The Price of Survival (S1 E8)

Season Content Notes: attempted genocide (off screen), child murders (off screen), prejudice, violence, abuse references

After three days, Lubomir was cautiously pleased with the army’s advance. Cyneburg had remained nearby and continued answering his questions and carrying messages. The other wolves — and he knew there were other wolves nearby — stayed out of sight and (mostly) out of hearing.

Even as he thought this, a howl rolled in, at first far away and barely heard, but growing closer and louder as each new wolf took up the call. Finally, it rose less than a bow-shot from Lubomir’s tent.

A few minutes later, Cyneburg walked up to Lubomir’s tent, accompanied by two guards. “General.”


“As of sun-high, your forces hold the pass. Our fighters pulled back but remained close long enough to be sure your soldiers could hold against Caldelon. Then pulled back to the nearest village to await orders.”

“Excellent. What of the mountain trails?”

“No word yet.”

Lubomir nodded and let himself fall into thought. When he said nothing further, Cyneburg turned to leave, not waiting to be dismissed.

“A moment, wolf.”

She turned back and waited. He spent several more minutes examining the map table and moving pieces around on it. When he was satisfied, he turned back to Cyneburg. “A messenger arrived this morning. Must have been urgent, as he rode through the night.” He grabbed a message pouch off his desk.

Cyneburg resisted the temptation to grab it from his hands and waited for him to hand it to her. Bringing it to her nose, she caught a hint of Navin’s scent. Relief nearly brought tears to her eyes. She tore open the pouch and opened the message within, forgetting the general completely.

She read it once quickly, looking for the name of the new pack leader and Navin’s signature with his new rank mark: the Queen (she stuck a mental tongue out at her soul-brother) and Navin now ranked as second. A wise move by the new Pack Mother.

Then she read the letter again, slowly. Twice.

When she finished, she looked up at the general. “Well?” he asked.

“Forgive me, General. There is… much here.

“Navin Wolf did not just surrender to your Queen, General. He stepped down as Pack Leader, naming your Queen as his successor.”

“I see.” His eyes narrowed.

“Forgive me, General, but I doubt you do. Until she dies or chooses otherwise, the Long Valley pack, and every wolf in it, answers directly to Pack Mother Alfhard Haredin.”

Lubomir bit back an exclamation and waited for the wolf-woman to continue.

“The Pack Mother orders that we continue to obey you until the evacuation is completed and otherwise that Navin’s seconds retain their rank and manage pack matters within the limits she sets.

“There are other matters here for the Pack, but there will be a party of wolves traveling to the palace within the week to answer the Pack Mother’s summons.”

Lubomir considered the wolf-woman, disturbed. It should be — it was — a good thing that the Queen had gained the allegiance of the wolves and not just their grudging surrender. But it disturbed him that they would change their loyalty so quickly. How much was their loyalty to the Queen actually worth?

So wondered the Queen’s general, who had started his years in service as a palace guard shortly before the coup attempt against Alfhard’s father. But Lubomir knew better than to say anything. He would put his concerns in a letter. No, he decided, two letters. One to the Queen, and one to General Revazi. Revazi, he knew, would be watchful of the Queen’s safety.

For now, Lubomir only said, “Very well. I will pass them through with an escort.”

He turned back to his map. “I am sure you will want to carry this news, but before you do, I have another task for you.

“I have been impressed with your… people’s ability as messengers. Once the valley is secure, I’ll want to start integrating some wolf messengers into my forces. A dozen to start. I’d prefer volunteers, but I’ll take conscripts. Have them report to me… Let’s say a week from today. We should have things largely secure by them.”

“Of course, general. You’ll want messenger-scouts, I assume. Wolves with at least enough training to defend themselves.”

“I’d rather fully trained fighters. With the pass secured, you should have at least a dozen — several dozen! to spare.”

Cyneburg swallowed a growl. “Yes, General, but they may not–”

“Just send them wolf, the best you can manage.”

She didn’t wait to be dismissed.

It was rare for all the pack’s seconds to gather together in person. Especially for a pack as large as Long Valley, a pack leader needed their seconds widely scattered to address problems as they came up.

But they had known a message from Navin Wolf could be expected soon. Some things they did not dare sing on the wind.

Cyneburg left the army camp and let her brother’s skin sweep over her. As they had planned, the wolf whose name was the feel of racing paws and the crack of lightning carefully picked up the message pouch and moved swiftly to a village a few hours steady trot from the army camp. Close enough the wolf could return quickly if needed, far enough the army was unlikely to notice him or his fellows gathering.

When the wolf arrived, there were six waiting, two wearing wolf skins, the others human. They had taken the back room of an abandoned house. The front rooms were guarded by the most trusted assistant each of them had.

The wolf greeted each of them in turn and slid back into Cyneburg’s skin. “I hope the day comes when I never need to deal with that man again,” she growled.

“That bad?” Edmund asked. He was sitting in a tipped-backed chair with his eyes closed, looking ready to take a nap.

