First Night

Katja ran as if the blazes of hell haunted her steps. She had known from the moment of its birth that her pup’s life was forfeit. The black fur was an automatic death sentence, that sham of a meeting was nothing but a useless formality. But still, she had held a small glimmer of hope. She had stood at the back of the massive pack as her father had spoken, telling the story of their origins. She had held her breath as he finished, hoping beyond hope that his role as father and grandfather would triumph over his role as Lore Keeper. So when he announced what every wolf had expected to hear, including her, she had despaired and took to the woods, the wind on her heels.

When her pup had finally managed to free itself from the constraint of her womb after eight hours of hellish pain, she had but a moment’s glimpse of the life she had brought into the world before the den was overrun by wolves trying to get a glimpse of the child of misfortune. Then the elders were taking it away and that was that, as she lay there spent, pleading that they give it back. She didn’t even know whether it was male or female and where it was taken was anybody’s guess. But her senses as a new mother were strong and his scent was the one thing they could not rob her of, she could still feel it as it frolicked among the air sprites. Following this scent she ran hard, hoping to reach him before her absence was noted or worse before his executioners got to him.

She ran for so long she had no way of knowing how long it took before she found the source of the scent. The scent led her into a dark clearing she had never before known to exist. Without her notice the woods around her had grown denser, the animals quieter, more subdued. Even the perpetual light of the mother moon shied away from the place. It was as if a dark presence haunted these woods, spooking the locals and for the first time Katja could imagine how it was to be prey instead of predator. Even as a master huntress she had to fight the impulse to run out of these woods as fast as possible.

But her own survival instincts must come second, her pup was in here somewhere, she could run later. That made her wonder, why would they place her pup in such a place, and why did the rest of the pack not know of this place, it all seemed to bode ill.

Just then she heard the high-pitched squeak that could only come from a pup’s attempt to howl.

“Pup!”

Hearing her pup’s voice only made her more frantic.

“Pup where are you?”

She began frantically walking in circles sniffing the ground, desperately hoping to catch a whiff of his trail. The pup howled again, closer this time.

Strange, he sounded so near yet, no matter where Katja looked she saw nowhere for the pup to be stashed.

That squeaky howl again…below?

With new-found insanity Katja began pawing the ground all around hoping to find some newly dug ditch. Near the edge of the clearing she found what looked to be a bundle of twigs placed neatly side by side, spaced evenly and hidden under a pile of leaves. More strangeness, this was not of wolf making. More importantly, the space between the twigs showed her beloved pup glancing up at her, recognition and confusion mirrored in its young eyes.

“No worries wolfling, mommy will have you out of there in a bit.”

Scratching, clawing, biting, snarling…nothing she tried was working.

Then it was too late, rustling in the woods betrayed the presence of the pup’s would be killers.

Loathe to do so, but with no better alternative, Katja ran into the foliage closest to her pup’s prison and not a moment too soon as the executioner party entered from the opposite side of the clearing led by…her father?!

Fighting further feelings of betrayal, Katja crouched lower, biding her time.

She watched as her father led the group to the strange ditch, then bend down and take what looked to be a vine tied to one of the twigs, jerking his head up. Like magic the twig contraption erupted upwards but stayed connected to the ground.

“Let’s go little one.”

Katja caught the sadness in his eyes, and once more couldn’t help but think that her father would show his grandchild mercy.

No such luck.

Her father picked the pup up and walked him to the middle of the clearing. The pup, now ringed by the clan elders, gave a confused squeak. There was no way it could know that the towering ivory wolf lumbering towards it would be its undoing, nor that it was his grandfather who watched the proceedings with stoic calm.

“Cajal.”

At his name the giant wolf reared back preparing for the death-blow.

With unnatural speed Katja leapt out of her hiding place, ran between her elders, snatched up her cub, and disappeared into the woods.

“Katja, return at once!” Her father bellowed from behind.

She didn’t bother to glance behind her; she knew they pursued her.

So she ran, and ran, and ran some more.

In Feilandal, there is no day, for the sun was banned from intruding upon the wolf sanctuary. The passage of time is marked only by the moons daily change of face.

It was through two such changes that Katja ran, finally resting on the third night as she came upon a mountain cave far removed from the hunting grounds of the clans. Her cub, which had long fallen asleep, lulled by the constant motion, woke with the sudden stop. It squeaked its hunger, and despite herself Katja smiled.

She nestled down to feed her starving cub, and snuggled him close, for she now saw that it was a male.

“You know, little one,” she began as he fed with hungry fervor, “I have yet to name you.”

“…I know, what do you think of Azule?”

He stopped long enough to give a small squeak then went back to feeding.

Katja chuckled, “Azule it is.”

-o-

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The creative womb of a storyteller

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