Speaks-softly Story: Part Four

                          By Sharon, 2002



The new wolf pack moved out at a slow but steady pace.  Slate, though unable to move at full speed had great endurance.  Lupus and Sparrow were showing the signs of new life growing within them.  They traveled north for two cycles of the moon.
     **I smell water,** Sparrow sent.

     Greymist, who was leading them through the forest sampled the air.  **Yes, we will rest when we reach the waters.**  They traveled for a short while before the sound of water gurgling over stones became audible.  The soft loam of the forest became rocky and turned sandy.  The stream fell down a small overhang of stones a short distance to the North.  It ran lazily over the stony streambed, and lapped against the sandy banks.

     Nightstar looked around and dropped to his belly in the shallows and rolled energetically.  He stood up and put as much energy into shaking as he had into rolling..  Sand and water flew everywhere, spraying Greymist, Lupus and Lark.
     **PUP!** Greymist sent impatiently.  **If you are done playing, perhaps you and Lark can scout the area.**
     Nightstar froze, and looked around.  His head, tail, and ears drooped, **Sorry.**  Then he raised his head, eyes bright and tail wagging, **Coming Lark?**
     Greymist gazed after the departing pair.  Sometimes he envied the pup's energy, and ability to live fully in the moment.  He went to Slate and nuzzled her gently, **How goes it with you second female?**  He noted that Sparrow and Lupus and waded belly deep into the water and were drinking.

     Slate had to suppress a wave of resentment as she looked at Greymist and raised her ears and tilted her head.  She moved past him to make her slow careful way down to the sandy beach and into the shallow waters.  As she drank, her mind raged at her young cub being sent out scouting with another who was equally inexperienced.  Nightstar was bright and learned fast; but he simply didn't have the experience and judgment to be sent without a wily partner.  Intelligence was no substitute for wisdom and experience.
     Greymist got a drink then took up a position where he could easily watch the three females.  It was becoming apparent that they must soon find a new home.  Lupus and Sparrow would be in need of dens to whelp their litters soon.  He wondered if Nightstar and Lark would return with good news.  He quite liked the cub; one day he would make Nightstar second male of the pack.  He wondered what his own offspring would be like, and hoped they would have Nightstar's intelligence and energy.  Wryly he wondered if he could live with a litter of cubs with Nightstar's mischievous nature.

     As Slate limped along the shallows avoiding the other two females, he gave a mental sigh.  It was clear to him that Slate hated Lupus, though Lupus didn't see it.  Lupus hadn't grown up among a wolf pack, and missed nuances of expression, or meaning.  He knew that Lupus and Slate would once more challenge each other.  This time he would have no right to interfere, even if the battle was to the death.  He started as two shapes slid out of the forest and solidified at his side.
     Nightstar regarded Greymist intently before sending openly, **Worrying again, Packmaster?  If you keep this up, we'll be calling you Silvermist.

     Greymist squeezed his eyes shut and raised his nose to the clouds, **you aren't wise enough to worry for yourself, so I'm worrying for both of us.**
     As the two males playfully nuzzled each other, Nightstar's mind touched Grey's.  **Good hunting here.  Go see what we found.  I'll stay here, Lark will guide you.**
     Lark stood waiting, when Grey looked at her, she gave a soft yip.  She turned and set off at a ground-eating lope toward the northeast.  Grey ran easily at her side.  Both enjoyed the chance to truly stretch out after traveling at a much slower rate.
     They ran for several minutes through a thick forest of huge trees.  Ahead the light filtering through the treetops seemed brighter, and he could smell on odd odor.  It was very unpleasant, and tendrils of steam filtered through the trees.
     They trotted into the clearing.  There was a pool of the foul smelling water.  Steam rose from the pool.  Greymist dipped a paw into the pool and quickly withdrew it.  **Hot!  Smells bad, and I don't think we can use it for drinking water.  I've never seen anything like this before.  Let's go back to the pack.  We can travel along the stream.**

     Greymist led Lark back to the wolf pack.  **Let's hunt before we travel too far into the night.**
     The pack looked eagerly at their leader.  They ranged out, moving silently among the trees and covering brush.  Slate limped along just barely keeping up with the rest of the pack.  They came upon a clearing that had a small buck standing in it, it's antlered head lowered to the ground.  It was unaware of the pack's approach.
     Greymist gave directions, **Lupus, Sparrow to the left.  Nightstar, Lark to the rear.  I'll circle and try to startle him back into pack.  Go when I howl.**  Greymist worked his way around the side of the beast in the clearing.  When he had gone as far as he'd dared, he howled.  Immediately gray and brown shapes charged out of the trees and went for the buck's legs.  The buck took a limping half step before falling to the attack.  Greymist took the buck's throat and blood spurted and the form of the buck fell limp.  Grey raised his head and howled in triumph.  He noticed that the front leg was misshaped, broken, and realized why the buck hadn't reacted to the pack's approach.  He didn't care, it was fresh meat, and the pack would feast this night.

