It is many, many winters since I came to the knowledge of the Uprights, as we called them. So many that all of my former companions of those days are dead and decayed. Most only live a short span of years; even the most venerable only make it to about 8 or 9. Yet still, my human companions are fascinated with my story. So, to avoid having to tell the same, now tedious, details over every campfire, I am dictating my early life to one of my travelling companions, a scribe, so that enquiries may be answered from the scroll instead of my own memories.
I would tell as much as possible from the vivid memories that still linger in my head, but much of the early story made little sense to me at the time, and must needs be told from the perspective of hindsight, in order to be comprehensible. But where I can, I will tell it as I saw it.
Here, then, is the tale of my early life.
If those few who believe they can identify my origins are correct, my mother and father (whose faces I am surprised to find I vaguely remember) were lost to brigands in the forest, and I was believed perished with them. And would have been, but for the generosity, astonishing to most humans, of a new wolf mother, who, I presume, finding me abandoned on the forest floor, picked me up as if I had been one of her pups and took me home to nurse.
My first contact with a human after that was at twilight one evening after the pack returned from a hunt. We young ones went out from the den to greet them, and there was a joyful session of licking, howling and playing. As we began to tire of the games and head back into the den, a rustle of leaves announced the presence of a large creature.
Instantly alert, we all turned to look. Smiling, holding his hands out in front of him to show he meant no harm, a Wood Elf stepped slowly through the bushes into the small clearing. The sounds he made meant nothing intelligible to me at the time, beyond the fact that they were calm and soothing, but I now know he was talking gently to me, half in wonder at the sight of a small human girl in the company of a wolf pack, and half with the hope of soothing me into letting him approach more closely.
That first encounter was a brief one. The pack leader stopped to watch the Elf for a few moments, but he came too close and with a brief bark of command, we were ordered into the den. Wolves are very protective of their young. I may have been six winters old, and therefore pretty mature for a wolf, but they were smart enough to know that I was not of their kind, and although weaned, incapable of fending for myself or joining the hunt as yet, so I was still counted as one of the pups.
We youngsters bounded away from the strange being (whom I could not yet name, never having seen one before), and made straight for the safety of the den, one of the subordinate females chivvying us along and accompanying us to the earth, ready to turn and fight for us if need be.
But the Wood Elf, while interested in making friends with a pack that had a human child for a cub, was not about to push his luck. He hunkered down, so as to become more their own height, and murmured calming words to them for some minutes, until the tension eased, but he knew better than to outstay his welcome. After a short while, still murmuring, he backed away and left.
After that, the person I would come to know as Liart until my clumsy tongue could pronounce his true name, began to visit us every evening. My pack was not afraid of him. He was one alone, and helpless against the might of the pack, and he never showed the slightest sign of threating us. It was many evenings before we were allowed to stay above ground when he approached, but eventually he was accepted as harmless, and the games continued unabated when he appeared.
Eventually, he was accepted so much that the boldest of my young companions began to include him in their play. Approaching at first from his rear, they would dare each other to nip his trouser-ends or bat at his squatting bottom, running away immediately after, as he slowly turned to face his tormentors, grinning broadly.
After a few sessions of this cautious inclusion, the cubs began to see him as just another member of the pack in respect of their games, and he was tumbled over, run around, and used as a refuge for a hard-pressed cub attacked from several sides at once. Laughing, he would join in gladly, ruffling their fur and hiding them under his jacket.
But I was more cautious than my pack-mates. It was many moons after he first appeared that I dared to come within range of his outstretched arms, and when I did, he had the sense not to touch me at first. So, greatly daring, for me, I ran in and ‘tagged’ him, then ran out again. I was curious about this strange Upright, with the flapping ‘skins’ (his clothes, as I later learned), and I wanted to know what they felt like. They were so different from the rest of him, in colour as well as smell and texture. What were they? I wondered.
From there, the steps to becoming better acquainted with him became smaller and easier, and eventually he could pick me up and carry me some steps before I became alarmed. Then he would always speak in his gentle, soothing voice, and immediately place me back on the ground.
