Clan of the Wolf(2)

By: Avery Kloss

Her bravado made me laugh. “You’ll scare them witless, no doubt. You think you can best two men with that little toy?” I stood, and despite being far younger than my mother, I faced her, our eyes meeting. “Do I require a weapon too?”

Kia scowled. “No, but if you and your sister don’t make haste and gather food, I’ll beat you both soundly with this stick.” To illustrate her point, she pounded the end into the ground, making a thumping sound. “Come meet the strangers, so we may forage. We’ve been asked to provide for the meal today. We must do as we’re told.”

“Very well.” I picked up a basket. “I’m ready.”

A group stood at a distance, men and women gathered to assess the newcomers, which reminded me of the day we had walked into camp, although at that time, we met them on a vast prairie. “I wonder who they are?”

“Weary travelers, no doubt,” murmured Ara.

The dense coolness of the rampant greenery on the other side of the river made me shiver, the trees massive. Barefoot, I trod upon coarse sand, mixed with the bone fragments from many meals, some of the bits feeling sharp. The group had already begun to disburse, although our leader, Lascox, and a few of his men remained, speaking with the strangers.

Drawing nearer, Lascox’s voice rang out. “You must have permission to take a woman. Most have mates. I don’t wish to provoke anger and discord.”

“Enwan and I don’t want your women,” said the taller man, his face hidden beneath messy, blondish hair. “We’re passing through. We follow game.” He held a spear and wore animal hide tied at the waist and neck, his legs filthy from having traveled far. “We desire to rest for a while. Enwan and I will do our part for your clan, if you allow us to stay. We won’t cause trouble.”

Judging from the look on Lascox’s face, he did not feel as confident, a frown emerging. Nearly the same height as the lightly colored stranger, his hair appeared more reddish than brown, and the beard just as heavy. Any casual observer would think they came from the same clan, their build and appearance similar.

“With more men than women, there’s always trouble.” He glanced at Mannoc, the man older than anyone else, healer for the clan. “What is your opinion?”

He eyed them judiciously, thick brows furrowing. Lifting his chin, he nodded briskly. “Give them one chance to prove themselves. If they fail, they must leave.”

“That’s sensible,” murmured the stranger, his gaze straying to Ara and my mother. A questioning look appeared at the sight of them. “You’ve brought in outsiders before. We’re certainly not the first.”

Since settling with the clan, I was often reminded of how different my family was, my mother and sister shorter and darker than anyone else.

“She’s without a mate,” stated Lascox, pointing at Kia. “But, you must still have permission to take her.”

“I weary of this conversation.”

The man called Enwan patted him on the shoulder. “It’s of no matter, Ronan. It’s settled.” He glanced at Lascox. “With your blessing, we shall make a fire and hunt. We do not desire your women. We only wish to rest for a while. You’ve a nice spot here with plenty of fresh water. We've seen the tracks of great beasts nearby. We can help provide for your people. Ronan and I are experienced.”

As he spoke, the man named Ronan opened a small leather pouch, withdrawing what looked like stones. He knelt before Ara and me, holding out his hand. “Here you are. Gifts from a wanderer.”

Two small stones lay in his palm, one purple in color, reminding me of the fragrant flowers in the woods. I took it, closing my fingers around it. Meeting his gaze, I smiled. “Many thanks, stranger.”

He sat back on his heels, a grin playing around his mouth. “You take what you want without hesitation. I like that.”

Ara eyed the other stone. “Where did you get them?”

“A river far from here. A place where the earth is red. The hunting wasn’t good.”

My sister took the remaining stone, colored grey with a thin green stripe down the middle. Nodding, Ara grunted, murmuring, “Thank you.”

I held up the gift, admiring how smooth it felt, how the color pleased me. “I pray I don’t lose it.” This was the most precious thing I had ever owned.

Lascox took a step towards us. “It’s settled then. You may stay, unless you prove untrustworthy. We have few rules, but those we do have are important for clan harmony. I’m not an unreasonable man. Choose whatever fire you like. We have some empty pits.” He brushed past Kia, his eyes drifting over her for a moment. Then he moved on.

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