Meanwhile, back at the ranch
(The tale of Sara)
Sara’s family farm came into view through the dark veil of night.
Misha accelerated automatically, the young horse eager to get back home. Sara held the horse back, not wanting to go into a trot or galop in the dead of night.
Sara’s home shone with a silver shimmer, curtesy of the brilliant moonlight. It was situated at the base of the hills that marked the edge of the Wolf Kingdom’s territory.
Built in typical wolf style, the two-story timber A-frame structure was almost as tall as the nearby barn. Looking around, Sara could see the family’s herds of large shaggy beasts sleeping in the paddocks. They were curled up on the grass in large circular concentrations. In the half light of night the groups looked like giants furry marbles, all staked together neatly.
Sara was annoyed with herself. Having jogged out of town back to her waiting horse, she had been two eager to get back home. Away from the town lamps there was no chance to read her grandfather’s documents anymore. Once she got home it would be impossible to light a candle or lamp without someone noticing, she also carried no light sources on her at the moment, wolfs having little difficulty in seeing well enough to travel on a clear night.
Entering the courtyard in front of her house, Sara led Misha towards the barn.
Sara’s left ear twitched, then turned automatically towards a low rustling sound. The young wolf was not thinking clearly, in shock, she automatically reached for her weapon. She relaxed immediately upon hearing a threatening low growl, a growl she knew well.
‘Pitch you rascal, get out here,’ Sara instructed in a whisper.
It only took a moment before the growling creature appeared from the darkness. Bounding smoothly on all fours the animal’s long fury tail almost dragged in the dirt behind it. Circling Sara excitedly, the ossum rubbed its jaw against her legs. Sara could tell that the scruffy creature wanted to jump up, despite its training telling it not to.
‘Up Pitch,’ she instructed, giving the animal the all-clear to jump up.
Sara leaned down and caught the ossum’s front paws as it jumped up to greet her. She had to make sure that Pitch’s powerful claws did not destroy her clothing. She rubbed the animal’s head.
Pitch whined happily.
Sara hugged the young male ossum, happy that at least one aspect of her life was still simple. From the dark emerged the second family ossum, an older male called Tatch. Unlike his younger counterpart, the older ossum had fully developed spots, which stood out markedly against his dark tan coat in the moonlight.
‘Hello Tatch old boy,’ said Sara happily, letting the younger animal drop to go and pat the family’s veteran pet.
Pitch circled the two excitedly, trying to get more attention. Tatch was pretty much her father’s ossum, while Pitch had become close to Sara soon after they had purchased the ossum a few years ago. Patch began to whine slightly until Sara once again gave the younger animal more affection.
The smile on Sara’s face slowly drained as she realised that she would soon have to talk to her mother.
Perhaps it could wait till tomorrow? she thought to herself desperately. But it was no use, it was unlikely she would be able to sleep well in any case; it was only stalling the inevitable, she would simply have to get it over with.
After returning Misha to the stables and patting Pitch one more time, Sara entered her home through the front door. The bottom floor was dark despite the moonlit night outside; wolf architecture usually had smaller windows and thicker walls to increase insulation in the cold winters. Lighting a candle, Sara then made her ways to the timber stairs.
Sara considered quickly reading the letters, but she dismissed the thought, it was likely that someone would come down soon enough, now that she had lit a candle. If they found her reading the documents she would have little excuse not to let her family see them.
Soon she found herself in front of her parent’s bedroom door. Solemnly she looked at the woodwork, unable to bring herself to knock. She had used the hour or so riding home to think about how she would talk to her parents and how she would keep her grandfather’s secrets from them. Sara had gone through every scenario in her mind. What they would ask, what she would say. Now that she was here, however, it all simply left her, the fear returned, she would be found out.
Sara couldn’t help but to think about what had happened to her and her family. How had it come to this? Having to lie to them seemed so alien. Despite all the arguments lately, she had never lied to her parent, or… at least, not really. They had only been white lies, and now they had built up into something out of control. Not only was she in danger, but her family was as well it seemed.
The wolf youth frowned. Taking a deep breath and swallowing with difficulty, she tried to build up a new sense of determination. She would just have to get this over with. Her family was all that mattered now. Sara allayed her fears, concentrating on developing determination and passion for what she was about to do by thinking of her family and what she would have to do to protect them.
I can do this, the girl thought, encouraging herself. Raising her clenched fist, she nocked gently. From inside she could here murmurs and rustling. Soon her father’s face emerged at the door, his sleepy eyes looking out from underneath his mess of short, light brown hair. Subconsciously, he stretched his top lip, twitching his moustache and long whiskers.
‘Sara? What is it?’ he asked, not unkindly.
‘Grandfather has been attacked,’ she said simply.
Her father blinked a few times.
Not long after, the Kelgorn household was assembled in the large open kitchen. Fera came in just as the other three had taken their seats.
‘What’s going on?’ said Fera irritably. She did not appreciate being woken up in the middle of the night.
‘Your grandfather was attacked’ said their mother, her voice serious.
Fera froze for a second, looking at her mother with a blank expression.
Sara’s mother, Sallice, looked like a more mature version of Sara, having the same fur and hair colour as well as a similar haircut; but unlike her daughter, Sallice always wore her hair in a high ponytail.
Fera looked from one family member to another.
‘What happened?’ Fera asked eventually, her voice not betraying any emotions.
