Once upon a time, when the county of Kosh was its own country, there was a wolf-furre named Axa ti'Varri, a lord, who had one son named Rexa. It was winter when the lady, Rexa's mother, died in childbirth.
Soon after the boy was born, a faerie furre, a Kitterwing named Distle, came to visit and to scry his future. What she learned made her sad.
She reached into her bag and gave his wetnurse what she thought might help him: a mysterious potion of green liquid in a crystal bottle. It was to be given to Rexa on his fifteenth birthday, with the instruction to drink it at his time of greatest pain.
Alas, Lord Axa ti'Varri died when Rexa was four. With his last strength, the wolf-furre lord placed his coronet of office in an enchanted cage. This stood in a courtyard of hedges outside the manor house.
It was the custom of this land for the future ruler to enter that cage to take up the circlet of office. Only the truly good of heart could open its door.
Little Rexa was sent to the household of Arrik, the lord's younger brother. Arrik was to rule in Lord Axa's place until Rexa came of age.
Eventually, Arrik grew to love his status of regent too much, and he became jealous of his nephew. Arrik was kind to Rexa in public, but in private, he would drink heavily and hit the boy.
Rexa lived in fear and misery. Yet, before the eyes of the court, Rexa seemed to be treated well. He was given the finest things that money could buy: fancy clothes, expensive delicacies, a feather bed. His greatest comfort, however, was the idea that one day he would be lord, and he would pay his uncle back in pain.
The young lordling grew strong, sure of hand and fleet of foot, and he learned to sing the Law-songs of the people of Kosh. In his heart, though, he was selfish and cruel.
Shortly before Rexa turned fifteen, his old wetnurse came from the village, through the snow, to bring him the tiny potion given to her at Rexa's birth. Rexa accepted it and brusquely sent her away.
On the day before his coronation, Rexa went hunting. He could not find any game he deemed large enough to be worthy of his feast, so he demanded two plow-birds from a family of poor farmers who lived in an old plank hovel.
When Rexa returned, there were pipers and drummers playing a merry song, and everyone was attending the dancing. He found the enchanted cage unattended. There, within lay the coveted crown.
Rexa tried to open the door. He discovered it would not open for him. He tried to force it, but it was impervious to all he tried.
Without warning, Rexa felt a sharp pain as something pierced him from behind. It was an arrow, tipped with a sharp sliver of red ice.
Turning, Rexa caught sight of a cloaked raccoon-furre with a bow. The stranger watched Rexa calmly. The lordling fell to the ground in pain. Then he remembered his potion and managed to drink it. The pain receded. The raccoon furre collected his feathered arrow shaft.
Suddenly, Rexa felt his teeth growing out of his mouth, and he fell forwards. He tried to yell but he could make no sound because his chest was changing shape. He saw the skin of his forearms splitting as his limbs stretched, thickening. His bones creaked and twisted strangely inside him. He thrashed, and ran at the archer. In a blind rage, he tore his would-be assassin to pieces.
This noise brought the other furres to the courtyard. They saw the dead, cloaked stranger and a huge four-legged blood-spattered creature with gaping jaws. "A Wolven!" gasped an old scholar, while the commoners screamed, "Ferian!"
The guards came out. They ran at Rexa with spears, and he felt more arrows sticking into him. They could not even slow him down, though. Now a frightening quadruped, Rexa turned, leaped the hedges, and ran off into the night.
Regent Arrik posted a reward. Hunters came from near and far to try to collect the creature's enormous head. The snow betrayed Rexa's path with prints and spatters of blood. By day, Rexa had no peace, as they tracked him and woke him with arrows. When he could sleep, he would heal, but he still woke up very sore and he knew he had to run again.
He had little time to hunt, and it was nearly impossible to catch any food. The little birds fluttered away easily into the sky. The dangerous raukors stayed in large swarms, their disconcerting screams driving him back if he came too close. The few wild ostrixes he could find were too fast. Rexa ended up eating scraps of grass.
The furre hunters drove Rexa to the very northernmost edge of County Kosh. It was a part of the year when pieces of ice churn on the sea.
Then Rexa heard a distant howl calling to him. His paws freezing, he ran along the surf for miles until he found the source of the sound: three Wolven Ferians, all larger than himself. They were seated, peaceably enough, in the snow.
The largest, a male, growled at him, yet Rexa understood it to be Ferian speech:,"I am Garrik. Who are you?"
Rexa said, "I am Rexa, son of Lord Axa, and my uncle has tried to have me killed. You must help me regain my throne!"
A female wuffed, laughing, "We are Ferians. Everyone tries to kill us. I am Reen, our Law-Singer."
Garrik said, "And there is no throne here, but I am the Packleader."
The third Ferian, colored very darkly, made an incoherent, rumbling growl. It made Rexa uneasy, in spite of himself. The former lordling said, "Why does he not speak?"
Reen said, "Each evil act we do may destroy a piece of our mind. He was that way when he came to us. Most Ferians end that way... Do you know the Wolven Ferian Law-Song?"
Surprised that such a thing even existed, Rexa shook his shaggy head.
