intact was even rarer. She studied Edvin. “Do you truly want to do this thing?” she finally asked him. “It is more dangerous than you know.” “I do,” he answered. “It is dangerous,” he agreed, daring to look her in the face. “But we will starve next winter otherwise. The storm coming looks more terrible than any we have seen since my father was a boy. It is the duty of the werewolf to fight the storms, and our village has no werewolf. We cannot expect the werewolf of another village to fight the storm for us, and there is no time to travel far to find one who will. I have the wolf skin, so I must use it to save my family and the village.” He pulled himself up, holding his head high, and thrust his shoulders back. “I am young. I am strong. I can fight such storms, but I cannot do it as a man. I must become the werewolf.” The cunning woman considered what he had said. “Yes, we need a werewolf to protect the village and it has been long… long since we have had one here. Yes, I can help you become the werewolf. But you must be careful. It is said that the power of the wolf skin can be intoxicating and can make you as drunk as it makes you strong and able to fight the storms. You must not use it every time it rains, but only when there is a true äike, a thunderstorm that can destroy the crops or flood the küla. Our village. You must resist the temptation to use the wolf skin for your own advantage and use it only for the sake of the küla. It is not a power to wield for yourself and your own benefit, but only to protect others. Can you remember this?” “Yes,” Edvin answered without a moment’s hesitation. “I only want the wolf skin and its magic in order to protect the village. Or any village that needs our help. But you must do the magic now or it will soon be too late. The storm will be here any moment.”
With degrees in medieval history and theology from Yale and St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Academy, Stephen Morris brings his extensive knowledge and meticulous research in medieval magical practices to his historical and contemporary fantasy novels. In each of his novels, the magical and fantastic elements are all drawn from authentic occult beliefs and practices from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance or from local legends and folklore. “I first became interested in the occult and magic when I was very VERY young and saw The Wizard of Oz on television for the first and second times. The first time, my mom says I was terrified of the Wicked Witch’s appearance in Munchkin Land amidst smoke and flames and ran straight to bed! (I must have been 5 years old or so.) The next year I began watching the movie again and made myself stick with it past the appearance of the Witch and after that — I was hooked! “The Wicked Witch of the West became my favorite character because not only is she the most interesting but she is the only one who wields any real power in the movie. She became my idol for years and years! (When a major storm recently struck Manhattan, I made a comment on FB about the wind picking up our house and depositing it atop someone wearing peppermint stripped stockings and glittering red shoes and my cousin responded: ‘You’ve been chasing those shoes for YEARS!’ LoL!)” A former priest, he served as the Eastern Orthodox chaplain at Columbia University. His previous academic writing has dealt primarily with Late Antiquity and Byzantine church life. As a Project Leader with Inter-Disciplinary.net, he also organizes annual conferences on aspects of the supernatural, monsters, evil and wickedness, fairy tales and folk tales, and related subjects. Stephen, a Seattle native, is now a long-time New York resident and currently lives in Manhattan with his partner, Elliot.
Many things conspired together that resulted in the inspiration of Storm Wolf. One was my discovery that in Estonia werewolves were honored members of the villages and everyone knew who the local werewolves were. To be a werewolf was not a shameful thing or a horrific curse. In Estonia, werewolves could fly and would drive away the terrible summer storms that would otherwise devastate the farms, destroy the harvest, and result in starvation when winter came. My original plan was to have Alexei, my 1880s werewolf in rural Estonia, as a member of the supporting cast in another project. But my editor told me, “His back story is fascinating! He is a great character! But all his background and subplot are a distraction form the main story of this project. He deserves a whole book of his own, instead!” So I took him out of that project, rewrote the final conflict and gave what I wanted him to do to other characters. Now that Alexei was on his own, I needed to give him a chance to breathe—the root of “to inspire”—and grow. That takes time. So while Alexei and his story were bubbling away on a backburner of my imaginative stove, I turned my attention to a non-fiction project that I had been working on off-and-on for 15+ years. I was finally able to wrap up that project and send it off to the publisher! Whew! But while I had been checking the footnotes and compiling the index for that book, I had also been able to check-in with Alexei from time to time and make sure that he was alright. While my conscious attention was focused elsewhere, Alexei did keep growing and changing. Every time I checked in with him, he was a bigger character, with more depth; he was always different than he had been before. When my non-fiction project was finished, I was able to turn my attention to Alexei fulltime and begin to research a variety of werewolf legends and folklore from other Baltic regions. The plot of Storm Wolf began to take shape. I listened to what Alexei had to say; he shared his joys, his pain, and his frustration with me. I found other legendary and folkloric characters—the Master of Wolves; Spidala, a witch held hostage by a devil and forced to hurt her friends and neighbors; Frau Bertha, the old woman with a goose-foot, who could control shapeshifting; the wolfman who would abduct children to make his apprentices—he could share those experiences with while continuing to grow along his own path. (There was even a throwaway line in one of the speeches by the Weird Sisters in Shakespeare’s Macbeth that contributed to the obstacles that Alexei had to overcome.) Alexei was finally able to stand on his own two feet (or, four paws?) and breathe on his own.