Sister to sister
(The tale of Sara)
RefugeCross shone brightly atop its small rocky perch in the distance, illuminated by the mid morning sun. The occupied lion city was often regarded to be one of the most beautiful settlements in the known world. This was not, however, something that was currently noticed by the two wolf riders as they made their way east along the river Thitchel at speed.
The mighty river Thitchel flowed between RefugeCross and the northern mountains. It was the lifeblood of the lower planes and the lion occupied city itself.
Moving across lush irrigated fields on the south side of the river, the two wolf riders raced towards the only crossing-point of the Thitchel in the lower planes.
With most wolves and lions working hard in the nearby fields to bring in the harvest, no one payed any notice to the two as they passed.
The two wolf riders had made good time and were already approaching the large bridge that lead back to the Wolf Kingdoms lands, and their home.
Both sides of the impressive stone arch bridge had majestic fortifications to restrict access, the southern side having a tall watchtower built in a cylindrical minaret style like those back at RefugeCross. Surrounding these fortifications, at either end of the bridge, a small village had build up.
The girls took their horses between the few buildings.
This part of the lion controlled territory had an even mix of lions and occupied wolves. Enough time had passed since the lion occupation of the lower plains that tensions had simmered down somewhat between the two races. Around them, life continued as it had always done. After all, it was harvest time.
Absent-mindedly, Sara looked up at the tall thin tower which now dominated the skyline. She could make out a lion signaller at the top of the tower, just below the bulbous terracotta top. The lion was using a small mirror arrangement to communicate back to RefugeCross with flashes of light reflected from the powerful rays of the midmorning sun.
Sara’s horse, Misha, stopped suddenly. Sara could see the stone arched entryway to the bridge on the other side of a small dusty town square. There seemed to be a lot of activity at the gate, and more armed lions then usual.
Sara’s sister had stopped to talk to a young wolf male. He was sitting with friends outside an otherwise deserted street-side café that overlooked the small square.
The river village of BridgeHead had a pleasant mix of wolf and lion architecture, it was similar in appearance to a sleepy little southern French village here on Earth.
‘What’s going on at the bridge?’ Fera asked, after greeting the young male and his companions sitting at the cafe.
‘Something’s going on back in RefugeCross,’ replied the young male, ‘looks like someone’s been up to some serious mischief. They’re searching everyone, and unless you have ID, or gramp’s Zerrak knows you, you’re not getting over that bridge.’ The male wolf was referring to the old lion guard at BridgeHead.
‘They’ve detained two wolves already,’ continued the male wolf. He turned casually in his seat to lean against its back with one arm. His voice and posture showed his enthusiasm for the whole thing, it was unusual for there to be any excitement in the little village at all. Even something that might appear to be directed against wolves was a welcome distraction.
There had been few incidence of racial targeting since the lion occupation. Captain Felx had made sure of that. The locals were more likely to look on with amusement at any new activity by the lion soldiers, all knowing through years of experience that it would normally work itself out in time.
‘You should have been here earlier,’ said a young lion male sitting at the same table, ‘there was a scuffle when a stranger couldn’t produce any papers. She knocked out a guard!’ he added with a chuckle.
‘It took three guards to subdue her,’ added the wolf male with a smile, ‘It was quite a show.’
Sara sat on her horse and watched the activity around her. With her mind now more in the present, she finally registered exactly whom it was her sister was talking to. The small table was frequented by two wolf males, one lion male and a lioness, all of about Fera’s age.
Unlike the lion males, who were normally bare chested other then the thin orange sash worn by lion citizens, the two wolf males wore garments resembling t-shirts. Shirts and tops of varying designs were traditionally worn by wolf males as a sign of modesty and respect.
Sara had to do a double-take of her sister, who was actually smiling and joking for once. There was a lot, it seemed, she didn’t know about her older sibling.
The café the four were sitting at was not the typical lion establishment. Cafés were an old lion tradition, with their long established love of drinks resembling something similar to coffee, chocolate and tea. This one seemed to have a lot of products catering for wolves, however.
Over the last few years Sara had picked up many of the beliefs of her grandfather. He did not have a high opinion of lions, or wolves that associated with them willingly.
Sara started to worry about the kind of Anthros Fera was hanging out with. These male wolfs were obviously not of honourable standing, particularly if they were willing to be seen socialising with a lioness in public.
