This novel is limited to 100 free copies due to its part in Inkitt’s Novel Contest.
Wesle Scope of Goldthorp idled with her harp as she kept watch over a pack of kits who were frolicking in the meadow just outside the village. She picked up her spear and signaled "all is well" to the guard at the village entrance a couple hundred yards back.
It was now late summer. The kits were near adults and nearing the end of the time they would be allowed to romp together as a mixed group. Come the first red leaf of autumn, the meowlan and geongthegns would be separated from each other and under the guidance of the Ealdors learn and refine the skills required to become contributing members of the Weslan village.
Hrægling, Wesle's own kit, was among the pack. Like his father, Hrægl, he was growing to be handsome, virile, and a leader. Wesle felt a mother's pride for her son but it was a pride tinged with worry for the young Hrægling had demonstrated a strong penchant for inventing cruel games and pranks and goading the other geongthegns to join in with him. Today, just a scant hour ago, she had to intervene on yet another so-called "game" after she had allowed him and a small group to break off from the pack to go hunting. They were old enough to go out a little ways unsupervised she had reasoned and needed to hone their hunting skills. She watched them go until they disappeared over a hillock. A few moments later she heard raucous chirring from the direction of the hillock and knew something was amiss. She signalled her intentions to the guard and headed to where the geongthegns had gone.
A meadow mouse had come out of its borrow and blundered into Hrægling's pack. It turned to flee back into its hole to find a Wesl sitting over the entrance. The others, with Hrægling in the lead, surrounded the mouse and pushed it into a narrower and narrower aisle with the geongthegn who was blocking the entrance forming one end. That geongthegn would then stand a little to the side of the hole and call to the mouse to run into its borrow. As the mouse ran down the aisle towards the entrance the Weslan on either side of the aisle would kick and cuff it. Then, just as the mouse would reach the opening, the geongthegn standing there would block its way and swipe at it. The mouse seeing the way to its home suddenly plugged again would break, turn, and try to run in the opposite direction only to be kicked and pummeled along the way until it reached the other end of the aisle of Weslan. Then the geongthegn blocking the hole would stand aside again and the process would repeat itself.
When Wesle reached the top of the hillock the mouse had almost reached the point of collapse. It was bleeding from scratches on both flanks and from long gouges on its tail where a clawed paw had raked along the length of furless skin. No need to guess who had inflicted those last wounds.
"Kits, stop that!" she yelled at the pack and ran down the other side.
"I mean now!" she ordered and this time was close enough to administer to her own a sound swat.
Hrægling yipped and put a paw to his smarting snout.
"We were just having a little fun," protested Hrægling.
"Fun? Fun!" exclaimed Wesle. "Hrægling, Son," and her voice nearly broke with exasperation, "you push me to the limit some times. You really do. And you others should know better. Especially you Sceamus Sceamussonu," pointing to one of the other geongthegns. "Do you want me to tell your grandfather about this?"
"Nooo!" moaned the young Wesl and cringed. He had reason to be afraid for his grandfather was none other than Sceamus the Head Ealdor and leader of the Wittan which was the Weslan ruling body.
"Is this what the teaching-songs have taught you? Is this what I or the Ealdors have taught you?" she demanded.
"What is the first rule of hunting, Hrægling?"
"'A hunter stocks quarry only when there is need for food'," quoted Hrægling.
"Yes," Wesle replied. "And the next? You answer, Steorling."
"'A hunter kills his quarry quickly and cleanly'," Steorling replied.
"'And if he should only wound his quarry a hunter must never let it run wounded but pursue and finish the kill'," volunteered Sceamus hoping it would get him back into Wesle's good graces.
"And what is the underlying reason for these rules, Thori?" she asked.
"To show respect for the animals that die so that we might live and to inflict upon them as little pain and suffering during a hunt as possible," answered Thori.
"Now look at this poor creature. Look at him all of you. Is this hunting to provide food? Is this killing quickly and cleanly? Is this showing respect for other life? Well, answer me."
"No, Frowe Wesle," they murmured.
"If a thegn had done this he would be before the Wittan," she admonished. "You are very close to that age now so don't think that it can not happen to you."
