I was supposed to visit the town with my Betas and their father after the morning meeting, but I was awake long before dawn and I couldn’t wait to leave the castle. Despite being the Alpha Queen, the old building still felt like a prison to me. I was suffocating from being confined all day between its cold stone walls doing paperwork.
The staff in the castle treated me with the utmost reverence. I was aware they’re being professional and respectful, but I didn’t want to be placed on an unattainable pedestal and be worshipped like a Goddess. I needed someone to talk to, and it was difficult to have a conversation with my council members that wasn’t pack related.
This visit was the best escape from my monotonous daily occupations and getting to know my pack members better. During the drive downhill from the castle, I couldn’t contain my excitement. I asked the driver to slow down when we entered the town, expecting some traffic. I knew that 8 am was early, but I thought that it was the time when shops were preparing to open and kids would be on their way to school.
When we reached the center of town, I stepped out of the car to see it almost deserted. In the distance, I noticed a group of kids in their school attire and their colorful little bags. After a few moments, a yellow bus stopped in front of them and they got in. When the school bus disappeared, I scoped my surroundings. One shop was half open with the metallic curtain raised three-quarters up.
The light movements inside caught my attention, and I went to inspect it. Oliver, my personal bodyguard, was hot on my heels. I knocked on the glass door, before pushing it open, regardless of the “Closed” sign hanging on the other side.
“Hello!” I called whoever was running the place.
“We’re not open yet!” Someone shouted from the backroom.
I wasn’t exactly a customer, so I looked around. The space was filled with beautiful wood art pieces among different items of furniture. The owner must have heard me shuffling and came out.
“I said we're not…” He stopped mid-sentence when he noticed Oliver's large frame before his eyes landed on me.
“Your Majesty. My apologies, I didn’t know.” The man said trembling like a leaf in the wind, and I could smell his fear as if he just made an unforgivable offense.
“It’s alright.” I reassured him in a soothing tone. “I was admiring your handwork.”
“Thank you, your Majesty. I’m honoured.” The man sounded calmer than earlier.
“How is business?”
“Honestly?” He looked up at me furtively and I nodded. “A little slow, I guess. I’m doing what I can to feed my family despite the spirits being low. And I’m not just speaking for myself, it’s the case for everyone.” His eyes darted behind me and I turned to see that a small crowd had formed outside the shop. The carpenter must have mind linked them because I was still masking my aura.
“I have a project in my mind and if everything goes according to plan, you will have more work than you can handle.”
I wasn’t throwing a figurative bone. Even though it was merely a rough idea, I was intent on starting a project that would benefit the entire community. I hoped that today would bring me an insight for what that might be.
After I left the wood shop, I was welcomed by a growing crowd and an annoyed Severin. I shot the old man a glance and smirked. I was determined to defy expectations and break old patriarchal molds. Starting with what he planned for my day to be like. I appreciated his guidance, but he was too traditional and stuck in the past to think outside of the box. I saw things differently, and my little stunt today was a little poke at his hard shell.
The day went on better than expected. I learnt so much about my people's needs and what was most important to them. They opened my eyes about the real reason why the town wasn’t as flourishing as it used to be. As much as the former king closeted himself in the castle, he isolated the Royal Pack from the rest of the world.
Except for the pups going to elementary school, the pack was completely cut off from the humans. Which caused an economic regression. The territory was autarkic when it came to basic needs, thanks to the farms and cultivated lands. But it created a shortage in liquidity to procure some commodities and products.
In order to deepen the bond with my pack, we went to the woods for a run. I was the first to shift to take the lead. Even the rebellious teenagers who kept their distance joined in. I could feel how elated they were to share such a simple but meaningful activity with their Alpha. It was liberating and exhilarating to pound the forest floor with our paws and howl at the rising moon.
The little pups couldn’t shift yet, so they weren’t intimidated by my wolf as much as the adults. All they saw was a big white fluff they could cuddle and climb. Their giggles and playfulness made me forget about all my troubles and worries.
When I went back home, all I thought about was bath and bed, but my counselor insisted on a debriefing first. Just as we settled in the meeting room, we heard a clicking sound coming from the outside. Severin went to investigate the noise. As soon as he opened the window, a raven flew in and landed on the table in front of me.
The black bird had a small tube attached to its leg. Without thinking twice, I reached for it and pulled the content. I unrolled the thin paper and read the letter written in cursive.
To Alexandra, the Queen of werewolves.
I am not a patient man, but I am willing to wait for your answer.
An answer I hope will be in my favor,
or I don’t know what I may do to make you mine.
I didn’t have time to digest the content of the letter, because the raven started making a loud croak. I could clearly hear it say “Mine!” repeatedly before it turned to a deafening scream as its neck snapped painfully and its body contorted on impossible angles. What followed next made me let go of a horrified scream. The bird looked like it was being turned inside out until it became a bloody pile of fuming flesh and bones.
I held back the bile rising in my throat as my fears about Nicolai were confirmed. I couldn’t decipher his aura when I first met him because I never encountered someone that sinister before. Now I was positive that he was using dark magic, and he was a much bigger threat than I had anticipated.