The moon inched above the line of trees, its fullness lighting the progress of the six men below, five struggling to overpower the drunken strength of the one. They had snatched the youth on his way back from the Inn, stumbling over the rough terrain to his small, empty farmhouse.
For hours, the five had watched as the young man braved the silent accusing stares of the villagers, lifting his stein to his mouth again and again, as if the act would make him disappear.
To some it may have looked like mourning, but to his fellow patrons, it was most certainly guilt that fueled him to stupor. Every last one of them had loved Wittke’s fair wife, and there was no doubt in their minds that he was the one who had killed her, and the babe softly curled in her belly, despite his many claims of innocence.
Reiner had suggested that they knock him compliant, but the old witch had been clear. He must be fully conscious, she had warned, completely aware of what was to come next, so they tolerated his screams for help and his slurred pleas for justice as they forced his unsteady feet forward.
They finally arrived at the old woman’s cottage, tucked away in a wild glade on the outskirts of town, just beyond the village shrine on the main road. Work this dark needed the power and protection of the forest.
“Strap him down,” ordered the witch, tossing a long black belt encrusted with silver symbols to the men. They laid the youth on the waiting table and wrapped him to it, the long leather bind holding him still despite his desperation.
The crone smiled, her gummy mouth seeming to grow double in size as it widened. She crossed the floor and leaned over the quivering form of the youth. “Do you want to know your fate?” she asked him, the foul smell of her breath covering his face like a rotting veil.
“Yes,” he said, but his pale eyes betrayed him.
The crone lifted her hand to the window, and her thin-skinned finger shook as she spoke. “From this night forward, you will be bound to the moon,” she said. “As the gray lady waxes, your appetites will swell, and your senses will peak. Your muscles and sinew will stretch and twist. Your bones will break and reform, and a beast will slowly take you over until there is nothing of you left.”