• 05 May 2010
    The following scenes are all in "The Vampire Prince", but with slight differences. When I wrote the first draft of the book, I gave the wolves quite human emotions -- until my editor pointed out the fact that this made them seem like Lassie!! But here, for those of you who are curious, are what the scenes with the wolves first read like.

    The Vampire Prince

    CHAPTER SEVEN

    A few more days slipped by. I was so glad to be alive, I was savouring every moment of it. My body had healed almost completely, though faint bruises lingered in certain parts. My strength had returned. I was full of vim and vinegar (one of my Dad’s expressions; I never figured out what it actually meant), rearing to go.

    I took hardly any notice of the cold. I’d grown used to the nip of the wind and the chill of the snow. The occasional strong blast set me shivering, but most of the time I felt as natural wandering about as the wolves.

    I’d been accepted as an equal member of the pack now that I was back on my feet, and I was constantly out hunting — since I was able to run faster than the wolves, my services were in great demand. I was gradually coming to terms with the way they thought and communicated. I couldn’t read their thoughts but most of the time I had a good idea what they were thinking — I could tell by the way they hunched their shoulders, widened or narrowed their eyes, perked or dropped their ears and tails, growled or barked or whined. On the hunt, if Streak or another wolf wanted me to go to the left or the right, they only had to look at me and twitch their heads. If a she-wolf wanted me to play with her cubs, she howled in a certain soft way, and I knew she was calling me.

    The wolves, for their part, seemed able to understand everything I said. I rarely spoke – there wasn’t much need for words – but whenever I did, they’d cock their heads intently and listen, then reply with a yap or gesture.

    We moved around a lot, as was the wolfen way. I kept an eye open for Vampire Mountain, but didn’t spot it. That puzzled me — the reason the wolves met out here in the wilds was to converge on the mountain and eat the leftovers that the vampires threw to them. I decided to ask Streak about it, though I didn’t think he’d be able to comprehend my question or fashion a reply. To my surprise, when I mentioned Vampire Mountain, the hackles rose on the back of his neck and he growled.

    “You don’t want to go there?” I asked. “Why not?” Streak put his nose to my right palm, smelt it, and licked me. Then he put his nose to my left palm, smelt it, and growled. “The vampaneze?” I guessed. By the expression in his eyes, I knew I was right. The wolves knew of the plotting vampaneze hidden away in the secret tunnels and caves, and that’s why they were avoiding the mountain.

    CHAPTER NINE

    Once we were back with the pack, I explained to Streak that I had to leave. The wolf didn’t understand why I was so eager to go, so I told him about the vampaneze and the threat they posed to the vampires. “I have to get to the Princes and warn them about Kurda,” I said.

    When I finished, Streak yapped and made a few gestures with his paws and head.

    “I know it’s a long way,” I said. He looked at me and blinked slowly. “You’ll come with me as a guide?” I interpreted. “Thanks.” Streak then went through a series of perplexing motions, clawing the snow, then running his nose over the marks he’d made. When he repeated them, I understood what he was asking. “I think I’ll be able to find my way up through the tunnels, but I don’t know who I can trust any more. I doubt if Kurda has many vampire accomplices, but I think the Guardians of the Blood are working with him. Also, the guards on the main gate might execute me on sight.”

    Streak ran his nose over the tracks he’d made again, then turned and padded away. I followed, wondering what the wily wolf was up to.

    He led me to a shabby she-wolf resting slightly away from the rest of the pack. I’d noticed her before, but hadn’t paid much attention to her — she was very old, not far from death’s door, and hadn’t much to do with the pack. The younger wolves occasionally tossed her scraps of food, but didn’t make a fuss of her, and never invited her to hunt or care for cubs. Wolves were like that with the weak or elderly.

    The she-wolf regarded us suspiciously as we approached. Struggling to her feet, she backed away cautiously, but Streak dropped to his belly and rolled over to show he meant no harm. I did the same and the she-wolf relaxed. When Streak sat up, he pressed close to the she-wolf, whose eyes weren’t strong, and stared at her long and hard, communicating wordlessly. He made marks in the snow, similar to the ones he’d made for me, then barked at the old she-wolf. She peered at the marks a moment, then made a few of her own, and I understood what was happening — the she-wolf knew a secret way into the mountain!

