Wotan's Hounds Ch. 04byNavajazz©
As always, thanks to sdbnnc for all her hard work.
I didn't bother to change when I woke up. Tony and I went for a run most mornings before breakfast, and there was something wonderfully free about bouncing out of bed and straight out the door without having to think about clothes or where I'd kicked my trainers off last night. I ran downstairs and outside, smelling the wet earth and trees, lapping at the fresh rainwater in an old Belfast sink by the back door, and retiring behind a convenient rose bush while I waited for my friend to join me. Tony finally appeared, looking hungover and tired, wincing at the bright clear sunlight. I wagged my tail and jumped around him, eager to be off exploring. Tony just looked at me, and shook his head.
"How you can be so energetic after last night is beyond me," Tony said.
"It's easy; I didn't drink as much as you," I replied. "And I recover really fast."
"So, is that a were thing?" he asked.
"Yep," I responded.
Tony sighed and said, "Remind me to sort out my own change quickly then. If I'm supposed to be keeping up with Mac and Sean, I'm going to need all the help I can get."
"I know; Peter said when those two go on a drinking spree, they hit the whisky pretty hard," I sympathized. "Anyway, are we running or talking this morning?"
"Yeah, yeah; I get the picture," Tony said. "Where do you want to go?"
"I was thinking we'd just follow the main track, see where it leads us for today," I suggested.
"OK," he said, "Lead on MacDuff."
I trotted out of the courtyard, past the stables and round to the front of the house. There was a gravel driveway that branched off into a wide path and then ran up to the woods. We followed it for a while, keeping a steady pace for the first mile until Tony had gotten warmed up, then I began to stretch my legs out, moving from a fast trot up to a steady lope.
It was so peaceful out there; no other sounds than our breathing and the birds squawking and calling from the trees off to the left. The path had changed from gravel to grass and dirt once we'd swung parallel to the wood so our feet made very little noise as they pushed us forwards. This was one of my favourite times of the day; I didn't have to think about anything apart from putting one foot in front of another, and it had a hypnotic effect.
We seemed to be the only ones out that morning until I heard foot falls behind us. I glanced over my shoulder, and saw a group of black girls running hard. They all had long hair, fantastically braided and plaited up in swirling designs and long slender bodies. They slowed up as they got closer to us and spread out across the track. The leader, a lass in her early twenties, called out to Tony, asking him to stop for a second.
"Can I ask who you are Sir? You do know this is private property?"
"Morning! I'm Tony James; this is Flosshilde Jyrisson," Tony said, pointing to me. "Sorry we didn't know we weren't supposed to be running here."
"Ahh, you are the new ones," the girl replied. "Apologies. I had been briefed on your arrival but had not had the time to look over your files. I am Zama Amahle and these are my sisters. Have you far to go this morning?"
"We were just going to follow the track round 'til we got back to the main house," I answered her. She seemed like a nice girl, for a lioness. I could smell the cat in her and her sisters now, and I had to try very hard not to let it upset me.
"In that case, may we join you? We were going that way for the morning meetings." She smiled down at me, not meeting my eyes in a challenge, but looking to one side in respect and friendship.
"Of course. It'd be nice to have someone show us the area," I replied.
We set out again, Zama running beside Tony and me, while her sisters formed a cordon behind us. For all Zama's openness, I still got the impression that we were being watched very closely and one false step would have landed us in trouble. We followed Zama's directions, and soon found ourselves back at the courtyard where we'd started.
I ran up to our rooms with Tony to get changed; one of Zama's sisters, Mbali, came along to show us how to get to the meeting hall at the centre of the house. When we got there though, we found our arrival had stirred up some strong emotions amongst members of the clan. I could hear the raised voices even before we opened the side door to the clan hall.
"How dare you risk all of this for one were?" asked a huge man standing in front of us. "You would chance every single life in this room by bringing a human into our midst?"
"For the chance to know my first born children?" Odin replied coldly. "Yes, Njord, I would. The human has lived with weres for many years now, and knows how to keep our secret. Added to that is the fact that he is willing to undergo the change, and I can see no reason to fear his presence in this place."
