The Wolf You Feed
"There is a battle of two wolves inside us all.
One is evil: it is anger, envy, greed, arrogance, jealousy, resentment, lies.
The other is good: it is joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy, truth.
The wolf that wins? The one you feed."
End of May 1979, Yellowstone National Park.
The smell of rotting meat and the stench of urine hit the back of Tore’s throat, making him gag. His hand flew to his nose. He was disgusted that Isak lived like this. Hated the way his father embraced his wolf side. Didn't Isak realize he was half human too?
Tore made his way to the front of the den, wondering yet again what his father saw in living in the old way. Not that he’d bring this up now, of course. That would set off Isak lecturing, about how their ancestors didn’t have the luxury to live in their human forms when they were being persecuted two centuries ago.
Tore looked at the squalor outside the cave. Disgust rose in his throat once more. Why didn’t Isak move on? Embrace this new world, not live in the shadow of the old one! He slipped out of his clothes and fell forwards. Before his hands hit the floor, he’d shifted to wolf. The thought of living like one might be abhorrent to Tore, but he sure did love the transition.
The immediate shift from human to wolf, was something else. No gradual morphing of jaw into snout. No bones breaking as his body reconfigured into wolf. That was just myth portrayed by humans in bad horror films. In actuality, shifting from man to animal took the blink of an eye and about as much effort. That said, he did feel some of the changes his body went through. A surge of power accompanied Tore’s transition. It spread through his muscles in an uncontrollable rush. Senses heightened, making the world instantly more vibrant and pin sharp. A vast burst of adrenaline flooded his lupine blood and with it, an amazing tingling sensation surged through his veins and arteries. Whatever it was, for whatever reason it happened, shifting was pure magic.
Tore now stood, a vast two-hundred pound animal. Gray fur flecked with black, a white ruff crept down his chest and stretched to his underbelly. His long coat, made him look like it had its winter thickness, even in the summer months. His intelligent eyes, still bore the blue grey color that they were when he was human.
Tore fidgeted and paced, as he waited impatiently for his father’s permission to enter. The full moon was already high in the sky, and Tore was getting antsy. Yelps and howls drifted up from the compound, distracting him. He groaned. If Isak didn’t hurry, he’d miss the fun. It was the first night of the full moon and that meant one thing.
Tonight was party night!
Humans would liken it to a religious holiday. The one night each month Lycans paid homage to their Goddess. After family ceremonies and a gathering in the amphitheater, the clan’s youth let their hair down. There would be plenty of drunken madness later on.
Father, Tore directed his thoughts on their personal frequency.
No doubt the cave would be full of others. Isak was never alone these days. Tore paced. What was the delay? Was his dad making him wait to prove a point?
Isak’s voice reverberated around his skull. Enter!
About time too! Tore smoothed out his fur and stowed his agitation. Entering the cave, he kept his eyes low and his muzzle pressed shut. Adopting a respectful, submissive posture, Tore hoped to curry favor with his father. With any luck, Isak would be in a good mood and they could get through this formality. With Isak’s permission, he and Annike could have their mating ceremony in a few days.
The two-hundred-and-forty-pound wolf that greeted Tore inside the cave, was imposing with his hackles raised and long neck stretched out. Isak’s white-flecked fur bristled, black beady eyes bored into Tore’s. Closing his gaping mouth, Isak sat. Relax, son.
The change in his father’s body posture granted him permission to respond as an equal. I trust you’re well, Father?
It’s good to see you. What brings you visiting? Isak used a common wavelength as many interested parties looked on.
Tore stretched out his forelegs and lapped at his paws. He stole a tentative glance at Isak, Can we keep this conversation to ourselves?
His father’s lips pulled back, baring sharp teeth. Huh! That gave him his answer. A public conversation it was then.
Tore switched frequencies; I’ve come about Annike. Isak ignored him as he arranged himself into a more comfortable position. She’s almost through her transition and will begin her estrus soon. How much should Tore say? Isak had a sharp temper. Tore wanted to cue the conversation without dictating the agenda.
Isak still didn’t respond.
Tore fidgeted but held his tongue. His father often criticized him for having no patience. He was no doubt testing him. Resigned, Tore cast his eyes around the den, relieved to see the usual entourage was absent. Only his family was present. This was the closest to family time they got these days.
His eyes met Lydia’s. Hi Mom. How are you? She glanced in his direction, letting him know she’d heard, but she wouldn’t speak, even on their private frequency, until Isak allowed her.
Yet another formality introduced this last year. This traditionalism was setting them back decades. It saddened him. He was close to his mother, but now they rarely talked. This little-woman-attitude of his father’s left him with a bitter taste in his mouth. Protocol meant more to Isak than family. His authority cowed the females and re-established an old hierarchy amongst the males. In Tore’s mind, it was a practice that should be forgotten, not resurrected.
When his brothers had gone through transition they had ceased to be sons. Isak treated them more like employees. Now that Tore had completed his own transition, he’d joined those same ranks.
Tore acknowledged his brothers. They were depleted in number now — yet another thing that irked him. Once there’d been seven of them, but three had left the clan under mysterious circumstances. As the youngest, Tore wasn’t privy to the reasons why. He was just expected to accept it.
Last time he’d heard, Liam, Bjorn, and Otto were still alive. Tore had even heard rumors that Liam went south to Arkansas. It was possible, he was still there but Tore had little chance of finding out. Isak had made it clear they were no longer family and it was forbidden to mention them.
Tore regarded his remaining brothers. Georg and Henrik sat like bookends at either end of the family group. Their chestnut brown short coats each grew dark chocolate ruffs. It was uncanny how alike they looked in their wolf forms, yet in their human ones their resemblance was less. Their light blue eyes were apathetic as they acknowledged Tore. They no doubt wanted to get down to the celebrations too.
