Clan of the Wolf(4)

By: Avery Kloss

Glancing at my sister, we did not say a word, breaking into a run, although I sprinted faster, reaching Kia a moment later. Nearly out of breath, I gasped for air. “Fire!” Then I felt silly, because mamma held a branch, wrapped in dried kindling, which she had set ablaze.

“You shouldn’t dally,” she murmured, smiling. “I was waiting for you.”

A flying insect hovered, buzzing annoyingly. I swatted it away, knowing what she planned to do. “There are berries somewhere.”

Kia held the burning branch beneath a buzzing nest, the smoke engulfing the insects. Once the bugs became disoriented, she withdrew delicious, sweet nectar, sustaining a few stings in the process. Not wanting to be bitten, I stepped away, glancing at the empty baskets, and hoping to fill them with something useful.

“Let’s look over there.” I pointed to the trees with tangled roots. “I see bushes.”

Ara stepped away, waving a hand before her face. “I don’t like those bugs, but their homes are delicious.”

“True,” I giggled, the sound carrying.

My sister and I foraged for edibles, finding a bush filled with dark purple fruit. Picking as many as we could, their pigment discolored our fingers. Kia joined us a moment later, pleased with the find. We ventured on, often stopping to pick or pull something from the ground. Arriving at a clearing, we faced a field, the area bathed in light. Animals noted us, several bounding soundlessly in the other direction, although a few remained at a distance.

“I don’t have the skill to catch one,” said Kia. “It’s a shame. One of them would make a fine meal for a great many people.” As if knowing we spoke about them, their ears perked up, the creatures alert, with glossy black eyes.

My mouth watered at the thought, movement catching my notice. “Look there!” I pointed, seeing three men emerge from the forest, each holding a spear. I recognized them at once—the men of our clan. “We might eat well tonight after all.”

Not wishing to interfere with the hunt, Kia directed us back into the forest, leaving the men to their work. Meat was shared among the clan, although the berries and other things we collected belonged to us, unless we offered it to others. Lascox demanded we help provide for the meal tonight, so we needed to pick more than usual.

Members of the clan returned to the river, women and children holding baskets filled with whatever they could find. The men brought in several stags that tasted delicious when roasted over an open fire. Talking and laughter drifted to us, while the rushing sound of the river remained ever-present, the sun glinting off the wavelets lapping and breaking upon the rocky edge.

The heat of the day bore down upon my shoulders, a sheen of perspiration lining my forehead. Having been told to beat out the bedding, I tossed the pelts over a thick branch and hit them with a stick. Exhausted from foraging, I craved a hearty meal, my belly growling distractingly. When I returned with the pelts, Kia sat by the fire with the baskets at her feet.

“You take a bath now, Peta.”

I tossed the fur to the ground, grumbling, “No. Please, no. I’m not that smelly.”

“You’re a stinky thing.”

Eyeing the river, I loathed having to step in it. “Why can’t it be warm like at the cave? I don’t like cold water.”

“I’ll go with you.” Ignoring my complaint, she got to her feet, untying the leather she wore around her waist. Holding out a hand, she said, “We shall go together. Then we can warm ourselves by the fire.”

I glanced at Ara. “What about her? She’s in need too.”

“She bathed two days ago. It’s your turn now.”

I knew the sooner I entered the water, the sooner this horrible task would be done. Gritting my teeth and dreading the river, I took my mother’s hand, her skin feeling rough to the touch. She led me to the rocky bank, where we waded, the coldness creeping up my legs. I hated this chore, preferring to remain filthy.

“In you go.” She gave me a shove, where I fell headfirst into the current, icy water enveloping me.

I thrashed about in the murky, brown water, my feet encountering a slippery, rocky bottom. I knew how to swim, and yet it took every bit of strength I possessed not to float downstream. Rough hands grabbed me, Kia dragging me to her, while a smile revealed crooked, brownish teeth.

“There you are. I forget what a slight little thing you are.” She dunked my head under, her hands scrubbing my scalp. When I thought I might perish from the lack of air, I came up again. “You’re starting to look better.”

“Ugh!” I grumbled, wanting to fight her, but I knew it was useless.

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