Aja watched the woman curiously from the edge of the grove, staying just in the tree line, crouched low. She was beautiful as she danced in the rain, her dark hair clinging to her sun bronzed skin as she moved. His breath caught in his lungs when he saw the scorched earth beneath her feet beginning to grow grass and flowers. He remembered the day lightening had struck here, causing a fire. He had rallied the wolves to help him extinguish it before it spread. Now she was here, calling to Mother and healing the earth. He had felt the echoes of her, had followed them to this place and now he was captivated by her. Who was she? He wondered. She stopped moving and he froze, his heart skipping a beat when her eyes opened and she smiled up at the cloudy sky. She suddenly turned, her eyes falling on his hiding place and for the first time in his life he didn’t know what to do. How had she found him? She was clearly an elf, she didn’t smell like any sort of animal, yet she had directly pinpointed his location.
“Come out, there’s no point in hiding anymore.” She said, her voice like music and he stood, swallowing. “I felt you, what do you want from me? Have you come to hurt me?”
It took him a moment to answer, but he finally did. “No, you’re in my home.” He moved slowly closer and she stood her ground. Amber eyes watched him, studied him, and he let his own move over her, taking in every detail.
“You own this forest? I find that hard to believe. Mother will not be owned.”
His eyes jumped to hers. “I am her guardian.” There was something about her, something powerful flowing through her blood. He could feel it as his bare feet touched the ground where she had been dancing. “Who are you?” He asked, closer now, close enough to touch.
She took a small step back and he froze. He didn’t understand what was going on. His wolf was curious, wanting, the animal wanting to smell and rub against her. “You’re a wolf.” She said.
“Yes, made guardian of the forest by Mother Earth. I felt you come here, why are you here and alone? There are many dangerous animals, even wolves not as nice as me and mine.”
“I can take care of myself.”
“I didn’t mean to insult you.”
Zeme stood rooted to the spot and she waited, listening to the earth beneath them. It didn’t run from this wolf, it wasn’t rejecting him or warning her. She could tell he was dangerous, she could see the beast in his eyes, in the way he watched her. “It’s fine.”
He squatted down and touched the fresh grass. “Thank you for this, please allow me to take you to my pack. They will be happy to know this place has new life. We will feed you.” In truth he just wanted more time with this strange, wild elf.
She had felt the hunger pangs in her stomach long before she even began healing this patch of land but she had been ignoring it, not feelings like hunting and cooking something herself. She decided to accept this wolfs offer and follow him home to eat with his pack “alright, I’ll let you guide me but I must know your name first. I am Aja, who are you beyond guardian of mother?”
“Full name, how formal” Her voice had stayed the same but he could see the playfulness in her beautiful blue eyes. He started to guide her back, walking at a slow, leisurely pace through the gorgeous wooded area. He heard her sigh, a serene breath of air. “I’m happy to make that land match the rest of this gorgeous area”
“She’s grateful to you. Can you feel it?”
“Yes, it’s like she’s dancing with joy.”
“You walk so softly, I can barely feel the vibrations of your footsteps. The ground rises up to meet you, it’s amazing.”
Zeme blushed. “I’ve always had a strong connection to the land.”
“She accepts you, cradles your feet as you move. May I ask why you are here? My brother will wish to know as Alpha. He’ll want to know who I bring into our home.”
“I am simply wandering for now.” She wasn’t sure how much she should tell him, even if he wasn’t a threat. “I left home for personal reasons, but I swear I am no threat to you or yours.”
Zeme tipped his head to the side and he couldn’t stop himself from reaching out and taking her hand. He pulled her to a stop, his hands coming up to frame her face, his eyes staring into hers. “I can sense it wasn’t happy.” He leaned down, his forehead touching hers. “I will watch over you child of the earth, you need not worry.” It was like a jolt ran through him at the contact and he pulled back, his heart thundering in his chest. Who had Mother brought him?
