Zolan stepped out of Jarrah’s house and into the crisp air of early autumn. The trees were bathed in sanguine leaves that dripped onto the ground with the whispers of the breeze. The banished prince would have to take care of the wolf as soon as possible. He walked straight to his weapons room and took his bow off of its stand on the wall; its crafty design matched his dark clothing. In a large wooden chest, he found his quiver readily stocked with a dozen or so arrows. He also grabbed his sword, praying he would not have to use it, before stepping out of his home and toward the woods. He had barely begun the trek before he heard Dechar’s large paws thundering toward him.
“Are you going out onto the moor? Hunting?” Dechar noticed the bow first, but when he saw a sword strapped to Zolan’s side, he cocked his head. He wasn’t one to pry about his master’s personal affairs, but he was undoubtedly concerned. “There’s still something out there; I can smell it in the wind. I’d like to come with you--”
“There’s no need,” Zolan tried to conceal his apprehension, but he did so poorly. For one final moment, he wrestled within himself as to whether he should tell Dechar of his unexpected origins. He had made plans many times to wait until Dechar was a certain age, but as the years passed, he had decided to wait longer and longer. Now Dechar was twenty-one years of age, still oblivious of his nature, and Zolan could hear some of the last words his brother had told him echoing in his mind. They taunted him to tell Dechar all. Go on, he’d said. Never mind, I know you won’t do it.
He recalled countless nights of restlessness plagued with imaginary reactions. He could see it now: Dechar would be resentful, as he had every right to be. He would run away and try to find more of his own, or worse, try to find his father. He would curse mankind and all who had ever sought to protect him. And how could someone who had every reason to despise humanity engender any sort of peace toward them?
Zolan concluded that he would simply have to trust that Dechar would learn the truth when the time and circumstances were right. And nothing about the current situation felt right.
“Zolan?” Dechar took note of his master’s taciturn appearance. “Is something the matter?”
“No, as I said, there’s no need. It’s quite alright. I can go on my own and be done well before sundown.”
Laughter floated through the air in interruption as Oliana and Roth raced toward their father.
“I told you racing a greywolf would be utterly impossible,” Oliana’s face beamed in a rosy grin as she caught her breath.
“But I raced you alright! And I won!” Roth cheered.
“What? I held back all along the way so that we’d finish in a tie, which we did!”
“Children.” The somber tone of their father’s voice brought the chattering youngsters to an immediate silence as their faces turned in attention.
“I’m going out for a short hunting trip. I’d like you both to stay here. I’ll be nearby, in the woods by the moor. Oliana will be in charge in my absence.” This elicited a groan from Roth and a look of satisfaction from Oliana. “Yes. Oliana will watch over the clan while I’m gone,” he said before redirecting his gaze to Dechar. “And you’ll look after Oliana, won’t you?”
Dechar’s expression was a testament to his loyalty. “Yes, sir.”
Everything having been put in order, Zolan sojourned to the woods to lie in wait of the mysterious greywolf. Not two hours had passed before he spotted the creature in its enormity. He could only see the brown crest of its back through the growth, but the movements of its shoulders were powerful and distinct as it traipsed through the trees. He quietly reached back into his quiver and placed an arrow in the ready position in his bow. As the beast continued to move, the undergrowth gave way to a creamy face lined with rust-colored hair. Zolan felt a flutter in his chest and a twist in his stomach. That’s not how the other one looked, he realized. A twig snapped beside him.
“The first thing you ought to know about wolves,” Zolan’s heart stopped as he heard a gruff yet sly voice just behind him, “is that they often travel in groups.” Zolan turned to look his death in the eye. They were dark eyes, almost black; and they were surrounded by the bay coat he had seen a few days prior. This was their leader. The leader of a pack. He should have known it would end this way.
“I never did know as much about you people as I wanted to,” the man replied with a dry throat.
“Allow me to enlighten you. My name is Rezso, chief of the Nomadic Tribe of the Dechi. My people go whither they please. There is a valley nearby. You know it well, for it houses your people. We will stay here for a short while and move on as we always do. But I have watched your people. I have seen your ‘greywolf.’ The one you treat as a dog. While I would never admit such a weakling to my own tribe, I consider him one of our own, to an extent.” His speech slowed. “And I do not like the way you have demeaned one of our own.”
Zolan’s voice shook not out of fear for his own life but for fear of others’. “You may kill me,” he said, “but please, there is no need to harm any other. I am the chief of my people as well, and I will answer for my mistakes. But let the people be, and take your leave as you will.”
“I know who you are,” Rezso said. Zolan noticed the presence of a few other wolves swarming around him. Their chief addressed them. “This is the face of the man who, in our last great struggle as Dechi united, slaid our beloved king. I watched as he pierced through Amarog’s body to break it; I never forgot such a face. And I will not pass up this opportunity to avenge the last true Alpha. As Amarog would often tell us, blood begets blood. Brothers! Behold our king avenged!” he cried out and lept forward, tearing Zolan’s flesh apart in frenzy, staining the ground as red as the leaves.