Summary: On the snow-snug tundra, the wolves still tell the tale of Tundra-Ben.
Pairing: Fraser/Kowalski, Mackenzie/Vecchio
Fandom: due South
Original story: Ben of the Tundra by elementalv
Notes: Thanks to Farley Mowat for writing about wolves and the wilds of Canada in such a way as to make the young kinetikatrue fall in love with them. And to two semesters of Old English/Beowulf for giving me the language and the cadences. And to sansets for pointing out when the language had overwhelmed the story, as well as the need to make the frame more explicit; everything I write these days is better for having her input, but all remaining errors of grammar, style or spelling are still my own. Also, thanks to everybody who thought I could do this, even when it didn't seem like the words would ever come.
On the snow-snug tundra, beneath the star-swept sky, wolves still curl together fur-fast. Pile fur-fast telling tales: of the star-wolves in the sky, of King Dogs and Queen Bitches of the past and the present, of blizzards and caribou. Still they tell the tale of Tundra-Ben, First-Nation Tundra-Sheriff, Wolf-Warded and Wolf-Warden.
In her den, pack-warmed, the Queen Bitch, mother and mate, yips. Yips out of the dark the tale of Tundra-Ben. Tells of how Ben-Brother came to be wolf-warded, how he came to be wolf-wise, how he came to be Tundra-Sheriff and Wolf-Warden, how he met his man-mate, 'Cago-Ray. Her pack listens as she tells them:
So. The wolves in days gone by were courageous and kind, cunning and loyal. We tell their stories still. We tell of the newly weaned whelp who found a young two-foot, found him wandering in the snow, knife-fast but not kin-kept. We tell of how the whelp led the young two-foot to his den. And how the whelp's Bitch, mother and master, cuffed him for lingering near the dens of man.
She yips at her whelps, caring-kind: and so would I. It did not go badly for him, that time, but not all have been so lucky. It is better now than in some years, but . . . Her whelps pile closer, fur-fast still, and she, she yips:
The Bitch kept the young two-foot, cared for him like a whelp, brother to her litter. So the young two-foot, Ben-Brother, grew and learned. He learnt caribou hunting, hide curing, bone-boring to make boot-bindings, the finding of flint for fire. And he re-named the whelp who found him, his wolf-brother, named him Diefenbaker. And the pack shortened it to Dief, yipped it in honor.
And, then, after the snow had melted and the world had frozen again four times, that Bitch sent Ben-Brother forth from the den. She yipped advice after him, telling him that he would know love, know mate, know pack when he saw it. Dief went willingly with Ben-Brother, packmate and friend. And so Ben-Brother and Dief came to hold a man-den.
The Queen Bitch yips quickly over the six snow-meltings and six world-freezings, when Ben-Brother and Dief held a man-den while Ben-Brother trained in the keeping of the man-law. She yips on to how Ben-Brother came to be Tundra-Sheriff and so to be Wolf-Warden, telling her whelps:
Then Ben-Brother returned, with Dief at his shoulder, to the den where he grew up, to find a new Bitch, daughter of his Old Bitch, his mother and master, holding it. He was grieved, but Ben-Brother, Tundra-Sheriff, Wolf-Warded Two-Foot, had come to ask the most important question any grown wolf ever has any occasion to. He wished to be allowed to form a pack, to ask willing wolves, wolves swifter than the tundra wind, to follow him. He wished to ask them to work as one to pull a wolf-sled unlike any other ever seen before.
And how they rushed to follow him!, the Queen Bitch yips. Ben-Brother and Dief chose as pack eight of the fleetest and cleverest, bravest and loyalest wolves to ever roam the tundra. And, as he had Dief, he gave them new names - and they were Mackenzie and Toudreau and all the rest. Wide-eyed whelps stare at her, wondering and wanting, wanting to be made-pack, to be new-named. She chuffs at them, fond and amused
Ben-Brother came to hold pack over the swiftest and best of wolves under the clearest and bluest of skies. He came to hold pack over Victoria-Bitch in the middle of a blizzard. She ran and he tracked her through it - and, when he caught her up, dug a den of snow and wrapped her in his caribou skins and kept her there until the blizzard died down. And then he brought her in across the snow, footsore and tired, but careful in this as in all.
