He stood from his crouch and stretched, arching his back with an audible cracking of bone. That felt better. The goat skin loin cloth about his waist felt uncomfortable. He shifted it to alignment; not that he ever wanted to wear one. Only for the fact that Zarnog insisted for the sake of modesty; not that he understood the word. She went to lengths of explaining, bringing no further clarity. In the end, he found it easier to give in as it meant so much to her.
He flexed his shoulders and upper back to loosen them, still conscious of the compliment Zarnog gave him the day before. She said that his frame was impressive for a man so young and his physical prowess far exceeded beasts of his kind. This perplexed him, as he had no one to compare with. But then, from what the pack told him, he had nothing to measure up to. Men moved so slowly, and were so passive.
He turned to see Zarnog seated in front of her home, patting his bother, Kerm. The brown dog as usual laid at her feet, soaking up the old woman’s affection and accepting small treats tossed at his feet. Tonunda fumed at his brother’s laziness. Kerm would never hunt without being told, yet continually whined that he should be rightful leader of the pack.
He laughed to himself. This was home; this was his family. Zarnog had been a mother, of sorts, and his father, Corbran was buried here. And of course, there was his little sister, Natha, and the rest of the pack were his responsibility.
Zarnog’s voice resonated clearly in his mind as she spoke to Kerm. She could also speak to Tonunda audibly, using the words of men, but for now, she spoke mentally, for Kerm’s sake. It became a necessary means of communication for Tonunda too. Due to living with the pack, his vocal cords had formed in such a way as to make human speech impossible.
He patted the ground affectionately, the final resting place of his father as he continued to stare down from the cliff. Memories came to him of Corbran in his last days. Zarnog prolonged his life in her home. The rest of the pack had forgotten him. Only Zarnog and Tonunda stayed loyal with visits and feeding him. In his mind, Tonunda went back several years to the day he spoke to his father for the last time. At his request, Zarnog left them alone to speak…
The creature Tonunda saw before him wasn’t the noble beast which rescued him as a pup. Corbran’s frame had withered. His eyes drooped and flecks of white now grew as noxious weeds throughout his once all black fur. To even bark anymore made him labour for breath.
This is the time, my son, which all fathers must reach.
Tonunda said nothing.
I must pass from this world soon. When the time comes, it is you who will lead the pack, not Kerm. You are the more savage, and you care more for them. It is a human trait, and it is also your weakness.