    The she-wolf – I decided to call her Magda (my grandmother’s name) – looked at the pair of marks a while, then shook her scraggly head. I gathered that she was reluctant to lead me. “It’s OK, Streak,” I said. “She doesn’t have to take me. She’s too old anyway to go clawing through a load of dank tunnels. I’ll find my own –”

    Magda sprang to her feet and snapped at me — she hadn’t liked what I’d said! “Sorry,” I smiled quickly. “No offence meant.”

    Streak was panting, amused, but when Magda looked at him again, he adopted a doleful expression, and I sensed him telling her that he agreed with me — she was too old, and he was sorry he’d bothered her. Turning his rear on her, he led me away.

    Magda barked loudly, calling us back. She sat up straight, trying to look dignified, then made a few more marks in the snow with her right paw. She looked up at me and barked questioningly — she wanted to know which part of the mountain I wished to get to. “The Hall of Princes,” I said, drawing a blank response. “The dome high up in the mountain,” I tried again, making a curved shape in the air with my hands. “The Princes live there.”

    Magda focused on my hands as they made a dome shape, and she yapped understandingly. “You can guide me there?” I asked. Magda hesitated, dragg”ed ed her paws slowly through the snow and gazed at me. “I know it’s a long climb. And hard. I won’t ask you to guide me if you don’t feel you can.”

    Magda stared at the marks she’d made in the snow, then looked down at her bony, age-mottled body. Next she studied the younger wolves of the pack, as they lay contentedly around the glade or played with their cubs. Fixing her eyes on me, Magda nodded — she’d take me. “Thank you,” I said earnestly. Streak made a rumbling noise deep in his throat — he was asking when I wanted to leave. “How long will it take us to get to Vampire Mountain?” I asked. Streak shrugged — wolves have no conception of time as humans understand it. “If we set off when the sun comes up, will we be there before it goes down?” Streak barked firmly. I faced Magda. “If we start up the tunnels when the sun rises, will we make the top by night?” Magda nodded, but less certainly than Streak.

    “OK,” I decided. “We’ll have to chance it — I don’t want to move about when it’s dark, in case we run into vampires. We’ll make the trek to the mountain tomorrow and rest up when night falls. The next day, we’ll strike for the top.”

    Streak jerked his head at Magda and led her through the pack to feast on fresh meat which the fit adult wolves had been keeping to themselves — he wanted to feed her up before we set off.

    I barely slept that night. I kept thinking about the journey ahead and if we’d be able to make it in time; if Magda really knew the way, or if the old she-wolf would lead me astray; and – most worrying – how I could contact the Princes directly, before some over-anxious guard or co-conspirator of Kurda’s saw me and seized the chance to hack me down dead.

    *

    We set off with the first light of dawn, me, Streak, Magda, and two other wolves – a pair of young males – who were coming along for the adventure. The going was good at first. Wolves can’t run especially fast but are incredibly durable, able to maintain a steady pace for hours on end. We surged through the forest, across snow and rocks, making great time.

    Then Magda tired. The she-wolf wasn’t used to matching the pace of young, tireless males, and wilted. The wolves would have run on ahead, leaving her to catch up later, but I didn’t like the idea of abandoning her. When they saw me slow down to jog along beside her, they checked and circled back to join us.

    We rested for a few minutes every hour or so. I recognised my surroundings now. By my reckoning, we should reach the tunnels a couple of hours before sunset, which would be perfect.

    It actually took a little longer than I thought. When the ground rose, Magda’s pace slowed even further. We still made the tunnels an hour before the sun went down, but I was filled with pessimism — Magda was in very poor shape. If the route to the tunnels had left her panting for breath and shaking with exhaustion, how would she cope with a long, tasking climb up the mountain?

    I asked Streak about it while Magda slept. He signalled that I shouldn’t worry. Even if she collapsed before the end, the she-wolf would be able to guide us most of the way — we could make the last leg of the climb ourselves. “But I don’t want her pushing herself too hard on my account,” I objected.

