Aesaleif Goldmane toyed idly with a bit of partially carved wood. She was supposed to be on watch, but with all the ulven activity in the area recently, there had been no mordok to be seen for miles around. Her own pack had been marching up and down their territory for months, skirmishing with the incomers, though they hadn’t had word from them since news of the treaty had come a few days past. She couldn’t wait for them to settle with the incomers, so she could get her turn to look at them. She had heard that some of them had pointed ears, like the mordok, and wore strange clothing. Her mate, Valgeir, had promised to bring her back some trinkets, if he could.
A party of Graytide had come through a day or two before. She didn’t know most of them, except for Khulgar. He had taken Valdís as his mate, and had come looking for her, and their lively little daughter. Valdis had been visiting home when news of the treaty came through, and she just had to go with the pack to see the incomers in person.
Movement in the tree line alerted her, and she drew herself up, ready to sound the alarm in an instant. But the figures coming slowly out of the shadows were familiar, the Graytide party. She looked eagerly for her mate, or any of her pack, but was disappointed.
Still all talking with the incomers, no doubt.She thought to herself. The others and her would be glad for news though, she thought as she shouted a hearty greeting. She leapt down from her post, calling to the others that remained there, and they soon had gathered by the gates, eager to speak with the dour Graytide warriors.
But the Graytide had not met them at the gate. They waited at some distance away, Lycon conferring with Khulgar. Everyone around the gate fell quiet, and the eldest among them stepped forward, and greeted the Graytides again, this time far more somberly. Lycon did not return the greeting, but Khulgar walked towards them. Why Khulgar, instead of Lycon?
Because he took a Goldmane as a mate…her mind fretted, and fear blossomed inside her. As he drew closer, they could all see something in his red eyes. He halted before them, and the pack was as silent as death.
“Do you bring news of our warriors?” The eldest asked, in a trembling voice.
“Yes.” said Khulgar, hollowly. “They are dead. All of them.”
The Graytide escorted them to the bodies of their pack, laid out carefully in the snow. She found her father and her mate, her tear blurred eyes barely able to take in their wounds. The sounds of her packmates keening filled her ears, and her world became only grief, sorrow, wails, and blood on the snow.
The Graytide offered to help them build the funeral pyres, but they shrugged them off, allowing only Khulgar to carry wood for their dead. Everyone, though, honored them, and the trees resounded with their howls of grief, and the tales of their loved ones.
Before she gave him to the fires, she carefully removed a necklace from her mate’s torn throat. She had made it for him, to mark their first year together. His blood stained the sunburst she had carved painstakingly into the stone, and the image of him laid out in the snow burned itself into her heart. She wept then. She wept as she never had before, and, she vowed, as she never would again.
They greeted the dawn wearily and painfully, discovering that sometime in the night, the Graytide had left them. Some of the survivors guessed at their purpose, and grimly nodded satisfaction. They left to go back home, one last time, spreading the ashes of their mates, fathers, mothers, sons and daughters as they went.
It was three days later when the Graytide party returned, some of them now sporting new trophies from their sword belts. By that time, most of the remaining Goldmane had left, going to what kin they had left to them. Aesaleif, Otama, and another male were the only adults left, and Khulgar’s little girl. They gave over the little girl to her father, her confused wails painting the theme of the past few broken days.
“It was an ambush.” stated on of the warriors, emotionless. “The outsiders did not know of the treaty yet. When your pack went to greet them, they slaughtered them all.”
“Did you pay them back?” hissed the male Goldmane. “Did you kill them?”
“We made them pay, but it was not enough.” seethed Lycon, hissing in pain and anger as one of the warriors treated his sluggishly bleeding stump. His tunic was stained with blood, and all could see how much the loss of his arm pained him. They had no Daughter among them to heal it. “The Longfang interfered. They chose to uphold the treaty, and protected the outsiders.”
The Goldmane nodded. It was more revenge than they could have mustered alone. It would have to do for now.
The packs stared at each other for long moment, each unsure what was to be done now. The Goldmane were broken, beyond repair. They had no where to go.
“Come with us.” said Lycon, grimly. “There is nothing for you here, now. Our home is yours, and perhaps we may take revenge together, for those lost to us.”
The remaining Goldmane shared only a brief look among them, before taking the proffered arm, and the promise of vengeance.