Clan of the Wolf(9)

By: Avery Kloss

“Shall we continue to forage?”

“Indeed.” She thrust a small stick into her mouth, cleaning her teeth. “The sun’s not high enough to return yet. We’ve time to search for berries.”

Encountering a group of women and children foraging, we passed them without a word, the women not asking us to join them. I offered a smile, which they did not return, their faces quite stony. Once out of earshot, I murmured, “Why do they treat us like that?”

Ara shrugged, glancing over her shoulder. “You’re tainted, because you’re with me.”

“Why? I don’t understand.”

Emerging from the shade of trees, the river stood before us, water trapped in rocky puddles, where tiny fish swam. She knelt to wash her hands, her face reflected in the rippling waves. I did the same, splashing water on mine.

“Can you not see the difference?” Ara pointed.

I knew her coloring to be darker, her stature shorter, but I hadn’t compared our faces side-by-side, seeing her reflected in the pool before me. “I suppose.” Where my forehead appeared smooth, hers had a pronounced ridge above the eyes. I hadn’t thought twice about it before, because my mother and sister had always been like this. Turning to view myself in profile, my nose wasn’t as broad as hers. “We’re different in looks.” But that hardly mattered to me. “Shall we see about some meat?” My belly rumbled. “I’m hungry.”

She grunted in reply, her look pensive.

I took her hand, feeling the rough texture of her skin. “You’re my family, Ara. I don’t care what anyone else thinks.”

A smile creased the edges of her eyes. “You’re my family.”

I could not imagine a life without Ara or Kia, the three of us always together. “Let’s steal food. I’m hungry.”

“You have the best ideas,” she giggled.

Several cooking fires burned nearby, the sound of a baby crying mingling with birdcalls, vultures picking away at the refuse along the edges of camp. Mangy dogs loitered, sniffing and nibbling on whatever they could find, often lifting their legs to mark their territory. Most of the men hunted, the day still young. I cast a glance towards our fire, not seeing Kia.

“I’ll search over here,” said Ara, pointing towards several cooking fires. “You go there. We’ll meet in the middle.”

“Very well.” Carrying the basket, I left it with our things, hiding it beneath a pelt. I wished to protect the nuts from small predators and humans, not trusting anyone completely. I spied Kia then, my mother stepping into the woods. “Wait!” Hurrying after her, I ran along the river’s edge, the water cold beneath my feet. “Mamma!”

She disappeared into the woods, not hearing me. I burst through the foliage, hoping to find her, but I saw nothing other than trees, a branch hitting my face. Knowing her to be near, I moved on, finding a worn path, our clan having traveled this way often. She must have gone to relieve herself in private, the smell here somewhat foul, a latrine pit nearby. Avoiding it directly, I skirted around its edges, not seeing my mother. Being as quiet as possible, I stepped upon soft-feeling moss, my feet grateful for the moment. I hadn’t worn fur today, brambles and rocks pricking me for hours.

A bird launched itself from a branch, nearly giving me a fright. Having distanced myself from the filthy pit, I breathed easier, wandering amongst giant trees, the branches nearly blocking the light completely. Hearing a noise, I turned in another direction, careful to avoid stepping on a rotting branch. An odd sound occurred then, like a groan. Moving aside branches, I crept closer, knowing someone to be near.

A thickly trunked tree stood in the way, its bark missing in places, having been eaten by an animal. Whoever made the noise stood no more than a few lengths ahead. In the shadow of the wood, the sound grew, a man’s tone now echoing. I peeked around the tree, careful to keep myself hidden on the other side. There I saw Kia … but she wasn’t alone. Our leader, Lascox, sat on the ground, while she straddled him.

This sort of thing happened quite often at camp, the sight not unusual. What struck me, though, was the fact that Lascox had a wife—Ola, who saw to his every need and whim. Kia’s body undulated over him, their joining hidden by the leather she wore around her waist. Not wishing to be seen, I retreated gingerly, traipsing carefully back to the path.

Chewing on my lip, I pondered what I had seen, realizing the implications. Once clear of the wood, I squatted by the water, waiting for Kia to appear. She did so a short while later, squinting in the sunlight and adjusting her skirt. Lascox emerged at a distance, having come out another way. He strode towards his fire, although he glanced our way briefly, his expression flat.

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