Time passed in its orderly pattern and True Edge passed along with it, letting himself live in the moment of the Now. He jogged at a measured clip along the banks of Brownbear River with Charm running by his side. They had been out for several nights now as they continued their patrol of the Holt's borders. Like the wolves, he ignored the details that weren’t important, not letting himself be caught up in the over-thinking of every detail as he sometimes did back at home. For this sort of job it was a blessing to be able to stay like this in the comforting blur of wolf-thought.
Being able to keep his mind focused in such a way helped, in some small measure, to relieve the loneliness of the patrol and the empty feeling of missing his mates and home. It wasn’t as if he didn’t enjoy the role of scout, because he did. It was just that sometimes it would wear upon him. How Farscout could stay out for so long at a time was beyond him. No matter, though, as True Edge still had several long nights ahead before he was done. It was important work and he did enjoy it; just not for the long stretches that the older scout seemed to relish.
The wolf didn’t reply directly. She only touched his mind gently with a wolf-send laden with emotion. In that way she expressed her desire to rest but also the thrill of running free with her elf-friend. It was good, for both elf and wolf, to indulge their urge to roam every so often and she was happy to be here with him.
The nights passed in the same measured pattern. Soon enough, True Edge and Charm found themselves sharing a small cave near Icebound Lake. Heavy rain would keep them under shelter for a while. The time spent here was long enough for the elf to realize he had a problem. This was certainly something he wasn’t going to mention to Farscout. He had enough problems without letting the more experienced scout realize he had made a mistake, though it was an honest enough one to make. Nearby, Charm looked up at him with anxious eyes from where she lay on the cave floor. Her distress was obvious but there was little that he could say to her that would help.
Her scent hung heavy in the air since she had just entered into season while they were on patrol. Had he been more experienced in such long trips he might have thought to leave her behind where the rest of the pack's social hierarchy would calm her somewhat during this time. Whirl would have put her in her place had she even tried to breed with one of the pack's males. Now, without that reinforcement, she yearned for a mate and cubs of her own.
It was nature which guided her, the Way by which all wolves and wolfriders lived, but in this case it was rather troublesome. They were a few nights away from the pack and the Holt proper and unable to really leave till the freezing rain let up. Being trapped in a small hole with a moody she-wolf was not his idea of a good time. Even more, it bothered him to see her in distress.
**No mate here,** he sent to her much as she would send to him, full of emotion and images but very little in the way of words. For good measure, he added an image of Whirl and what she would do to Charm if she came home bearing cubs.
Charm didn’t reply. Instead, she merely whimpered and looked away. It was about as low as True Edge had ever seen her, and given that she was often bullied by much of the pack, that was saying something. Leaning back heavily against the cave wall, he tried to relax a bit but realized that this was going to be a long day with little sleep for either of them.
The next night was little better but at least the worst of the winter weather had passed. They ran in silence, True Edge's long stride setting an easy pace for them. When speed wasn’t an issue, he preferred to run rather than to ride. For now, it was easier for him so he could stop and examine anything unusual they ran across instead of having to get on and off wolf-back too often. Despite Charm’s dilemma it was easy to slip into the Now that his wolf-side favored and just be. Too many thoughts and worries would be put aside for another time.
Nothing seemed amiss here near the Holt's borders, though he was becoming aware that they were being observed. In the distance, his sharp eyes picked out a single wolf pacing them. It was hard to get a proper scent due to his own wolf being in heat, but it seemed obvious that this was a unattached male without a pack or den of his own. He seemed to be a sturdy fellow, even when viewed at a distance, and seemed healthy enough despite being on his own. Unfortunately, though, Charm had taken notice of him as well. True Edge paused, long enough to growl a warning at the intruder before he felt her at his side.
**Mine,** she sent to him simply. It was as definitive a statement as he had ever heard from her.
“Whirl might kill you if you come back to the Holt bearing cubs. You know that.”
If she did it didn’t seem to matter very much. Charm’s mind seemed set on this and what could he say really? She was only following her instincts and would have to pay any consequences that came due because of them. It still didn’t set well with True Edge, though. As he watched, the young male — he could scarcely have been older than a couple of turns of the seasons — tried to edge closer, keeping a wary eye on the elf.
**Not worthy of you,** True Edge conveyed to his wolf-friend on an emotional level, though he didn’t move to interfere.
Charm didn’t reply in words but in actions. She glanced at him once with soulful eyes, seeming to take his inaction as implied consent. Without further ado she loped over to where the male waited and began to sniff him, becoming familiar with her new suitor. True Edge merely sighed and went to find somewhere comfortable to sit. He was all too familiar with the social and mating habits of their wolf-kin. They wouldn’t be going anywhere for awhile.
Once she had been bred, Charm’s mood improved dramatically, but it wouldn’t last forever, True Edge knew. Soon enough they would be back at the Holt and the real trouble would start. Despite his desire to stay in the moment, he had trouble not worrying about that. Charm would be lucky if she wasn’t killed outright, but what could they do? The Way was a harsh path to follow but a good one. What would be would be he supposed, but it was still hard to reconcile at the moment.
The young packless wolf stayed with them for a while but clearly found the wolf-blooded elf difficult to bear. Like many of the wolves without any elf blood he seemed to have trouble deciding if such a creature should be food or kin. In the end, it appeared that he could take no more of the confusion. They soon stood at a ridge top, near the far side of Icebound Lake and he gazed out beyond where True Edge intended to go. It seemed he was hoping Charm would follow him.
