(Amazon) 2011
purchase here (U.S.A.)
purchase here (U.K.)


In the half-light of mid-day the reek of spruce bit into his nostrils. He loped through the forest like a cloud flying before the approaching storm. His effortless gait carried him out of the close packed trees and along the edge of the frozen lake. A thin veil of wind embroidered with the delicate musks of the marten and hare and the feathery fragrance of ptarmigan swept away the oily heaviness of the conifers.

His twitching nose carefully sifted through each wafting smell. Not for food, but for the tell-tale stink of other wolves.

He turned into the wind and tasted the slight sting of salt accumulated on its journey northward across the Gulf of Bothnia before a distant howling brought him to an abrupt halt. He pricked up his ears to identify the members of the canine choir. His mother's voice was clearest of all. His father, the dominant male, and his three subordinates crooned with her. The sisters followed up sometime later, at least an octave higher and last summer's litter, in need of practice, squeaked persistently.

Leaving the pack had not been easy. But after three years at his mother's teat he knew that he would never replace his father. The pack had been very stable for a very long time. There were many older brothers and cousins ahead of him, but he had one outstanding characteristic unique to himself.

He was just a shade deeper in tone than the tawny beige of his siblings and very much darker than his cousins, the white wolves, the ones that lived on the Taiga along the edge of the Barent Sea. His downy underfur was light, but the stiffer bristles along the ridge of his back were black.

His distinctive appearance singled him out. Whenever play became too robust, adult males teaching the pups their place went for him first, nipping at his ankles until he lay feet up, tongue lolling, totally subdued.

On the other hand his mother always treated him with special attention when it came time to disgorge some half-digested dinner from her throat. He loved the mucus covered slime.

As he grew up his dark coat gave him excellent camouflage. He became an expert at lurking in the shadows of the deep woods.

He was also an unintentional trouble-maker. His stunning coat was set off by a pair of clear, intelligent, at times defiant eyes, mounted on either side of a long, finely tapered nose. Eye contact among his peers was a delicate matter and his irritating lack of diplomacy lay at the heart of many a squabble.

When he found himself relegated to the role of baby-sitter, crawled upon and chewed upon by the new litter for the second year in a row, his blood started coursing. He had other aspirations. He would be a sire or die in the attempt.

No particular event, no crucial incident forced his departure. None of the rest of the pack made any attempt to drive him out or to stop him. The choice had been his, and his alone. The world was viewed from an entirely different perspective. All attachments were terminated. There was no ceremony. One morning, he simply crawled out of his snow covered burrow and bounded into the shadows, never turning back nor lingering on a hilltop to look over his shoulder.

His aim was to position himself within the hierarchical pyramid of another pack and work his way to the top. If this failed, his only hope would be to tempt a female to break away with him. There wre enough reindeer in the region to support another family. The predators and scavengers following the grunting herds south to north and back again, still found hundreds of dying carcasses, victims of the top predator of them all, hunger.

He had the natural stealth and speed required of a successful hunter, but until he could become part of a pack he would not be able to bring down a reindeer. In the meantime, he was quite capable of feeding himself on carrion.

He had to prance and have a little whine. A healthy male, with a pleasant voice was a desirable commodity in this neck of the Boreal forest. He would do alright.

He was not surprised that his family were moving south with him. They did the same thing every year. But it startled him to think that he had veered so close to their route. He immediately altered his course.

He heard the long mournful slide of the howling drop through more than an octave and the alto voices begin to diminish as he kept up a punishing pace, eating up kilometre after kilometre with a steady, tireless trot. Only when the murky twilight faded into the deep violet of the night and the full moon inched its way above the trees, did the voices disappear from earshot. He did not let up even then and although he had been moving without relent for a full twenty four hours he showed no sign of fatigue.

Then, unexpectedly, he caught the intoxicating whiff of territorial urine. He found its source on the trunk of a frost shattered birch tree. The sign was old. Perhaps as much as a week old. He rubbed his cheek against it, over and over again. Drinking it in, fixing every nuance of it in his memory. Then he turned and lifted his leg, squirting a pungent stream of his own discharge over the dark stain and scrapped up a layer of snow up and kicked it against the tree.

Early the next day he came upon a fresh sign. Neat piles of faeces no more than a day old. He lay down amongst the deposits and rolled in them with great enjoyment and snuffled with relish. When he had satisfied himself, he contributed his own void to the collection and carefully began to circle the spot, systematically sorting out the wide variety of scented spoor until he settled on the most recent. Although he could not determine the exact number of individuals in this pack, he was sure that none were ever members of his own clan.

Before he overtook its origins, the trail was covered by a fresh falling of snow and he was forced to resort to bisecting the countryside with ever expanding semi-circles, seeking evidence of a kill or a place where the pack had stopped and rested. When he was in fear of dropping from exhaustion, he burrowed into a snow bank and pulled his fluffy tail up around his delicate nose protecting it from the murderous chill. That night it dropped well below the expected extremes of minus 20 degrees centigrade.

It paid off, for the next morning, after several unsuccessful passes through the pack's territory, his sensitive snout led him to a rack of ravaged ribs breaking the pristine perfection of the frozen expanse of snow. He used his powerful paws and sharp toe-nails to tear his way down to the carcass. It had been stripped, the bones were deeply gouged by slicing carnassials placed in the back of a wolf's jaw, specifically designed for paring flesh from bone. He flopped onto his belly to enjoy a good gnaw.

And then, when he was buried in his indulgence, he felt the crunch, crunch, crunch of footfalls on the crusty snow. He lifted his head just in time to find himself encircled by six large males, all dark, much darker than himself, confident and aggressive.

This was not the time for displays of pride. His tail dropped between his hind legs and his head fell to his knees. He held this supplicant position while the alpha male minced up to him and opened a pair slobbering jaws directly over his exposed neck. He was at their mercy and swallowed his pride.

Perhaps if food had not been in plenty. Perhaps if he had not been reeking with the scent of their own discharge. Perhaps if he had been a lighter colour, they might have torn him to shreds and left the unrelenting wind to clean his bones.

Instead, if he cam no closer than their peripheral vision, they tolerated him . Later he dared fight with the pups for the scraps. By the following winter he was permitted to play a full part in a major hunt, the chase of a magnificent bull reindeer, weakened by an overly long and arduous rutting season.

It took a further three years before he challenged his way through the field and earned the right to mate. But before he died, clubbed in the head by the slashing hoof of a cornered elk, he heard the evening serenade of his former pack but try as he might, he could not find his father's voice in the dirge.



(Amazon) 2012
purchase here (U.S.A.)
purchase here (U.K.)