By Sharon Collins
Chapter1 – (prompt – FLESH)
Standing on the edge of Judgement, for that is what this cliff-edge is called, her prehensile toes curl over the rim. Her body fights exhaustion while her brain, uncomfortably large in its sloping brain-case, fights frustration. For countless generations this cliff-edge has been where guilt is decided and punishment delivered. The accused stand on Judgement for three moonrises. The watchers rotating through the hours, are also required to stand. Victims, when the crime is not victimless, are allowed to crouch and watch as well.
On this third night, the entire clan crouches in condemnation, as the Headman has argued all are victims of her crime. The witnesses know the guilty are always weak and when sleep loosens the knots of their protest, they fall into Justice, as that is what the adjacent abyss is called. The innocent stay strong; their knots never loosen; they stand and walk into the Fourth Sunrise.
She is ever so close to the Fourth Sunrise. Already its pearlescence warms the East reminding her of the evidence against her. Scattered at her feet are beautiful shells, perfect in their half-wholeness, not shattered as tradition demands. Suddenly the wounded pad of her thumb throbs; she licks the ragged cut still seeping and remembers…Four days ago as the tide receded, she collected clams with the woman. Squatting on the hardpan, they arranged their smashing stones and began the noisy business of extracting the juicy meat. The clacking clatter of their work, reminded her of the gulls, feasting about her. Watching them, she hit a large shell with a glancing blow. It exploded, a shard embedding itself in the flesh of her thumb. Nursing the wound, she witnessed a gull scoop up a shell and flap back into the sky. Hovering above her, it let the shell drop. Landing with a loud crack, she watched as the shell released its lock and slowly sprung open. Seconds later, the gull swallowed its glistening bounty and scooped up another.
Struck by the simplicity, she gathered several clams and climbed the steep track up the cliffside and cast them onto the hard sand at the water’s edge. By the time she climbed back down, the gulls had enjoyed her efforts. All the open shells were empty. Angry, she adapted. Gesturing to her daughter, she explained. Again, she climbed and cast. This time the reward was hers to reap, and reap she did. Her clay bowl, filled to the rim, drew envious glances. Suddenly they were all collecting, climbing, and casting. That is, all were except the Headman’s First-Wife.
Grumbling as she scrambled back to the cave, she reported. Crime was being committed; tradition was being broken. Change could not be tolerated; evolution not allowed. Accused of the greatest transgression, doing something different, she had been dragged to the edge of Judgement to embrace Justice.
The sunrise breaking the horizon silhouettes the Headman as he approaches. Squinting, she sees his hands are open in welcome. But, dangling from his thick thumb she also sees it, the symbol of her acquiescence, a necklace of broken shells. Hers to accept… hers to reject… She hovers like the gull, step back into ignorance? Step forward into freedom? She steps..
Chapter 2 (prompt – STITCH)
I did not witness Grandmother’s Judgement, although I was present, within Mother’s womb, but present nonetheless. To ensure our continued survival that Fourth-Dawn, Mother donned the Shattered-Shell-Necklace and became the Headman’s Third-Wife. The Clan believe me to be his, but my long bones and flat-brow, speak otherwise.
Today Mother sews me a new tunic. I fear it will be her last, for she is nearing her end. Bent with toil and shame, her greying hair tangles in the shells of The Necklace she must never remove, Grandmother’s lasting legacy. Laboriously she pierces the skin with a stone awl and then hole by hole pushes the gut-lacing along. I will wear it with pride when she is gone, but I will not wear The Necklace. I will weigh it down with a stone and cast it back into the sea.
I wish to take the work from Mother’s tired fingers, but the Headman’s First-Wife watches, and I dare not. I wait patiently for her to turn away. I have the tool tucked inside my tunic. Its point pokes me, and the small pain makes me smile as I remember the day I thought to create it.
Sitting on the beach breaking clam shells, I watched a crab drag a still-glistening string of fish-gut home to its lair. Depositing its dinner before the opening, it worked its way around the string of flesh and begin to push it through the hole. Try as it might, the piece of gut folded and twisted but would not go through. Failing to push its treasure in, the crab dragged the soggy lump aside and retreated into the den. I thought it had given up when I saw a claw reach out, grasp one end of the stringy mess, and pull the prize in with ease. The simplicity struck me. Pull the gut; do not push it…if only Mother could do this too…
It took many attempts before I got the tool just right. I tried making it of shell first, but the point was too brittle to pierce even the softest skin. I looked for a sharp stone with a hole, but I never found one. Finally I thought to use bone. Slyly, I secreted several wing bones from the midden and ground each to a point. Then using the stone awl, I tried to pierce the other end. How I wanted to cry when they cracked. But I did not give up. I shaped a new one and left it in sea-water to soften so I could drill without damage. Once dry, I had a perfect sewing tool.