Sara’s father, Patt, raised an eyebrow at his oldest daughter’s clinical behaviour upon the grave news regarding her grandfather. Patt held his father in high regard, and like him, had similar grey fur and brown hair colour, he also had a small moustache in the same style as his father, though much smaller.
‘Sara was just about to give us all the details,’ said Sallice, her voice betraying a slight amount of anger. She was obviously upset with her youngest daughter.
Fera took her seat.
All eyes and ears turned to Sara, who then proceeded to give an identical account to the one she had told the wolf Mayor Petrice.
‘So the healer couldn’t say if he was going to make it or not?’ asked Sara’s father, once she was done.
‘No. Only that he would be unconscious for a few days…’ Sara replied, her voice downcast. ‘Assuming he pulls through.’
Even Fera looked upset now.
‘If there is any change in his condition the Voraks will send a message,’ Sara added, referring to her grandfather’s elderly neighbours.
‘What exactly where you doing there this late at night anyway?’ asked Fera, her tone taking on an accusing edge.
Distracted, Sara suddenly worried that her sister would go back on her word and tell on her about what had happened at RefugeCross. In all the time Sara had thought about what she would say to her parents, she had not included her sister into the equation
‘I couldn’t sleep, and I wanted to talk to him, that’s all,’ Sara replied, her own tone becoming defensive.
Sara and Fera exchanged glares, neither breaking the stare, as if trying to communicate without speaking. Sara was sure that Fera was close to going back on her word. Subconsciously, the young wolf began to fidget.
‘And what, again, was so important that it couldn’t wait till morning?’ Sara’s mother Sallice asked.
Breaking eye contact with her sister, Sara addressed her mother.
‘Nothing important, just stuff about my training’ Sara stated. The young wolf stole another side glance at her sister.
‘Why didn’t you tell us you were going?’ asked her father. His tone was more hurt then angry.
Sara’s pointy ears drooped slightly. Her mothers anger the young female could handle, it was her fathers disappointment that was always the more difficult to endure.
‘I didn’t want to wake you,’ she offered to him meekly. ‘And I thought if I asked that you wouldn’t let me go,’ Sara added, looking back towards her mother.
‘You are damn right I wouldn’t have let you go!’ Sallice sneered, her patience at an end. ‘And exactly because of what-happened-tonight.’
Sara glared back at her mother.
‘I’m old enough to take care of myself,’ Sara said in her defence.
Sallice was about to counter when Patt interrupted.
‘By the sounds of it she did save his life, it was very lucky that she was there,’ he said. Patt’s voice was conciliatory, trying to defuse the situation before it spiralled into a shouting match.
‘And she could have been killed just as quickly,’ replied Sallice sharply. As Sallice spoke, the volume of her voice steadily increased. ‘Who knows what these bandits were capable of, if they were bandits at all.’
‘What do you mean?’ asked Patt, confused.
‘Bandits don’t carry daggers dipped in sirricon,’ Sallice answered. ‘And they don’t try to kill Anthros.’
‘I always knew he was up to something,’ interrupted Fera, a satisfied smirk on her face.
‘Fera,’ warned Patt, irritably. ‘We don’t know anything yet, let’s not jump to conclusions.’
But it was too late.
‘I bet he is part of the Mintury Society,’ continued Fera. She was happy for once to have her mother on her side of the argument. Normally Sallice would always defend Mr Thorntreck, but not tonight.
Patt shot Fera a warning glare.
‘They were probably trying to assassinate him,’ Fera couldn’t stop herself from saying.
‘Fera! Hold your tongue,’ snapped her father, who looked towards his wife for support.
None came, and an uncomfortable silence fell across the table. Sallice appeared deep in thought, while Patt was becoming more annoyed.
‘You are not to leave this farm without our express permission,’ ordered Sallice sternly. She was addressing Sara.
‘That’s not fair… I did save his life,’ growled Sara.
‘I, don’t, care,’ said Sallice slowly. Her voice was deadly low, and her pointy ears started to flatten slightly. Sick of being talked back too, she was tangibly intimidating her daughter. ‘If you disappear again, there, will, be, trouble.’
Sara caved in quickly, her own ears drooping to the side. Her mother did not often get like this. She obviously meant business.
‘There is something going on, and no one is to do anything until I know what it is,’ Sallice instructed, her voice still a low growl.
‘What are you talking about?’ shot back Patt, annoyed by his wife’s apparent lack of faith in his father. ‘Nothing is going on, he was attacked by bandits. This is ridiculous.’ Patt’s own voice became ever louder. The male wolf looked towards his oldest daughter. Fera was sitting back with a smug expression, happy that her mother Sallice was siding with her. Looking towards Sara, Patt could tell that she was beaten, he would get no support.
Anger welled within the adult male wolf. He and his wife had had numerous clashes recently regarding his father, not to mention the history of arguments regarding their family. This was unbelievable to him, a physical attack on his father should have brought his family together, not break it further apart. What was going on?
‘What has happened to this family?’ he asked angrily. ‘We should be heading over there right now to see if he’s ok.’
Sallice looked towards her upset husband. She couldn’t understand his blind spot when it came to his father. Years of defending her father in law, Mr Thorntreck, and doing what he wanted had not led too much. Mostly it had led to a feud between Sallice and her oldest daughter Fera, which was only now being healed. And now her youngest daughter was mixed up with the old coot. As much as this pleased Patt, Sallice was of the growing opinion that the interaction was not in the best interest of Sara. This was now leading to the growing rift between her and Sara as well.
