The pack had traveled far. Far from the pursuing Fangs of the King. The King of Wolves, at least that is what he called himself. Chogan shook his head, hindered by the weight of the pup hanging from his maw. The wind blustered against his face, and he felt the little one shiver in the cold and whimper.
His mate, Naira, pushed through the snow to step in stride at his flank. Like him, she held one of their pups by its nape. “Chogan, if we push on much farther, they aren’t going to make it.”
He grunted. “Then we need to hurry.” There was no arguing. He scanned the white landscape, but upon the frozen lake there was no shelter. The pack’s only hope for their litter was to make it to the tree line on the far shore. They’d only just started into the open, but there would be no turning back to the comfort of the den. They’d only just escaped, when Moki said that he spotted the King’s Fangs from the top of the hill.
The wind continued to blow and to bluster. Chogan turned to look over his shoulder. Behind himself and Naira trekked the rest of their pack - Chogan’s brother Honon, Naira’s sister, Kaliska, Moki the Omega, adopted into their ranks as honorary family, when Honon stumbled across the dispersal male all but starving to death in a rainstorm the previous spring. Trailing at the end, though determined, was Naira and Kaliska’s aunt, Huyana, an elderly she-wolf whose muzzle shone with silver through the snow. Kaliska, a young female known for her lean frame, sharp with and knowledge of healing, paced herself at the elder’s flank.
Doli had been granted the responsibility of carrying the alphas’ third pup, the single male of the litter. Despite his cold, he growled and opened his maw to snap at the swirling snow.
“Stop that and hold still.” His aunt scolded.
The family pressed on through the snow. Honon thought it felt like days. Though clouds covered the sun, one could easily tell that dusk was fast-approaching. The tree line in the distance grew closer.
A howl sounded from behind them on the far bank.
“Hurry now!” Chogan barked, and the wolves sprinted for the trees.
Upon reaching the trees, the alphas urged them to press farther in.
“The rendez-vous point is not too much farther ahead.” Honon panted, slowing to a trot. He looked back over his shoulder, through the trees to the expanse of frozen lake at their heels. “Do you think they’ll follow?”
The alpha male looked through the branches, up to the swirling gray snow clouds that blanketed the night sky. “They could, but I cannot scent them from upwind. Kaliska?”
Kaliska undoubtedly possessed the keenest nose in the pack. She lifted her muzzle to the air, closing her eyes, as she took in a long breath. “Nothing.” She confirmed. “I don’t hear anything either. The howl sounded far away, carried only on the wind. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a signal to call off the pursuit.
Naira sighed. “I hope so.”
The pack allowed themselves a moment’s rest and continued to the rendez-vous point, a den on the far edges of the territory. The den was nestled under the uprooted trunk of an old beech tree. Wild roots jutted out in every which direction at its entrance like a wicked crown, or monstrous claws. Old debris comprised a seasons-old nest at the far end of the den.
Naira made quick work of ushering her brood into its depths, as the wind picked up outside. She settled them into the nest and tucked them between her tail and stomach. Chogan came to rest beside them, while the rest of the pack rested towards the front of the cavern. They allowed Huyana a warmer place farther from the entrance and closer to the pups, who loved the elder’s stories.
Ahote, the single male of the litter, a dark grey, sturdily built pup, and spitting image of his father, Chogan, looked curiously about the dirt walls, the debris, covered floor. “This is bigger than our last den.” He noted in a matter-of-fact sort of way.
Naira’s lips pulled back in a fond smile, following her son’s gaze about the den. “I suppose that it is.”
“Mum, are you alright?” The smallest of the three pups, Mai, asked. She leaned in close to the alpha female, tilting her head this way and that. “Are you tired?”
Naira blinked slowly, and she sighed. Her next smile was forced. “Yes, dears, I am. Please, how about we get some rest.”
“But I’m not tired!” The last pup barked, appearing over Chogan’s shoulder. “Are we going to go someplace new tomorrow, too?”
These pups were too innocent for this cruel world. Everyone knew so. And just as so, each and every wolf in the den that night silently grieved, for if only for a moment, for the impending loss of the youngsters’ blissful ignorance. The pack could not hide the cruelty of their circumstances from them for much longer. One by one, the pups would succumb to the harsh realities of living, the cold and unforgiving forces of the wild, and what the King thought what it meant to be a wolf.
An uncomfortable silence fell over the wolves. Naira exchanged glances with Huyana, who conceded with a nod of understanding. She patted the ground before her twice. “Come here, pups. Let me tell you a story.”
Mai, Tocho, and Talasi scrabbled to the elder, plopping down upon their haunches. Their tails wriggled in the dirt. Despite it all, Huyana smiled. And though the rest of the pack was grown, they too swiveled their ears forward in silent anticipation for one of Huyana’s famous den tales.
“Will you tell us the story of River, the first huntress?” Mai fell over her brother in her excitement. He grunted and shouldered his smallest sister off.
“Get off, Mai!”
“Settle down.” The elder chided with the calm of any grandparent. The pups calmed after a moment of jostling and squirming.
Huyana cleared her throat, straightened her posture, and began. “Tonight I will tell you a special story. One you have never heard before.”
“Is it about River?”
“Mai, shush!” Talasi scolded pointedly.
Huyana went on as though it’d gone unnoticed. “Tonight I will tell you the story of the first fang blade.” The pups let out a collective gasp, as their eyes grew round with awe.
“Fang blades are what the King’s Fangs use, aren’t they?” Ahote’s grin grew wide in excitement. “And that’s why they are called the King’s Fangs?”
“Yes, partially, yes.” She conceded. “The first fang blade was created by an omega, sharpened from flint found on the cliff side. He found if he heated the rock, it became strong and less breakable. After many moons of perfecting his creation, he’d made a sword which he could carry in his mouth, like an extra long fang he could use at will. With his blade, he made himself a great knight, purging the land of evil and driving out renegade wolves preying on the packs of the Territories. Warring between the packs came to a peaceful still as a result, and they were so grateful that they made him king over all wolves, and he has passed along the secrets of the blades ever since. How to create and how to use them.”
“Huyana…” Naira began.
Ahote took a stick into his maw and poked his sisters with it, whirling it around, how he imagined a King’s Fangs might, though he’d never seen one before. “Look out! I’m a King’s Fang. Graaaw!”
Mai toppled onto her back, four paws in the air. “Ahote, stop it. It isn’t funny!”
Talasi was already down on her forelegs, looking for an opening, when Chogan decided it was time for the game to end. “Nest time. Come on, let’s go.”
Sullenly, the pups obeyed. Though Mai looked more relieved than anything. Talasi wondered if she and Ahote could continue playing once everyone was asleep. But even the little female at her age understood the concept of watches. Not every wolf would sleep at the same time. She couldn’t wait to be assigned watches of her own Maybe she would fight a bear, or a mountain lion. Yes, she would be the best watcher wolf Wahya pack had ever seen, and then she would be the best Alpha, too. She knew Ahote would want to as well… He could be her beta wolf. Yes, she thought. It was decided. So many dreams for a little wolf, as she found herself drifting off into unconsciousness, dreams of fighting bears and wielding blades, a true knight among wolves fresh in her mind. A knight. That sounded even better than an alpha.