Crow Valley

My Mala, my Grandmother made me a leather bound journal to take with me when I left the Village. I was a youngerkinder of just 112 years old. Evernight I would write down the events of the day, scraps of old songs I had remembered, dreamsights, nightmaras and poems. Where I spent my nights, in a loft that smelled of straw.
The leather had been well worked and was soft and warm to the touch. Like a lovers skin and just as familiar to me.

I rode North for nine days to the Village of Ofrencartz. These once worn roads were quiet and the sounds of leaves and the call of smaller animals were easier to hear. Because our lands were not at peace withemselves. Queen Bo’eme had sent out a call across the Wolfenworld. Our ancient enemies the Sh’war Bloodkind, foul vampires, had moved inland and violated our Borders. They were encamped at the base of Tiernan Mountain. From there it was a days hard ride through Crow Valley and they would be inside the Kingdom. The Sh’war had become ever bolder since the rise of a new order in their land, a cult by the name of The Tulwan. We knew nothing of The Tulwan Cult but it seemed that it had given a shift in power from the ruling Elderlamia to the Sh’War.

Our oldest Allies and once saviours, the Kyprishan-ma’wed, Elemental shape-shifters from the far Island of Krypris had called to our Queen witth a request, a plea. It seemed that the Sh’war had not only invaded our Border but a Sacred land to the Kyprishan-ma’wed. The Vallys, caves and small forests surrounding the Tiernan Mountains was Holy to the Kyprishan-ma’wed; I do not know why. I know only a little of their history, their culture as they are a remote and reserved people. They are solitary but have always shown great favours and hospitality to my people. We owe them a Debt of Blood, yet is never mentioned or abused. This request from their new young Princess Ila must mean they are greatly concerned at this path that turns our destiny.
I arrived in Ofrencratz on the first day of Aba’ad. The Holy month. Oftencratz is the very edge of our domain and is populated by The Esel, The Dowans and the Bri, oh and of course Umanikind. Though they are rare and not often seen. During Ab’ad there would be feasting, dancing in the streets and strangers would be welcomed guests at any table. Yet the streets were silent tombs. No lamps burned, the Inns were bolted against the clinging fog and I had seen no one for an entire day. As I lashed my horse, Pad, to a bolting post, I re-set my baldrick so that my sword was closer to my hand, not because I needed it. It was just knowing the hand of it’s maker was near mine. I pulled the hood of my leather outrider over my head. Even without rain there seemed a cold, wet Touch in the air. It made my teeth itch.
A flicker in the faltering light caught my eye. When I turned the street was still empty. Ofrencatz is no modern city but it is well used as a meeting point where 5 roads cross. Where goods are bought and there are clean Taverns with warm beds, filling food and ale to make you grin. The streets are wide and clean and normally well lit. Without the street lamps burning, and even with my vision, it was difficult to see very far. Another flick, a blur at the corner of my eye, had me turn and my sword was drawn before I realized what I was seeing. The scent stopped my slicing him from brain to bone.It was a child. A young boy of maybe 8 years. I hadn’t seen him because he had glamoured at my arrival, the Kyprishan-ma’wed are able to put themselves out of sight, a gift from their Elemental Gods. His face was a perfect blank, open mouthed and wide eyed. I put away my sword and went down to one knee.

“I’m sorry. Did I scare you?” He nodded, unmoving and seeming to blur at the edges. like ink in water.
“My name is Sharisa. What’s yours?”
He seemed to focus upon himself, draw himself in and become more ‘real’.
“Kai.” He whispered.
Out here in the boons, most people use the lingua-frana of the merchants, a mixture of Wolfspaek, Bria and old slang from the Umanitounge and my knowledge of the Ma’awadi is limited but I can speak it a little, recognising enough words.

“That means ‘river’ doesn’t it?”
He smiled and took a step closer, fear fades as fast as she rides with younger.
“Sharisa is a Wolf word. It means ‘like the Moon’.”

