The Rah’at had convened atop Warden’s Watch at first light, as agreed. Even now the sky was bright with the colours of dawn - the rising sun cast hues of yellow, pink, and a vicious blood red across the clouds. Below them stretched all of Aryn, much of the territory still cloaked in shadow. The great river ran like a silver tear across the countryside. It was a great beauty, and theirs to steward by the laws which had governed Aryn for generations beyond counting.
It had been three days since the accident. Athena had not slept much, her nights spent pacing, thinking, struggling to come to terms with the tragedy which it was now their duty to pass judgement on. But she felt no closer to an answer.
With tired eyes, the Lady addressed her peers.
“You all know why we’ve gathered… Teva, apprenticing under Vasilis, acted against her mentor’s order and put both of them into harm’s way. Vasilis was crushed by stampeding bison in an effort to protect his ward…” Her lips curled, the moment playing over in Athena’s head for the thousandth time. Her daughter rushing ahead of the herd… and Vas’s ultimately fatal attempt to save Teva from her error.
“Intentional or not, it cannot be questioned whether her disobedience led to his demise. Aryn law is clear, but Teva is young - not even past her rite to Wolfhood. And she is clearly shaken by the events. I feel I, too, bear my own guilt in this, for allowing them to hunt alone.
What further judgements follow, if any, are now in our paws.”
The large wolf had arrived with his mate, his mind similarly muddled. He was usually such a strong holder of the laws, especially when the consequences were as severe as this one, resulting in the death of a devoted and beloved pack mate. But his own daughter… Alcatraz had by now given up assuring Athena that she had no fault in this, though despite that he could not help but feel guilt as well. He had seen what she was becoming… but he had never stopped it.
His pale yellow eyes swept over the other members of the Rah’at. He had planned on speaking, speaking for justice, but he found now that he could not. His emotions clouded his judgement. So the Alpha male, usually so eager to assert his voice in any matter, however difficult, was for once silent.
The tension within the circle of wolves was unlike anything he had ever experienced. It felt like a crushing weight that no amount of force would shift. He swallowed, attempting to dislodge the lump in his throat that added to the male’s growing discomfort. Gold eyes scanned around the circle - Athena, Alcatraz, Raghaalr, Teia, and Hani - and wondered if they too were suffering at the impending decision they had to make.
He caught the Lord’s gaze for a spell before it broke with a shift to the grass. The action deserved a punishment - a packmate had been killed! - but what were they supposed to do when it was the daughter of their beloved alphas? The daughter of a wolf he loved like a brother?
His jaw clenched. It felt like no matter what they decided, there would be no right answer, and surely no happy endings.
Drooped ears. Averted gazes. Hani felt her voice ripped away as Lady Athena addressed the council. So defeated. So broken. Hani sat a small distance from Lawson, waiting for the discussion to begin, but no one spoke. The silence was unbearable, broken by an uncomfortable shift of paws and baited breaths as her comrades open their maw to speak, then thought better of it. She couldn't take it, Teva's life was potentially on the line, or, at the least, her place in Aryn. Someone needed to speak.
“Lady Athena,” Hani managed from her tightened throat, slowly raising her head to address the entire council, “Let me be the first of the Rah'at to express our sorrow over the matters before us. The unfortunate death of Vasilis has shaken us, if I do speak for all, and as one of Aryn's Beta Coursers, the loss feels far more personal.”
She paused, a lump forming in her throat. Vasilis hadn’t been one of her wolves, but she should have insisted a more experienced hunter join the bison hunt. “However,” she continued with a steady voice, “I do believe the situation we are facing today has the Rah'at in an awkward, position. As a council, we have not yet been faced with the judgement for murder, but circumstance has brought Teva as our first trial. My alphas, Teva is your daughter, and heir to Aryn itself; blame us not for being hesitant, but,” she turned to address the Rah'at. “We cannot let the feelings of our alphas impede our decision. We must remain impartial to Teva's relations and place in Aryn and look at her alone, and, like Lady Athena stated, Teva is young. Yes, not yet taken her rite, and prone to the mistakes that youth brings just as we have all experienced ourselves. We know Aryn's law: murder is our only crime punishable by death,” The word pained her to say, but her tone was firm and confident, “and though I doubt our sentence will be upon Teva's life, let me begin the discussion by voicing my own opinion: Teva should not be punished for the death of Vasilis.”
