The Price of Survival (S1 E4), Pause Before the Storm

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

Navin and his sister spent most of the day as wolf. The wolf was more patient than the human, less upset by waiting. More than willing to doze and see what happened. Especially after the forced march from Long Valley to the capital and the stress of their surrender and near-death.

A servant brought food sometime around midday, walking into the suite without so much as a ‘by-your-leave’. He walked out even more quickly when he saw the wolf curled up on the bedding. At least he remembered to leave the food behind.

Navin thought that perhaps terrifying the servants was not a good idea, but the wolf snorted. If the Pack Mother wished to keep them here (which the wolf was just as happy with, mind) then the humans would need to get used to them. Both of them.

By then, having slept nearly a full day through – their audience with Alfhard had begun shortly after midday – they were not tired enough to return to sleep. The wolf – who’s name was warmth in a blizzard and sharp teeth to guard – worried at Navin. Navin had never been as good at relaxing as his soul-sister. Going from holding responsibility for the lives of their pack and fighting a two-front war, to having nothing to do and no responsibilities was a bit jarring even for the wolf.

Unwilling to let Navin come to the fore again when he would only fret himself into harm, she investigated the space they had been given. When she found a corner where bright summer sun spilled in through a window, she dragged one of the pillows over to it and curled up. It was nice to sit in the warm sun without any cares. (We don’t deserve it, Navin whispered) The wolf snorted at him. Who needed to deserve a warm patch of sunlight? Sooner or later they would be summoned by the human pack leader. (The queen.) Until then, they need only wait. In the sun.

 

After sending Navin to rest, Alfhard had held emergency meetings with various courtiers and councilors. She needed to clear away all the things on her schedule that absolutely had to be dealt with in the next week. By evening she had dealt with or postponed everything she could.

With that done, she decided she couldn’t put it off any longer. First thing the next morning, she sent for General Revazi.

What followed was one of the more painful interviews of her time as queen. She had known Revazi all her life. He had served under her father as subcommander and she had been delighted to promote him to general shortly after her reign began. She could no longer afford his prejudice against the wolves. Especially not if his prejudice left him blind or indifferent to her soldiers butchering people, by the ancestors!

He was not happy with the choice she gave him, but he wasn’t foolish enough to argue. He also wasn’t ready to retire. So she got his pledge to speak no more ill of the wolves, to treat them as he would any of her subjects, and to clear her army of those guilty of that… that butchery.

He wasn’t lying when he said that he hadn’t known. She believed that. Rightly, as the case may be. The general had been very careful to speak nothing but the truth. But Alfhard had been queen long enough to learn how truth could be shaded.

He hadn’t known.

She would wait. She would see the results of his investigation. Alfhard hoped her suspicions were wrong.

She needed to meet with her council. There was much to be done. To prepare for the wolves arrival. To prepare for a possible attack by Caldelon. To prepare her people for dealing with the wolves.

But she could steal some time now. Her messenger had set out for Lubomir’s headquarters at the front. Everything else could wait. Not long, but a bit.

She needed to think. There were some decisions she would make for herself, with no help — or interference — from the council.

Her rule was secure, though she lacked an heir. But no ruler was ever so secure they couldn’t be overthrown. It had been the personal loyalty of a few score guards and servants who had saved her father (and her mother, brother, and herself) when some of those the lords attempted a coup. Her father made sure she learned the lesson — the strength of ruler’s seat rested in the love and loyalty of the commons first.

Navin had given her the wolves personal loyalty. To them, she wouldn’t be a distant monarch whose power was disbursed through ministers, councilors, and feudal lords. She would be Pack Mother.

Her own people — her human people — would want to see the wolves subjugated. She could do that. Or she could raise the wolves up.

This, she decided, was a time for boldness.

 

Before lunch with the court, she sent a pair of messengers.

After lunch, she went to meet with her council. As she had ordered, an extra chair stood against the wall in the council room. Navin Wolf followed a page into the room just as the last of the councilors had arrived.

He was bare-chested, which shocked several of the councilors. He would not wear his tunic again until he had added the embroidery that said he had retired as Pack-Father. Of course, none there knew that a wolf’s tunics carried the record of their life and deeds. That to wear it with the symbols of the Pack Father would be the same as to wear a copy of the monarch’s crown.

It amused him even as it stung his recent wounds.

Still, the time to rest had done him good. The cracks in his mask were gone, and he faced Alfhard and her council as calm and confident as when he’d first walked into the throne room.

Alfhard gave him a brief nod and he bent his head to the side, acknowledging her as Pack Leader. She decided to tackle the biggest problem first.

“How soon after they learn I have taken Long Valley are we going to find ourselves at war with Caldelon?”

Her advisors started arguing among themselves – would Caldelon back down, knowing that their two realms were on near equal terms? Or would they try to press their claim? Or perhaps seek some diplomatic gambit?

The wolf remained silent, but something in his face had her thinking he was restraining himself.

“As you can see, Sir Wolf, my councilors do not stand on formality. If you have something to say, say it.”

There was one moment of stunned silence as her councilors realized she had just named Navin Wolf as one of their number.

Then chaos erupted.


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