Bahr continued his relentless pace through the forest, onward to new ground, away from his family, his pack. He noticed the beginnings of the thaw as fresh shoots appeared through the snow. He picked at some promising looking plants, but forest vegetation provides nothing to stay the vast hunger of a ravenous wolf. He must find meat. Nights had passed since his last meal and many days had passed since, in his generosity, he had allowed the shiha, the she-wolf, to keep the dead bird, the bird that was rightfully his. Fool, fool, fool that he was.
Resting for a while on his paws he fell into a semi-slumber, breathing slowly and regularly. As he rested, he half dreamt the past chase where he had been so close to making a kill but not close enough. He thought of his elfa and how, if she had been there at the chase, there would be no doubt they would have made a kill. Elfa the fierce, Elfa the savage, Elfa the beloved. He thought of his ulfa. Ulfa the mighty, Ulfa the swift.
In his dreaming state he saw the chase, he saw each animal in turn escape his jaws. He dreamt the whole scene through again and again and he could not understand why he had failed to make a kill. Then he saw his family join in beside him. He watched as first Elfa ranged off to one side and then Ulfa to the other as he, Bahr, continued to direct himself at the center of the herd, leading his siblings into the kill. His job was to keep up the pace, to keep pressing the herd forward as his elders directed the pack into a single kill. They alone knew when to chase and when to strike. They alone selected the target and zeroed in on a kill. Hunting alone, Bahr realized, he could not hope to pitch himself against a herd of wild beast that were ranging together as a family, acting as one.
Bahr saw his own clumsy attempts at choosing a victim and bringing it down. He had not come anywhere near to making a kill. He saw himself chase one animal and then switch to another, there were so many animals in the herd, so many legs running and jumping and kicking, so many confusing patterns on their hides that he did not know which way to turn. As he leapt towards one animal, another came into view, perhaps nearer or slower and he veered off towards that one. That had been his downfall. Without his elders to choose a victim and bring it down, he did not know which animal to target and ended up switching from one to another, exhausting himself with leaps and bounds, this way and that, until he had run himself into the ground. He saw again the last creatures bounding away into the forest as he halted, panting, fighting for every breath, unable to run further. That had been his mistake. He was young, he was foolish, he was nothing without his family. He mourned their loss, and he regretted his foolish challenge to his beloved ulfa. Yet he knew there was no turning back. He must move on, and he must learn how to hunt and kill alone.
He recalled the last song he had heard from his ulfa. “If you learn her ways, the forest will protect you and you will be strong. Live long and be strong my son, for I will see you no more.”
With this song in his head, Bahr, dreams vanishing from his eyes, was already moving forward, thinking how he would chase down an animal next time he found one. He thought of how he would target one animal and ignore the rest. He wondered how he was going to do this alone but right now he was more concerned with finding something to kill than dreaming of how he might kill it when he did.
As he loped along at an easy pace, Bahr became conscious of the scent of hare and realized he had been following the scent for some time without noticing it. He raised his snout to the gentle breeze flowing by. It was hare sure enough. Hares, he knew, were magical creatures that could leap and fly and disappear in one spot right before your jaws, only to appear again in another. Catching a hare was more luck than skill and you had to be in the right place at the right time to trap one. Yet hare was an animal you could catch alone if you were patient and could wait for one to appear before you. Hare was a meat that was best caught and enjoyed alone. No hare would appear when a pack was on the move. At the first sign of a wolf pack, they would run and hide in their borrows, deep down in the Earth where no wolf could reach them. Hare must be hunted alone, or at most in pairs, and they must be trapped and caught by stealth.
He recalled once catching a hare when he was out ranging in the hills close by his family.
“Don’t go too far,” his elfa had sung out to him as he stole off. He could not go anywhere without her noticing. He whined his assent.
It was during the early thaw, as patches of snow still lay scattered about, when he saw them from a distance, dancing together in the open ground like the magical creatures they were. He had crept up to them slowly, trying not to bound forward in his eagerness and impatience. Paw by paw he stole up to the edge of the meadow, as the magic hares danced and leapt and gamboled about.