Hearing those words from Wesle the whole pack cringed for they knew that punishment from the Wittan was swift and harsh.
Wesle bent over the mouse which it had curled itself into a quivering ball. The sight of an approaching adult Wesl might have been too much for it in its condition or perhaps, since mice were semi-intelligent creatures, it had understood the Weslisc words for "quarry" and "kill" and thinking it was now certainly doomed was awaiting the final blow. Gently she licked clean its wounds and fur and examined it. Bumped, bruised, scratched and badly frightened but luckily it had suffered no serious wound. She held her paw over it and incanted a charm to speed healing and reduce the pain and trauma.
"Thori, get away form his hole and the rest of you move away too," Wesle ordered. Gently she set the mouse upon its feet. "Scat," she told it.
Wesle watched the mouse run into its borrow and disappear then herded Hrægling and his pack and sent them back over the hillock to rejoin the others. After a moments reflection she followed.
Evening was approaching quickly and the guards would soon be sealing the entrance to the village. Wesle called the kits to her, did a nose count, then alerted the guard that they were on their way. She waited for the guard to signal "last in". She would return too in a little while but now she wished to take a moment to herself to compose a new song. She picked up her harp, struck a few chords and while looking over the horizon for an inspiration spotted a patch of fur keeping low in the taller grasses. Wesle wondered how the little one had managed to include itself in the count but slip out of the line heading back to the village.
"Grindl will come and carry you away," she called to the kit hiding in the grass.
Few of the kits took seriously the tale about Grindl the Great Bear who was supposed to carry them off if they were naughty but the kit, realising it had been discovered, came out from its hiding place.
"I was not meaning to be naughty, Frowe Wesle," said the kit timidly. "I just wanted to be alone to watch the clouds in the sky and the flowers and all the animals in the meadow and also to spend some time here alone with you."
"I am flattered, child," she told it, "but you really should have asked permission before deciding to stay outside. Old Godwin might not notice one kit less coming back but Fræge the Ealdor will know you have not returned and she will be worrying. But you may stay with me."
Wesle signaled the guard that one kit remained outside but was safe and he acknowledged her signal. Wesle then turned her attention to the kit. The meowle's name was Spearcling and from her marking Wesle knew her to be one of Bannor's offspring.
"So, Spearcling Bannorsdohtor, what might I do for you?" she asked the meowle.
"Frowe Wesle, would you make music for me, please?" requested Spearcling.
"What song would you like to hear?" Wesle asked her.
"I don't know. You choose, please," replied Spearcling.
Wesle chose the Creation Song. It was an old, old song that some of the village Ealdors claimed pre-dated Weslan civilisation. It was a song known to all the Weslan so together meowle and frowe sang:
Nu sculon herigean heofonrices Weard,
Meotodes meahte ond his modgeþanc,
Weorc Wuldorfæðer swa he wundra gehwæs,
Ece Drihten, or onstealde...
Wesle struck the last chords of the Creation Song and began the opening phrase of another. The next one was a joyful piece called The Wesl And The River. Spearcling began by singing the part of the young Wesl asking the river questions. Wesle, singing the part of the river, responded to each question and then both would join in the refrain. Each of the river's answers was sung to a slow-fast rhythm to which the words folded back upon each other with humorous double meanings. Spearcling was chirring ecstatically and bobbing back in forth in a Wesl-dance of excitement before Wesle had finished the first response.
"Not yet!" Wesle teased. "You have to wait till the end of the song."
When the song ended they were both chirring helplessly.
"That was fun. Might we sing another?" Spearcling asked.
"I am afraid there is no time," broke in the guard who had moved up to within listening range. "Frowe Wesle," he continued politely, "I have to ask you and the kit to return immediately. The entrance is about to be sealed."
"We shall follow right behind you, Godwin," Wesle answered returning her harp to its bag. "Come along, Spearcling," she called and both fell in behind the guard heading back the village.
This story is based in part on an actual event I witnessed when I was attending grammar school. The schoolyard bully and his comrades forced one of the younger students to run the gauntlet as described beat him pretty badly and nearly knocked him unconscious. Wesle was the teacher who broke it up, and yes, Hrægling was her son. The story of Spearcling is entirely from my own imagination.
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