The other two-foot Tundra-Sheriffs made much of him - and then made much of what to do with Victoria-Bitch. All would have had her sent to the south-lands, but none could agree on how. They agreed on so little, in fact, that the ones in whose territory she had been found declared themselves their own pack, unsanctioned, and made Ben-Brother Tundra-Sheriff of it. So then he had care of her, though not as his Bitch. He did not know mate-love for her, nor had he known it for any other yet, but he cared for her as pack, as his Old Bitch had cared for him, keeping her fed and sheltered and safe from harm.
The Queen Bitch pauses in her telling, looking at each of her whelps in turn, yellow eyes meeting yellow eyes in the darkness. And she yips at them: This is as it should be. Wolves who hold pack hold the lives of their pack in their paws. As I hold yours in mine. She curls a paw around the nearest whelp, comfort and promise, and then there is silence in the den for a little while. But she soon resumes her tale, yipping clear and quiet:
One day Ben-Brother, Tundra-Sheriff and Wolf-Warden, borne over the snow by his pack, by Diefenbaker and Toudreau and Mackenzie and all the rest, saw something he had never seen before. Saw something - someone - fall flailing from the sky, saw the flailing faller hit the snow-crust and crash through it. Saw, and, seeing, turned his wolves at once toward that spot. He thought to find out whether the two-foot lived, and, if so, whether he might be made part of pack and team, providing meet counterweight.
Of course, the two-foot turned out to be 'Cago-Ray, Ben-Brother's man-mate (though he did not know it just yet), but he would have skimmed across the snow-crust no faster had he known anything of that or of the two-feet 'Cago-Ray came chasing or of the fact that 'Cago-Ray was a sheriff himself in the south-lands. He and his pack nearly flew no matter their destination or purpose in getting there.
The two-foot did live - and Ben-Brother swept him up as he passed the spot where the snow-crust had been newly cleaved, swept him up as he would a caribou carcass or an injured wolf - and went flying on his way, given wings by wolves, by his pack. But Ben-Brother had not made proper pack-balance with the two-foot and when his wolf-sled hit a sudden patch of ice they all - Ben-Brother and two-foot and wolf-pack and sled - went flying in a dozen different directions.
When Ben-Brother had helped him to his feet in the snow, he at once noticed the two-foot's strength and beauty, his persistence and his pride - and saw also that he had found a man-mate at last. He made offer of his name and gained offer of the two-foot's in return, 'Cago-Ray, South-Land-Sheriff. And when the two-foot found himself once again faint with illness, Ben-Brother set the sled and the rest of his pack to rights, made better balance of 'Cago-Ray, and took him back to his den.
One of the whelps yips a question, asks how Ben-Brother, Tundra-Ben, giant amongst wolf-brothers, could fit in a den, and the Queen Bitch tells all of them: it was a spacious den, rock-built and warm, but sparsely appointed - Ben-Brother's pack had no use for most of the things of men, apart from food, and Ben-Brother had seen no reason to feel any differently, lacking a man-mate or whelps. It is naturally thus; I had no thought for a bed of lichen and bark until I first whelped. The youngest whelps curled closer, lichen-bedded and fur-fast - and the Queen Bitch yips onward in her tale:
In the morning, Maggie-Bitch, sister-bitch to Ben-Brother and Tundra-Sheriff in her own right, came to his den, called by the other Tundra-Sheriffs to aid in capturing the two-feet 'Cago-Ray had come in pursuit of. And when all had been made known to each other she led them forth to a place near Rat Rock, appointed for the meeting, as eager as Ben-Brother and his pack to give chase.
