Run, Wolf (Nightfall Wolf Clans 1) by Keith Melton
Copyright © 2009 Keith Melton
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
Lady Justice has never been a friend of mine.
That charade about her and the blindfold and scales was utter bullshit. I knew it. Every pair of those yellow gold wolf eyes staring down at me knew it too. It would’ve been better to have run. Too late now. The she-bitch in me had wanted to fight, wanted to force my pack to see how wrong they were. Now I was discovering how weighted those scales were against me.
I stood barefoot in the center of a circular pit of white sand in the middle of an amphitheater. My skin felt warm, almost hot, despite my nakedness beneath a loose satin robe the color of dried blood—the raiment for those facing the Blackstone Wolf Clan’s judgment. Tom was with me, standing by my side. His mouth cut across his face in a grim line, and I could smell his anger. It seemed to evaporate off his skin like sweat. Tom was the reason I stood here on trial before my clan. They made him keep his street clothes—a sign of utter contempt hurled in the teeth of a werewolf without a pack. I knew he didn’t fully understand the insult, though I could tell from the look on his face he could sense the gist of it. As for me, their disdain for my mate burned in my mind like acid.
It made the hate come easy.
A ring of small forest stones surrounded the circle of white sand, each jagged surface covered with pale green lichen. The amphitheater had been built as a hexagon, and benches and ramps ascended on three sides. Some members of my clan had stayed in human form, dressed in the loose robes they could easily shrug out of if they needed to change to wolf or wolfbreed. The satin robes were different colors according to their rank in the pack, from the brown of the omega slouching in the top back row to gray or blue and up to the alpha pair in silver. Others of the pack had changed to full wolf form, sitting on the benches or lying on the ramps, heads up, ears turning side to side. A few, that bastard Gris among them, kept themselves in wolfbreed form—the two-legged upright shape halfway between human and wolf. This shape was closest to the myths of werewolves, and was used when fighting other weres or when hunting human prey, before clan law had forbidden human meat. Despite the law, a couple of my clan mates sometimes whispered that Gris and his little pack of puppies had indulged more than once.
Gris seemed to sense my attention. His wolfbreed mouth dropped into a grin that showed too many teeth. His white fur lifted and his yellow eyes almost burned. My poker face was perfect. He wasn’t going to scare me.
And yet… I felt very small standing there next to Tom in this massive place, beneath the long dark beams of wood radiating outward high above me, carved with symbols and pictures of wolves and ravens and trees. I felt like an outsider, as if I’d already lost the pack, even before the trial.
“You okay?” Tom asked me in a low voice.
“Yes.” The lie came easy and quick. I could see he didn’t believe me for an instant.
Martin Giroux stood from his seat, more of a throne, really. In one hand he held a carved white staff with raven feathers dangling from the tip, and he leveled it at us. “Be silent.”
Tom turned his head to where Martin stood on a dais built near the bottom tier of seats. His eyes narrowed as he locked gazes with Martin, the male of the clan’s alpha pair, and the second worst person to piss off right at this moment. Tom opened his mouth to say something else, but I touched his shoulder. He glanced back at me and shut his mouth. I gave him a grateful smile.
“Leah Kendrick,” Martin said. He appeared almost as furious as Tom did, clipping his words as if hacking off any lingering tail of sound. “You may not touch him while you stand in a sacred circle. Is that clear?”
I laughed. Couldn’t help it. It just blasted out of me like an unintentional fart. The whole thing suddenly struck me as completely kindergarten—hands to yourselves, children!—or, hell, so junior-high-dance that I had to laugh.
A low rumble of growls filled the amphitheater. I could feel the anger of my clan through the Bond I shared with them, the mental connection that allowed me to communicate with pack mates, regardless of their form. The anger buzzed like a furious hornet in my head.
“Are you finished?” Carolyn Giroux asked me, her eyes like shards of broken amber. She was Martin’s mate, and in the amphitheater she was the most powerful wolf, the master of ceremonies and mouthpiece for the Blackstone Clan’s judgment.
I lifted my chin, stared right back and didn’t answer.
The air was winter cool, even here inside, and I wished I could change and fight the chill with my thick gray fur. That was forbidden, though—a member of the clan on trial had to maintain human form until a verdict was given. I almost changed anyway, but managed to hold myself in check. Best not to burn bridges before even attempting to cross them. Things were going badly enough as it was.
Carolyn nodded and stood up next to Martin, who still held the ceremonial staff like some imperial guard at a palace. “Good. Then let the inquiry begin.”
As one, all the wolves, wolfbreeds and humans threw back their heads and howled, filling the air with a mournful music that echoed off the heavy roof timbers. I kept quiet, having to clamp my teeth shut against the urge to join the music.
