Coming soon: Adawulf.

PROLOGUE

 

He crouched low in the brush, the fullness of the summer foliage masking his presence. The warm breeze caressed his face as he tasted the fresh kill upon the air. He longed to feel flesh between his teeth, yet fear held him in its clutches, turned his bowls to water and loosened his bladder. Urine left his body of its own violation and he trembled uncontrollably. He sought to centre himself by focusing his grip upon his javelin, but the weapon felt awkward in his adolescent hand.

A boy of only nine winters, his father and chieftain had nonetheless deemed him ready for the ‘testing’, the time when a boy would become a man or be killed. It was a time celebrated by the strong, for they were the survivors and the purging of the weak was a blessing, made more so during the hardships of war.

He took hold of the hilt of the long dagger in his belt and breathed deeply. The deer skins he wore seemed to fill more; his body felt stronger as he mastered control of his fear. His grandfather’s words, as the aged warrior had handed the boy his own dagger, came to him as he focused. Fear is but a lie told to us by the Dark One. Do not heed its call and it has no power but let it in and you will never again be free.

He stood and pulled the dagger from his whipcord belt; it was heavy in his hand. The blade was longer than his own forearm, and at its hilt it was just as wide. Its double edges were honed razor sharp and its point needle thin. His grandfather had schooled him often in its use; if the point found flesh, then its sleek design would plunge it deep within an enemy.

He tightened his grip upon the shaft of his javelin; the polished ash wood felt smooth as he closed his fist around it.

“Well met,” the boy called. His voice sounded hollow and soft, though he had intended it to sound calm and hard. “I am named Adawulf.”

From thirty yards away, the Great-Black Wolf’s head snapped upward. The kill before it forgotten as it readied itself for a challenge. It sat low on its haunches; ready to pounce without thought. It sniffed the air and growled as a response to its scent. It moved its head from side to side as it looked for enemies in the forest. It found none. Only this boy stood before it. A boy that weighed less than the deer it had taken down only moments before. It reared back its snout and sent forth its call, deep, foreboding and mournful. Its howl was a warning, for this Great-Black was old and had no wish to kill this boy, though in its younger days man flesh was a prize.

Adawulf tried in vain to still his quickening heart as the Great-Black rose to meet him. Adawulf was young, but the chieftain’s son was also quick of mind and he let that part of his consciousness free to calculate while his body took on the position best able to offer defence. His left foot forward and pointing toward his enemy. His right foot angled away from his body forty-five degrees. With his weight balanced upon his back foot, he drew back his javelin, leaving it hanging loose at his side, ready to whip it into flight in an instant. The wolf called its challenge. Icy fear rose in the pit of the young boy’s stomach as he realised this would be his only moment to flee, yet pride made him stand.

The wolf stayed low and circled to the right. Yellow eyes locked with the boy’s pale blue and an acknowledgement was shared silently in that moment; one of them would die today. The wolf tensed aching muscles. The boy had chosen his moment well, for the wolf was old and the hunt had sapped its strength. The wolf hesitated in its movement, then stopped; fear had awoken within and with it its companion, doubt.

The boy shifted his weight slightly as the wolf prowled to his left. Adawulf knew the beast tested its opponent. He was young, but trained by honoured warriors and expert hunters. He would not be forced into a rash move or fearful mistake. Adawulf watched with curiosity as the wolf stopped, its mannerism changed, its prelude to attack halted. The wolf contemplated. The boy saw the same fears and doubts in the wolf as he had fought in himself moments before. The boy laughed. It was not a nervous laugh, neither was it mocking, but rather it was the laugh of one whose fears had been stilled and now replaced with confidence.

The wolf became enraged. A moment before, he had considered fleeing, abandoning his kill and refusing this challenge. Let another kill this pup, he had reasoned with himself. Gone are my days of trophies and foolish pride. Yet he was wrong. The boy had laughed, and in that moment a fury had warmed the wolf’s ancient blood and strengthened his resolve. One last honoured victory. He would tear this pup, end its linage. He would mark its greying furs with the boy’s lifeblood and leave his scent over the corpse for all of his kind to bear witness.

The laughter abruptly stopped as the wolf became once more decisive. It disappeared briefly as it stepped behind the bole of a magnificent oak, and when it reappeared, it was an altogether different animal. Yellow eyes took on a heightened clarity, becoming bright, as if lit by an inner power. Canine teeth, jagged and often damaged through decades of use, were bared. Bloody drool hung from jaws that shook with anticipation. And then it came.

It came with a speed that betrayed the eye. There was no between moment, no thought or defined course, it simply came. Two hundred and fifty pounds of ferocity and instinct leapt across the forest clearing in a surge of energy terrifying to behold. Adawulf staggered backward as he felt death race toward him, a blur of movement that confounded the sense and robbed him of the knowledge and training he had received at the hands of his forebears. An inbred instinct to survive jumped to the top of his consciousness, and he brought his javelin to bear. He neither took aim nor thought about the technique used as he pulled back his straightened right arm and let loose. Before he felt the polished wood leave his grip, he knew the throw was in vain and snapping jaws would close on him before his throw was finished.

