I looked from my mother to my father as we sat around the old chestnut coffee table that had lived in my father’s study for as long as I could remember. My mother just looked at me happily and my father shifted nervously in his seat. He was a proud man, a ruthless warrior, and third in command of our pack. He helped the Alpha, David, and Beta, Fred lead the pack during a battle and was a great example that I aspired to be like. It was odd to see him nervous like this, he never seemed shaken by anything yet here he was, a silent and trembling mess.
Tonight my mother looked absolutely delighted. As she took a sip of her tea, I noticed her lip curl into a smile as we made eye contact. She didn’t smile often but when she did, she looked angelic. Her honey-blonde hair hung in loose curls and her green eyes sparkled in the glow emitted from the old, red brick fireplace. Sometimes I wished I had taken after her when it came to my looks. Instead, I took after my father with flat, ashy brown hair and a strong brow.
“Edie, I know you’re probably wondering why your father and I called you in here so late but we have a proposition for you.” Her voice was sweet but hushed as she spoke. It was like she was trying to keep anyone from hearing but there was no one awake in this house anyway and we were the only ones who lived there. They had gone out earlier in the night to meet with the Alpha of the neighboring Green Ridge pack to discuss the terms of an alliance.
I wasn’t supposed to know about that meeting but I had overheard David discussing it with my father. Though my father was only the Gamma of the pack, David confided in him more than he did in his Beta. I overheard a lot of pack business when those two got to drinking and talking, not that it was really that big of a deal. One day the position of Gamma would be mine and in time I’d be having those conversations with the Alpha myself. Sure, I was a daughter and if my parents had a son, my father’s position would go to him but they didn’t so I lucked out. Having a she-wolf in such a powerful position was not exactly what the whole pack wanted but they knew better than to question the goddesses’ infinite wisdom. If they didn’t want me in that position they would have given my father a son.
The thought of my future as the Gamma of the Black Brook pack was the only thing that kept me grateful that my pack had kept to old traditions. From the rumors I had heard a lot of packs had decided to allow their Alphas and Betas to choose their replacement, while others had stooped to taking a more democratic approach and having elections. If packs were holding elections that were an act of defiance toward our goddesses. The goddesses chose what pups were born when and to whom, they knew who had the birthright to lead a pack and who didn’t. Electing officials was a human thing and even though we looked just like humans most of the time, the goddesses gave us abilities they didn’t give them. We should know to respect their wishes as we were their chosen creatures after all.
In times of old, our ancestors were humans who had a love for nature and were angered by the way other humans would desecrate it with their fields and cities. The goddesses came together and decided to fuse the souls of these humans with those of wolves, one of nature’s fiercest creatures to protect the natural state of the earth. They were blessed with the ability to transform into wolves when angered or threatened, some even learned to control it. Our ancestors tried their hardest, but humans feared them, called them beasts, and slaughtered them. The few who survived formed packs and stuck together in secret, and it’s been that way ever since.
Our packs weren’t the same as those of actual wolves, which were simply families sticking together. That might have been because we still had some human nature and humans couldn’t seem to exist without some form of hierarchy. Human nature was more fickle than that of a wolf, a wolf thought only of their family and survival. Humans thought of conquest, rules, and religious values. It was hard sometimes, feeling like I was constantly walking the line between woman and wolf, I didn’t know what side to lean into more. For all their faults, humans had done so much good. They had created music, and art, and found ways to live life more comfortably. I tried not to think about it so much, it was easy when I was surrounded by those who were dealing with the same things, they were my pack and above all my family even if not all by blood. Thinking about this too long would send me into a tizzy, so I decided instead to ask my parents a question.
“I guess. What is it you guys are proposing anyway?” I asked. It wasn’t like them to come into my room and wake me up just to tell me something.
“Well, David came back from his meeting and the Green Ridge pack has something to offer you.” My mother chirped excitedly.
“To offer me? What could the Green Ridge pack want with me?”