    From Streak’s long, complicated response, I gathered that she wasn’t doing it for me — but for herself. Old wolves seldom got the opportunity to shine. Magda was relishing her role and would rather die on the climb than quit. As a half-vampire, I un—dersderstood that, so even though I wasn’t pleased about letting the she-wolf tire herself out, I decided not to deter her. If pride mattered that much to her, it would be wrong of me to deprive her of it.

    We spent the night waiting in the tunnel near the base of the mountain. The young wolves were restless and eager to proceed, but Streak growled at them occasionally and kept them in place. Finally, as the sun rose on the land outside, we climbed.

    The tunnels Magda led us through were mostly narrow and unused. Many were natural tunnels, as opposed to the mainly vampire-carved tunnels which linked the Halls. A lot of crawling and slinking along on our bellies was required. An older, larger vampire couldn’t have followed the wolves, so I had cause to be grateful for my size.

    We stopped for regular periods of rest. The climb was having a dreadful effect on Magda – she looked ready to topple over and die – but she wasn’t the only one who found the going tough. All of us were sweating and panting, groaning from aching muscles and bones.

    “How did you find these tunnels?” I asked Magda while we rested in a cave that was faintly lit by luminous lichen. Between shakes and shallow gasps, she explained with a series of gestures and looks, but I wasn’t able to make sense of them.

    CHAPTER TEN

    Some hours later, we reached the lower Halls at the top of the mountain, and skirted around them. We passed disturbingly close to the store-rooms at one stage. I could hear vampires at work behind the walls, getting ready for the large feast which would follow Kurda’s investiture. I held my breath and listened for a few minutes but their words were muffled and I soon moved on, for fear one of them would discover us.

    Higher up the mountain, we came to a tunnel which cut upwards sharply. Magda studied the tunnel, then turned and gazed at me, letting me know that this was the way to the Hall of Princes. As I dashed forward, eager to check, Magda about-faced and limped away.

    “Where are you going?” I asked. She paused and looked back. “You can’t manage the climb?” She nodded. “Well, wait here and we’ll collect you later.” Magda shook her head, pawed the ground, sighed weakly, and stared up at me again. “You’re going away to die?” I whispered. The expression in her dilated eyes was answer enough. “But … Magda … you mustn’t!” I gasped. “You’ve come so far. If you just lie down and rest, I’m sure –”

    Magda interrupted with a short shake of her head. Staring into her sad eyes, I began to comprehend that this was what she wanted. She’d known when she set out that the journey would prove too much for her. She’d chosen to undertake it all the same and die usefully, rather than struggle along after the pack for another season or two, perishing slowly and miserably. She was prepared for death, and welcomed it.

    Crouching, I ran my hands over the tired she-wolf’s head and tugged gently at the thin remains of her mane. “Thank you,” I said simply. Magda licked me, rubbed her nose against my left cheek, then hobbled away into darkness, to find a secluded spot where she could lie down and quietly leave this world behind.

    CHAPTER ELEVEN

    I told Streak where I was going [to tell Seba about Kurda]. He was against the idea, but I said I’d no choice. He offered to accompany me, but I said it would be for the best if he and the two other wolves stayed here. Streak gave me a look, asking what he should do if I failed to reappear. “Return to the pack,” I told him. “This isn’t your fight. There’s nothing you can do.”

    The wolf shook his head and made some peculiar gestures. He had to repeat them several times before I understood. “You’ll find Mr Crepsley and tell him what’s been happening?” I frowned. Streak yapped positively. “Do you think you can communicate that clearly with him?” The wolf nodded. “OK — but don’t try it unless all else fails, and take care if you do.”

    CHAPTER TWELVE

    The wolves didn’t like it when I told them there was no role for them in the plans Seba and me had concocted. They wanted to get involved, especially the two younger wolves. They hadn’t come all this way to sit back and not take part. “But you could be killed,” I warned them. “I’m hoping the guards won’t attack me, but if they see three stray wolves, the chances ces are they’ll react impulsively and toss their spears at you.”

    The wolves sniffed disinterestedly — they didn’t care about the danger. They’d come to help expose the rot, and they’d take it as a personal insult if I cut them out of the action now. “OK,” I conceded. “You can help. But be careful who you attack — I don’t want to injure any guards who raise their weapons against us simply because it’s their job.”
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