Waiting, crouching low into the scrubby grass, Bahr watched the hares do their mad dance, timing his moment. Breathing shallow and steady, his body poised to strike, he waited and waited and then leapt forward in a huge bound as the hares, seeing him, jumped this way and that. One of them bounded straight into Bahr’s open mouth as it seemed, such that all Bahr had to do was to bite down on the creature, instantly breaking its back. The other hares all disappeared on the instant. Bahr had no idea where they had gone but he felt it was part of the hare’s magic that they could be there at one moment and gone the next. He must have been the luckiest young wolf alive to have captured a dancing hare so quickly and with so little effort.
Tempted to devour the tender meat of the creature there and then, Bahr restrained himself. He must show his prize to Elfa and offer it to her. It was hers by right as the pack leader. Or was it Ulfa’s? He wasn’t quite sure. He had been but a pup the fall before and was not entirely clear about the etiquette of sharing a lone-kill. He didn’t trouble himself too much over the trifle. Elfa’s or Ulfa’s, it certainly was not his and he dared not feed before his elders and betters had eaten.
As he returned to his family, all eyes were upon him, all snouts sniffing at the air, having detected the smell of blood before Bahr had arrived. He walked straight by his siblings and laid the hare before Elfa, backing away and lowering his head with a subdued whine. Elfa did not acknowledge Bahr at all, she simply raised herself and moved to take the carcass in her powerful jaws. At this, Ulfa, who had been laying to one side, raised himself up from his slumber in the watery morning sunshine and began a low, fierce growl.
Had Bahr got it wrong? Should he have offered it first to Ulfa. Concerned that he had not shown sufficient respect to his ulfa he backed further away, his head staying low. Elfa commenced, nonchalantly, to rip open the carcass, devouring the entrails in a single gulp, before tearing into the meat. She ignored Ulfa, Bahr and her various other offspring and concentrated on her leisurely meal. Ulfa, looking across from his place of rest decided against taking issue. He had a full stomach in any case so what did he care?
Bahr was relieved that the drama had settled itself, and walked away and found a place to rest, content that the matter had been resolved and with no thought to his own desire to join in the meal. He was satisfied with the honor of having brought this food to his elfa, his mother. He felt his standing in the pack increase. His siblings, apart from the odd furtive glance, ignored him.
It seemed so long ago, but Bahr felt a warm glow as he thought of it. For now, he must concentrate on trying to replicate his success by catching a hare for the second time. This time it was not for honor, and it was not an offering for his elfa, it was a meal for himself. A much-needed meal after many nights without food.
Remembering the success of the previous hare kill, Bahr kept himself low to the ground. He moved slowly and steadily, avoiding any sudden movement, laying his paws down silently in the remaining snow and in the leaves.
By stealth, he pushed his body into the very edge of the scrub, zeroing his sight onto the lone hare, dancing its mad dance right out in the open. Bahr was as still as a fallen tree, awaiting his moment, waiting for the hare to come nearer to its death. Leaping this way and that, the creature was now closer, now further to where Bahr lay immobile. Concerned that the hare was about to disappear, Bahr tensed and was about to leap when the mad creature headed again in Bahr’s direction.
Timing his moment to perfection, Bahr shot forward as the animal headed towards him. True to form, the hare was gone in an instant, leaping away from Bahr who, picking up the pace, ran directly at the rapidly retreating animal. Then, seeing the image of his ulfa veering off to the right, Bahr did the same, running at a shallow angle to the leaping, prancing hare.
As the hare veered to the left, Bahr switched direction, heading at an equally shallow angle to the left. He repeated this approach, forcing the hare to keep switching its own direction of flight to avoid the wolf, now gaining ground on it. Bahr must catch up in haste for he could feel himself tiring from the huge output of energy. Too late, the hare had outsmarted him. Thinking the creature was heading away from the trees Bahr had failed to notice that he and his quarry had ranged around in a curve and were now headed back to the shelter of the forest.