Today it pokes me and tells me that the moment has come. First-Wife has gone off to scold Second-Wife.I take the tunic from my mother and thread my tool. I press its sharp point through the soft hide. In and out it goes. I pull the gut through. I smile but Mother closes her eyes. She does not see me complete the first stitch in Time.
Chapter 3 (prompt- FLOAT)
Shadows darker than death lurk in the nightshade. Their hungry eyes float, fluorescing green in the waning firelight. My courage, sputtering and flickering with the flames, like the moonlight is nearly gone. MY Judgement has begun. The presence of a dozen clansmen waiting in the forest pines, does little to relieve my fear as the fangs are closer now than they. I will not die it, but I will suffer. Still believed to be the Headsman’s child, neither my complete failure nor full Justice will be allowed. This privilege angers me. I would rather die than be his. Another bitter benefit of Mother’s deceit I am forced to bear, like the crumbling necklace of shattered shell. The yellowed shells have gotten sharper with age and cut into my neck with each trembling breath.
After my Mother’s death ceremony, I tried to destroy the shameful thing. Intending to send it back into the sea, I climbed the very cliff Grandmother climbed when she invented the New Way to harvest the juicy sweetness of the clams. Trickster-Gull must have needed a laugh that day, because he did not warn me. With the wind in my eyes and the surf in my ears, I did not see or hear the approach of the Headsman’s First-Wife, who had come to harvest the clams herself. She, and only She, is allowed to use the New Way of harvesting. Dropping her basketful, she snatched the necklace from my hand just as I was about to fling it far into the waves. Slapping me over and over, she dragged me before the Elders…again.
‘Twice in the same Moon,’ I think and smile to myself as I draw close the dying glow of the embers. ‘Even the Headsman’s true son has never been sent to the Elders twice in the same Moon!’ I am a thorn in their side and I am glad of it. My first disobedience was creating that sewing tool. Of course First-Wife discovered my invention and complained. She demanded Judgement as she had for Grandmother and hoped for the same Justice. I would have been sent to the cliff-edge, but Mother left us that very night, and I needed to sew her death tunic. Since I was already half done with the one I was making, the Elders bade me finish quickly, despite tradition. A daughter’s last duty, it took less than one sunrise and sunset to complete, even with the tears in my eyes. Mother wears it now on her journey, and I have not been allowed to use the sewing tool again. First-Wife has it for herself.
Shaking away the memory, I rise to a crouch; I can hear their soft footpads despite the pine-needled floor…I can almost feel their hungry breath. I raise my spear as the firelight goes out.
Chapter 4 (prompt – TURMOIL)
My next step, my very next step changes everything…just like Grandmother’s…just like Mother’s. In the torchlight, He stands before me, the Headsman, his hooded-eyes dark with doubt. The others ring him, their dark eyes full of menace. Watchers all, they have arrived to witness the result of my Judgement and determine Justice. Bleeding, but still alive, I stand, the stone behind supports me more than I let on and meet his dark gaze with my green one.
Sprawled before me, its life’s-blood soaking the pine needles is the She-Wolf. Clamped in her terrible jaws, a shattered shell embedded deep in her throat, is Mother’s Necklace of Shame.
Dizzy with pain, I cannot give satisfactory explanation. Searching for words, I replay the chaotic memory… in the falling gloom, they strike. Snapping fangs circle; pain explodes with each lunge. Their attack coordinated and precise becomes a dance of death. Mine. Muscle meets tooth and gives way. Shoulders to the rock-ledge, I stab, lash, whirl, over and over and over… when I can fight no longer, I cry out for Mother. I know not how, but she comes; she protects me. A feral screech deafens me as fur and fury leap from the rock ledge. An enormous Forest-Cat launches and collides with the She-Wolf. Wolf-fangs reaching for my neck snap instead on sharp shell. It howls; its agony cut short by fangs, sharper yet, piercing its throat. As the death-echo fades, she straddles her kill, muzzle dark with blood, and looks at me, freezing me with Mother’s amber eyes. Her growl scatters the pack. I wait captive in the spell of her stare. Slowly she blinks and is gone, a swirl of shadow among the trees. I collapse in grateful sobs until I hear the Watchers approach.
