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Winter of the Wolves- Chapter 3

Chapter 3
“Let us begin the hunt,” Sáphre barked to the group. “We will begin the Search!”
Most of our wolf hunts were divided into sections. We would begin with the Search, finding the scent of prey, and then escalate to the Tracking, where we would follow the selected target until we came in contact with it. Finally, we would begin the Naíre, which translates to ‘the Killing’ in Modern Wolf.
The patrol howled in agreement and darted out of the cave. Bright sunlight hit my eyes as we streaked onto the flat tundra plain in search of a reindeer or caribou herd. The grass whipped around my legs as it had the previous night and I willed the reindeer herds to come quickly to graze and shorten the grass. Too bad we were out to kill some of them. The pack needs food, and they are worthy to fulfill our needs, I thought.

All day we traveled, walking sometimes with a bit of friendly chatting, or bounding along after a scent trail. Most of the scent trails we found ended in a frustrating nothing, an old scent that was lost over time. Now, when the sun was low in the sky, we were trotting along a riverside. My tongue hung out of my mouth and strings of saliva dangled from my mouth. My jowls bounced and my ears flopped as my whole body bobbed up and down with my step.
The air that day was dry and still, and I was very hot in the cool autumn atmosphere. The assemblage of hunters paused temporarily to take a sip of water from the freshwater mountain stream that flowed past us, also marking the halfway point of our 850 square mile land. I breathed in the scents of the tundra, and then bent to lap up the cold river water. It was icy on my tongue, but it bathed it in wetness after it had been dangling from my mouth as I panted.
“Has any wolf seen, heard, or scented a caribou or reindeer in the last run?” Sáphre bayed to us as we rested. While running, we had not been able to talk as much, or pass on hints of scents or sights of and prey.
No wolf responded that they had. Sáphre bent her head and growled in disappointment.
“Then we shall keep tracking until we find a scent, but for two night-falls at the most before we must turn back, or we would be traveling too far into unknown territory.” The leader lifted her nose to the air, hoping for a scent to wash by her nostrils. Apparently, none came, so she beckoned to the patrol and we set off again, down a slope and towards the line of conifers that marked the border between tundra and taiga. The herds of caribou or reindeer often stopped in the near-lifeless taiga; no wolf knew why.
We pelted after our leader as she sprinted away across the vast moor. The swift tundra wind plastered my fur against my flanks and I pressed my ears against my head. Suddenly, a wolf ahead of me stopped and barked a command to the group. STOP!
I skidded to a halt, almost tumbling head-over-tail down a slight incline. The wolf, Baghar, judging by his pelt color, had raised his nose in search of some scent and the now interested Sáphre had gathered the rest of the covey to investigate the situation. I, too, inhaled deeply through my nose to let the scents of the arctic wash over my nostrils. Sure enough, the old scent of a small herd of caribou lingered in the chill air.
My mouth widened in an anticipating snarl. I hadn’t eaten a large meal since we were traveling two days ago. Sniffing the air, I checked out position. I had previously been appointed the ‘Positioner’ of our hunting team.
“We are facing due north, the wind is an easterly blowing towards the southwest,” I reported to our leader. “Judging by the scent, it’s been a couple of days since the caribou passed by this area, and they have clearly grazed” -I eyed a patch of thinned grass- “and they were traveling east.”
“Thank you, Arphita,” Sáphre complimented. “Your positioning and tracking skills are above expectations for a yearling of your being.” The strong wolf then turned her head away from the setting sun. “We must change course. Come, let the Tracking begin!”
The wolves in the patrol howled in support. Shaking my pelt to rid it of itching fleas, I prepared to continue on the hunt. Now we were stalking, so we walked or cantered slowly so we would not miss the scent or lose the trail. I kept my nose close to the ground where the scent glands in the hooves of the caribou had rubbed against the trodden grass and marked it with a clear scent trail. It was so easy to follow that it seemed to be almost visible as I tracked the herd of caribou through moor and taiga trees, not stopping until I was forced to breathe out the air that remained in my lungs and start again.
Finally, on top of a grassy knoll dotted with scrubby bushes, my pack and I were able to look down upon the grazing herd of caribou. Their light brown summer pelts rippled in the breeze and their heads were all bent, antlers scraping the ground, as they pulled up the shoots of grass that they apparently found appetizing. My muzzle wrinkled in disgust as I thought about eating grass.