The howling trailed off, and for a moment there was complete silence. Tom threw another glance at me. His hands had clenched into fists and he stood there, muscles tense, smelling of aggression and protectiveness, and beneath it, the barely discernable green-wood smell of fear. I tried a reassuring smile, but it was probably a weak and sickly thing, because it didn’t change his smell, only made it stronger. I wanted him to touch me, hold me in his arms and make me feel safe, but I didn’t quite dare flaunt the Alphas again in an amphitheater full of outraged werewolves.
“Leah Kendrick,” Carolyn said. “You’ve been summoned here to face the clan’s judgment for your actions.”
“Let Tom go, and I’ll face whatever you want to call judgment. He isn’t bound by our law.”
Carolyn swept back her silver robes and sat down again. Martin remained standing, like some hangman trying to break us with his presence. I ignored him as best I could. Alpha pairings at a wolf trial had the female rendering judgment and the male carrying it out, symbolized by that stupid stick Martin had in his hand. For now, Carolyn was by far the bigger of the two threats. Her face was pretty in a severe way, deeply lined around her mouth and eyes, and her hair was a silver that nearly matched the robes draping her spare frame. I didn’t know her well. As a new werewolf, I ranked near the bottom of the pack hierarchy, but Carolyn was rumored to be scary smart, and from what I’d heard, far more ruthless than her mate. All the betas down to the omega respected her, some with clear resentment, and yet her ruling coalition and clan dominance had never been broken.
Still, as we locked gazes, her eyes almost seemed to hold a bit of sympathy. Or was I imagining that? A little bit of wishful thinking before the pack hamstrung me?
“Let us both go.” Tom’s voice was sharp with threat. I could tell he was fighting the Change. Rage always made it harder to keep human form, always drove a werewolf toward the wolfbreed.
The fifty or so members of the Blackstone Wolf Clan bared their fangs. A low growling again filled the amphitheater, rumbling like idling stock-car engines. Their flare of anger was like a red haze in my mind, a glow of fire over my thoughts.
“Don’t talk to them.” The words nearly lodged in my throat as if I’d swallowed a razorblade. “It’ll make this worse.”
“God damn it.” He spat on the sand and showed his teeth to the wolves around us. “I won’t cower.”
But I could still smell that thread-like scent of fear coming off him, though it was ever so slight and almost completely hidden beneath the waves of anger and outrage. Who wouldn’t be afraid, facing down fifty werewolves? The hatred and scorn hung so thick in the air I knew he could feel it, even if he wasn’t Bonded to the clan. Yet Tom never once dropped his gaze in submission.
“The outcast cub will stay silent.” There was no sympathy on Carolyn’s face now. “If he can’t contain his yipping, I’ll have him gagged.”
A blaze of white-hot pain burst at my fingertips as my claws cut out of my nail beds, white ivory and wickedly curved. This just kept going from bad to worse. “Anyone who touches him answers to me.”
Gris barked laughter, a sound that was only strange the first hundred times you heard it. I could sense his thoughts in my mind, black with insult and red with lust and rage. “Puppy, you make sad threats. I’ll tear out your throat and leave your carcass for the crows.”
“Fuck you, Gris,” I sent back to him.
His lips peeled away from his massive canines in a grin. Now his yellow gold eyes seemed to glow with anticipation. “Just wait.”
“Enough.” Carolyn’s thought sliced through ours like an axe blade. A tremble seemed to pass through the pack at the fury in her mindvoice. Tom looked around at the weres that surrounded us, not seeming to understand. He couldn’t hear the mindspeak without the Bond.
“Leah Kendrick, you were brought into the Blackstone Wolf Clan of Boston by your friend Hannah Davies, your wolf sister in the pack. She has claimed she did not know you had taken up with…” Her amber eyes flicked over to Tom, and the distaste on her face was clear. “With this…pack-less cub. This newborn puppy you created. Is that true?”
I could see Hannah off to my right, a couple of rows up and sitting next to a small brown wolf. She was in human form, blonde, curvy and wearing a sky blue robe. Her hand came up and twisted at the robe’s V-neck. Her mouth was tight with strain, and I could read the regret in her eyes, but she still didn’t dare send me anything in mindspeak.
“That’s right,” I finally answered. “She knew nothing about the man I chose as mate.”
A low-grade murmur broke through the amphitheater, and all the wolves growled deep in their throats. Had I offended them? Too damn bad. Tom turned to look at me with his brown eyes intense, almost electric with emotion. I didn’t think I’d ever seen him more handsome, his dark hair in spiky disarray and a black blur of stubble covering his jaw. But it was his eyes that made me want to kiss him, kiss him for the love and gratitude I could read in his gaze.
Gris broadcast his mindspeak to the pack. “You can screw the humans, but you can never claim one as mate. It’s forbidden to give the gift of the Bite without the clan’s permission.”
I couldn’t keep the sneer from my thought. “You’d rather just eat them, right, Gris?”
