Garber followed Sherwood away from the clearing, stepping carefully and keeping a keen eye on the Ranger. How both he and Takayoshi could move so softly, especially in a dark forest, was beyond him. He could only hope he wasn't *too* noisy.
Though he knew a few things about Rangers, he still wasn't entirely clear on this expedition. He was only along to watch Sherwood's back and use up some of his excess adrenaline. "So, why exactly are we tracking down the rest of the wolves?" he asked softly.
Sherwood paused at the question, brow furrowed, and turned his head toward Garber, and said, "Animals are mostly just animals. Some smarter than others, but all driven by instinct. When they kill, they do so out of need. When they breed, they do so in season. When the pack howls, they are normally talking of the history of their race. But tonight it looks like they came under an outsider's power... Do you KNOW," clearly agitated now, he stepped on a large twig which snapped loudly in the cool night air, "what that will do to them? To the very identity they have of themselves? To their pack order? They may decide to slay the leader who was unable to resist the control of the outsider! They may even decide to break up entirely. The result would be a group of single, rogue wolves, with no pack discipline to control them, or to help them survive. As a pack, they are part of nature. As rogues, someone would have to hunt them down, one by one, to destroy them. Unnatural agents created, by magic, out of a desire to kill us. No longer a part of their true heritage of nature."
He sighed, stopped walking entirely, and tried to say it clearly, "We need to try to heal both their physical hurts AND their vision of themselves, lest we find a more horrible need to kill them all... ending what that _Sorcerer_," the word was nearly spat out, "started."
Garber raised an eyebrow, more than a little surprised at the passion in Sherwood's voice. He'd never thought much before about animals or nature, and how much they needed to be protected. Nor had he realized the problems that could arise from mistreatment of them.
"I see your point, I think. I guess an animal wounded even in spirit can be dangerous. How close do you think we are to them? And just what was that you put in your ear earlier?"
Visibly irritated, even in the moonlight, Sherwood paused a second more to beat down his anger. After a deep breath, he thought aloud, "Maybe a mile, I think, before they stop. We hurt them pretty bad. When we get to them," he bent low to examine the ground again, "let me contact them first. This thing in my ear is an invention of the elves. It's called a Speaking Stone. They call it 'Loalinya Desallia'. It lets me... ummm... I guess 'talk' is the closest thing I can compare it to... It reminds me of how Linna & Ceridon think to each other, but you gave to make _some_ noise... It lets me talk to them in their own language. The trick to using it is to think like them, so you make sense to them."
"I'll try to keep out of your way when we reach them," Garber replied mildly. "But I will be keeping an eye on your back as well…just in case." He couldn't help but still feel a bit skeptical about the whole thing, but he trusted Sherwood's knowledge of the situation enough to start schooling himself not to make any threatening moves once they caught up with the wolf pack.
A lone wolf howled, seemly near. As they neared the wolves' temporary lair, Sherwood cautions Garber, "Don't worry about making noise... we're not here to surprise them, just to offer our help. We may be able to talk them into letting us bind wounds, or feed them something... But we DON'T want to even THINK about surprising them."
A moment later, Sherwood made a motion to stop, and then an odd throaty sound, as though snorting, sneezing, & huffing all at once. To the uninitiated, it may have sounded dog-like, but it also could have been any large beast from a barnyard as well. He cocked his head to one side, and waited for a reaction from the pack, while sending a mental image of an enormous, ancient wolf crowned with silver hair. Then he whispered to Garber, "I am trying to tell them we are wise creatures with a lot in common with them. I hope they understand!"
Growling, pacing the clearing, she howled again, trying to bring the scattered remnants of her pack back together. Only her latest litter and one of the lesser males had stayed with her, along with a few members of the other pack that had also been forced to attack the humans. The rest were either dead or fled. She listened carefully, hearing a few howls that let her know that some had heard her and would return.
Suddenly, she stiffened, hearing the sound of one…no, two humans approaching--one of them was considerably less adept at moving quietly than the other. But she knew their scents--they'd been among those her pack had attacked. Were they coming for revenge, to wipe out her pack completely?
Suddenly, her hackles rose as she heard one of them speak soothingly in her own wolf language. A mental image accompanied his words--that of an ancient, wise wolf. There didn't seem to be any trick behind it… still, she sent the others off into the brush with a soft growl. She stood alone in the clearing, ready to face the humans, and ready to tell her pack to flee if there was danger.
Sherwood paused again, certain he had been heard. He made a 'halt' motion to Garber, raising his hand in a fist. He also told Garber to 'stay'... pointing at the ground in front of Garber's feet. Seeing Garber nod, he smiled, nodded back, and started toward where he hoped the pack would be, snorting and sending, "Not-Pack wants to help, and treaty, with Pack." Sherwood made sure to shuffle a couple steps to make sure they would hear him, as well as *hear* him.