Leaning forward, Sara attempted to see either of the male wolf’s family tattoos; these were located just above their right ankle for male wolves.
‘And who might this be?’ asked the quieter of the two male wolves, referring to Sara. He was a handsome dark furred youth.
Fera turned around to look at her younger sister.
Sara quickly averted her eyes from attempting to see either male wolf’s ankle tattoo, looking as innocent as possible.
‘This is my sister, Sara,’ said Fera, without much enthusiasm, ‘she’s part of the reason for all the trouble.’
Sara flashed her sister an angry glare. Even if it had been meant as a joke, this was not something to be said in front of strangers, particularly lions.
‘Cool,’ said the chirpy looking lioness, ‘looks like it runs in the family.’
This generated a chuckle from the others at the table.
‘So what did you get up too?’ asked the lion male towards Sara with a smile.
‘None of your business,’ replied Sara sharply.
This generated a hushed ‘oooohhh,’ from somewhere, and some suppressed sniggering.
Becoming irritated with the group, Sara indicated for her horse Misha to start moving forward. Passing her sister, Sara gave a quick snide side-glance back at the two wolf males.
‘Don’t you two have work to do?’ she talked-down to them, ignoring the lions completely.
With an arrogant air about her, Sara moved on across the town square, choosing to ignore the commotion she could hear behind her.
After riding across the square to the bridge gate, Sara got off of her horse. Suddenly she felt drained of the confidence she had had only moments before. She nervously reached inside the small pouch that was sown into her skirt. Fumbling for a moment, she was finally able to retrieve a small leather sheath that represented legal identification in either wolf or lion territory. Sara couldn’t help but worry that Captain Felx had changed his mind, and she would be arrested once she showed her identification.
Ahead of Sara, a large cart was being searched thoroughly by lion soldiers.
Sara suddenly wondered how Trex was doing. He had been totally unexpected, not only for turning out to be Trex, but also for his fighting abilities. Trying to remain on the technical aspects of the fight, Sara’s mind nevertheless became more troubled.
Thanks to her grandfather, Sara’s negative view of lions should have allowed her not to care about the stupid lion boy’s condition. But still… it had been Trex. Long dormant memories of the lion cub only brought a series of happy images into her mind. These thoughts did not agree with what her grandfather had taught her about lions over the last few years. Shaking her head, Sara tried to remove the conflicting thoughts…
Having dismounted her horse, Fera had made her way up behind Sara.
‘You don’t have anything in there I have to be worried about?’ asked Fera, indicating to the riding satchels on Sara’s horse.
‘No,’ replied Sara. ‘Do you?’ she countered cheekily. Though Sara spoke aggressively, she was still obviously filled with doubt, her ears were sagging slightly and her tail was limp.
Fera picked up on the mixed emotions and smiled.
‘No, not this time. Anyway I know Zerrak,’ Fera replied, looking forward towards the old guardsman.
‘How often do you come here?’
‘Oh, quite often,’ said Fera, ‘what do you think I do on my days off?’
‘I don’t know. Go to Torstberg to study?’
Fera chuckled, but if she was honest with herself she knew little about her younger sister either, something she reminded herself she actually sometimes regretted.
‘No. My studies are mostly complete there, I come here a lot to do a bit of work and learn new things.’
Sara considered this for a minute, since her sister had studied mechanics it actually made sense for her to come to a place frequented by lions. Lions were well known for intricate machinery and clocks.
‘And those Anthros back there?’ continued Sara
‘I met them when I started to come here. They’re all from the same class. There’s a whole bunch of them.’
‘Really,’ said Sara out aloud, her mind running away with her.
Mixed race classes where common in the lion occupied territory, Sara had little exposure to this, coming from the Wolf Kingdom side. In fact, Sara’s few direct interactions with lions had been with Trex and his Uncle when she was young, other then that, she had only ever seen lions as they passed her family’s farm on their way to Torstberg, or from a distance in Torstberg itself. This had been partially the reason why Sara had been able to believe much of what her grandfather said about lions, simply putting the few good memories she had of Trex into the, exception, category.
‘The question is, what where you doing in RefugeCross?’ asked Fera.
Sara snapped out of her train of thought, fidgeting a bit.
