The Elders Take Charge
Gabriel was up before the sun started peaking over the eastern horizon. He had much to think about and it had been a restless night. If he had known what was in store for him, he would have tried harder to get some much-needed sleep. Apollo came back to the clearing last night, but he had nothing to report. Gabriel was sure his adopted brother was keeping something from him, but he would leave it to Apollo to tell him when he was ready.
Yellow-mane had come back from the village much later than they had expected. He had brought them some blankets and some food, as well as a fresh canteen. He left shortly after giving the young couple the supplies but insisted he would be around for a few more days. He told them Banchara was nowhere to be found and he had agreed to mediate for the villagers.
They had agreed with Yellow-mane they wanted the villagers to trust them and they were willing to earn the trust, but they also insisted that any more attempts on Gabriel’s life would not be taken lightly. He and Breena were the elders and leaders of this clan now and the villagers needed to accept that.
Both had found it odd that Yellow-mane seemed anxious to talk about an exchange of members of his clan and theirs as a way to strengthen the bond between the two. This was rarely done because of the distrust between the clans, but on rare occasions it did occur. Still, they both sensed there was another reason for Yellow-mane’s sudden interest in the idea.
Scythian life and culture was extremely complicated, especially since they lived such a simple, agrarian lifestyle. They also tended to live almost twice as long as a normal human. Scythians trusted no one but their own clans’ people. They had a small measure of trust for their fellow Scythians, but none for anyone else. They had been forced to adopt this way of life because of their experiences over the centuries. For every human that could be trusted, there were thousands that looked to betray the Scythians. It had been done too many times.
Even when they left the clan and ventured into the outside world, they never revealed the truth about who and what they were. Often, they returned to the clan, but always with stories of betrayal and sadness. The few that didn’t return were never thought of again. They were ‘dead’ to the clan, until the day they willingly returned. But it was only allowed once for each individual. Once a clansperson left, they were welcome to return, but only once. Repeated attempts to assimilate into the outside world were not allowed. You could leave once and return once, that was the rule.
That was another reason why interaction between the clans was rare. If a Scythian from one clan arrived at a different clan, there was always a background check conducted. It was important for the new clan to know exactly who they were receiving and why. If the Scythian had already returned from the outside world once, they would not be allowed to join the new clan. Only on rare occasions, such as when there were too many males or females in a clan, would a new member be accepted.
Breena had explained all of this to Gabriel the previous evening before she drifted off to sleep with her head resting on his shoulder. They had taken their blankets, and accompanied by Apollo, they had returned to the clan’s cave to rest for the night. After a brief meal, they had built a small fire near the entrance to the cave and had snuggled under the blankets provided by Yellow-mane and talked. Gabriel was getting a crash-course in Scythian culture and history. Grandfather had told him much about being a Scythian, but very little about their culture.
All the while, in the back of his mind, he was worried about Zeus. He knew the master warlock would try to seek out and take on the White Alpha alone. He wanted to be there when that happened, but he also knew he needed to be here, protecting his clan and nurturing his newfound relationship with them. He also didn’t want Breena involved in the fight, but he didn’t want to leave her either. He was being pulled in so many different directions he was afraid he’d never be whole again. It was all so complicated.
As he reflected on those very thoughts from the previous evening, he heard a thought from Apollo.
“Not complicated, simple. Always simple,” the wolf told him.
Gabriel turned his head and looked at the grey wolf for a minute before responding.
“Exactly how is all of this simple?” he asked.
“Kill White Alpha, no matter what else, must kill White Alpha,” Apollo said.
Gabriel thought on that for a while. The wolf had a point, none of the things he was worried about with the clan would matter if he didn’t find and kill the White Alpha. It had been responsible for the attack on the village and the death of Grandfather. Even if they wanted to stay hidden, the White Alpha wasn’t going to allow it. They still didn’t know how they had been discovered in the first place.
