The Price of Survival (S. 1, E. 6), She did what?

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

While Alfhard’s advisors were yelling, swearing, and banging the table, one of the waiting pages brought the extra chair over and placed it in the space left for it.

Navin studied the Queen and Pack Mother a moment, then tilted his head again in submission and took the seat she had arranged.

To both of their surprise, it was Revazi who fell quiet first — possibly recalling the Queen’s earlier warning. Both Navin and Alfhard sat silent until the rest of the council ran themselves out. Yevgenia, the royal secretary, was the last to stop. Not surprising, as she had lost a son and a sister in the war. Alfhard had some sympathy for her but had no intention of allowing that to sway her course.

When silence had held in the council chamber for a full minute, Alfhard said, “Sir Wolf?”

“Caldelon did not war for the valley. They likely will not contest you for it. They wanted to destroy… the Long Valley wolves.

“With the pack out of their reach, they may make peace. If they do attack, I would look for assassins rather than armies.

“But if the pack’s escape gives them time to lay claim to the valley before the… the army can, who could say?”

“Lubomir will have received his orders by now. He will be moving by tomorrow,” General Revazi said. “As long as there will be no… trouble from the wolves, he will hold the passes.”

“Will that be enough?” Yevgenia asked the general. “The wolves,” she glared at Navin, who pretended not to notice, “did the most damage when they came over the mountains.”

Revazi growled, opened his mouth, then looked at Alfhard, who watched him closely. “I… do not know. Wolf?” He might have meant to use Navin’s surname. Or not.

Navin’s smile was full of teeth. “I don’t think we need to stand on formality, general. Not with how… close you became to my cousin. Use my name.”

Tension sang in the council room for a long moment, then Navin sat back.

“Caldelon tried to send raiding parties over the mountain trails but didn’t have the mountain knowledge to overcome our guards. They gave that up within a year. Then they threw numbers at us until they overwhelmed us in the passes. They never had the numbers to hold a pass, just force through raiding parties.”

His sister nudged him. They would taste the general’s blood soon enough, but they had a duty to the human Packmother.

“Tell your Lubomir that Cyneburg, who was second, will know who can show him the mountain trails and how we defended them.”

The general nodded curtly, and the discussion turned to supplies.

Alfhard dismissed the council some four hours later. The council had made decisions and handed out assignments both for Long Valley and the army that would occupy it. They had hammered out a compromise for the distribution of the land. (The land belonged to the Queen, but both the land itself and the mines would be assigned new patents of nobility and some of the army’s officers appointed as marcher lords.) The Queen had committed to financing citizens and peasants moving to the new lands. The transport of the wolves from the quartering base to their new home had been arranged. As well as supplies the Queen would set aside for the wolves to allow them to rebuild the abandoned villages. That was plenty for one afternoon. They all knew they’d be back again the next morning.

Navin said little, but what he did say surprised several of the councilors. Despite his appearance yesterday, many of them did not expect him to be as calm, well-spoken, or intelligent as he was.

Most of the councilors left quickly once dismissed. Partly to avoid the wolf but also ready for the garderobe, a softer seat, and food (mostly in that order).

Navin remained behind, watching Alfhard. Who watched him back. When most of the others were gone and the room quiet, he asked, “Why?”

She didn’t pretend to misunderstand him. “Many reasons. But the simple one is — I intend that I and my dynasty will survive.”

He waited.

“I told you that I needed your knowledge of the wolves — which is true. But that knowledge is no good to me if you must wait for me to ask a question rather than telling me outright I am making a mistake. So now you have the rank to speak to me at any time, whether I send for you or not.

“You need rank of your own to prevent General Revazi from causing… problems. I may need to remove him, but would prefer to avoid it. And I can’t have him interfering with you or any tasks I set you.

“You have given me the obedience of your — our — wolves. I need to earn their loyalty.

“I need my scheming, power-hungry, ambitious nobility to know that I have not just your surrender, but your loyalty.

“I need those loyal to me, noble and common, to stop seeing you as a boogeyman. Or to start seeing you as my boogeyman.

“And I need everyone, loyal or not, to get used to you wolves being here, being part of society.”

She sighed, “You will not yet understand noble society, Sir Wolf, though you will learn it soon. When you made me Pack Mother, gave me the personal loyalty of your pack, you became a threat to everyone who would like to see my power lessened — or me overthrown.”

Navin understood immediately. Their survival was bound together because the pack would destroy any who harmed their leader outside of proper challenge. (Possibly even then. There had been no challenge for leadership in living memory. The pack had better traditions now.) And any possible usurper would soon know that.

The long term, he would think about later. In the short term…

He licked his lips. “Majesty, you have sent messengers to your army. What message did you send to the pack?”

“None. They knew you came to surrender, so they should obey the orders of my officers…” she trailed off. “That was a mistake, wasn’t it?”

“Not yet, but it will become one soon.”

“So. This is why I need you.”

“I am lessoned.” He bent his head as the wolves did to acknowledge one who bested them.

“Who has authority in your absence?”

“My… those who were my seconds, if your general tells them I survived, will continue to act in my name until they learn you are Pack Mother. Then it will be expected that you confirm them as your seconds or appoint new.”

Alfhard smiled. Appointing Navin Wolf to her council satisfied human custom. Now she had the answer for how to work within wolf custom. “How many seconds can a pack leader have?”

“However many they feel they need.”

“Good.” She nodded. “You are my second then. And those who were your seconds retain their rank for now.

“You may use a royal courier to send word to the pack. Have some wolves you trust come here, I wish you to have guards and messengers you can trust. And my court to get used to seeing wolves beside yourself.

“The counselor’s seat comes with a stipend. Use it to provide for yourself and your attendants.”

She got up and swept from the room. “And get a shirt.”

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