Unfortunately, with her anger the way it was, Sallice was not in the mood to compromise, and uncharacteristically she let the argument continue in front of her children.
‘We are staying here for now,’ Sallice informed her husband.
‘Do you not care about our family?’ Patt growled. He himself also no longer cared if this continued in front of his daughters. His voice and expression had changed to match the intimidation of his wife’s. Behind him his tail began to flick around.
‘I care greatly about my family,’ Sallice growled back, turning up her forceful emotional projection.
Sara became fearful, she had never been around such open hostility between mature wolves before, and coming from her parents it was even more intimidating. Across from Sara, Fera was also beginning to cringe as her father intensified his anger. The hairs on the back of his neck were standing on end, his ears pressed flat against his head. Sara’s mind screamed for her to run, she had never been so scared in her life, the energy from her parents seemed like it could push her off her chair. If it wasn’t coming equally from both directions she would have sworn she would have fallen over.
Sallice had had enough, she would not be told what to do in her own house. Leaning forward slightly, her nails dug into the table as her hands flexed.
Patt held out for a few seconds, but then gave in, he had made his point. Letting go of his emotional anger, he still did not submit fully.
‘Do what you must,’ he said with a slight tremble in his voice, not from fear but from exhaustion. ‘I am leaving immediately.’ With that said, he left the room, not stopping to look at anyone on his way out.
Sara stared at her father’s back, though his ears were limp and he was shaking slightly he still had a proud posture, he had not submitted fully. Sara’s mind was still too scared to react to the events. Later, she would wonder how her father had managed to withstand such a pressuring force of intimidation and not cave in to his wife straight away. There was obviously still a lot to learn about the power of emotional projection.
Sara blinked for a few seconds, across from her Fera was doing the same, also stunned. Sallice and Patt had argued often over the last few years and it had often become heated, nevertheless, this was the first time Sara and Fera had been in the middle of it.
As annoying as their parent’s arguments were for the two girls to listen to, it was not uncommon for Anthro wolves. They were more passionate creatures by nature and expressive with their emotions. However, to use intimidation so directly was not a common event, or at least it was not socially acceptable, as wolf males were emotionally, and so on their world ultimately physically, the weaker sex for Anthro wolves. This was despite them normally being slightly physically larger then the females.
Sallice was still calming down, not used to having to turn her emotions up so high. She and Patt had only come to this extreme point once before in their relationship, and now, like then, she was somewhat ashamed of herself.
He had raised the stakes, she told herself, and this was not a point she was going to compromise on, not when it concerned her family. Sallice had been told what to do with her family once too often, and it was time to take a stand.
Breathing in deeply, she looked at her two daughters. They sat back, looking with apprehension at their mother. Sallice became momentarily more ashamed, seeing the look of fear in her daughter’s eyes. Focusing back onto the matter at hand, she directed her thoughts towards her family, streamlining her mind to give her strength.
‘I am not proud of what just happened,’ Sallice said more calmly. ‘It should give you some idea of how complicated things are at the moment. So I would ask that you do what I say until I can find out more about the whole thing. There are many things about your grandfather that I don’t know.’
You don’t know the half of it, Sara thought to herself. Sara felt an urge to tell her mother everything, but with so many things going through the young wolf’s head, her mouth simply wouldn’t open.
‘You girls had better go to bed, it’s late,’ Sallice said tiredly. ‘We have plenty of things to do tomorrow.’
Sara got up, replacing her chair before she and Fera made their way up to their bedrooms in silence. Walking past her parent’s bedroom, Sara could hear her father grumble to himself as he packed. The young wolf would have most liked to have simply gone in and given her father a hug, but once again uncertainty stopped her. With a frown on her face, she rushed into her room, closing the door behind her.
Throwing herself on her bed the young female buried her head into her pillow.
‘What a mess,’ she whined to herself out loud. She had said or thought those words often the last few days, and every time, things had somehow managed to get even worse then before. Though her world had turned completely topsy-turvy the last few days, the one thing that she had felt confident about was her family, even if she had been distant from them lately. Suddenly it was made clear exactly how important her parents were to her.
Sara’s parents argued, but that was normal. What was not normal was what she had seen tonight, something that had shaken her belief in the stability of her family.
Had she been that distant lately that she hadn’t noticed how bad it had become? Or had it always been this bad, and she had simply never seen it? With her mind full of thoughts and emotions, she irritably turned to lie on her back.
She clutched a pillow to her chest as she stared at the angled ceiling with a blank expression. In the dark and silence, her troubled mind was quickly overwhelmed. Confused, upset and angry, she simply gave in, allowing her overflow of emotions to come out as tears. Clutching her pillow for comfort, the young female cried quietly to herself in the still, dark room.
Exhausted from her emotional release, Sara’s mind was empty as she lay on the brink of sleep.
Suddenly, she could hear movement from outside of her open window. Tired, she slowly got up, shuffling across to her window that overlooked the main compound. Down below she could see her father leading his travel-ready horse out of the barn. Pitch and Tatch had gotten down from their tree again to farewell the older grey wolf. Patting the two animals, her father was about to mount up when he stopped. Following where he was looking too, Sara could see her mother sitting on a fence railing that flanked the main path to the road. Hesitating for a second, Patt mounted up, moving off towards his wife.
