The Wolfriders Under Bearclaw
The adventures of the Wolfrider tribe under one of their most beloved and infamous chiefs
Parts of this section are by D. Aviva Rothschild
The tenth chief of the Wolfriders is Bearclaw, son of Mantricker and Thornflower. Upon his being made chief on the night of Matricker's death, Bearclaw announces that the Wolfriders will neither go to war against the humans nor move away from the Holt, but rather will try to live in peace with the humans. He bases this decision on Mantricker's final words to him: that Mantricker was was wrong to provoke the humans and that the humans are not so different from elves (BOTC 14). Eventually, that tribe of humans moves away from the Holt, and for hundreds of years, the Wolfriders live a peaceful life in the forest under Bearclaw's leadership.
As chief, Bearclaw earns the deep love and respect of Wolfriders, who admire his pluck and his strong enforcement of “The Way.” Like Mantricker, Bearclaw is mischievous and daring, and he lives completely in “the now” of wolf-thought. He earns his name for his insistence on being the sole hunter of bear in the tribe; bear-hunting is his specialty and his joy. He wears a bearskin tunic and a metal bear necklace crafted for him by the trolls.
He outlives several lifemates and children, whose stories are unknown. The part of his life we do know about is when he is about 1,200 years old. His lifemate at this time is Joyleaf. Her quiet steady wisdom balances and keeps his ‘hot-headedness’ in check. Despite her gentle nature, Joyleaf is a keen hunter. She is considered by the tribe to be a secondary chieftess.
Eventually a tribe of humans follow their Shaman back into the elves' land. The Shaman mistakes an elf-killed bear for a sign from his god Gotara, and the tribe settles into the “blessed land” (EQII 21: Wolfrider 1). Rather than trying to live at peace with these humans as had been done with the previous human settlement, Bearclaw decides to try to drive them away, and the elves embark on a campaign of secret harassment and pranks (e.g., stealing kills from the humans' snares, scaring the humans with wolves) similar to what chief Mantricker had done. The Shaman decides that the woods are inhabited by demons and vows to exterminate them. Bearclaw overhears the threat (he doesn't understand the words but recognizes the challenge in the man's voice) and unwisely shows himself to the men, hoping to scare them away. Unfortunately, all he accomplishes is to stir them up. “A thousand and more turns of the seasons he has seen... each moment kept blessedly fresh at the cost of hard lessons forgotten.”
Three years later, a human hunting party kills a mother wolf and all but one of her cubs, taking that one alive to serve the newly anointed young Shaman. In retaliation, Bearclaw waits until the humans have drunk themselves into a stupor, then sneaks into their camp and tries to terrify the young Shaman by dressing up in their sacred bearskin. But though he retrieves the wolf cub and escapes, Bearclaw has again only made the humans angrier. They renew their vow to kill the elves (EQII 23: Wolfrider 2).
Several years pass. The humans stubbornly remain in the elves' wood despite their tricks. By hiding in the shadows near the humans, the elves pick up the humans' tongue, hoping to someday reason with them. However, Woodrue has his eye put out by men (thus becoming One-Eye), and soon afterwards, Crescent (Strongbow and Moonshade's daughter) is brutally murdered. Restraining the hysterical Strongbow from rushing to the attack, Bearclaw goes alone to the humans' camp and kills the old Shaman as he enters the forest. Joyleaf is furious with Bearclaw for making things worse, and in a rage he rushes to the trolls underground lair and drinks himself into a stupor (EQII 25: Wolfrider 3).
Things get even worse for Bearclaw when the humans leave poisoned meat around, and his beloved wolf-friend Snapper dies as a result. Joyleaf manages to catch him before he runs off to seek revenge; over the objections of Strongbow, she ties Bearclaw up and tries to talk sense into his head, pointing out that when he rushes “headlong and heedless into danger, you forget tribe and kin and act only on your own selfish desires” and “we attack them, they attack us--on and on it goes! Only we can end it.” Once freed, Bearclaw goes out on his own for some days, looking for a sign from the spirits of the High Ones (the elves' ancestors) about what to do, and a jet-black wolf appears. They bond instantly, and despite Joyleaf's misgivings, Bearclaw sees the wolf (whom he names Blackfell) as a sign from the High Ones to continue the fight with the humans. The elves (usually Bearclaw and Strongbow) embark on a series of raids, forcing the humans' hunters to range farther and farther to find food.
The young Shaman, sensing a loss of spirit among his people, begins to train young boys in demon-hating, telling them tales of “Demontricker” who is a legend among many human tribes (EQII 27: Wolfrider 4). Two young human brothers start imitating Demontricker by playing tricks on the elves but not killing them, “shaming” them instead as Demontricker did.
