Alcatraz prodded a bundle of blue-black fur, gently so not to wake the many other pups curled against his mate’s belly. The den was far from the main den site, and few wolves came near. Still Alcatraz liked to take his pups outside, though often individually because he feared losing track of them. This morning he wanted to spend time with his son Tzuri. The pup could use the exercise and the time to explore freely and be given individual attention. With a litter as large as this, it was important that the pups still feel cared for and secure.
“Wake up, my son.” the large brown male rumbled lowly, waiting for the bright blue eyes of the pup to open.
Tzuri's consciousness wandered in a frightening land of long shadows and scary sounds. Too young to understand most of what he was seeing, his little mind only knew he couldn't find Momma or Daddy, and, in this nightmarish world, he cringed and whimpered. But, when all seemed bleak, a bright light burst through the darkness, beckoning him to it. He ran to it, to the warmth it emanated, and, in this dream, he ran like a deer instead of the roly-poly blueberry he was.
The pup opened his eyes and briefly thought himself still in the claws of his sleep as a dark figure loomed over him. Soon, though, his big bright eyes focused, and his Daddy's smiling face swam into view. Immediately, Tzuri's stubby tail began to thump and his pink tongue lolled out his mouth.
He rolled onto his stubby legs, barked, "Daddy!"
Then, he stepped forward and put his paw on his Dad's large one with what he thought was a mighty thump. He did it again for emphasis, then smiled up at Traz.
Alcatraz smiled as his son woke up. Immediately the plump pup was happy and excited, patting at Alcatraz’s paw with his own as he looked up with sweet and spirited blue eyes. “Come, and take care. You don’t want to wake your littermates, or your mother for that matter,” he said. He got to his paws and turned to walk from the den. He stopped at the entrance to look back at Tzuri and make sure he was following. The dark Warden’s shadow loomed long and broad all the way to the far wall of the den as the morning sun shone from behind him.
He had told Athena that he would be taking Tzuri out this morning, so she would not wonder about him when she woke. He did not have a specific route planned out for them. He would let Tzuri determine the destinations of the morning. And all the while he would be under his father’s watchful yellow eyes.
The plump pup shot a glance back at the others then began to tip-paw by his Daddy. He would be silent and make the Warden proud.
He squinted in the light of the new day, but his face beamed almost brighter than the light. The sun meant safety. He loved the daytime and blue skies and everything he was told that The One had made. In his little mind, The One was a large grey and white wolf with a glow about Him. He didn't have to speak--He just thought about something and it happened. Tzuri found a comfort in this idea.
Outside the den, he returned to his bouncy trot, smiling, "I hush, Daddy!"
Alcatraz watched as Tzuri made his way carefully through the den, managing to leave his siblings and mother none the wiser. The dark pup’s face scrunched as he adjusted to the light, but the pup was practically glowing with happiness. Once he was outside of the den Alcatraz followed. “You did. You were quieter than a Courser!” his father said warmly.
He took a deep breath of the late summer air. It was getting cooler. There was a bite to this morning that spoke of fall. He hoped strongly that his children were all growing strong before the cold stole the sweet summer warmth. He always feared that one would fall ill, as Raphael had. Cricket had only just barely survived…
But the bouncy pup at his side was the picture of health, plump and strong and bright-eyed. “How did you sleep, Tzuri?” Alcatraz asked, trying to make conversation. It had never been his strong suit.
Tzuri slowed and whimpered at the mention of sleep. Sleep was a scary place. Scarier still because he didn't have the words yet to identify his fears or describe them to others. But, Daddy had asked, and you answered when Mommy or Daddy said something.
"Baa-ad," he replied, shaking his head. Then, in a whisper, "Black wuffs, Daddy. Big, black wuffs. Bad, bad!"
He sped up a bit until his fur touched his Dad's leg. He needed to feel Traz's strength and, with it, the feeling of protection. The sun warming his fur reminded him that he was awake and safe, but he still needed the solid confirmation that nothing was going to hurt him. That was symbolized by his large sire who could chase all the shadows away.