From every angle Gabriel looked at, the wolf was right. There was no future, no way to move forward and start a new life with Breena and the clan, unless the White Alpha was eliminated. Otherwise, everything he did would be for nothing. There was no future without killing the White Alpha. Even as he said it, he realized he was still thinking like a warlock and not at all like a Scythian.
He felt Breena stirring beside him and he looked down at her. Her eyes were open, and she was staring at him. As he looked at her, she raised up and kissed him on the lips. He smiled.
“I know you didn’t sleep much last night, what’s wrong?” she asked.
“Everything,” Gabriel answered. “I can’t see a way to start our life together as the elders of this village if we spend every day waiting for the next attack to come. I want to spend time working and learning how to become a good leader. I want to spend time getting to know everything about you. I want so many things that I never thought would be possible for me and Apollo, but all of it seems like a waste of time if the White Alpha is still around to destroy it.”
“I wish I could tell you that wasn’t the case,” Breena responded, “I wish I could tell you we could run away and live happily ever after, but we both know that’s not the way it’s going to be. I’m not sure if it ever does. This beast has destroyed so much of your life, I won’t allow it to destroy anymore of ours. I would rather perish with you trying to destroy it, than to continue to live in fear of the day that would eventually come anyway. I know it’s not a very Scythian way of thinking or feeling, but it’s how I feel.”
Gabriel didn’t know what to say, so he simply hugged her. How did he manage to find such a perfect girl? No matter how many bad things life had thrown at him as a child, it was making up for it now. He had a brother who would never turn on him and a woman that was the other part of him.
Even after being raised in so many churches, Gabriel was not religious. That’s why he found it funny to be sitting here with his arm around Breena and silently thanking God for bringing the two of them together. He had no idea if his prayers of thanks were being heard, but it made him feel better just to say them.
“We’ve stayed away long enough,” Breena said as she stood up and smoothed out her clothes. “We need to see the villagers this morning and begin the process of taking charge of the clan.”
“What will we say to them?” Gabriel asked.
“I will explain on the way to the village, but you will need to issue some of the orders with me. They need to see from this time forward that we are both the elders and that they need to follow you as much as me,” Breena answered.
Gabriel was worried. He wasn’t sure the Scythians were ready to follow him. Most of them still saw him as an outsider and less than a real Scythian. What if they rejected him outright? Would he be forced to fight another one of them? He knew forcing his will on them would never work for long. If this was going to work, they would need to willingly accept the directions he offered.
As soon as they folded the blankets and stacked them on the desk deep in the cave, they stepped out into the early morning sun. The two guards for the cave were returning. They had been pleasantly surprised and pleased last night when the two elders had shown up and told them they would watch over the cave and that they could return to their families for the night. It had been the first sign of good-will for the new elders. They knew these two would tell the others what they had done. It would sit well with many of the villagers.
“Good morning,” said the first guard to Gabriel.
Gabriel looked, and the guard was smiling at him.
“Good morning,” Gabriel responded. “What was the mood in the village this morning?”
The two guards looked at each other before the first one responded.
“Well…um, actually…it’s better than it was last night. When we got there, there was a meeting, and everyone was discussing the talk they had with Yellow-mane. They were frightened, but he had managed to calm most of them down,” said the guard.
“Is it us they are afraid of?” Breena asked.
“Yes, well not both of you. They know you and they trust you Breena, well…mostly they trust you,” answered the guard, then he quickly added, “but, they are willing to give Gabriel a chance. They know Banchara deceived them and she has now fled.”
The second guard looked at Gabriel and after hesitating asked him a direct question.
“Are you the bringer of death?” he asked excitedly.
Gabriel looked at both the guards and then at Breena. He was going to tell them the truth. If he expected them to trust him, then he’d have to start by being truthful.