Sallice watched as Patt approached. She gazed up once more at the stars before her husband got closer. Patt tried to focus on the road, but his eyes were automatically drawn to his wife as he felt her remorse as he approached. The projected feelings from his wife flowed over him like a sorrowful autumn day, growing in strength the closer he got. Anger and intimidation were not the only emotions that wolves could project, deliberately or accidental. Trying to ignore her feelings, he urged the horse on, refocusing on the road. Even his horse could feel Sallice’s regret and sadness. The animal faltered.
Sighing heavily to himself, Patt turned the animal around to face his wife. His mind struggled to keep his own emotions in check.
‘I have to go,’ he said calmly, his expression concentrated, his voice business like.
‘I know,’ said Sallice, her voice soft. ‘And I have to stay.’
Her tone was graceful but strong.
Patt could see that she had been crying, the moonlight caught the moist fur around her eyes. Sallice’s voice was steady and she made no effort to hide her tears. Crying in itself was not considered a sign of weakness amongst wolves.
Jumping down from the high fence, she took a few steps towards her husband.
Patt wanted to be stubborn, he wanted to leave, comforting her would be a sign of submission, and he was still upset about before.
Having been brought up in the best schools, Patt was only too well aware of the power and manipulation of female wolf’s emotions and how they projected it. He had stayed smart, had paid attention and knew how to play the game. He hated the manipulation, the power females had over males, but it was something that you could learn, something that you could use to your advantage, if you were smart. Sallice was different; she wasn’t one of those rich manipulative heiresses. She was honest, smart and headstrong, sometime too headstrong. Patt had to occasionally remind himself that she didn’t play the game, at least not deliberately.
Gritting his teeth, he allowed himself to be swayed, concluding that if he did it from his own volition he could still maintain some pride. Jumping down, he moved across towards his wife, enveloping her in a tender hug. Sallice rested her head on the physically larger male’s shoulder, her relief being tangible to both wolves. Patt allowed himself to be enveloped and Sallice felt her affections returned.
‘Why did I have to marry such a headstrong wolf?’ he asked softly.
‘I don’t know. You’re the romantic,’ she replied.
After a moment Sallice broke the embrace, looking into her husband’s eyes, her expression turned serious.
‘Be careful, and stay on your toes, this is not as simple as you think.’
Patt grimaced slightly, but then mellowed.
‘I’ll try and find out what is going on,’ he said, a hint of exasperation in his voice. ‘There won’t be anything,’ he reassured her.
Sallice gave him a meaningful look, and then gave him a kiss.
‘If something goes wrong don’t hesitate to come home, we are safest here,’ she said.
Patt shook his head, smiling to himself.
Back up in her room, a tiered Sara watched as her father remounted his horse then rode off into the night. Looking back, she could see her mother simply standing there.
Turning from the window, Sara fell back into her bed. At least that was one sign that things were not quite as bad as she thought. Too tired to contemplate anything else, the young wolf fell asleep. Her dreams would be troubled that night.
Sara awoke early the next day sprawled unceremoniously across her bed. Outside, the sky was just starting to get brighter. Not a real morning person, Sara stretched a few times before taking a deep breath. Her eyes were still closed, as if in denial of the new day. The noise coming from a wild colourful swarm of birds in a nearby tree had brought the young wolf out of a deep sleep.
Moving automatically, Sara walked downstairs and outside, her eyes still half closed. Only then did she realize that she had slept in her clothes. Taking the time to remove them, she had a quick morning wash-down from the large tank of water near the house. Not bothering to replace her bindings, she walked back upstairs, clothed only in her outer layer.
Memories of last night began to filter into her tired mind. They quickly multiplied to blow away the last of the cobwebs obscuring her thoughts.
‘The letters,’ she whispered to herself, now fully awake. Running upstairs, she was about to enter her room when her mother opened her own bedroom door from across the hall.
‘Sara,’ said Sallice.
Sara hesitated, cursing her luck.
‘After you do your morning chores, I need you to move the younger herd down to the lower fields.’
Sara grimaced, that would take her most of the morning to complete.
‘Get changed quickly, I will see you in the kitchen for breakfast,’ Sharlee added as she moved off down the hall.
Entering her room, Sara quickly got out the letters that she had hidden behind her small desk. Looking through them quickly, she could hear her mother through the door, awakening her sister.
‘Come on you two, get a move on,’ called her mother.
Faltering for a second, Sara held the letters in her hand. She then placed them back on her desk. Running to her closet she pulled out fresh undergarments and her sturdiest travelling clothes. The garment was a slightly longer skirt and top made of more durable materials, and containing more pockets. Dressing quickly, she finished by adjusting her chest straps slightly. Sara picked up the letters, stuffing them in one of the many pockets. Grabbing a large utility belt, she scampered out of her room just in time to run into her sister.
‘Hey! Watch it,’ said Fera. She was also not a particular good morning person.
‘Good morning,’ said Sara, her voice not really all that cheerful.
‘Good morning,’ replied her sister, the two exchanged a look that held much more meaning then their few words.
‘Breakfast is on the table!’ called their mother from below.
It was almost noon and Sara had still not had a chance to read the letters. The morning had been spent doing her chores. During this time she had been working near, or with, her mother and sister.
After initially becoming frustrated, Sara had then focused on her work, trying to get it done quicker so as to have a chance to get away. She and Misha were now close to getting the last of the livestock into the lower paddock, having done the hard work of rounding up all of the large beasts with the help of Pitch and Tatch.
Sara’s eyes scanned the animals, they were now assembled and simply following the routine. They knew the way; the tricky part was getting them to realize that that was where they wanted to go.