One day, he would foolishly believe this need to be close to his father a sign of weakness and shy away from him, but, for now, it was his strength and comfort.
Alcatraz frowned at this news. Was Tzuri having nightmares? It sounded that way.black wolves? Bad black wolves? Tzuri himself was a black wolf, as were many of his siblings and his mother. He wondered what this could mean… he glanced down as Tzuri’s soft fur brushed against his leg.
“Never fear, my son. There are black wolves here, but none bad. You are always safe with your mother and I,” he assured Tzuri, his pale yellow eyes warm as he smiled at the little black pup. He wanted to change the subject now. Clearly Tzuri was unhappy thinking about his nightmares. They would distract him with the wonders of the waking world. “Where would you like to go today?”Alcatraz asked, “A stream, perhaps? Or a place to catch mice. Rocks to explore?” there were many little features around the den where Athena chose to have their brood. Plenty of places for a little wolf to explore.
Blue eyes went wide with excitement, all fear gone. What was a 'stream'? He could catch mice? The rocks sounded mysterious and fun! So many choices! He stopped walking, his face scrunching up in intense deliberation. Finally, he decided and hopped back into step with his Daddy.
"Steam, Daddy! Less go steam!" he yipped happily. Then, remembering himself, he added, "Pease? Fank you!"
The bounce returned to his step. The metaphorical dark clouds that had threatened to swallow the warm sun of this day had vanished with his Daddy's words. Now, his mind was full of possibilities and discovery. Maybe a stream was grass. He knew grass; the family den was full of grass and other warm, soft things. He always wondered where it came from. The things he was smelling as he walked--pausing ever so briefly to sniff--was grass and trees and rocks. If this wasn't a stream, he couldn't imagine what was!
Alcatraz smiled and nodded. This would be the pup’s first visit to the stream. The first experience with water, other than the rain that he may have heard pattering on the ceiling of the den, or the dew sparkling on the tall grasses in the early morning.
“The stream it is,” the dark Warden confirmed, leading the way at a comfortably slow walk toward the babbling brook. It was a short ways away, luckily, so they need not go far. Soon they could hear the soft rushing of the water and the air became fresher with the scent of the river water. He paused before the stream came into view, leaning down his head to speak to his son. “Do you smell that freshness in the air?” he asked. It was important to make every outing a lesson. This lesson would be in scents, particularly scenting when a fresh water source was nearby which was an important skill for a wolf to know.
"Yus!" Tzuri barked, eyes wide and his nose snuffling noisily.
This 'fresh' made his fur tingle and a warmth spread through him that he couldn't explain but loved just as much. It made him want to sleep in the sun or roll in the grass. It smelled like the rain (which he loved) but stronger and there was a noise that made his ears perk. It was like wet laughter. His little tail was a blur.
He looked up into his father's eyes. "Steam tawk?" he asked, full of curiosity. He had so many questions but not the words for them.
The blue ball was quivering with excitement. He wanted to run ahead but couldn't go before his Daddy said so. It was almost torture. In his small mind, in his own little way, he thanked The One for Daddy who was so smart and who showed him these things.
Alcatraz nodded his head in approval as Tzuri acknowledged the smell. He looked more excited than his father had ever seen him. Alcatraz couldn’t help but laugh a bit, “Yes, the stream speaks, and before you get too close you must listen to what it has to say. A soft stream is welcoming you, a loud and roaring stream is warning you to stay away. “
Alcatraz saw how eager Tzuri was to go. But he wasn’t letting his dark-pelted son approach without one last quiz question, “Before we go any further, tell me Tzuri, is this stream welcoming us? Or telling us to stay away?”
Blue eyes went wide with wonder and awe as Tzuri listened to his Daddy explain the two types of streams. He blinked a few times before screwing up his expression into one of extreme concentration. His ears shot up as high as they could go and his little pink tongue stuck out the side of his mouth.