“I don’t know what I am. I didn’t even know I was a Scythian until Grandfather told me. I’ve been told my animal form could destroy all the life on Earth, but I would not do so willingly. I’ve been trained to kill shifters, the werewolves, but only if I can find no other way to subdue them. I hope to learn from the villagers, so I don’t have to kill unless it’s absolutely necessary,” Gabriel answered.
The two guards seemed pleased with his answer. They thanked the two elders again for giving them a night with their families. Breena assured them that once they got back to the village, they would set up a rotation, so they would not be on guard duty for long. One guard walked into the cave and the other assumed the form of a crow and flew up into the nearest oak tree.
With Apollo leading the way, the young elders headed back to the new village. Today would be the start of a new chapter in the lives of this clan. Change is always hard. People will often resist change, even if it’s for their own good. Better the devil they know than the one they don’t.
Along the way, Breena explained to Gabriel what must be done to occupy the villagers and to show them their new elders are keeping the clans’ interests first and foremost. The two devised a series of tasks for the clan, as well as a meeting to allow the villagers to ask questions and to speak their peace.
The two also decided to offer a chance for anyone that wanted it, to return to America with Yellow-mane and to become a part of that clan. They hoped Yellow-mane could convince an equal number of his own villagers to agree to return to this village and to begin a new life as members of this clan. It was risky, but it was necessary. Those that chose to stay would know they were agreeing to follow the young elders of their own free will.
They started for the village and Apollo stayed well behind them. He didn’t tell them why, but he was watching their backs very carefully. He often kept looking up into the trees. Twice he trotted off the trail and returned a few minutes later, but he never gave any indication as to what he was doing.
As the young elders rounded the last bend before coming into sight of the village they came upon quite a sight. There, in the middle of the path stood Yellow-mane, but he was not alone. In fact, he was holding a female firmly around the waist as he kissed her deeply. Gabriel didn’t know who she was, but Breena recognized her immediately.
“Good morning Azura,” Breena said loudly.
Yellow-mane quickly released the smaller woman and the two stood looking at the ground like children caught stealing cookies. All Gabriel could do was laugh. As soon as he started, the others soon followed. Almost instantly, all four of them were laughing heartily.
“I see you’ve made a new friend,” Gabriel finally managed to say.
“Um, yes…I met…um, Azura came up to me last night,” Yellow-mane tried to stammer.
“What he’s trying to say is that I told him last night we were going to be mates, and he agreed,” Azura said confidently.
Breena was surprised. She had known Azura her entire life, but she had never seemed interested in any man. There had been several that had tried to date her, but she wasn’t interested in anything more than friendship. Evidently, she had just been waiting for the right man to come along. She had chosen wisely and Breena was proud of her. She would hate to see her leave the clan, but she was also happy for her as well.
“We were going to open the subject up to the clan of allowing some of them to leave and to join with your clan, if you would allow it,” Breena explained to Yellow-mane.
“It will need to be an exchange, as much as possible,” Yellow-mane answered, “Neither of our clans can afford to lose very many members, but with an exchange, we might be able to jump-start a growth in both of our clans.”
“Exactly,” agreed Breena. “There are too many good men and women in both of our clans who can’t find a suitable mate because we grow up together, we are too closely tied and befriended to make many matches possible.”
“I would like to volunteer to explain this to the clan,” said Azura, “I know of several other females who would gladly go with Yellow-mane to find a mate in his clan and I’m sure he has several there that would make the switch as well.”
They all knew this would be the best way for the exchange to happen. Males were very reluctant to leave their villages, but females were often much more eager to take a chance to find the perfect mate. If they could get an equal number of females from both clans to switch, it would be very beneficial for both. Many would be afraid of coming to a clan with two new leaders, but there would still be many willing to take the chance if it offered a fresh start.
They all agreed, and the two girls went on ahead into the village to meet with all the women who did not have a mate. Gabriel was congratulating Yellow-mane on his new relationship when Apollo caught up to them.
“Where have you been?” Gabriel asked. “What’s gotten into you this morning?”
