Story: A Raven's Wolf
Word Count: 3303
Story Summary: Raven shifter Connor is living a life of deliberate separation from the powerful workings of shifter society and the influence of his father. Having foresworn his connection the The Rookery he thinks he has a semblance of freedom. However, one night his past catches up to him with word of Mathieu Beaufort, a wolf his father had helped kidnap on behalf of the Royal Park during the Seven Years War. For the sake of their childhood friendship Connor decides to warn him that he is about to be swept up again into the world of shifter power struggles and intrigue.
Chapter Summary: Mathieu makes plans to get to his destination, trying to avoid other Kind along the way. Connor makes a decision to follow, remembering the first time he ever did.
Every day he remained was a risk, but he needed to know what he was walking into. The gossip and newspapers in London had not quite gotten it right. The people were not satisfied with repeals of the Acts and some of the taxes. They felt different, some irrevocably so. Mathieu sat at the inn, listening.
“Beeman, how do you find the city?” asked Mr. Fiske, the innkeeper he’d spoken to on his arrival who’d made some space for him in the stables.
“Well enough. I must be moving on though.”
“There won’t be any boats going south for a few days yet.”
“I’m going overland.”
“What route?” Mathieu paused, nostrils flaring. Humans could be hard to read at times, but he couldn’t smell anything suspicious. As far as he could tell nothing was going on yet. The bay had been wind tossed in the winter storm. Many ships were moored further out for fear of breaking against one another. It was possible the news was still beyond.
“I haven’t decided yet,” he replied, shrugging. No one inquired as of yet, but that did not mean anything. There was no telling who may approach him after Mathieu’s departure. Humans always thought they were safe inside their doors, but Mathieu knew better. The beasts walked among them all the time. “When is supper tonight?”
Stepping out the door, the brisk air caught him full in the face. He made his way through the town, sensing the rhythms. Mathieu could see humans gathering near doorways and store fronts. He wondered how many of them whispered about taxes and tyranny, the way some talked in London. Most of the other wolves had not been interested in human quibbles. There were half-humans for that, the pureblood just reaped the benefits. He recalled it was never quite that way on this continent. Fewer Kind and more humans, dependent on one another. It was the half-humans he would need to reach out to here. After all, they would always outnumber Pure.
Mathieu stopped, a scent catching on his nose. A fox. He kept his head down and kept walking.
“Excuse me, sir!” A woman’s voice called out. She could be talking to anyone, he thought. He heard footsteps and continued on. She stepped in front of him, her simple brown skirt blocking his vision. No choices now. Mathieu looked up to see a woman, her hair tucked under the edges of a white cap. “Good, glad I finally got your attention.”
“I’m sorry, madam. I, uh, have hearing trouble.” She raised an eyebrow and Mathieu blushed. She could obviously smell what he was as well as he could her. “Forgive me, I have business.”
“And what business is that, wolf? The Royal Pack may claim whatever they like but this corner of the territory belongs to my family. I would like to be informed,” she said, putting her hands on her hips. Mathieu gaped at her, trying to think of what he could do. He never should have set foot in that tavern! The girl had probably said something to her mother!
“Madam Fox, I’m afraid that information is not available. I was informed of no fox connection. My business will not interfere with yours, I assure you,” he said, fidgeting from foot to foot. Her brow furrowed. Mathieu could feel the hairs standing up on his neck. He took a deep breath to calm his heart. She wrinkled her nose. His words may have convinced a human, but not someone who could smell fear.
“I see. Do you have a name?”
“Well, Mr. Beeman, should you require lodging, the Sly Fox Tavern is at your service.” She nodded her head.
“Thank you, madam, but as I said, I’m just passing through,” he said. “Heading north.” Perhaps it would be enough if someone asked.
“As you say,” she said, stepping around him. Mathieu curved quickly around a corner before glancing back. She was talking to a young man with dark hair and dark clothes. His back was all Mathieu could see. There was no glint of a gold band on his wrist, but he would have known another Kind at a glance.