Gris bared his fangs in a snarl instead of a grin and took a step toward the ring of stones. Tom wheeled to face him, and though Tom and I didn’t share the clan Bond, I could sense he was an instant from shifting into wolfbreed and lunging for Gris’s throat.
“Stop,” Carolyn said. Gris paused, and then gave that growling, rumbling-chainsaw laughter again. Carolyn pinned him with her stare.
He hunched his massive shoulders in a shrug, but that damn grin was back on his face.
Carolyn turned to me. “You became Bonded with the pack on the night Hannah gave you the gift of the Bite. You’d been rigorously vetted. You’d agreed to all our laws, to abide by all our rulings. One of the most sacred was that you never change a human without the clan’s approval. You broke this law and created a renegade. Is this not so?”
Her eyes softened. “And why would you do that?”
“The bitch was in heat,” Gris broadcast through mindspeak. His cronies, four or so thuggish curs who could be counted on to slink along with anything Gris said, gave that growling laughter. “If I’d have known she needed to be serviced, I would’ve done the deed myself. For the good of the clan, of course.”
I was grateful Tom couldn’t hear the mindspeak. There would’ve been blood if he had, and spilling blood at a trial would be our death warrant.
“Be silent!” Carolyn Giroux whip-cracked her thought through the pack mind. Gazes dropped and wolf ears flattened in submission. I stared back at Carolyn in unflinching defiance and thought I saw that look of sympathy flash back in her eyes, but it disappeared just as quickly, and I couldn’t be sure.
“I did it because I love him,” I said.
“Love isn’t a defense.”
“It’s all I have.”
A person said something like love in front of everybody, and it was open season for mocking, for derision, and maybe it did sound completely trite to them. So what? It didn’t feel trite to me.
Tom gave me that striking smile, and we shared a moment of unspoken words. It was all I could do not to just grab his hand and pull him out of the circle to go running with me under the dark clouds, and to hell with everything else.
“The clan is in danger,” Carolyn said. “The God-cursed vampires are warring over Boston and they’ve caught the attention of the Order of the Thorn.”
Absolute silence followed her words. I’d been warned to fear the Order of the Thorn since my Bonding with the clan. I’d never seen them, much less been hunted by Thorn knights, but fear of them ran deep through the pack. Their “wolfers” were loathed among lupine shapeshifters even more than loners without any clan allegiance.
Carolyn allowed the silence to draw out for a long, painful moment before she spoke again. “A new wolf unbound to any clan is a threat. Its appetites, uncontrolled, might bring our enemies down upon us. We will not risk it.”
I could feel the urge to Change gathering inside me, but I fought it back until I had it leashed again. I took a deep breath. Let it out slowly. “Then bring him into our clan. Let me vouch for him.”
Their outrage was predictable. I didn’t even flinch against the snarling and anger that poured across my Bond.
“He hasn’t been vetted,” Martin said. “And you don’t hold sufficient rank to give the gift of the Bite. Bringing him in would erode the foundations of the Blackstone, and all we stand for.”
Carolyn watched me closely, as if she could sense my inner struggle not to shift, my fight not to shout back that this was complete crap. When she spoke, her voice was calm and impersonal. “You’ve betrayed the clan. Broken the law. Disgraced every single one of us. We’ve heard your answers, and now I will render judgment.”
She paused. The entire amphitheater was still, everyone awaiting the verdict. The bitch drew it out, and I struggled not to writhe beneath the weight of all those cold eyes. My heartbeat thudded dully, and there was a ringing in my ears, almost a high-pitched whine. The stink of contempt, aggression and outrage hung cloying and foul in the air all around me like a black cloud. For the first time I hated how sharp my senses had become after the Change.
Carolyn finally continued. “The new werewolf you created should die by our law, but we cannot destroy him without destroying you as well, and I can smell your determination to fight alongside him. Since clan law decrees no wolf blood may be shed here in the sacred sands, both of your lives will be spared for tonight.”
I opened my mouth to say something but she pressed on relentlessly, stabbing her words at me.
“You are cast from the pack. The Peace of the Council will extend for a full twenty-four hours. After that, you will no longer be entitled to our protection.” She waved a dismissive hand toward me. “All that you own is forfeit to the Blackstone Wolf Clan. Go forth into the long winter alone.”
My voice broke. “This isn’t justice. You’re taking everything and leaving us to die?”
“If you want justice, then go slink off to human courts, dog,” Gris thought to me. “Here you’ll get the judgment of the clan and you’ll like it.”
Martin slammed his staff down on the floor with a loud crack. The raven feathers swung back and forth. His face made it clear I was less than dog crap to him now. “You are outcast,” he said. “You are Cain. Wander the earth alone, and may the snow never melt from your fur. Go into the darkness knowing you are dead to your family forever.”
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