And so, accompanied by the howls of the others, Reen sang it for him. It was harsh and frightening and beautiful all at once. Rexa listened carefully.
It told of how the strongest Wolven pair always eats first. When food is scarce, if they share equally, they will all grow weak and perish. This way, at least two survive. The evil in Rexa's heart stirred his pride-- was this not a justification of his selfish behavior all along?
It is forbidden to eat the flesh of any thinking creature. For this evil, known as sennibalism, the Ferian might lose his or her mind forever.
Then the Law-Song told of how the Wolven must hunt together, and defend each other. Three Wolven would often fail at the hunt but four or more would often succeed. This was new to Rexa. He had never had to wait for others, or watch what they did to guide his own actions.
Reen's Law-Song told of how, through acts of kindness and heroism, a cursed Ferian might regain his or her old form. Centuries might pass before this occurred.
Lastly, it told of a legendary place, named the Wylde, where no Ferian was hunted.
"And that," said Reen, "is where we are going. To find the Wylde."
Garrik growled, "I think the Law-Song is speaking poetically of death."
Reen leaned over to lightly nip Garrik on the cheek. "Perhaps. But is it not better to look forward to something, than to be forever looking back at those who pursue us?"
"I will join you!" said Rexa.
Garrik narrowed his eyes. "Do you ask this of us?"
Ask? Rexa had never had to request anything. He either demanded it, or he knew in advance that the answer was no. He swallowed. "I-- I ask this of you, yes."
Garrik grinned, showing his lower canines. "Then you hunt with the Night-Music Pack. But we need to know your strength. Nameless, stand and test his prowess."
The dark Ferian arose obediently and loped to meet Rexa. Ears laid back, he gave a challenging snarl. No stranger to roughhousing, Rexa stood ready to engage him. They circled and closed for the struggle.
Nameless was a ball of fur and fury, white fangs flashing in a dark face. He was weak only in comparison to Garrik and Reen. Inexperienced, muscles shrunken by starvation, Rexa found himself on his back, with Nameless growling down at him. The lordling Wolven yelped, "I yield!"
Nameless's hackles settled. He flourished his tail, gave Rexa a friendly lick on the nose, and let him up. The newest Wolven Ferian did not feel any better.
Thus Rexa became last in rank of the Night-Music Pack. He sulked and trailed along after the other three as they travelled through the night.
They came across a wild ostrix. "We form a line first," Reen whispered to Rexa. They gave chase. Garrik pushed the long-legged bird in toward the others. It was a tireless circle. When Garrik was nearly out of breath, Reen took over, then Nameless, then Rexa. By then, Garrik was ready again. They drove the bird to its knees and swiftly ended its life.
Rexa had to wait and hungrily watch as the others ate first. Then he took his portion. It was still warm. Never had anything tasted so good in his life! He was feeling much better by sunrise.
Unlike Garrik, who seemed to have little care for the world of furres, Rexa was lonely and he grew interested in what the ordinary people did. He sat on a hillside watching a herder practicing with a sling. He followed an herb woman gathering her wares in the nearby forest. He saw how hard they worked, their lives so different than his had been.
He tried to approach them, but they immediately ran away screaming. When Reen found out, she was angry and yelled at him for endangering the Pack.
"The hunters will come!"
"They always do," said Rexa defensively.
"So does death," Reen snapped, "but there's no need to invite it sooner."
It was Garrik who calmed them both down. "Peace, now. Reen, he's not much older than a cub; he just has to learn for himself why we avoid furres. Rexa, Reen is no fool, and sometimes your elders know what they're talking about. We'll leave in the morning. No real harm was done... this time."
For years after that, Rexa lived under clouds and stars, following Garrik and the Pack. Rexa and Nameless became good friends first. Over time, Reen and Garrik came to be Rexa's friends too.
Only Reen could still assume a furre form. She sometimes entered the towns as a wandering bard, learning all the news, including any sightings of other Ferians.
As the seasons moved on, the Wolven noticed that the raukors -- shrieking, heavy-thighed birds that hunted game both large and small -- were growing bolder. According to their instincts, the packs combined. When there was nothing else for them to eat, Rexa observed Ferians turning on their weakest to devour them.
The packs travelled southward. Rexa began to recognize trails and trees. He knew they were once more in his home area of Kosh.
The game had grown scarcer as time went on. In winter the hunting was hardest. One evening it began to snow, and then it did not stop for several days.
Rexa sometimes saw little cottages of furres, purplish wisps of smoke rising up from them. The furres had to stay inside lest they be frozen to death. The snowdrifts rose higher and higher, and of a few, the tips of chimneys were all that could be seen. The storm ended, the sun came out, and the snow's crust began to turn to a thick layer of ice.
After such a storm, Rexa remembered that it was a lord's responsibility to send a patrol to make sure people could get out once again. He knew that for two years, his uncle Arrik had refused to bother with outlying villages like this one.
Then Rexa thought of the herder and the herb gatherer. Now he knew what it was like to be hungry, and he didn't want them to starve in their cottages.
Garrik said, "Let us go. There will be no good hunting here."
Rexa said, "I think these villagers need help."
