In Iskryne, the war against the Trollish invasion has been won, and the lands of men are safe again...at least for a while. Isolfr and his sister, the Konigenwolf Viradechtis, have established their own wolfhaell. Viradechtis has taken two mates, and so the human pack has two war leaders. And in the way of the pack, they must come to terms with each other, must become brothers instead of rivals―for Viradechtis will not be gainsaid.
She may even be prescient.
A new danger comes to Iskryne. An army of men approaches, an army that wishes to conquer and rule. The giant trellwolves and their human brothers have never hunted men before. They will need to learn if they are to defend their homes.
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SARAH MONETTE is the acclaimed author of Melusine and The Virtue, as well as award-nominated short fiction.
ELIZABETH BEAR is a multiple Hugo Award–winner for her short fiction.
Together, they are the authors of A Companion to Wolves, to which this novel is a sequel.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Vethulf and Skjaldwulf did not get along.
They had almost nothing in common. Where Vethulf was red, Skjaldwulf was dark. Where Vethulf was sharp-tongued, Skjaldwulf was taciturn. Where Vethulf’s temper ran hot and savage, Skjaldwulf would brood and consider before he spoke or acted.
There was only one thing they could agree on, and that was Isolfr. And agreeing about Isolfr did more to increase the tension between them than relieve it. For they both wanted him, desired him, cared for him, though he was as cold and distant and dutiful as any jarl’s daughter given in marriage unwilling. They needed him, not merely as men, but as the pair-yoked wolfjarls of Franangford. His recent two-month absence had made this unhappily manifest, even though he had returned from it with the unlooked-for svartalvish allies who had been the salvation of the entire Wolfmaegthing.
The Franangfordthreat could not manage without its wolfsprechend; it was too new, the ranks too unsettled, and the second bitch, Ingrun, and her brother Randulfr were not mete to fill a konigenwolf’s place in the pack.
That konigenwolf, Viradechtis—already a legend in the fifth year of her life, a konigenwolf of the sort who ruled songs and stories that were old when Skjaldwulf’s grandfather told them to the boy-child at his knee—had chosen two wolves to mate with, black Mar and odd-eyed Kjaran, and in that binding had bound their brothers Vethulf and Skjaldwulf to her brother, pale Isolfr. Thus they were bound also to Franangford, to lead its men as Viradechtis led its wolves.
Some mornings, still, Skjaldwulf woke disbelieving. He had never expected that Mar, his rangy wolf-brother, would be willing to fight and die to win Viradechtis. That half of his willingness had been Skjaldwulf’s own bone-deep longing for Isolfr seemed a greater gift than Skjaldwulf could ever be worthy of. It was not in either of them to wish to lead wolves, or wolfcarls, but if that was the price, they would accept it and call it fair.
Skjaldwulf was lucky and more than lucky that neither he nor Mar had died in the violent night that had founded the Franangfordthreat. For when Skjaldwulf had looked at Vethulf Kjaransbrother, he had seen in his eyes the same willingness to kill or die that he felt in his own heart. It was Viradechtis who had changed the story. She had come between Mar and Kjaran, and chosen them both.
Thus Isolfr was Skjaldwulf’s wolfsprechend, and Skjaldwulf thought that he was unlikely to lose that gift unless Mar through some unlikely circumstance offended Viradechtis. Whatever the tension between their brothers, Viradechtis, Mar, and Kjaran frankly doted on each other. Skjaldwulf (dark, ill-favored, spidery, and silent, as he had always thought himself) had that which he most wanted. He had Isolfr, who was like a white shadow drifting through the wolfheall—everywhere at once, listening, understanding, speaking quiet words that calmed men drawn taut by war or rut or personal enmities, or the enmities of wolves.
But he did not have Isolfr’s desire.
It could have been worse, Skjaldwulf admitted to himself, grimly snowshoeing over fluffy drifts, grateful enough that his turn at breaking trail afforded him a few hours’ isolation from the creaking, swearing mass of men, svartalfar, and wolves bound for Othinnsaesc and the battle that would, one way or another, be the resolution of a war between men and trolls that had cost them more than he cared to reckon. It could have been worse; Isolfr could have preferred Vethulf. Isolfr could have been actively cruel, rather than simply Isolfr: honorable, meticulous, ferocious in battle, reserved in peace. But Isolfr was also inward-looking—Skjaldwulf knew the signs, being afflicted with the disease himself—and as unwilling to be unkind as he was to accept Skjaldwulf as a lover. At least Skjaldwulf had the comfort, or the torment, of knowing that he would likely have Isolfr again, if only when Viradechtis went into season.
The memories were sharp, unhazed by the blur of wolf-rut, and that made them no easier to bear. Because while he wanted Isolfr, he wanted Isolfr, not Isolfr driven wild with Viradechtis’ heat, not Isolfr half-mad and half-lucid. He wanted an Isolfr who could demand as well as surrender.
And that problem would not admit of a solution.