"And what of your daughter? Why is it she is the only one here from your first born litter?" these questions came from a smug-looking lady sitting in one of the few chairs in the hall.
"Jord, you knew when you married me that I had children somewhere in this world," Odin said wearily, "and that if they lived to their eighteenth birthday, I would find them. My sons have other commitments that they are honour-bound to fulfil; my daughter has joined me to learn of her history and so that she may prepare the way for her brothers." He continued in a more forceful tone. "May I remind all of you that I am clan leader, and while you may comment and guide me, I am the one who makes the decisions. As such I have allotted roles to a few of you to help in the training of my daughter and the human; roles that I hope you will carry out to the best of your abilities."
Odin went on, speaking calmly and precisely, making it clear these things were not open to discussion, "Bran and Zama will be assisting with the physical side of the training, especially the human. He will need to be fit to withstand the toll of the change. Mimir, old friend, would you teach my daughter more of her history?"
The short, silver-haired man whom Odin addressed bowed slightly in his chair before Odin continued, "Sif will be instructing them in clan and pack protocols, and Carla has agreed to oversee the human's meditation sessions with Freya. Those of you without specific tasks will be expected to help those with tasks in any way that they ask. At this time my daughter and the human will have no tasks given to them as they are new to this life, and will therefore be busy learning about it. Are there any objections to this?"
The room was silent as the clan digested the instructions given to them. No one had anything else to say, so Odin dismissed most of them, keeping behind those he'd singled out. The hall seemed even larger without the crowd of clan members, and I could see the complex designs that covered the floor and pillars supporting the high arched roof with its large glass panes that let in the morning light. The centre of the floor was dominated by a large flaxen hound inlaid into the dark wood and surrounded by an interweaving circle of branches of the same pale wood. Radiating out from there, vines seemed to grow up the pillars, ending with fierce-looking dogs' heads that snarled down from four sides. There were eight columns in all, with chairs in the spaces between them. Odin sat opposite the main doors in a smart dark blue suit. When he saw us waiting he beckoned us over to him.
"Did you hear any of that?" Odin asked.
"The end of it; I hadn't realised that bringing us here would cause problems," I answered.
"Nothing I cannot fix," Odin reassured me. "Now it is time to introduce you to your new tutors. Bran and Zama I believe you already know," Odin said, pointing to the couple standing to one side behind him.
"On my left is Mimir," he continued, indicating the gentleman. "He was my tutor when I was your age, Daughter; he will teach you all you could wish to know about your family's past. On my right is my third wife, Sif. She will teach you how to behave to other members of our pack and the clan at large."
Turning to Tony, Odin continued, "Carla and Freya are not present at this time, but Antony, you will meet with them after lunch to begin your meditation studies in the pack library whilst Flosshilde is with Mimir. What is this I hear of you throwing furniture out of the window yesterday?"
"Sorry, Odin, but we couldn't get it down the stairs; they're too narrow," I told him.
"And why could you not use the main stairs?" Odin asked.
"Well, we did in the end," I said. "How else could we have gotten the bath up there? There were too many tourists around to use them earlier on in the day, and we wanted to get the rooms finished off. We couldn't have done that if we'd have had to wait til the main doors were shut."
"I see," Odin said gravely. "In future though, please remember that it is not seemly for the first born daughter of the clan leader to be grubbing around in the sheds or appearing in public covered in dust and paint."
I turned my head towards Tony, and asked him quietly, "What's 'seemly' mean again?" I knew perfectly well; I was just winding Odin up.
"Proper, I think," Tony replied with a hint of a grin.
"Exactly," Odin spoke sharply to us then looked at Mimir.
"You can see how my daughter's schooling is lacking. I wish you luck with her." Odin turned back to us and said, "Sif will take you for the rest of the morning. I will expect you at lunch."
The pretty blonde haired lady that had stood meekly at Odin side stepped forwards and led us away. Once out of her husband's presence she walked taller, with her shoulders squared back and briskly took us to one of the myriad of rooms that opened off the long corridor from the meeting hall. Out here the décor was more conventional; less Viking round house, more stately home, with pale green walls and white woodwork and light pink Oriental rugs covering the polished wooden floors; on the walls hung tapestries of family trees. Odin's was in the middle, then those of other families, moving round the room 'til they met at filled bookcases that flanked the door.