Bahr made a last, desperate leap at the hare as it closed in on the thick foliage of the edge of the thick bushes when, without warning, a giant dark form exploded from the edge of a bush before Bahr’s very eyes, snapping up the hare mid-flight and landing with a bound a few paces away.
Shocked into silence, Bahr could not believe what he had seen. He was stunned by the unexpected appearance, realizing at once that a rival wolf had appeared at the edge of the forest, just as Bahr was about to make his well-earned kill.
“Thief!” he shouted at the imposter. So shocked was he at the sudden turn of events that he was songless. Beside himself with anger, he just stood there, eyes narrowed, challenging the rival with his looks alone. Then a strange thing happened. Rather than attempt to run off with his hare, or to bark a challenge, the other wolf just stood there, looking at Bahr. Her eyes were not narrowed but were open and bright. Bahr did not know what to make of it. As he stood there stunned, the other wolf took a single pace towards him and laid the dead hare on the ground. She did not back away as she ought to have done in submission. She just stood there, a silent challenge perhaps.
Neither wolf moved. It was only then that he realized it was the shihah from the stream, the one who had stolen the dead bird from him. Now she had stolen his food a second time. Bahr would not stand for it, but he made no move to challenge her, either. Why had she put the hare down in front of him like that? He could not understand it. Perhaps the magic hare, in death, had given its magic to the shihah. Perhaps it was the magic that had made the other wolf behave in such a strange way.
Desperately hungry as he was, there was no time for further speculation. He must claim what was his. He took a pace towards the shihah, eyes still narrow, but the shihah did not move. She stood there silently, calm, observing Bahr in a way that Bahr found unnerving. Was she waiting to strike? She showed no sign of aggression, unlike the previous time he had encountered her. Was she not hungry? Did she not want the meat? She had not even taken the entrails, meagre though they were in a hare. The little body was still intact, laying in a heap on the ground between the two wolves.
The shihah’s scent reminded Bahr of his siblings, reminded him of one sibling in particular, a sister, who had been lost to the forest. Bahr instantly felt the loss of his sister and the rest of his siblings, all of them taken by Mother Forest, leaving him the sole survivor from his litter. Was that it? Had Mother Forest sent this shihah to replace his sister? It was too much for Bahr to understand and he was too hungry to worry about it further.
Stepping forward slowly, eyes still on the other wolf, Bahr picked up the tiny carcass and held it in his jaws. Still the shihah did not move. Still, she stood there watching Bahr in that unnerving manner. He was not sure what to do but hunger won him over. He turned and walked a few paces away from the other wolf and lay down, tearing about the hare and devouring it in moments, crunching through the delicate bones and savoring the taste of the blood, the entrails and the sweet, sweet meat. He lapped at the small patch of pink snow, not wanting to waste any of the blood, having forgotten about the shihah.
When he looked up, he could see that she was standing there, still watching him in silence. What could it mean? Again, he saw the image of his sister before him and again he drew in the scent of the shihah, which only made the picture of the lost wolf stronger before his eyes. Raising himself up, he padded over to the shihah and laid his head on her back. The two wolves stood there for a moment, in the still embrace, before Elha, with a shrug, turned and walked back into the forest. Bahr followed a few paces behind.
O ~ 0 ~ o ~
Thanks for reading. What do you think?
Run with the Pack was published by Park Langley Editions in 2022. I will continue to post each chapter in turn here, as long as there is interest from readers. Please comment and/or like if you wish to read the next chapter.
Continue to read: Chapter 5
Continue to read Run with the Pack: Chapter by Chapter
O ~ 0 ~ o
About the Creator
Author based in Kent, England. A writer of fictional short stories in a wide range of genres, he has been a non-fiction writer since the 1980s. Non-fiction subjects include art, history, technology, business, law, and the human condition.