As she basked in watery winter sunshine, Elha the she-wolf, rested. With eyes half closed as she lay in a depression in the snow, digesting the huge quantity of meat she had consumed, Elha was comforted by the feeling that she now had food enough inside her to last for some days to come if need be.
For some time she slumbered, half asleep but alert to any change in sounds or scents. She was vaguely aware of the sound of crows squabbling and of the tall trees creaking and rustling in the winter breeze. The sun was falling in the sky and dipping toward the horizon. The late winter dusk gathered as the cold surrounded her and spurred her into action. She could rest no longer, dreams or no dreams. She must move on.
Full as she was with meat from the fawn, she must think of her next meal. As a lone wolf she would find it hard to bring down another herd animal on her own. That was a lucky kill, brought about by being in the right place at the right time as an injured young deer limped with her mother and its other herd family, huddled into the center, in an effort to keep her safe. An effort in vain as Elha, through sheer hunger and determination, found her way into the center of the herd and was able to zero in on her first meal in many days.
It was unlikely to happen again. She must find a pack to adopt her. She might find a family where the mother was getting older and was ready to relinquish her rights as breeding elfa. Perhaps the father needed a second mate to bear a greater number of pups so that the pack might grow. He and the pack’s elfa would only allow this if there was plenty of food to be killed within their territory. Sharing was not an instinct that came easily to wolves. Collaborating in the chase was, it was an instinct for survival, and it was this instinct that gave rise to a bounty of fresh meat whenever there were sufficient game animals to chase and to kill.
With a belly full of fresh-killed meat, Elha was able to think of other things. Replete, she could stop to think of the days beyond the now. She continued to dream of a mate, visualizing him as the wolf who had tried to steal her food by the stream. Certainly, that wolf had been strong and she needed a strong mate. Any pack’s ulfa would be bound to be strong, agile and quick in the chase.
Yet the more she thought of begging a subordinate position in an established pack, the more she thought it was beneath her. Certainly, a father of many pups could seed her if she needed to be seeded but she did not want an older mate like her ulfa. She wanted a mate who would be strong for many winters to come. She wanted a partner in the chase as well as a sire for her pups. She wanted to be elfa of her own pack, with pups to raise and to teach how to chase and how to kill.
These things she didn’t think of in words, as we people often do, she thought of them in pictures, in scents and in sounds. She saw pictures moving in front of her eyes, produced by the powerful wolf imagination, that can see complex patterns of scents as we humans see light and color. She could see a strong wolf like her ulfa, her father, but not her ulfa. She could see this wolf bounding after a deer, bringing it down by the neck. She could feel it nuzzling her and laying its head upon her back and she could feel its coarse coat brushing against her own, bringing warmth, not just from the touch, but from a stronger warmth within. She could also feel the satisfaction of tearing open a carcass together.
Elha savored the memory of the kill and the following feast. She recalled the pathetic cries of the fawn with satisfaction, not because she was cruel, but because they spurred her on, gave an edge to her hunger, excited her and gave her the will to bring down the animal and kill it with a single snap or her immensely powerful jaw. Such a swift death was as merciful as it was inevitable, as soon as Elha had fixed her sight on it, ignoring the other animals yet veering aside to avoid their lethal hooves. Never before had Elha known the feeling of being the first to tear into the guts of a freshly killed animal, to claim the liver as her own, to feast on warm entrails and meat and then to leave the remnants to others.
She recalled the stupid ursa, dancing about like a sapling in a storm. Standing up high on its hind legs, trying to show how strong it was. To a wolf, strength was in family. With three or four other wolves in her pack they could have howled and snapped at the stupid, black, furry lump of lard, while keeping their distance. They could have bit and harassed and harangued it, until it bumbled away, back to its stinking cave. Yes, how she would have seen off that kill thief if she had a family behind.