“He demands we supply him with a dozen wolves — fully trained fighters! — to serve as his messengers.”

The five who were not pretending to be half asleep looked at each other and expressed their disbelief and distaste.

“Cyneburg, did you not tell him?” Kazimiera asked. Messenger-scouts split their time. They trained in the subtleties of howl-song with the singers and in combat. The fighters… trained in fighting.

“He would not listen.” One of the wolves flattened her ears and chuffed a dismissal. “Yes, if he wants to be a fool, let him.

“More importantly, we have word from Navin.”


“Yes, Navin. He gave neck to the human Queen.” Cyneburg stopped as the others all started talking at once.

Quiet yipped the other wolf, whose name was the feel of sun-warmed grass and scent of green. He stood, man unfolding out of wolf. “Give us the word Cyneburg, then we can discuss it.”

So Cyneburg read out the contents of the letter.

When she finished, there was a moment of silence.

“So. Navin represents us at court and tries to win over the humans. For now, the rest of us are left with a great deal of autonomy as long as we keep the general happy. But the Queen has plans, and we must fit ourselves into them.” Kazimiera growled.

The wolf become man said, “Cyneburg, Navin put you at the border because you are one of our best fighters. You are not a diplomat.”

“You think you need to tell me that, Andre?” Cyneburg growled.

“No,” Andre replied. “I will volunteer as one of this general’s messengers and take your place as liaison. The high places are evacuated, and I am free to take on other tasks.”

After a moment of thought, all the others signaled agreement.

“I’ll join one of the wagons going to this new… place.” Cyneburg decided. “We need someone there, anyway, and it will get me as far away from this general as possible.”

“The rest of us,” Edmund said, “can continue as we have been.”

“I do not like this,” Kazimiera muttered.

Prasanna, quiet until now, stood up and murmured. “We are lucky to have asshole generals to worry about. To fret over how to deal with a human Pack Leader and who to send as messengers for the humans.

“We are lucky.”

“How often do you tell yourself that?”

Prasanna sighed. “Every day, every hour. Sometimes every minute.

“Most of the time, I believe it.”

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The Price of Survival, S1 E1
The Price of Survival, S1 E7

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The Price of Survival, S1 E9

The Price of Survival (S1, E3): Bargain Between Enemies

Season Content Notes: attempted genocide (off screen), child murders (off screen), prejudice, violence

While Navin and his soul-sister settled into sleep, the wolf whose name was the feel of racing paws and the crack of lightning crept through the human city. Had Navin and his soul-sister known the wolf was there, they would have been angry. This wolf and his soul-sister, who human’s called Cyneburg, had no right to risk themselves and disobey Navin’s orders. But the wolf whose name was the feel of racing paws and the crack of lightning had needed to know, and his soul-sister had put human reasoning behind animal intuition. They had followed in secret, had hidden well, had heard and understood the howl Navin had thought none would ever know of.

It had taken everything the wolf had in him, and the strong support of his soul-sister, not to lift his voice in response. Only death could have stopped Navin from singing out after a battle such as this day. That same instinct urged this wolf to return the cry, to add his piece to the story the howl started, but could not finish.

Navin was not a singer, not one of those who could fill a howl with almost as much meaning and texture as human speech. But nor was he a cub just finding his voice. So this wolf and his soul-sister had learned much from Navin’s howl. Learned that he lived, of course. That he expected to continue living. That he no longer marked himself as pack-father and so must have given throat. (To who? The howl did not say. Perhaps could not say. Some human, it must be. Cyneburg murmured that there was only one human it could be, but the wolf would make no assumptions and Cyneburg accepted her soul-brother’s caution.) Most importantly, that Navin had won everything he had hoped to from his battle and perhaps more besides. That there was a new grief upon him. A small grief in comparison to that they all had carried these last weeks, but a sharp one none the less.

Cyneburg wanted to worry at that new grief, but the wolf kept her focused on the moment. If she needed to waste time worrying at something they knew nothing about, she could do it when they were free of the city. Then they would have miles of woods to run through.

To the wolf’s relief, though, getting out of the city was even easier than getting in. He had long known humans were scent-blind but it never ceased to surprise him how close he could come — even from downwind! — and not be detected. Though they made up for that during the day with their vision. Their ability to see ‘red’ (which the wolf had seen through Cyneburg’s eyes but never understood) was a baffling marvel that could reveal the best-hidden hunter if they weren’t careful.

But the wolf had Cyneburg to guide him when he might have put a foot wrong. Before long they were free of the city and running through the fields and hedgerows. Not easy passage, no, but also no humans around to see them and any that did would think them a normal wolf. So, not safe, but safe enough.

It was a long run to the border, three times what normal wolves would travel in a day. But a wolf soul-bounded to a human partook of the human’s endurance. A wolf’s steady lope combined with a human’s ability to just keep going meant that they arrived at the border late the next morning. Exhausted and in desperate need of food, but there.

