Ankit, the old man, and the Greatwolves

Book Cover - Ankit, the old man, and the Greatwolves - A figure holding a club stands in silhouette in front of an elderly man.

Recommended: If you haven’t done so, read Ankit and the Uncle of Refuge, Ankit and the Champions, and Ankit over the Orphan’s Pass first.

Part 1: The old man

First, the glare of snow strained Ankit’s eyes, forcing them shut. Next, ice crunched under enormous paws, and shadowy figures passed left and right. This was followed by more nothingness. The sensation of warmth, and the glassy fur held tightly in his grip, stuck with him as he drifted in and out of consciousness; he felt that warmth deep in his bones despite the cold air filling his lungs. Before he drifted off again, he found the source of the warmth, a glow from within this creature that carried him to safety.

Ankit tried once more to open his eyes. Fortunately, it wasn’t too bright now, wherever he was, but still enough to make him entirely too aware of the pounding inside his skull. He closed them again and turned his attention instead to standing up. After shifting about a little, he found his body sluggish, so he lowered his target to sitting. This he managed.

Once more, he tried to open his eyes, slowly this time. Shapes drew into focus, and before long, his sight was almost back to normal, though he was confused by the setting. He found himself in what looked like a mountain cabin. 

An old wooden cabin, set in an alpine forest. The wood stove is burning and the sunlight is streaming in through two large windows looking onto a clearing.
A very old mountain cabin

With his other senses beginning to return, several things struck him. Everything seemed incredibly old, as though from a completely different age. The best example of this was an old wooden bench, into which was worn—not carved or shaped intentionally—a seat. Someone had sat on that same spot so many times, over many, many years, so that the wood had been worn that way.

As he continued to look around, there were other similar indications. The stonework was weathered and smooth, the wooden floor polished to a sheen, and the rugs and fabrics threadbare. All this and yet the cabin was obviously lived in, clean, and warm.

Ankit’s sight was followed by his sense of smell. Having grown up in the worst of the squalor that Refuge offered, he had learned to ignore all but the most foul odours. Since he’d left, however, starting in the Lowlands, the scents had grown more pleasant and he’d started paying attention to them. As he ascended into the mountains, he had noted how fresh the air smelled.

Here he caught a note of something different again, fragrant and pleasant, similar to the flowers he’d smelled in the plains. This was richer, stronger, so much so that it couldn’t be missed. It was the sort of thing he imagined the spoiled children of Barons would pay serious Coin for. His eyes were drawn over to a large pot plant in the corner of the room. Inside was a thorny, tough-looking plant, its gnarled stems twisting this way and that and covered with beautiful, heavy, red flowers. He’d only ever seen such a thing in old books, on posters, or as street art. He believed it was called a Rose.  

Without thinking, he stood and made his way over to it, placing his nose close to a flower. It was so intoxicating he felt his eyes close and his head go light.

“I don’t suppose you’ve seen many of those where you’re from?” The speaker was behind Ankit. He turned calmly, with an overwhelming sense that he was safe. 

Standing in the doorway was a man. They stared at each other for a short while. The man smiled. He matched his surroundings, face wrinkled and deeply lined around his mouth and eyes, with a full head of long white hair tied back, and a thick beard.

“In pictures. Where am I?” Ankit asked. His wits returned, though strangely only a mild sense of unease accompanied them, even though he did not know where he was.

“You are in my home. I call it New Carro. I am known as Old Timm by my friends. And you?”

“Ankit, my name is Ankit.”

Old Timm had walked over to the stove as they spoke, opened it, stoked the coals, and placed a kettle on top. “Tea?”

“Yes please,” Ankit wasn’t sure when he’d last had a hot drink. It must have been back at Nejja’s, in Refuge. The smells of her tea and biscuits rushed back to him and for just a moment, he pictured himself standing in her kitchen. That felt like a lifetime ago now.

“You’ve had an eventful few days.” Old Timm lifted two cups off their hooks and placed them on a counter near the stove before turning and facing his guest again. “Now, let’s look at that arm.” 

Ankit had almost forgotten. He looked down, where the wolf had bitten. There was no pain–only the pounding in his head remained for now–everything else felt normal. It certainly didn’t look normal. Where the bite had been, there was only a dark scar, mostly healed. The worrying part was the veins in his arm. They were dark and visible through the skin, which itself was darker to just above his elbow.

“Good, it’s settled down. Our friend was anxious. She felt terrible for biting you,” he said as he held Ankit’s arm and ran his fingers across the scar.

“I’m sorry, our friend?” Ankit asked.

“Mon Delta. It was her that bit you,” he answered.

“Sorry, the wolf? She… she has a name? She felt terrible?”

“Of course she has a name!” He looked at Ankit, incredulous, “and, she’s no ordinary wolf, she’s a Greatwolf!

The old man paused for a moment, looked Ankit in the eyes, and sighed before speaking again, “my apologies, I don’t get many guests. You have never come across the Greatwolves, have you? We’ll make the proper introductions. You are now all but part of the pack, after all.”

