Allan Cole: Wolves of the Gods

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Allan Cole Wolves of the Gods
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    Wolves of the Gods
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Allan Cole

Wolves of the Gods

Part One

Wizard In Exile



Up, up in the mountains.

Up where Winter reigns eternal and her warriors bully earth and sky.

Then higher still. Climb to the reaches where even eagles are wary. Where the winds cut sharp, paring old snowfields of their surface to get at the black rock below. Where moody skies brood over a stark domain.

Yes, up. Up to the seven mountain peaks that make the Bride and Six Maids. And higher … still higher …

to the highest point of all-the Bride's snowy crown where the High Caravans climb to meet clear horizons.

Where the Demon Moon waits, filling the northern heavens with its bloody shimmer.

It was at the cusp of a new day; the sun rising against the Demon Moon's assault, the True Moon giving up the fight and fading into nothingness. It was spring struggling with late winter. A time of desperation. A time of hunger.

Just below the Bride's crown a patch of green glowed in defiance of all that misery. The green was a trick of nature, a meadow blossoming from a bowl of granite and ice. The winds sheered off the bowl's peculiar formation making a small, warm safe harbor for life.

But safe is in the eye of the beholder. Safe is the false sanctuary of innocent imagination.

And in that time, the time that came to be known as the Age of the Wolf, safe was not to be trusted.

Three forces converged on that meadow.

And only one was innocent.

The wolf pack took him while he slept.

He was only a boy, a goat herder too young to be alone in the mountains. He'd spent a sleepless night huddled over a small fire, fearful of every sound and shadow. Exhausted, he fell asleep at first light and now he was helpless in his little rock shelter, oblivious to the hungry gray shapes ghosting across the meadow and the panicked bleating of his goats.

Then he jolted awake, sudden dread a cold knife in his bowels.

The pack leader hurtled forward-eyes burning, jaws reaching for his throat.

The boy screamed and threw up his hands.

But the ravaging shock never came and he suddenly found himself sitting bolt upright in his bedroll, striking at nothingness.

He gaped at the idyllic scene before him-the meadow glistening with dew under the early morning sun, his goats munching peacefully on tender shoots.

There wasn't a wolf in sight.

The boy laughed in huge relief. "It was only a dream!" he chortled. "What a stupid you are, Tio."

But speaking the words aloud did not entirely still Tio's thundering heart. Nor did it lessen his sense of dread. He stared about, searching for the smallest sign of danger. Finally his eyes lifted to the heights surrounding the small meadow. All he could see was icy rock glittering beneath cheery blue skies.

The boy laughed again and this time the laughter rang true. "You see, Tio," he said, seizing comfort from the sound of his own voice. "There's nothing to harm you. No wolves. No bears. No lions. Don't be such a child!"

Tio and his older brother, Renor-a big strapping lad who was almost a man and therefore, Tio believed, feared nothing-had brought the goats up from Kyrania a few days before. Then one of the animals had been badly injured and Renor had left the herd with Tio while he hurried down the mountainside for help with the goat strapped to his back.

"You only have to spend the one night alone," Renor had reassured him. "I'll be back by morning. You won't be afraid, will you?"

Tio's pride had been wounded by the question. "Don't be stupid. Of course I won't," he'd said. "What!

Do you think I'm still a child?"

Tio's boldness had departed with his brother. Soon he was agonizing over the slightest unfamiliar stir.

Then at dusk he'd had the sudden feeling he was being watched. His imagination had conjured all sorts of monsters intent on making a meal of a lonely boy. He knew this was foolish. Kyranian boys had been guiding the herds up into the Gods' Divide for centuries. The only harm any had ever suffered was from a bad fall and this had occured so rarely it wasn't worth thinking about. As for voracious animals-there weren't any. At least none who lusted for human flesh. So there was nothing at all to fear.

Tio had repeated these things to himself many times during the night, as if chanting a prayer in the warm company of his friends and family in the little temple by the holy lake of Felakia. It did no good. If anything, the dreadful feeling of being watched only intensified. Now, with the sun climbing above the peaks and flooding the meadow with light, Tio's boldness returned.

"Such a child," he said again, shaking his head and making his voice low in imitation of his brother's manly tones. "Didn't I say there was nothing to be afraid of? What did you think, stupid one? That the demons would come and get you?" He snorted. "As if Lord Timura would allow such a thing! Why, if a demon ever showed his ugly face in Kyrania, Lord Timura would snap his fingers and turn his nose into a … a …

a turnip! Yes, that's what he'd do. Make his nose look like a turnip!"

He giggled, imagining the poor demon's plight. He held his own nose, making stuffed sinus noises: "Snark!

Snark!" More giggling followed. "The demon couldn't even breathe! Snark! Snark!"

Then he had a sudden thought and his laughter broke off. Tio remembered his dream hadn't been about demons, but wolves. He glanced nervously about the meadow again, smiling when he saw it was peaceful as ever.

"Wolves don't eat people," he reassured himself. "Just goats. Sick goats. Or little goats. But never people." He picked up the thick cudgel by his side and shook it in his most threatening manner. "Wolves are afraid of this!" he said bravely. "Everybody says so."

Satisfied, he munched a little bread and cheese then settled back on his bedroll to await his brother's return-the stout cudgel gripped in his small fists.

A few moments later exhaustion took him once again. He fell into a deep sleep and the stick fell from his hands and rolled onto the grass.

Graymuzzle was anxious for her cubs. Her teats were aching and swollen with milk and she knew her pups would be whining for her in their cold den. Graymuzzle's hollow belly rumbled and it wasn't only in sympathy for her young. Weeks had passed since the pack had made a decent kill.

It had been a hard winter, the hardest and longest in Graymuzzle's memory. First disease and then fierce storms had wiped out the herds in her old hunting grounds. The wolf pack, with Graymuzzle leading them, had ranged for miles searching for food. They'd been reduced to digging deep into the snow to claw up maggoty roots. When winter had finally ended, spring brought scant relief. The weather remained treacherous, going from calm to storm with no warning. Vegetation was sparse and there was little meat on the bones of the few deer and goats they'd found.

Graymuzzle used all her skills, won over twelve hunting seasons, to feed her pack. She took them high into the mountains, looking for meadows with sweet grass and fat herds. None of her old tricks worked and by the time her cubs were born the pack had been reduced to six wolves so scrawny their faces seemed to consist entirely of muzzles and teeth. The rest had died on the trail-her mate of many years among them. Still, she'd managed to eat enough to make milk for her cubs. Her packmates had seen to that, checking their own hunger to share their food with her; thus assuring the pack's future.

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