An elf named Eyes-High (for her love of the stars) is pregnant with a son she has named Skywise. As the day of the birth draws near, she stays up in the top of a tree, promising Skywise that he will be born as close to the stars as possible. Her lifemate, Shale, comes to check on her. At that moment the two human brothers start throwing rocks at the two elves to knock them out of their tree. The boys are not throwing to kill, since they believe that 'demons' cannot die by falling. But Shale falls to the ground, his back broken yet still alive. Eyes-High, whose birth is already late, climbs down, the stress causing her to go into labor. A group of adult humans who have been looking for the stray boys surround the two elves. They kill Shale and capture Eyes-High, intending to give her in sacrifice to their god Gotara.
The human boys are applauded by the tribe for their 'find', but the oldest brother feels that there is 'no honor' in this and feels guilty for what has happened. Watching Eyes-High as she struggles to hold back the birth of Skywise while being held in the humans' tent, the boy remorsefully decides to take her back to her people to try to save her and her baby. He and his younger brother secretly put her on a raft and head upriver toward the elves' dwelling. The older humans come after them in fury. Eyes-High gives birth to Skywise on the raft, and sends a telepathic message to the tribe to rescue Skywise from the river, where she has placed him in her oiled hide to float. The humans find the two boys and Eyes-High, and as punishment, demand that the younger brother give his own life in the ritual sacrifice in place of the elf, who has now died from loss of blood. The Wolfriders find and rescue the baby Skywise alive from the river, and the orphan is cared for by the entire tribe (HY 5).
After this latest in a series of tragedies, Bearclaw is extremely disheartened and spends more and more time with the trolls, gaming and drinking. Returning from one of these forays, he is confronted by Joyleaf, who accuses him of abandoning the tribe. He hits her, and she refuses to either talk or sleep with him any longer (EQII 27: Wolfrider 4). Their feud lasts for a long time, until he commands her to fight bear with him. When he trips while trying to outrun the bear, Joyleaf forgets her anger and kills the bear to save him. Their bonds renewed, they feel the pull of Recognition and Joyleaf becomes pregnant with a son (EQII 29: Wolfrider 5).
During a particularly cold and harsh winter two years later, Bearclaw decides to attack the human camp, hoping to wipe them out completely before his son is born (elfin gestation is two years). But when his war party arrives at the humans' camp, they discover that the humans have already left the area, to the great rejoicing of the tribe. Cutter is thus born into a time of unusual peace for the elves, and he never learns to hate humans as most of the tribe does (EQII 31: Wolfrider 6). He and young Skywise become best friends, and they get into and out of many scrapes together (BOTC 19; NB 6).
Unfortunately, in Cutter's twelfth year the humans do return, led by the fanatical Shaman who is determined to wipe out the elves. The Shaman's apprentice, the young Tabak, is equally eager to kill elves. The unsuspecting elves hope the humans don't know they are still in the forest, and “the old, sad days of hiding and keeping silent return" (RC9a: Wolfrider!).
During this time, the tribe experiences a strange 'visitor' from the distant past. Before the High Ones descended to the planet surface, Timmain had created an orbiting messenger to alert other High Ones of their presence on the planet. It has stayed in orbit for 10,000 years, but is hit by an asteroid and falls to earth near the Holt. Its magic causes the elves to have headaches, hear buzzing, and dream vivid dreams of life as a High One—although they don't know what they are seeing. It communicates most clearly with Skywise, who, realizing that none of the Wolfriders can handle the power of its magic, regretfully destroys it after a hunting party finds it. Convinced that the magical object came from 'the sky', Skywise promises himself that one day he will see the stars up close (BOTC 10-11).
A Wolfrider named Redmark earns his new name of “Redlance” by killing a Longtooth (saber-tooth tiger) with a lance to save Bearclaw's life (Warp Annual #1). While bedridden from his wounds, Bearclaw tells Cutter stories of past chiefs and teaches Cutter the human tongue (EQII 33: Wolfrider 7).
The Longtooth that Redlance killed is discovered by the humans, and the elf's lance in its body gives them proof that the elves are still in the forest. A human hunting party goes searching for them and ambushes Brownberry and Foxfur. They escape, but the tribe is shaken--and leaderless, with Bearclaw again drunk with the trolls. Cutter, wishing to prove his maturity and make peace with the humans, approaches the humans with intent to parlay. But they attack him on sight, and he is nearly killed before a party of elves rescue him.
