Clan of the Wolf(3)

By: Avery Kloss

The pretty oval stone glowed, the purple showing deeper in places and lighter in others. Meeting the stranger’s gaze, I smiled again, delighting in the gift and feeling oddly special.

He stood, ruffling my hair good-naturedly. “What’s your name, blue-eyed girl?”

“Peta.” I pointed. “This is my sister, Ara.”

“I’m Ronan.”

Chapter Two

His grin widened. “You hardly look like sisters.”

I did not know how to respond to that, frowning.

Ronan eyed the camp, his hands on his hips. “We need to find a place to put our things.”

“Come, girls.” Mamma ushered us away, her hand at my back. “My belly tells me I haven’t eaten today. Let’s forage. We’ve wasted half the morning at it is.”

Clutching the precious stone, I thought about where I might hide it for safekeeping, slipping it into a small pouch and tucking it beneath the pelt. While the newcomers searched for a fire pit to call home, I wrapped thick pieces of fur to my feet, securing them with strips of leather. Ara did the same, preparing to trek into the forest for a meal.

The other members of our clan worked at various tasks, the sound of stone scraping, someone sharpening a spear tip. Two men strode into the river, holding spears, while another joined them, the water rushing to their knees. A group of women and children disappeared into the forest, their laughter drifting over. We foraged alone, and I never questioned why, finding it odd that the other women did not seem to like my mother, treating her with indifference.

“Here you are.” Kia gave me a basket, the edges sharp.

I took it. “I’m ready.”

Her attention lingered on me, a smile appearing. “You need a bath, Peta.”

“I do not.” I eyed the river, hating how cold it felt. “I’m just fine the way I am.”

“You’re a dirty, stinky little thing.”

I snorted indignantly. “So is Ara.”

“I’m aware of that. I plan to see you both clean before the day’s out.” That idea did not appeal to me in the least, my bottom lip protruding. She laughed at the sight. “You’ll do as you’re told, Peta.”

I grumbled under my breath, glancing at the men in the river, who did not seem to care about the frigid water. I preferred it heated in a skin-lined pit, having had a bath that way in the past, although it happened more than a season ago when we lived in a cave. Our clan moved frequently, following game, never staying too long in one place.

The three of us set out in another direction, to escape the other women and children, seeking an untouched part of the forest. Staying on this side of the river, we trod over moist earth, the fur on my feet dampening. I still preferred this to being barefoot, as rocks and thorns did not hurt as badly, the fur keeping the worst away.

“We might have to go further than yesterday,” said Kia. “We’ve been here before, or someone has.” She pointed to a broken branch and a small footprint.

“Shall I set a trap?” asked Ara. “We can check it on the way back.”

“If you do it quickly.” Kia eyed the thick canopy above us, the leaves rustling in the wind.

I waited for Ara to set up a trap, using sticks and a heavy stone, leaving a few nuts as bait. Satisfied with her handiwork, we continued, a chill setting in due to the dense foliage, which produced shadows. Following a natural path, it led to a bog, wetness glistening beneath the trees. The snap of a branch startled several birds, one squawking noisily. Not wanting to step in the mud, we left the path, venturing further to collect whatever food we might find.

Kia stopped every so often to listen. “What do you see?” She glanced at me expectantly. With poor vision, she could see things nearby, but not at a distance. Ara struggled with this as well. They relied upon me to help them.

Everything seemed fine. “All is well.”

“We should look for nuts or seeds,” said Kia, frowning. “It’s too quiet today.”

“Or we’re too loud.” I regretted stepping on a branch earlier, knowing that any sound would alert the animals to our presence. “I’m clumsy.”

“We’ve time,” she said, waving us on. “This way.”

We each held several baskets, intending on filling them with different items. Ara searched for herbs, while I gathered knotty wood, the thorns used for a variety of purposes. When thirsty, I stood beneath a low-lying branch, bringing a leaf to my mouth, capturing clean water. Ara did the same, quenching her thirst for the moment, Kia venturing ahead. Trees with pointy needles grew here, scratching my arms and shoulders, the sweet aroma of pine filling my senses. Another odor drifted to us as well, one of smoke—something burning.

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