In the herd, there were about twenty or so full-grown caribou, with many pregnant females weighed down by their precious loads. Two young males with new antlers were playfully charging at each other; loud clacking noises echoing off the sparse trees as the hard bones connected. I’d heard that a wolf could die of an antler wound if a caribou were to charge, and many of the seniors in our pack bragged about the scars they had received during supposedly ‘daring’ tasks.
With the signal from Sáphre, a tail flick, the hunting group lowered their shadowy-gray bodies to the ground and began to crawl forward on our stomachs. I froze when a caribou male flicked his ear, thinking he had heard me, but relaxed as I saw a fly buzz out from his fur. Freezing in place a few scoots later, I looked back at Sáphre for guidance. She waited motionless until all the other wolves in the group had passed and turned to look. Sáphre made clear the target, which was a pregnant female with a twisted hoof, then signaled for disperse. I was to creep along the backside of the caribou herd and form the rear of the ambush.
This task of scattering out among the prey was a very delicate one, as we had to move silently or the whole hunt might be ruined. I was unable to see the rest of my group as they swiftly wormed through the grass, which was a good sign for silence. Locking my eyes on the target, I watched the pregnant cow as she grazed calmly along with her herd. Finally, once Sáphre saw that every wolf was in place, she barked loudly, making the caribou freeze in fear, their ears pricked. We leapt from our hiding places with a snarl and began to chase the herd. The pregnant female did not lag behind the rest of the brown mass with a limp in her surprisingly strong gait.
Some of the wolves had caught up to the targeted caribou, and as I watched Gránr leapt up onto the female’s haunches to give her a nasty nip. The female kicked him off and wildly swung her head around to butt the darker gray wolf I believed to be Baghar. I quickened my pace and darted up alongside her, where I was relieved of the fear of being kicked by the powerful hooves.
“Arphita!” Naphía shouted above the tumultuous pounding of the caribou’s hooves. ‘We’ll jump on three!”
“Okay! One!” I howled.
“Two!”
“Three!” With that, my sister and I leapt upon the cow’s back and proceeded to bite at her neck, while my brother and Sáphre snapped at her forelegs. The caribou’s knees buckled and she collapsed on the ground, weighed down by two wolves and her unborn calf.
Baghar ran up to the caribou cow’s head and held it down. Prayers must be said before the kill, as was the law of our religion, which every pup was taught as soon as they began to study with Danza Síltiol in the Cave of Prayer, which was one of the largest in the new caverns beside the main hall.
Sáphre lifted her head to the heavens and began to howl a chant in the old language of the wolves. “Zeí Natúk, vyr lerr ná ma’asa dí der carrú dík vyr nárr. Síf l’asá se kháirre, byrr aná nast re lerré pe der garr, sor ma’asa pe der klána. Taka ta pe der l’asáz vyr lerr pe der Valyáz dí vyrré klaná.” Holy Natúk, we take no more of the caribou than we need. All life is sacred, but one must be taken for the group, and more for the pack. Thank you for the lives we take for the Wolves of our pack.
The rest of the wolves gave their oath, and Sáphre bent down to tear out the caribou’s throat. Blood spattered in the grass and pulsed from the artery, slowing its spurts as the cow’s heartbeat faded. Our prey struggled and kicked to the end, which came with a spasm of the caribou’s muscles and finally the eternal stillness of no life. I realized that this was not one life gone, but two, counting the unborn calf, which would never have the chance to see the world for all its wonders.
Quietly, I added my own prayer for the calf’s sake, so it would pass into the caribou heaven as well. “Sor pe der béb entéríon erra.” And for the baby inside her.
Silence temporarily filled the tundra, excluding the distant thrumming of the fleeing herd’s hooves pounding as they ran. Then Sáphre gave the signal to eat, and we tore into the bloody carcass with pleasure. Baghar tore into the swollen womb and dragged out a half-formed caribou calf with a growl of interest.
“Now we know what they look like before they’re good meat,” he grumbled, a sneer forming on his muzzle. His jowls shook as he flicked his head around to turn back towards the carcass.
I was given a haunch, one of the meatiest parts of the body, for my excellent tracking work. My muzzle was stained red by the time the carcass had been stripped to bones, and although there was more meat I was too full to stomach it. Offering the haunch to any wolf that wanted it, I slunk over to the edge of the group and began to lick my paws and muzzle clean.



To be continued...




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