Clan of the Wolf(10)

By: Avery Kloss

“You’ve returned from foraging, I see,” my mother said, smiling.

“I have. I was just in the woods. I saw you.”

She sat next to me, staring absently across the water. “I thought I heard something.”

“What are you doing with Lascox? Why are you mating with him?”

“It’s best not to say that too loudly.” She patted my hand. “It’s not for you to worry about. I mate with whomever I want.”

“But his wife won’t be pleased.”

“She doesn’t know.”

“What if she finds out?”

“It doesn’t matter. He’s the leader. He may do as he wishes.” She seemed oddly calm, unperturbed by my questions. “Where I come from, the women have the power.”

“What do you mean?”

“My people don’t … do this.” She gestured at the camp. “They don’t pair off like this.”

Now I was confused. “Pair off?”

“These people are strange. Their customs aren’t like mine.”

She rarely spoke of where she came from. “And what do your people do?”

“They’re freer. If they see something or someone they want, they take it. There are few rules.” A wistful look appeared. “I prefer my way. I miss my people. I know I shall never see them again, but … they’re in my heart always.”

“Aren’t we a family?”

“Yes, we are, Peta.” She squeezed my hand. “Until you grow up and hate me.”

That statement was stunning. “Hate you?”

“When you realize I’m inferior. It’ll happen soon enough.”

“Bah!” I disagreed loudly, wrapping my arms around her neck. She smelled slightly musky. “I love you. You’re my family. I’ll never turn my back on my family.”

Chapter Five

Ara bit into the strange-looking berry before I could stop her, chewing heartily. “It’s good.” A smile appeared. “It’s very sweet. We should take as many as we can.”

I had never seen these, the berries neither purple nor red, but somewhere in-between. “If you become ill, you’ll remember I warned you.” I bent to pick them, tossing the oddly shaped edibles into a basket. “We should go back. I’m tired.”

“We’ve done well today.” The smell of smoke lingered, Kia confusing the buzzing, stinging insects with it to steal their sweet nectar. My fingers looked purple from the earlier pickings. “There weren’t that many.”

Ara strode past me, her eyes alert for danger, as oftentimes animals lurked in the foliage. “Kia?”

“I’m ready.” She appeared between the trees, her feet encased in leather. “Come along, girls. We’ll eat well tonight.”

I rushed past Ara to reach her, feeling accomplished and pleased about the scavenging today. “Can I bring some sweets to Ronan and Enwan?”

She eyed me askance. “You spend too much time with those men, Peta. You should be careful.”

I found the warning confusing, knowing them to be pleasant company. They gave me dried meat whenever they saw me, which I greatly appreciated. “I don’t feel a threat.” When danger appeared, my senses usually alerted me to this fact, the hair on the back of my neck standing on end, followed by a sense of foreboding. I had experienced this before … the memory fuzzy, though.

Ara strolled by, a whistling sound coming from her mouth. “You’re too slow.”

“Ouf!” I hurried to catch up, besting her in short order, because my legs were longer. “Ha! Catch me now!”

Mother followed, carrying a sturdy stick. The walk brought us back to a small path, the river a distance away. A sensual, spicy fragrance filled the air, the grassy areas spotted with small white flowers. Ara stopped to pick a few, tossing them into the basket. I waited for mamma to approach, her look stern.

“Don’t dawdle. The sun is too high. We’ve been gone long enough.”

“These are beautiful,” said Ara, sniffing a flower. “The petals are fragile.” She played with them in her hands. “They break easily.”

I went on, suddenly desiring food, knowing the clan had hunted, and wondering what the meal might be. A good while later, we emerged from the shade of the woodland, the river swirling before us, smelling of fish. I broke free of my family, running to our cooking fire, which smoldered.

Kia arrived shortly, setting about stoking the ashes into flame, while I tossed a measure of fruit and honey in a basket, preparing to bring the treat to Ronan. “I’ll be back.”

“You’re filthy, Peta,” chided Kia. “You shouldn’t go over like that, girl. Wash yourself first.”

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