Watch Olivier Baillard go hunting with his daughter Ashley in this short story set in the Wolves of the South world.
That was Ashley, and from the wheedling tone in her voice, I knew she was going to ask me for something she wasn’t certain I was willing to give.
She looked excited when she walked up to me, a gleam in her eyes, and I hoped that whatever it was wasn’t going to involve any security details. Beth had been briefing me for days and we had been discussing changes for half of the time.
“Nessa has promised me an adventure.”
If it involved motorcycles, I wasn’t interested.
“Yes, and she thinks you should come!”
“Dad! You’re no fun.” She pouted, something she could do very well.
I laughed, having managed to tease her. “All right, Ash. Tell me what Nessa wants to drag me into.”
“She wants to hunt with me!”
I had been working on my wolf when I wasn’t with Beth or spending precious time with Alice. “Does she really want me to come? I’m still not very good.”
“You should come.”
“Let me see what she says, okay? And then I’ll decide.”
She sighed and I suspected she tweaked the truth a little. Of course, I wasn’t spending enough time with her, either. So I got up and found Nessa with Ashley at my side.
“You want me to come on a hunt with you?”
Nessa laughed. “The hunt is my idea, bringing you is Ashley’s.”
“Ah.” I glanced at my daughter, who looked a little chagrined. “Do you think I will be able to avoid scaring away what you’re going to hunt?”
“Oh, yes.” Nessa grinned. “What I’m planning will involve getting up in the middle of the night and then lying in wait until dawn.”
I frowned at her. This sounded quite unpleasant. “What in the world are we hunting? That is, if I come?”
The wolf in me was getting excited, I had to admit that. And providing food was always a good idea.
I blinked. “What? They are just as tall as we are in wolf shape.”
Nessa nodded. “That’s why we hunt them now. In fall, they roost, and they are quite clumsy coming down from their tree at dawn.”
“Tell me more.” I didn’t know this at all.
“That’s it. We just have to get into position at night, as quietly as possible. And then wait for dawn.”
“It does sound like a simple plan,” I admitted. “But how do we actually… kill a turkey? They are not exactly helpless.”
Nessa nodded. “You’ll be backup. Ashley and I will take one, and that should be enough.”
“I think I can handle being the backup.” I smiled, for Ashley’s benefit.
“So you’re coming?” Ashley was wringing her hands.
“Yes, I’m coming.” Her happy grin was worth it, I thought.
I wasn’t so sure when we left the car in the middle of the night and undressed. Nessa put our clothes into the car and locked it, then put the keys into a plastic box and hid that under some leaves.
“Now, I want you to follow me and be as quiet as you can,” Nessa said. “I’m taking you to a tree where young toms are roosting. They are most easily replaced in a population.”
We all shifted together, and I was happy to see that Ashley was turning into a beautiful wolf. I had never checked, but I suspected mine had a lot of white around the muzzle.
Nessa led us into the forest and I was grateful for all the lessons on walking quietly that Carl had given me. I could tell she was going slowly for my benefit, but I didn’t mind.
I was on an adventure with my daughter, and that thought made my heart soar. Alice had also insisted that I go with them, yet declined to join us. And now I understood that she wanted to give me time with Ashley, giving us time to experience how a wolf pack worked for us.
Alice was a wonderful mate. My heart was full.
It took quite a while to reach the place that Nessa had in mind, and yet I knew we were getting close when I noticed the smell. Big birds made big droppings, I thought and grimaced.
Nessa dropped down and crawled underneath some bushes, then put her head on her paws.
That meant we would now be waiting for dawn.
We had gone over the theory of such a hunt. Ashley was to pick a bird and jump it, going for the neck. Nessa would be right behind her, ready to dispatch the tom and prevent any injury. And I would simply watch.
I knew well enough that plans rarely survived the confrontation with reality. But Nessa was an accomplished hunter and I trusted her with taking care of Ashley.
It got cold and I was surprised when even Nessa snuggled up to me. I had expected that of Ashley. Maybe wolf shape encouraged more closeness. It felt more comfortable than I wanted to admit.
My mind went back to that week in the forest when Alice had almost died. Holding her in wolf shape had been both very strange and very natural at the same time. And now, two wolves were lying close to me, and it felt just as natural. I decided to stop worrying about it.
Ashley gave an annoyed sigh, and I knew she was running out of patience. She’d just have to learn about it. I grinned, as much as a wolf could. I had learned patience the hard way and I was glad she could develop it without endangering anyone.
It was just as well that she had Connor. That young man had become very good at handling her moods and steadying her. A large part of that was their bond, I assumed, after experiencing my own bond with Alice.
Even now I could sense that she was asleep. That was a good idea, she’d have another long day at the hospital. More wolves had found out about it and were driving long distances for help. Although wolves tended to be healthy lot, or so she had said, less likely to develop diabetes or heart disease.
It started to get lighter, and Nessa nudged both of us, clearly wanting us to pay attention.
Ashley stretched carefully, and I copied her. Even as a backup, I wanted to be fast if I had to.
Finally, it got light enough to see the big lumps sitting in that tree. Some of them were stirring and I knew our wait was coming to an end.