He was close to the road when he started to smell the human war camp. He started to move to slip around the camp and into Long Valley, but Cyneburg stopped him. He could feel her thinking, fears, concerns, needs.

They could sneak around the human war camp and cross into Long Valley unseen. They had done it before. But it was a risk. Cyneburg thought it was a risk they couldn’t afford.

The wolf didn’t agree — or rather, thought showing themselves to the humans was more of a risk. But… humans were sneakier than wolves. Would these humans think they meant to violate the surrender Navin had given at such risk?

Perhaps. Perhaps.

So he gave way and allowed Cyneburg to stand once again on two feet.

It was near the end of a long, boring guard shift when a strange woman, dressed wolf-style, in undyed leathers and wool, including a heavily embroidered tunic, stepped into sight. The guards, too surprised to be alarmed, called a challenge.

They were more surprised when Cyneburg walked right up to their post and asked they take her to the war leader in charge of the camp.

They knew of course — everyone knew — that The Wolf had gone to the capital to officially surrender. There were bets around the campfires about how soon after that he’d lose his head. But everyone also knew he’d gone alone. There should be no other wolves on this side of the border.

General Lubomir was equally surprised when his rear area guards brought the wolf-woman to him. Lubomir had a fair bit of experience with the wolves, and somewhat less contempt for them than many in the camp that day. But he was used to wolves being silent. They didn’t lie. They might be deceptive on the battlefield, but face-to-face they didn’t lie. Usually, they just said nothing.

This one talked.

“The Queen accepted our surrender from Navin Wolf. I’m sure your own messengers will be bringing word soon, but horses…” she shrugged, not impressed with the human’s preferred travel companion. “But before he left Navin told us his plans so we could be prepared. We will be evacuating Long Valley, General, leaving it for your Queen to do with as she wishes. And we will go wherever she chooses to send us. But Caldelon attacks us also. Where ever your queen sends us, we will be making a fighting retreat. We need to be making preparations as soon as possible, not waiting on your queen’s messenger and scrambling at the last moment.”

This one, Lubomir reflected, did not stop talking. His eyes skimmed the map spread out on his council table.

“And if I do not wait for the Queen’s messenger?”

The wolf-woman snarled. “If you think to wipe us out before–”

“Peace, wolf!” he shook his head, “I mean no such thing!” He rubbed a hand across his balding head, exasperated.

Cybeburg — for that, of course, was who the wolf-woman was — eyed him warily.

“You have rank among the wolves?” He demanded.

She hesitated then nodded. “Under Navin Wolf, I was a Second. None of us know, though–”

“Yes, yes, everything is about to get turned upside down. For you especially, but I expect for all of us. Look you, wolf. If your… people… will accept your word and follow your lead, I will accept your word that her majesty has accepted Navin Wolf’s surrender of Long Valley.

“I’m not interested in pushing Caldelon back out of Long Valley after you make a fighting retreat. Instead, I’ll bring my soldiers in now. You hand over control of the western passes to us. It’s less fighting for us in the long run and you can evacuate without needing to fight your way out.”

Cyneburg studied him a long moment, then turned and walked out of his tent. The guards started, but Lubomir, thoughtful, waved them back. Standing just outside the general’s tent, Cyneburg tipped her head back and howled. The sound echoed across the camp long and ululating. When she finished there was silence for a moment, then a few quick yips from disturbingly close to the border side of the camp. A few moments after that, more voices copying the wolf-woman’s howl rolled out into the valley.

Cyneburg turned back to the general. “Give us an hour to spread the word, General. Then your path will be clear.

“Just… keep your soldiers out of our communities. The roads, the fields, the mines, the passes, take as you wish. Leave us our homes and what safety is left to us until the queen’s orders come.”

She knew — all the wolves knew — that their individual safety might disappear the moment the queen’s word arrived. But that was an evil for tomorrow — or perhaps later today.

“Agreed, wolf. My people will escort you to the border so you can begin organizing your evacuation.” He thought a moment. “We send several wagons back for supplies every day. When there are no wounded, they go back empty. If it works within her majesty’s orders, you can use some of them to transport your children and elderly away from Long Valley.”

“Thank you, General.” He noted the pain that flashed across her face but dismissed it. Not his concern.

He dismissed her and allowed himself a brief moment of thought to the future.

With the wolves surrender, he might finally have a chance at testing an idle fantasy of his. Her majesty was not one to waste a resource, and whatever their other failings, if he could create a scouting group that combined dragoons and wolves…

It would be good to return to peace footing and have time to experiment with the best weapons mixes and armor types without risking his soldiers’ lives. With wolves added to the mix… Another wolf voice, further away now, took up the cry. Ah! Messengers…

Cyneburg knew the general cared nothing for the wolves. That was alright. There were no children to ride in the wagons the human had offered. But there were three bitches who expected to give birth within the month. And many others less far along. Wind and road witness it, if the general would guard their backs, those mothers and their cubs might survive.

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The Price of Survival, S1 E1
The Price of Survival, S1 E2

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The Price of Survival, S1 E4