There was a brief moment in which the bulky she-wolf marveled at her place within Aryn; a home that she’d never thought possible - in terms of her own struggles. Now she was taking part in something vividly important; her opinion counting more than she ever thought it would. Of course, this situation was not pleasant, and she was torn that such an event had occurred, casting trouble over everyone involved. She too held her tongue for the first few moments after the Lady’s introduction. Everyone bore a similar expression; avoiding conversation as though words had failed each one. For a moment, perhaps they had.
Hani broke the silence, and the shaggy black Warden was grateful. It was heart-rending to see the cheerful golden wolf so choked. Raghaalr’s ears swiveled up, and she wearily faced the Courser, but eagerly took in the words - thinking very highly of Hani’s input (admiration for her smiling facade that only this such horror could dampen). When the golden female had finished, Raghaalr gave the slightest of nods. Her own thoughts had bubbled up now, and she was keen on adding her voice to this bitter discussion.
Straightening, the bear-like Beta cleared her throat before speaking. “Master Hani, your words ring of truth and kindness. I wholly agree with you. Teva will bear the guilt, but her intent was in no way to cause Vasilis’s demise, therefore it should hardly be called murder, I think.”
She let her eyes sweep around the circle of wolves. “She was reckless, but she is a child. She made a mistake, albeit a terrible one. She has already been punished - a burden upon her shoulders, knowing her actions have brought about another’s death, even if by accident. I am certain in this - we should not press down upon her more grief that what she is already dealing with.” Raghaalr closed her jaws, leaning back slightly and curling her tail against her haunches. Grimly she let her eyes lower, feeling like she’d let her thoughts out appropriately.
The fae-like wolf was uncharacteristically quiet. She sat on the side of the group, staring at her paws, long lost in thought. The reality of the situation weighed heavily on her; whether she or anyone else liked it, and whether or not the blame was decided to be acute, the alphas’ eldest daughter had led to the death of a senior and respected warrior - one whom Teia had even spoken to in person.
Through the muted haze her own thoughts caused, Teia caught snippets of the conversation, including Raghaalr’s words. The white she-wolf shook her head, and with it the distance. “I agree with Raghaalr,” she murmured. “At least…mostly.” Teia had to turn away, hating herself for what she was about to say.
“I do not believe this was murder. Teva had no intention of killing Vasilis, nor was the one to carry it out. She was clearly devastated. But...her recklessness was still the leading factor in Vasilis’s death.” Teia shrank in self-loathing. “By the spirit of the laws of Aryn, something must be done. E-even if it’s just clean-up duty for a week, we can’t let this go with nothing but a reprimand. Teva should be forgiven, that’s what the Great Spirit does, but she can’t be allowed to do this again.” By this point, Teia had practically sunk into the ground under the weight of her guilt. Her whole figure and posture were pathetically submissive, timid to the point of disgrace, and her voice shook.
There was a painfully drawn out silence, and Athena braced for the worst. But as Hani and Raghaalr spoke, hope shot up like a flock of birds in Athena’s belly. And then suspicion. No, surely this would not be their verdict. She desperately wished for her daughter to be spared, but the Council was right - law was clear, and this could not be so easily overlooked. They could not undo what had been done.
For that reason, Athena knew she would feel guilty no matter what. Whether Teva walked free or with penalty, her mother would be punished twice over.
He couldn’t stand this as evident by the shifting of weight on his paws. The knot in his stomach grew with each passing second to add to the distress already plaguing the wolf. Never had the council converged for a matter as severe as this. It felt like he was drowning - who the heck thought he would be qualified for a task like this?! What were the alphas thinking?!