I laughed. My name is so old that even some Wolfen do not know what it means; it is from the OlderSprek
“Yes. ‘Like the Moon'”
We smiled at each other now as friends not strangers. I drew my and through my hair. It is bone white, has been since birth. It happens sometimes in our clan. Black or Red hair, Blue or Green eyes are the most common but every generation or so has a birthing like mine. One in one litter in thousands. Slate grey eyes and pure white hair. It’s thought of as a blessing and only ever happens with she-wolfs. In all Icons of Hephakias The Mother Moon, she is shown with White hair and Grey eyes. When I was birthed my blood clan celebrated for Ten days.

“You must be cold Kai. Are your family near?”
He looked over his shoulder, seemed to make some choice then crossed the cobbles and took my hand. He led me towards one of the side doors off the Inn and knocked three times.
The door opened a fraction and at once I was hit by the scent. Wolfs really do ‘see’ smells, as others see the world. There was…

malewolfs pigflesh Five men four women two near their time potatoes straw a coal fire new armour old weapons leather boots the honey wine Retak cinnamon bread baby-new born incense burning ‘other’ smell no word wood sweat salt dried herbs spice

The man that opened the door broke into a fast, angry sentence in Mwa’adi, I couldn’t follow. Then he lifted Kai up and hugged him, Kissing his cheeks. From the smell of his skin he was a kin to Kai.

“Who are you?” He was no coward but these were steeltimes, death and war coming..
“Saitrada Poppi! This is my friend Sharisa. She is a wolfen.” Kai smiled at me proudly.
Kai’s Father, even I understood ‘poppi’, smiled and waved me through the door.
“Food for out guest. I am Yanasai.” He turned to face the room. “Forgive us, we are far from our home and these are bad times. This is my wife Idara, my brother Gand, his wife Imani. And these are our hosts Melchai and Baredin.” We nodded and smiled and a plate of meats and potatoes with bread and preserved and pickled vegetables appeared at the table. They waited while I took off my outrider and sword and sat to eat. Apart from the Kyprishan-ma’wed and the Innkeepers the others had said nothing, the biggest, a buckwolfen lent forward. From the smell he was warrior class from the North.
“Sharisa?” I nodded. “What Clan are you?” This one was Bone. No-Fear

I took another bite of the warm pork and paused. “Haja-Chael.”
He sat a little straighter in his chair and nodded his head, the others did the same. They were more rigid and looked away from me, he may be their Alphfirst but I am more Dominant.

“Forgive me My Lady. We though all your clan arrived with her Majesty.” He meant it but there was too much battle in him and too much humour to bow to me.
I nodded back and they relaxed a little. The Innkeepers bustled about bringing more food and filling cup, fussing over us trying not to defer to ant one guest without offending another The Kyprishan-ma’wed were on edge, I suppose unfamiliar in the company of Wolfen. Yanis looked truly concerned, He leant forward, Kai wriggling about him.

“There is discord? Your Clans are not bound maybe? Please. I will not allow you to dishnour our guests!” He really did have no fear, I imagine a Wolf against a being that can hide in front of your eyes or be smoke would be a worthy opponent. One of the Youngers made a warning growl at the back of his throat; he had not like being threatened by a less dominant animal but was silenced with his head bowed from the Alphafirst. I smiled at Yanis.
“Please. My name is Sharisa. We are all equal here. It is we who should be showing more respect to you and our hosts.’ The youngermale, the growler stood. “I… I wanted to say. I’ve never met a Stradi before. I apologise if we seemed rude. To you and your kin, to our hosts as well”
I smiled and explained. “No I am sorry Yanasai. I am Lady Sharisa Haja-Chael of the House of Bo’eme. The oldest of the Royal houses, Stradi is an old word for Royal and I am the Daughter of the Queens cousin. The Princess Cylis. Wolfen are stuffy and obsessed with titles and rank. I am here to fight along with my people and with my allies, The Kyprishan-ma’wed.
The OldeWolfen laughed and thrust out his hand. “Your Highness!” He dropped into an exaggerated bow. “I am Tragen of the Tofen-shai clan, son of no one you would have heard of.” He flicked a thumb at the younger next to him. “This is my Litterkin Garwain, of the Tofen-draisu clan. You wouldn’t have heard of him either.”
His smile was infectious and I laughed even though it wasn’t that funny. “Met well.” I said, an old greeting but it seemed to fit the mood. The laughter and posturing broke the tension and as we Wolfs took our places of Dominance Melchai, the Innkeeper stepped forward with a bowl of berries and pears. “There is a room, not large but the army covers all bills and bedding.” I hadn’t realised until now what that ‘other’ smell was. It was the Innkeepers. They were Umanikind.