“Thank you but I’m really okay. Nobody I had a falling out with would hurt me”
“You can never be too sure. More often than not people are surprised by who hurts them” Zeme managed to change the subject to his pack as they finished the walk. Aja took her to his brother first out of respect for him. His brother was about average height and she noticed right away the two men had the same eyes. She wondered who in their family they had inherited them from. Her analyzation of his appearance was halted by him offering his hand to shake. That previously serious face turned so warm and friendly. It was surprising but nice to feel such warmth coming off someone.
“It’s good to meet you Zeme. Thank you for healing that piece of land. Please, stay and eat with us and let me make a toast to you over dinner”
“I hardly need a toast”
“You’ve done us a great service, you’re deserving of much more, but I wouldn’t want to overstep my bounds.”
“Thank you then.”
“Aja do you mind showing her around, another pack leader is coming by tomorrow and I have to prepare a nice way to tell him I have no intention of marrying his daughter.”
“You could just say no and then get him drunk to make up for it.”
“How I wish you were alpha, then I could run around the forest all day and not have to worry about pack politics. It’s so tiring having them always trying to get me to marry their daughters.”
“Does that happen often?” Zeme asked.
“Far too often and I’m not as rude as my brother when it comes to rejecting someone.”
“I’m not rude brother, just straight forward and honest.”
“Go on before I beat you up, let your new friend see our world. I’ll see you tonight.”
He nodded to his brother and gently guided Zeme back out. “You may stay in my home as long as you are here. I hardly ever use it, but you are welcome to my bed.”
“Thank you, it’s nice to feel so welcome” Aja guided Zeme back out and began showing her around, introducing her when they’d run into other pack members “your whole pack seems so friendly”
“Yes, I’m proud of my brothers pack. We are kind and still powerful. It seems too many packs forget you can have a good heart and still be strong”
“At dinner despite her protests, Aja’s brother toasted her. He let the whole pack know what she had done for their land and they were all just as grateful. Over dinner she mostly talked to Aja, wanting to know more about him and their packs customs. “so are you ever envious of your brothers place as pack leader?” She asked simply out of curiosity. “Not at all, he’s a good leader. I’m not suited to it really. I love my job. I feel it’s a great honor to be chosen by mother to guard her woods”
“So you didn’t really have a choice in the matter then?”
He cocked his head to the side, his eyes studying her expression. “I was born for the position, it wasn’t a matter of choice.” He took a sip of his drink. “When I was a boy, my parents could never keep me inside. I needed to roam, to touch the earth, to hear her heartbeat. I was told they had never seen a Guardian with a strong bond like mine. She speaks to me, sharing her secrets, granting me safe haven. I am forever grateful I was chosen by her.” His eyes moved back to her and he reached out, letting his fingers trace her cheek. “I can feel her magic on you, it’s wild. You’re more like my kind than yours.”
She felt her cheeks flush and her heart dance in her chest at his touch and almost felt disappointed when he dropped his hand. “So elves are not wild enough.”
“They are plenty wild, but we wolves are half beast, our souls are all animal. It’s in the way we hunt, the way we play, the way we mate. Shifters live with the wild from the moment they are born to the moment they are killed and I am the wildest of them all.” He smiled. “It makes it a bit hard to find a mate or at least for a mate to find me, I’m a bit of a handful so my brother says.”
“Sounds like it.”
“do you have anyone?” He had to ask. “Nope, I’m a bit much for the men where I’m from too” Aja hadn’t been sure she would so when Zeme decided to stay the night he felt gleeful. He was going to have more time to get to know this strange, amazing woman. He couldn’t put his finger on it but she stirred something deep within him he wasn’t used to feeling. “Are you comfortable?”
“Yes, are you sure you’ll be fine on teh couch?”
“Yes, please rest comfortably in my bed. I’m fine”
“goodnight” He and his pack consumed her mind as she drifted to sleep that night.
The next morning she woke to the sound of howling. It startled her at first and it took her a moment to remember she was staying with a wolf pack. She slipped out of bed, spotting a muffin and a note on the dining table. It was from Aja, letting her know he had left before sunrise. She stepped outside, the howling drawing her attention to the woods. “Aja always sings the most beautiful songs.” A young woman said when she saw her standing there looking confused.
“Yeah, he does it every morning, it’s like a ritual of his. Have you never heard wolf song?”
“Not like that.”