‘Fera. Going home already?’ asked a gruff voice behind Sara.
Turning, Sara saw that it was the old lion guard called Zerrak. He was flanked on either side by lion soldiers.
Sara let out the breath she had been holding in after her sister’s question, happy for the sudden distraction.
Zerrak was a bit shorter then most lions and his slightly longer grey hair and beard framed a kind friendly face. Sara had not seen him on the way through earlier that morning.
‘Just a quick visit today, Sergeant,’ replied Fera with a smile.
Zerrak nodded in friendly acknowledgment.
‘I’m afraid I’m going to have to search your horse today Fera,’ Zerrak said with an apologetic gesture.
‘Orders from the top.’
‘That’s ok,’ replied Fera with a calm smile. She led her horse slightly away from Sara’s to make it easier to search the two animals.
Automatically, the guards moved forward.
‘And who might you be?’ asked Zerrak kindly towards Sara.
‘Sara Kelgorn, Sir,’ replied Sara, automatically respectful to the older officer. Despite her newer unfavourable attitude towards lions in general, Sara’s upbringing by her parents had made her naturally respectful to adults and the elderly. Currently this courtesy was regardless of race, particularly if Sara did not have time to think about it.
‘Kelgorn, ha,’ commented the old lion.
Stroking his beard thoughtfully, Zerrak looked from one of the girl’s family tattoo to the other. Having lived his whole life with wolves, he was good at recognising them.
‘So your Fera’s young sister then?’ he said with a smile.
‘Yep,’ replied Fera for her sister.
‘Not much of a resemblance really,’ she added, indicating her fur colour with her hand.
‘Oh, I don’t know,’ the old guard replied shrewdly, ‘you both have the same pretty face.’
Sara blushed despite herself, unused to compliments in general, but definitely not from lions. This also mildly irritated her a second later.
‘All clear, Sir,’ said an adult female guard casually.
Zerrak nodded at the two soldiers. The moved off into the shade of the guardhouse as no one else was waiting behind the two wolf girls.
Sara wanted to get going and presented her leather identification card to the lion Sargent.
‘No need for that. You girls can go through if you like,’ Zerrak said casually.
Sara returned her identification back to her pocket, mounting up as Fera exchanged last pleasantries with the Sergeant.
Though the river Thitchel travelled east to west in the lower plains, it made a ninety degree turn and came from the north just after BridgeHead, from its source up in the mountains in the high glaciers.
Crossing the old stone bridge, Sara looked back towards RefugeCross, gleaming in the distant heat haze. She had only been there a few times, all within the last few months.
Sara remembered back to how nervous she had been travelling alone for the first time. It had been so exhilarating to cross the bridge into this different world. Even for someone with a horse or camel, the trip to RefugeCross was not something wolves did often from the Wolf Kingdoms held territory, if at all.
Sara’s life had definitely taken a big turn in the last few months, and all this had been thanks to her grandfather.
Riding on in silence, Sara contemplated her relationship with her grandfather. It had all began a few years ago… Sara had constantly been teased and taunted by her classmates about her aunt’s relationship with a lion and their half-breed daughter. The wolf gossip circles had worked overtime and the young Sara was constantly reminded about how her mother’s sister was bringing disrespect to her family name, dishonour to all wolves. Even her two best friends, the two young wolves from Sara’s neighbours, the Satlisons, had been forced to keep a little distance at school after often being targeted themselves.
This had all been too much for the young Sara, who couldn’t understand what was going on. Unfortunately, this was at the same time that things at home where not going so well. Sara’s mother and father always seemed to be stressed and irritated as they struggled to make ends meet, there were constant arguments and little time for the worried little girl. It had gotten so bad that Sara had turned in desperation to her strict grandfather during one of his visits.
Sara would normally never have trusted herself to ask her stiff grandfather anything, being actually quite scared of the elegant older wolf. Despite this, Sara would never forget the glint in the elderly wolf’s eyes, and kind smile that had suddenly spread across his face, when she had asked him one day when they were alone, to explain what wolf honour and respect was all about.
Since that day, her grandfather had suddenly made a lot more time for Sara. He had not only explained a lot of things to they naive youngster, but had also helped her with her troubles at school. He had taught her how to gain respect and authority, how to be confident and have pride in herself.