The fellow Courser was the first to speak and he dipped his head in quiet appreciation. Voices rang out around the circle in favor for no punishment to Teva, causing his heart to thunder inside his chest like a stampede. Countless hours had been devoted to pondering how he would vote this fateful day. But now that he was faced with having to share it, did he dare go against the majority?
Lawson’s jaw dropped a fraction, ears flickering at the unfamiliar voice. Mother Teia… felt the same? He stared at the small female long and hard, trying to read what else was going on in that head of hers, before his gold eyes glanced around the circle.
“...I agree.” His voice sounded foreign, shaky. “Teva may be your daughter, but we can’t overlook the fact that Vasilis died. Because of her actions.” There was no turning back now. He inhaled deeply before continuing. “I can’t accept doing nothing and leaving it as an accident. That would a dishonor to his memory! She must be punished.”
The Beta blinked and shifted his gaze to the Lord and Lady. “I don’t believe what the law states to fit in this situation,” he murmured, referring to murder being punishable by death, “though clean-up duty is too light a sentence. I motion that she not partake in hunts unless supervised by myself or Master Hani. ...If she is allowed to stay within Aryn’s borders.”
“'If'?” Hani repeated, an undertone of shock lying within her voice, “What ever do you mean 'if'? Is there something you wish to propose, Master Lawson?” She had seen Lawson's hesitance to speak, but now that his voice had been heard, a peculiar dread had seeped over her skin. Eyes severe, she turned her gaze to face the wolf she considered closest to her heart, head raised and cocked slightly to the side in a questioning way.
“Although I call for no punishment, Mother Teia's proposition seems reasonable, but surely you cannot think barring Teva from hunts or banishment could possibly be the answer here? If ever she goes off on her own, hunting skills will be crucial, and to forever be policed by us? We all know Teva. Such an action would be not only degrading for the young wolf as she grows, but a constant stab to the heart reminding her of her error, and that her own packmates, her own family, cannot trust her to hunt. As for banishment, how could such a thing even remotely be an option? Raghaalr and myself have stated it clearly; this incident has harmed Teva a great deal, and will likely follow her for the rest of her life. Do you motion to further this suffering in expelling her from the only home she's ever known?”
The words were out and he regretted them. Some of them. His head whipped around at the voice he didn't want to hear, yet somehow knew would raise her concerns. The undertone of shock and perhaps betrayal skinned his soul. A quiet click was the result of his teeth snapping together, jaw visibly clenched before he released the joint to speak.
“The law is a harsher consequence! Would it be better if I said we should follow it?” Their eyes locked in a fierce battle. His skin began to prickle with embarrassment. “Exactly, we know Teva! Her pride got the better of her and it resulted in a member’s death! This never would have happened if she listened to Vasilis while they were hunting. To me, this clearly shows she can't be trusted to follow orders! I don't want to risk the safety of the Coursers or anyone else.”
He panted, pink tongue flicking at his lips. Perhaps banishment was a harsh suggestion… yet his blood burned to ensure Vasilis got the justice Lawson felt he deserved. This probably would change the relationship he had with all these wolves yet he couldn't stop the word vomit. Being the bad guy was a role he certainly didn't want play, but he seemed to be doing a hell of a job. “What if this was another wolf? One of us? A stranger? Would that change how we feel about this? Forgive me for sounding insensitive, but I can’t - won't - forget how serious of an offense this is.”
The Lady winced as Hani and Lawson began to argue, whatever hope she’d had in Teva’s call for lesser punishments was gone. But as the tension filled the air, a sense of drive which Athena had been lacking up until this point kicked in. Her instinctive need to restore order to the pack gave her the motivation to set her own feelings aside.
She could not remain silent while this question divided her family. Teva was not the only one Athena had been charged to steward.
“You both speak wisely.” She asserted, standing with her tail raised and demanding silence with a narrow gaze. The words came to her quickly, from the gut, and Athena trusted that the One would guide her voice, for reason had failed her. “The spirit of our laws is clear. That no Wolf is above another. I must remind the Three Bodies that what verdict we choose must be to ensure this, and this only. It is not given to us to channel our own grief into punishment… or mercy.”