“Being followed,” Apollo answered.
“By who?” Gabriel Asked.
“Wolf,” Apollo answered.
A wolf? Why would a wolf be following Apollo? A thought occurred to him, so he asked Yellow-mane.
“How do the animals respond to Scythians? I mean, do they compete with the Scythians in any way?” Gabriel asked.
“No, we live in peace with the life around us. We can communicate with most, just like you do Apollo. They know we pose no threat to them and we do not interfere with the natural order of things. Even their pack leaders and herd elders respect us, as we do them, so there is no need for competition. If another wolf is following this one, then it is out of curiosity. If it were wanting to challenge him as the alpha in this part of the forest, it would have done so already,” Yellow-mane answered.
Curiosity? Well, Gabriel could think of several reasons why a wild wolf would be curious about Apollo. His size and his familiarity with the Scythians were the first two that came to mind. Still, why would one of them follow him? He was worried for his brother.
“Perhaps you should stay close,” Gabriel suggested.
“No,” was all Apollo said.
With that, he ran off into the forest. Gabriel watched and thought about following him, but Yellow-mane stopped him.
“He will be fine. He’s still a wild animal of the forest, even if he chooses to live with you. Something tells me he can more than take care of himself. You’ll need to learn to let him run, explore and live in the vast woods that are our home. It is the Scythian way,” Yellow-mane explained.
“I read a human saying once, ‘if you love something, set it free. If it comes back to you, it was meant to be’, but I still worry about my brother,” Gabriel said.
He wanted to follow and to make sure his brother was okay, but he also knew what Yellow-mane was saying was true too. He had to start giving Apollo some room to be the wolf he was born to be. Out here, he wasn’t a warlock or Gabriel’s partner either. Out here, he was Gabriel’s brother and he was a wild wolf. He had to be allowed to follow his instincts. If he chose to, he had to be allowed to stake his claim as the dominant alpha in the region. It would be hard for Gabriel, but he would try.
Yellow-mane motioned for Gabriel to lead the way into the village. It would be a sign to the villagers that Yellow-mane was accepting Gabriel’s role of elder for this clan. He was following, rather than trying to lead. As they stepped across the small bridge and onto the main path which ran between most of the cabins, the entire village came out to greet them.
It was easy to see the word of the proposed exchange of villagers had already spread throughout the group. They were all looking anxiously at the two men.
“Is it true?” asked one of the villagers.
“Are you truly going to allow some of our women to return with Yellow-mane?” asked another.
Gabriel looked at Breena and she nodded. He began answering the questions as Breena returned to his side.
“Yes, it is true. In fact, we will not keep any of you here against your will. We have much to learn and Yellow-mane has agreed to help teach us, but we will need you to help us learn as well,” Gabriel began. “We can only succeed with your help. The clan only survives if we work together, and it will surely never flourish without help from other clans like Yellow-mane’s.”
“But, if our women leave, then where will we find mates?” asked an anxious male.
“We do not force our clansmen to become mates, nor will we ever. For the relationship to last, there needs to be love or at least an understanding,” Breena answered. “We are only asking if any of the females who have been unable to find a suitable mate here in our village would consider returning to America with Yellow-mane and Azura and seek mates there. We hope to convince an equal number of females from Yellow-mane’s village to return here to join this clan, in hopes of finding a mate here.”
“I have no doubt I can find a willing group of females from my own clans to return here. The thought of finding suitable mates will be a strong incentive to most of the unmarried females,” Yellow-mane declared.
The assembled group seemed energized by the possibility. Many were smiling, while a few others looked worried, but all-in-all, the mood seemed surprisingly good.
“We have much work to do in the meantime,” Gabriel began, “We must begin work on our next village. We hope to live here for some time, but we must be prepared in case something happens.”
All the villagers were nodding in agreement. Breena looked at two of the smaller men and asked them to help.
