Photo in the public domain by Jack Kurzenknabe
Wolf Slave 14 – Alex Ankarr
Really. Penn hardly knows what to say: it’s true enough, and he even dimly remembers it. But what does this man wants, who is and simultaneously isn’t his old childhood friend? Is he being invited to share in childhood reminiscences? And if he is, and if he does, will what is invited on this occasion be regarded as impertinence should he be unwary and indulge in it on another occasion? ‘I remember,’ is what he says, since it seems safe enough. ‘It was a hot day.’
‘Where have you been all that time, Penn?’ Hotstaat asks, though he still doesn’t actually look Penn’s way. His handsome profile is pointed out at the horizon beyond the lake, and his lips are pressed together a little. ‘When I reached an age for privacy of action and independence, I tried to chase you up. But there was a break in the records, and I couldn’t track you any further after that.’
It’s a shock, more than a shock. It’s not as if he’s hinted up until this point that he’d had any interest in whatever had happened to the old companion of his youth. Penn tries hard to be unaffected. It makes a difference, though: he can hardly help that. Wolf or no. He can’t quite get an orderly breath when he replies. ‘There was a house-fire,’ he says shortly. ‘When I was a kid: I think two sets of owners after your family. I got free and ran: but I was just too young to have been branded, and when I was discovered wandering city streets, there was no way of tracking down my owners. I was still pretty little: I couldn’t be sure of my antecedents. With slaves having no family name, you know. My mother’s first name wasn’t enough to trace me.’ The explanation itself makes him breathless: his mother’s death, the fire, being lost, losing Ree… It all crams together in his mind, his crappy childhood in one single concentrated bad-tasting dose.
Hotstaat seems to exhale slowly. ‘So that’s why your records only go back partially…’ he comments. It’s as if he’s been thinking about it previously.
‘That’s why,’ Penn says shortly. ‘They knew I was a slave because I told them,’ he adds. Then he spends a moment cursing his child-self: who had known no better, with his soft unbranded skin, than to condemn himself, unnecessarily, to the life of a slave all over again. Free humans were rare enough, of course: but still they’d probably have given him the benefit of the doubt. Of course he’d have been just as much risking an unknown future and maybe a bleak one: fostered out, or adopted, or just made a skivvy in some great house’s kitchen. But at least with free legal status, and the chance to make his own choices and his life as he grew up.
He’s thought about it a lot, but it’s not the only thing he’s thinking about right now. It’s stupid, but he can’t help but wonder how much Hotstaat has thought of him. Enough, right? If he went to the trouble of searching him out. It makes him feel odd inside: a little on edge, with a vibrancy of feeling he doesn’t normally experience. Normally he’s quite emotionally flat, keeps things calm and doesn’t have much response or affect to much of anything. It’s better that way: safer. He wonders how much Hotstaat has thought of him in recent years, since trying to find him back, when? When they were teenagers, then, maybe.
© Copyright Alex Ankarr 2013 All rights reserved to the author. No inspirations for characters drawn from real-life individuals, no resemblance to real individuals intended.
Read the sequel to Wolf Slave immediately, available on Amazon and free to read to members of Kindle Unlimited! Find out what’s next for Ree and Penn, and if love or freedom are in Penn’s future, in Wolf Runaway, 2nd in the Wolf Wars quintet!