“If you wish to see him, just follow his voice.”
“Alright, thank you.” She ate as she walked, absorbed in the sound of his song. It was eerily beautiful, haunting even as it drifted through the damp woods. It drew her in and her heart quickened when she saw him standing there, shirtless and barefoot, his head tossed back and eyes closed. He truly belonged here. He opened his eyes, the last note of his howl dying on his lips as he turned his attention to her. She could see it there, a flash of the wolf as it studied her with curious eyes.
“Good morning, Zeme. Did I wake you?”
“Uh, yes…yes you did.”
“Please, don’t be, it was so beautiful.”
He smiled at her “I hope you enjoyed the breakfast I left you”
“That was incredibly sweet”
“You’re my guest”
“well, do you care to show me your favorite places around here?”
“I’d enjoy that very much. Are you ready?” He seemed to want to go the way he was “No shoes?”
“My feet are tough and I love the feel of earth beneath my feet”
“I’m ready then” It was hard for her not to steal glances at his bare chest as they walked. He was incredibly handsome, perfect but she made herself behave for the most part, not wanting to be rude. It was remarkable to her how his feet never seemed bothered no matter what they walked on, even when going across rocks he seemed as comfortable as if he were wearing shoes.
“Watch your step, there are a lot of cracks and crevices.” He said as he picked his way over a rocky hill.
“Where are we going?”
She stuck close, taking in the surrounding area. It was so beautiful here. He suddenly took her hand and her heart leaped in her chest. She was about to pull away when she noticed the mist starting to surround them. Sweat dotted her skin and she realized it was steam. “Where are we?”
“Hot springs, I come here after a hard day.”
“You’ve had many hard days wolf man?”
“When there is a disaster like the fire that burned the valley, I come here to wash away the stress. I thought you might like it.”
You wont be able to keep me away from this place.” Confident in her looks and knowing wolves were comfortable with nudity Zeme stripped down to her underwear. It was one thing she loved about wolves. She could be around the males with little to no clothing and they wouldn’t act like animals despite the fact they were closer to animals than most. She sighed with relief as the heat from the springs instantly made her feel good. He took off his pants and got in after her. She only knew he was getting in by the sound since she had closed her eyes to get lost in the comfort.
She opened her eyes and smiled at him as he settled in the water across from her. “This is amazing.”
“You can come here as much as you wish, even after you leave you can consider this place a haven.”
“You and your pack are far too kind.” She raised her hand to rub her neck and he moved closer, his fingers sliding over hers.
“Let me, you just relax.”
“Thank you.” She turned, resting her arms on the edge of the pool and her head forehead on her arms as he rubbed her neck and back. “May I ask what brought you to the woods?”
“Family drama.” She sighed, resting her chin on her arms and staring off into the mist. His hands felt really good and helped her relax more and more. “They decided my fate without even asking me because of some stupid tradition.”
“What kind of tradition?” He let his hands move below the water to her lower back. “Arranged marriage?”
“No, nothing that extreme. In my clan, the oldest always becomes the next clan leader, something my brother readily embraced, while the youngest tends to become the next priestess. They didn’t even ask if that’s what I wanted, it was set in stone without my input so I left. I love my parents, but my heart is not in the village, it’s in the wild. I can’t spend forever casting spells around my village, I’d hate it.” She turned and looked into his eyes. “I’m kind of jealous of how free you are. No one tells you that you have to be Mother’s Guardian, you just know that’s what you are and everyone accepts that.”
Aja’s wolf gave an internal whine at how sad she suddenly sounded. His hands came up to frame her face and he could here her heart beating faster. “You have a gift, Zeme.” He touched their foreheads, his eyes never leaving hers. “I can feel it in your every breath, see it in your every movement. You are such a child of the forest, you deserve freedom so never let anyone tell you any different.” He breathed her in, savored the contact for just a moment then pulled back. She seemed frozen to the spot and he chuckled. “Sorry for invading your space.”
“Don’t apologize, I feel better now, so thank you.”
“would you like me to keep rubbing you?”