"This is known as the family room, for obvious reasons," Sif began. "Here is stored the pedigree of each member of the clan, right back as far as is known. Lord Odin has recently charged us with making his own tapestry, which will hang beside that of his family. Firstly, I need the names of your parents and grandparents, Antony. As you are not a were by birth, we need not go any farther back than that. Then I shall need the name of your mother, Flosshilde, so I may research your maternal background. You may use the notepad on the table there," Sif concluded loftily, and pointed at the spindly desk in front of us.
As we wrote down the information she'd requested, I mentally asked Tony, "Do you think anyone here talks normally?"
I was shocked when Sif answered out loud, "We all talk normally here. And it would be wise for you to learn not to project beyond the person you wish to converse with. Here it is considered highly bad mannered to use your telepathy whilst in human form. As Lord Odin has told us, we have mouths, we should use them."
"OK, then," I replied and shut up after that. It was strange seeing Mum's full name written down in front of me. She'd always just been "Mum" to me, now she was "Annabel Redwald" and her history was going to be put in needlepoint for all the clan to see. Once we were finished, we looked around the room at the different trees that hung there. Where marriages had occurred between packs, the female name had been added to the male line with a note of her pedigree underneath her name. I didn't know where Tony would get added. It wasn't like we were married or anything; we'd slept together a couple of times, but did that mean he loved me? Or had he just been swept up in the lust of it all? Was I? This was the real problem with new feelings; I had nothing to judge them against.
I put the thoughts to the back of my mind as Sif motioned us over, and we sat round the little table with paper copies of the more important pedigrees set out in front of us.
"This is slightly complicated for an outsider to understand," Sif began, "so do try and keep up with me. The clan is set out in a pyramid shape with the leader, Lord Odin, at the top. Directly below him, at this time when he has no children who have reached full maturity, are the heads of the other family packs."
"I thought my brothers and I matured when we turned eighteen," I interrupted, "isn't that how Odin was able to find us?"
Sif looked pained at my casual use of Odin's name but carried on with her patronising speech. "Full maturity is not realised until you are twenty-one in were years," Sif explained. "So about twenty-one human years from now, you will become able to produce offspring, and then you will be judged to be fully mature. We live for a long time," Sif continued, ignoring my stunned expression. "There is no point handing over control to children who have yet to learn about the world and themselves," Sif concluded, before continuing her speech.
"To continue then, below Lord Odin are the leaders of the other family packs. Nominally they are all equal, but in practice some have more power than others due to their length of time with the clan, and their pack numbers. At this time the Ddraig pack are the most powerful of these. I believe you know Lord Gelert, who is their pack leader. Should anything happen to Lord Odin, Lord Gelert would assume the mantle of leadership until one of Lord Odin's children reaches full maturity. The other Lords are much below the Ddraig pack, but at this time run in order of the Picts followed by the Saxons and the Amahle," Sif explained.
Sif continued her exposition, "You shall need to learn the trees for each pack, the name of each pack's leader and each leader's children."
Looking directly at me for the first time, and catching my eyes with hers, Sif went on, "As part of the first born litter of Lord Odin, there will be very few people you must submit to, the exceptions being your aunts and uncles."
"And how many aunts and uncles do I have?" I asked.
"Nine in all," Sif responded, "however only five live on the estate still. The Ladies Idun, Hel and Kitta and the Lord Braggi have moved to be with their husbands and wives in other parts of Europe. Etta, Gisla, Bera, the Lady Luta and Njord still reside in parts of the house with their families."
Sif continued, "Lady Luta married Lord Cearl as her first husband and gave him two children, your cousins, bringing the Saxon clan into ours. She then married Lord Dai and gave him three children, more cousins for you. Your other aunts and your uncle are at this time unmarried. Tonight, my Lord Odin has said there is to be a feast in your honour. He thought you would be too tired after travelling yesterday. Tonight you will take your place at his table as his first born daughter so it is vital that you have at least a basic understanding of the different family packs and the protocols surrounding the greeting of each member of the clan."