Struggling to stand, I cannot explain that Mother’s spirit has saved me in death even as her sacrifice saved me in life, so I stand mute. My Judgement and Justice are satisfactory or they are not… I can do no more than wait. Refusing to lower my gaze, I watch as the Headman pries The Necklace from the She-Wolf’s mouth. Wiping a crimson smudge from the longest shard, He approaches cautiously and marks my forehead. Then folding the shattered-shell necklace into his pouch, He steps back…He steps back leaving my way clear.Swallowing the turmoil, accepting the pain, I step just as Grandmother did.
Chapter 5 (prompt – EPIPHANY)
The trek back is an agony of pain and dread. Pain from tooth and claw pulses with each step. Dread of First-Wife’s anger when she sees me living still, mounts with every breath. I know she thought to have me dead. Her Judgement will be worse than the one I leave behind. I shiver at the memory of the She-Wolf’s death-throes, clamped in the fangs of the Forest Cat with Mother’s amber eyes. I see the bloody shard in the Headsman’s fingers and touch the wet warmth where he has marked my forehead. I stumble. Two Watchers walking beside steady me, as the Headsman hurries us at a furious pace.
Behind me, four Watchers struggle, dragging the carcass of the enormous beast back to the cave. It will be my privilege to take her fur. I will fashion boots and perhaps a cape. There will certainly be hide enough.The other six Watchers carry, each, a wolf pup. The She-Wolf’s children will be welcomed by the Clan. Our Wise-Man has spoken with Men of the Ice and has learned that wolf-pups can be trained to help in the hunt. These six will be tried once they learn to stop snarling and biting. I do not envy the unlucky Watchers carrying them any more than I envy the unlucky pups that now share my orphan-grief. Their brindled fur bristles and their yellow eyes glare; they are both brave and foolish…like me.
As we near the mouth of the cave, I hear it. Riding the wind, an unearthly echo clogs my ears and sets my teeth on edge. The pups cease squirming and begin to whimper. They too recognize the anguish of Death-Keening. The Watchers drop them in their rush forward. Too weary and hurt to stand, I sink to the ground beside their dead mother. They clamber over me and nuzzle her. Foolish girl that I am, I want to sob for their loss despite my survival. Unable to resist further, I give in and close my eyes.
A sunset and sunrise later, I wake to the drumming of Death-Rites and the taste of fish broth spooned by Second-Wife. She tells me how it happened, how First-Wife boasted the night of my Judgement; how she gleefully feasted on roast fowl; how she snapped its bones and sucked the marrow; how a sharp shard lodged in her throat and choked her to death. Unfortunately, Second-Wife also tells the Headsman how I laugh until I cry when I hear this. She tells how I call out to Mother’s Spirit, thanking her for saving me from both She-Wolves.
Too late I realize my mistake. My reckless words curse me. Only the Wise-Man may speak with Spirits and even he may not command them. Shunned and forbidden to return, I am outcast. Barely healed, wearing my wolf-cape, I retrace my steps to the foot of the rock ledge where Mother’s Spirit fought for my life. Kneeling in the soft pine needles to bury her Necklace, stolen from the Headsman’s pouch, I feel her amber gaze upon me once again.
Chapter 6 (prompt – SANCTUARY)
As my torn skin knit itself into thick, puckered seams, angry and red, the fever and the Wise-Man came together to condemned me. Dancing around me as I lay on the She-Wolf’s freshly scraped hide, he tossed grave-herbs into the fire, surrounding me with choking smoke, a barrier to protect The Clan from my dark powers. In rare moments of consciousness, I learn that I am judged too dangerous to be allowed sanctuary.
Once healed, I am told, I must leave. The Wise-Man has spoken and The Clan has listened. He has called me a cursed thing, a creature of darkness and evil. I am no such thing; I am only a daughter lost. But, I become voiceless, my pleas fall unheard, unheeded. I am unwanted. The Hunters did not speak for me though I still wear their crusty mark on my forehead. The Headsman did not speak for me in his grief over First-Wife’s Death. Child of his, I might be, but child of a third wife, especially one whose dark spirit caused the death of his favorite, I do not deserve the weight of his words. None of the women have any words left to speak for me; their words have dried up like blood on the edges of their hissing curses.