Ben-Brother and Maggie-Bitch and 'Cago-Ray and Dief had not been waiting a great while when a great winged creature fell from the sky and spat forth three more Tundra-Sheriffs, a bitch and two dogs - as well as two South-Land-Sheriffs, one of whom prostrated himself at the feet of Maggie-Bitch, overcome by the knowledge that he had found his man-mate.
Amongst the Tundra-Sheriffs was Ben-Brother's man-father, Tundra-Sheriff of the territory adjoining First-Nation. Ben-Brother greeted him with the proper obeisances and rituals, paw to brow and formal greeting-yip and all. His man-father yipped his ease at him, but Ben-Brother held, honor in every line of his posture and every tone of his yipping. He knew honor was in forms as well as in actions.
The Queen Bitch is tiring with her tale, but she still has lessons to impart, still can not but yip: Ben-Brother knew these forms, as well as the ones of wolves. He knew just as you do to bend paw and whine, hunt caribou and protect pack-mates. It would be just as well and meet for you to know the forms of man. Her whelps whine assent, she chuffs approval - and all is well and warm in the den, fit for the telling of the end of the tale. She yips once more:
'Cago-Ray had eyes only for Ben-Brother's face, ears only for his voice. Ben-Brother was afflicted in like manner, though made no outward show of it. Neither had thought for the plans the other Tundra-Sheriffs and South-Land-Sheriffs made. Neither voiced a one of these thoughts and that night they slept in packed dens, cloth roofs over their heads, hemmed in with unvoiced yips. The rest of the pack slept beneath the sky, unfettered. In all their dreams they flew.
In the morning they arose, set to watching the sea and waiting for 'Cago-Ray's two-feet, waiting to see whether they would come to land in First-Nation. But when they did come to land, it was just outside Ben-Brother's territory. He did his part in the resulting fray, helping the other Tundra-Sheriffs make light work of the capture of the fugitive two-feet, subduing them with honor and with care. 'Cago-Ray and Dief and all the rest of the pack were at his side, just as eager to conclude the long-chased hunt. And so the sortie, led as it was by Maggie-Bitch, was over in moments, and all was well in hand when another group of Tundra-Sheriffs arrived by sea, paddling amongst ice-chunks in sled-boats. They stood vigilant guard while the last claws were sheathed and the last paws bound.
When this had been done and all had been made ready for the departure of the South-Land-Sheriffs, it seemed for a time that Ben-Brother's man-mate would be lost to him. But as the South-Land-Sheriffs prepared to once again be swallowed by the giant winged creature which had carried them from the South-Lands to First-Nation, 'Cago-Ray found himself unable to part from Ben-Brother, found he could no more return to the South-Lands than he could have flown there outside the belly of the giant winged creature. And so too did the South-Land-Sheriff who had gone to his knees at first sight of Maggie-Bitch, caught short by new knowledge of his man-mate. And, though First-Nation was as different unto the South-Lands as caribou are unto wolves, they were content there, these guardians of the tundra, Ben-Brother and 'Cago-Ray, Maggie-Bitch and her South-Land-Sheriff, mated and denned 'til death did them part.
The whelps still pile fur-fast around the Queen Bitch, half-sleeping but not yet lost to dreams - and she yips, quiet: Diefenbaker and the rest of the pack were also content, best of wolves that they were. They denned with Ben-Brother and 'Cago-Ray, ate with them, nearly flew with them - did everything as pack 'til death stole them from the tundra and sent them to live amongst the sky-wolves and birds picked at their bones. But we remember them, with yips and with howling, as we should remember all wolves, the greatest and least. As we remember 'Cago-Ray. As we remember Tundra-Ben, Ben-Brother. So.
Yellow eyes wink closed all around the Queen Bitch, as the mountains close over the great-star. They are wolves and will not sleep long, but sleep they will, now. They will dream, dream of near-flight, of a wonder of a wolf-sled and the best of wolves pulling it. And they will wake to a cloud-swept sky, to a star-swept sky. And on the tundra wolves will tell tales 'til there are no wolves to hear them.