“You’re a human?” I didn’t mean to sound shocked but I have only ever met two Umanikind in my life.
Melchai and his wife smiled. “Oh we are always in the background somewhere Miss. Is your horse posted? Only we have a stable at the back. My son Demind could walk him back there, no charge! Only there’s no militia, no streetlamps, no one about you see. Because of the Vampires.”
“Yes, thank you.” I described Pad, my horse and Melchai bustled off to tell his son. A real Umanakind, three in fact because as he returned leading my horse, their walked past the window. He was so delicate, all wolf are tall and with a good length to their lmbs, toned of muscle. Damind was… He had shoulder length Blonde, like honey , small, frail. I could have lifted him above my head with one hand. His features were like a fine painting and I imagined his skin would be as smooth as silk.
The Kyprishan-ma’wed all rose together, waking me from my thoughts of lying with an Umanikind. “It’s late and we have to be at council tomorrow. Goodrest.” They left to various comments along the lines of ‘goodrest’, ‘goodnight’ and ‘sleep fast’.

It left myself, Tragen and Garawain.
Tragen was a handsome wolfen, deep blue eyes and a strong look about him, his brood brother was too nervous, too ‘twitchy’ and made my teeth lengthen. Tragen pulled a straw wrapped clay bottle from his shirt. Tragen was a different from the Umaniyounger as is water to rock. He had a fine scent.
“Retak is like grandmothers water. How about a real drink, your Highness?”
“Call me that again and you will be a grandmother.”
We laughed and even Garawain relaxed and picked up an empty cup, even as it was pouring I knew it was Petascal, used to clean wounds on the battlefield and stains from swords. It was fermented mushrooms, berries and sugar-leaf. It would kill a Umanikinder and probably wasn’t much safer for Wolfen, yet we drank it anyway and it made me forget the privilege of my past and relish the war to come. The Glory of Battle. It would be a good day.
I already knew that I would not be writing in my Journal and that sleep was for others. Tonight we would drink until we fell and tell the Old Stories

The small creak of the floorboard of my room span me back into the world. The smallest sound, enough though to put my teeth to lengthening and my nails to their quick. The darkness and the last of the Petascal had put me out on an edge but I still saw the shimmer in the air.
“Kai?” I had to be sure.
“Sharisa. I can’t sleep.” The shadow, glamour of the boy drifted over the room, rolling upwards like a mist and then suddenly he was ‘neath the woolen blanket.
His skin was like ice, against my better judgement I put my arm around him.
“You can’t sleep here.”
“Tell me a story.”
“I don’t know any.” I had never had to tend to youngers. Wolfs in my position are not expected to tend to Litters or task-work.
Kai slipped even closer to me. “You must know one!”
I thought for a moment. It wasn’t a childrens story but I could step over the parts his parents might not approve of. I sighed. “Very well. I will tell you the story of true love and how your people saved my people.”

‘Upon a thousand moons past, Hephakias, the Mother Moon gave birth to a Daughter, Mose Diana Ak’abi. Who became the New Moon and Daughter of the Old Temple as Guardian of The Templegate, the Wolfs all loved her. It was said that she was beautiful of voice and in her face, more beautiful again, yet her glory was her passion and her Wisdom. There were OlderWolfen in the world who did not want a new God, for they wanted Hephakias’ power for themselves and called upon Saidaimer. The Old god-king to intervene. Saidaimer was half mad and loathed the wolfs for he had challenged Hephakias and she had banished him from the Wolflands. So he swore to bring down this new God in return for the first born of every Royal House, he believed by eating them, he would have the power he needed to defeat all the Gods and a terrible deal was forged.

