By the first rays of dawn, the wolves had begun to stir. They nuzzled both of their faces, staring at them expectantly until the two humans began to move about in preparation for their day. Grey affectionately tussled with the animals, growling as he tugged on their ears and lightly boxed their muzzles.
They crouched and bounced about, enjoying the game while Annie sat and watched them, laughing. He liked it when she laughed. It was such a cheerful sound, making them forget, for a moment at least.
“What?” she asked, noticing him smiling at her.
“Nothing.” he said, grinning.
She smiled back, her nose wrinkling in the process. Freckles dusted her nose and cheeks, accenting the glint in her blue eyes.
He grabbed her about the waist and pulled her into his lap, she giggling as he did. He pressed his nose into her cheek, holding her tightly. “You know I love you, right?” He said, before kissing her soundly on the mouth.
He held her tighter still as she returned the kiss. Until the wolves butted in, putting cold and wet noses on their faces to urge them to hurry.
“Alright, alright…” Grey muttered, letting her go before getting up. He quickly pulled on a shirt of thick wool, followed by soft leather britches and a pair well-worn leather moccasins. “Meet you outside.” he said, kissing her on the temple before pulling on a tunic made from rough leather. No sooner had he stepped over to the flaps and had gotten them undone, then the wolves darted through the opening.
It had frosted during the night and the sun made the grass glitter as it crunched underfoot. He watched as the wolves made the rounds, greeting the various members of the tribe in their own fashion. Freyr, his silver male, was exuberant. He bounced and pranced about, licking faces when he could. His mate, Maura, was much more reserved. She would sedately follow after Freyr, accepting scratches to her neck and pats to her shoulders, but was otherwise aloof. And absolutely dedicated to her mistress. Periodically, she would glance back at their tent, checking to see if she had stepped out yet.
“Hail, Greylark!” Cried one of the tribesmen. He held his arm out to Grey in a greeting of friendship. “How fares Annie this morning?”
“Hail!” Grey answered, clasping the man by the forearm. “She is well.” he said softly.
“Has she been having her dreams again?”
Grey nodded and the man clapped him on the shoulder.
“It will be good for her to get away for a time. For you, as well.” He said before turning away.
The tent flaps rustled and Annie stepped out. Maura promptly bounded over to her side, watching the woman’s body language intently. Freyr merely glanced over, allowing his tongue to lull out of his mouth, before continuing on with his morning greetings.
“Good morning, Annie!” Greeted a chorus of voices.
She held her arm up to return the greeting, her fingers twisted in the ruff around Maura’s neck for comfort.
They made their way to the long-house for breakfast, Freyr content to be left outside. Maura stayed by Annie’s side, making it so wolf and man were on either side of her. Her amber gaze never left Annie’s face as she ate, ever watchful for any sign of distress.
It was more of a gruel that she ate, the same they gave to the very old and the very young. Bland, but easy to ingest. Not that she could taste anything.
“Greylark, what are your plans for today?” One of his cousins asked.
Grey settled an arm around Annie. “I think that we will head out to our trap sites, get them set up. Carry out some supplies with us.”
His cousin nodded. “Get settled in before the snows.”
There was a wicked twinkle in the mans eye, until his wife jammed her elbow into his ribs. The long-house erupted into laughter then.
The wolves were happy. Freyr slunk through the brush, nose to the ground the whole time. Whenever he would glance at them, he’d have his head cocked to the side and tongue hanging out of his mouth.
Maura kept close by, bringing up the rear. Every so long she would circle close to the man and woman before ranging back again. She was watchful, and more so than usual.
As they approached the earthen dugout that served as winter shelter, the wolves drew close. Their ears were pricked as they cautiously stalked forward. Grey and Annie drew their bows, knocking arrows and holding them at the ready. Grey and Freyr crept closer, Annie keeping watch on their rear.
There were men at the dugout, both inside and out. Grey could not make out what they were saying, but he could hear them rummaging through the supplies on the inside. Freyr crouched low, hackles raised as lips began to curl upward. Peering around the trunk of a tree, Grey could see that the men were of Annie’s people.
Two stood just outside of the dugout while others ranged away from it, keeping a lookout. Along with the two men inside, Grey counted about ten men.
Behind him, he heard a startled cry and an angry snarl. Going back the way he had come, Grey found Maura latched onto the arm of one of the men. Annie was just a few paces behind the wolf, bow drawn.
“Get this beast off of me!” the man bellowed.
“Maura!” Grey commanded, and the she-wolf immediately released her bite on the man and stepped back. She kept her head down, snarling and snapping, her hair standing on end.
The other men quickly surrounded them, guns drawn. Their sights were focused on the two humans and their wolves. “Do not shoot!” Grey shouted, making himself heard.
A man wearing hunting leathers stepped toward the center, shoving his way past two of the other men. “You heard the man, put your guns down boys.”
There was obvious distrust toward Grey and Annie, but since he was their leader, they did as he instructed.
“So what brings you out to these parts?” The man asked, studying Grey and Annie. “It’s a bit early in season to be setting traps.”
“We wanted an early start.” Grey answered carefully.
The men snickered until their leader raised his arm to shush them. “You speak good for an injun, boy.” he said, the corners of his mouth tugging toward a smirk. “This here your squaw?”
Grey squared his shoulders and stood tall. “She is my wife.”
Annie stood close to him, clenching a fistful of Maura’s ruff. She was carefully studying each man. There was something about them that she just could not put her finger on…
“How do know they ain’t tied in with the ones we’s hunting?” one of them demanded.
“’Cause this boy is of the wolf clan. Which means that this is Annie Bicketts.” He moved to take Annie by the chin in order to pry her mouth open, but Maura lunged at him. He took a step back. “If you could get a look into her mouth, you’d find that her tongue’s been cut out of her.”
“How’s we supposed to know that they weren’t the ones to burn out that homestead years ago?”
“Yeah. They could have done it and cut her tongue out so that she can’t do no talking.” Another said, his lips curling into a snarl of disgust.
Annie’s gaze locked onto the man who had spoken. And then she released her hold on Maura, the wolf leaping for him.