Elha padded silently along the path, retracing her steps, and guided by the scent trail she had left the night before. Bahr followed a few paces behind. They had walked through the morning, past high Sun and on into the afternoon.
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The snow was beginning to recede now. Everything had a damp and fungal smell to it and, although the ground was still frozen hard below the surface, there were bare patches where the floor of the forest showed through. The sounds of water were beginning to increase. Water rising in the brooks, water running in rivulets away from snow drifts and down to the ever-hungry rivers and streams. There was now the constant tap, tap, tap of the drops of snowmelt falling from the trees and bushes. It was a time when life began to recover from the ravages of wintertime.
Soon would come the start of the season of the forest’s great bounty. Soon it would be a time for wolves and other hunters to reassert themselves as lords of the shady, green world that they ruled. It would be a time for them to reap Mother Forest’s rich reward for their strength and their dominance, their status and pre-eminence as predators.
Returning to the place where Elha had devoured her earlier kill, both wolves were weary. Both also detected a difference in their lives, neither being entirely sure what the difference could mean. Bahr was aware of a fundamental change that had taken place. Wolves had no understanding of numbers beyond the difference between one, more and many, and of course wolves had no use for counting. Yet Bahr was acutely aware that he was no longer alone. He was in company with another wolf. A wolf who should, by rights, have been his rival. They were not many, but neither were they merely one. They were more than one. They were not a pack, not family. Not many, but more than one. He could not be sure what to make of it, but he remained close to Elha, nevertheless.
As a few faint rays of afternoon sunshine pierced the forest canopy, Bahr settled in the shelter of a tall conifer, conscious of the presence of Elha, but not taking much notice of her. Likewise, after the exertion of the early morning, Elha needed rest and so the two wolves slept close by each other, but not too close. Wolves are naturally wary creatures and don’t take kindly to strangers. At the same time both wolves felt more secure in the company of each other than they had when they were each roaming the forest alone.
Yet wolves are restless. At times they slumbered uneasily, resting but not sleeping, ever alert for the sounds and smells of danger and of food. Neither wolf had detected boundary markers of rival packs for some time. As lone wolves, they must always be wary of straying into an established pack’s territory. With winter not yet fully over, any pack would guard its territory and its food jealously, and a lone wolf straying into that territory was likely to be set upon and could be seriously injured or even killed.
Elha and Bahr were, for that matter, still rivals, combatants accepting a strategic truce as they considered their next move. The incident of the magic hare had been all but forgotten, although Elha, despite having eaten her fill the day before, was starting again to think of food. She was not hungry when she saw that bumbling oaf of a wolf scaring the hare into a panicked run towards the shelter of the bushes. She just happened to be in that place at that time, and it was nothing for her to catch the panicked hare while it was pre-occupied trying to escape another predator.
She thought of the hare then. Pictured it in her jaws and then hiding the carcass to recover at another time when she was hungry and unable to hunt down a meal. She remembered allowing the wolf who had left his name on the tree by the stream to eat it. She did not understand her motive in doing this. He was not her ulfa and she owed him no loyalty. He was a stranger and therefore a rival at best, a danger at worst. True, he was bigger and stronger than she was, but Elha was strong of will and cunning.
She lay, half-dreaming of the day before and the day to come as Bahr paced from one place to the next, carelessly leaving his name on this tree and that bush. As Bahr approached Elha she growled a soft, low warning.
“Do not leave your name near me, cur, go piss somewhere else.”
Bahr narrowed his eyes, but he was in no need of a quarrel, exposed as he was now to any passing pack and concerned as he was for his next meal. Hare is a fine meat to quell a wolf’s hunger, but it was not sufficient to fill his stomach. It would do for now but soon he must eat again and already in his mind’s eye he pictured the game he had detected with traces of scent here and there on the breeze and from time to time in the undergrowth.
Snorting, he turned away, ignoring the strange shiha who now stole his food and then gave back another meal without claiming a share. Wandering off into the undergrowth, he found himself heading back to where Elha lay, eventually taking his own rest a distance apart. Adversaries or not, the two wolves had fallen into an uneasy companionship, aware of the greater safety of not one wolf. Not many wolves, not a pack of wolves but not one wolf, not a lone wolf.
After a period of this fitful rest and worried slumber, both wolves arose at the same time, as the sun was falling in the sky. They both knew that they must find food, one or not one. Each of them, without reference to the other, moved about consciously, no longer aimlessly. They were both taking the breeze, raising their snouts to it, testing and checking the scents that it carried, picturing in their minds the secrets it held, images of rattling hooves and dancing hares, bleating goats and even quarrelling squirrels, though for now these flying creatures were still, hiding in their trees and waiting for warmer weather to come. The wolves would eat what the forest had to offer if they could find and kill it.
Satisfied they could see the direction they needed to move, Elha and Bahr both headed off in the same general direction, not together, but neither were they apart. As they each loped off into a separate portion of the bush before them, they knew that the other was close, even though the distance between them grew. They were, after all, not family, not a pack. For a pack you needed many wolves. Not one, not not-one, but many.
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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 Run with the Pack: Chapter by Chapter
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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.