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14,000 years ago
The legends say that when the blood of the Wide Valley wolves mingles with the blood of the wolves outside the valley, the wolf who bears that blood will stand forever between two worlds. It is said that such a wolf holds the power to destroy not only her pack, but all of wolfkind. That's the real reason Ruuqo came to kill my brother, my sisters, and me in the faint light of the early morning four weeks after we were born.
Wolves hate killing pups. It's considered unnatural and repulsive, and most wolves would rather chew off their own paws than hurt a pup. But my mother never should have whelped us. She was not a senior wolf, and therefore had no right to have pups. But that could have been forgiven. Much worse than that, she had broken one of the most important rules of the Wide Valley, the rules that protect our bloodlines. Ruuqo was only doing his duty.
He had already given Rissa a bellyful of pups, as was proper for the senior male and female of the pack. Unless given permission by the leaderwolves, no other wolf may mate, for extra pups can be difficult to feed unless it is a very good year. The year I was born was a time of conflict in our valley, and prey was growing scarce. We shared the Wide Valley with four other packs of wolves and with several tribes of humans. While most of the other wolves respected the boundaries of our territories, the humans did not -- they drove us from our own kills whenever they got the chance. So the Swift River pack did not have food to spare the season I was born. Even so, I don't think my mother truly believed that Ruuqo would hurt us. She must have hoped he wouldn't notice our Outsider blood, that he wouldn't smell it on us.
Just before dawn two days before Ruuqo came to end our lives, my brother, Triell, and I climbed eagerly up the incline of soft, cool dirt that led from our den to the world outside. Dim light filtered into the deep hollow of the den, and yips and growls from the wolves outside echoed off the walls of our home. The scents and sounds of the world above intrigued us, and anytime we weren't eating or sleeping, we were trying to sneak outside.
"Wait," our mother had told us, blocking our way, "there are things you must know first."
"We just want to see what's out there," Triell wheedled. I caught the mischievous glint in his eye, and we tried to dash past her.
"Listen." Our mother placed a large paw over us, pressing us to the ground. "Every pup must pass inspection to be allowed into the pack. If you do not pass, you do not live. You must listen to what I teach you." Her voice, usually soft and comforting, held a worried tone I'd never heard before. "When you meet Ruuqo and Rissa, the leaderwolves, you must show them you are healthy and strong. You must prove that you are worthy to be part of the Swift River pack. And you must show them respect and honor." She released us, gave us one more worried look, and bent to wash my sisters, who had followed us up to the mouth of the den. Triell and I retreated to a corner of the warm den to plan what we would do to become part of the pack. I don't think it occurred to me that we could fail.
Copyright © 2008 by Dorothy Hearst
Excerpted from Promise of the Wolves: A Novel by Dorothy Hearst
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