When the first one dropped, crashing through the branches, awkwardly flapping its wings, I understood why Nessa thought that Ashley could bring down one of them.
Maybe even I could. I told myself not to be a fool.
Nessa waited, even though our wolf bodies were quivering with excitement.
More toms were dropping from the tree now, with the first rays of the sun shining through the light fog that was lingering. Branches cracked, leaves flew in every direction, and feathers rustled. The noise felt almost deafening after the silence of the night.
One of the toms was clumsily flapping towards us. When Nessa nudged Ashley again, my daughter jumped into action.
She raced towards that huge bird, ears flat, eyes fully focused, and I was shocked to see her so intent on killing her prey.
And then I ran after her, together with Nessa.
Ashley collided with the big tom, bowling the bird over, but failed to control her speed. Before she could stop, the tom was already struggling back to its feet.
She whirled and jumped it, stretching herself. She landed on the bird’s back and both of them went down. Nessa reached them but didn’t intervene.
I held back, with a huge effort. I was the backup. Nessa knew what she was doing. Yet my wolf body trembled with the need to hunt, as more and more toms landed and then did their best to run away from us.
Ashley jumped back to her feet and lunged, just as the tom beat its wings and rose up a little. She only managed to grab a mouthful of feathers. And when the bird lashed out at her with its feet and the huge claws on them, she ducked away.
Nessa jumped in and grabbed a wing, giving Ashley an opening, even as the bird fluttered wildly.
I was trembling from head to toe and lay down, still following Nessa’s orders. It was beyond hard.
Finally, Ashley managed to grab the tom’s neck and bit down hard. A desperate squawk announced bird’s demise and soon enough, it hung limply from Ashley’s fangs.
I was breathing a sigh of relief at her success when a tom tumbled down right next to me in a flurry of feathers. And I found myself following instinct before I could stop my wolf body.
In a flash, I was up, and one jump later, I had reached that clumsy bird. It turned to run, and I gathered myself for one, determined jump. I landed on its back and before it could even drop down, I slid forward with the momentum of my speed, my paws ruffling its feathers. I grabbed the neck and bit down hard.
Hot blood spurted into my mouth, and I growled with the intensity of it all. The tom fell, flapping its wings, beating them around my ears. I just hung on, and heartbeats later, it went still.
Heart pounding, I let go of the tom’s neck and looked up. Nessa was grinning at me while Ashley simply stared.
Suddenly she shifted an grinned.
“Dad! That was awesome!”
I sat down on my haunches and took a bow, grinning like a fool.
“You should have seen yourself!” She broke into delighted laughter, and then Nessa shifted, as well.
I took the hint and shifted, as well, and Ashley ran to me and hugged me.
“I’m so proud of you!”
Nessa laughed. “The perfect backup. I’m sure Alice will be impressed.”
“Let’s go home,” I said. I could hardly wait to show my catch to my mate.
Alice came home late that night. On Nessa’s advice, I hadn’t cooked the turkey right away, although I was sorely tempted to do so. Instead, we’d have it for Thanksgiving, in two days. But I had dinner ready and a bottle of champagne in the fridge, to celebrate.
“How was your hunt?” she asked, even before she had taken off her jacket. I took it from her.
“It went okay.” It was difficult to hide the grin. I managed by turning and hanging up her jacket.
“Ah. Did Ashley get her turkey?”
“Oh, yes. It was quite a fight.”
“I can imagine.” She smiled. “I’m sure you’re very proud of her.”
“Absolutely.” I pulled her close and kissed her. “And dinner is ready.”
She sighed with delight. “You’re too good to be true.”
“Hah!” I kissed her again, took her hand and led her to the dinner table.
It was fun drawing out the surprise for a little longer. She made me tell her about the hunt while we ate the casserole I had baked. When we finished, I took away the dishes and returned with the champagne and two glasses.
She blinked when I set them down. “Champagne?”
“Yes.” And this time, I did grin while I eased the stopper out of the bottle.
“Shouldn’t Ashley be here?”
“She’s celebrating with Connor, Nick and Nessa.”
“Leaving her Dad out?” She frowned and then looked at the champagne I was pouring.
“Oh, her Dad has some celebrating of his own to do.”
“What?” She jumped up so quickly that she almost bumped into her glass of champagne.
It felt as if my grin would split my face. She waited until I had put the bottle down before putting both hands on my shoulders. “Tell me. Now.”
That command in her voice was quite familiar.
“We’ll have wild turkey for Thanksgiving,” I said.
Her mouth dropped open. “You got one, too?”
She got very quiet all of a sudden, and that almost scared me. What if she didn’t approve? What if she was angry since we hadn’t done it together?
“Olivier. The first kill is very special. That’s awesome.”
“You and Carl taught me well.”
She wrapped me in her arms and sighed into my neck. “You proved yourself as a wolf today. I am so proud of you.”
I couldn’t be happier. I really was a wolf now, with a wolf mate.
Life was good.
PS: If you want to read more about Olivier, Ashley, Nessa and Alice, read my Wolves of the South series. Start with “A Wolf’s Quest”.