     Slate caught up to the pack and sniffed the buck, raised her head and howled.  She was happy the hunt went well, but she regretted not being able to take part in the actual kill.
     The pack gorged themselves then moved into the cover of the trees to lay down and sleep.  Greymist stood guard for part of the day, then Sparrow came and told him to get some sleep.  As the daystar set, the pack roused themselves.  They returned to the stream for a drink.
     Greymist sent, **We follow the stream upriver.**  They pack moved out at their slow pace, so Slate could keep up.  They had fed well and probably wouldn't need to stop to hunt that night.  The stream's banks remained sandy and fairly level.  The stream turned to the northeast, and the pack followed it for the night.  As the daystar rose, they wolves took cover in the trees and dense shrubbery along the widening stream's bank.

     At the next daystar's setting, Grey sent Nightstar and Lark out scouting again.  The remaining wolves busied themselves getting a drink and hunting small animals.  They managed to catch four ravvits before Lark came back.
     Lark stood quivering with suppressed excitement.  Greymist looked at her and sent, **Lead on.**  At this Lark led Greymist off at a fast lope.  She turned and ran to the west.
     The ground between the trees felt hard beneath their paws.  **We must travel fast to get there and back to the pack before the daystar rises.**  In the corner of her eye, she saw Grey level out, and gain speed.  Se increased her own speed-heading due west.
     Greymist realized he could smell water.  He loped past Lark to investigate.  Lark followed at his heels.  There was a soft gurgle of a stream running over a rocky bed.  Grey lowered his head and sniffed.  The water had no odor, so he lowered his head and drank.  The water was cold and sweet.  A game trail cut through a stand of huge trees near the stream.  Sparrow firmly nuzzled him in the direction of the other side of the creek. 

     Grey stepped into the cold water and waded across.  The path he walked on was smooth, made of stone.  He noticed the trees thinning out and the land growing rocky and hilly.  He sat down in the middle of the clearing and studied the land around him.  Lark walked up and lay down on her belly, watching Greymist.
    A small chain of hills started with a stone up-thrust.  Time and weather had worn the stone away.  There were shallow outcroppings, and areas hidden in shadows.  A thin ledge ran from somewhere near the top, and down to the ground.  Greymist approached the foot of the hill.  The shallow outcropping closest to the base protected a small sandy pocket from wind and weather.  Grey went farther down, toward the base of the ledge leading upward.  The shadows had hidden a crack in the side of the hill.  He carefully stuck his nose inside.  He could only sense the pleasant odor of dry soil.  He pulled his head out and found another crack next to this one.  He found a smaller opening in the wall, also unoccupied.  He then went around the perimeter, his ears and nose down.  He could smell no taint of five-fingers in the clearing, nor near the stream.  He looked at Lark and raised his head and gave a joyful howl.  In the distance a Lupus' familiar howl answered his.
     He went to the she-wolf with him and nuzzled her, **race you back!**

     They made it back to the pack just as the daystar was rising.  They ate the ravvits the others had left for them and lay down in cover to sleep.
     Greymist awoke with the setting of the daystar and sent, **It's time to get up!  Lark and Nightstar found a place we might want to use as a Holt.  There is a game trail, running water, and dry shelters.  If everyone is ready, let's move out.  It will take all night for us all to get there.**
     The wolves arrived at the hillside a few hours before the daystar rose.  Lupus was excited to find a place with so much promise.  The shy Sparrow was relieved to find a den before her cubs came.  Lupus was exploring the deeper shadows at the foot of the hill.  She found an opening and walked inside.  There was a dry, leafy layer over the hard stone.  The cave was large enough to fit four full-grown wolves.  Greymist stood in the opening of the den watching his life mate.  His mind touched hers, **Will this do, love?**  She simply came to him and leaned her neck on his and closed her eyes.

     Slate limped to the crack in the side of the hill next to Lupus and Greymist's den.  She cautiously entered.  It was large enough for three full-grown wolves, and had a dry stone floor.  The surface of the stone was cool, and somewhat rough under her paws.  This pleased her, it would make getting up and down on her broken leg easier.  She wondered if her cub would share her den, or make one of his own.  She would leave it up to him.
     Sparrow found an opening near Slate's and went in.  It had a high ceiling and smooth floor.  It was large enough for the whole pack to fit into.  She backed out and opensent, **I've found a cave large enough for us all to fit into.  Shall we make it a howling place?**
     Greymist opensent his answer, **Yes, we'll do that.**
     Sparrow turned and went along the hill toward the creek and found a small crack in the hill.  She stuck her nose in and sniffed.  She detected no odors.  She went in and found a small cave large enough for four full-grown wolves.  The floor of this cave was a hard packed soil.

    Lark climbed the ledge and saw a deep shadow just above Slate's entrance.  She sampled the air.  There was a very dry coppery odor.  She carefully entered.  She found the body of a ravvit with a torn shoulder.  Apparently it had been wounded, but had escaped from a predator.  She dragged the ravvit out of the cave and carried it up to the top of the ledge.  She looked around.  There were more trees and a game trail across the bluff.
     Nightstar went to his mother's den and entered.  He nuzzled her and asked, **Do you like it here?**  Slate nuzzled her cub and gave a soft yip.