One-Shot Week, Part 4: Anio and the Wer-Beast
For today’s entry, we will be meeting my oldest characters to see any kind of publication, the demigod hero, Anio the Son of Poseidon and his steed, Jargus the shark. The pair started out, complete with their core adventures, as my 8th-grade English project, and they stuck in my mind well enough that ten years later (still a LONG time ago), I decided to give them a shot at their own novel. The following represents the earliest vignette in that definitive salvage job. A major part of the transformation from juvenilia to mature novel was making Anio humane and philosophical, rather than an adventurer who killed monsters left and right for the heck of it. Of course, that didn’t mean he was going to go soft on monsters, and this particular creature is (at least after the VERY gigantic clam of the original central quest) my favorite, drawn from Eskimo mythology.
After many adventures, Anio came to the Pillars of Hercules, that bound the strait called the End of the World, where the Seas meet outer Ocean, and then he passed beyond them. He circled Iberia, he explored the mist-shrouded isles of Cimmeria, and the Sea of Nereids where trickster spirits create mirages in the air. He followed the coasts of the Hyperborea, where the sun ever shines on the Sea of Ice, and beheld the Titan tribe of Ice Breakers who with enormous clubs and chisels carve great bergs from the cliffs of ice. He met men of fair skin and hair of gold or copper, others of dark hair and still others of dusky skin also. While Anio was at harbor in Cimmeria, he beheld a ship bearing the ambassador of Hyperborea sunk by the unseen beast. From the wreck of the ship, Jargus’s sharp nose detected a scent like no man or fish or whale, and the northerners cried out that it was the Wer-beast.
It was thought to be sired by Proteus, a sea god of mutable form, and itself hunted in three guises. So great was its cunning and stealth that men knew it only by its terrible spoor: The jagged hole in the ice where a man’s track disappeared, a print of a paw bigger than a bear’s but with the four toes of a wolf next to a pillaged sled, and a print of a giant’s foot, long as a child is tall, next to a smashed and empty igloo. Their grandfathers’ grandfathers had abandoned all hope of battle against it, but Anio swore on the Styx to slay it or die in the attempt. From that moment on, hero and shark followed the trail relentlessly. For days, weeks and finally months they tracked the beast through mazes of reefs, rocks and fjords. Many times, they passed through bloody wreck and ruin, and Anio called to the gods for vengeance.
In the Sea of Ice, he finally sighted his quarry, as a black whale. Jargus swam after it, quickly gaining, but just before she caught the beast, it smashed upward through the ice. Anio emerged and saw the form of a huge wolf already growing small with distance. He followed the trail of its prints, and caught sight of the beast, only to see it dive through a freshly smashed hole in the ice. Anio rejoined Jargus in the water and rode after the swift form of the whale. And so it continued: Again and again, the beast escaped Jargus by bursting onto the ice, then eluding Anio be returning to the water. Even so, it could not lose its pursuers.
But the labors of hero and shark almost came to naught. As Anio emerged through yet another hole in the ice, he found a trail doubling back. He whirled around to see the beast pounce through the ice onto Jargus. It did not bite, but rammed the shark with iron-hard snout. Her mail-like hide was unpierced, but her soft bones were broken. But she took the dearer toll, rending the beast’s side and maiming its fin with a single snap. By the time Anio reached Jargus, it had disappeared back through the ice. The trail he found was that of a wolf with a lame paw. He gave chase. Behind him, a brooding albatross surveyed his steps.
Having no refuge in the water or on the ice, the wer-beast fled toward a bare isle where one of the swarthy northern tribes made camp. Anio almost overtook it, but a terrible marvel occurred: Though the Sea of Ice is too cold for dew, and even snow is scarce, a mist fell over Anio and the beast, so that the hero lost sight of his quarry. He cursed the unknown god that had sent the mist, and made for the isle. He stopped at a native village, long enough to warn them, “Take to your sleds! A Wer-beast is come!” Even as he spoke, a woman shrieked that her child was gone. Men raced for their spears, and women for their children, and all was chaos, and from the very midst of the bedlam came the gleeful howl of the Wer-beast.
The beast rushed about the milling crowd like a wolf among sheep, killing at will and driving those who lived where it wished. Three times Anio raised his harpoon at the beast, but each time the mist or a fleeing northerner got in his way before he could cast. Then he heard cries from one of the igloos, and ran toward it. He was passed by a woman and two children fleeing, but the cry of a lone babe still came from the igloo. He saw the giant tracks at the threshold, and froze. Suddenly, the beast leapt at him, not from inside the igloo but over it. It would have had Anio’s throat, but its lame paw brought its leap short. Even so, it was past the reach of Anio’s harpoon, and its jaws closed on his mailed forearm. A paw fell with staggering weight on his shoulder, and became a huge black hand at his throat, and the beast reared over him as a hairy black giant.
He was pressed relentlessly down as the beast rose and and pressed forward on two legs. Just when all seemed lost, he rammed the haft of his harpoon into the frozen soil and slid down the shaft. Even as the beast stooped to rend his throat, the spearhead of Hephaestus pierced its breast. It let out a single howl and went still. But even in death, it pressed down to crush its foe. The shaft of the harpoon bent and splintered. With a heroic heave, Anio pushed aside the beast’s dead bulk. The slain Protean sagged and shriveled like a drained wine skin, and then burst into dull blue flames. Anio rose just long enough to get clear of the flames, then collapsed, spent but triumphant.
David N. Brown