“Well, their Beta’s son is 24 and his father is ill and about to step down but he doesn’t want to do that until his son has a mate for support.” My father chimed in. He was talking fast and my mother rested her hand on his thigh to get him to stop so she could speak.
“Their Alpha asked David if he had any young women in his pack who had the potential to be a good match for him. David suggested you.” I rolled my eyes. My parents, especially my mother, had been trying to find me a mate since I turned 18 over five years ago. I entertained some of her potential matches for me and there was one I did really like. He was a warrior named Liam but he decided he couldn’t be with me. He couldn’t resign himself to the, as he put it, ‘womanly’ duties of being a Gamma’s mate.
One might think as soon as I found a mate, he would take my role and become Gamma himself, but our pack had laws in place for a reason. The position had to be given by birth, going to the first-born son, or if there were no sons, then the first-born daughter. If there were no children, or that child refused to take on the duty, it would go to the next male relative. In my case, that would be my cousin Elijah. I had thought about refusing to take my father’s position, thus giving it to Elijah but I didn’t want to disappoint my father nor give up the power that would come with it.
My mother said that was the most important thing a she-wolf needed to do, find herself a good mate, preferably one with a better pedigree than her own. My own parents were practically arranged to be mates from the time they were young. My mother’s father was the pack doctor and my father’s father was obviously the Gamma. They were a good pairing and over the years they truly did learn to love each other, albeit, in their own odd way. It was a common thing for parents to arrange or at least strongly encourage specific mates for their pups, no one batted an eye but it usually occurred within the same pack.
I tried not to think about my mother’s failed matchmaking attempts as I was more focused on training and working with my father so I would be prepared for my ascension to Gamma. I did want one eventually but I had started to accept that probably wasn’t in the cards for me. What man would want a mate with more power than him? Especially in this world where the lines of power were so clearly drawn.
“Mom with all due respect, no,” I stated plainly.
“He is a future Beta, and you becoming his mate would secure our ties with the Green Ridge pack. You know we need that kind of alliance, the Hawk’s Wing pack is trying to encroach on our territory every day. We need all the help we can get.”
“I don’t even know the first thing about him. Besides, why is their Alpha asking David? Why can’t he find a mate in his own pack?”
“I don’t know the details, all I know is David was asked and he put your name out there. They set up a meeting between the two of you for tomorrow.” My mother smiled again, trying to relieve the obvious tension that had developed.
I sighed, I knew I couldn’t refuse this meeting that David set up. As much as I disagreed with it, David was my Alpha and I had a duty to listen to him. It’s not like they were forcing us to go through with a mating ceremony tomorrow, it was only a meeting. I could simply go and say I didn’t want to go any further and that would be the end of it. David may have been desperate to make an alliance with the Green Ridge pack but he wouldn’t make me do anything I didn’t want to. He was a kind and fair Alpha, the kind every pack dreamed of having. He would put a member of his own pack, especially his Gamma’s daughter over any alliance.
“I’ll go to the meeting, but I make no promises other than that.”
“That’s all we ask of you.” My father said softly. He gave me a look and his gentle eyes let me know that he was telling the truth.
“Anthony, why don’t you go to bed? I want to talk to Edith just the two of us, woman to woman.” My mother firmly stated, making it clear she wasn’t really asking. He gave her a small nod and left the room, leaving the two of us to stare each other down. Her soft smile was nowhere to be found as soon as my father closed the door behind him. Her content look was replaced with a cold and calculated stare. I had seen this look on her face before. It only really came out when all the men were gone.
“Edith, I’m going to be honest here, I think it’s in your best interest to dig your claws in as deeply as possible and secure this man as your mate.” She rarely called me Edith, it was always Edie unless I was in trouble or she really wanted to make sure I was listening.
“Why? I’m in a great position without a mate. I’m going to be the Gamma of this pack, if I take him as a mate I’d have to give that up, and for what? To play doting mate for the Beta of a pack I have no ties to? To make sure he gets a son so he can continue his legacy? What about my legacy?” I asked, raising my voice with each successive question. She took a deep breath before she continued.
