Clan of the Wolf(8)

By: Avery Kloss


The men had left already to hunt, needing to venture farther for such a feat, while the women remained near the settlement, women and children scouring the forest in search of berries and nuts. Ara and I had little luck with the berries, focusing our energies on nuts, filling more than one basket.

Kneeling before a tree, I collected as many off the ground as I could, Ara picking at her teeth with a stick. A particular tree produced these branches, whereby, if one chewed the end, it fanned out. It became the perfect implement for cleaning teeth. I had already done so today, following the instructions of Mannoc, who, as clan healer, had given a lecture last night on cleanliness. This only became an issue when we resided too long in one place, dirt and bugs becoming a nuisance.

A branch snapped nearby, both of us glancing in that direction. “Someone comes,” I murmured.

Ara snatched up Kia’s stick, having brought it for safety. I jumped to my feet, hiding behind the tree, while Ara waited, watchful eyes trained on the tapestry of green before us, leaves rustling in the breeze. An insect buzzed by my ear, but I ignored it, watching the forest for danger.

“It’s passed, whatever it was,” she said, but her eyes darted back and forth.

A loud crashing sound occurred, two members of our clan leaping before us, the boys brandishing spears. “Ho!” shouted Bryce, laughing. “We scared you!”

Realizing we did not face a real threat, I shook my head in annoyance. “Shouldn’t you be hunting?”

“We were, but Luca’s not feeling well.”

I glanced at the other boy, his eyes red and watery. Grasping at his belly, he swayed. “Are you ill?”

“Yes,” he grumbled, looking miserable. “I … want to return to camp. My insides hurt. I need to see the healer.”

“What have you there?” asked Bryce, pointing at the basket.

“Nuts.”

“That’s all girls are good for, picking things off the ground, while the men accomplish great tasks. We bravely fight the beasts. We bring home meat.”

“You can live quite well off nuts,” I said. “We’ve done so for many moons, seasons, even.”

“That’s because you can’t catch anything bigger.”

“Small creatures oftentimes.”

He wasn’t taller than I, his face darkened from the elements, his eyes blazing. “Because you’re weak.”

Having observed the dynamic of a clan and the various jobs each member had, I knew women took care of the babies, staying closer to the cooking fires. It had always been so.

“I want to go back,” grumbled Luca. “This is a waste of time.” He stomped away, grasping a heavy-looking spear.

Bryce eyed me inquisitively. “Have you nothing to say, weakling?”

“Perhaps my strength lies elsewhere.” I tapped my head. “I’m strong here.”

He laughed, the sound echoing. “That’s hardly important, especially for a female. I know what you’re good for. It’s only one thing, and you’re too young for it.”

I frowned, not understanding him, although I found the conversation exasperating. Ara glowered, clearly impatient for the boy to leave. “If you’re so skilled, where is your kill?”

“They made me leave to take Luca back. I killed a great beast yesterday,” he boasted, sucking in a breath to inflate his chest.

I doubted he had single-handedly accomplished the task, knowing the men typically cornered animals and dispatched them as a group. “I can tell,” I said dryly. “You’re bloated with pride.”

He grinned, not realizing I had insulted him, thinking it praise. “I am. I’ll be leader of a clan one of these seasons.” Taking a step towards me, he grasped my hair, fingers curling about tangled strands.

I screamed, pain flaring from my scalp. “Stop it!”

“You will respect me!”

I struggled, kicking and trying to push him away. A loud thump rang out, Bryce screeching, the sound high-pitched. Ara hit him over the shoulders with the stick, his grip loosening. I fell to my knees, rocks digging into my skin. Ara stood before him with her feet apart, holding the weapon in both hands. Seeing an opportunity to get even, I attacked his leg, biting into the ankle. He hit me in the head with a closed fist, shouting to the wind, while the taste of blood filled my mouth.

No longer boastful, he appeared embarrassed, twin spots of red appearing on his cheeks. Without another word, he dashed into the forest, disappearing, although Ara’s laughter followed him, a look of satisfaction glinting in her dark eyes. Despite my hurting head, I laughed too, pleased to have bested him. Getting to my feet, I brushed dirt from my legs.

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