Mose Diana loved to swim at the Holy Shantai Helene river, when Saidaimers Offspring, Butal came to her as a Fox. “Oh beautiful Lady I am most hurt and my leg is broken will you help me?” Butal meant to strike her dead with a poisoned comb, but Mose Diana, in her mercy, took pity and tearing the hem of dress into strips, she bound his leg, whispered a healing charm upon him and he instantly fell in love with her, seeing the mercy of her. “Oh my lady… we have wronged you.” he cried, fading away into the shadows.

Again Mose Diana came to bathe at Shantai Helene and Saidimer oldest son, the most vicious Vetor had been waiting in the shadows of the giant Rose trees, waiting. He intended to rape Mose Diana and fill her full of atrocities, unholy things that would eat her alive from the inside. As he approached he bound his eyes with a silk cloth so that her beauty could not make him falter but then he heard her singing. A song from the Earth. Blood and bones of the world. His eyes wept and the silk dissolved. He faced her and could do no more than weep. Knowing he had failed he grabbed a rose from an overhead branch and struck the spear long thorn into his heart.

Saidaimer upon hearing the news tore at his eyes and skin. “My Kingdom and Power to any that kill this whore!”
Saidaimers entire family had conspired and all were banished. His Nephew, the power hungry Watewar announced he would kill the Goddess and bring ruination upon the world. He took human form and plotted.

Around this time the Daughter of the Kyprishian King Loew, had fallen into a terrible sleep that would not end. Mose Diana, hearing of this and having some knowledge of healing, travelled to the Island of Kypris, to pledge her support. No sooner had she arrived than She at once saw the foul spell. Watewar had built a poisonous snake forged gold, silver and jewels, intended to kil Mose Diana but tested it first on The Princess Raven.

“My King, I know the mark of this poison and it’s cure. I shall bring Raven back.”
Mose Diana fasted for Three days and then removed Her sacred Ch’a, her spirit from her body. Her Ch’a travelled through all time and space until it found Raven. Ch’a Mose took the Princess by the hand and kissed her cheeks and eyelids to wake her and led her back through the mirror maze into the World.

King Loes was so overjoyed at his Daughters return that he pledge the loyalty of his people to Mose Diana and her kin for all time. “No King,” Mose stood to face all the Kripshan ma’wed. “There will be a time when I will need you. This is my Blood Debt to you.” On the second night of a five day feast, Watewar found the Castle Chai Veser and his target, Mose Diana, In a minute, his foul magics had killed half the Ma’wed Army, nine hundred good, brave warriors. The Court fled to the King who looked to Mose diana.

“I will let him kill me, for it is me he wants. She said. “No more of your people we be harmed.”
Raven rose to her feet, her eyes were like beacons, they cast such a light that no one could look upon her face When she spoke it was though a thousand shouted. “Father. I have seen through all time. Mose Diana does not die her tonight. This union of our peoples will one day save us all.”

The King looked upon her and knew that she was more than she had been, that her travels in the other world had given her The Sight. He ran to Castle roof and cried out to every man. woman, beast of Air, of Sea, Land and Time, To all their Gods, to the Flesh of the world. “Kill Him!” He shouted. Sharisa was still for a moment as the words washed over her. No longer words, a wave. Even a Mountain can be washed away by the Sea.’

“Did they win?” Whispered Kai. Though tired he was enthralled, even though he must know the story, We all do.
“Yes. Watewar was killed and your people saved our Goddess. It is why when you call to us we will always be there.”
“You are brave but you are strong. Warrior Shewolf” said Kai.
“To be truly brave is to be still brave when you are weak or scared Kai.”

