Please enjoy my first foray into fantasy: a short story, for the New Year.
The warg with the white tail stared dumbly at the dead elf.
He had been staring for some time, and now the dark had swallowed the blue suns for supper, and the snow was falling fast in the taiga of the nameless North. All around them in the clearing were piles of slain orcs: headless and eviscerated: the elf had smote them with his sword. But White Tail neither feasted on their fetid flesh nor even gave them a hungry look: his eyes were fixed on the elf. Every now and then he bent to the ground, licked the icy blood from the Elf’s wounds, and whimpered – though he did not know why.
‘Where have you gone off too, Elf?’ he seemed to be saying, ‘For you are not here, and yet you are.”
The notion of death was still beyond the ken of White Tail’s thoughts, and the Forever Sleep had not been named by any other of his kind. Though the wargs of the Northern taiga were not without a considerable sharpness of mind, their belly did most of their thinking—and such a notion as death still eluded them, as their hooved and crafty prey the Flashlings also did, on occasion. For them the world still hummed and shimmered with unbroken being, and time flowed as blood. Life was the rhythm of the rising suns, the electric odor of the hunt, the breaking of bone and the grating of gristle – but most of all – the howl that welled within them during the Deep Dark Night. They took no more notice of the passing of one of their own than they did of the sweat-mites that covered their dirty fur. Wargs do not dwell on the dead.
Even so, as White Tail stared at the Elf, he felt a lump in his throat. He swallowed, but the lump remained.
‘Need to feed, or leave!’, grumbled his belly. ‘None of this in-between business.’
White Tail hesitated. Something held him to his haunches. He was well nourished, so perhaps that was the reason for his perplexities: wanting to eat, but having no need.
‘No need?’ protested his belly. ‘Never full, never faded, a hunter’s hunger is never sated.’
Suddenly he turned from the South, and ran down the mountain towards the woodlands, for he knew the way there and the game was plenty. But as he ran, the darkness of the forest suddenly appeared, to his horror, as like a deep throat surrounded by sharp teeth.
He stopped, and the instinct to howl surged inside of him. He held it at bay, swallowing hard, and he could feel the lump in his throat grow larger.
Even as he did, he seemed to hear a noise back at the glade: a whistle. And then, a familiar voice:
‘Come on, boy! Come on, White Tail!”
It was the Elf!
The warg immediately circled round, and raced back up the hill, barking along the way. “Here I am, Elf! Here I am!”
With each stride, the cries grew in enthusiasm, but the closer he got to the Elf the quieter it got. So swift was White Tail’s speed, and so heavy his panting, that he did not hear the silence: the whistling had stopped. He burst through the trees with his tail wagging.
Before long White Tail was laying down beside the elf, licking his fair face, and whining all the while, for Elf would not whistle, nor would he cry out. The noise had been a phantom, an echo of his past: he had had a memory for the first time.
“Will you not wake, Elf? Can you not make play again?”
The black epiphany of mortality was waxing in White Tail’s mind like the moon, and he could no longer hold back the howl. He let go of the lump in his throat, and surrendered to what was within.
He howled with something close to grief. It was a frightening, fierce, guttural growl, an alien farrago of man and monster that was both and neither.
The hideous howl echoed across the taiga, and not even the snowfall could muffle its resonance.
Far away, beyond bog and birch, another pack of wargs heard his anguished cry. Their large pointed ears stood erect, and they cocked their hairy heads, confused. They had never heard such a noise in their lives. This was no rallying cry, warning, or signal: White Tail was in pain, of a kind and degree they were scarcely able to comprehend. Whatever beast had caused White Tail to wail in such a manner was more horrible than any they had encountered in the forest – even the famous icedrake and his murderous maws. They fled in fear, kicking up snowballs of peat and dung.
No matter. The beast they could not name or know was called Death, and he would catch them eventually.
Meanwhile, jolts of sadness coursed through the whole of White Tail’s hulking body; brown eyes bulged and glistened with tears, muscles tensed and seized; he pawed helplessly at the earth. And he howled. His domed forehead felt like it was splitting in half from the strain of these foreign sensations, and his tail wagged back and forth in a reflexive attempt to defend himself from the assault. White Tail was realizing, slowly (and with horrible hurt), that the Elf was gone, and would never come back.
Waves of images from an unknown sea crashed into his mind’s eye – a series of memories. In the first, White Tail is a pup, and he is being mauled by his own pack family. What could cause such a madness, even among wargs? Of course: nothing needed but the queerness of his own white tail. No light, however faint, has any place among the beasts. Driven into the lifeless tundra, he was left to die. Famished, sickly, and cold, he had crept into a cave to rest, and then, to breathe his last.
“You saved me,” White Tail cried to the dead Elf, as he remembered. “You saved me and became my master, and I followed you wherever you went.”
Elf was but a boy, but had loved White Tail like a father: feeding him, teaching him, and playing with him.
“And, now, laying down your life for me.”
The memory finally resolved itself in White Tail’s head like the dew. They had been ambushed by a pack of orcs. The orcs had only wanted to capture White Tail, so as to send him to their Master, the Watcher of the Woods, to be given the powers of speech and thought and all manners of great gifts.
“He has a Master, and my love is all he needs,” was the Elf’s reply.
Then they yelled, and charged, and there were many.
“Now he is gone, and I am alone,” White Tail cried.
Just then, he heard it: the whistle. It came from faraway, beyond the Deep of the Dark Night, from the light of the moon.
For a few seconds, White Tail stared uncertainly at the bright thing underneath the stars, trying to grasp his strange and newfound grief with the promise of an even more strange and newfound hope.
Then, he felt a lump in his throat.
White Tail howled at the moon, and now he knew why—somehow, someway, and somewhere, up there in the sky, was a boy’s love for his dog.