It was some time during this period of getting to know him that I realised in my head that he and I were very much alike in some ways. I had mostly crawled on all fours up to that point, though my legs had started to become rather longer than my arms. I had only occasionally stood and tottered uncertainly along for a few steps on two legs. But seeing this Upright striding along a woodland path on only his two back legs, my own decision to walk became strengthened. If he could do it, then I certainly could!
It was harder to master than I had expected, but after a week or two or false starts, I could take a satisfactory number of upright steps before dropping back to all fours.
The next lesson I learned from him was that of speech. He had a number of basic wolf ‘words’ with which he could communicate, having learned them, he told me later, from one of the elders of his tribe, but had been shy of using them when he first came upon our pack. As he became more a part of the group, he felt more confident of using them, and learned others, so that he was eventually able to show me how the sounds we used related to his own language. I began to learn the speech of Men and Elves, and to communicate in ways that my pack-mates could not.
Still, it was many moons more before I came to accept that I was more like him than the wolves. From the basics of the Common tongue I had progressed almost to sentences before it came forcibly upon me that this was where my future lay. Then one day, I asked him if there were others of his kind, and how far from here.
The weather was already turning chill and leaves beginning to flame to red in the forest when I first met another of his tribe. He explained that this man was one of the leaders of his pack, known as an Elder of the Tribe, and he brought him to our clearing one evening to meet me. He had told me he would do this, so I had warned the pack that a strange Upright would be coming. They had asked me to meet him a little way down the track and ‘vet’ him, for although the cubs were much bigger now, and able to participate in the hunt, they were still wary of strangers.
I was therefore some distance from home when the familiar scent of Wood Elf reached my sensitive nostrils. With it came another smell, similar but different, and I knew he had kept his promise.
The Elder was taller, thinner, and greyer on the top of his head than Liart, and as soon as he saw me, he squatted down and held out his hand to be sniffed. He made some low-voiced comment that I did not quite catch as I cautiously approached, glancing up at Liart every few seconds for reassurance. He was smiling and nodding, encouraging me with his low murmur.
I liked the smell of this new Upright. He felt nice. So I was perhaps less cautious than I might have been with another, and approached more boldly. But no ill came of this, and when I sniffed his hand, he left it there for me until satisfied I need it no more.
Looking up, wide-eyed, into his face, I saw the familiar creases of a humanoid smile, and instinctively knowing this man was my friend, I walked into his arms, and allowed him to cradle me.
My domestication, from that moment on, was assured.
It was not long before I had been introduced to several of Liart’s family, all of whom I instinctively liked and, curious to see his den, had shyly requested to be taken to see his home.
It was a severe culture shock to me, and the first time I saw the smoke of a cooking fire, I ran away. But both wolves and humans are insatiably curious, and it was not long before I wanted to know more. I came back, and this time, I stayed at the edge of the village for several minutes, round eyes taking in the details of woven roofs and mud walls, the central fire, and the multitude of people coming and going. I had no idea an Upright pack was so large!
‘Liart,’ I asked in wonder. ‘How many in your pack?’
Crouching beside me with his hand in mine, Liart chuckled quietly. ‘Many, young one,’ he replied. ‘We have young of our own, too. Would you like to meet one?’
Shaking my head vigorously, I refused. ‘Not now. Maybe ‘nother day.’
Soothingly, Liart reassured me. ‘Only when you’re ready, young one.’
‘Why are dens all above ground?’
‘Because that’s the way we make them, I suppose,’ he replied. ‘I don’t know. Perhaps Elder Delphus can tell me. I’ll ask him for you, and tell you tomorrow.’
‘OK. Go home now.’
‘OK, young one.’ He changed hands as he turned away from the village, and we walked together along the forest track back to the den.
I was later to learn that the reason Liart had determined to make friends with me was not just because of the novelty of finding a human girl being reared by a wolf pack. He had gone into the forest to search for a wild animal with which to make friends, as part of his initiation into early manhood. It was one of the customs of his tribe, and several other young boys of his age had fanned out into the forest on a similar quest. Returning to the tribe that evening, he had described his first sight of me in such wide-eyed wonder that the concept of making a friend of me had crossed the minds of several of the Elders.
After a brief consultation as to whether this fell within the spirit of the tradition, it was agreed. Young Lingard would be allowed to select me as his ‘wild creature to be tamed’. He was delighted with the news, and sat down at once with Elder Delphus to make his plans for this unique task.