“The pack?” 

“Later. Let’s get you that tea now, and perhaps some food.” He returned to preparing the brew, grabbing a handful of what looked like dry leaves from a container at the back of the counter. “One or two things I suppose you should know. First, that arm will never be the same.”

Ankit reached over and held his injured arm. He was sure it felt normal.

“No. For that matter, we can’t be sure just how changed you are, but you’ll have to discover that for yourself. As for the arm, I expect you will have reduced sensation, especially pain, and significantly increased strength.”

Ankit looked at his arm again and stroked it. Lightly at first, then vigorously, eventually scratching at it with his fingernails. Old Timm was right, he couldn’t feel anything.

“What’s wrong with it?”

“Nothing, depending on your point of view,” he said as he poured hot water into the cups. “Some might even say it has been vastly improved.”

The two cups were placed on a wooden board and carried over to where Ankit stood. He took one with his injured hand. As he did, he noticed he couldn’t even feel the heat of the freshly brewed tea.

“There will be other side effects, but they will take time to show.”

“Side effects of what? The bite?” Ankit’s head was starting to swirl. He stepped to one side and felt for the well-worn seat with his good hand, and sat down.

“The Wolfsom is what I’ve come to call it. It’s a type of venom in their saliva, unique to the Greatwolves so far as I know. It is fatal, inducing first a long, fevered, and restless sleep. The convulsions increase in intensity, as though the mind is fighting a battle with itself. Eventually, the skin grows dark and hard, and finally, the body succumbs.”

“What about me? Will that happen to me?” Ankit could not hide the fear in his voice.

“That’s the interesting part. Like I said, I don’t fully understand it myself. There’s something in the Wolfsom that’s deeply connected to the animal that did the biting.”

There was a timely howl in the distance. Ankit spilled some of his tea as he looked over at the door.

“Oh good, she’s on her way back,” Old Timm said in a tone that puzzled Ankit. He seemed deeply fond of these animals. “As I was saying, so far as I’ve been able to work out, occasionally the Greatwolf feels that the victim is worthy of saving. I’ve never quite understood what they base this on, but I’ve seen enough to make an educated guess. They have a deep sense of the spirit of a thing, and if they believe it is good, that Unara would be worse off without it, they will apply the anti-venom. Only the one who did the biting can do this. Even so, the effects, which vary from person to person, cannot be entirely reversed. Now from what I gather, you helped her. Released her from a trap?”

Ankit said nothing. He simply stared at the man.

“Yes, well, I wouldn’t have expected that alone to be enough. She must have sensed something more in you. I’ve known no one in your situation not to go on to have some meaningful impact in the world, to do great things,” he added matter-of-factly. “Though that being said, I’ve known only two others to be granted this gift.”

He paused long enough to drink his tea down in one gulp, then he stood. Ankit looked at his cup and saw that it was still steaming, scalding hot.

“Let’s go and make the proper introductions, shall we?” Old Timm added.

More howls, and much closer this time. Then he felt, as much as he heard, the noise of something large galloping, on the approach. He sipped his tea, burning his lips as he did, then placed his cup down on the bench before following the old man out of the front door.

The glare of the snow caught him by surprise. Instinctively, he raised his injured arm to obscure the light. As his arm made contact with his forehead, he felt the skin. It was cool and stiff. His eyes slowly adjusted, and he lowered his arm. Standing directly in front of him were two Greatwolves, both he recognised. The glistening white one that he’d freed from the trap, and another, a jet black one that had been with her when she’d come back to save him.

She approached Ankit, and he froze. He wasn’t so much afraid as uncertain. Like she might change her mind about saving him from the Wolfsom. The old man had made it sound like something so important. 

How could this orphan deserve such a thing?

“Mon Delta, Ekta, meet Ankit,” the old man said, gesturing to each of them, and then to him‌.

Ankit noticed that the black Greatwolf dipped his head, as if bowing. He wasn’t sure what to make of it until Mon Delta drew up to him, face to face. She nodded to him as well, then dropped her head as low as she could towards his arm. He raised it in response, and to his surprise, she licked it. This he felt. An infectious warmth radiated up his arm.

He felt like he should say something. “It’s ok, no harm done,” he paused, then added, “thank you for saving my life.” 

Immediately, she stuck her nose into his neck and rubbed her head against the side of his face. Resting her cheek on his shoulder for a moment, that strangely glassy yet soft fur against his skin, that same warmth. For a moment, she seemed to glow.

“It’s her that’s grateful to you. You saved her life from the Raiders. She says thank you,” Old Timm said on her behalf. He needn’t have, Ankit understood.

He raised his good hand and stroked her head. Her warmth penetrated him to his core. Only then did he realise he wasn’t cold, having followed Old Timm outside with no coat, and barefoot.

Continued on Page 2 with Part 2: The Unaran wilds


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