The livestock in question were not like cattle on our world, but they had the same function, providing meat and milk to the Anthro farmers. The livestock on the Anthro’s world actually looked like a giant version of an Australian wombat. They were called morsets and weight up to a tone or more each. Morsets had massive, round muscular bodies which sat atop stumpy powerful legs; a small round head with large furry ears was located at one end of the stocky body, with a short triangular tail at the other. On top of their head, with its small eyes and large mouth, were a series of plate like horns running from its wide nose all the way up to the top of its head. Morsets were normally covered in a greyish short fur and were actually quite tame, despite their large bulk.
Sara moved Misha forward to hurry the last of the smaller stragglers through the gate, their round bodies bouncing along as they scurried through the fence opening. Off to the side of the gate, Tatch was already lying under a tree, exhausted from the round up in the warm morning sun. Pitch had also disappeared. Looking up, Sara could see the young animal stretched out on a low branch, its four limbs dangling over the side as it panted happily while looking at its owner.
‘Good job boy,’ praised Sara. ‘You to Tatch,’ she said to the older ossum, who was too tired to acknowledge her.
Moving Misha around, Sara closed the gate. Satisfied that she had completed her task quickly, Sara looked for a good spot to take a break. Just across another field was a small creek; it being the same one that she and Trex had eaten the stolen melons at those many years before.
‘Stay here,’ Sara quickly instructed.
The two spotted ossum males watched their master ride away from the comfort of the shade, their desire to move anywhere anymore in the increasing day’s heat being low in any case.
Sara knew this creek well. As her family’s neighbours had two young children of Sara’s age, it was a place she had spent many an afternoon until only a year or so ago.
The changes of entering adolescence had altered many more things in the young wolf then just her appearance.
Below the shade of the large trees that flanked the creek, Sara found her favourite large rock, right next to the small trickle of flowing water. She let the young horse roam free as she eagerly took the documents out of her pocket.
Thumbing through the letters, Sara inspected each of the envelopes. Many had large elaborate prints and water marks, probably identification seals and authentication markings. Sara noticed that each letter was dated. The young wolf thanked the Anthro wolf version of god, called Gaia, that her grandfather’s meticulous record keeping had carried onto his secret life.
Reading the first document, Sara was disappointed. It was effectively some kind of high-society newsletter. She didn’t understand the connections, but did recognize a few of the names used, these were quite important wolves. The next few were similar, and Sara noticed, quite detailed. It appeared much was going on back at the capital of the Wolf Kingdom.
Finally she came to a letter addressed to her grandfather. It was only brief and indicated that agents of the council would be in the area soon to undertake some affairs. It gave no details, but stated that it would require giving them assistance in undercover operations throughout the Wolf Kingdom territory, and providing information about the Lion Empire held territory as well.
Sara noticed that this was only three months old, about the same time that her grandfather had asked for her to undertake scouting missions in the lower plains.
The next letter looked very official and somewhat weather worn. It appeared to be a basic identification document, stating that the carrier had the full authority of the Mintury High Council, and should receive the full support of her grandfather. Attached to it was a small letter addressed to her grandfather, it was effectively reassuring him of the importance of the mission and the trustworthiness of the exiles. Looking back at the other document, Sara read the name, Philton Histock. Sara assumed that this must be the name of the elegant red wolf her grandfather had fought. He had definitely looked like a natural leader to Sara.
Turning over the document, she noticed handwriting down the bottom. It was a short list:
Information on river crossings across the river Thitchel upstream of BridgeHead.
Details of the coastline.
Up to date maps and troop placements within lion and wolf territories.
Boat acquisition options.
Details of the desert.
Maps and information on the WesternWilderness, including border patrol information.
Detailed information about the layout and guard movements within the inner city of RefugeCross.
The handwriting was not her grandfather’s. It was probably that of the red wolf, Sara concluded. The fine penmanship was elegant and elaborate, not something you would expect from an exile. Sara wondered what the red wolf had done to be exiled in the first place. Though Torstberg did receive regular news from the rest of the kingdom through its own postal service, not everything was made public.
Continuing on, Sara found another newsletter, which she skipped to go onto the two final documents, both being personal letters. The young female wolf recognised the sender as being an old friend of the family, one of the most influential families in the kingdom. They were clearly responses to letters her grandfather had written. The first was a month old and gave details of a possible traitor within Torstberg. The sender speculated that the group of exiles was probably sent to root out the culprits.
Sara stared at the last letter. She was trying to make sense of responses to a letter she had not seen, and answers to questions she didn’t know. Reading it slowly, she realised that her grandfather had obviously been informed of some of the details regarding the plan of the exiles, but was ultimately not sure what they were trying to do. The response from the friend of her grandfather agreed that the exile’s requests were odd, and that they would investigate further on her grandfather’s behalf.
Then came the clincher, her grandfathers friend had agreed that the wolf Sage Filfia was the likely suspect for the traitor investigation. Apparently Filfia had cast some key votes that blocked the Mintury Council’s intentions. The Sage was well recorded as a peace activist and was pro-dialog with the Lion Empire. Sara blinked a few times; this was a massive accusation, particularly against a member of the government.
Reading on, Sara could get little more detail from the letter. Then came the last few lines:
Internal changes have lead to an unfortunate and dangerous shift in the Mintury Council’s behaviour. Their aims and methods have quickly altered into something at odds with many of its members. This is an uncertain time, I advice caution on all fronts.
