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by K. Bensley 11 months ago in Sci Fi · updated 11 months ago
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Observing the open ground through the dense ferns, the track still looked clear, instinct was keeping me from moving, as well as the stiffness in my legs. I’d been here for what felt like an age but being discovered so close to the Bastion of Whitehaven could cost my life.

The last time I was here I’d lost my family and an empire in one night. Unwilling to lose my life too, I attempted escape. It nearly killed me anyway after throwing myself off a cliff in the midst of a storm. It was a miracle how I survived. I hit every outcrop on the way down to the spraying black swell of the Irish Sea. The half-conscious memory of breathing in water as my broken body was swept out then in towards the rocks. Somehow, my working arm found a jutting crag to hold to for what felt like an eternity, focusing my breathing in time with the tidal pull as it did its best to prise me away from land, and life itself.

Sheer anger fuelled my survival that night, angry at treachery, angry at my helplessness while watching my second-in-command execute my wife, knowing he wouldn't stop until the bloodline was eliminated. I was gone before having to witness my sweet child face the same inevitable fate. Clinging to that rock, I had one goal. Revenge. Owain, a man I once called friend, would suffer a long and painful death.

I just need more time, was something I said often as the years went by but when fragmented rumours spread that the war in Cumbria had ended, I took it as a sign to head north and finally confront him. The closer I get though, the more the memories blurred my focus.

I glimpsed movement which snapped me back to the present. At first I thought it was an animal but I saw a stern face through the leaves. It was a single patrolman, a young man, maybe sixteen, dressed in the garb of my people, the Wolves. Hardened leather combined with a wolf pelt cloak, forelegs draped across the shoulders and head mounted as a hood. A surge of pride rushed through me as I noticed how fresh the pelt was, knowing that wolving was still practiced by our children who crossed into adulthood as a warrior. The tradition went back centuries, as the story goes before the Western Wars, when Scotland was ravaged by reintroduced wolves. My own trial was fondly remembered but now only brings sorrow when I think of Cynwyn not living to experience it.

Watching the lone soldier carry out his methodical patrol, noticing his build, knowing then that food wasn’t an issue at Whitehaven but numbers might be. A standard operating procedure I created saw a minimum of two armed patrolmen conducting full sweeps at frequent intervals. We numbered nearly eight thousand strong then, with two thousand fighting wolves. I’d only seen one in four hours. One wolf-ling, no gun, they were rarely used these days, as ammunition dwindled in England. Ammo- smiths were even rarer. However, I did suspect there would still be a few left in Whitehaven. Regardless, he did carry a short-bow, his competence was symbolized by his pelt, a few more years of growth and practice and he’d be wielding a long-bow with the same ease.

As he disappeared down the north-western track, I knew I’d seen enough and left the safety of the brush to follow the path where he’d come from but making sure to stay within the foliage of the wood-line. It was a relief to be moving again, even if it meant going back to hearing nothing but the clicking of my battered knee.

After roughly a mile or so of stalking alongside the track and keeping the old town ruins to my left, the sounds of Whitehaven came into earshot. Prompted to proceed even more carefully, I soon came upon the overgrown broken tarmac of the A595.

Looking left, a chicane of large piles of roughly cut logs had been arranged leading to the town’s entrance, no doubt an addition during the war to slow down anything or anyone from gaining enough speed to ram a way in. Scanning the perimeter of the fortification, a constructed mix of steel and iron scrap, fashioned into twenty foot walls meeting at two formidable gates. Two guards patrolled the ramparts silhouetted against the late summer sky, it almost looked beautiful but remembering the task at hand quashed any possibility of serenity.

Recognising that as soon as I step towards those gates it will be the beginning of the end of a decade long journey. The anxiety of that realization mixed with failure by being recognized before getting to Owain was almost overwhelming. I took comfort in the fact I’d aged a fair bit, grew my hair and collected a few facial injuries in the Stratford fighting pits. I only had to keep my identity hidden until the he was dead. Taking a few deep breaths, I stepped on to the road and calmly walked towards the gates.

“Halt!” one of the sentries screamed, he had what looked like an MP5 aimed towards me, the other guard already had an arrow nocked in his long-bow. I stood in silence and waited with my empty hands stretched out. “Business?” the same one said, less aggressively this time. “My name is Henry and I wish to speak with the alpha and the council, I have news” I stated clearly and loudly. The wolf with the bow quickly disappeared out of sight while I stared at the one I’d spoken to. I didn’t recognise this one either, so much will have changed, I thought, I wonder what else is different?

