The Price of Survival (S1, E7)

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

Navin followed the human Pack Mother out and paused. He had a message to send but first, he needed time to think. Both about how best to send the queen and Pack Mother’s message and who to have join him in the human palace.

Not willing to go back to the suite, he asked his sister if she could find some garden or other outside area. She, as tired of walls as he, agreed. She followed the scent of growing things to a walled garden path with flowering bushes and a few grassy areas. Scattered throughout were a few large trees, older than the palace.

Tired of people gawking, the wolf moved carefully, avoiding notice as much as possible until she reached one of those trees. It was only a moment for her to release their body and allow Navin to emerge. He climbed the great tree and found a thick low branch that he could stretch out on.

His sister relaxed in the scent of green things and the stir of the slight breeze that made it over the wall. Of course, the wolves he most wanted at his back here were those who had been his seconds, now the other seconds to the human pack mother. He had named them seconds for a reason. But there were others he knew and trusted.

Navin was just about ready to climb down and find pen and paper when he heard footsteps below the tree.

A quiet voice asked, “Are you hiding from the Wolf?”

On the ground peering up at him, was a young girl, less than 10 years old. She was the first child Navin had seen since the massacre, and he blinked away the mist that covered his eyes.

“No.” He coughed to clear his throat. “No, I needed a quiet place to think.”

“Oh.” She traced the bark of the tree with a finger. “I wanted to see the Wolf, but my tutor said I wasn’t allowed to leave our rooms because it’s too dangerous while he’s here. She says the Queen will send him away soon, and then I won’t get to see him.”

“So you snuck out to try to see the Wolf?” Navin asked, finding himself amused in spite of his grief. “You shouldn’t disobey your tutor like that.”

“She’s so stuffy. Always going on about how a lady should act and not letting me do anything fun.

“Besides, it’s not like anything can happen here. The Queen’s guards are everywhere.” She sighed. “If you aren’t hiding from the Wolf, I guess he isn’t here, though.”

Not sure what to say to that, Navin asked, “Why do you want to see the Wolf? Most people are afraid of him.”

She looked down, then glanced around, making sure there was no one else near. “It’s a secret. I need to tell him something.”

In the distance, a clock bell tolled. The council would meet again soon. Navin, clothes or no clothes, would need to be there if he was to cement himself in the position his Pack Mother had set for him.

With a sigh, he rolled off the tree limb and landed — not as lightly as he might have wished — on his feet.

To the guards, who had not seen him enter the garden, it looked as if he had appeared out of nowhere.

Shouts and challenges rang out, and guards came racing across the garden, polearms at the ready.

The child jumped and, to Navin’s surprise, crowded close to him to stay away from the guards.

Exasperated, Navin crossed his arms and leaned against the tree. Ignoring the guards, he murmured. “Unfortunately, we didn’t have a chance to introduce ourselves. And we are out of time for the telling of secrets. But you might let your tutor know that I don’t eat children, and the Queen will not be sending me anywhere anytime soon.”

The child’s eyes grew wide, and Navin smiled down at her.

By this time, the guards had them surrounded. The leader, a junior lieutenant Risko who neither recognized the Wolf, nor heard of his new rank, was yelling demands. He was interrupted by a shriek from the palace door, loud enough that Navin nearly winced. The girl did wince.

“Chelsey!”

“I take it that’s the tutor?”

Chelsey nodded and tried to squeeze between Navin and the tree.

“Nothing for it; you’ll have to stand up and face her.”

By now, the guard leader had decided that Navin wasn’t a threat, but he was not happy with being ignored. He got right up in Navin’s face.

Navin’s sister was done with the yelling. She took advantage of his distraction to push forward. Fur rippled across his face, and she lunged forward, growling at the guard, who stumbled back.

The other guards surged forward as Navin regained control. He grabbed Chelsey, climbed back up the tree, and made sure she had a good grip on the branch. Now he was angry. They had meant to attack him, but in a melee, anything can happen. They endangered a child. He took a running leap off the branch, landing in a roll behind the guards. Then he took them down.

Three palace guards against a soldier who had fought in the front lines and was not nearly as unarmed as they assumed. In the first ten seconds, he had one of their polearms, after that the only challenge was not killing them.

Of course, by then, more guards were pouring out of the palace, followed by Revazi. Navin and his sister were riding the battle high but wise enough to wait and see what these new guards and the general would do.

Revazi, somewhat to Navin’s surprise, kept the guards back and sent for the Queen. While they waited for the Queen, Navin kept his back to the tree, the beat-up guards slowly picked themselves up, and the new guards keeping their distance. Chelsey climbed down from the tree, and again she sheltered behind Navin.

“Why are you afraid of them?” he asked, keeping his voice down and his eyes on the guards.

The tutor had not stopped shrieking, but the guards were keeping her back. Chelsey swallowed and said, even more quietly than Navin, “My father was a guard.” A pause. “You killed him. Thank you.”

The Queen was coming, her presence a ripple through the surrounding crowd. But not even the Pack Mother could distract Navin and his sister from what they had just heard. Moving as one, they dropped the human weapon and knelt down in front of the child. “You are welcome.” He offered her his hand, saying. “I will always help if you need it. You are under my protection.”

To the astonishment of everyone watching, the child threw herself into his arms.

He held her, still ignoring the Queen and Pack Mother, who watched with a mix of amusement and impatience. Then, blinking away tears, he gave her a nudge and said, “But… you still need to listen to your tutor.” He gestured toward the now hyperventilating woman. With a sigh, Chelsey nodded and turned to walk away.

Then, finally realizing the Queen was there, she squeaked and sank into her best curtsy.

“Sir Wolf,” said Queen Alfhard, Pack Mother to the Long Valley pack, and very upset woman. “When I said I needed you to be my boogeyman, this was not what I had in mind.”

Biting back his own sigh, Navin turned to face the Queen and gave her his neck.

But inside him, his soul sang with his sister’s. Here, too, were children who needed protecting.

He would not fail again.

 

In the end, the whole thing was sorted out to the Queen’s satisfaction, if not necessarily anyone else’s. After all, Navin Wolf had demonstrated, in an extremely public fashion, his capability in a fight. More importantly, he had demonstrated that he would put himself in danger to protect the child of one of her courtiers. And (once again) that he submitted to her rule.

When the Queen was satisfied, she dismissed everyone, with pointed looked at both Navin and Revazi. It would be best for both of them to keep their heads down for a while.

Unfortunately, Navin realized he had one more duty to fulfill. He made himself walk over to the general and say, “I walked from the palace, across the garden, and not one of the guards here noticed. Nor did they see me up in that tree for over an hour.”

“I am well aware,” Revazi growled. “Do you have a point… Navin?”

“You and the Queen are lucky wolves don’t make a habit of assassinations.”

Revazi inhaled sharply, his eyes widening.

Navin said nothing more, just nodded to the general and walked inside.

He knew the general heard what he hadn’t said. Caldelon does.

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