They did not come back for several days.
This was not an unusual situation. Our scouts and hunters were often coming and going usually with some business. And if Marrok did not appear to worry, neither would we do so either.
They crept back into camp quietly, taking care not to be noticed by the others — in particular, the guests. But I noticed them, because they had the smell of blood still on the shoes that I found sitting outside the meeting tent.
I wasn’t old enough to partake in those councils. But I was old enough to be nosy about these kinds of things. So I crept around to the place where the canvas and hide were hewn together and tried to listen. A swift kick to my rear later, I found myself dragged around the side and tossed through the entryway and handed to my elder cousins.
My leader gave me such a stern look then, but I was pleased to be allowed to stay.
It was Gold-eyes who spoke – the cousin who was Marrok’s direct nephew. He spoke of following the steps back through the snow and to the town we had last passed through. And he spoke of finding a tracker — a man who had been asking around for information on a woman with children. He claimed to tracking a notorious witch — a sort of pied piper who collected children for her supper.
But the townspeople did not bite at such pleas for help, for there were rumors of slave traders abroad and the man did not fool them. My uncles said even the most innocent would have seen he lacked an honest air.
My uncle Marrok did not ask them what happened. I could only look back now and guess that it was because he knew that they had dispensed of this troublesome man. Why I do not know, other than perhaps he was or had threatened these cousins. He must have done something for them to silence him permanently.
But these accusations of the woman Tala being a piper were troublesome. Magic doesn’t run through the purer blooded of our kind and yet this human accused her of being one. It did not make sense, and they called her So the woman came before the council to speak. But it was not just them she spoke to. All of us — even the children — were asked to sit and listen for this woman wished to be one of us, and we all needed to know if what the man accused her of might be true.
Her temper did not appear that evening. She knew all too well that they had killed for her and, as such, she should not make a mockery of such a deed by losing her head.
But her claims were hard to believe.
If she spoke true then, she would have come from beyond the river and from the land that faced the western seas. These were elven lands.
It was an unfathomable thing to the young ones then. We had not gone beyond the mirror lake or the desert areas beyond the mountains. For a wolf to come alone was peculiar indeed – wolves do not leave their groups unless they were run off for some reason. Again she was asked her reasons.
And her simple answer created more questions. She shrugged. “I needed a mate.”
My uncle spoke precise words, his eyes never leaving her face. “And the accusations that you spirited those children away.”
“You would know wouldn’t you? I could not,” she answered gravely. “You know I do not have any such magic.”
I do not know that he did, but I knew. I could smell it when it was present — like every time those stupid fairies would fly lazily around like fat bumblebees in the summer meadows — or when we changed forms. But there was nothing in her hands, nothing on her clothing that even spoke of some other power.
So with that, they were satisfied and they continued to allow her to stay.
However, I did not understand that my cousin-uncles hoped to be rid of her soon. She was of a good age, and there was another cousin to the east who lacked a proper mate. They were tolerating her while they began to set other schemes into motion. If she would be used to manage that man’s household, the training in camp would do her quite well.
But there were complications with such an idea. Why our specific group would push such a candidate while our own leader was mateless was suspicious. Oh, they sent their delegates to watch her. They knew she was good — for she took over everything — meddling with the food, changing the way the laundry was managed, and even overseeing the repair and retuning of our instruments. She was good with the children — those she had brought in and was careful to manage and raise them our way. She did everything in her power to keep them from displeasing us, for she knew very well that if they became a burden that they would all be left behind at the next town with a few of our young to watch over them. My uncles were crafty, but she was stubborn.
Too much time passed. Months became new seasons and it was winter again. The matter of our distant lord continued unresolved. And Tala did not wait.
She could not. She wished to have a mate, and of those available she chose Marrok.
I think about this even now. What if the others had relented and allowed her to pass east to our lord? She was strong then, of stronger stuff than the odd one who ended up with our lord. He would have been a different man then with such a she-wolf by his side.
Our silly cousins to the south would not have liked the strictness that defined Marrok’s leadership with Tala as his wife. Or perhaps they feared what she might do with our king in her sights.
In contrast, they must have thought Selva pretty, malleable, and easily controlled.
Do they think that now?
But I digress.
I was well aware that I had a certain power over some of the ladies in town. The thought is that the Wolframs have a charisma of their own. While my current lord might have the brooding kind, there is the other kind that causes packs to draw together.
But it also has interesting effects in the wild world and as a young man without a chance at a mate until I left home, I think my foray into adulthood caused a few problems.
Perhaps I was a little too adventurous in my pursuit of certain lasses. I left a few angry fathers behind in each town. In time, my uncles pressured Marrok to send me someplace where I might not be so tempted.
Of course, sending me to a castle to serve under Lord Wolfram was probably some part of a greater design on their part. At first I thought I was simply being sent out of the way, but he had apparently done something to aggravate them as well.
How I knew this was only because Marrok told me so as he escorted me that long, quiet journey.
The Wandering One had wandered off again, or so he said. My lord showed a great deal of negligence on his part in failing to report such a deed.
If it weren’t for him telling me such, I don’t think I would have understood the position I found myself in.
I was there to be managed, true. But I know now that this “headache” I represented to my uncle was part of some scheme to ensure our lord had something or someone to occupy his mind.
But how well I did in that regard, I don’t know. The Count wasn’t very strict as it turned out and I suppose I could have run quite amok had I wished it. But it was Marrok’s confidence in me and my representation of his group that kept me from truly behaving as wildly as I might have liked. I could not betray my noble uncle. Nor did I feel easy about aggravating the household of my new master.
Sadly, the more Hastings told me of that sylph and the beast lord Wolfram, the more my animosity grew towards the woman who they referred to as Selva.
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