Any of you remember Tyxe? I promised when writing Acceptance that her world was not finished. It's been a while, but I've been working on it at a somewhat steady pace; right now I am filling out some of the history, both of individual characters and her world at large. These can be seen as mini-stories in their own right, or fillers for a history. You are free to make of it what you will, but keep in mind, please, that feedback is any author's best tool!
Counterpoint: combining two or more melodic lines in such a way that they establish a harmonic relationship while retaining their linear individuality.
Valkourna and werewolves almost never get along. Like most predators, werewolves have developed a high level of suspicion and fear of the other species that may prey upon something without ever waking it. As predators themselves, it is not so much the act of predation they fear; rather it is the idea of being rendered helpless and unwilling (not unable) to escape. Like many species before them, werewolves either forgot or never knew that valkourna never feed on an unwilling sentient host. So it is that their relation to valkourna is normally quite simple: if one is seen, kill it, or at least hassle it out of pack territory. If there are too many to fight easily, hide or migrate to a different territory until they pass. Valkourna, for their part, attempt to avoid werewolves, unwilling to associate with creatures that wish their deaths and are reputed to be rather amoral about their choice of foods – werewolves have a negative reputation for being quite willing to hunt and eat other sentients, which garners them a fair amount of hatred.
Why, then, would a valkour claim a pack of werewolves as his own, and vice versa? One would think it impossible, or at the very least highly improbable. Not only would the original boundaries of fight-or-flight need be crossed, but longstanding attitudes on both sides adjusted and corrected. It would not be a simple thing by any stretch of the imagination.
As it happens, the valkour Dawnlight was just old enough to not be considered young when it happened. This is likely significant, as valkour attitudes toward violence tend to change at this age: young valkourna, the taste and sensation of death still fresh in their minds, are wildly pacifistic, while the elders who have seen more of history pass by are more accepting of violence; not because it is a necessary evil, but because it cannot be prevented. The younger races will war regardless, and their intervention, hated as they generally are, only makes things worse. So they will live harmonious lives; but they do not expect it of others. It is those valkourna just old enough for the direct experience of death to have faded a bit who are often uncertain and prone to compromise.
It was early spring, just after the snows had melted and the first violets had bloomed. Dawnlight was transient at the time, having just left Odaexr and the relative peace of the dragons' realm. As he was tracking a herd of elk one night, he came across a dying wolf, clearly wounded in hunting the same herd. The wolf was attempting to drag itself along through the trees, but without much success. Idealistic, believing that every creature had the right to live, he stepped out of the shadows to help it when it collapsed. The wolf snapped at him when he came close enough, but could not manage to stand again, though its eyes rolled and the hair on the back of its neck rose.
Wanting to calm the animal, the valkour put his mouth to one of the bleeding wounds and began to drink. When he made contact with its mind, however, he received a shock: it was not a wolf, but sentient: a werewolf. Its fear nearly overpowered his own mind, and he was forced to withdraw. What was he to do? The wolf would gladly see him dead if it could, but was too injured to do so – too injured, also, to escape. Valkourna and werewolves had no love for each other – but did it not have a pack and a life as well? Was not allowing a death to occur as evil as taking it? He knelt again to drink, but paused. 'I will not hurt you,' Dawnlight said to the wolf, 'for you also have a spirit, and may yet live.' The werewolf tried then to bite him, and growled when it could not. Dawnlight drank from the wound in its side and overpowered its mind, sending it into unconsciousness.
He set a circle of stones round the werewolf and marked them so that no creature would pass by. Then he hunted for certain healing herbs that he knew of, and made a poultice, and cleaned and bound the wolf's wounds with his own clothes. Realising that it was cool for one who had been injured, he built a fire near it. Then curiosity caught hold of him, and he went along the track that the wolf had been.
