The male meer was bigger and heavier than him, but Hawk had one advantage: speed. The male lunged for his foreleg and Hawk ducked. The male lashed out with both paws and Hawk weaved. Hawk lived up to his namesake as he dodged and bucked, jumped and darted from side to side. He was a natural, and all his training sessions with Ruff helped too. He used his smaller size to outmaneuver the big male. Getting in a nip and a scratch with every pass. Eventually, the male tired of chasing Hawk and turned away, presumably to go after an easier target. As soon as his back was to Hawk, Hawk bunched his muscles and leapt. He landed with his forpaws on the male’s hunches and his hind paws on his hips. As the male lurched under his weight, Hawk sank his fangs deep into the nap of his neck.
The male yowled in pain and threw himself to the ground. Hawk just managed to release him and stumble off his back before he was crushed under the male’s weight. The male quickly righted himself and swung around to face Hawk again. Blood matted the fur of his nape and dripped down his neck. Hawk felt a rush of satisfaction and flashed a stained smile. He was confident that he could win this fight. The male charged him, but stopped short as a shriek from another meer echoed across the valley. “Help! Swift’s drowning!”
In sync, the big male and Hawk sprinted over to the edge of the pond, where other meer from the battle were also gathering. The valley dipped in the middle, forming a natural pond in the wet season. That was why Hawk’s mother, Queen, wanted this piece of land to add to their territory. The surface rippled but otherwise there was no movement. Hawk could see no one in the water. The big male shoved through the crowd to stand at a distraught female meer’s side. “What’s going on?” He demanded.
“There’s an overhang on the other side, Bull.” The female panted with panic. Hawk’s eyes widened. So that’s who he’d been dueling, the dominant male of the Deltas family. He had held his own well, but he had no time to bolster his hubris. The female must be Cloud. “Swift was keeping watch. I saw her fall in.” The surface of the pond continued to ripple violently. As if something trapped beneath the surface was fighting to get free. No meer moved. Alphas and Deltas alike stood grave and silent, none willing to risk the same fate.
All except for Hawk. He ran forward and leapt into the pond. At first his paws touched the sandy bottom, but soon he was paddling frantically. Cries of shock rang out from the bank. Hawk ignored them. When he reached the center of the pond, he dove. The water was cool and soothing against his skin the deeper he went. He could hear his heartbeat thrumming a quiet rhythm. Everything was muted under the water, even the sunlight. Murk swirled around him in a fascinating way and he would have been entranced if he wasn’t so focused.
He spotted the limp form of a meer, drifting ever downwards. He pushed himself harder, his lungs screaming now. His heartbeat a roar. The murk funneling his vision. He latched onto Swift’s scruff and hauled, pulling with all his strength. He pushed upwards with long strokes of his hind legs. Swift was equal to him in weight and he struggled to keep ahold of her. After what felt like an eternity, he breached the surface and sucked in a grateful breath through his nose. He paddled for shore as quick as he could. Bull met him halfway and took the brunt of his daughter’s weight. As Hawk was scrambling out of the pond he saw something out of the corner of his eye. The shadow of a meer. He slipped and cut his pad open on a stone. Barely feeling the bite of pain, he glanced around but the shadow had gone.
Limping and bedraggled, Hawk flopped down heavily on the dry sand of the shore. His little sister Scarlet immediately rushed to his side, followed by his parents, Queen and Pride. His gaze was locked on Swift. Cloud pressed her paws to her daughter’s chest and pushed. At first nothing happened. Swift didn’t move. Cloud tried again. This time Swift sputtered. She leaned over and began to cough up great swells of water. Hawk was dizzy with relief and exhaustion. He’d saved Swift, she would live another day because of him. And he didn’t know it then, but it was a very good thing indeed.
Though Cloud and Bull were refuted to be cruel, they could not deny the debt that they owed the Alphas. Due to Hawk’s bravery that day, the Deltas conceded the land to the Alphas. And though the traumatized Swift never saw Hawk’s face, he would never forget hers.