“What legacy? This is a man’s world whether you can see that or not. Half the pack objects to you becoming Gamma, they want your cousin Elijah to take over after your father. They think it’ll make us look weak to have women with any control. We can not afford to look weak right now”
“I don’t understand what their issue with me being Gamma is. We have female warriors, why aren’t they an issue.”
“Because those women aren’t in control, they are still subservient to pack leaders. They do as they are told and have you noticed that pretty much all they do is hunt? That’s because the pack doesn’t have faith in them to protect the border.”
“So you want me to go off and be a mate to this loser who can’t find one in his own pack? All because a few people think I wouldn’t be as good of a Gamma because I was born female.” I spat at her. Why would my own mother say something this hurtful? I thought she supported me. I knew there were members of the pack vocally opposed to my slated ascension to Gamma, the older crowd especially. Not my mother though, she just smiled and encouraged me. The least she could have done was object to my leadership from the start, at least then I would know where she stood instead of being blindsided.
“That is exactly my point, you wouldn’t be a good Gamma because the pack doesn’t want a woman in charge. At best they wouldn’t listen to you, at worst you’d have a target on your back from a rogue or a Hawk’s Wing member looking to pick off our pack’s leaders.”
“If I get killed at least I was doing my duty to my pack. It’s not often a she-wolf gets her opportunity to lead. I can’t pass it up.” My mother just sighed at my statement before taking a sip of her tea. Then she started to speak.
“I need you to think bigger than being the Gamma of this pack.”
“What do you mean?” I was so confused it’s not like there was much higher for me to aspire to. I wasn’t born in the family of an Alpha or Beta, there was no higher position I could hope to achieve. This was the biggest thing I could do.
“You could be the Gamma, which let’s face it will not last long. We will get ourselves wiped off the map by Hawk’s Wing if we don’t get reinforcements soon and you will be one of the first targets. Or you could be the mate to a Beta.”
“Yes, so I can sit around and act as a broodmare for a man who doesn’t let me have a say. I don’t want that as my life.”
“Is that what you think I am, a broodmare?” Her question sounded cryptic like she was asking something but deep down there was a lot more I should have figured out already.
“Well, no. But mom, you do everything for dad. You cooked, you cleaned, and you took care of me when he was always gone. I respect what you’ve done for me and our family but I just can’t sit around and do that when I am finally about to be given the opportunity to actually make decisions and have some say in the pack.”
“Oh, honey I do a lot more than that. I’m your dad’s confidant, he tells me everything. I know more about the inner workings of this pack than you might think, and he listens to what I say.” My mother was wearing a smirk that I had never seen before. Why was she telling me all this, what good did this do her?
“You know Matthias?”
“Of course.” Matthias was a warrior in our pack, just a few years younger than my father but twice as strong. He was one of the biggest assets our pack had when it came to defense.
“Well, Matthias wasn’t always a member of our pack. He used to be a rogue. He showed up at the pack house asking for help, he had been wounded by Hawk’s Wing warriors. Your father and David wanted to cast him out, saying it was too risky to help a stranger. I convinced your father, who convinced David to let him stay, rest and heal. He was forever grateful and chose to swear his allegiance to us.”
“Wow, that’s wild. How did I never know he was a rogue?”
“He never wanted people to know, he’s one of us now so it doesn’t matter.”
“What else has happened that you’ve had a major hand in?” I needed to know just how much control my mother had. If she truly had that much sway in this pack, I wanted to hear it. I had always assumed she didn’t trouble herself too much with the inner workings of things. I thought she just lived her days blissfully unaware of any troubles, coasting on the fact that she was mated to a high-ranking man.
“You know how we have control over the lake on the west side of our territory?” I nodded, I had spent so many days there, splashing in the muddy waters when I was young. “Back before you were born, we didn’t. It was a no man’s land that all the packs in the area used but no one had control over.”
“I saw that it would be a huge advantage and I kept telling your father how amazing it would be to have this lake as part of our territory. I knew from the monthly leaders’ meetings that no other packs were in the shape to go to battle, so I told him we would post our warriors out there and have them guard it until everyone buzzed off. Lo and behold, as much as he protested, he proposed my idea to David and now we control the lake.”
