Rayni trudged forward along the moonlit ground, head hanging low, tail between her legs. Low gutteral barks broke the stillness from all sides. She put one paw in front of the other, forcing herself to not look at the many pairs of eyes fixed on her.
The growls grew louder. Someone snapped at her hind leg. She looked behind her. Wesler bared his teeth in a snarl. “Keep moving, traitor.”
Rayni resumed her slow march--her walk of shame. Death waited at the end. Only fitting for what she’d done. She hadn’t meant to hurt them. She’d just wanted love and was certain that she’d found it.
She sighed, her breath forming a cloud of mist. She'd been wrong. The wolf she loved, who she thought loved her, had used her to gain access to their camp and hunting grounds, killing their best hunters and driving away any remaining prey. The few surviving hunters would have to work extra hard to find enough food for the pack.
With a final shove from Wesler, she reached her executioner. The Alpha leader, Orion, waited for her. His piercing gaze drilled into her soul. He had every right to kill her.
At his feet lay the body of Rayni’s father, Axel. Killed during the attack. The attack she caused.
“Rayni, daughter of Axel. You mated with a wolf outside your pack. Due to your actions, many of your pack brothers and sisters lost their lives, including your father, and we have lost our food supply. You have been sentenced to death for treason. Do you have anything to say?”
Rayni nudged her father’s still form with her nose, wishing he would wake up and take her on a hunt. Tears filled her eyes and her voice shook. “I’m so sorry, Papa.” She hung her head and closed her eyes. “Just get it over with.”
She waited for Orion’s teeth to clamp around her neck. For the other wolves to take their part in tearing her to pieces. She waited. Nothing happened. What was going on?
Lifting her head, she opened her eyes. Orion’s gaze, still fixed on her, had shifted from anger to compassion. “I...I don’t understand.”
“Rayni, our customs and laws dictate that the proper punishment for your actions is death. However, I, as Alpha, have the ability to alter such rulings as I see fit. This has allowed me to be a fair leader. Haven’t you always known me to be just?”
She cocked her head. “Yes, of course. But wha--”
“Your father was our lead hunter and a valuable warrior in our ranks. He would want me to show you mercy, and I shall. Though I’m not sure you’ll see it that way.”
The pack grumbled. Her fur stood on end. What was going to happen?
Orion raised his voice. “You are banished and no longer a member of this pack. If you return, you will be killed on sight.”
Wolves gasped, while others growled. She gave her father one last, mournful glance, then turned and walked back the way she had come. Several voices called out “Traitor!” Others just rumbled. They wanted her dead, but they remained faithful to Orion.
Wesler followed her to the edge of the pack’s territory. As she approached the boundary, he ran past her and blocked her path. “Why did you do it?”
“Please, Wesler, I don’t want to talk about this.”
“I loved you, Rayni. We could’ve been mates for life. Why did you sacrifice that, and the whole pack, for this...this...snake?”
Rayni tried to push past him, but he shoved her back, baring his teeth. She averted her gaze. “I loved him.” Shame washed over her, weighing her down. “But I was a fool.”
“Yes. You were.” He stepped aside, looking away. “And as soon as you leave, I will forget you. You’re dead to me.”
With a heavy heart, she crossed the boundary. She looked back at Wesler. The hate and pain etched on his face made her whimper. “I am sorry, Wesler.”
Something else flickered in his eyes. Love? Could he still love her?
He blinked and the flicker vanished. With a low growl he turned and walked away, leaving her alone.
That night it snowed. Within hours everything was covered in a thick, white blanket. Although beautiful, this soon made hunting harder for Rayni. All the animals had either retreated to their homes or were buried under the snow.
One week later, the scent of prey lured Rayni to the outskirts of a small village. Her bones ached as she crept through the trees, her fur wet and cold. Rumbling came from the emptiness in her stomach. She needed to find some food.
Orion should have killed her. That would’ve been more merciful than this. Was that his plan all along? To make her suffer for her betrayal?
The sound of bleating filled the air, breaking her out of her thoughts. Sheep! Rayni’s stomach rumbled louder as she stalked up to the treeline, halting at the road. On the other side lay a large, round, fenced-in field filled to the brim with sheep, their faces buried in the snow. More than enough for Rayni to feed on.
Hunger drove her closer to the fence. The sheep milled about the field, munching on any grass they could find beneath the snow. Rayni stayed low, searching the herd. In her state she wouldn’t be able to vault the fence, so she needed something small that she could pull through the bottom.
“Wolf!” The call startled Rayni, and she bolted back into the forest. “Wolf!” The cry came again. She scanned the field of sheep from behind the trees till she saw a young human. He was the one shouting. Other humans showed up, heeding his call. They searched the field, but finding nothing, they left.
Rayni growled. She would need to wait till night to try again.
That evening Rayni’s patience paid off. She dragged a young lamb into the trees, unseen, and for the first time in a week had a proper meal. Her stomach full at last, she curled up among the undergrowth and went to sleep.
The next day she watched the sheep from the trees. Could she stay here, living off the sheep in the field? How long would it be before she got caught? Part of her wanted to leave and try to find a new pack. Surely someone would take her in. Right?
Rayni rose to her paws, shaking her head. Who was she kidding? No decent pack would take in a stray, and the only pack she wanted to be a part of was her own.
She also couldn’t stay here. Humans weren’t that stupid. They’d eventually figure out they were losing sheep. Just a few more days, and then she’d continue. On her own.
As evening approached, she circled the herd, careful to stay downwind. With renewed strength from the previous night’s meal, she leapt over the fence with ease, landing in a cluster of sheep mindlessly munching on grass.
A bright flash of light blinded her, then the same voice from the day before. “Wolf! Wolf!”
Rayni snarled. Rats! She scanned the sheep nearest to her, looking for the smallest available. She had to choose quickly! Aha! There! She dashed forward, snatched the young ewe, then slid under the fence. She bolted into the cover of the trees, glad that her dark fur would blend well. She broke the lamb’s neck with a quick shake, then hid it in the bushes.
Footsteps. She crouched in the bushes with her dinner, watching as the humans searched the road and the edge of the trees. She held her breath, willing them to leave.
After a few moments, they finally turned away and headed back towards the shepherd boy who waited at the fence. “Again, no sign of a wolf! Are you sure you saw it?”
“I’m positive! It was there!”
“Bah! You’re lying. Don’t bother us again, boy, unless the sheep are in real danger.”
The humans walked further away and Rayni was no longer able to make out what they said. When she was sure they were gone, she pulled her dinner out from the bushes and started to eat.
Listening to the humans gave her an idea. What if she tricked the boy long enough, so that the other humans didn’t come running? She’d have free rein to eat as much as she wanted! She’d never go hungry again!
The thought vanished almost as soon as it appeared. What about her pack? With their hunting grounds depleted, they weren’t going to last the winter. Sure, the hunters would be working extra hard to track down food, but in this weather it wouldn’t be enough. What if she led them here? She was the reason her pack was destined to starve. She owed it to them.
To be continued...in Part 2
You can read about what led me to write this story on my new off-Steem blog.