Greetings, gentle readers!
For my first few forays into the fantastic – oh, dear, that was unintentional and I apologize – I have agreed to share the history of a few select objects currently owned by our kind hostess.
Part of my work, when I am not documenting the collections here in the cloistered halls of the Salem Institute Northwest, is sorting through records of sales in an effort to identify and reclaim articles erroneously identified as "spurious" yet which are, in fact, genuine.
The following glass jar of bones is one such item, and I can attest that it is as genuine as it comes.
Thuringian werewolf knucklesH. lycanthropus hercynus
Our Lady of the Snows Shrine
Collected in 1887 by Harlock Winter
These small bones were taken from the shrine of Our Lady of the Snows just outside Northanger Abbey* in Thuringia. This shrine's strange history begins in 1563 on the hill of Tierschatten.
Sudden snows delayed a young man as he traveled through the Thüringer Wald. Caught in the growing storm, he tried to take shelter in a nearby cave only to run afoul of the group of bandits already camped there. After beating the traveler soundly, they threw him into the snow, where he swiftly lost consciousness.
Two weeks later, the melting snows exposed the cave mouth as well as the bodies of the bandits, scattered across the hillside.
The traveler was found unharmed within the cave, neither starving nor dehydrated, his wounds completely healed. He was delerious, however, and in his ravings he claimed that the Virgin Mary had appeared and led him to the cave where she nursed him in turns with an enormous white she-wolf. These claims were dismissed as febrile ramblings, though no other theory was put forth to explain not only his unlikely survival but his apparent excellent health. He eventually denied any memory of his time in the cave, but not before the story had spread widely.
The Baroness Karza Vormera, at the baronial seat of Nagelfar, was a pious woman. She interviewed the traveler extensively in private, after which she caused a shrine to be raised on the hillside near the cave, believing it to have been the site of a holy visitation. Others witnessed the Virgin's appearance, always in winter. She was said to favor orphans, the lost, the indigent, and the starving.
In time, an abbey followed. Due to its remote and forbidding location deep within the Thüringer Wald, Tierschatten Abbey became a popular destination for the "undesirable" daughters of noble lines – those prey to congenital madnesses, those who had dishonored themselves or their families, those whose passions had spiraled out of control, or those who were simply unwanted.
As time passed the Vormera line daughtered out and the abbey lost much of its support, falling into further disfavor due to its unsavory associations with madness and tragedy. The half-abandoned buildings and derelict shrine acquired a sinister reputation.
Some chance merging of climate, diet, and company worked strange changes upon the abbey's residents. Those who could be retrieved were often much changed in their appearance and behavior upon their retrieval, and not often for the better. Girls sent to the abbey could not always be identified after a few winters, if they could be found at all.
Eventually, the shunned abbey fell into total disrepair.
With the arrival of the powerful Northanger family to the valley and the re-establishment of Nagelfar as a seat of power, the abbey prospered anew. Restored and rededicated as Northanger Abbey, it received a steady stream of foreign girls seeking asylum, and for several generations enjoyed a renaissance as a site of pilgrimage and sanctuary.
After the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire, Thuringia turned upon itself in a self-destructive frenzy. During this time of terror and bloodshed the valley remained dark and serene, and none who entered with malicious intent remained. Troublemakers were lured from the path and found days later, dead of terrible wounds, or strangling, or apparent fear. All were buried in Northanger Abbey's lichyard, and those travelers brave enough or desperate enough to dare the abbey's hospitality reported that a pack of monstrous, milk-white wolves haunted the graves, perhaps denning in the surrounding rocky hills.
Some chance of the wind in the eaves and across the chimney-tops caused the most unearthly screaming and howling to echo through the wing formerly reserved for madwomen, which acquired a reputation for being haunted. Others pointed to the well-maintained bars on the windows and reinforced doors, and speculated that, though closed to travelers, it might still be in use.
In truth, those who stayed at the abbey rarely had cause to complain about the hospitality. It was inhabited solely by women devoted to the service of God, who ministered to all travelers with gentleness and kindness. Where the abbey acquired the funds to stay in such good repair was a mystery.
The shrine remained in the hills, protecting its secret, and was relatively undisturbed until Ansgard Northanger, a distant scion of the Northanger line, returned to Nagelfar and the historical seat of the Northanger line after the death of Baron Waltraud Northangar.
Hearing the rumors about the abbey, the new baron decided to investigate, and dug a bit too far. Ansgard found that the abbey, long a seat of worship and good duties, had been turned into the most depraved sort of brothel. In the abbey's superstition-haunted cloisters, the inbred descendants of long-forgotten noble families entertained travelers for a fee. Some who visited did not return, and the valley was still noted for its mysterious disappearances.
Repelled by what he had found and convinced that the whores were hiding evidence of muder in the abbey's depths, Ansgard enlisted the aid of supernaturalist and witch hunter Harlock Winter, airship-born man of no country, who was at that time searching in Thuringia for the flying ancestral castle of his line.
Winter infiltrated the abbey and discovered layer on layer of depravity. The prostitutes were a sacred order of heretic nuns who dedicated their carnal delights to their holy wolf-virgin. Idolatrous, they worshipped the white wolf of legend who had succored that traveler long ago. They also revered and fed the wolves, which went out into the woods at their command to destroy any who had earned their wrath – those who threatened the valley and its people. Without Northanger rule, they had become self-appointed protectors of the valley.
Partway through Winter's investigation, a captain under Ansgard Northanger's command attempted violence on one of the whores. He was summarily cast out of the abbey and onto the dark road, where he and his men were attacked by wolves. Their bodies would never have been found, their fate never known, but Winter himself interrupted them at their feast and drove them off.
In the wake of this horror, and against the advice of Winter, Ansgard ordered the abbey closed and imprisoned all of the whores. The whores escaped in the night, leaving no sign of their passing. A wolf hunt provoked the outrage of the local wolf pack, and retribution was swift and terrible, coming in one night of fire and thunder and flashing jaws. Ansgard himself was savagely bitten and left raving in a fever. His household was scattered, those who remained to fight were slaughtered.
Harlock Winter, having rightly divined the wolves' true nature as a pack of lycanthropes, shot and wounded the pack leader, and followed the fleeing pack to the lich-yard. Winter broke into the abandoned abbey and found his way down to the cave that had sheltered that nameless traveler, and to the original shrine, built on and built over for hundreds of years.
What he found in the shrine defied explanation or description. An ossuary, comprised of the bones of women and of beasts laid alongside one another. Some of the human forms were twisted with the most disturbing degenerations. The bones of the wolves were unusually large.
Injured, furious, the pack leader confronted Winter in the shrine. After a long standoff, an angry mob arrived to burn the abbey down. Winter refused to take advantage of the distraction and passed up the shot that would have ended the she-wolf's life. He put his gun down and allowed her to escape.
Believing – rightly so – that the wolf pack would not return to the ravaged abbey, Winter took a few of the bones as proof of his story and left before the flames caused the collapse of the abbey buildings and sealed the entrance to the shrine forever.
These bones – to all appearances ordinary wolf knucklebones – along with many other artifacts were passed on to Winter's traveling companion, Alastor Fell, upon Winter's death in 1824. Fell's collection of oddities, including these bones, was recently placed with the Salem Institute of Metaphysical and Esoteric Studies Northwest by William Fell and the Miracle Island Historical Trust.
My gratitude goes to Mordred Fell, who donated documents out of his own private library, giving ironclad proof of provenance. In the wake of this generosity, my psychometric assessment is presented as a formality only. * Not to be confused with Jane Austen's fictional Northanger Abbey. -- Ed.