The sun was near to rising, and the moon had gone, when Dawnlight first heard a whimper. He turned toward the sound and found a litter of six young puppies, barely grown enough to have teeth. The werewolf's scent covered them, and he knew that another thing was not right, for there was no scent of a mother that was not several days gone, nor of any other packmates. This was, he realized, the beginning of a new pack, with the wounded wolf both alpha and alone in caring for the litter. Gathering the young in his arms, soothing them with soft words, he returned just as dawn's first light filtered through the trees. Dawnlight set the puppies near their father and considered what might be done next.
Water, he knew, was important to other species, though he did not know how much each needed. There was a stream some ways back; if he could keep the pups from wandering he could fetch from it. Shelter he could build easily enough, and few animals would attack where a valkour had marked. But what of food? He remembered the taste and feel of death – yet what else could be done? The wolf was too weak and afraid to shift forms, and its pups were too young. The wolf forms could not survive on what berries and roots he might scavenge this early in the year, nor could he now leave them to likely death with a clear mind.
The pups were sleeping. Dawnlight went and caught a rabbit, and fed. When it was unconscious he broke its neck and carried it back. The valkour left it near the wolf's head and climbed a birch to rest.
In the early afternoon a pup tried to cross his circle and woke him. Seeing that it was thirsty, and all the rest also, he led them to a shallow stream, and carried water back in a large leaf, and set it near the werewolf. The rabbit's carcass was gone, and the werewolf stared at him with its golden eyes. Its pups played about it, but it kept its gaze on the valkour.
'I have brought your pups and cared for them,' Dawnlight said, 'and have tended for your wounds. I have even killed for you. Do you still believe that I mean you harm?' Then he went to find more healing herbs to change the bindings. Returning, he said, 'I must clean your wounds if they are to heal. They will not if you struggle and tear them further. Do you understand?' The werewolf growled as he approached, and continued as he changed the bandages; but it did not attempt to bite.
So it continued: Dawnlight cared for the young, tended the wounds of their father, and that which almost no valkour has done: hunted for and lived with a werewolf. To his bemusement, he found that the puppies were quite fond of him, gamboling about his knees when he brought them to and from the stream, licking his face when he gave them such small things as rabbits or mice or squirrels. Their sire grew stronger, healing rapidly under the valkour's care, but remained in his wolf's form until at last, some weeks later, Dawnlight examined him and deemed him well. 'Now I will leave,' said the valkour, 'for you are fit to hunt, and I cannot teach your little ones to catch their own prey. I do not think we shall meet again.'
Then the werewolf changed forms and became a man, saying, 'I would have your name before you leave.'
'What use have you for it?' Dawnlight asked. 'Surely I shall not pass this way again while you are young; and your kind are not known for long memories.'
'Nor are yours for kindness or healing,' replied the werewolf, 'yet I live. Still I would have your name, and perhaps you will be surprised.'
Now no valkour had ever been known to werewolves that Dawnlight had heard of. So he hesitated, saying, 'You may have it, if you will give me yours.' For likewise no wolf had given its name away. Nor did it seem that this was to change, for the man stared at him and did not answer.
'A life for a life,' said the werewolf at last, 'and I do not think that you will take it away. My pack's name will be Elkhorn, for such had ended it ere beginning if not for you; but my name is Moon's Song.'
Dawnlight did not know what to do; so he said, 'My name is Dawnlight,' and left, and did not return to that area for two hundred years.
But it came to pass in those days that humans once again banded together and sought to slay valkourna wherever they might be found; and as Dawnlight slept one night a group of hunters came upon him, and nearly killed him in that instant. He fled as fast as he might, but they tracked him, leaving him no time to hunt, until he grew weak and weary. They caught him at the borders of a wood, and beat him, and had their knives at his neck when the howls came. Then their leader recalled that their were werewolves in this place, and also the enmity between the two kinds, and proposed that the valkour be left for them while the hunters escaped. Binding his wrists behind him, they cast him into the forest, and left. He pulled himself upright and stumbled deeper, hoping that the wolves would be swifter, at least, than humans in giving him death: weary and starving and beaten as he was, he did not expect to live through the night. In a little moonlit glade he fell at the foot of a willow tree, and slept.
