The Last Wolf
The Legend of All Wolves 1
Sourcebooks Casablanca, February 6, 2018
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 320 pages
For three days out of thirty, when the moon is full and her law is iron, the Great North Pack must be wild.
If she returns to her Pack, the stranger will die.
But if she stays…
Silver Nilsdottir is at the bottom of her Pack’s social order, with little chance for a decent mate and a better life. Until the day a stranger stumbles into their territory, wounded and beaten, and Silver decides to risk everything on Tiberius Leveraux. But Tiberius isn’t all he seems, and in the fragile balance of the Pack and wild, he may tip the destiny of all wolves…
In which Tiberius eats dinner with the hostile Pack and learns that not everything that is small and cute and furry is a puppy
Upstairs, the screen door opens and closes with a slam. Orders are barked out, and heavy treads stomp back and forth between hall and kitchen. As the Pack passes the stairs to the basement, the complex fragrances of the dishes they’re carrying waft down to us. Benches start scraping across floors, and I push Ti’s extra clothes into a bag and push the man himself up the stairs.
As soon as we reach the hall, the smile I hadn’t even known I was wearing fades. The Alphas of every echelon are standing around the heavy hand-scraped tables, each one of them holding tight onto their seaxs, the sharp daggers that all adult Pack wear at their waist.
There are strict penalties for attacking a table guest, and John will kill anyone who tries, but edgy wolves are edgy wolves and not always in control. I am this man’s shielder, and I face them, my thighs coiled low, my shoulders squared, and my lips curled back from my teeth, so these wolves know that I will fight, even in skin. Tock, tock, tock.
Behind me, Ti is not even facing the right way. He’s looking at the table, opening up casseroles with one hand, while flicking his spoon up and down against his bowl with the thumb of the other (tock, tock, tock). As though there weren’t a hundred evil-eyed wolves staring holes into his back.
He lifts a hand-thrown lid and sniffs the saag paneer. Another basket with bread. A selection of Corningware casseroles hold cauliflower and lentil stew; sun-dried tomatoes and fresh cheese; corn chowder. Pasta with herbs. Egg salad.
“So…you’re vegetarians?” Ti says to no one in particular.
“Not vegetarians,” John answers. “But not carrion eaters either. You are our guest,” he says loudly to remind all the wolves with itchy palms about our very ancient and very strict rules of hospitality, “and free to hunt anywhere on our land, but Shifter? You must eat what you kill.”
“John?” I whisper, pulling at his elbow, and he bends down. “His name?”
John scratches his graying beard for a moment before pointing to one casserole dish in Blue Onion pattern. “Tiberius?” he says, “My personal favorite is the cauliflower and lentils. Be sure to add some toasted hazelnuts.”
Someone coughs, but John has broken the spell, and the Alphas reclaim their seats. Though when they do, they seem to have doubled in size, their broad shoulders and thighs now claiming whatever spare space we might have squeezed into.
I bend my head toward one of the empty tables. Those too will be full when the Offlanders come home for the Iron Moon, but for now, we sit there alone, side by side. The Pack starts talking again, bent low over their food because our table manners at home are not all they should be.
Naturally, there is a lot of talk about Ti, and while no one will question John’s decision, it is one of the peculiarities of the Old Tongue that the word giest means guest and stranger and enemy, so when someone speaks of our new giest, everyone understands the double meaning.
Then John says that’s enough Old Tongue for now.
A handful of pups scrabble up the stairs from the basement storage. They’re chasing something, taking wide frantic turns around the room.
“Mouse,” I whisper to Ti. “They don’t last long here.”
“She didn’t take me down,” Eudemos complains loudly.
“I mean, I was still standing.” He hacks at the big loaf of bread with his seax. “Where’sa butter?
“I neber submided,” he insists, a pale-yellow crumb flying across the table. He uses his thumb to push the mouthful back in. “If what she did counts as submitting now, I think we should change the laws, thass all I’m sayin’.”
“Deemer?” says John.
Victor, our Deemer, our thinker about Pack law, crosses his arms and looks at the ceiling for a moment. “The law does say an opponent must be pinned down,” he says. “But while Eudemos was not down, he was very definitely pinned, and that is the more important part of the law.”
“Your Alpha agrees. The spirit of the law was upheld.”
And with that, Eudemos will not say another word about the matter.
The mouse finally caught, Golan trots up to John, followed by a roiling mass of fur. He lays his tiny prey at the Alpha’s feet. John looks at it, making sure the kill was clean and the mouse didn’t suffer, then he scratches Golan’s ear and wishes him good eating.
Suddenly, Ti jumps and lowers his hand to fend off a juvenile, who has her damp nose in his crotch.
“Rainy!” shouts Gran Moira. “Come here!”
Rainy cocks her head to the side and stares up at Ti before running off.
“Why do you have so many dogs?” Ti asks, his legs now tightly crossed.
“Nooo,” I hiss. “They’re not…” It’s too late. He didn’t say it loudly, but our hearing is very good, and one set of very good ears is all that’s needed. One by one, the Pack falls silent, appalled by what Ti has called our children.
Four fuzzy snouts peek over the arm of one of the fireplace sofas. Other pups glower down from the curved stairs that lead up to the children’s quarters.
Then the only sound is the brittle crunch of Golan’s sharp, white teeth.
“Excuse me, Shifter?” pipes a small voice. A ten-year-old girl with long, pale-brown curls, wearing shorts and a much-washed blue T-shirt with a picture of a pickle on it, scratches the back of her calf with a bare foot. “I am sorry I smelled your crutch?” she says, glancing back at Gran Moira, who mouths the word crotch with an encouraging smile. “But that’s what I said. ‘Crutch.’”
“It’s ‘crotch,’” corrects Gran Moira.
“Oh,” Rainy says, turning back to Ti. “I am sorry I smelled your crotch? I didn’t mean to be offensive. I am just in the Year of First Shoes?”
The Year of First Shoes is the first twelve moons in the juvenile wing, when you’re too old to scamper around and be fed tidbits from the table, and you’re too young to see even the remotest advantage to being human. It’s when we first wear shoes and clothes.
It is a terrible, terrible time.
Maria Vale is a journalist who has worked for Publishers Weekly, Glamour magazine, Redbook, the Philadelphia Inquirer. She is a logophile and a bibliovore and a worrier about the world. Trained as a medievalist, she tries to shoehorn the language of Beowulf into things that don't really need it. She currently lives in New York with her husband, two sons and a long line of dead plants. No one will let her have a pet. Visit her at https://www.mariavale.com/.