“Bendigo and Rafee, you have the best eyes in all the village, will you begin searching for a new site, in case we have to abandon this one?” she asked.
The two seemed proud to be recognized for their talents and they eagerly nodded in agreement. No sooner had they agreed, when the two of them assumed the shapes of a giant eagle and an enormous hawk. The two flew off to scout the rest of the region from high in the air.
Gabriel was pleased, he could see why Breena called on those two for the task. Yellow-mane was nodding as well.
“Who is the best organizer among the villagers?” Gabriel asked.
“Madra,” Breena answered.
“Madra, will you develop a schedule for the guards of the clan’s cave? We need to make sure its contents are kept safe while we make plans to help secure the cave. Everyone except mothers with children should be on the rotation for guard duty, including me,” said Gabriel.
He could see that his willingness to do the clan’s work was setting well with the villagers.
“Add me to the list as well, Madra,” added Breena.
Finally, the one fear everyone had was brought out. One of the older females in the back of the group asked a chilling question.
“Is it true Gabriel, that you will one day assume a form that will kill us all?” she asked.
Suddenly, everyone was deathly quiet. Yellow-mane looked at Breena and Gabriel. It would be up to them as to how to answer this question. He knew good and well, that the way they answered it could well mean the difference between the clan continuing or dying out.
Gabriel took a deep breath and then answered, “I can only tell you what I know. I have no intention of ever hurting any of you. I have been forced to do so, several times, but each time it was in self-defense. You gave me no other choice. I didn’t ask to be your elder, but I was chosen by Grandfather, my grandfather, to do this. He gave me a part of the gift of this village, and he gave Breena the other part. Grandfather healed me, and he saw what I might become, but he also saw my heart and my soul. He chose to give me the gift despite what I might become, and I trust his judgement. I also trust that he gave Breena enough power to destroy me if that is what must be done. I can’t see the future. I can make no promises other than I will do my very best to lead you, not to maintain what we are now, but so we may become much more,”
The villagers were taking all of Gabriel’s words in when Yellow-mane spoke up.
“I appeal to you to use the logic we are renowned for. If Gabriel were to become a creature capable of destroying all life on the planet, then we owe it to every living being to assist him so that he never feels threatened to the point of taking that form. It is our duty to be his eyes, ears, and strength, and to make sure it never happens. If you were to cast him out, you would not only lose your gift, but you would be dooming yourselves to destruction. Where is the logic in that?” Yellow-mane asked.
Gabriel could see the villagers were beginning to understand the magnitude of their actions. If they refused to follow, they might well be the ones to bring about the change that would kill them all. If they did support him, they might be the only thing keeping the planet safe. Most of them were still having a hard time believing there was any creature that had ever walked the Earth that could destroy all the life on it. Only a few of the oldest villagers remembered the story of the two that came before and they were unwilling to share the story with the young ones now.
“We need to take an inventory of all of our supplies. We need a list of everything we lost in the fires and we will need a small group to go to the city to replenish what we lost. Each of you need to make a list for your cabin and we will add it all together and do that tomorrow,” Breena added.
She knew that would keep all of them busy until morning. That would give her and Gabriel time to see each one of them individually and let them get to know him. She was sure that once they knew him personally, they would learn to trust him as much as she did.
As they were watching the villagers return to their cabins, Apollo came running across the bridge.
“Oz,” he said to Gabriel.
Gabriel looked in the direction the wolf had come from, but he didn’t see his little friend anywhere. He was shocked to think of him coming here to the village, but he also recognized the danger in it as well. He was trying hard to get the villagers to trust him and if a stranger came here, especially if it looked like he had given him directions, the villagers would lose faith in him. He knew how important secrecy was to them.
He looked at Breena and Yellow-mane.
“I have to stop Oz from coming into the village. They’ll never believe I didn’t tell him where it was, and they’ll never trust me again,” he explained.
As soon as he said it, he was off, running across the bridge with Apollo close behind.