She knew she wanted a family to look up to her and to call her Elfa, mother and leader. She would stand beside her mate, her ulfa and lead the pack into the chase. They would hunt and they would kill and they would feast and they would see off any bear and scare off any crows that dared to try to pick the bones of their supper, the pack’s kill, the family’s meal. Woe to any creature that attempted to stand in their way.
With these thoughts in her mind’s eye, Elha let out a great howl at the sky.
“I am Elha, I am wolf, I am strong, I am fearless, I am fierce, I am Elha, hear my voice! I am Elha, I am wolf, I am strong, I am fearless, I am fierce, I am Elha, hear my voice!
Again and again, she repeated the song, careless of the unwanted attention she might attract from rival packs, reveling in her skill at the lone hunt and the solo kill. Let all wolves know that she was not a wolf to be challenged. Let all males know that if they wanted to mate her, they would have to prove themselves worthy of her strength. They would have to be big and strong, and with powerful hindquarters and savage jaw. They would need to woo her with their love song and a gentle caress, and they would need to win her desire. She would not consort with any whelp or low-born cur, she would couple only with a male to match her strength and her hunting prowess.
“I am Elha, I am strong, hear my voice. I am Elha, I am free, my belly is full of meat, I have killed a great stag alone. It was tall, a kicking, hopping, running, dancing beast of the forest, but it was no rival to my hunting skill. I took it by the throat and broke its neck, before devouring it in one glorious meal. I saw off a hungry bear, which dared not challenge me for the deer’s carcass. I let the fur-giant live, only because it begged for mercy.
“Mother Forest see me, see how strong I have grown. I am Elha, I am strong, hear my voice. I am Elha, I am free, I am savage. My jaws clamp and crush, my fangs tear, my legs make me fly at my prey faster than a bolt of lightning, hear me Mother.”
Elha sang through the gathering nightfall, howling her missive to the forest. She pissed on every tree she passed, leaving her name in unmistakable scent, rivalling every other wolf who might pass. The song continued as dusk gathered and grew into a bleak and bitter night. In the distance, Elha could hear the answering song of a thousand wolves from many packs. Some welcomed her defiant howls, others dared her to come into their territory and know their wrath.
All the while, Elha padded through the still snow-bound woodland pathways, in search of a territory to call her own, ever thinking of the mate she desired and the partner she needed for the chase. For wolves, however resourceful they may be when living alone are, by their nature, drawn to family.
Elha at length reached the edge of the densest part of the forest and emerged at a precipice, overlooking a great vista of trees, mountains, and valleys beyond. Surveying all she could see before her, Elha sampled the many scents brought in on the updraft. There was the unmistakable smell of wolf, but was that hare she could smell?
She had not had a glimpse of hare since the fall. These magical creatures were able to disappear from in front of your very eyes, just as you were about to clamp your teeth around then. The next instant they would reappear to one side or the other, sometimes behind. And as the snows began to thaw, they were the maddest creatures in Mother’s forest. Only the swiftest of wolves could catch them and then only when the whole family was posted around the meadow, ready to snap one up as it appeared in front of them.
Could she catch a hare alone? Elha was determined to find out. Full as she was of meat, she would not miss a chance to catch a succulent hare. She must overcome the pain of an over-full stomach and press on to where the hares ran. If she could not eat it there and then, she could bury it whole and return another time when she was hungry. In her active imagination, Elha saw a lanky hare jump in front of her, jump away again, so that she had to dart this way and that, leaping and bounding across the meadow before darting forward to take it bodily in her jaws, crushing the life out of it in one bite. Full stomach or no full stomach, she started to slaver at the thought of the sweet and tender hare meat.
She began to move without thinking in the direction of the scent, marking the trail so that she could find her way back to the sunny mound in the clearing where she had enjoyed her first full meal caught alone and without her pack. Despite the hint of regret and sadness, deep within her, at the thought of the family she would never see again, she trotted on toward her next lone battle with the animals of the forest.