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And Suffer Day By Day

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Of course in the tribe you were not let near any wolf pup old enough to bond if you were a boy younger than nine years. But once a boy had reached nine years old, and the day came that the year's harvest was in, and the boy was ready to be trained... then he could approach the pups.

Beric had not thought much about the looking-over that happened beforehand. Except for the moments he shied away from going out to the Point on which rocks the baby that was his own self had been found, he felt secure in his life as one of the tribe. He had not thought there would be any question to his being approved as one of them.

Yet for all the wrongness that was having his place in the tribe challenged, Beric remained one of them through being trained to join the Brotherhood, and a wolf pup chose him as brother.

*

Cast out of the Tribe and betrayed into slavery, Beric huddled in the dark bowels of the ship. His own misery and his brother's misery mixed together in an unpleasant stew of shared pain. The slavers had knifed the wolf.

*

The knife-wound on his wolf's side was long healed to a white-edged scar. When Beric had a sliver of time from his household duties, he would sit with his wolf. At such times, Beric would trace his fingers down the scar while his wolf told him in mind-images that the place no longer was painful.

Other places pained his wolf, rubbed by the heavy bands around his muzzle and neck. Having a man-made thing locked on a wolf smelled wrong to any wolf, and restricted their bodily communication. Thus, it stopped the slaves' wolves from the joining of a pack or the making of one.

Beyond the immediate wrong of confining metal was a difference in attitude from the masters and the masters' wolves. Wolves had a keen sense of humans from entwining their lives with them over so many generations. So there was a way of thinking when their chosen humans were masters; masters not of wolves, never of wolves, but quite often in this time of other humans. Masters who lived firm in their belief that some humans were only slaves or servants, without any potential to be pack. The belief was picked up on by their wolves.

Wolves bonded to masters did not accept a slave's wolf, for a human-bonded wolf could never be truly pack if his human were not.

*

Beric worked at freeing his wolf first. If need be, Beric could make shift to hide his own shackles, and in any case those pained him less than the heavy metal bands hurt his wolf. Had the head-piece been more solidly made Beric would have had difficulty, but there was a thin place where two plates joined.

The night stretched as Beric rasped over and over that one place with the stolen file. Finally it cracked apart, and he wrenched the metal from his wolf. At last they were free to run.

*

Even those in charge over a slave-rowed galley ship who kept a slave's wolf caged had to allow that slave moments of time with his wolf. Had they done otherwise, the stoutest cage would not keep them from death at the wolf's fangs.

Therefore Beric and his brother had their watched-over time. Beric would crouch his arm painfully stretched through the bars so that he could reach as closely as he was able, his aching fingers pressed to brindled fur. There was more than one scar to trace, now.

When the allotted time with his wolf was soon enough after the rowers' meal on one of the rare days when the slaves were given meat, Beric would save a piece clasped tight in his hand. His brother took the meat, so gently and with memories of hunting adrift between them. In one way it was without reason, for his wolf got meat of his own. Yet it was a thing he could share with his brother, still, in their captivity.

Sharing his wolf's senses, Beric smelled the ocean around them, the strained-wood smell of the galley itself, the despairing of the rowers, and then again wet salt: Beric's own tears. This wolf had chosen Beric, and they were brothers who would stay bonded no matter the suffering in the life they had left together.