“I have heard you all speak, and I stand witness to the events which transpired. My belief is this: I saw Teva act thoughtlessly, as is her way, and not with malicious intent. Had she known the risks, and acted while aware of them, I would have agreed that exile was necessary.”
With a heavy sigh and a grimace, Athena looked between those gathered, her gaze lingering on Alcatraz longest of all. “But she did not. Her crime was not arrogance, but ignorance. And so, Brother Lawson, I do not believe that sending her into exile will lead her back to the Path. She will not see redemption in it. She will be lost.
“Yet guilt alone will also not prevent her from acting rashly again, and endangering brothers and sisters of the pack in the future. She is in pain now, but pain is temporary. When her grief wanes, so too will her caution.
“Sister Hani, it does us no good to wallow in failure, but I see that encouraging her to forget this altogether would be unwise. The truth is, we can’t trust her to hunt. Pretending otherwise to spare Teva’s feelings would endanger both her and others.”
Licking at her lips, Athena looked to the ground. There was a tightness in her chest that sapped her confidence away. But she must say her piece. “Continue her training in hunt and battle, but always in groups of three or more, and never against such dangerous prey or predators. And until she proves she can follow, she will not be allowed to lead. However long it takes. This will ensure she moves onward, as we all must.”
“Before this, let her first take Pilgrimage to the great sea, to think on her actions in earnest. This is no short journey, and unlike exile, it will give her the promise of return as well as distance from the pack.”
Opening her mouth again, after a moment of grim hesitation, Athena added, “In my youth, I was given these scars upon my cheek as punishment for arrogance. I reviled it at the time, but by the One’s guidance I have gained wisdom, and the mark reminds me to measure my words and my actions. Perhaps this, too, would grant Teva thoughtfulness. Such is within our Law.”
Sitting back down, the Lady sighed, “So I submit to the Council, what say you all?”
There was a bitter taste in her mouth. Her jaw was firmly shut, expression clouded by a frown, brows furrowed deeply in thought. Listening to Teia, she was calm, but with Lawson’s input the dark she-wolf stiffened. But yet she was not surprised - at least, by the fact that one of them put forth a more challenging demand. Her mind brimmed with retorts and arguments, snippets of explanations that she could have voiced. But she held her tongue for now - as she would have interrupted Hani, who’d lit up almost at once.
The raised voices sent prickling up Raghaalr’s spine. She had expected such, but not from the two Coursers - not towards one another, anyway. The Warden bit her tongue, ears twitching as the spotlight switched from the golden female to the brown and black male. The most frustrating thing was that they - and everyone else - had said something Raghaalr could relate to. If the decision had been left to one wolf, then it would have been easier. But it also would have been narrow and biased, most likely. The advantage of a group made the decision more rounded, more thought-out, but as many times as difficult as the number of members increased. In the long run, however, her preference lay with this method, in spite of its trying process.
With the air crackling, Raghaalr was relieved when Athena took charge of the conversation. Her gaze switched from Lawson and Hani over to the blue-black alpha, whose words pierced the atmosphere like fangs to prey. As the Lady made it clear she was not in support of exile, the shaggy-furred Warden gave a subtle inclination of her head. But there would be punishment, then, as Athena continued. Ears pricked forwards, senses processing the firm statements that spelled out Teva’s fate, by her mother’s voice.
A Pilgrimage, guarded training, and perhaps a mark. Raghaalr lifted her chin, her tongue flicking round her teeth. She looked briefly around at the rest of the Council, then drew in a rasping breath and opened her maw to speak. “My Lady, I see good reason in your offered solutions. I am satisfied with them as they stand. I believe Teva will benefit, and that they serve appropriately in respecting Vasilis’s memory.” She nodded slowly, gaze set on Athena for a moment. “You have my support.”