“It was so nice if you really don’t mind”He happily obliged, hoping to relax her again. Her aura didn’t feel like the type to but he hoped she wouldn’t give in to what her parents wanted. It simply wasn’t her calling. Another woman could do that job, she didn’t have to. Honestly somebody who actually wanted the job would do better at it. That was simple logic her family was obviously missing. He rubbed what knots he could find out then removed his hands from her. From the moment he stopped touching her his wolf whined again, wanting to be closer again. He reprimanded himself. She was an amazing woman and he wouldn’t be rude and take any advantage. She was trusting him a lot to sit with him in nothing but her underwear and bra.
When they finally climbed out of the water, he couldn’t help but let his eyes wander over her. He could so easily get lost in her, in the heat of her body and the sweetness of her scent. His wolf wanted, demanded, but he still had enough self control to deny it. He pulled his pants on, looking away from her and telling himself to calm down. “You alright?” She asked softly, her fingers touching his arm.
He captured her hand and heard her heart give a leap of surprise. “I’m fine, Zeme.” He was relieved she was dressed now. He let his thumb brush over her knuckles. “How do you feel?”
“So much better, thank you.”
He smiled. “Good, any time you wish to relax, I’ll bring you here.” He brought her hand to his lips and kissed her knuckles. Her eyes met his and she suddenly felt like prey. There was something in his eyes, something wild and needy that had a blush climbing up her neck and into her face. He stepped back, releasing her hand. “Sorry, we should get you back, it’s past lunch.”
“Well, thank you again.”
“You’re very welcome.”
They spent the next couples days having fun, exploring and getting to know eachother. Aja didn’t want to upset her but family was important so he decided to bring up “Have you tried sitting down with your parents and discussing with them how much you don’t want to be a priestess”
“why don’t we go back and try. You should at least try. If they aren’t willing to be understanding then you can return here with me and I can promise you my brother will not let them bother you or make you do anything”
“Okay, I guess I should”
“Lets go ahead and go” she nodded and Aja let his brother know he was leaving and why. “I’m sure Aja has told you you’re welcome here among us”
Zeme was a little nervous as they walked back through the woods, back to her home and the family who had decided her fate so easily. She loved her parents and her brother, but she couldn’t just settle down because it was how things had always been done. She sighed and Aja reached over, taking her hand. “You’re scared.” He said.
“Not scared, just worried.”
He moved closer, his body language protective again. “Don’t be, you’ll have a home with me.”
She felt her heart skip a beat and she looked up at him. “You mean in your pack.”
“I mean with me, in my home. You can stay there for as long as you wish. My wolf would enjoy it, I would enjoy it.”
She blushed. “Really?”
“You’re really sweet.”
“I want you to stay with me, Zeme, just the thought of you leaving makes me uncomfortable. You truly understand the wildness in my heart.”
“well, I mean, even if things go well I don’t have to stay there. I love my family and everyone there but I can visit. I’d love the new experience of living among wolves with you”
“It makes me happier than you probably think to hear you say that Zeme. We’ll visit with them as often as you want.” He took her hand and kept it even as they returned to her clan. Her father seemed to come out of nowhere “Zeme” he sounded both angry and relieved. “sorry dad” he hugged her then spoke again “why did you run off like that? We’ve been worried sick”
“I’ve gone off before dad”
“You know as well as I this time was different. It wasn’t fair”
“It’s not fair to me that my future has been decided for me. Dad, I don’t want to be a priestess. I’d hate it, I’d be miserable.”
“well fine you don’t have to be. Since when have your mother and I ever been unfair or unwilling to listen Zeme.”
“I’m sorry dad” her mother and brother were now here “she’s back” her mother sounded near tears. “Hi mom”
“she left because she didn’t want to be priestess”
“well why didn’t you say so”
“That’s what I asked her” Her father said then Zeme spoke up again “I don’t know, it’s tradition. I thought it would be manadatory. Until now that’s always how it’s gone” Her mother responded “tradition can fuck itself Zeme. Someone else can be priestess. The tradition can end with you. Our current one will just keep doing it and she can take on a different apprentice”
“yeah you idiot” Her brother said Zeme glared at him which only made him smile.
“I was just scared, it felt suffocating almost thinking about not having my freedom.”