Take care of yourself Veron,
Sara looked up, lost in thought. So what was going on? Was Sage Filfia a spy? Who was doing what under whose authority? If her grandfather couldn’t figure it out, how was she meant to? Sara recalled some of the last words her grandfather had said:
‘Something has gone really wrong. I think that Ms Filfia is in danger...’
Of course she was in danger; treason was not something you wanted to be accused of.‘There are no bears…’ her grandfather had said.
What the heck did that mean? No bears. There had been no attacks by the Bear Clans for years.
Sara shuddered at the thought. Anthro Bears where massive vicious thugs, uncivilized brutes, most wolves didn’t even consider them Anthros. Even joking about bears was distasteful.
Sara was unsure of what to do, she was already in enough trouble and that was nothing in comparison to what would happen to her once her mother found out about what had happened at RefugeCross a few days ago. Sara doubted she would ever be allowed to leave the farm on her own again.
‘Well hello, beautiful,’ said a voice to the right of Sara. This sudden appearance caused Sara to jump in fright.
‘Jammet!’ Sara exclaimed, clutching the letters to her chest. ‘You scared the life out of me,’
Jammet gave her a smile before making his way down the rocky creek bank.
Sara hastily put the letters into her large pocket.
‘Secret documents ha?’ said Jammet, noticing the female wolf’s hasty concealment.
Sara simply smiled at the young male wolf.
Jammet made his way to stand in front of Sara. Being the same age as her he was of a similar height. His fur colour was a light brown, while the long wavy tussles of hair on top of his head were a sandy blond, the unkempt strands constantly falling in front of the handsome youth’s friendly eyes.
‘Another secret mission for you grandfather?’ he asked, taking a seat next to Sara.
The young female moved over a bit to make room.
‘You could say that.’
‘Haven’t seen you around for a while,’ the male wolf said. He watched the light flicker from of the small trickle of water nearby.
‘Oh, you know, on secret missions and all,’ Sara said with a smile.
Though Sara was defiant and hostile at school because of the way she had been taunted, she was far from such with her two close friends. They had always treated the young girl well, and were some of the few Anthros who got to see the real Sara Kelgorn.
Despite her current situation, the young female couldn’t help but feel at ease in her old friend’s company. Jammet and his twin sister Jameen had remained Sara’s friends even during her tumultuous time at school. Though they had grown distant recently, Sara actually valued their friendship quite highly.
Looking across at the handsome male youth, Sara couldn’t help but admire his strong athletic physique. Catching her subconscious actions, Sara turned her head away before Jammet could catch her out. Annoyed with herself, the blush that appeared on her face still showed through her fur.
Jammet smiled cunningly, he had felt the outburst coming from the young female even if he hadn’t seen it.
Being as young as she was, Sara’s emotions where still far from being completely under her control. Ever since she matured, they had proved as problematic as they had useful. Realising what was happening to her, the wolf tried to keep her emotions in check. Coughing nervously, Sara tried to distract herself by looking up into the trees.
‘Anything you can talk about?’ Jammet asked, giving her a curious look.
Sara’s expression darkened as her real life problems returned to her.
‘I think I’m in trouble,’ she said eventually.
‘Anything we can help with?’ asked another voice from Sara’s right.
Sara looked up to see Jameen suddenly appear from the undergrowth. This time Sara was not particularly surprised at another sudden appearance. The two close siblings were never very far apart from each other.
‘Hey Jameen,’ Sara greeted with a smile. Jameen returned the smile, happy to see her old friend again.
‘Not interrupting anything am I?’ asked Jameen with a cheeky smile.
Sara shook her head in amusement, she and Jammet had had a brief innocent, moment, or two since the two had matured into adolescence, which had unfortunately been once stumbled upon by Jameen.
‘Thanks sis,’ said Jammet in mock annoyance.
‘Just saying,’ replied the young female innocently, moving down she stood in front of the two. Jameen and her twin brother shared the same colour in hair and fur. Indeed, their fringes were similarly out of control, the difference being that Jameen had shoulder length hair while her brother kept his short at the back.
‘So what’s the problem?’ Jameen asked Sara.
‘I can’t really say,’ replied Sara quietly after a while.
‘That bad, ha?’ Jammet inquired.
‘You haven’t heard?’ asked Sara.
‘About my grandfather.’
Both Jameen and Jammet shook their heads.
‘He was attacked and poisoned last night.’
‘Is he ok?’ both siblings asked at the same time, their voices filled with concern.
‘I don’t know, he’s unconscious.’
‘Who did it?’ asked the female twin, Jameen.
Sara paused for a moment, wondering how much she should share with her friends.
‘Exiles,’ she said eventually.
Both of the twins recoiled in shock.
‘But don’t tell anyone, at the moment they think it was bandits,’ added Sara hastily.
‘How do you know that?’ asked Jammet, his surprise growing with every new revelation.
‘I was there,’ admitted the young female.
‘No way!’ said Jameen.
‘It gets worse,’ continued Sara, her head sinking lower. ‘You know all those trips I’ve been taking into the lion territory? The whole thing is mixed up with these exiles, and the Mintury Society.’
Both of the young siblings looked at each other, in shock and disbelief.
‘You’re kidding right?’ asked Jammet carefully, not really wanting a confirmation.
‘I wish I was,’ said Sara, dejected. Tucking her legs close to her chest the young wolf put her head on her knees, hugging her legs tightly.
‘I knew there was something funny going on,’ said Jammet suddenly.
Sara looked questioningly at the handsome young male.
