|Wolfskin Side-Story: Hunt Day
Author: Guede Mazaka
The deer knew something was wrong, but not what. They uneasily shifted, pacing back and forth over the mass of broken twigs that covered the ground. Upwind of them, a huge tree had fallen a bare year ago, and in the damp climate was already well on its way into pungent rot.
Gawain crouched lower to the ground and edged his way through the brush, careful not to catch himself on any branches. Despite its impenetrable appearance, the under-foliage in Britain did have enough room for close maneuvers. It just took a good deal of practice and embarrassing mistakes to learn the way of it.
He raised his muzzle and delicately sniffed the air, testing the change in the concentration of fear-scent. It’d jumped in the past five seconds, and now it was jumping again, ricocheting through his nose to coil tense energy into his muscles. They were going to run any moment now, and he’d have to be--
--brown blurred against the grayish trunks, snapping white teeth foremost as Galahad sprung for the laggard one at the back of the herd, which they’d all silently agreed upon a few moments before. Too early--the remaining particles of humanity snarled swears--but nothing to be done except lunge out and try to head off the fleeing deer.
Flank attack, some random bit of rationality mentioned, but Gawain was so busy with the breaking twigs glancing off of him and the fast ripping of uneven dirt beneath his feet that he barely heard. A doe twisted away from him, quick on her feet but at the expense of leaving her neck open for attack. He didn’t have to think about leaping because he already was, riding the wind, and then he was crashing into struggling flesh with a mouth overfilling with gushing hot blood. Air angrily whistled past his ear as a hoof struck out, and a blow from another smacked off his ribs, but he could already feel the rate of the flowing blood slacken and he held on. Drank noisily to keep from gagging, and then to revel in the dark rich freshness of a rare treat. The doe went into spasms as he chewed her throat ragged, but soon she was stilling and going limp with defeat. Gawain could feel his lips draw back in a pleased grin as he stepped back to lick at his fur and study his prize.
To his left, the flurry of motion that’d been Galahad finally ceased. Settling dust revealed a panting wolf that slightly favored his left foreleg, but from the looks of it, he’d been nothing more than bruised. In a few days he’d be fine. That was a pity, because Galahad never seemed to understand something until someone had shoved his nose into the concrete consequences, and so he’d never bothered to learn how to make a really clean kill. Though he’d done well enough so that Gawain, happily gnawing off the first few chunks of his doe, didn’t feel like pushing the issue.
A sudden crackle sent both their heads pricking up, but the message of the breeze relaxed them. Galahad whuffed, trying futilely to blow the sticky red stains off his face. He nosed at his deer a few times before seizing it by the mashed spot on the neck and dragging it over to Gawain. Then he settled down on his side and flopped his head on the ground, watching with narrowed, determinedly unimpressed eyes as Tristan and Lancelot emerged from the woods, dragging between them a huge buck.
Twelve point antlers. Gawain felt his feralness recede a little as he tried to raise his eyebrows and mostly failed, given that wolves didn’t have face muscles that were as facile as humans’. He attempted to shrug, didn’t manage that either, and finally ended up stretching out to slurp at the blood matting down Tristan’s cheek fur. Of course, at first Tristan stiffened and blinked and generally acted like a moron, so Gawain simply knocked him over and twisted over the top of him in order to resume cleaning.
Galahad rolled his eyes and ripped a huge gash in the belly of his doe, then shoved in his head. His loss, then. Gawain had already gorged himself, and so he was perfectly content to lie around and nuzzle Tristan into bonelessness. He did give Tristan a chance to feed himself, but as soon as the eating was done, he pounced again so as to prevent any escape. It was a nice day, it was the other knights’ turns to be on look-out, and they were going to enjoy themselves if it was the last thing Gawain ever did.
Speaking of, the thud of boots should’ve caught their attention but didn’t, because Arthur naturally was walking up from the downwind direction so they could smell him coming. Lancelot gobbled down a last bit of liver before roughly wiping off his face on the buck’s hide and standing to meet Arthur. His tail was wagging--one of the drawbacks of wolf-form was a complete inability to hide emotions. Rumbling an amused sound, Gawain rolled off Tristan and chivvied Galahad out of the deer belly before he ate himself sick again.
"Good hunt," Arthur said in an approving tone when he finally arrived. He absently ruffled Lancelot’s ears as he measured the span of the buck’s rack with his hands. Annoyed, Lancelot butted his thigh. "What?"
They all looked at him. Tristan glanced about the surrounding woods, then pointedly stretched out and closed his eyes. No one around, and they’d known about Arthur and everything for ages.
Of course, Arthur hesitated another moment--he always did--but then Lancelot smeared blood over the back of his hand and licked it off. The next second, a prime sable-furred wolf loomed over the leaner black one, which playfully tumbled over and offered up his belly. With an air of faint amusement, Arthur prodded it and got an indignant growl. He easily sidestepped Lancelot’s snap and headed for the nearest carcass.
It didn’t take him long to finish, given that Lancelot kept fidgeting around him, and soon Arthur was bedded down with the rest of them, chin lightly resting on Lancelot’s back as he soaked up the sunlight.