The Winds of Change

by WindSinger

Prologue

High over Middle Earth the sun was just starting its slow descent into a wall of billowing clouds building on the far horizon.  An erratic breeze carried the lingering bite of winter through woods and around hills.  As it ruffled the fur of a pack of slinking beasts it also carried, unknown and unbidden, the scent of a man it had recently visited to the most massive and powerfully built of the vermin.  He lifted his snout, sniffed, and was pleased.  The hated prey was almost his.

Karg led the pack on, silent shadows among the tree trunks, until the inferior snouts of the lesser beasts he commanded also finally started to quiver with the first teasing whiffs of the man scent.  First the old, grey Ancient One, then his mate and the yellow, grey Youngling.  By the time Karg had stripped the breeze of every bit of information about his prey, the entire pack was in its elusive grasp.  He would no longer need to harry them, his prey was now also theirs.

His nose in the breeze, Karg lead the pack in long, loping strides.  Soon they would feast on meat that his master would approve of.  The common pack wolves had followed Karg north, far from their familiar hunting grounds, greedy for the promised wealth of prey.  As they penetrated further and further north Karg had permitted them fewer and fewer four legged prey.  Until, since the last full moon, they were completely denied their preferred prey and were forced to hunt only the strange, almost hairless, two legged creatures that often carried bright, biting, shafts and flung piercing lengths of wood that brought pain and death.  And their flesh was far from the succulent, tasty meat of a wild boar or a young red deer.

However, their leader was not a common wolf and he had been commanded north to kill as many two legged varmint; Men, Dwarves and Elves, as he could in that far corner of his master’s realm.  To that end he ruthlessly kept his pack on the raw edge of hunger.  The sixteen common wolves remaining had learned their bitter lesson well.  The few unlucky ones Karg caught with any other manner of kill he tore to shreds.  The survivors learned; they would eat two legged varmint or they would starve to death.  It had been more sunsets then they could count since their last meal but the teasing breeze had brought them salvation; man flesh was almost theirs.

Their paws making no noise on the spongy forest floor, the wolves tracked their prey at a ground eating lope.  When the man scent became so strong it filled his nose Karg brought them to a halt.  He knew his prey was just ahead, around the bend of a small hill and, based on the water smells mingling with the man scent, probably across the small stream that ran toward light birth.  With a low growl he sent Ancient One and Half Ear to circle the man.  He kept the rest of the pack at bay, slinking slowly around the hill so their attack would coincide with that of his two scouts.

Suddenly he paused and thrust his snout into the air.  What was that?  Was he mistaken?  Did he actually smell – there it was again!  Elf!  Somewhere toward light eater was an Elf!  He turned, giving a short bark that he knew would carry to Ancient One and Half Ear, commanding them to attack.  If they survived they could join the pack later, well fed after riding his master of one more of the enemy.  If not, then they were worthless and he was well rid of them.

Growled for the rest of the pack to follow him.  They hesitated.  To a beast they understood not to obey was death, but they were almost crazed with hunger.  Two legged meat was there, just for the taking, and now Karg would deny them.  There was sudden movement as a yellow, grey shape dashed toward the stream.

Youngling, desperate for something to fill the hollow in his middle, could not turn his back on prey that was almost in sight.  He gathered his hind quarters to leap the stream bank.  But Karg was on him.

Youngling, teeth bared, whipped his head around to tear at his attacker.  Before his teeth could find their mark, blistering pain erupted along his back and he heard a loud crack.  As he and his attacker slid and thrashed down the bank to the stream edge. Youngling, through the blinding, searing pain, realized his body was not obeying him.  He thought stand, but was still laying sprawled on the rocks by the stream.  Before his brain could sort through the pain to focus on this new mystery he felt his throat being ripped and knew he had become Karg’s newest victim.

With the sound of whimpering fading into a faint gurgling in his ears, blackness descended and Youngling knew no more.

Blood dripping from his bared fangs, Karg bounded up the stream bank and, with a low growl, started for the closest wolf.  One by one each pitiful animal cowered and bared throats to their ruthless leader.  Karg snapped his teeth, gave one last growl and lead the now willing pack on their new hunt.

Elf!  Master will be pleased!