Alcatraz listened without speaking and without expression, his pale yellow eyes flicking from wolf to wolf, slowly regaining clarity as he was able to push his emotions aside and look at this recent tragic event with objectivity. He must look at this as if Teva is any other pack member. Being the daughter of Athena and himself would give no special privileges, no, certainly not. But that did not mean the punishment should be harsher than just, simply because he feared accusations of nepotism. No that would be a crime equally as grave.
Alcatraz agreed right away that this was not murder. As was stated many times, Teva had no intention of creating such a horrifying situation. And while her recklessness had lead to Vasilis’ death, her actions were not unlike certain eager young wolves plunging blindly into a terrifying situation completely unaware of the risks.Yes, many wolves made the same such mistake with nowhere near as grave a consequence. While it was Teva’s ignorance that lead to this, Alcatraz had a difficult time even seeing the young wolf really at fault at all, other than the crime of believing in youth invincibility, something a huge fractions of young wolves, even himself, had once or still did suffer. It was an accident, just dismayingly bad luck that such an outcome had resulted. He found Lawson’s words harsh, and if not for Hani and then Athena, he probably would have countered to point out Lawson’s own apparent lack of youthful mistakes. Show him a wolf who was guiltless of such!
That said, he agreed with Mother Teia, there must be some punishment. Mistake or no, bad luck or no, a great wolf had died because of the actions of another. He knew the punishment needed not be large, but something to make Teva think about what she did. To drive the lesson home. Teva was suffering, and she should suffer, because she had wronged. But the suffering must lead to a better place. She needed to learn from this, and recover into a stronger and better wolf.
And even beyond that… what would honor the memory of Vasilis? The selfless Arynian had chosen Teva’s life over his own when he lunged for Teva to shove her out of the way, putting himself in her place. Likely he had known what he was doing in that moment, and the best honor of his memory, in Alcatraz’s eyes, would be for his sacrifice to not be in vain. Teva needed to succeed, to live fully the life that Vasilis has given to her. She needed to learn, and to evolve. If she was exiled or shunned, if that moment defined and collapsed her life, that would be the dishonor.
The light in the storm, the rock in the rapids, his beloved mate spoke. He looked to her, and listened. When she sought his gaze, he met her eyes for a long moment, and he gave the slightest of nods. She didn’t know. He agreed that, if nothing else, Teva needed to continue her training, and stay with a pack who will help her do so safely.
The prospect of her traveling to the sea, a journey that could take months, gave Alcatraz pause. Teva was young and inexperienced, and the world was large and dangerous. But striking out on his own as a juvenile was how he himself had grown most into the wolf he was today. Such a journey, away from the unbearable monotony of normal pack life after such a tragedy, would likely grant clarity, and be an excellent learning experience. ’She will have to get used to eating rabbits,’ Alcatraz mused. Young wolves on their own were not likely to catch much bigger.
He swept his gaze over the rest of the council, and then he looked back at his mate and spoke, “I agree with Master Raghaalr. Your proposal is wise and just, my Lady. It shall give Teva the tools necessary to learn, grow, and ensure Vasilis’ sacrifice is not in vain. May The One guide her to use them.”
Hani's gaze had dropped down toward her paws. She had felt a sense of shame creep through her fur under her Lady's stare. What she said was true. Hani was being too lax in her proposal.
Irritation pricked at her neck, mostly at herself. It wasn't that she wanted to ignore what happened! That couldn't be farther from the truth, but not punishing Teva was foolish. Hani was assuming Teva's thoughts and feelings, and it made her sympathetic. Perhaps overly-sympathetic. Teva regretted her actions, that much was apparent, yet the truth was, Hani didn't know if Teva's remorse would stop future accidents. Was she really willing to risk that? Another packmate? She wanted to give Teva the benefit of the doubt, she really did, but Athena had a point. They couldn't spare Teva's feelings here and let the memory of this fade. It was life or death.