A bird. That meant that Rookery. Mathieu turned and hurried back to the stables. He would need to leave. On the wings of a bird, there was no telling how fast information could travel.
“I think you may be right,” Mrs. Smith said. “The poor pup got really nervous when I started asking about his business. He’s spooked.”
Connor turned around, but there was no sign of Mathieu anywhere in the street. Likely, he would disappear now, but why would he be afraid if the Royal Pack had business? Unless that business had nothing to do with him. Could he have run away? An emotion raced through Connor’s chest. Wouldn’t it be something if Mathieu had betrayed the Pack?
“Connor,” Mrs. Smith said, drawing his attention back to her face. “You should let him be. If he’s gone Rogue…”
“From the Pack.”
“He’s a danger to all of us.”
“Connor. Listen to me. I remember when you showed up on my doorstep with all your flight feathers cut on one side and all your convictions still burning inside. The only reason you weren’t pinioned is that you are Liam’s son. I hope that growing up has tempered you.” Mrs. Smith cupped Connor’s cheeks and held his face until he looked her fully in the eye. He examined that face with her golden eyes. She was the closest thing he had ever known to a mother.
“I need to know,” he said.
She sighed. “Be careful. I’ll keep a window open for you.”
“Thank you,” he said, turning on his heel and following in the direction Mathieu had turned towards. He was nowhere to be seen, but Connor could fix that. He was good at finding things.
After all, that was what had created this problem in the first place.
“Connor, do you understand what I am asking of you?” Connor looked up at his father from the wood carving he was working on. Carefully, he folded the silver knife and put it in his pocket.
“Explain it back to me,” Liam Quirke commanded in his smooth voice. Although he had moved to London upon his ascension to the leader of the Rookery he had never fully banished the hint of an Irish lilt. He paced back and forth, his long dark cloak floating behind him like the wings hidden by his human skin.
Connor felt adult, crossing his arms over his chest and mimicking the posture of his father. “You need me to find their position. The Pack leader of the Beaufort family has hidden his children and wife. You want me to find them.”
“No one will suspect me. And I’m good at tracking.” Connor couldn’t help but let the smile onto his face. He was good, he could find something before his brood mates had even done a full canvas of any area. He could also outfly the other boys that took issue with his talent.
“Exactly. Do your duty, my son.” For a moment, Connor was certain that Liam would smile at him. The rare expression he rarely received from the man. A pat on the head and Liam was already turning away when he said, “Make me proud.”
Connor nodded, feeling the anticipation grow in his body. He would make Father proud and he would help end the war between the packs. He watched as his father walked out of the room and into the morning air. A few flurries of snow snuck inside, clinging to the carpet that had been muddied by booted feet and paws. The noise that had faded away while Father spoke returned. The wolves stood around tables looking at maps and documents. Some waited around the corners of the room for orders. A pile of them sprawled in the corner, a mix of human and canine bodies catching what rest they could before they went hunting again. If Connor did his work well they wouldn’t have much more need to hunt down Rogues. Father would be a hero.
Taking a deep breath, Connor moved out of the building himself, climbing the steps up toward the wall of the small fort hidden deep in the forests. Human who came across it didn’t stand a chance. Connor paused upon reaching the lookout post. One of the wolves was there, his human form broad shouldered and shaggy haired. He raised one eyebrow. Connor squared his shoulders and said, “Rookery business.” He would use Father’s name if the wolf wouldn’t budge. Instead, the wolf nodded, picking up his rifle and leaving Connor alone.
Connor’s fingers went to his clothes, peeling back the layers of human propriety to his skin. He hated this part, the chill air on hairless flesh before the Change. He focused, feeling his bones lightening, feathers dressing him once again. A Change was a thought. A man to an animal. A boy into a raven.
In his new form, he hopped up onto the small ledge. Spreading his wings he dropped, feeling the nerves of a fall course through him before a flap sent him skyward again. It was time to find the others, bring back word of where the Beauforts were hidden.