After a few minutes of maintaining a blink-less stare with the guard, one of the gates creaked open marginally. Four wolves ran out to surround me as I stood and watched. Even though my instinct was to react, my quarrel wasn’t with them, sighing, I let them restrain me and cover my head.

After being frog marched and threw on to my knees, the hemp sack was roughly pulled off. It was already getting dark so there wasn’t much of a contrast for my eyes to adjust to. Six wolves of varying rank stood around me. None of them the alpha.

“I’m Arthur, second-in-command to the alpha, luckily I’m on duty otherwise you’d have been left outside all night. What is it you want at this hour?”

Arthur was stood directly in front of me, he looked young for his position but battle tested somehow, his face also appeared familiar but nothing came to mind.

I needed five witnesses for what I wanted to be bound legally and formally motioned within the council of wolves. If Owain knew of my presence before the claim I’d be disposed of in secret, making me grateful for a less troublesome way in.

“I challenge the alpha’s position by duel, recognized by the law of the wolf and with five as witness”. As the last words left my lips, a few sniggers erupted behind me but I didn’t react. Arthur looked concerned, “Who are you? How do you know of these laws? And why?” he must have assumed I was involved in the recent wars and wanted retribution of some kind. “I’m Henry of Carlisle and I have my reasons, the claim has to be honoured in the eyes of five or the alpha has to abdicate.” Moisture filled my eyes, years of visualizing didn’t prepare for the emotion felt when the words finally came out. Arthur let out a defeated sigh, he then gave a nod to someone behind me and the darkness reappeared as the sack went back on.

Many hours later, I was dragged from the dirt half asleep to an area where the sound of gathered voices were. The ropes were cut from my weeping wrists and the sack removed. The brightness of the morning sun made me squint, while adjusting I scanned the people that surrounded me and looked for familiar faces. Sitting at one end of a circular bed of soil, I noticed the wolf council dressed in their finery chatting amongst the crows, glancing towards me occasionally. The relief and fear hit me as it became obvious what was happening, although catching sight of Owain sent a jolt through me. Being fussed on by two youngsters he was sat up on a makeshift bed. A large bandage mottled with bright fresh blood covered his significantly wounded head as his eyes rapidly shifted from left to right. This changed everything. What was to happen now? I’d already made the claim.

Then she stepped forward.

Her age was hard to discern, it could of been late teens or mid twenties. Fair hair hung in braids each side of the featureless shadow cast by the wolf’s head which adorned the leather battle armour and grey war paint. “I am the alpha and you asked for this duel, we honour tradition Henry, you can choose to retract your claim and become a respectable beta for one of our families or you can choose a weapon.” As she spoke I wasn’t really listening to the words, what happened here? How can someone so young be the alpha? What was her connection to Owain? Was this all pointless?

Losing all care, I absentmindedly picked a machete from a mix of melee weapons arranged on the podium but still noticing the difference in choice as the alpha picked up a fang blade.

We were squared off ten meters a part, aware that I felt like shit with a pounding headache, I attempted to loosen off a little too late. Arthur stepped forward to address the gathering, “Wolves! This man has undermined the authority of the alpha with five as witness. There can only be one Alpha.” A few people from around the circle thought it necessary to repeat the last line.

“Begin!” He bellowed.

I assumed my dominant stance and planted my feet firmly as she quickly advanced.

Within a few yards she feigned a step to my right then immediately leaped to the other side and lunged at my ribs.

I took the bait but was still able lean away and avoid the thrust, leaving her off balance.

Being so close, I brought my elbow down as it smashed across her cheek making her grunt and roll backwards.

A few gasps could be heard at that.

The alpha calmly dusted herself off and advanced again. This time when she got in range, she thrust towards my face.

The machete flicked away her strike with ease.

She pulled back and tried the same move again but I realized the deception when it was too late. As I reacted, I failed to see the blade was in her opposite hand. The sharp steel entered my stomach. I felt nothing but coldness.

I glanced towards the alpha who was now on the floor again from where I’d instinctually lashed out and threw her back.

It was then the glint of gold intertwined within the leather thong around her neck caught my eye. The pain in my torso came as a wave that ran through my entire being.

Trying to focus my eyes on the gold, I slumped to the ground while clutching the fang embedded in me. She stood up over me now. I could now see it and all became clear. The gold heart locket was something I looted as a young wolf raiding in Edinburgh. A gift I’d later given. Her face became crystal clear in that moment.

As the blackness consumed my vision and thoughts, it took everything I had left in me to smile and whisper to her,


Sci Fi

About the author

K. Bensley

Writing is a new hobby that I’m looking to explore and improve upon by creating a variety of fictional content.

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