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Walk Without Turning

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When Lucian asked the man who had blundered through the beech hedge his wolf was, the man's answering sounded awkward. "I haven't been chosen—yet. It's longer than two years in the Auxiliaries before a man is offered."

Lucian thought that if any man were ever to desert, fleeing the Legion, surely it would be only before he had a wolf, or if a wolf that had chosen him had been killed. The Legion was a huge pack, it was said, wolves and men together in service.

The Centurion and those with him were drawing very near now, searching. His wolf was a rangy sister, her grey and white pelt like the pattern of ripples on the silver river of an evening. She would be bound to scent out the man. A hound could, and a wolf was surely better at tracking than a hound.

There were the secret dispatches, perhaps; and there was a man who was frightened of being discovered, and brave about that, certainly. Lucian curled his hand into a tense fist next to his weak legs, and thought as loud as he could: Please don't find a deserter here.

The wolf paused, one front paw lifted, and gazed at Lucian, her sand-yellow eyes direct. He thought again, Please.

She took the few remaining steps, swinging her lowered head so that her nose almost touched the concealing drape of Lucian's blanket. Her brother, the Centurion, was asking Lucian something that he could almost not hear as words, so loud was his heart beating. Please.

"That deserter must have gone a different way," the Centurion was saying, more to his men than to Lucian. He touched his sister's ruff, calloused fingertips on silver-shadow fur. You would have to carve the Centurion's hand and the wolf's nape all of a piece, Lucian thought. The lump of clay that he had been pressing into shape was cool against his own clenched hand.

If Lucian never regained strength enough to join the Legion, to serve his years, he would never bond with a wolf. Nor would the man hiding beneath the bench, if he was indeed a deserter. If he did carry secret dispatches, could he have told the Centurion's wolf? But Lucian did not know if a wolf would listen to the mind of a man who was not yet bonded into the pack. But surely he had only imagined that she listened to Lucian himself, who was years and a fading dream further away.