The Highlanders, along with the na-Baron and Vaush, have departed the castle of Hartwich. With them travels Chester, the canine companion of Baron Locke, sent to protect his son Simon. Their destination is Glenfeld, some three weeks travel to the east and into the Entian highlands.
It’s not as if I’ve never gone for long runs or hunts before, but this is quite different from any of those.
First of all, I’m the only four-legger in the pack, excepting the tall ones used for carrying two-leggers on their backs. Several of my kind are usually brought along, but I’m alone on this trail. Secondly, my true pack leader, Baron Locke, stayed behind in the great stone nest. His last challenge to me was that I follow and protect his pup, the one called Simon. He’s one of three young ones in our pack; the others being Vaush and Amber, a male and female. Then there’s the lead female, Ruby. She doesn’t like me, but I smell fear there and care little for how she barks. Lastly, there’s Blaise, Ruby’s mate. He is the lead male. He makes no noise at me, but unlike the female, he is fearless. I will not loose my water before him, but neither do I feel a need to show him my teeth. He is a strong pack leader.
It’s a small pack. Too small for hunting the beasts with sharp teeth and dangerous paws, so I don’t think that’s what we’re doing. Besides, we’re staying too close to the hard packed line; prey of that sort doesn’t come close to the long line of stone. It smells too much like two-leggers and death. Because of all this, I think it is a walk we are on, a long walk.
Truth is, I enjoy the freedom of the outdoors. It’s much better than being leashed to the place of cold stone all day. There is much that is new and worth investigating. Simon often lets me roam and smell the country as we travel. My paws are not so used to the rough ground, though I enjoy the running and finding of long-ears and squirrel scent. I smell many other animals beyond my sight. I do not bother with them, as I must keep moving with the pack and my charge.
For a two-legger, Simon is a worthy creature. He feeds me well with fresh meat and bones to chew and lets me rest when I need to. Though more of a long walk, we have hunted together, which he does not make too much noise to scare away the prey. The female, Amber, is better at this; the lead female has taught her well. I like that Simon doesn’t challenge me with his bark, and his scratches behind the ear feel good. He also shares his nest, something Locke never allows. Yes, Simon is a good two-legger and one that I wag my tail for when he comes near.
The pack has run for several meals and nestings, all while following the hard line. Unfortunately, the path has been marked many times over with large piles belonging to the big, hairy grass-eaters that pull rolling dead trees. Unlike those that the two-leggers ride, these grass-eaters lack the good sense to follow their own noses. There’s no challenge in them, only water and scat, both of which there’s far too much to smell. So much in fact, that it’s almost impossible to recognize my own scent. I’d lay water on each if I could drink enough and not risk my balls dropping off to become a bitch for the effort.
We’ve caught up to the scat filled, four-leggers and their rolling dead trees. There are many two-leggers, mostly male, which smell and sound like they belong to Blaise’s pack. They have already stopped for a feeding and nesting, making a large hot spot for meat and the drinking of bad water.
Some of the two-leggers have cast looks my way, but none choose to bark a challenge. I could tell one of these newcomers is making noise to Simon about me. There is much in his teeth and paws that says he wishes to take control, but the Locke pup does not tuck his tail and run. There is strength there to stand before such an adversary. He will make a good pack leader if he can keep his water in the face of such challenges.
There are three others of my kind with these two-leggers, but they are not fully my kind. They are smaller with straight, black-and-white fur and watchful eyes. We greet each other without threat, all three being healthy males, younger, and smelling faintly of the weak-willed bleaters. Their pack leader does not give them long and soon barks for their return. I go to be with Simon.
Traveling with the rolling dead wood is much slower. It gives time to sniff out prey and rest when I want. It’s easy to keep up with the hairy grass-eaters. Even Simon and the other two-leggers walk beside their tall, four-legger beasts.
The three males I met earlier do not join me; they mostly sit upon the rolling dead wood with their two-leggers and sleep. I do not think they would be much good at hunting.
After nesting, when the warmth has returned to the world and I am making water and sniffing out the land, the pup, Vaush, starts causing trouble of his own with some of the older males. He is showing his teeth and running in circles before the females of our pack. There is no real challenge in it, only a thing that pups do to prove they are more than fur and whine. I’ve seen him do this many times before and the female seems quite pleased by his dance. But I do not think these two-leggers are able to smell so good, because they start barking and showing their own teeth. I can sense the challenge from one in particular. Apparently, so can Ruby.
Though Ruby does not care much for me, she seems fond of all three pups in our pack and does not let these newcomers approach Vaush. I can smell no fear in her as she stands before this pack of noisy males. Her bark is full of challenge, showing much teeth, and raised hackles. Truly a bitch protecting her litter. But just as they can not smell the pup’s innocence, I do not think these two-leggers can smell me hunched in the grass, ready to defend her if it comes to snapping teeth. After all, she is pack and I like the pup.
In the end, Ruby’s challenge is only answered with barks and a tucked tail from what proves to be a lesser male. Now he is small in my eyes and will go down quickly if there is need, while the female has grown larger for her courage in standing before the pack. There is some little barking between the remaining two-leggers and Ruby, who has gone to play with Vaush to show there is no real threat. Eventually, all the males depart. With no more danger, I go to stand with Simon. I would give Ruby a lick, but I still do not think she would allow me so close.
Our pack leader has grown tired of moving slow and smelling hairy, grass-eating, four-leggers, deciding to let the tall ones carry our small pack ahead of the rolling dead wood. It is good to be away from their stink; I can finally smell my own scent.
The pups and I go hunting a few times together. Mostly I find long-ears for the young female to hit with death-sticks. Her strikes are fast and never miss. Once I smell out a male long-legger with many sharps upon its head, but the pups decide not to chase it. It is just as well, as I would have difficulty bringing the beast down without help from the rest of my litter mates.
We’ve been running for several feedings and nestings and I smell a settlement of two-leggers on the wind. In the distance I see packs of bleaters and the occasional two-legger nest made of cold stone, grass, and dead trees. A few two-leggers and four-leggers bark at our small pack, but none challenge with teeth. The land smells of fresh earth and growing green things. The air is cooler and no longer carries the sting of the great water.
We’ve entered into a large pack of two-leggers with many stone nests. There is one great place of cold stone we stop at for a time, only to turn and leave. Many of my kind, and not my kind, roam free among the nests of stone. Some bark challenges and other nearly seek to greet and sniff. I do not offer my teeth, as this is not my territory and none offer threat to my young charge.
We arrive at the nest of Blaise and his mate. It is several stone nests placed together, holding many two leggers and various beasts. I can smell the long-legged ones that carry, hairy grass eaters, and some bleaters. There are also hairless mud-rollers that eat anything, bonehead hitters, and many walking-flyers that drop wet stones.
At our approach, there is much barking and yipping among the two leggers. If they had tails, I’m sure they would be wagging, but instead there is much grabbing of paws and the rubbing of scent upon one another. Several males and females, both young and old, greet us. I am of particular interest to the younger ones, as well as, the oldest female. That I am with my charge seems to give acceptance amongst the rest of the pack and entrance to the nesting area.
Resting and eating have become the main effort of the pack, with the nested females bringing food to the males and pups. It is a well-established pack, each member knowing its place and offering no challenge to upset the order. Other two-leggers, mostly males, enter the nest to exchange scent with Blaise and be recognized by this strong pack leader. None offer their teeth and all are well received. Before me I have a nice size pile of chewed bones and the promise of a warm sleep next to Simon.
I think I could get used to this kind of walk.