Mathieu had left town during the night. Several sweeps asking after a Canadian with a hint of London on his tongue had turned up only one lead. The innkeeper didn’t tell Connor much, only that Mathieu had headed north. Connor didn’t buy it for a moment. He went somewhere, but where? Not back to the ships, for they were still out of the bay due to the storm. Where would a Rogue go? If Mathieu had escaped the Pack, who would he run to here? Was he going home? Was he meeting with someone in particular?
The questions whirled in his mind as he packed his rucksack. It would be more efficient to fly, but during seasons where humans kept their windows locked tight it was much more of a challenge to find clothes. Not to mention, clotheslines were rarely strung with trousers and shirts at the ready. No, this tracking would need to happen on foot.
“You really are insistent on tracking him aren’t you?” Mrs. Smith said, leaning on the kitchen door frame. The noise from the inn behind her was raucous, even so early in the morning.
“It’s not like I had any other plans for the winter.”
“I thought the plan was avoiding Rookery business.”
“It is. If anyone tries to bring me orders I’ll do what I always do. By the time it gets back to Father I’ll be long gone,” he said, walking over to the sideboard and sneaking a few warm rolls into his sack. He stepped toward her, waiting for her to move from his path. She sighed.
“Be mindful,” she said, catching him around the shoulder for a hug. The show of affection surprised him. He loosely put one arm behind her back. She chuckled. “I suppose I should have known better about getting an embrace from a Quirke. I swear, if you lot weren’t so obsessed with trinkets I would have never guessed about your father’s courtship of Gillian.”
Connor gave her a small smile. He wished he’d known her, his mother, but he couldn’t say it. Father never spoke of her and Connor never felt bold enough to ask why. The idea of asking Mrs. Smith was too challenging, too personal. She’d been good friends with his mother, so long ago. “Keep a window open for me,” he said.
“I always do,” she replied, stepping aside. Connor went from the quiet warmth of the kitchen into the chaos of the inn. Even with a raven’s sense, he could smell the humans in all their unique glory. It was moment’s like these he was glad to not be too sensitive. He waved at Patience on his way out and stepped into the cold air.
Mathieu was out here somewhere. Connor decided would go to the outskirts of town, then choose. North, south, or west. To home, to someone else, or the wilds. He only had a day’s head start. Even in wolf form hiding from humans, he couldn’t have gotten very far.
Connor closed his eyes when he was on the edge of Boston. City gave way to farmland, bringing with it the quiet of a winter day. Quiet was a sound from childhood, the sleepy sounds of livestock and the whisper of a wind that could carry him above the trees. He’d almost forgotten what it sounded like when Father hauled him across the Atlantic, back and forth. England and America. Connor paused, reveling in the few tweets of winter birds and the shuffle of snowflakes as they made their way into drifts and banks. A raven even called from somewhere in the distance. Bird not Kind. Just calling for her partner, her mate. Instinct rippled under Connor’s skin. Yes, it was a good thing he had returned to civilization. The wild was too much tonic. Medicine when no longer needed caused harm. There was no place for him out beyond. A nest and a mate was far too simple.
Besides, he had no idea what to do with either beyond the obvious. Connor wrinkled his nose. He had a task to complete. He was here to find Mathieu.
The road split and Connor stopped, hanging his pack on a way post half-buried in snow. No obvious signs of which direction Mathieu could have gone. Connor stood, looking one way and then the other. The wind shifted, bringing up a shower of snowflakes catching his face, piling onto his gray scarf.
“Quirke, fancy meeting you on the road.”
“MacPhearson.” Connor turned to see the falcon sauntering through the snow. His hands were buried deep in the pockets of his golden brown coat, a slouch hat hanging low on his forehead. “Where are you headed?”
“Nowhere. No new ships coming into port for a few more days so a rare possibility for new orders. I thought I would pay a visit to someone.”
“You mean to the half-human nestling you fathered?” Connor caught the look of surprise. “She’s a poorly kept secret. The foxes knew about her before I did.”
“You always live up to your reputation.”
“How is your daughter?”
