Here’s an excerpt from my latest novel, Echo and the White Howl. An animal fiction adventure for all ages, this segment is from chapter 1, just after Echo and the other wolves in his pack successfully hunt an elk amid the snowy Alaskan landscape.
(NOTE: click here for an introduction to some of the characters in the story.)
The wolf pack howled in triumph for a few seconds. Then Imalik hovered next to the dead beast, his great fangs drooling as though he were about to begin feeding. Aatag immediately approached, and the two wolves stared at one another. Echo watched the scene, and for a moment felt anxious as the two great wolves sized one another up. Aatag was a large grey wolf, with a great bushy tail and deep eyes filled with the experience of many hunts and many winters. His wisdom and cunning over the years meant he bore few scars, and yet there could be no doubt he appeared old. Perhaps as Puyak claimed, he wasn’t quite as sharp and swift in his instincts as he used to be.
Imalik by contrast seemed in his prime. He looked more scarred, but no less cunning. His black furry coat was matted and bloody as a result of the death blow he had inflicted on the bull elk, and one of his dark, steel eyes had an oddly milky texture, as though he were blind. Yet Echo knew Imalik’s eyesight was legendary. He could often see at a longer range than many wolves, seemingly through trees, rocks and beyond.
Copper trotted up to Aatag’s side, and Echo watched as the red wolf stared at Imalik, perhaps silently warning him. As Aatag’s Beta, Imalik would always feast second after Aatag and Kiana, but on more than one occasion he had grumbled about this. For a moment Echo wondered if another argument might ensue, but presently Imalik cocked his ears and head into a submissive pose.
As Alpha, Aatag ate first. He gnawed and chewed at the freshly slain elk whilst the rest of the pack looked on. Echo stood nearby, knowing he would have to wait his turn and that the best and most nourishing parts – the heart, the liver and so forth – would have almost certainly been consumed by then.
Once Aatag had eaten his fill, Kiana ate too. Echo could not fail to notice the resentful glare in Imalik’s eyes as he watched, growling quietly under his breath. But a quelling look from Copper rendered Imalik silent once more.
Puyak trotted up to Echo, planting his paw firmly in the snow with his ears alert, ready to feast on the carcass once permission had been given. He was next in line, then Echo, then Malakai. Finally Imalik and lastly Copper would be allowed to feast. Despite their hunting prowess Imalik and Copper were not cubs of Aatag and Kiana, and as such always came last during feeding. Both had previously been lone wolves; wanderers from other packs that had been allowed to join Aatag’s pack some years ago.
For a moment Echo glanced at Copper. He had less fur than the rest of the pack, and the rusty colouring of the red wolves was not seen as often in their region. Copper had a reputation almost as fierce as that of Aatag, and rival wolf packs for miles around had always kept well clear of their land. However, recently there had been more challenges than usual. With Aatag undertaking fewer patrols in person around the perimeters of their territory, much of the security work had been left to Copper and Imalik. Together they had marked the ground and ruthlessly intimidated any wolves that dared to stray too close to the border.
In the south, near the River Aga where they had caught the elk, there had been a number of recent skirmishes. Copper and Imalik had seen off scouts from at least two different packs over the last month. There had been rumours of aggressive stand-offs, and Imalik had said that challenges to territories further north had left a number of packs wandering, wanting to incur on their ground. Such news had been reported to Aatag, but the Alpha had so far not seemed overly concerned.
As Aatag and Kiana finished feeding, Puyak moved in to eat, but Aatag blocked his path.
‘You broke cover too soon,’ said Aatag. ‘You were impulsive. Because of you the elk could have escaped. Next time be patient, and await my signal.’
‘But you were too slow,’ said Puyak. ‘If we’d waited much longer…’
‘When we hunt in this pack you follow my orders, or you don’t hunt at all,’ said Aatag. ‘Is that clear?’
‘Good. Now you may eat.’
Aatag’s admonishment of Puyak was not unusual. Puyak was the biggest and bravest of the litter which Malakai and Echo had been born into, but he was also the most reckless and had frequently been warned that his actions could get him killed if he wasn’t careful. Malakai, Puyak and Echo had not been on many hunts, but on virtually every single one they had attended so far, Puyak had been singled out for criticism by his father.
‘He really doesn’t seem to learn,’ Echo said to Malakai.
‘His time will come,’ said Malakai. ‘One day, Puyak will balance wisdom with bravery, just as Father does.’
‘So you always say,’ said Echo.
‘I have faith in all my brothers,’ said Malakai. ‘Some learn quicker, some slower, but the important thing is to learn.’