“You should never be afraid to talk to us, we’re sorry if we made you feel like you had to be.” Her mother said.
“I shouldn’t have gotten ahead of myself.” Their eyes finally turned to Aja who was waiting patiently for Zeme. “Sorry, how rude of me.” She took his hand and pulled him to stand next to her. “This is Aja, he’s been taking care of me since I left.”
“It’s nice to meet you.” Her father shook hands with him. “You’re a wolf right?”
“Correct, my brother leads the pack not far from here.”
“He’s Mother’s Guardian.” Zeme explained. “That’s how we met, she lead him to me. He’s a bit wild, but he’s kind so be nice.”
“I was incredibly lucky to find her, she has such a beautiful gift and it’s been an honor having her by my side.” Her blush and quickening heart beat made him smile. Zeme noticed her mother was grinning and she felt a little embarrassed.
“So, will you be staying for awhile then?” Her mother asked. “Zeme could show you around our village, she needs to tell her aunt she won’t be apprenticing with her anyway.”
“If it pleases Zeme then yes.”
“yes, I know everybody would like to meet you. You gave me a tour of your home so I’ll return the favor” Everybody was relieved to see her again and when she talked to her aunt she was understanding and even revealed she never thought she’d be happy with the job. She even assured her parents she had another pupil in mind so they needn’t worry about anything happening to her and nobody being there to take her place. “Thank you Auntie”
“I’m glad you found happiness. It would have broken my heart for you to settle for my job. Not that my job isn’t needed and respected. You are just meant for more dear Zeme”
“You’d do well to just keep following that wolf around, he’s quite the catch.”
Zeme blushed as she looked over her shoulder where Aja was playing with some children. They were begging him to show them how to howl and wanted to see him shift. “He’s really sweet.”
“More than sweet, he has his eye on you. He’s incredibly powerful, I can feel it from here.”
“He hasn’t exactly, outright asked me yet, I mean he’s hinted, but I think maybe he’s waiting for me.”
“Well don’t waste time, you’re just as bad as your father. It was excruciating watching him flirt with your mother.” Her aunt hugged her. “Now go rescue your wolf, the children seem to be taking advantage.”
Zeme went over to where Aja was wrestling with the children and letting them win. He didn’t so much as complain when they jumped on his back, just standing and making them squeal with delight at how strong he was. “You look like you’re in trouble.” She said and he chuckled as he lowered the little girl on his back.
“Not at all, they remind me of the pups back home.”
“Elves tend to be naturally agile.”
“Thank you for staying. I’m so glad my Aunts nor my parents feelings are hurt and that nobody is angry at me”
“I’m glad I encouraged you to come to them”
“shall we go on a little walk?”
“of course” she took him out of their little clan and began walking one of her absolute favorite paths. “so, earlier, I took it as you hinting at a relationship between us.”
“I was” even he seemed a little nervous now. “well, I’d love to be your mate but just know, if we ever get married I’d prefer to do it in the way of my people.”
“Of course, I’m envious of the bond elf mates share” They continued to happily talk as they walked around, staying out until dinner. During dinner her Aunt introduced Zeme to the apprentice she had been thinking of and Zeme wished the girl luck. “You’ll have an amazing teacher”
“Oh I know, I’m so excited for the opportunity. I’ve always wanted to be a priestess” Zeme smiled, glad that in not just doing what she was told not only was she getting her happy ending, another girl was aswell. The next day they spent with her brother then gave her parents a whole day with the two of them before telling them she wanted to live with Aja’s pack. “Okay, just come often and try to make all our celebrations”
“Of course, I won’t be far afterall”
“we love you so much. You’ve grown into such a strong woman. You and your brother have no idea how proud we are of the adults you’ve become”
“he’s going to make an amazing leader mom, I know it”
“the whole pack does and you, you’re just going to be amazing. Have fun baby and stay safe” Her dad spoke now “yeah, take care of our Zeme, Aja” They said goodbye to a few of Zeme’s friends then started back to Aja’s pack. They were both over the moon with excitement. Aja had finally found his mate after thrity years and Zeme was consumed with how eventful her life would now be.
~ The End