Nema, the white wolf, ran as she had never run before. Death was on her heels. The air whizzed with death’s fiery fingers, the trees and shrubs split and burst into splinters around her, the night roared with the terrible thunder of the angry gods who pursued. Her thick white fur helped to conceal her against the snow, but its whiteness was also the reason she was so covetously hunted. They wanted the rare prize, these hunting gods, the rare white wolf to adorn their ladies’ shoulders, a prize upon a prize.
Not gods, Nema understood. Hunters, like me, but with lightning and thunder, not tooth and claw. The ironic realization made her snort and quicken her pace.
She had never before seen these creatures. Her home was the deep north, and even the other wolves feared her. She was the mighty champion of her domain, twice as large as any other wolf, pure white from head to toe, with deep, coal-black eyes. She had no mate, no litter, and she hunted alone. Now her tail singed with fire as another shot grazed the fur, causing her to growl in anger as her body sprang forward with fear.
Hunters or gods, I should like to rip out their throats, Nema thought, but for all her fury, they were gaining on her, and she was getting tired. I need a plan, she thought, remembering the many times in her youth that a clever rabbit would escape her by devising some trick. I need to be a clever rabbit.
The trickling sound of water up ahead gave her hope. A stream could conceal her tracks, but she would have to be even more clever than that. She jumped the little stream and made a sprint of tracks into a thicket of bushes, then turned and jumped back, landing in the water with a splash. She looked back at the trail that led into the bush, hoping it would be enough to throw the hunters off for a time. Downstream she ran, as fast as she could, knowing she would have to think of another plan soon. She kept her body low, hoping the banks of the stream would hide her, and trying not to splash too much in the water by careening from side to side in the shallows.
Eventually she came to a small drop, about twelve feet high, and she jumped down with little hesitation, continuing down the stream’s winding path. No shots had split the air around her for a minute or so, and she felt her little plan had worked. She slowed to catch her breath, and as she did, she found herself at the edge of a moonlit pool, invisible in the thick trees that surrounded it. A black, almost ominous stillness caressed the water, broken only by the trickling gurgle of the stream that fed it, and illuminated by a single, wide shaft of moonlight that fell through a wreath of dark treetops. The Moon was full, and her reflection peered back up at her from the softly rippling water.
Nema sensed she was in a sacred place, and she sat by the water, hoping the hunters could not find her for the time being. Her wolf eyes gazed at the pool, mesmerized by the haunting beauty of the place, and especially of the Moon and the dark water.
The silver light seemed to brighten and focus on the black depths, and a pair of feet touched the water, sending ripples out to the banks. Nema blinked. The feet belonged to a pair of moon-white legs, which belonged in turn to a graceful feminine form, naked and glowing with the haunting white of the celestial orb. A woman was floating there, in the light beam, her toes just touching the black water, her eyes and hair as dark as midnight. She hovered there and gazed back at the wolf whose colours resembled her own.
A light snow had been falling, and now the flakes seemed to slow in the air, almost standing still. Nema looked upon the glowing woman and understood that she was in the presence of the Moon Herself.
“You are the Moon,” she said.
“Please, just call me Moon,” the woman smiled back at her.
“Moon,” Nema echoed, transfixed. Then she remembered herself, and said: “I am Nema.”
“I have heard the stories of your deeds howled at me from packs across the whole of the North,” said Moon, “the White Wolf who needs no mate, who hunts alone, and from whom entire packs of grey wolves flee. It’s nice to finally meet you.”
“I am honoured,” Nema bowed her head.
“Yet you never howl in worship, as the other wolves do,” Moon observed.
Nema had no response to this. She had never felt the need to howl at the Moon, despite a kind of quiet respect she held for the celestial body. Now she wondered if she had been in error. “I did not mean to offend you,” she offered.
“I’m not offended, merely intrigued. What brings you to my pool tonight?”
“I, the great hunter, am now hunted. The men chase me with thunder and death, and I know I cannot escape them forever.”
Moon looked sympathetically at Nema and nodded slowly. “It is the way of things. Your place it has been to rule unchallenged in the woods and tundra, but against this kind of death, the natural law is powerless.”
Nema observed: “You look like them, but more beautiful by far. Surely if they saw your beauty, those men would not hunt you as they do me. They would fall in worship, or run in terror.”
Moon smiled. “It is true, I have not been hunted by men, but worshipped and adored by all of nature and men alike. The great weakness of the man is the form of the woman. Do not underestimate their bloodlust, though. They would hunt me if they could, and enslave me too. A living trophy they would make of me, if I had not the power to prevent it.”
“Could you grant me this power, to prevent the hunt, to cause those men to worship me as they do you? To respect me as the other wolves in the world know and respect me?”
Moon smiled, and because Nema was so beautiful herself, and looked already quite Moon-like with her snow-white fur and midnight-black eyes, she was overwhelmed with an indulgent favour for the noble beast. “Nema, white wolf of the North, you shall have what you ask. A form like mine, and a power like mine too, to be a kind of Moon, walking among men.”
Nema felt all the hairs on her body stand on end as these words were spoken, and a change began in her body, a very strange feeling of displacement. Her paws seemed to pull apart and unfurl into small, frail, twig-like shapes, her mouth became short and small, her head grew round, and the hair on her head grew very long and black. She felt her wolf-fur shrink to a useless fuzz, except in certain places where it became short and black. Her tail shrank and disappeared, and her hind paws unfurled into much smaller twigs. She had not realized how strange was the form of Moon until it became her own, the form of human women, the mate of the man who hunted her. A sound escaped her mouth, the sound of surprise, a kind of bleating primate sound.
“I have almost no fur. I should be freezing,” Nema said.
“You are not as other humans,” Moon informed her. “You are the form and reflection of Moon. You have the power of Moon. Yet you are still Nema, and you have the heart of a white wolf.”
Nema looked at her reflection in the dark pool. “I look like you,” she said, “but also different.”
Moon nodded and smiled. “No reflection is ever perfect.” And at that moment the light from the Moon moved along and ceased to shine on the dark pool, and the form of Moon faded fast and vanished. On the dark bank, still pondering her reflection, crouched a magnificently beautiful human woman, naked and impossibly pale, with black hair and eyes, unaffected by the freezing cold as her toes splayed in the snow.