Besides, a pilgrimage and training was a brilliant idea. A journey to the sea almost made Hani envious; she often wished she could have spent more time as a juvenile exploring the world and gaining experience. A journey like that would be good for Teva, teach her the realities of the world and, with continued training, Teva would not be permanently policed, but instead be allowed to learn and gain skills needed to grow into adulthood.
At least it was better than exile. Hani couldn't help glancing to the side at Lawson as Raghaalr and Alcatraz spoke up, her eyes narrowed. Why had he been so adamant in disagreeing with her?! Yes, she saw now her proposal was flawed, but his persistence! He acted as if he had never made a mistake in his lifetime, and it irked her. The very scars on his shoulder told otherwise. Yet his gaze was so heated, and their contact so harsh. Was he angry at her? Hani’s jaw tightened at the thought. She didn't want him to be angry at her, but she couldn't shake his betrayal. They were always a team. Now he had turned his back on her. If he was going to act this way, then fine. Her vote was with their Lady.
As Alcatraz fell silent, Hani raised her head, meeting Athena's eyes steadily. This was for the best. “I understand your doubts toward my proposal, My Lady, and I, too, add my support to your own. Teva cannot forget what happened. There is the potential for her to benefit from this, for her to find her path in Aryn and thrive once more. That is all we can hope for her.”
As the Lady and Lord spoke, he lowered his gaze. It felt like when he was a young pup being scolded by his parents. Perhaps the suggestion for exile had been harsh. The heat of the moment and mounting frustration over the lax punishment drove him to suggest something he might not have otherwise. As Alcatraz thought himself, it wasn't like he hadn't made his own mistakes growing up.
Did he regret his suggestion? Slightly. But it drove the message home that they simply could not ignore the consequences of that frightful day. His golden gaze flickered to the blue she-wolf, blinking slowly. Continuing Teva's hunting skills under supervision made him feel more settled. In his mind, that was a task for him and Hani.
He stared at her from the corner of his eye for a brief moment. The two had never fought like that before and it left him unnerved. Of course there would be push back against his suggestion, but from her, and so passionately? It was unexpected. Was she mad at him? His eyes narrowed before he frowned, turning to stare at Ragha when she spoke up. Whatever.
When the group grew silent, he lowered his head and spoke. "Exile would not honor our pack mates sacrifice for Teva as you have pointed out. I apologize for my rudeness." A quick glance around the circle before he continued, “I agree with your plan and offer my support and assistance in any way I can." Raising his head, he dipped it down in a display of respect.
The white Vicar still sat fearfully, almost curled into herself. The conflict and weight of the situation burdened her shoulders. In the stress of the moment, she struggled to feel the One’s presence through her own anxiety - barely even managing to discern what the others were saying. The will of the One was so infinitely important, and it was her job now to weigh in on what that might be. The burden of it was overwhelming.
Painfully aware that she had been so silent, Teia spoke up slowly, trying to remember what had already been said. “I think too...that this requires punishment.” Eyes half closed, she paused again. What would happen if she spoke wrong? If she wrongfully interpreted the will of the One? If she failed at her task, one so crucial to the life of the pack? Her heartbeat quickened, vision blurring. Fierce anxiety began to grip her, stalling her tongue like cold talons. The urge to flee, to run, to be gone rose rapidly, shaking her paws. The white wolf shrank, jammed her eyes shut and fought to suppress it, but still it grew. In a sudden bid of desperation she cried out in her mind to the One - Help me.
A moment passed - but without even realizing it, Teia’s breathing gradually eased. It felt as if a paw rested on her shoulder - quiet, calm, reassuring. Inhaling deeply, the Vicar let words form in her head. Opening her eyes, this time her voice was steady.
“I agree with Lady Athena. A pilgrimage should help teach her the value of humility...and I think...that hunting accompanied at all times will be effective.” She paused, thinking hard again - “I do not know my feelings on scarification, but if it is felt necessary, then I will follow the lead of the Rah’at.” The she-wolf lay down, opinion finished. It seemed the matter had been settled - and Teia prayed her words had been right.