“Class!” the old Lupe barked, “Get back in line, or we will turn around and
forget about this whole trip!”
“Yes teacher,” the cubs chanted and obediently reformed a straight line to
continue their trek through the snow-covered forest. It was hard to resist the
urge to break formation and play in the snow, but today they were going to the
ice cave, and the cubs would do anything not to lose this field trip, even behave
for their ancient teacher. Up and down the line, the young Lupes murmured excitedly.
“I heard there’s ice everywhere, even on the floor!” Mero exclaimed.
“Yeah,” Rasca chimed in, “Dad said you can slide around everywhere. I bet it’ll
be really fun to play tag in there.”
Falen added, “And you can see your reflection everywhere. The three siblings
expected their “big” brother to say something too, but Stranger kept quiet for
once, privately contemplating that last statement.
When they arrived at the cave, the teacher began a lecture on how the cave
had formed. It was clear, however, that the cubs did not really care about the
scientific talk he was giving them. To them, no matter what he said, it was
magical. As they gazed in awe and longing at the shimmering walls of the cave,
he wisely cut his lecture short and cut them loose to play.
Carrow’s three cubs scrambled first up to the wall of the cave to look curiously
and paw at their strange reflections. Stranger followed reluctantly. Reaching
the wall, he looked up into a face that was far different than those of his
brothers and sister. In everyday life he couldn’t help but picture himself as
looking like any of the other Lupes around him, but as he held his huge paw
up to touch the glassy wall of the cave, he could not deny how different he
“Hey Stranger, watcha lookin’ at?” a voice behind him called out. Stranger
turned to see Leer’s son Flep standing behind him with his gang of friends.
“I don’t think I’d be able to stare at that ugly mug o’ yours that long!” Flep
taunted, and his friends’ cruel laughter echoed around the icy cave.
“Just leave me alone,” Stranger said, turning sadly back to his reflection.
Unfortunately, Flep did not take well to being told what to do. Suddenly, Stranger
felt someone clamp down on his long, slender tail with tiny, sharp teeth. He
screeched in surprise as Flep dragged him away from the wall by his tail. Two
of Flep’s buddies grabbed onto Stranger’s short ears and tugged in opposite
directions. “Ow!” Stranger cried in distress, “Let me go!”
“Why don’t you just fly away?” Flep and his pals teased as they continued
to pounce mercilessly on Stranger.
“I can’t fly-- I’m a Lupe!”
“Can’t fly? Then what are these for?” Flep asked, roughly grabbing one of
Stranger’s unused wings and tugging it from where it usually rested against
the Eyrie’s side. “You ain’t no Lupe!”
Suddenly, something flew at Flep, knocking him away from Stranger. Flep looked
up from where he’d been thrown to the ground to see Falen towering over him
and growling. Mero and Rasca ran at the other tormentors, scattering them as
they shouted, “Hey, you leave our brother alone!”
The bullies looked ready to regroup and take on the entire family when the
menacing voice of their teacher interrupted, “Children! What’s going on here?”
With several muttered “Nothing”’s, Flep and his friends slunk away, leaving
Stranger lying dejectedly on the ground with his siblings gathering around him.
“Poor Stranger,” Rasca soothed, licking his feathery cheek. Although she could
play rough with the best of the boys, it was clear that she had still inherited
her mother’s nurturing instinct.
Mero laid down beside Stranger, empathizing with his pain. Of all his adoptive
siblings, Mero was probably the closest to Stranger. As a runt, the smallest
of all the cubs in the pack, he understood best how it felt for Stranger to
be so different. “Don’t worry about them Stranger,” he said.
“Yeah, they’re just bullies,” Falen growled, standing protectively over his
younger brothers and sister and baring his teeth at Flep and his friends across
Stranger sighed. Flep’s teasing was nothing new and usually the unconditional
love of his family was enough to make him forget it and move on. But right now,
he looked back over to the icy wall of the cave. His reflection stared back
at him, an undeniable truth. Shaking his head, he leapt to his feet and ran
out of the cave as fast as his paws would carry him, ignoring the cries of his
siblings and the teacher as he sped through the snow in distress.
Carrow sighed with relief as he spotted his adopted son sitting by the edge
of the pond with his head hung low. Falen, Rasca, and Mero had run home from
school and told their parents what had happened in the ice cave. Upon hearing
the story, Carrow had set out to try to find Stranger, enlisting a few other
pack members to spread out and help in the search, but he had been hoping that
he would be the one to find the Eyrie He knew that they needed to talk.
As he approached slowly, he noted how much Stranger had grown. Already the
young Eyrie was at shoulder height to Carrow, and Carrow knew that he, like
all the other young ones, was not even half grown yet. As it was, he already
towered over the Lupe pups when he stood up straight. It was a wonder anyone
dared to pick on him. But then again, Stranger was a gentle soul who would never
even think to use his size advantage over another, and they all knew this.
Carrow reached the young Eyrie and sat down beside him. Stranger didn’t look
up or say hello to his father. He undoubtedly knew that Carrow was aware of
what happened and didn’t need any explanations. He just sighed and continued
to stare dejectedly at his feathery reflection in the pond’s water. Carrow cleared
his throat and tried to think how best to begin. “Stranger, I know it’s hard,
but you just have to ignore them. What they say doesn’t matter.”
Carrow sighed. “Because what you look like on the outside doesn’t matter. Your
mother and I have told you that before.”
Stranger stamped angrily into the shallow water. Carrow winced, but he knew
that Stranger’s thick feathers and fur insulated him from the cold. “But it
does matter!” he nearly shouted and he turned back to face his father. “What
I look like is who I am.”
Carrow frowned but did not try to correct his son. “And what is that?”
Stranger stared silently down at his reflection for a few moments. “Strange.
I look strange,” he answered dejectedly. Carrow shook his head, but the Eyrie
retorted again, “That’s why you named me Stranger--because I’m stranger than
everyone else. I’m the strangest Lupe!”
Carrow chuckled gently. “Oh Stranger, is that really why you think I named
you that?” Stranger shrugged his wings and his father held out a paw, saying,
“Come here son,” until Stranger reluctantly trudged back up onto the dry bank
beside Carrow. The Lupe put a paw around his adopted son’s shoulders.
“I didn’t name you Stranger because I thought you were strange. You’re name
comes from an ancient Lupe saying that has been passed down among our kind for
ages. Haven’t you heard it?” The young Eyrie shook his head and looked up at
his father inquiringly. Carrow continued, “The greatest blessing is the stranger
who becomes a friend.” Stranger appeared to think for a few moments and then
a smile broke out as he leaned against his father. Carrow’s paw tightened around
Stranger’s frame as he rested his gradually graying muzzle atop his son’s head.
“You are my greatest blessing, Stranger. Never forget that.”
To be continued...