“I asked a cattle man what he thought of wolves: he said they were a dangerous species- prone to sudden vicious attacks, and that they had no regard whatsoever for his territory. I asked a wolf what it thought of man, and got the same answer.”
The wolf was not a young wolf anymore. Several freezes and thaws had passed since he had challenged the Grey One and taken the role of Akela- head of the Pack. He had been younger then- his limbs had been stronger and obeyed his mind’s commands more quickly, his senses and instincts had been keener and more attuned. But time had passed and now old wounds pained him when the temperatures dropped. Akela’s jaw ached from an infected tooth in the back, often making it hard for him to chew. Sometimes one of his eyes would become cloudy for a period, then clear up. And his back legs hurt him all the time.
There were at least two younger males in the Pack- Sharp Ear and Tall One- who now watched him carefully. They were not his offspring, but were the sibling children of a she-wolf the Pack had adopted several winters before. An unnamed primal sense told Akela they were gauging his strength for the inevitable challenge. A challenge that was not far off.
The Pack was making its way across a frozen flat tundra, skirting along the side of a deep ravine, headed for the high pass into the mountains- just visible on the horizon ahead. As they went, the wolves picked their footing cautiously in the deep snow that had fallen several days before, wary of drop offs. The feeding so far this winter had been very lean, and it had been several days since their last large kill, in the form of a pronghorn sheep and its juvenile, so bellies were empty and the overall mood was grim. Akela walked in front in accordance to his station, eyes and nose ever alert to dangers ahead or to their flanks. Behind him he could sense most of the pack focused on their steps along the precarious declivity, but he could also feel two pairs of eyes watching his every movement. Akela pushed the pain in his knees away, ignoring it, refusing to let the others see him limp even just a little.
Two days before, they had been headed South searching for ground free of show in which they could dig for small rodents and other food. There was a wide range that way that they knew from experience often contained very good hunting at this time of year. But something had changed now. As they had travelled, a dark line running from side to side had appeared up ahead. It had grown in size as they approached it, until it revealed itself to be a very large long rounded Thing, several feet off the ground. The Pack didn’t know what to make of this new element in their familiar territory, and it visibly unnerved some of the members. Its shape told them it was not a native part of the natural world they were so familiar with. The Thing stretched as far as they could see in both directions, at a height well above where they could leap over it, and it sat atop other Things spaced out every so often.
They could not see the pipe’s blue-green paint color, nor could they read the trademarked Rockham Oil logo stenciled onto it.
With caution, Akela had ventured toward the new Thing, sniffing carefully. It made no sound, nor movement. Whatever danger it may hold was impossible for the wolves to sense, which made them ever more wary. But he was the leader and this job was his.
The eyes of the whole pack were on him as he crept forward and, after a moment, bravely set a paw underneath where the Thing floated above. Nothing happened. Akela slowly moved another step forward, and then with a surge of effort leapt forward and skitted clean under and to the far side of the Thing- unharmed.
The Pack was obviously impressed, and Longtail, Akela’s young sire, crossed under as well, joining his father. But even this show of leadership could not convince many of the Pack members that it was safe to cross underneath the Thing, and several hunkered down before it, cowed by its alien appearance.
Akela had been left with a difficult choice, then. His experience told him food would be scarce and hard to come by to the North. He was the Leader of the Pack, and his choices should be obeyed. But the Pack was obviously against him in this. Sharp Ear and Tall One stood against him with the rest. The Thing had upset the delicate balance that allowed Akela to keep control over the group. That control was slipping now, and if he did not relent, his instinct told him the Pack would rebel, and challenge or not, would follow one of the others back North.
The wolves stood there in silence for a long moment. Their conversation took place without any sound, their fears and intents spoken only with mute stares and glances of golden eyes. But the decision was made. Akela came back underneath the Thing once more, and began leading them North.