The alpha female's hackles rose in surprise. After what she and her pack had done, the humans wanted to *help?* "You know?" she replied. "You know we did not attack you of our own accord?" She whined softly, remembering what had happened…how *something*--not instinct, not hunger, not any wolf-drive, but something alien to them--had seized the minds of her and her pack members. How they were driven to attack the group of humans, no matter how much they wanted to *avoid* them instead. And the deaths… the many deaths…
Sherwood growled and huffed some more, and sent, *Yes, our Pack Leader,* and made a mental image of the female elf, morphed into four legs and sporting a gray fur coat, *found a bear with majic controlling you from a man-dwelling. She was almost able to see him when he ran away. We know this wasn't of wolves! We do want to help if we can. We want to apologize for hurting so many. Is there pain we can ease?*
She heard little beyond the fact that the humans knew where this enemy was. "Where is this man-dwelling?" she asked with a continuous growl. "We will find this majic user and take our revenge!"
He was taken aback by her ferocity, and realized he needed to head off _this_ line of thought before it became a disaster. But, how to make HER realize the folly of attacking the mage on their? He sent, "Our Pack Leader also wants revenge on this magician. He is powerful, though, and she must make a strong hunt-reconnoiter-plan. She knows this 'male'," Sherwood did his best to send a sneer with the term, "is our enemy. But she only knows him by the smell-sense-feeling of his magic. If you want to help us when we hunt-surround-sneak_up_on-attack the creature, we would be honored," he bowed, "to have your help. Only... tell us how to find you in the wild?" Unsure how this idea of non-pack co-ordination might be taken, he held off a bit...
"Besides," he thought to himself, "it is only suitable that I, as a male, would act a bit humble in her presence." And though a human, he did openly admire the near-perfect example of vitality in front of him.
She chuffed angrily, but knew the male spoke rightly. With both packs decimated, and many of the survivors wounded, they wouldn't stand a chance. At least he knew enough to promise them a chance at vengeance later, and not keep them away.
"Come back to this meadow and call," she said. "We will stay in this area and await you." She turned back to the brush and asked those waiting there if they wanted any help from the humans. The males, of course, declined, their pride keeping them from admitting their hurts. But one female came forth, a slash in her side still sluggishly bleeding. The alpha female gave her a small, tongue-lolling smile; she'd known this one would have the intelligence to know she needed help, and the courage to accept it when offered.
"Can you help youngest-daughter?"
Garber, of course, wasn't able to follow the conversation, but he'd watched the postures of wolf and Ranger alike, relaxing marginally as the conversation went on. He'd tensed when the second wolf stepped into the clearing, but then winced a bit as he saw her wound.
"They want our help for that?" he asked Sherwood. At his nod, Garber took another look at the wound. Stitches or bandages likely wouldn't be tolerated--or hold up. But he had some medications that might help. Carefully, he dug in his pack, choosing the right bottles by the feel of their shape. Once they were out, he slowly approached the young wolf, who looked to be trembling. He suddenly realized that he might well have been the one to give her that wound.
Keeping his movements slow and calm, despite his inner nervousness, he first applied a powder to the area, to help stop the bleeding. Then he smeared a generous handful of a salve, coating the wound liberally. "Can you tell them to at least *try* not to lick that for the rest of the night?" he asked, glancing back at Sherwood. "That should give enough time for the medication to work in and help prevent infection."
Amazed, Sherwood watched Garber approach the younger wolf. And, even more amazed, he watched the animal hold stone-still with not even a yip. When asked for help, he nodded and sent, "My Pack's help can only help if left on your Pack-mate." He looked at the young wolf closely, affirming gender, and added, "She must ignore_it-rest-lie_down until the bright light rises well into the sky tomorrow. If she can rest without being bothered, she will feel much better for hunting tomorrow when the dim light rises." When Garber finished, he waited to make sure no other wolves were coming forward, then bowed to the Alpha. He *sent*, as a wolves' farewell, "May your prey yield their lives willingly, and your pups have keen noses."
"And may your hunt bring you back to us soon," she replied. She and her daughter turned to go, but she hesitated, then turned back. "Please," she sent a bit hesitantly, "tell your Pack members…and the unicorn…that we are sorry." She had come to realize that she and her Pack were, in a way, indebted to the unicorn. Their respect and admiration for unicorns, and their reluctance to attack the one that came to the rescue of the humans, had been the only thing stronger than the drive of the majic-user…the only thing that saved the packs from complete destruction. With an unspoken hope that she would see that unicorn again, she and her daughter disappeared into the brush.
Garber waited until the two dire wolves had disappeared from the clearing before he turned to Sherwood. "So what did they say?"
He listened to Sherwood's account of the conversation, hiding his dismay at the promise given to the wolves for help in attacking the wizard. After all, their goal was to help Ceridon, not to fight wizards and mercenaries.
'Then again,' he thought as they left the clearing to return to camp, 'this wizard, especially if it *is* Hathor, may well be involved in Ceri's plight. Why else is he trying to keep us from reaching Abydos?' He decided to keep his doubts to himself for now, and wait until they had more information.
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