Sam smiled. “No way of knowing if she’ll have the Change until she’s older, but either way she is going to be a pretty one like her mother. She’s five now.” Connor nodded, not really sure what to add. Family was a strange phenomenon. “Where are you off to, Quirke?”
“Just trying to decide where to go next?”
“The south will be slightly warmer.” MacPhearson made a show of blowing on his hands and adjusting the collar of his coat.
“It is indeed.” Which Pack families lived south of Boston? There were really too many to consider. There were the Howards, they had major ties to the Royal Pack going back more generations than most. Robert Stanley’s family was there. He’d spoken up when the Royal Pack couldn’t decide what to do with the teenage son of a murdered traitor. Connor heard from a gull some years ago that they’d been shamed back in England. There was a thought.
“Sure is a lot of considering over a place to wander,” MacPhearson said, taking a few steps forward and making his way down the road. “Don’t think too hard, Quirke, that takes the fun out of all of it.” He continued down the road back towards town. Connor watched him out of the corner of his eye. MacPhearson’s nestling aside, there was something strange about the encounter. Orders were orders and who knew what tales Father gave to Rookery ears. Alone once again on the road, Connor turned towards the one that led further south. Even if Mathieu didn’t choose that direction, there was a possibility. If he slipped through his fingers, Connor would let him go. Probably, anyway.
“I’ll let him go,” he repeated aloud, his words drifting onto the wind. Perhaps saying it would make the words true.
“Connor, do you have news?” asked Liam Quirke, perched on his chair beside a pile of documents and maps. He looked at Connor over the candles spread across the campaign desk. Connor watched a piece of paper that fluttered near his father’s elbow in the breeze made by the comings and goings of the wolves through the tent flap. The room was filled with members of the Pack. Some looked back at him like he was a sort of oddity, a skinny teenaged boy amidst mature men.
“I wasn’t able to find him, Father. I’m sorry.” Liam’s hand tightened on the paper he was reading, crinkling the parchment. Jaw tight he looked Connor straight in the eye. Connor’s heart leap into his throat, pounding frantically like when he wore feathers. His eyes dropped to the ground.
“Leave us,” Liam ordered, the wolves turning to look at him for a moment. They put down whatever they were doing and filtered out of the room leaving only their scents in their wake. “Why did you return if you had no news for me?”
“Father, I… winter was coming on and…”
“You are perfectly capable of surviving the winter. I know that I have instilled the skills into you. So, I ask you again. Why did you return with no news?”
“I…” Connor wanted to tell his father how lonely it had been, how many encounters with natural predators that would have killed him as readily as any other bird. He didn’t, because Father knew that. He’d done it all before. Father was always full of answers to everything. Nothing surprised him. “I’m sorry, Father, I will resupply and I won’t return until I find him.”
“Good. I look forward to seeing your triumphant return. We will end this war with intelligence. The wolves don’t need any more blood.” With a wave of Father’s hand, Connor knew he was dismissed. Connor bowed his head and walked out of the tent, the wolves brushing past him to go back inside. Connor took a few steps, quickening his pace to get away from prying eyes.
The camp was small, only Kind in a tight circle of tents with those in animal form patrolling the perimeter. No humans in sight. Connor rushed through the tents and darted into the woods. The tears began to fall. He crouched down and wrapped his arms around his knees, pressing his face against his legs. The cold seeped into his body and he knew he would need to get used to it. That cold would be the end if he didn’t bring anything back for Father. Where else could he look? There were millions of miles of wilderness, so much land! It had been three months and he’d not turned up a single clue.
He wiped at his eyes, standing up and smoothing his clothes. He sniffed, trying to clear any more signs of his distress. He went forward, moving towards the wilds once again. He began running. The bare winter shrubs grasped at him. A ledge was up ahead where he’d sat admiring the expanse, hoping that he could be useful to Father. That hope didn’t last long. The snow crunched beneath his feet, the ice crumbling as he approached the edge. Suddenly, there was no more earth and he tumbled into the open air. The Change came over him, wings taking the place of outstretched arms.
He had to find them, the Beauforts were the key. He’d never get home without them.
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