Sara had taken her grandfathers advice, manipulating and fighting her way through her school until she was no longer teased, but feared and respected by all.
Her relationship with her grandfather had continued to develop to the point where she listened to, and respected, her grandfather more then her own parents. And why not, her grandfather was after all known throughout the Wolf Kingdom as Mr Thorntreck, an honorific title worthy of the respect he commanded.
It was no surprise then that the young Sara had jumped at the chance to help her grandfather when he had asked for it a few months back. Sara had snuck out at night and skipped school to go into the Lion Empire held territory. She had taken notes and made maps of things her grandfather had instructed her to do. Sara had never been happier, doing something that was obviously important for her influential elder.
Now out of BridgeHead and heading north on the open road, Fera lead her horse closer to her sister again.
‘So why were you in RefugeCross?’ Fera asked in a forced casual manner.
Thinking for a second, Sara decided to take a more aggressive stance.
‘I’m old enough to travel where I like,’ Sara said.
With no response, it was obvious that her sister expected more.
‘I just wanted to have a look around, that’s all. I can look after myself.’
‘You wanted to have a look around,’ said the older sister, her tone oozing with disbelief, ‘at three o’clock in the morning?’
Sara had to admit to herself that there was simply no way to come out of this convincingly.
‘How did you know were I was anyway?’ Sara asked, in a last attempt to avoid the question.
‘If you must know, I was visiting the watchtower. Atonn had the graveyard shift last night.’
Sara didn’t know much about the life of her sister anymore, but she did know that Fera had been sweet on a young wolf officer called Atonn for some time now. He was often stationed on the border watchtower near Sara’s family’s farm. Sara always thought that the striking grey male wolf was out of her sister’s league, though that didn’t stop her sister from trying.
‘He thought he saw someone ridding Misha in the direction of RefugeCross. I went back to check at home and decided to follow you,’ said Fera, referring to Sara’s young horse Misha.
Sara looked down at her lightly coloured horse, stroking its mane for a second. Though she was a lovely animal, Misha’s light coloured fur did make her somewhat easy to recognise.
‘And you didn’t tell mum or dad?’ asked Sara, her thoughts refocussing on her sister.
‘No… I just left.’
‘I honestly don’t know,’ said Fera, her tone not giving anything away.
The two were approaching the lower hills. The landscape was slowly become more wooded as the number of farms decreased. They were approaching the border zone.
‘Mum’s been worrying a lot about you,’ said Fera, ‘she knows that something’s up, but isn’t sure what.’
‘You talk to mum now?’ asked Sara sarcastically.
Since about four years ago her sister and mother appeared to do nothing but argue, with her poor father being stuck in the middle. It was also one of the reasons Sara and her sister had drifted apart.
‘If you talked to mum anymore yourself you would know that,’ said Fera with a hint of disappointment. Fera knew within herself that she could not be too hard on her sister for something she herself had done to her parents. That was probably the reason why Fera had gone looking for her younger sister, instead of telling on her.
Sara let out a disgruntled, ‘humph.’
Sara felt that her parents had become intolerable lately, in particularly her mother. She felt restricted and constantly criticised. Arguments seeming to come from nowhere half of the time, it was not as easy as it had been a few years ago. This was despite the family farm now making a good profit and the economic strain lifting from her parent’s shoulders.
‘I know why you went to RefugeCross,’ said her sister suddenly.
Sara didn’t reply.
‘Grandpa asked you to go for some reason?’
‘What makes you think that?’ countered Sara, but without much conviction.
‘Oh, come on,’ said Fera, becoming angry, ‘you spend so much time with him now a days.’
‘I’m planning to join the military after school. He’s helping to train me.’
‘That old fool is doing more then training you. He is filling your head with rubbish,’ Fera said angrily. Her ears were beginning to flatten out, as she became more aggressive.
‘He is not a fool!’ Sara shouted back heatedly.
‘At least he has some pride in his traditions, unlike some wolves I could mention,’ Sara added.
‘Pride in his tradition!? He sent you on some stupid mission into the city, where is his pride in his family?’ yelled Fera.
Sara hesitated, instantly switching to the defensive.
‘I was just looking around. There is nothing wrong with that.’