With this new information, I realized that there was a practical purpose and a new urgency connected to what had been a somewhat dry lesson so far. When Sif continued, I paid special attention as she said, "In front of you is the pedigree of the clan. You should take it with you and study it well. I shall be joining you before the feast to ensure that you will not disgrace either my Lord or myself. You may leave now."
As we got up from our chairs, Sif looked down at the names we had given her earlier, making her dismissal of us plain. With our heads swimming with the information Sif had provided, we got out of the room as fast as we could.
We made it to the other side of the meeting hall before we collapsed in howls of laughter. Sif had been so serious and so terribly earnest about all this protocol stuff. Tony and I had been sitting on hot coals for the last half hour, trying to keep straight faces while we tried to wade through the piles of paper given to us. Tony looked at me and said, "This is worse than the army. At least there we had clues from the insignia. Here I could snub the first son of the Pictish pack, and never know til afterwards."
"Oh, I think Caitt would let you know if you did that," said an amused voice beside us, going on to say, "Hi, I'm Du."
"Hi!" I responded. "Hey, I know that name. Wait -- don't tell me; you're in here somewhere," I said, leafing through the paperwork handed out. "Here we go! First daughter of Gelert's first wife, yes?"
"Pretty much," Dru responded. "I'm actually Mum's only daughter. She's very good at giving Dad sons. You must be Flosshilde and Antony. Welcome to the estate."
"Yep, but please, don't use those long names. 'Flossi' and 'Tony' are fine," Tony replied, holding up his hand for Du to shake. "So what time's lunch round here? I'm starving," Tony continued.
"Well, you didn't have any breakfast, that's why," I told him.
Du grinned at our bickering, and glanced at her watch. "The main lunch happens in about half an hour, but you can always raid the kitchens if you prefer."
"And they would be where?" I asked.
"Come on, I'll show you," Du said, and began walking off away from the meeting hall.
As we walked along, Du explained Gelert had asked her to keep an eye on us in case we got lost. In a house this size it was a real possibility. The kitchens, when we found them after roaming along the long confusingly similar hallways, were huge and split into three sections. Off to the right was what could only be described as a medieval gallery where the remains of a large deer were being roasted on a spit. A pregnant woman was sitting beside it, ladling the running juices back over it as it turned. Du waved to her and said, "That's Nerys, Dad's third wife. She's expecting her first litter in a few weeks."
The rest of the kitchen was heaving with people, chopping and boiling and baking in preparation for tonight's feast. We skipped around them, and made our way over to the walk-in fridge at the far end. Inside were platters of sandwiches ready for lunch so we helped ourselves to a few each, and then went out the back door into the courtyard area underneath our windows. There were a couple of picnic benches placed beside the gate to the walled garden, and we spread our food and homework out over one of them. There was something I was burning with curiosity over, though I didn't know if it was polite to bring it up. In the end, I had to.
"So how does this whole multiple partners thing work then?" I asked Du. "Don't people get jealous?"
"Everyone is aware of what happens, so no," Du responded. "Jealousy happens when things are kept from a relationship; in our society, first wives will often help their husbands chose their next wife and visa versa. Look at your aunt, Lady Luta. She married Lord Cearl a few weeks after she had her first heat, and it was slightly political but they knew each other well. Lord Cearl had learned long ago that he would probably be marrying one of Lord Odin's sisters, so he moved up here when he was eighteen and met them all," Du explained.
She went on, "Lord Cearl's mother is second daughter of Lady Alda and Lord Leofric's third son, so the chances of Lord Cearl having his own pack are next to zero. Out of everyone here, he and Luta got along the best, so the match was made. That was fifty were years ago, a long time. So five years ago, when they realised that they weren't going to be having any more litters, they sat down and picked a good bloodline and found someone who they thought would give Lady Luta more children. That was my uncle, Lord Dai, different litter to Dad, and he had her pregnant within a few weeks with three pups."