Footsteps woke him. He opened his eyes, and saw a man coming toward him, but did not move. Had his hunters returned so soon? He did not believe so; the man was naked, and did not walk as if the absence of clothing disturbed him. He came near to where the valkour lay and stared down at him.
'What is your name, stranger?' the man asked.
Dawnlight had neither the strength nor desire to lie when the end should be no different. 'Dawnlight,' he said. The man looked at him a little longer.
'I have heard,' he said abruptly, 'that valkourna do not drink dead blood. Is this so?'
'It is,' Dawnlight replied.
'Even when you are near to death?' he said, and Dawnlight nodded.
The man did not speak for a time, and the valkour's eyes drifted shut. The lack of food and sleep, when combined with the wounds the human hunters had dealt him, was loosening his ties to awareness, letting slip his mind to wander in old memories and dreams. Suddenly he was pulled back by a voice and a hand on his neck, and he opened his eyes. The man was crouching beside him.
'You are dying,' he said. Dawnlight looked up at him and did not answer. Slowly he began to fall away again.
'Dawnlight!' said the man, and shook him lightly. 'They said you were a healer, and did not kill if you could. You may feed from me.' Then he transformed into a large wolf and lay down at the valkour's side, watching him intently. When he did not move, confused, the wolf nudged his shoulder and bared its neck before his face. Slowly Dawnlight raised his hand to its back and let it fall. He could feel no fear. With a great effort, he turned his head and bit at the wolf's neck, opening a small cut near a vessel, and drank. Though he could not sway its mind, there was no need – the wolf was watchful, and wary, and a little bemused, but there was no terror to stun the valkour's thoughts. When he finished he sighed his thanks and nuzzled deeper into its fur; and he slept. In his dreams he heard howling far off, and again nearer to him, and he felt hands touching and lifting him, but he was not disturbed.
He woke slowly, awareness coming only in small sips of sound and sense. He felt that he was warm, secure, pressed firmly about by great soft bodies of fur from which came only a sort of sleepy good will; felt himself to be hungry, and tired still, but not with the terrible punishing need that he last recalled. And then he remembered that the hunters had caught him and opened his eyes.
Finding himself in the midst of a pack of wolves, the valkour came very near to panic ere he recalled also the strange werewolf that had asked his name, and given his blood. There had been neither threat nor fear in that one, nor was there in those that lay drowsing about him. Even so, he could not return to sleep easily, and he essayed to sit up, wondering if perhaps he might leave before they woke. But as he moved, the wolves did also, yawning and licking their muzzles and watching him with keen amber eyes: Dawnlight sat, but did not move to rise, though the wolves were much taller than he when seated.
Soon a great grey wolf rose, stretching, and the wolves of the pack crowded about, licking its face and whining their greetings. When they had finished the wolf tilted its head, regarding the valkour coolly. Dawnlight met its eyes, wary and respectful, and felt his own widen when it growled. It rose and began to stalk toward him. Behind him he heard movement, and then a soft voice in his ear.
'Why do you challenge him? Look away!'
He did this, averting his eyes, and the wolf ceased as well. Uncertain, he bowed his head, saying, 'Your pardon; I do not know your ways. My thanks for my life.'
There was motion in front of him, and the wolf became a man who crouched before him, leaning forward to sniff his face. He rocked back on his heels and Dawnlight ventured to meet his eyes again. This time it appeared that there was no affront, for the man only tilted his head. 'We are Elkhorn,' he said. 'Our singers say that we owe you our pack.'
Then Dawnlight was surprised, and said, 'That was long ago as your people reckon time; but it is so. You have repaid it, for I had prepared for death.'
