An account by Giles Wolfram, dates unknown
I was still a young cub when Marrok took his second wife.
His first died in her sleep. She had lived a good life and passed quietly. We mourned her but did not dwell upon her death. This is the way it is with our kind. The elven blood that flows strong in some of us keeps us living longer than those who marry into our families. We knew very well that for some of us, life would be full of many such passages.
What Marrok felt, I don’t recall. He was always an enigma to me because he rarely showed any strong emotion.
But time did pass and we did our usual traveling, earning our keep with trade and a bit of music.
We traveled through towns and villages and not a word was said about him taking one of the women we encountered along. They were townies, after all, and not inclined towards the nomadic life.
Very few people are inclined towards a wanderer’s lifestyle. Female wolves who might understand this desire to constantly move would be ideal mates, but since the last eclipse that wiped them out their numbers were very rare. Even our lord accepted a bride with only the slimmest of links to our kind. The children they would have, if they could have any, would likely not be like us.
But Marrok’s fortunes are different. It’s obvious to me now that Tala is one of the truest of our kind. She came in, a lone woman, striding into the encampment and demanding an audience with the leader. She flipped that tail of hair aside and went eye to eye with my cousin-uncles.
I thought her a fox at first for her hair had that tinge of red in the firelight. But she had the look of a wolf, with her light, sharp eyes. She was lucky that the men had just eaten and were slow to understand the challenge in her. Or perhaps she was fortunate that she amused Marrok for he did not take offense as my uncles did while she brazenly declared that she came to negotiate a merger of clans.
Marrok is not unlike my lord. He has a dry sense of humor at times. Sometimes his air of quiet gives the impression that he is weak. But behind the facade is a keen intelligence. Even if he seem unstirred by the aggression of this woman, he quietly called her bluff.
He looked her up and down and asked her what clan would allow her to walk into a camp of men alone and helpless.
Pride. Anger. Something flared out from her. For us young ones, it was amusing to see our elder knocking this wolf down to size.
But she looked ready to fight him until that moment when her “clan” was caught and dragged inside the encampment. The foolish things had come too close to the encampment and been discovered by my older cousins. Ah how the children cried as my cousin-uncles held them by the collars of their threadbare clothing. They weren’t hers, we could tell by their smell. They were all sorts of children from different kinds of people cast aside like trash. Some were wolves, some were mongrels – of mixed blood. She had drawn them together it seemed for some reason of her own.
Even in her disadvantaged situation she stood firm. “Show some respect,” she glared at Marrok. “They may be small, but they are valuable. You have few children here,” she lifted her chin and continued to stare at my dear cousin in challenge.
His eyes did not leave her. He studied her, trying to understand her motivations. She had not appealed to our compassion. Rather she appealed to our situation.
“There is no mother for them here,” he stated.
Her eyes did not soften. She knew there was no adult woman in our camp.
“And my daughters are busy enough. Dealing with you would be one thing,but children. No.”
Flatly she responded. “But you have a hole left in your group. I saw your last performance at the shores. Your instrument is out of tune and you cannot dance. As a leader, you might as well just give up the minstrel act and settle down in the woods.”
This was a rather true statement about my cousin-uncle. He is a dreary colorless performer. And he knew it. But this lady had some particular verve in saying it to his face.
“Give me your lute,” she demanded. “I shall fix it for you in exchange for you letting my pack sit by the fire and warm themselves. It is cold and I have yet to find them proper attire.”
Even my cousins could see their misery. They were not unkind people, just careful. These things did not have the smell of trickery about them, but they did not trust this stranger who appeared out of nowhere.
Marrok nodded slightly and the children were brought near the fire. His eyes drifted to me, signaling for me to find that lute in his wagon.
She smiled at me when I returned with the instrument. I would like to say it was because I was such a handsome lad even then, but I know I wasn’t much older than those rags on legs trying hard to warm themselves by the fire. But perhaps my eyes betrayed me. For in my heart I was already on her side!
Her eyes were brilliant as the flames as she began to expertly work the strings, showing she was not all talk and attitude. And I saw Marrok’s eyes snap to life, deeply interested in what she was doing. She fiddled for a good half an hour, talking to the lute as if it were a neglected baby while she fixed something on the neck and then began to replace the strings.
She stood suddenly, causing my cousin-uncle to take a step back from the spot he had taken up near her. “I am worth my weight in gold,” she said to him. “And I shall prove it.”
She opened her mouth, and like those blasted sirens, she sang a song that we couldn’t help but stop all for. We were doomed for having heard her — for we could not forget her song that made our blood boil and our own mouths sing along.
She danced, too. Not some gentle elf-like waltz but a wild reel that called for clapping and stomping while we howled along with her.
Marrok stopped the frenzied singing, seizing her about the waist and clamping his hand over her mouth.
She did not fight him in that moment, which likely is why he did not kill her. “Enough,” he said in the shocked silence that followed. “You have talent, it’s true. You may dine with us this evening and travel with us to the next town. But no more singing for now, Wolf.”
“I am not just a wolf,” she said proudly. “I am Tala.”
“Very well,” he looked thoughtful. “My daughters will bring you food.”
And he sent her away, his eyes following the crowd of children who ran to her, some crying, some laughing that she had done so well for them in earning them a meal.
My older cousins watched, too, before they slipped away into the woods.
I didn’t know it then, but they were preparing for a trap.