The other day I interviewed Elder Maria Many Horses, the Alpha of the North America Wolves, and told her that I was confused about the designation of alpha. I had always heard that alphas were the biggest, strongest, most dominant and, oftentimes, the meanest wolves in the pack.
Elder Many Horses accepted my offer of coffee and settled across the kitchen table from me. “It is only human conception that an alpha wolf is the one who can dominate the other wolves by brute strength and fear. In any fight, especially a true dominance fight, both wolves will be injured. Werewolves have the same instinctive fear as wild wolves—that injury can equate to death even if you win the fight. So, the actual leadership is often passed along to the best qualified leader without bloodshed. Besides, the alpha position is more about caretaking than being taken care of.” She gave a little shrug. “Not many wolves are willing to shoulder the tremendous responsibilities inherent in the alpha position.”
“Besides, wolves are pack animals. We hunt cooperatively; the entire pack cares for the young; and we are extremely social animals. We need each other in order to not only survive, but to thrive. If we solved everything by fighting, our society would devolve into bloodshed and chaos.”
A puzzled frown drew my eyebrows tight. “What if you are directly challenged for the leadership position?”
All levity vanished from her face. “That has occurred in the past, and will most likely occur again in the future; however, one-on-one fights are as often won by cunning and intelligence as by brute strength.” She held up a hand to forestall my question then proceeded to answer what I had not yet asked. “Yes, strength counts, especially in that type of confrontation; however, prowess in all types of battles will win out against pure brute strength. The mind powers the body, regardless of how well-developed the body may be. The one who believes in what they fight for, will frequently win over one who simply fights to gain power.” A smile tipped the corners of her mouth up. “Knowing martial arts helps, too. It is an alpha’s responsibility to stay in shape and to keep our fighting skills honed.”
I refilled our coffee cups before I sat back down and asked another question. “What exactly does an alpha do?”
“We are leaders. Our number one priority is to ensure the safety of the entire pack. That means maintaining peace among the members—from the beta to the omega—and providing a niche for them in the pack’s hierarchy. That, also, means keeping our existence secret from humans, and being prepared to repel aggression from other Supernaturals; such as the situation we’re facing now with the Vampire War. That may mean negotiating a peace or it may mean fighting. The alpha has to consider both options.”
She sipped her coffee, a thoughtful look on her face. I took a chocolate chip cookie from the plate and nibbled it as I waited for her to continue.
“As for keeping our existence secret from the human population. Well, technology has made that more difficult. The only way we can survive is to adapt and change, and the alpha has to lead the way. If there are wolves in the pack who can’t adapt then it’s the alpha’s duty to relocate them where they can live without risk of exposing our species. For the rest of the wolves, a leader has to find ways for them to integrate successfully in the human world. Remember that an alpha’s mantra has to be ‘all things for the greater good’.”
“So, mainstream culture has it all wrong about werewolves?”
A gentle smile stretched her lips and crawled up to her dark eyes. “All of those myths that were so carefully seeded among humans have kept my People safe for millennia. And, they still do. Tell me, who in popular culture would expect the werewolf leader to be a woman of mature years?”
“Is alpha usually a hereditary position?”
“Werewolf succession is neither bloodline bound nor gender bound. Many times in our Story, however, you will note that the best leaders were the biological or the adopted heirs of the current alpha.”
“What about your family?” I dipped another cookie in my coffee and ate the delicious gooeyness as I waited for her to respond.
“I demonstrated alpha qualities at the age of two. Eventually, I took over from my father who had taken over from my grandmother and so on for the past seven generations. My daughter, however, shows beta qualities rather than alpha. My adopted daughter will succeed me as alpha.”
“What if someone issues a dominance challenge?”
Elder Many Horses lips pursed as if she tasted something bitter. “Then she will answer the challenge. Bloodshed and death are always possibilities, not only in werewolf succession but in life; especially, when great power is the prize.” She sat straighter in her chair and locked gazes with me. “I believe she will win any challenge. She has trained since the age of three and she has great strength. I speak not only of the physical, but also of mental and psychological and spiritual strength. If she must fight, she would be fighting to protect our People. There is no more noble objective; and it is one for which she would gladly die, or live. Just as I do.”
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