Was it happy? Did he feel welcomed? Or did it sound angry and scary? He swiveled his ears to hear better. No, it sounded like wet laughter still. It made him want to play, to dance with it. It made him smile, but he listened a bit longer to make sure. Finally, he nodded firmly and looked up to Traz.
"S'good, Daddy," he said matter-of-factly. Then, head tilted, "Am right?"
That was another thing he was learning. You could be wrong but not be in trouble. And it was ok to be wrong sometimes. That's how you learned, but it was good to make sure what you were wrong about and what was the correct answer. He was also learning that, sometimes, there was no answer to a question, so to speak. There was something called 'an opinion'. Like, he liked rain, and it wasn't right or wrong, it was just his opinion.
With this, though, he was pretty sure that he had to be right about whether it was safe or not. (That was just his opinion, he thought. Sort of).
Alcatraz watched his son as he thought on the question, perking his ears and taking in the sounds. Finally the pup gave an answer. The dark warden smiled and nodded his broad muzzle. ”You are right, this is a safe stream. Well done.”The big male paused, lifting his head and scenting the air again, just to ensure no new scents had arrived. This was a safe area, but still he could not be too careful. When he had deemed it safe he looked back down at Tzuri, pale yellow eyes meeting bright blue. He gestured with his muzzle toward the sound of the stream,“Shall we?” Alcatraz set off at a slow trot toward the stream, letting the young pup lead or follow how he chose, yet always keeping out a watchful eye.
The excitement was almost too much for Tzuri. He first set off at a hopping gallop, getting so far as his Dad's front paws before slowing down only to gallop forward again. Then, he lagged a bit behind, mentally deciding that Traz should go first since he was Daddy, but, then, he could smell the water and hear the laughter, and he wanted to see it so badly-! The blue pup threw (most) caution to the wind and took off as fast as he could.
Which wasn't too fast and meant that he tripped over his paws a few times.
And his hind end got ahead of his front end somehow.
And he had to sit to catch his breath a few times.
All this within about 3 yards.
BUT, when he finally got there...it was breathtaking! He had seen rain, and he loved rain, but this was so much water. It started and never seemed to stop. Where did it come from? Where did it go? He approached it cautiously--as it made him feel much smaller--and carefully dipped a paw in it. It was cold, but oddly pleasant. He drew his paw back, shook it, then lowered his nose to it and sniffed. After snorting and sneezing, he decided he liked the crisp fresh scent (the rush of ice-cold water up his nose? Not so much). He licked his muzzle and was instantly in heaven.
It was delicious. It made his teeth numb and his throat tingle, but it was so good. The best water he had ever tasted. He looked up to his Dad for approval but didn't wait for it. This was a friendly stream, after all--surely that meant it was ok to drink from it? He lowered his nose to the coursing waters and lapped up the liquid ice. Ah! He could drink forever from this! His body prickled as the water went down and somehow felt like it fluffed up. His soul sighed peacefully.
Who knew a drink of cold, fresh water could be so...happy?
Finally, he could take no more on his teeth or stomach, so he sat--hind legs splaying as front legs took the weight. He just wanted to look at the water. Was that weird? Yes, he wanted to play in it, but, although it was a happy stream, something told him that he should give himself a moment and wait for Daddy first.
"S'preddeh, Daddy," he sighed, smiling. "I happeh. Uh, fank you?"
Daddy had brought him here so Daddy should get thanked. That's how things worked. Someone gave you something, you thanked them, and this deserved a big 'thank you'.
Alcatraz could sense his son’s excitement, and did nothing to deter him as the black pup scampered for the stream, stopping and starting and tripping. The Warden matched Tzuri’s pace, making sure he was never more than a bound away at any time. He smiled at how endearing Tzuri’s behavior was even to someone as stern and stoic is Alcatraz.