The wolf was already before him, its final leap under-way. Forelegs were outstretched, ready to pin the boy to the ground. The huge muscles in the great beast’s hind legs were springing from the forest floor, absorbing kinetic energies and releasing them through its padded paws. Adawulf felt great shame as he saw the punishment for his weakness about to deliver the sentence. The shaft of the javelin stopped and quivered as the blade of the weapon dug deep into the meat of the wolf’s shoulder. The wolf’s motion could not be slowed, and its leap continued, accompanied by a howl of anguish and rage. The butt of the javelin struck Adawulf hard across his cheek, splitting the flesh and sending him reeling to the ground. Before he could get to his feet, a huge weight landed on his chest, knocking the air from his lungs and pinning him helplessly to the ground. Adawulf looked into the eyes of the Great-Black. A lifetime of pitiless killing shone forth from those knowing eyes. The boy who would not become a man tried impotently to move his arms as the jaws snapped shut again and again just inches from his face. But the wolf could not close those merciless weapons upon the sweet flesh. It was trapped. The butt of the javelin had lodged deep in the ground and anchored the weapon as the bladed end ripped deeper and deeper into the wolf’s muscular shoulder. Its bloodlust was so raised, its fury so unsatisfied that it forced the javelin deeper still into its own flesh in an effort to close upon its foe. The yard long shaft of the weapon bowed under the pressure. The butt entrenched the earth. The blade threatened to burst out the back of the wolf’s shoulder. The jaws snapped as bloody salivate dripped into Adawulf’s torn and battered face.

Clarity and calm blinked into the chieftain’s son’s awareness and banished panic and doubt. He yet lived. Against all odds he had survived an assault by the forest’s most deadly killer and more the prize was within his grasp. Adawulf squirmed under the weight of the wolf. He wriggled free his left side and with a turning of his whole body and a single moment he managed to be free of the creature’s right paw. The wolf’s paw slid from Adawulf’s chest and struck the compacted soil of the forest floor. The sudden jolt caused the blade to bite at a different angle, and the wolf cried out in a wailful howl of pain.

The wolf raised its paw as it tried to once more pin the boy beneath its weight, but as it lifted the leg, the added weight upon the weapon caused it to drop the paw to the forest floor once more. The boy was free. With that freedom, Adawulf took hold of his dagger’s hilt and drew the weapon from its simple leather scabbard. He drew back his left arm till the weapon’s hilt rested upon the ground, and with the might of one desperate to live, he plunged the blade deep into the ribs of the wounded animal.

The wolf reared up on its hind legs; its forelegs pawed at Adawulf as it tried to distance itself from the pain. Adawulf rolled to his right, pulling his dagger free as he went. The wolf’s blood soaked the boy as it gushed out in a torrent of warming satisfaction. Adawulf came to his feet, smiling as he wiped the blood from his eyes. He felt the exhilaration of victory, the overwhelming gratitude for survival. The wolf was not yet ready to succumb to defeat. Its authority as master of the forest fed the fire within, and its whimpering of pain turned to growls of vengeance. It took the javelin’s shaft in its powerful jaws, closing them sharply, ignoring the damage to its teeth as he turned the shaft to splinters. Now free of the yard long shaft protruding from its chest, the beast came forward once more. The weapon deeply embedded in its shoulder caused it to limp and grimace with pain, yet still it came forward. The wound to its side bled freely, yet still it came forward.

Adawulf felt a profound sense of freedom, unburdened by fear or personnel doubt. He knew he would win this battle. He had overcome his fear and he knew he would never allow himself to submit to terror ever again. He charged. He threw the dagger from his left hand and deftly caught it in his right. The wolf leapt to meet him. At the moment before the two were joined in mortal combat, Adawulf threw himself to the ground, thrusting with his dagger as the wolf passed overhead. The blade took the creature in its throat, ripping a chasm in the wolf’s windpipe. Adawulf held tight to his grandfather’s blade and was dragged along before the beast fell and curled in on itself as it made pathetic whimpering noises. Air escaped from the wound that would quickly bring about the Great-Black’s death.

Adawulf was surprised at the lack of pity he had for the dying wolf. Whilst on the hunt with his kin and clansmen, he had always felt sorrow for the pain of his prey, but his escape from fear had also brought a lack of empathy. He put his bare foot upon the wolf’s neck, pinning its head to the ground and removing the threat of its teeth. Adawulf, now counted a man amongst those of the Black Wolf Clan, took his dagger and cut deep into the flesh between the animal’s rib cage. Sawing with the steel as the animal weakly squirmed under his foot, he opened a gash two feet in length. With a primal cry, a vocal statement to his forefathers and to the Gods, he reached inside the animal and took a firm grasp of the beast’s still beating heart. As the wolf’s eyes clouded and its spirit left its body, Adawulf, eldest son to chief Gadawulf, pulled with a newfound strength and heard a series of sickening snaps as the heart was wrenched free from its workings. He felt a deep sense of pride, of belonging and place in the world as he hungrily sank his teeth into the warm heart of his first enemy and looked to future glories as he devoured his prize.