Robert Asprin: The Blood of Ten Chiefs

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Robert Asprin The Blood of Ten Chiefs
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    The Blood of Ten Chiefs
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    Фантастика и фэнтези / на английском языке
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    Английский
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Anthology


The Blood of Ten Chiefs

Pendulum

Richard Pini

This time, and for the first time, death bothered Timmorn.

That in itself was very strange, for this twilight hunt seemed little different from any of the others that mingled in the half-elfs memory. Memory itself was mostly an elusive thing for Timmorn, images of recent yesterdays swirling and clouding like muddied water with sensations of long ago- which might be an eight-of-days or many turns of the seasons. But something in this evening, something twisting in his mind as a light snow began to dust the woods, something nibbled at him, something…

Certainly it was not, could not be the killing of the prey, the death of the black-neck. That had been a good kill, though Timmorn had participated only little in it. The wolves, the wolves who were his-brothers-no. Yes? His friends, yes, that too. The killing of the prey, the chase, the fluidity of his brother-friends as they ran and harried, the tearing of the throat, the shock and final, reflexive shudder-these were not the source of the irritating itch that Timmorn felt at the back of his mind. All this had happened before.

He paced, restless, tasting his memories of this hunt, sorting by scent and touch this one from the others, seeking a clue. It worried at him, as a burr that he could not reach might. He pulled into clearer focus pleasure at the tang of the hot blood as the buck gave up its life into the ground and to the tongues of the wolf-pack. Pleasure, yes, even though he

had not done much to bring down the prey, though he was not really of the pack. Pleasure because blood was strong in the air and on Timmorn's face. Without thinking, he ran his tongue over the sharp teeth that had, after the high wolves had taken their due, helped to break the joints and pull the red muscle from the bones. Yes, it had been a good kill, and promised to be…

A promise. The tribe! The fine buck could fill the bellies of the wolves, but Timmorn caught another shred of memory: there would be enough for himself and the ones he had left behind, at the camp. There would be meat for the elves left behind who did not hunt. But the promise was broken, and his stomach was still empty and growled at the blood-taste which promised nothing. There would be no meat. The mad longtooth had seen to that.

Was that it? Timmorn held in his pacing and cocked his head as if to listen more closely to the question in his head. Flakes of snow gathered on his wild hair and pointed ears, and his eyes, his yellow eyes, seemed to glow in the lowering light. Was that it? The pack had only begun to feed when the attack came. Snouts slick and clotted with sweet blood, the wolves did not sense the raging, silvery mass of the rogue longtooth until it was among them, yowling and scattering the smaller beasts in its frenzy. The wolves closest to the carcass had gotten the worst of it, but they had all-all? -escaped the longtooth's fury and tusks. Timmorn held onto the picture in his head: the creature, eyes wild; the wound, ugly and half-healed, that ran along the thing's flank; he remembered the stink of infection. The beast had not come out of its dark place to attack the wolf-pack. No, it had come to feed, to take what the others had brought down, what it no longer could bring down because of its wound and its madness. But that still meant that the pack went hungry now, and that the tribe would go hungry. There would be disappointment, keenly felt, and Timmorn knew even as he thought it

that that disappointment would be turned toward him. The longtooth had taken the carcass, and neither Timmorn nor the wolves would follow into the deep forest.

The tall elf, neither wolf nor high one like the ones left behind, glanced back at the spot where the buck had been, where the blanket of pine needles had been thrashed about, where the snow was beginning to cover the blood-soaked earth. The meat was gone, taken. And he saw again, as he had forgotten before, that one wolf was dead.

Timmorn gazed at the torn and ruined body of the wolf. He had known it-it was a young male-as much as he could know any member of the pack that did not know what to do with him. His eyes, so like wolves' eyes, truly luminous now in the glow of the rising moons, narrowed as he tried to catch a thought. It was the wolf that bothered him; why did the wolf's death gnaw at him? he wondered. Then: why did he think on it at all? Then: why…? He growled, soft and deep in his throat, a sound of frustration and confusion. He was losing the wolf in him, not quite gaining the elf.

Timmorn was unique, and sometimes he knew it, though neither with pride nor self-conscience. His mother, he knew, had been Timmain, one of the firstcomers to the world of two moons, many turns of the seasons ago. Timmain, the high one who had made the sacrifice for the sake of all the firstcomers who still lived, and for all who might come after-through Timmorn. She had been the most powerful of those first, the high ones so ill-suited to this world; she alone had retained the ability to change her own form into the one that would give her people a chance at survival. Timmain, mother, wolf as real as smoke. And as she must, and knew it, she mated and birthed Timmorn. Timmorn of the yellow eyes. To the elves, not an elf. To the wolves, not a wolf.

He did not know how old he was. He did not know what old was, or what it felt like, but his muscles were firm and tight, and his blood sang in him when his mind was not

clouded, and he himself had sired young ones, cubs. The wolf part of him cared little for time and its passing, although his elfin mind understood the shifting of the seasons and the changes that he saw in the world. The wolf did not much care for thinking either, for thinking went into the past and, with trouble, into the future, and the wolf was now.

Timmorn did not remember his mother very well, for she had whelped and weaned him a long time ago and then disappeared. He thought that she must be dead, for she had been a wolf, and wolves did not live as long as the elves of the tribe, or as long as he. He thought of the wolf-pack, and knew the individuals in his mind as well as he could, and he realized that even though there were certain wolves that lived longer than the others, they all seemed to die eventually. Wolves died.

Timmorn had seen many wolves die. He had seen elves die too, for some of his-mother's?-people had succumbed to the harshness of this world. The high ones were frail and needed protection, and not all of them had even tried to put on animal skins and take up crude spears to survive. So some died. And wolves died. But those deaths had been natural, if unfortunate. Because Timmorn ran with the wolves as often as he mingled with the elves, he had seen it when a wolf, old and grizzled and failing, low in the pack, had been set upon by the others and killed. It was the way. It had not bothered him then.

But now, in this night's dark, this wolf's death would not let him go. When the longtooth's attack had come he had scampered back; he knew he was no match for the maddened predator. The wolves had scattered as well, circling, some limping, but staying out of reach of the larger beast. All had fled-all but one. One wolf, a young male, had gotten caught somehow, had not escaped the deadly rush, had been gored and frightened with pain and caught between the longtooth and its food, and Timmorn and all the wolves had watched,

just watched, and the young wolf had growled and snapped its teeth and twisted its body and fought and tried and failed, and the longtooth had torn it and thrown it aside and dragged the black-neck buck into the deep forest. And only after a while did the pack go up and nuzzle the dead wolf. That is the way of it, sensed the half-elf, half-wolf, falling back into the timeless now of wolf thought.

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