At some point we must have fallen asleep because when I awoke in the morning, Kai was still lying in my arms, his little fingers twisted into my white hair. I drifted again. When I had fully woken the new morn brought news. Kai and his kin has travelled east to the encampment of the Kyprishan-ma’wed. Kai had led my mind to wander to my sister-kin and her litter born, four nephews and two nieces. Youngerkind I would probably never see again. I thought of my people, Mother, Our House overlooking the Sea. My Mala and of Samad, my beautiful black haired boy. I wish I could have said a proper ‘goodbye’ to him. Once more in his arms or in his bed, how the spiral of his chest hair looped around his breastbone, how his skin always smelled like leather and salt, like the sea.
There was a clatter of plates and a mix of voices from below, but I wanted no company. I only wanted to be among my kinder, Wolfenkind. Pad rode out, well rested, along the Northern trail. I knew where my people were. I could sense them even back at Ofrencatz, a short ride of maybe a day without pushing Pad to hard, they were very close. Pad loped along and I thought again of Kai and how, someday I would like a litter of my own, with the Wolf I love, Samad and the weight and the feel of him, how he was gentle yet powerful, his skind and how our sweat would makes slide around each other, each taking and giving such pleasure. It hit like a weight against my chest. A smell I knew too well.

A little white hand.

That was the first thing I saw. Kai. Ripped open. His parents and more Kyprishan-ma’wed, bled white. Torn and broken like an angry childs playthings. I rolled backwards from Pad’s back and landed on all fours. The first of them came from the trees and met my sword with a wet crunch and his top half fell back onto the grass. Something bit through my wrist and my sword fell from my hand. I feigned a left and jumped to the right as an arrow hit the ground where I would have landed. Already I felt the change and bone, skin became like fire, like liquid and I was Wolf.

claws through skin teeth tear kill break bones sinew necks and spines snap an enemy that looks into a wolfs eye should never see another thing swallow great lumps meat no mercy blood fountains into our throat we feast. They are dead.

The fury in me slows, heart beats slower. The change comes again but this time I do not feel it I just know that I am human form again. There are five of them. Sh’War. Blood leeches. Unlike their Elderkind they can move in Sunlight it seems. There are pieces of them across the trail. They killed these Kyprishan-ma’wed because they could. It proved nothing and gained nothing. This was not war or politics, it was without sense or purpose. I tasted it in their blood memory of my feeding. That’s when I knew. I knew that I would die in this battle and it was right. The Sh’War had to be stopped. The Kyprishan-ma’wed must be defended and Kai and his kin must be avenged. These lower things should be wiped off the skin of the World.

… My journal is lost to me. Mud is so churned with blood it is like a swamp. My claws. teeth and pelt are drenched in blood, some of it my own, left arm hangs useless, the bite went to the bone. Another meets my sword and another foul thing splits in the air and the Sh’War are all but destroyed. I Howl to the Cadre flanking on my left and they run on all fours after the coward Leeches heading for the Caves. I cling to my last thought, Samad at his Forge. The One, My Love. The Maker of this Weapon of Death, sharper and quicker than Lightening. She and I have taken two hundred Sh’war I pray to Hephakias. Goddes, Our Mother Moon. Let me not die without purpose. Let me and this blade, this quick death forged by my love, make some difference this day.

Every day for six months Samad had dreaded the arrival of one of the Queens’ Guard.

“Samad Harakien?”
Samad turns towards the Drogua Guard.
“Yes. I am Samad Harakien.”
The Guard has a parcel. wrapped in the Grieving Silk. He dismounts his Horse, steps forward and offers it in both hands, he inclines his head.”She died well, Brother. Mose Diana bless you.”

As the guard walks away Samad unwraps the black cloth. A sword and a battered, muddy, stained leather bound journal. It is Sharisa’s. He recognises the book, she wrote in it every night as he watched, both naked and exhausted. His hands tighten and become claws, his claw tips pierce the leather of the book. He had loved her, always. Wished upon the Gods he had convinced her not to leave, to ignore the Queens call, to stay and be with him. Yet she was a Princess, a Warrior, how could she not have defended the Kyprishan-ma’wed or defended her own people? Easier to smash a Mountain with a pebble.
The furnace, his anvil, his metal workings, all of it now means nothing. He made the sword that failed her. How else would she have died but for his failings? For the first time in 90 years, tears streak through the grime on his cheeks.


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