Skjaldwulf snorted and shook his head, resting for a moment under his pack while the rest of the group caught up to him. His breath steamed; his calves were aching. It was time someone else took his place breaking trail.
So many of the wolves and men and svartalfar were wounded after the fighting to retake Franangford. So many, too wounded even to march, had been sent back to Bravoll, and Isolfr and Leitholfr’s care. So many, unfit for fighting, were at work as quartermasters, managing the rearguard, or sledging supplies along the extended line from Bravoll.
Skjaldwulf was unsurprised when Othwulf and Vikingr came up next to him. They were big and strong, wolf and man, and would have no trouble taking their turn. Othwulf patted Skjaldwulf on the shoulder and Skjaldwulf fell back, ready to return his snowshoes and switch to easier skis now that he was no longer engaged in tamping down the snow for the sledges. Mar would be glad of the opportunity to run free and hunt.
Skjaldwulf sighed heavily as he struggled with his bindings. He should just find a lover who wanted him. But that would only put the unfairness on another man, who did not deserve it, whereas this situation, Skjaldwulf thought with a bitter grin, he had brought deliberately and knowingly upon himself.
* * *
Skjaldwulf left his pack on one of the sledges, told Grimolfr where he was going, and checked Mar’s pads for ice crystals before they headed out. His plan was to strike out perpendicular to the hard-skiing column, to hang a little back from the front and keep an eye out for animals flushed by the advance. It was a strategy that had served them well in the past. They had good hope of bringing down a red deer or something similar in size, enough to feed many wolves and men.
Logistics: they had to march hard to have a chance of reaching Othinnsaesc before the trellwarren had bulwarked against them. But they also had to reach the overrun town hale enough to fight. Which, in the hard winter, meant they needed food and lots of it.
He heard crashing ahead—downwind, inconveniently—and skied softly toward it, Mar swinging wide to flank. Once Skjaldwulf was in position, he drove his ski poles into the snow and freed his fingers from his mittens. He nocked an arrow and drew his bow, sighting down the shaft—
—and paused when he head human voices, raised in argument over the crunching of snow. Voices he knew: Eyjolfr and Vethulf, and it did not sound like a friendly difference of opinion.
“I’ve my own tongue to speak my mind,” Eyjolfr said, and Skjaldwulf could not hear Vethulf’s answer, but he knew his wolfsprechend’s other wolfjarl well enough to know that whatever he said, it would be scathing. Skjaldwulf sent his mind out to Mar, who was still swinging out on his arc. Mar had heard the wolfcarls, too, and knew this was not prey, after all. Skjaldwulf asked for silence and discretion.
Vethulf’s Kjaran and Glaedir—who was bound to Eyjolfr—knew they were there, but the wolves were keeping a good distance from their human brothers. The wolves were of different threats, Nithogsfjoll and the fledgling Franangford, this was not a fight that concerned them: it was not an argument over territory or bitches, but rather some obscure point of human dominance, and the wolves would not interfere unless it came to more-than-casual blows.
Skjaldwulf at first had a good mind to follow their lead. It was even odds that Vethulf had started the shouting match. Moreover, Skjaldwulf had had enough experience of Vethulf’s sharp-edged pride to have a pretty good idea of how he would react to Skjaldwulf’s interference.
But then he heard Eyjolfr’s answer to whatever Vethulf had said—“Have you ever considered that he avoids you because he doesn’t like you, wolfcarl? You’d not be the first to receive Isolfr’s grudging endurance, leavened by a little cruel flirtation”—and Skjaldwulf cursed under his breath, shoved the arrow back into his quiver, and grabbed for his ski poles even as he lifted the bow over his head with the other hand.
He had forgotten that Vethulf was not his only thwarted rival for Isolfr’s affections.
Skjaldwulf was skiing fast, the snow hissing under his feet, when he broke through the screening brush and came upon them. Both turned as he planted his poles to skid to a stop, and from the way Vethulf’s fists were clenched inside his deerhide mittens, Skjaldwulf had not arrived too soon. Glaedir appeared like a slanting beam of moonlight among the trees on the far side of the clearing. Skjaldwulf reached out to Mar with a thought.
Mar was beside him in a matter of moments, Kjaran running at his hip. And then there were three wolves, and three men, and Skjaldwulf released his ski poles and let his hands fall to his sides. “Eyjolfr,” he said, “your wolfjarl will want to speak to you.”
Which was truth, as far as it went, and through Mar and Grimolfr’s brother Skald, Skjaldwulf made sure that Grimolfr knew what to expect—a small example of the great conspiracy of wolfheofodmenn, so like the conspiracy of adults that Skjaldwulf had, when he was a child, already suspected. Meanwhile Eyjolfr still stared at him, arms folded, wide-legged on his snowshoes. “You are no man to order me, Skjaldwulf. I am not of your threat—”
“No,” Skjaldwulf said. “But Vethulf is of my threat. And Grimolfr is your wolfjarl. You will kindly heed my words.”
Eyjolfr looked down first. He huffed, glanced over hi...
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