Reen huffed, "Help reaching you with pitchforks and axes, you mean."
But Rexa would not be swayed. "Go on ahead without me; I will dig these furres out." He stood his ground. Then Nameless walked over to stand at Rexa's side.
Garrik said, "No, we need at least three on a hunt! And this is no business of ours."
"But they're people and they'll starve if we don't do something!" said Rexa.
Reluctantly, Reen walked over to stand at Rexa's other side.
Rexa added, "Two legs or four, I'm still their rightful lord. It's my duty. Please, Garrik, will you help me?"
The Packleader grumbled. "It's a waste of time." Nevertheless, Rexa was his friend, and the four stayed. Together they used their great paws to dig the doors of the cottages clear.
When they were done, they were panting, and Nameless wuffed in Ferian. "Good." They were astonished and pleased, for none of them had ever heard him say anything.
Rexa had grown quite a bit. The next few times he and Nameless wrestled, it was Rexa who came out on top. So Nameless once again became the Pack's lowest-ranking member. Nameless did not mind; it was clear that he admired the former lordling.
That summer, while they travelled, Garrik pointed out signs that the raukors had gathered into quite a large flock. He estimated there were well over fifty. They passed a campsite where it was clear the raukors had set upon some furres.
"How can we warn the furres?" said Rexa.
"Reen, you can do it best," said Garrik. His mate nodded.
Then Rexa saw the direction in which the raukors were going. "No time," he said. It chanced that they were aiming for the shabby hovel where Rexa had demanded the plowbirds years before. He told his packmates the story. "That hut can't keep the raukors out for long. I could tear it down myself."
Before they could talk further, Rexa was loping ahead, circling to get ahead of the raukors without alerting them. "Let's go!" said Garrik, and the others ran too.
The farm furres and their family were just sitting down for the evening meal. Rexa went to the side of the tiny building opposite the door. He slashed with his claws: the worm-rotted wood splintered easily. He made a hole and shoved his enormous head through, teeth bared, and growled loudly.
The rest of the Night-Music Pack saw the two farmers and their four children come running out the other side. The Ferians lunged into action, herding the family down the road.
By the time the farmers and their children reached the ti'Varri manor house, their hearts felt close to bursting. They cried out, "Ferians are coming!" They were taken into the stone dwelling, and the thick doors were bolted shut.
What sight, sound, or smell had drawn them near, no one knew, but when Rexa looked over his shoulders, he saw the raukor flock approaching. The birds bounded forward, hungry enough to try to take down the Ferians.
When the raukors began their awful screams, talk became impossible. They swirled around the Ferians like a storm. Rexa darted out his head and his jaws crunched on a thick feathery neck. He felt a beak tear a scratch on his hindquarters. Others bit at the backs of his legs.
Excited by the sight of blood, the other raukors came closer and attacked him. Rexa whirled and slew another, but he felt the attacks continue from behind.
Garrik and Reen were also fighting, each facing the other direction. Nameless was laying into raukors with his paws and fangs. The horrific din continued, but Nameless's dark head and pointed ears bobbed up momentarily from behind the feathered backs to grin at Rexa.
Rexa started clawing his way toward Nameless. He found Nameless had many wounds on his hindquarters too. Copying the others' tactics, Rexa went tail to tail with Nameless. They fought cooperatively, and only then did the raukors' ranks start to thin.
Once wounded, a number of the predator birds ran off. Rather than face the Ferians, other raukors broke off and began to chase wounded brethren. Their terrible screeching faltered, and the Wolven Ferians were left with ringing in their sensitive ears. All four Ferians were badly injured.
A party of furres approached, with Regent Arrik in its midst. He yelled, "Kill them! All of them!" Arrik had sent the ice archer to kill Rexa years ago, and he knew what had really happened.
At the sight of his wicked uncle, Rexa snarled. He knew he could tear Arrik's throat out before the guards stopped him. He snarled, "Vengeance at last!"
Garrik came forward and said, "Rexa! No!"
"No!" Reen echoed.
Nameless put his shoulder to Rexa's and said, through his pain, "...go...cage." They would not move until Rexa did.
So the Wolven Ferian mustered his strength and dashed for the magical cage, still standing in the courtyard, as it had for hundreds of years. He raised his paw to the door. To the astonishment of the furre court, it sprang open lightly.
The other Ferians quickly slipped away before they could be harmed. Rexa felt his former anger starting to fade now that there was finally hope of justice.
A sparkling was seen in the air as a small winged faerie appeared. It was Distle once more, looking exactly as she had when Rexa was born. Rexa felt himself starting to change. Distle waved her wand and everyone present saw Rexa become a furre prince, clothed in fine garments.
Rexa was restored as the ruler. Through him, the people of Kosh learned how Arrik had betrayed his own kin. His first decree was to order Arrik's imprisonment in a cold tower on the northernmost shore of his land.
Then he turned to Distle and thanked her for her gift. He whispered to her, "My only regret is that I shall never see my true friends again, now that you have cured me of my curse."
"Cured, your lordship?" whispered the tiny Kitterwing. "I only gave thee a painkiller..."