Erik, the eldest, lay next to Isak. His attention was focused as usual. He would be advising their father in private, no doubt. Tore wondered why Erik was working so soon. His mate had died just a week ago, in a tragic hunting accident in the Tetons.
Ah yes! Isak’s deep voice startled Tore back to attention.
It seemed his father was satisfied he’d made his son wait long enough. No doubt, he’ll tease me about settling down. But Tore didn’t care. Once he had his father’s permission, he wasn’t going to waste any time. He wanted to have a double ceremony with Felix and Nea in a couple of days.
His father’s eyes twinkled. I’ve given it much thought. You’re right! The girl will be ready any day now. It’s important we get her mated. Let me see. You came to see me about her at the beginning of winter, I believe. You weren’t even through your own transition. A little early to request a mating ceremony, wasn’t it?
The question was rhetorical. Tore held his breath to prevent a frustrated sigh from slipping out.
After consulting with your brothers, I’ve reached a decision.
Tore’s heart pounded. He wished Isak would get on with it. Why did his father always have to beat about the bush?
Isak rose to give his announcement. Annike will mate Erik. She’ll make a good replacement for Louisa.
What? Tore got to his own feet, confusion making him forget his manners. She’s not a possession; you can’t just give her to someone else. We love each other, she wants…
I’ve made my decision. Erik has expressed an interest in her. As next in line, it is imperative he has a new mate as soon as possible. One that can provide him with sons.
But she doesn’t love him…
Love? How human you sound, Tore. I’ve decided. Erik will mate Annike before the end of the week.
The hairs on the back of Erik’s neck raised as he stood. Stretching to his full height, he matched Tore inch for inch. His fur was darker in color than his younger brothers. It grew more black than gray. From head to toe his coloring was even, he had no light underbelly like Tore and his fur was much shorter. Like all of his brothers his eyes were blue, though they were far deeper now, than when he was in his human form.
Erik’s aggressive stance should have served as a warning to Tore. Instead of heeding it, he responded with his own display of aggression. Isak and his other brothers stepped towards Tore; making it obvious they supported Erik.
Yield, Tore! Georg warned.
But it was too late for that.
Tore’s teeth gnashed together. Anger flowed through his veins. Self-control deserted him as his own hackles raised in response. Compounding things further, he nipped at his brother’s legs as he and Erik, circled each other.
Don’t be stupid Tore, Henrik warned.
Tore answered with a snarling lunge, his fangs grazing Erik’s flesh. Georg and Henrik inched closer. Saliva dribbled from foaming jaws as they growled deep in their throats. Tore weighed the odds. They weren’t good. A confined space, his three brothers and his…
Tore’s hesitation gave Erik the chance he’d been waiting for. He pounced, knocking Tore to the ground.
As Erik’s body hit his little brother’s, they rolled. Both scrabbled in the dirt to right themselves. Fur and claws flew in all directions. Dodging Erik’s teeth, Tore scrambled back to his feet. By some small miracle he’d avoided Erik’s jaws. But it wasn’t over. Tore had started something he’d never be able to finish. Sooner or later, he’d feel his brother’s teeth in his flesh.
In a desperate attempt to gain dominance and give himself half a chance to survive the fight, he lashed out with his paw. Blood welled across Erik’s face as Tore’s claw ripped through fur and skin. It looked deep, more than a flesh wound. It would leave a scar. That should remind you, who Annike belongs to.
Erik didn’t flinch. No. It will cost you, little brother and I don’t just mean your mate. He scrunched down, ready to propel himself through the air but before Erik pounced, Isak pinned Tore to the ground. His claws dug into Tore’s shoulders, his teeth just inches from the young wolf’s jugular.
Too late, Tore’s sanity returned. What had he done? He’d be lucky to walk out of the cave alive. He lowered his head and tucked his tail between his legs. Tore’s only option was to throw himself on Isak’s mercy and hope his status as the youngest, counted for something.
Isak backed a few inches away from his throat. That was reckless, Tore!
Tore’s brothers withdrew a few feet. They deferred to their father but remained poised to attack, should he be foolish enough to try again.
I thought you knew better than to challenge Erik like that. Didn’t think you had it in you. Isak snapped his jaws shut in Tore’s face, causing him to flinch. You disrespected my authority. No one questions my decisions, ever. Especially not one of my own sons.
Tore’s inability to control his temper had cost him more than he could have imagined. Dad, I…
Quiet. You’ve lost the right to call yourself my son. I want your full apology and complete acceptance of my decision. You will pledge allegiance to Erik, and he will mate with Annike. You will accept that first, and then we will talk about your future.
Anger flowed through Tore’s veins once more. Did his father think he’d agree to this?
As thoughts began to form in Tore’s head, his father spoke again. Think before you speak, Tore. Let me remind you — you live by my rules. If you can’t, you’re no longer part of this clan.
Tore looked to his brothers for support. None was forthcoming. He was on his own. You’ll let me leave?
Isak sat, his black eyes intense. That’s not the easy option, Tore. If you leave, then you’d better run fast and far. If Erik finds you within two hundred miles of our territory, he’ll have his retribution.
Tore glanced at Erik. His oldest brother was struggling to contain his fury. Erik wanted to settle things here and now. This was not over between them. With his days numbered at the clan, whatever decision Tore took, it would indeed, not be an easy choice. Either way, Tore would spend his life looking over his shoulder, waiting for his brother to exact revenge. The only difference would be — if he stayed — he’d have to watch Erik with Annike every day for the rest of his life.