“Wait, the leaders have monthly meetings?”
“Once a month, more if needed. It’s usually us, Green Ridge, and Thunder Forest. Hawk’s Wing used to come before they went on their little crusade for more territory and started getting aggressive with all of us.”
“We rotate pack houses every month, meetings are here on those nights you all do pack bonding camping trips.”
“If it’s a leader’s meeting, why do you go?”
“One thing about being the Gamma’s mate is that I go to these meetings sometimes, other leaders will bring their mates too, it’s a sign that they don’t want aggression. Of course, we aren’t in the room, we have our own little gathering and let me tell you, those women talk. Get a little wine in them and they’re spilling that their warriors are wounded from a territory skirmish or there’s strife between leadership.”
“So they just tell you this stuff?”
“They think that we’re just sharing our mutual struggles.”
“But how did they not know it was you who spilled their secrets?”
“Why would they have any reason to think I would? I told them what was going on in my pack too. What they don’t know is that they told the truth, I lied. And the men, they’d never admit their ideas came from a woman.”
“Mom, why are you telling me all of this now?”
“Because now you have the opportunity to do the same. If you become Gamma, you’ll have nothing but resistance from not only our pack but all the others. You become a Beta’s mate and you could have all the power without anyone realizing it. You and I could work together and make our packs a force to be reckoned with.”
I wanted to run out of the room screaming. This woman sitting in front of me was not the kind, soft mother I knew. She was cold and calculated. Had all of those amazing family moments we had while I was growing up just part of whatever twisted game she was playing? I didn’t even know her anymore.
As crazy as it was, I kind of liked this side of her. I grew up thinking she was so simple, the perfect sweet and meek mate to my father. I thought I was the only she-wolf who wanted to lead but as it turned out we were no different. She was just as driven as me, the only difference was that she was pulling strings from behind the scenes and I wanted to be front and center. Her words pushed me into a state of deep thought. The closer I got to becoming Gamma, the more I tried to push the pack’s apprehension toward it out of my mind. I assured myself it would be fine, they would grow to accept it with time but her words were more true than I’d like to admit. The pack would never truly accept me as Gamma, at least not all of them. It would cause tension, and tension could be a pack’s downfall.
“You really think so?” I asked her weakly, needing reassurance only a mother could give.
“I know so. You and I aren’t all that different, with a little work we could make amazing things happen.” She smiled, clearly delighted I was giving her idea some thought
“But what if this Beta isn’t anything like Dad? What if he doesn’t listen to me as Dad does to you?”
“He will, I know his mother. She’s told me at meetings she was starting to consider looking outside the pack to find him a mate. A lot of members in his pack think he’ll be a pathetic excuse for a Beta and disgrace himself and their daughter with him.”
“I thought you said you didn’t know why he couldn’t find a mate.”
“Well, I can’t have your father finding out I know this. He wants you to carry on his legacy, he’d be crushed to know I was trying to make you a match in another pack.”
“You told David to suggest to me if she ever went through with that, didn’t you?”
“No, I just had a casual chat in passing with him about how much you were heartbroken by Liam and how I wanted you to find a mate. He simply agreed that if something came up, you’d be the first she-wolf he had in mind.”
It was disgusting that she was trying to use me as a pawn in her crazy game but I understood it. It wasn’t the worst idea. I could have the power I wanted without the pushback from my pack. It would still be a hard decision to make no matter which choice I made. I’d have to renounce my ties to the pack I was born into. While no man could take my rank if I chose to stay, if a pair is from different packs the woman always joins the man’s pack, that’s just the way it goes. It’s a shame she couldn’t have found an Alpha’s son to pawn me off to, I probably would have been more apt to jump on that, at least that way I’d be a Luna. If I went the route my mother wanted, all I’d be is a Beta’s mate. Which is nothing to scoff at but it was hard to decide if that was going to be worth giving up my one chance to hold power in my own right.