WOLF WARRIORS (written as M J FLEMING) is my first horror/fantasy novel, Book One in the WOLFSLAYER series. But the inclusion of werewolves was almost an afterthought.
When I first set out drafting the book, I had no clear idea of having werewolves at the story's core. I wanted to write about life and death during The Dark Ages, a gritty and remorselessly violent period in British history. The native Celtic population were facing annihilation when German-speaking tribes invaded from present-day Germany and Denmark: Angles, Saxons and Jutes. (The fact you are reading this blog in English rather than Welsh, Gaelic or Cornish is a telling reminder of who prevailed).
In parallel with the 'facts' about what was happening on the ground around the 6th Century, I was also fascinated by aspects of myth and folklore. But my first inkling of introducing bloodthirsty half-men half-wolves came when I was researching 'berserkers'. These were warriors among the Vikings - seafaring raiders and settlers from Dark Ages Scandinavia - who ingested potions prior to going into battle (in a similar vein to, say, the G.I.'s who frequently got wired before combat during the Vietnam War). In the early Medieval period, these 'eve of battle' cocktails undoubtedly contained hallucinogenic ingredients, such as wild mushrooms, so these men would become crazed with blood-lust, making them fearless during melees. They would literally fight to the death, and aim to take as many of their enemies with them as possible.
I thought that here was a fantastic opportunity to give the werewolf legend a new spin. There have been countless variations of humans sprouting hair and fangs and howling at the full moon, both literary and cinematically, over the decades. A recent incarnation occurred during the Twilight series, when the shape shifting wolves were Native Americans of the Quileute tribe. The main werewolf was Jacob Black, a huffy teenager (forever brandishing his six-pack to cover up his dearth of personality).
However, the drama in these films is as much about teenage relationship issues, and the dynamics of cultural and generational clashes, as exploring lycanthropy. Personally, I prefer the out-and-out horror-genre as a backdrop for any serious werewolf action. From An American Werewolf in London to Underworld: Rise of the Lycans to Dog Soldiers, werewolves are far more effective when they are shamelessly toasting their victims, as quickly and bloodily as possible.
So I took those early Medieval berserkers, who transformed into fearless warriors by taking drugs, and boosted their metamorphosis with a generous dose of mythical magic. In WOLF WARRIORS, the Saxons have shamen who invoke dark powers and secret potions to create werewolves. There is an added twist. Unlike the cliched versions, who are condemned to become snarling beasts with each lunar cycle, until they are shot with a silver bullet, the werewolves in my fiction are doomed to wither and die, such is the potency of just one transformation. Nevertheless, the Saxon warriors consider it an honour to be selected by the shaman. They are the Dark Ages equivalent of suicide bombers.
In this excerpt from WOLF WARRIORS, Wacian, a chieftain from a clan of Jutes, has shape shifted into a murderous animal:
A red haze blurred his vision. He found himself able to move with lightning precision. Such was his speed, each victim was powerless to resist. Some even looked frozen with fear, their eyes staring into the skies to implore their Celtic gods for mercy while the slaughter continued at a crazed pace. Within ten minutes Wacian had completed his grisly task of ensuring no alarm would be raised. All the guards lay dead, their throats severed; he listened to their blood seeping through the wooden slats to drip onto the sawdust strewn floor below.
The wolf warrior leapt from the walls, fifty feet to the encampment floor. Pausing, his foul breath rasping, he heard the dogs. They came rushing from beneath huts; seven of them, snarling. When they caught sight of him they halted. He growled, baring his own fangs. They charged towards him in one frenetic mass of fur and teeth. Within seconds they had been reduced to severed lumps of matted meat.
Wacian turned towards the largest hut: the Celtic chieftain's. Hauling himself onto two feet, he paced up to the door, slowly easing it open. Inside it was so silent no-one was even snoring. His keen eyes focused on various figures under blankets. But his prize was the head of this insolent British clan, a tall man slumbering beneath deerskin blankets. Wacian padded over to his sleeping form. The man was in such a deep repose his entire body was rigid.
Placing his vast claws around the throat, Wacian allowed the tension to build. Then, with one violent motion, he thrust his long claws deep into the neck, piercing the flesh, wrenching the skull clean from the mooring of its spinal chord. Clutching their chieftain's mutilated head in his left hand, he proceeded to fall upon the dozen or so unsuspecting family members and bodyguards sprawled amongst the straw bedding, ferociously severing their heads. As his bloodlust increased, his attack became ever more frantic until he began ripping his grisly trophies and lashing them against the walls, growling with satisfaction as the skulls pulped like giant eggs.
Tempering his heavy breathing, still clutching the chieftain's head by its lank strands, he made his way to the next hut.