The leader laughed. 'Truly you do not know our kind,' he said, 'to reckon the debt fulfilled. For you returned seven lives and not one; and through those our pack, which has kept these parts for some time; and indeed, through us those smaller packs that yet hold part of the owing.' He gazed at Dawnlight, but the valkour said nothing, and he continued: 'It would be ill-done of us to send you away when you are still weak and easy prey. Or did you seek your own death at the humans' hands?'
'No,' said Dawnlight, though he was reluctant to stay – he knew that he was not yet fit to elude recapture. 'Still, I would not impose--'
The man laughed again, and his eyes held something of mockery. 'Have you not heard, then? Valkour you may be, but here you are safe. If you would not rest, then there is a wolf who was gored by a boar. You may tend her, if you wish, while you remain with us, for we do not have such vast knowledge of herb-craft.'
'I will,' said Dawnlight, 'but with your pardon I will hunt first, for I am yet hungry and weary.'
'That you do not have,' he said, 'for you are also yet weak, and a toss of antlers or a kick should kill you. Tell me, how often need you hunt?'
'Every day, and more when I am healing,' Dawnlight answered.
'My brother said you took but a little. Did you fill yourself then?' asked the man.
'Then you shall have our blood until you are healed,' he said, and smiled. 'Perhaps the pack will make you stronger. Come; you may have mine first, and then we will bring you to the wounded one.'
Now Dawnlight perceived that every attempt to take his leave had been rebuffed, and no more would be accepted; so when the man became a wolf again, he went to it. It was as tall as he, and a little more, so that he tipped his face up to part the fur and make a small cut with his teeth. As he drank he felt the werewolf watching, and wondered why it should offer itself – and even as the thought came to him he felt the wolf's response: So must it be, so that my pack does not fear the same. Hearing it he shuddered, afraid, for never had an other heard his thoughts as he touched its own, never spoken to him in mind as dragons did. But there was no malice, only a sudden amusement – and why onesided, came the thought, why should you see me and not I you? so that he was shamed by one so much younger, and begged pardon, and was granted, though still unsettled. Perhaps it was only common, if one should drink from those others with spirits, as he had not before. Had he not wondered at the ties and strange understanding in those valkourna who chose to live with other kindred?
And for the first time, he perceived that such might not be intolerable, might be a desirable thing. Was it not relief to think of protection and support when wounded? Had he not felt secure when waking in the midst of the wolves? Affirmation rose in the werewolf: That is pack. Why hunt alone if others are willing to come alongside?
Dawnlight could not answer, having been transient for so long, though now he wondered himself. But as he finished, the werewolf became a man again. 'It is tiresome to change so often,' he said, 'but you do not speak otherwise, so I must. My name is Wind in Leaves. Now go, and my brother will bring you to his daughter.'
So Dawnlight bowed his head and went. The wounded wolf was young and strong, but the pig's tusks had gored deeply into her haunch, and now the wound was red and bloated with infection. Still, it was not so bad as it might have been, and he laid his hand on the back of his guide. 'Do not fear,' he said, 'she shall run again; but now I must gather what I need.' So the two went, and the wolf watched as Dawnlight chose herbs and barks that would ward off the wound's festering. It was well, too, that he was accompanied, for as he searched he grew faint and would have fallen badly had the werewolf not caught him.
'I saw that you were near death two nights ago when you drank, and surely you cannot have recovered so soon. Why do you fight it?' he chided, setting the valkour on a stone. 'Tell me what you need and I shall find it; I have used this form more than my brother. You will do my daughter no good if you collapse.' Having no answer, Dawnlight did as he said. When they returned he made a poultice to press into the wound and told the young wolf not to lick or disturb it. Then he fed again, and slept, and when he woke did not flinch from the shaggy body next to him, but lay pressed close to it, and pondered.
