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By K. BensleyPublished 3 years ago Updated 3 months ago 9 min read

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 Whitehaven would cost me my life.

When I was last in these parts I’d lost my family and an empire in one stormy evening. Unwilling to lose my life too, I escaped. An escape which should have killed me anyway after throwing myself off a cliff into the spraying black swell of the Irish sea.

Sheer anger had fuelled my survival that night. A half-conscious memory of breathing in water as my broken body swept out then back in towards the rocks. My working arm had found a jutting crag to cling onto and timing my breathing with the tidal pull as it did its best to prise me away from land, and life itself.

That anger hadn't waned in the years since. The anger at the treachery had lessened somewhat but it didn't compare to the helplessness I felt watching my love executed. Betrayed by my friend and second-in-command in a bid to claim the Wolves by conquest. A conquest that can never be fulfilled while I remain alive. I'd escaped before having to witness my sweet child face the same fate.

Clinging to that rock, I had one goal. Revenge. Owain, a man I once considered a brother, would pay the price of failing his conquest.

I just need more time. An affirmation I'd repeat as the years went by. A weak justification for my reluctance. But when fragmented rumours spread that the war in Cumbria had ended, I took it as a fate to head north and finally confront Owain. However, the closer I get, the more the memories cloud my focus.

A sudden movement snapped me back to the present. At first it appeared to be an animal stalking through the brush, but a young stern face caught the light as he turned. It was a single patrolman, young, maybe sixteen, dressed in the garb of my people, the Wolves. Hardened leather jerkin 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 by our warrior youths who crossed into adulthood. The tradition went back centuries, way before the Western Wars, when Scotland was flooded by reintroduced wolves. I struggle to remember my own fondly when I think of Cynwyn not given the chance to experience it...

The lone soldier carried out his methodical patrol. His build gave the impression that food wasn’t an issue at Whitehaven, although numbers might be. A standard operating procedure I created saw a minimum of two armed patrolmen conducting boundary sweeps at often but infrequent intervals. We numbered nearly eight thousand strong then, with two thousand fighting wolves. I’d seen one in four hours. One wolf-ling and no gun. Which are rarely used now, as ammunition dwindles in England. Ammo-smiths are 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’ll be wielding a long-bow with the same ease.

As he disappeared down the north-western track, I’d seen enough and left the safety of the dense brush to follow the path where he’d come from, 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 grinding of my shattered knee.

After roughly a mile or so of stalking the track and keeping the old town ruins to my left, the sounds of Whitehaven gradually came into earshot. I proceeded even more carefully and it wasn't long before the ruined A595 road appeared.

Looking left, a chicane of large piles of roughly cut logs had been arranged in the road leading towards 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 possible serenity.

Recognising that as soon as I step towards those gates it will be the beginning of the end of a decade long journey brought forth unexpected anxiety. That mixed with a potential for failure, being recognized before getting to Owain was almost overwhelming. I took comfort in the fact I’d aged, grown my hair and collected numerous injuries and scars in the Stratford fighting pits.

Taking a few deep breaths, I stepped on to the road and calmly walked towards the gates.

“Halt!” one of the sentries screamed, holding what looked like an MP5 aimed towards me, the other guard already had an arrow nocked and half drawn on 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 while my heart beat betrayed my calm exterior, I wonder what else is different?

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

While being frog marched I attempted to gauge the atmosphere and map out where in the base I was being taken but was soon thrown to my knees before any conclusions were made. 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 stood directly in front of me, he looked young for his position but battle hardened 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 extremely grateful for a less troublesome way in. Making this my only probable chance.

“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, I didn’t react. Arthur looked concerned, “Who are you? How do you know of our 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.” My eyes filled with moisture at the acclimation, years of visualizing didn’t prepare for the emotion felt when it 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.

Hours later, I was dragged from the dirt half asleep to an area where the sound of many voices were gathered. The ropes were cut from my weeping wrists and the sack removed. The brightness of the morning sun made me squint in pain. While adjusting, I scanned the people surrounding me and looked for anyone familiar. Sitting at one end of the circular bed of compacted soil, I noticed the wolf council dressed in their finery chatting amongst the crowd, glancing towards me as they seemed to discuss my fate or make bets on how long it would take to die. Relief and fear hit as it became obvious what was happening, although catching sight of Owain sent a shiver of dread. Being fussed on by two youngsters, he was propped up on a makeshift bed. A large bandage mottled with bright blood covered his significantly wounded head as his eyes lolled in apparent detachment. This changed everything. What was to happen now? I’d already made a claim.

Then she stepped forward.

Her age was hard to discern, it could of been anywhere between 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 already drying grey war paint.

“I am the Alpha and you demanded this duel, we honour tradition Henry of Carlisle, so you can either retract your claim and become a respectable Beta for one of our families or you can choose a weapon.” As she spoke the words didn't register, just the sound. What happened here? What was her connection to Owain? Had of all of this been pointless? Was this my fate regardless?

Confused, I absentmindedly picked a machete from a mix of melee weapons arranged on the podium, while instinctually noticing the Alpha's fang blade clutched in her left hand.

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 thud across her cheek bone 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. Feeling nothing but a numbing coldness.

I flicked my widened eyes towards the Alpha who now on lay on the floor 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 pulsed 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 towering over me. I could now see it, and all became clear. The gold heart locket was something I'd looted as a young wolf raiding in Edinburgh. A gift I’d later given. Her face became bright and 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 Creator

K. Bensley

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

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