Echo stared at Malakai, again thinking over what an enigma he was. His brother often seemed distant, elsewhere, and yet he seemed wiser than many wolves that were far older than him.
After Puyak finished eating, Echo finally took his turn. He sank his teeth into the tender flesh, tearing at the skin and gorging himself on the meat of the elk’s hind quarters. He ate until he was completely full, feeling refreshed and nourished following the long and tiring hunt.
Once Echo had finished, he moved away from the elk, knowing that Malakai would feast next. But Malakai didn’t move. His ears were cocked, his eyes wide, and he stared in the direction of the rushing river at their southern border, sniffing the air curiously.
‘What is it?’ asked Echo, barely able to sniff anything beyond their recently caught food.
Malakai didn’t reply. He kept staring fixedly to the south, unmoving and alert. Echo trotted to his side and looked in the same direction but saw nothing out of the ordinary.
‘What do you see?’ Echo repeated. But Malakai didn’t answer. He seemed to be in some kind of trance.
‘Oi, Malakai! You eating or what?’ said Copper.
Still Malakai didn’t move. He continued to gaze into the distance. Echo wondered what could possibly have so captivated his younger brother that he would delay feasting on their newly slain kill.
‘Malakai, go and eat or we go ahead of you,’ said Imalik.
‘That’s not the order we eat in,’ said Echo. ‘You know my father’s rules.’
Imalik growled softly. ‘Only too well… The cubs eat before the older, stronger, more experienced hunters…’
‘It is his law,’ said Puyak. ‘Are you going to stand in the way of it?’
‘The only one standing in the way of anything is Malakai,’ said Imalik. ‘He isn’t feeding, and in the meantime, we are getting hungrier.’
‘We do it Father’s way,’ said Puyak. ‘Malakai eats first.’
‘Malakai, get going,’ said Copper. ‘Snap out of it.’
But Malakai didn’t move. Copper trotted up next to him. ‘What does he see out there?’
For a moment Echo, Puyak, Imalik and Copper all looked towards the River Aga. Aatag and Kiana had curled up nearby, and were snoozing after eating. Echo stared towards the water and the trees beyond, but still could not understand what had so caught Malakai’s attention. The wind had dropped, and every twig and leaf froze. Even the sound of the rushing river seemed to vanish.
Eventually Imalik broke the silence. ‘Enough of this foolishness. I’m feeding now.’
Echo blocked the path between Imalik and the slain elk. ‘No Imalik. We obey the rules of the Alpha.’
‘Your father is asleep,’ said Imalik. ‘Should we wake him and ask whether he thinks it’s reasonable to wait for your dazed brother? Or are you going to do the sensible thing, move out of the way, and let me eat?’
‘We should wait for Malakai,’ said Copper.
‘That’s ridiculous,’ said Imalik. ‘I’m not waiting around for him to snap out of whatever trance he is in.’
‘Nonetheless, that is Aatag’s law, and that is what we will do,’ said Copper.
Imalik began to growl, and for a moment it appeared he and Copper were about to have a stand-off, but at that moment Malakai seemed to come to. He turned and trotted towards the elk and began gnawing at the meat. The others stared at him, bemused. Presently he frowned and addressed them.
‘What’s the matter?’
‘What were you staring at out there?’ asked Echo.
Malakai looked puzzled. ‘I don’t remember.’
But Echo had seen that look on Malakai’s face before. Whatever he had seen, he didn’t want to discuss – at least, not yet. Echo watched as Malakai continued to bite and chew at the elk. Imalik glared darkly at Copper and Echo.
‘Looks like you’ll be waiting your turn after all, Imalik,’ said Echo.
‘One day Echo, I will be first,’ said Imalik.
Aatag and Kiana continued to snooze. Puyak lay down and joined them. Echo also began to feel dozy. Tucking his paws in under his thick coat of fur, he looked out in the direction that Malakai had been staring, again wondering just what it was that had so distracted him from the business of feeding.
When it finally came to his turn to feed, Imalik glared at Malakai as he moved away from the elk. Copper joined Imalik and they both gnawed at opposite ends of the animal. Echo could feel Imalik’s angry stare but chose to ignore it, and instead began to question Malakai.
‘What did you see out there?’ Echo asked. ‘You really did seem absent for a moment.’
‘Not here,’ said Malakai. ‘I’ll tell you later, back at the Crown.’
Echo was intrigued, but said nothing further. Whilst the other wolves rested he kept staring down at the southern territory border, his mind idly wondering what lay beyond.
Echo and the White Howl is out now as a download or paperback from Amazon. Order your copy here.