When they reached the river Alcatraz watched Tzuri’s first reaction to the stream. He was in awe it seemed. Alcatraz nodded as Tzuri looked up at him questioningly and then stepped forward himself, taking some generous laps of the icy water to confirm to his son that this water was good to drink.
He smiled to the black pup as he thanked him. “Of course, Tzuri. The river is yours and mine.” With that he stepped right up to the bank, “Now I could go for some cooling off, wouldn’t you agree?” he flashed his son a friendly glance before slipping into the water, wading a bit into the stream before turning to watch Tzuri. It would be his first time swimming, if he decided to follow into the water. Alcatraz would have to keep a watchful eye.
Daddy went in the stream. Daddy. Went in. The stream! Tzuri was overjoyed. He was going to get his wish! Panting happily, he trotted after Traz, tail straight up and vibrating.
The water engulfed his paws like bigger frozen paws, but, then, the water became strangely warm. He trotted a little further and yelped when the water hit his belly and, ahem, vitals. He shook himself, determined to go out as deep as Daddy. He stepped forward slowly, making sure each paw was placed firmly.
But, something was happening. His rear end was going up, and his front paws weren't landing on the rocky stream bottom. Oddly, though, the same water floating his backside was pulling his front half down, and that made him whimper and try to get his paws down faster...which buoyed him up. He thrust each paw purposefully into the water as he held his nose up.
This was something! He didn't know the word, but he knew that he should be able to walk in the water. He was still a bit unsure, as the water splashed his face and got up his nose occasionally, but he focused on Daddy and kept walking.
Alcatraz watched carefully as Tzuri made his way into the water, hesitant at first but boldly moving forward. It was a new sensation, but Alcatraz was happy to see his son face it bravely. Soon Tzuri was deep enough to swim, and although confused at first, instinct took over and soon the black pup was paddling eagerly toward his father. The dark wolf smiled and waded a step or two around Tzuri, so to be standing downstream of him in the case the water began to float the little pup away.
“That’s right, Tzuri, swim toward me, see if you can make it.” The alpha male lowered his body into the water, so that his back was about level with the surface of the water, which would offer Tzuri a place to rest after his first swim.
His Daddy's voice gave him strength and courage. At this age, The One and Daddy were interchangeable in his mind, but, if they weren't the same being, Daddy was definitely one of The One's many messengers. Tzuri felt the pride and support radiating from the older wolf, and he knew he could not fail. He was flying but in the water! For once in his short existence, he felt weightless and graceful.
He liked this--what had Daddy called it?--swim!
But, he was getting tired. This was more work than walking. Tzuri panted as he smiled at Traz, turning a full circle before he figured out how to swim left or right without spinning in place. He paddled to his Daddy and was grateful for the broad back just in reach. He clambered on the dark, strong surface and deflated into a slightly smaller, flattened potato.
"I...swem, Daddy," he stated between pants. He yawned big, all the weight he'd temporarily 'lost' flooding back with a friend named 'exhaustion' in tow.
Alcatraz had never seen the black pup so happy, and he was one who was very often happy. He met his son’s blue eyes which were alight with joy and excitement, and the father was beaming. Had the One ever made any pup so pure?
Tzuri was panting by the time he made it to his father’s back and Alcatraz felt the large pup melt, plopping into his back in exhaustion. Alcatraz wasn’t surprised. Swimming was draining, even to adult wolves. He looked over his shoulder at where Tzuri was recovering, “A fine first swim, son. Are you ready to return to the den?” he asked, beginning to wade slowly toward the show, keeping himself crouched so the water could still splash Tzuri as he went.
Tzuri yawned again, "Yeh, Daddy. I sweepy."
He probably wouldn't make it to the den before sleep took him, even with the gentle waves coming up over his Daddy's back onto him. They were almost rocking him to sleep, actually, as they gentle touched his muzzle and toes. He had no fear of falling or getting hurt; Daddy was protecting him.
Daddy was so great.
Before his big blue eyes fluttered closed, he thanked The One for Daddy and friendly streams. He thanked Him for swim.