This is the sequel to Hunter of Mulgore - please read that one first.PART 1 : Hunter of Mulgore
PART 2 : Wolf in the Fold
STEADFAST, WOLF IN THE FOLD
===“One by one, faces turned to watch as a young
Hunter walked through the centre of the Village, a
stout rope around his fist and the other end
tethered round the neck of a wolf.”
In the days since the incident with the wolf pack, Steadfast had been thinking of them incessantly. If what the Hunter Trainers said was true then the pack would have elected a new leader by now and would possibly choose new hunting grounds also. The only thing that the Hunters disagreed on was what would happen to the old leader, Whitepaw. Would the pack kill him? Would he be reduced to the lowest rank in the pack or would he be expelled from the pack to fend for himself?
A single wolf could not bring down prey easily and would need to spend a great deal of time hunting. This might lead it to forage much closer to the settlements as hunger made it desperate. As the Earth Mother taught, every action had a consequence. In driving off the wolf pack, he had caused another problem. Whitepaw could become a killer, could become starved enough to take livestock or even a Tauren calf. Steadfast could not let this happen. A Hunter must sometimes make decisions that seemed unpopular to others. A Hunter deals with things. Steadfast went to speak to Yaw Sharpmane, the Hunter Trainer.
Crouching to search for tracks in the heather, Steadfast scanned the ground around him. Here in the high slopes above Mulgore, the air was bitingly cold but crisp and clean. The only scents were the tang of pine and cedar, the musk from the small deer that grazed here... and wolf! Grunting in satisfaction he stood, unholstered his new rifle and made his way through the bright sunlight further up towards the tree-line.
Less than an hour later as heavy clouds began to race across the sky bringing a chill to the air, he found the signs he was looking for - a deer carcass had been picked clean only that morning. Flies buzzed and crawled over the dried scraps. The pack had fed... and were probably nearby. Well-fed wolves were less of a risk and could be observed more closely.
A stone tumbling down from a nearby scree slope made him look up. There, ranged along the ridge was the wolf pack. Less than a hundred yards separated them, but the loose rocks protected Steadfast from a sudden attack. Wolves and Tauren watched each other.
“They still remember me”, Steadfast thought... “They remember my scent.”
Flaring his own nostrils wide, he inhaled... the first thing he smelled was the oil and fire-work reek of the rifle, the tang of his freshly tanned leather armour and under all that, the scent he recognised as his own. Testing the wind, he knew the wolves could smell him too. There, at the head of the pack was a wolf slightly larger than the rest, one with a dark mane of fur over its shoulders.
“You’re new, aren’t you? You know me. You are not Whitepaw.”
At a bark from the leader, the pack moved like shadows across the stony ridge towards the trees and out of sight.
Returning his attention to the dead deer, Steadfast could see the trail the wolves had made when they had finished feeding but there was a another trail too... one much newer than the rest, heading away to the west towards a cedar-covered hillock.
“You came here to feed, but found nothing. You who always fed first and fullest will now be hungry for the first time. Your belly will be empty. And it is my fault.”
Checking his rifle, Steadfast carefully followed the trail towards the cedars. Ears and eyes alert, he moved from one crushed clump of heather to another. As the trail crossed a muddy patch, Steadfast knew that the lone wolf had drunk from the puddle here... and was lame. One food dragged. Fat raindrops began to fall, beading on his new armour, so he put the rifle back in its cover.
With the rain falling fast and steadily now, he found the end of the trail. Erosion had carved a hollow under the roots of a mighty cedar and something long-dead with claws, probably a badger, had deepened the depression into a lair. Even now with the rain drumming hard and streaming off his pelt, Steadfast could smell the reek of wolf.
An approach to the entrance to the lair was rebuffed with a deep growl from the darkness.
“You know I’m here... and you know it’s me too.” thought Steadfast. “You remember. Good. I can use that.”
Backing off to a safer distance, Steadfast unslung his pack and brought out a carefully wrapped package of waterproof leather. He unwrapped the leather and laid it down in the mud, exposing a bloody haunch from a Plainstrider. Stepping further back, he settled himself down on a convenient stump to wait... and wait...
The pouring rain was washing the blood of the haunch and soaking the ground. Not a sound could be heard from the lair. Despite his new leathers, Steadfast was soaked to the skin, but still he waited.
Raising his head and causing the rain to drip from his horns, Steadfast spoke to the darkness of the lair using words and gestures...
“You have a choice, wolf - starve or eat. You know this, and I know this. It is not a battle between you and me, it is a battle between your pride and your stomach. You are wounded and starving... but if you come out and eat, you will be mine. You will belong to me. If you stay in the lair, you will die Whitepaw the Wolf... but if you come out and eat, you will be Whitepaw the Dog.”
The Tauren Guard outside Bloodhoof Village raised a shaggy eyebrow at the sight, but he had seen similar during his many years. The pair of nearby youngsters playing some game with pebbles and a scrap of Kodo hide cried out in fear and ran into the closest tent. One by one, faces turned to watch as a young Hunter walked through the centre of the Village, a stout rope around his fist and the other end tethered round the neck of a wolf. He led the nervous animal towards the tent the Hunter Trainers shared. A whisper sprung up and passed from mouth to mouth...