That same curious sensation of the other watching had persisted, and he had held some manner of converse through it with his rescuer, though the openness still unnerved him. The werewolf – Hawk's Feather, rather, for he had given him his name – was grateful to the valkour, and had lost much of his initial unease that first time he had given his blood to save a myth's life, and seen that myth's thoughts laid bare before him – and found that even legends were weak and could be fallible. Now there was much of curiosity in Hawk's Feather, and little fear for the pack's sake. Indeed, he had suggested to Dawnlight that he not stand aloof from the pack as he healed, but learn them, and allow them to know him in return; to which had come the valkour's rueful thought that otherwise should be difficult when the werewolves touched his mind as clearly as he did theirs. But the thought remained, and he considered it, turning it about and handling it to see its shape and desirability.
Valkourna heal rapidly when there is ample food and rest, and the werewolves would have felt themselves betrayers had they let Dawnlight exert himself too far and relapse. Beneath their watchful care he grew swiftly stronger, so that before the moon was full only faint lines remained to mark his injuries, and there was no trace of weakness about him. Nor was he alone: Rushing Water was indeed walking, and though she had not yet hunted there was now no doubt that she soon would. But though the valkour was mended, he did not immediately take his leave. Rather he lingered a while. Rushing Water, after all, was not wholly well; and when she was one of the puppies fell from a tall rock and hurt a paw, and so he remained to tend it. He was learning to read the pack's language, to tell the curl of lip or twitch of ear that signified intent in wolf-shape, and knew the names of all the pack. He found Hawk's Feather to be a willing partner in conversation, for though he had not lived a fragment of Dawnlight's years he was possessed of a keen mind and inquiring nature, and was wise in the ways of the pack and the hunt.
Now one day, as Dawnlight was playing with a puppy, he felt eyes on him, and when he turned he saw Wind in Leaves. When the pup tired, the valkour went to the great wolf, for he perceived there was something it wanted of him. But the wolf only walked away, indicating with tail and ears that it wished him to follow; they walked for a time in silence. Soon the valkour began to recognise the land where they were walking, as they were near the edge of the forest; then they came to a little glade in the trees, and he looked about, uneasy, for he knew the place.
Wind in Leaves led him to a willow and lay down beneath it. The valkour sat beside the wolf, running his fingers through its fur for comfort. As he did so he sensed that the wolf was deciding something, though what he could not tell from the fragile brush of skin on skin.
Then the wolf caught his eyes, and tilted its head to one side, exposing its throat. Dawnlight stared a moment, for he had been hunting his own game most frequently now, and at his hesitation the wolf also exposed a canine. Though he was confused, he bent his head and drank; and felt the wolf watching him.
You are not a werewolf, he saw in Wind in Leaves' mind. Nor are you man, nor wolf.
No, he answered.
You are healed. If you go through the woods the humans cannot see you.
There are other packs --
They are of us, said Wind in Leaves. They bear a debt to you. But you would not fear them even did they not. Why do you say that you do? Dawnlight did not answer, for he knew the werewolf perceived his thoughts even as he knew its own; and the thought came into his mind that perhaps this was why it had desired him to drink. For a little while there was silence, and he made no effort to see its mind.
But before he finished the wolf said, You do not wish to leave. Why? The valkour could say nothing; nor, when the werewolf asked after his silence, could he frame a response. He withdrew and saw the wolf watching him again; he averted his eyes. It turned and left, and he made no move to follow.
The light changed, and the shadows slid their way across the ground. Dawnlight remained still. For a long time he sat there, hearing a jay chatter, watching the little chipmunks dash about, feeling a butterfly land on his hand. The air smelled of pine and water and fresh green things, and, very faintly, of wolves. Elkhorn Pack, though this was on the borders of its territory.
At last the sun had set and the moon began its arc. Across the wind came howlsl he knew that the pack gathered to hunt, and he did not move. The night passed.
But as the sky grew light again and the stars dimmed, he rose and went. Coming to where the pack was, he saw Wind in Leaves and Hawk's Feather watching him. He bowed his head. 'By your leave,' he said, 'I would stay a little longer.' Hawk's Feather thumped his tail once; Wind in Leaves blinked, closed his eyes, and turned his head away. Dawnlight smiled; and he lay down in the midst of the pack, and slept.