The Baying of Wolves
Bound. Struggling. Wrists chained, held up high. Ankles shackled, feet on the ground. Breathing, shallow. Howls in the distance. The baying of wolves. The smell. Odorous, foul. Rotted flesh. This was not the first, nor would it be the last. She tried to struggle, to break loose. It couldn't be done. She couldn't lift her feet up, not without the sharp and painful feeling of spiked iron cuffs digging into her ankles. She couldn't move without causing pain, without cutting her flesh and mutilating her body.
Padding footsteps. She could hear them. Wolves. Sacred to her people. Yet were she free... were I free I would skin them to survive. Their pelts would become a cloak. Their meat would be my food. Their bones would be my weapons. For a moment that fierce nature she once clung to came back, only to vanish again as she realized the starkest of truths. She didn't have that as an option. There would be no skinning. No hunting. No killing of wolves and feasting on their flesh. No wrapping their warm pelts around her shoulders. There were no options, no choices to be made. She was bound, and left to struggle in her chains. Pulling at the chains above her, feeling her wrists burn. The crude iron shackles dug into the flesh of her wrists. She knew that the iron plates were not sturdy, that if only she could just pull hard enough she might get free. She pulled harder. Blood, and yet no sign that she would slip through the cuffs. Warm, wet, sliding down her arms. Blood. Dripping down to the cavern floor below.
Growling. She saw them in the torchlight. Wolves. Staring with haunting yellow orbs. Judging. Appraising. Am I their reward for a hunt well done? Will I feed the pack? Is this the end? The thoughts raced through her mind. A feeling. A pit in her stomach. Her heart, racing. Like a war drum inside her. BoomBoom BoomBoom BoomBoom! Almost deafening, thundering in her eardrums. She stared at the wolves with her amber eyes. That feeling. This is what fear is.
Panic. She pulled. She pulled again, even harder. Blood continued to slide down her bare arms. Down onto the cavern floor. Soaking into the dirt. The wolves circled around her from a distance. Growling. She cried out in pain. They came closer. BoomBoom BoomBoom BoomBoom! She pulled harder. She heard a crack. Her wrist. No doubt dislocated. Had to be. Pain, it shot through her. Agony, it enveloped her.
So much pain. She struggled and she struggled. The wolves came closer as they lapped up her blood. She cried. She sobbed. Then she screamed, and the wolves jumped back, growling, ears flattening. BoomBoom BoomBoom BoomBoom ...silence.
She stared and they stared right back. No more struggling. Another feeling came over her. This one was difference. No fear. No worries. Acceptance. I accept my fate. She thought of those she would never see again. Those that she held dear. Ailith. Diarmad. Jørn. She would never see them again. Never. Gone. Lost. Alone. She was marked for death and left to rot. Her fate. Acceptance. Sadness, but resignation to her fate. The wolves approached again. She closed her eyes. She could hear their noises, those awful noises. She prepared for her end. Imagined the afterlife. Imagined what would be next. No more bleeding. No more fighting. No more struggling. Peace. Just the end. Just the oblivion of death.
Her eyes snapped open. The wolves backed away slowly. Ears back, heads bowed low. Submission. They felt her pain, or perhaps a certain kinship. She stared at them. Pain returned. A realization came over her. I am cursed to rot here. Anger. The wolves continued to back away.
"Come on!" she screamed.
The wolves disappeared into the darkness of the cavern. She struggled out of anger and rage, the end of her suffering denied. She pulled at the chains. Blood continued to spill from her mangled wrists. Pain. It was the only thing she could feel. It gave her life. She cried out. She pulled harder and harder. Pain. It overwhelmed her. It dulled. Her vision blurred.
She opened her eyes. A single pull of the chains. She cried out. Rocks, dislodged. The plate, torn from the cavern ceiling. Falling. Striking her. She fell. Chains came loose. Daylight, peeking through the open crevices caused by her struggle. Blood flowing from the wounds on her face, her cheek, her nose. Her eye. She struggled. She slammed her shackled wrists against the plate. Determined. She gritted her teeth. Another crack. And another. Pain shot through her. She struck the plate again as the jagged edges struck flesh and iron. Iron on iron.
Shackles came free. Hands bloody. Fingers dislocated and broken. Wrists mangled. Her heart racing. She took hold of a rock with what strength she had. And pure survival instinct. Only survival instinct. She raised it up. Slammed the chain on her ankles. Again. And again. And again. Pain. She bit her tongue, bit through her tongue. Blood seeped into her mouth. Sharp, pain, life giving pain. Shackled loosened. One more time. CRACK! She tore the broken shackles from her raw and bleeding ankles. She laid back against the cavern wall. She laid back and screamed.
She ceased all movement. All noises. Amber eyes searching. Ears listening. Birds chirping outside. Breathing. Long deep breathes. She stumbled to her feet. One step forward. She fell to one knee. Grabbing at a jutting piece of rock she hoisted herself up. Another step forward. Stumbling but not falling. Deep breathes. She rounded the corner. She saw it.
In the distance, she moved towards it. Light. Daylight. She was weakened, hurting, in pain. It didn't matter. Daylight. Freedom. She stepped out of the cave. Highlands. Vast and lush. The craggy mountains behind her. Air, so fresh. No odor. No shackles. No wolves. She was in pain. It didn't matter. Valda Wolfsoul felt something else. Something better. It made the pain fade, made the memory less painful. No more feelings of despair nor fear, nor acceptance of death. She felt only one thing.