When Bearclaw returns, he finds an angry tribe awaiting him. Shamed, he takes a solemn vow never to visit the trolls again. However, he tries to finish what Cutter started by attempting a parlay with the Shaman. The parlay degenerates into a shouting match and then a fight that is only broken up by a lightning strike. The chief and the Shaman survive and go their separate ways, but unknown to them, the hatred and the lightning have combined with a stagnant pool of magic, and the resulting sick mixture eventually produces Madcoil, a horrible magical cat-snake monster. The Shaman, confused as to why Gotara would spare the elf-chief from being killed by the lightning bolt, holds off on attacking the elves for a while, waiting for a sign from Gotara. During this time, Bearclaw keeps his vow and stays close to the tribe, not returning to the trolls ever again to drink or gamble. He finds happiness and contentment with his family (RC9a: Wolfrider!).
One night, Skywise goes far afield with his lovemate Foxfur to enjoy a huge patch of dreamberries. They see an old human tending a small ring of stones nearby. They move closer to investigate, and Foxfur sees that the human is wearing as a necklace the decorative headband that Skywise's mother, Eyes-High, had worn in her hair. Skywise holds the human at knife point and demands to know how the human got the headband. The human is the older of the two brothers who had inadvertently caused the death of Skywise's parents, and he tells Skywise the full story of what happened. The ring of stones is the grave of his younger brother, who had been sacrificed to Gotara in place of Eyes-High. Recognizing the human's deep sorrow and remorse, Skywise lets him go and does not kill him, but instead cuts off Eyes-High's headband and keeps it (HY 5).
Even though he has vowed not to spend time with the trolls, Bearclaw remembers a bracelet he thought he had won for Joyleaf in a past game with the trolls but that the trolls had kept from him, and he decides to try to get it back from the trolls without actually entering their domain. King Greymung claims that he won the bracelet, and won't give it to Bearclaw. Bearclaw discovers that Skywise and Cutter followed him to the troll cave entrance and saw the exchange. Bearclaw asks Skywise, who is a 'master filcher', to try to retrieve the bracelet for him. After Bearclaw leaves, Cutter insists on going with Skywise. They both get caught and king Greymung intends to make them slaves. Cutter promises to cooperate and not to try to run away if they will let Skywise go. Greymung complies, and Cutter alone lives as a slave to the trolls for almost a year, learning much about the trolls' culture.
Coming to deliver a bushel of dreamberries to the trolls, Skywise overhears Old Maggoty talking about how Greymung had cheated to win the bracelet. Skywise threatens to reveal Greymung's trickery to everyone unless they release Cutter. Cutter is released and he and Skywise get into a fight, during which their soul names are suddenly revealed to each other, similar to a Recognition. They realize they have always had a bond as close as brothers and that's why they know each other's soul names (RC 8b).
Four years after the lightning strike which broke up the fight between Bearclaw and the Shaman, the monster Madcoil emerges and kills a group of humans. Believing that the elves have created the monster to prey on the humans, the Shaman takes this as his sign that the elves must indeed die. When Bearclaw hears war drums from the humans' camp, he decides to search for a new forest so the tribe can move away from the Holt and away from the humans (RC9a: Wolfrider!).
However, when they've traveled some distance from the Holt into unfamiliar forest, Madcoil attacks Bearclaw's search party and kills Rain the healer (Rainsong's father), Brownberry, Longbranch (One-Eye’s older brother), Foxfur (Skywise’s lovemate), and Joyleaf.
In his grief and rage, Bearclaw is determined to go after the monster alone, but Cutter insists on accompanying him, and the two set off together. Consumed by grief over Joyleaf's death, Bearclaw never again speaks or sends. They find Madcoil's den and wait for the monster's return. Cutter falls asleep, and Bearclaw hears Madcoil sending to him. Bearclaw leaves Cutter asleep and goes to face Madcoil alone, knowing that he goes to his own death and welcoming it.
Recognizing that his own hatred of humans contributed to the creation of Madcoil, Bearclaw sees his own folly in having spurred on the enmity between elves and humans by his decisions to provoke them over the years. In grim determination to set right what he feels he did wrong, he wounds Madcoil badly. Madcoil slinks away in pain, and Cutter finds Bearclaw while he lies dying. He gives the sword New Moon to a devastated Cutter, telling his son to finish the job of killing Madcoil. Cutter summons the Wolfriders to aid him in finishing off the monster. They lure the wounded Madcoil from his den and bring him down with a large net, and Cutter stabs the monster through the eye, dealing the final killing blow. Blackfell takes Bearclaw's body away into the deep woods, and is never seen again (EQ 4; RC9a: Wolfrider!).
Cutter, now chief at only 17 years old, brings Madcoil's head to the outskirts of the human village, leaving it there as a sign of peace. However, the humans misinterpret his message and their hatred is not lessened (RC 9: Wolfrider!).
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