“You could go with him,” he said softly to the she-wolf, somewhat torn himself. She was his bond-friend, but, if she went, then maybe she and the unattached male wolf could form their own pack and she wouldn’t have to fear for her life and the lives of her cubs. They had a chance, the same as any other wild wolf. True Edge could see that it might save her, but the decision was hers to make. For a long moment, she watched her young suitor until finally he turned to go. Then she turned her eyes back to True Edge and fell into step beside him as he turned to go, as well. Her mind-touch was simple and direct as she made it clear without words that to her ‘Mine’ was a term that included him as well. She would take her chances with the pack and the family she knew.
The rest of the trip home had passed uneventfully. It wasn’t until they were back in the Holt when the trouble started. Whirl understood soon enough what had happened. Charm’s place in the pack was never that secure to begin with and she was forced away from the main den. Slinking away, she made a small den of her own and avoided the other wolves. True Edge saw to her when he could, but for all practical purposes, she was without a pack now. The only reason the others didn’t turn on her and kill her was her bond with him so he stayed as close as he could to protect her until her cubs were born.
What normally would have been a joyous time turned ugly not long afterwards. Whirl was not willing to leave them be and came to investigate the den. True Edge held his breath as he watched, knowing that if he interfered it would only make a bad situation worse. If Charm resisted Whirl's aggression, then the chieftess-wolf might kill both her and the cubs. On the other hand, if she submitted, as was in her nature anyway, there was a chance Whirl might let them live. Luckily, Charm chose the latter and showed throat to the dominant female.
Her anger appeased, somewhat, even as her superiority was acknowledged, Whirl took the cubs as her own, raising them as part of her own litter. This was, of course, after she took a few moments to menace poor Charm, a display that would be repeated again and again in the coming seasons. Charm still had no place with the pack. Most of the wolves would beat her senseless if she got too close, but she would be able to survive with a little help from True Edge.
“They will live now,” he said simply as he dressed her wounds and sat with his despondent wolf. She merely whimpered but her wolf-send did hold a trace of relief. His own relief was rather profound, as well, he realized. It had turned out for the best, though he now had a more clear realization of Charm’s mortality. Her life was going to be a lot harder as an outsider, even with his protection. She wasn’t exactly the sturdiest of wolves anyway, and now any of the pack might kill her if she strayed too close to them or too far from him.
**Still Mine!** she sent, in an image that included not just the cubs but himself as well. She had brought them into the world and they would survive. Likewise she would stay near to him, her elf-friend, for as long as she was able to survive. It wasn’t the easiest of lives, but it was the Way and they both understood that.
“Yes Charm… yours,” he replied, adding to that simple mind-touch his happiness that she still lived. Sitting there in the cool night air, he tried to console her. Come what may she had made her choice and would deal with the consequences. Luckily the Now of wolf-thought was easier for her than it was for him in this case and True Edge rather thought he would be remembering this for quite a long time to come.
In time both litters grew and matured. True Edge remembered to watch for the ones whom Charm had given birth to. As far as the pack was concerned they were all one litter, but it still meant something to him that some of them were Charm's. In the fullness of time some found elf-friends of their own. Crowsong bonded to Cloudfern, which he thought fitting for Charm’s family to bond within his own. That was doubly so when Thumper bonded to Windsong. It all felt so right somehow and True Edge felt a sense of pride as each of Charm's cubs found their place. A few went out to find a life away from the pack. This too felt fitting given their father's nature.
Sometimes he wondered about that young packless wolf they had met. True Edge realized Charm didn’t give it a second thought but sometimes he did ponder the lone wolf briefly. She might not be able to put much thought into her one-time mate or the cubs she had lost but he was sure she recognized them, even if her limited contact with the pack kept her from knowing them as a mother should. It was just one more thing that pulled him from the comfortable flow of time in which he found peace.
The seasons swam on and both elf and wolf played their parts in their passing. True Edge was closer to the wolves than many in his tribe so though he didn’t always note the passage of time, he did have a good view of its effects within the pack. Many things were changing even as others stayed the same. So long as he was near, Charm was tolerated near the dens, but her health had been declining of late. She wasn’t old by the standards of the pack, but he realized she wouldn’t last many more seasons. Her littermate Lightjaw, Greenweave's wolf, had died only last turn.
Seated near the entrance to the main den, he watched how the pack interacted even as Charm lay by his side. It was comfortable for him to work on his arrowheads here and he knew that his poor wolf-friend liked the occasional visits here. Maybe it made her feel as if she was still a part of the pack. A few of the wolves didn’t bully her and a few of them came to sit beside the wolf-blooded elf as well.
These were mostly the ones in the middle of the pack, the ones who sometimes went on scouting forays with him or on the longer hunts. It was one such hunt he was preparing for now as he finished another arrowhead. Among those he noted was Branch, also of Charm’s litter. She was the last, he realized, who hadn’t bonded or gone away from the pack. Something had caught her attention while he was lost in thought.
Looking up, True Edge's attention was drawn towards two large males, Wasp and Halfmoon, locked in a stare-down. He watched, observing the contest carefully. Wasp had been showing his age a bit of late so, of course, the challenges were becoming more frequent. This one only lasted a few moments as the pack spread out around them, giving the two males space. It looked almost as if it would come to blows soon but after just a bit of snarling and flashing of fangs Halfmoon backed down… for the moment.
“Halfmoon won't back down forever,” True Edge said quietly to the small pack of wolves gathered around him. Charm looked up at him curiously and then gazed back towards the others.
**New pack leader?**
True Edge shrugged. It really didn’t matter too much which of the wolves led the pack. The wolves worked that out in their own way and the elves followed suit in many ways.
“Maybe,” he said, reaching out to scratch her behind the ears. Charm thumped her tail happily. It was sad to realize this hunt coming up might be her last. There was no thought of postponing it, though, or not taking her. As she had said that day so long ago he was hers and she would follow him come what may. With a bit of a sigh True Edge bent himself to his work again. It was just easier to slip into the Now, same as the wolves, and accept what he could not change.