‘About a month or so ago I spotted a group of wolves sneaking around near the river,’ he said. He turned to address his sister. ‘I told you they were exiles.’
‘Just because they’re all males, doesn’t mean they’re exiles,’ defended Jameen, crossing her arms
‘Didn’t you tell your parents?’ interrupted Sara.
‘Sure,’ replied Jammet. ‘But they told me to leave it alone, as if they already knew?’
‘That was probably my grandfather,’ informed Sara, placing her head back on her knees. ‘He was assisting the exiles.’
‘Well then I probably shouldn’t have been spying on them…’ continued Jammet.
‘You were what!?’ exclaimed Jameen. ‘I thought you were sleeping out in our old cubby house, you know, chasing fireflies, or collecting frogs.’
‘I was… well sort of,’ admitted Jammet. ‘Come on, it’s like another week before school term starts, there is nothing else to do around here!’
Sara, Jameen and Jammet had built the tree house years ago in a giant old tree on the banks of the river Thitchel. It was built in a perfectly concealed spot, and over the years the regrowth had made it almost impossible to see, even if you were looking for it. In all these years the twin’s parents had never been able to find the small shelter. It had been a welcome hiding place for the twins when they had gotten up to mischief, which for these two, was quite often.
‘What did you hear?’ interrupted Sara, interested.
‘Not a lot, they were pretty quiet as they went past.’
Sara’s heart sank, and her ears drooped correspondingly, she had hoped he had heard something more.
‘I do know that a team of them went off a few nights ago. And that they are obviously expecting to come back this way.’
‘How do you know that?’ asked Jameen.
‘They were setting up a crossing point just near the bend, you know, the narrow one just downriver of the tree house.’
‘And they haven’t come back yet?’ asked Sara.
‘Two of them stayed behind, but the rest haven’t come back yet,’ said Jammet.
‘Do you think that they could have something to do with the attack on your grandfather?’
‘They’re all part of the same group,’ Sara confirmed, her mind digesting the new information.
‘How do you know?’ asked Jameen.
Sara looked at the female wolf.
‘When was the last time you got any news?’ Sara asked.
‘A couple of days ago, there’s no reason to go into town at the moment without school.’
‘There was a break-in to the inner city at RefugeCross.’
‘What!?’ exclaimed Jammet.
‘You don’t get the news for a couple of days and look what happens,’ complained Jameen, throwing her head up in disgust. ‘Nothing ever happens around here, and the one time it does, we miss it!’
‘It’s all tied together,’ said Sara, partially to herself.
‘Everything, the robbery, the attack, it’s all leading up to something big?’
‘Something big!’ Jammet said, not being able to recover properly from his continued shock. ‘Are you saying what has happened isn’t big enough?’
Sara looked from one of her friends to the other, her mind deep in thought. If it was all connected, nothing would happen until the group from the robbery returned. If Sara was lucky her grandfather would wake up before then. He would know what to do. In any event, she still had a few days before Captain Felx visited Torstberg.
‘And you’re sure they haven’t come back yet, it’s really important,’ asked Sara again, her serious voice carrying sincerity.
Jammet seemed to have recovered from his shock a little, his mind was racing, but he continued to calm down.
‘Sure, they hid ropes and left markers, they wont leave them around once they’re back over,’ he assured her. ‘I can check later if you like and tell you when they’re back.’ Leaning forward, Jammet turned to give Sara a goofy lopsided grin. He was at least happy that his little game had become useful to someone. ‘I could even rough them up for you if you like,’ he added in a cavalier tone.
Sara gave him a questioning look.
‘They did try to kill me and my grandfather,’ she reminded him. ‘These are exiles we are dealing with,’
‘Oh,’ he said, suddenly deflated. ‘I forgot.’ Nervously the young male coughed, the seriousness of the situation swamping his attempt at light humour.
Sara couldn’t help but empathised with the young wolf, he really did seem sorry. Only a few days before she would have acted the same, nothing remotely this serious had ever happened to the three of them, and to suddenly be surrounded by it was, well, surreal.
Jameen observed her friend Sara a little more closely, reading the waves of emotions Sara was emitting, unhindered. The seriousness of the situation was much more apparent to the female twin, who could sense more effectively then her brother that her friend was in real trouble.
‘I’ll go with you tonight, we’ll take turns on watch,’ offered Jameen, turning to her brother.
‘Yeah, thanks,’ he replied, happy that he would have company. ‘That would be great.’
Suddenly his little game had taken a whole new turn.
‘Thanks you two,’ Sara said suddenly. ‘It would really help me to know when they get across. Hopefully my grandfather will be awake before then.’
‘And if he’s not?’ asked Jameen, concerned.
‘Well, then I’ll just have to think of something else,’ Sara replied.
Though not particularly confident, Sara was feeling better, her ears were alert again and one turned to pick up the distant sound of happy yipping. It was Pitch, either her sister or mother was close by.
‘Sorry to drop this on you and run, but I have to go, I’m already in enough trouble,’ said Sara getting up.
‘And this is before they know any of this I assume,’ said Jameen, her heart reaching out to her friend.
‘Yeah,’ replied Sara in a thoughtful tone. ‘I’ll explain it all properly later, thanks for everything.’
Sara whistled to Misha who trotted over obediently. Mounting up quickly, the young female wolf took one last look at her friends.
‘One of us will head over as soon as we see something,’ assured Jammet.
Sara nodded and quickly led Misha out of the creek forest back towards her home. Watching her go, the twins stood in silence for a few seconds.