‘Guards don’t chase you out of the city for nothing,’ countered Fera, ‘Captain Felx knew you were trespassing in the inner city. You’re lucky it was him that caught you, otherwise you would have been in real trouble.’
Again Sara didn’t reply, there was no use denying the obvious. Sara’s tail was flicking viciously, an obvious sign of defiance.
‘I can’t believe he sent you in there!’ exclaimed Fera, more annoyed with her grandfather then with her sister.
Fera had had a large falling out with her Grandfather some years ago, and it was not going to heal anytime soon.
‘He didn’t ask me to go in there,’ stated Sara, her voice rising again.
‘You didn’t come up with the stupid idea on your own!’ accused Fera.
Sara attempted to stare her sister down, but then broke under the intense glare of the older wolf. Sara could feel the hostility flowing from Fera like an impossibly hot wind, it was melting Sara’s resolve in its wake. The power to intimidation was something that wolves didn’t only use on lions. Sara’s pointy ears drooped slightly.
‘He didn’t exactly say that I should enter the inner city,’ mumbled Sara.
‘Well of course he wouldn’t, he’s not that stupid,’ replied Fera. She was herself calming down now that her sister had submitted
‘It’s not like I would have gotten into that much trouble, I’m still technically a minor.’
‘And he told you that, did he?’
‘He may have mentioned it at some stage,’ said Sara, before continuing more hastily.
‘It would have been fine if it wasn’t for that stupid robbery. It’s not like I caused the alarm to be raised.’
Sara had lost all of the confidence in her voice. Instead, her comments came almost as a whine.
‘Just your luck ha?’ said Fera sarcastically.
‘Well you’re very lucky to have gotten away with it, as far as I am concerned.’
‘You’re not going to tell mum and dad, are you?’ asked Sara after a while, her expression almost pleading. All thoughts of pride or arrogance had long been forgotten.
‘Me!’ exclaimed Fera. ‘Heck No! I don’t want to be there when this gets out, me and mum are just starting to get along again.’
Riding along, Fera looked across at her younger sister. Sara looked as dejected as she should, given the circumstances. The older sister suddenly felt sorry for the younger wolf.
‘You can tell them when you’re ready,’ Fera said, a small amount of tenderness returning to her disapproving voice. ‘But remember, you have less then a week before Captain Felx comes by.’
Sara looked back up, nodding in thanks before returning her gaze to the road ahead, once again lost in her own thoughts.
It was slightly over two hours after leaving the river crossing that the two sisters arrived at the lion’s frontier outpost. Having only a few lion guards, it was effectively only a lookout point, and a place for all wolves entering from the Wolf Kingdom to deposit weaponry before entering into Lion Empire territory.
Opposite this lion tower, on the next ridge to the north, stood the wolf frontier outpost. Separating them was a pleasant forested valley. At the base of the valley to the east a series of lagoons and billabongs shone in the bright sun, close to the river Thitchel’s mighty rapids. These rapids cut their way through the river canyon that marked the border to the desert regions. Sara’s and Fera’s home was just over the next ridge, close to the wolf frontier outpost.
Collecting their weaponry without any hassle, the two wolves remounted their animals.
Sara had been able to focus her mind again while the two wolves were going through the motions at the border. Though she knew that her future contained a lot of trouble, Sara could at least work to minimise that trouble now.
‘I will head back along the river past the lagoons,’ said Sara suddenly. The confidence in her voice was returning, the first time it had done so fully all morning.
‘If mum sees us coming home together she really will really know that something’s wrong.’ Sara added.
Misha danced back and forth under Sara, eager to be running through the forests again.
Fera replied with a weak smile, mostly because what her younger sister had just said was the truth.
‘Yeah,’ Fera said.
Sara turned with her impatient horse as it rotated on the spot, fighting the reins that held it back.
‘Thanks Fera, for this morning,’ Sara said, her smile showing genuine appreciation, even if she still looked mostly depressed.
‘Best of luck,’ said Fera, some subconscious sympathy barely making it into the otherwise flat statement.
Fera watched as Sara turned and galloped down the grassy slopes towards the billabongs. Turning to look towards the wolf tower on the distant ridge, Fera wondered if Atonn was back on duty.
‘Always a good distraction,’ Fera mumbled to herself, a wry smile appearing on her face.
With a quick sharp command the older wolf sister urged her own horse onwards down the road.