Comes A Hunter

From the Story Arc: Hunting High And Low

Previous Story in the Arc: The Mirror Crack'd by Victoria Victrix (Thursday, January 22, 2009)

Next Story in the Arc: Family Ties by Victoria Victrix (Thursday, January 22, 2009)

(posted Thursday, January 22, 2009)

The he-wolf raised his head and listened to the distant baying. He knew what it was; he had eluded the Hunt more than once since he’d left his pack after failing his challenge of the alpha. He hadn’t won, and he wouldn’t submit; that only left one option, to leave the pack. He’d been on his own now for a good long while, and had been unsuccessful in getting a pack of his own.

The baying drew nearer. But nearer still was the sound of something running, blundering, through the underbrush. Slowly he got to his feet, hackles raised, prepared to defend himself. There was no telling what the Hunt was chasing, and it might turn on him.

What burst into the tiny clearing was not, however, a monster.

He stared at her in surprise. His nose told her she was a wolf, and a female, but she was tiny, and pale, almost cublike. His nose also told him she was exhausted, and couldn’t run for much longer. Her legs were trembling with weariness, and she looked up at him with startled, terrified eyes.

She wasn’t in season, but all his instincts--protect the females, protect the cubs, above all else protect the female cubs—kicked in at the sight and smell of her. He smoothed his hackles and trotted over to her.

She cringed and whimpered.

He nudged her flank with his nose, gently, then urgently. Then he trotted a few paces away from her, and looked back at her over his shoulder. She staggered after him; confident that she would follow, he eeled his way through the underbrush.

Quickly he led her down to the creek, then into the creek-bed. They followed it for a good long while, she snapping mouthfuls of water, but not stopping, not with the Hunt coming closer with every moment. The creek emptied out into a marshland, and he led her into that, too. At an elk-wallow he stopped, and rolled in the smelly, fishy mud. After a moment of staring, she did the same.

With their body-scent disguised, he led her out onto the bank, stopping again to tear with front and hind-paws at a patch of sharp-smelling herbs, then waited for her to follow his example.

Only then did he lead her back along the creek-bed, doubling back on their trail to further confuse the scent, then up into the rocks. And when she was wobbling back and forth in her tracks, every breath coming as a wheeze deep in her chest, he brought her to his safe-den, a crack barely big enough for him to squeeze through, that opened into a long passage that in turn led to a dry, sand-floored cave. Even if, by some obscene miracle, the Hunt trailed them here (which they never had done), and found the entrance (which would have been a feat indeed) they’d have to dig out half the hill to get to them.

The she stood there trembling from head to foot for the space of three breaths, then collapsed where she stood.

Certain that she wouldn’t bite him (she was too tired), the he-wolf carefully curled around her, warming her with his body.

She slept. And whimpered and cried in her sleep.