‘You think it’s all as bad as she says?’ asked Jammet, not turning to face his sister.
‘It’s Sara,’ replied Jameen. Her greater ability to read emotions had given her a scary view into how serious it really was. ‘It’s probably worse.’
Both of the young wolves frowned, since when had life become so complicated?
Sara lay in her bed. An open window allowed the moonlight to flood into her room. She had come to a decision.
Beside her lay her weapons, a travelling bag and everything else she would need to travel in the wilds for a few days. Currently she was praying that she would not have to use them.
Free of thought and emotion, she simply stared at the ceiling.
The afternoon had carried on as normal, her mother and sister had suspected nothing.
In the middle of the day a messenger had arrived with news from her father. Before they could read it, however, they were given a general announcement by the messenger declaring that Bear Clan scouts had allegedly been spotted on the North West approach. All outlying posts had been abandoned and the northern pass defences had been strengthened. No one was to enter the WesternWilderness until the all clear had been given. Sara instantly knew what her grandfather had been talking about.
‘’There are no bears…’’
The so called sightings, had been made up. The wolf soldiers who had raised the alarm had obviously been instructed to do so by her grandfather, Mr Thorntreck. Mayor Petrice was unwittingly reacting to a threat that wasn’t really there.
With the wolf posts abandoned, the summer home of Sage Filfia would be isolated in the WesternWilderness. The Sage herself would not be in any danger from bears. In her summer home the powerful wolf Sage was safer then in the middle of Torstberg. Surrounded by animals and nature, which she herself could control, there was no danger to Sage Filfia from savages.
A warning would be sent, but no further action would be taken. Thus the Sage would be completely alone.
Sara had no doubt that the exiles had figured out some way of either getting into her home, or more likely getting her to come out of her home where she would be more vulnerable.
The news from her father was more positive. Her grandfather’s condition had appeared to stabilise. He would probably regain consciousness in a few days. Now the only question was, would it be quick enough?
Sara had continued to concentrate on her chores for the rest of the day, even receiving some rare praise from her mother. There had been an ulterior motive however; as well as having everything she needed to leave for a few days in a bag lying by her bed, in the stable her riding equipment was waiting next to Misha, it was hidden, but fully prepared for Sara to make a quick getaway.
Sara continued to stare at the ceiling, her mind blank but focused, she could feel everything, hear everything. The young wolf’s senses were on overdrive, she was scared to death.
Outside her window, she could just make out the sounds of someone moving around. The light scampering of an ossum told her that it was someone her pets knew. Sara was not surprised in the slightest when a small tap came from her window, someone was throwing small pebbles to attract her attention, and she already knew who it was. With a deep breath the young wolf sat back up. She took a long look around her room, subconsciously hoping it would not be for the last time.
Some minutes later, Sara was leading Misha in silence down the path that came from her house. Beside her, Jammet walked quietly, a frown on his face, he was not happy with what was going on.
‘Isn’t there another way?’ he asked, already knowing the answer.
‘I have to warn her, I just don’t know what else to do,’ Sara said simply. ‘The Exiles could be on their way over right now.’
‘Surely you could tell your mother, someone else could go,’ said Jammet. ‘Or at least let me go with you,’ he offered.
Sara could tell from his voice and posture that he really didn’t want to go, which made the offer even more sweet.
‘No, this is my mess,’ said Sara, her voice monotone. ‘My life is over once my parents find out what happened at RefugeCross anyway. At least this way I can try and fix it so that I can at least live with myself.’
‘RefugeCross? What has that got to do with you?’ asked the young male.
Sara broke her concentration to look at the blond haired wolf, realizing that she hadn’t told him yet.
‘I was caught trespassing in the inner city,’ she said, the shame coming through slightly in her whispered voice.
Jammet didn’t respond, his unbelieving expression saying it all. Without realizing it, he took a step back from the girl, as if slightly scared to be too near to her.
‘Bloody heck, Sara,’ he whispered.
‘I know,’ Sara whined, her words barely audible. The two had stopped walking.
Misha looked over at her owner with concern. Sara’s emotions had resurfaced, and she was having a hard time putting them back in place.
Jammet looked at the sad young female in front of him. His face changed from shock to something resembling determination. Moving forward suddenly, he hugged her.
Sara instinctively returned the gesture, her soul somehow needing the embrace, the support. The two stood like that for a few seconds.
‘I’ll still come along if you want, it will only take an hour or so to get ready,’ he said, repeating his offer, this time with conviction.
Breaking the embrace, Sara smiled. Breathing in deeply the spark returned to her eyes as she regained her composure.
‘Thanks, but I can’t wait a second longer, I can do this,’ she said with strength.
Jammet observed the girl, her eyes glistening in the moonlight, there was a reason he had developed stronger feelings for her.
Sara moved forward suddenly, placing one hand on his head she leaned in for a quick but passionate kiss. Jammet took a step back for balance as she pressed her body against his, his eyes were wide open. The young male barely had time to enjoy the embrace before she withdrew. Still dumbfounded, he could only watch as the female wolf mount up.
Sara looked down at him thoughtfully for a second before she urged her horse forward.
Standing in the moonlight, he watched as she quickly disappeared into the trees. It wasn’t long before her form was lost in the shadows, quickly followed by any sound.
‘Good luck,’ Jammet said to the shadows in general. He knew that there were many things his friend would need luck for. Turning around, he noticed a new light coming from the second story of Sara’s house. It was time to go.