Shunned and alone, the Forest’s silence is a balm to my wounded ears and broken heart. Sighing, I watch the last shattered shell disappear beneath a blanket of brittle, brown needles. Rising from my knees at the foot of the rock ledge, I whisper to the pine-scented emptiness, “I am no creature of darkness… Mother is no creature of darkness,” I add as afterthought, although of that I am not truly certain. I cannot forget her amber gaze as She…It…She licked the Wolf’s lifeblood from her fangs. I cannot forget her scream as She leapt to my rescue. Thinking to honor and perhaps appease Her spirit, I take two pieces of dried fish from my pouch and lay them atop the buried Necklace.
Stepping out of this now sacred spot, I gather my water-skin tying it and the pouch to my belt with a precious sinew lacing. I look at my spear and fire-bowl with its ash-covered embers, still glowing, and smile a teary smile. Second-Wife has not been unkind. I am grateful. I reach for my brindled-fur cape and scream as it jerks from my fingers and growls. Every one of Wise-Man’s dark words rush through my mind in the moment it take me to realize. And then I begin to laugh. It almost hurts to laugh; it has been so long… Carefully I lift a corner of the cape and peer under. Two unblinking eyes peer back. The growling stops and a warm tongue licks my hand; I am no longer alone. The She-Wolf’s seventh pup, pale as a mid-winter moon, has also come to say farewell to her mother. We are both Daughters Lost. I will call her Sister.
Chapter 7 (prompt – PRICKLY)
Sister sniffs the scent of dried-fish and keeps licking my fingers, her pale eyes unblinking. Not wanting to threaten, I lower my eyes and offer another piece of fish. Hunger makes her brave and she inches closer, slipping from beneath her mother’s fur. Like her eyes, her coat is colorless except for a spot of brownish red on her forehead. Sensing she will allow, I reach to rub the spot. It is prickly. Horrified, I realize the red is dried blood as bits crumble between my fingers. After the Watchers captured the other pups and we left the clearing dragging her dead mother, Sister must have come out of hiding and rolled in the She-Wolf’s blood. Like me she has been marked. Unlike me, she has not been able to remove it. I raise my green eyes to her pale ones and offer the silent apology of hunter to victim. I owe her much.
With two hungry mouths, my food-store will not last long, so instead of heading upriver toward the Summer-Gathering as suggested by Second-Wife, I will go back to the sea where I know there is food. The Clans of the Great-Water and those of the Endless-Ice will gather at the end of this moon. I was to travel this year on the journey to trade salt, as I am old enough to find a mate. Mother wanted a mate for me from among the Men of the Ice. Whispered stories of fierce, white bears and giant fish wearing spears on their heads, of tall men with red hair, and warrior women, delighted me as a child. Whenever I cried for more, she would hush me, saying that her stories were our secret and not for the Clans’ ears. I asked once where she learned them. She never answered, only smiled and sighed. For whatever the reason, she wanted me to find one of the tall men with red hair, like my own, from the edge of the Ice. The other women scoffed at her grand plans for me. A mate from any clan would be good enough for a tall, skinny, ugly girl like me they sneered. Suddenly I was glad the Clan released me. I did not want to be just any man’s mate, and I certainly did not want to be any man’s second or third wife.
While Sister busily gnaws a third piece of fish, I untie the lacing from around my waist and slip a loop over her head. Instantly rigid, she growls her best puppy growl. She shakes furiously hopping and dancing away from me. But the sinew holds fast. I remain still, holding the piece of fish and humming softly. Realizing she is not hurt, Sister edges back to me and the fish. I gather my pouch and water-skin in what is now OUR brindled fur cape, wrap the lacing around my wrist, and pick up my fire-bowl. Sisters, linked by loss and need, we head back to the sea.
Chapter 8 (prompt – SHARE)
Nearing the sea, I remove the loop from Sister, as she no longer wants to leave me. We have shared much on our journey. I know her true name now; it is not a sound I can make with my mouth. It is much prettier when she sings it with her mouth. Her name means the same as the Clan’s word for Snow-Moon.
Although snow no longer falls in the lands of the Clan, the Wise-Man still tells tales of dark and brutal winters. In the days of the great, great, grandfathers, when the snow was about to fall, the Clan would heed the Snow-Moon’s misty warning and stay close to the caves. He says the Warrior-Men of the Endless-Ice, must still battle deep snows and terrible storms. Mother told me stories of the same, but added the courageous deeds of the Ice-Maidens and their white wolves. Oh how I longed to be one when I was younger. “Mother,” I whisper to the salt-breeze rising from the sea-grass, “Look at me! I have a white wolf…Perhaps someday, I will….”
My words clot in my throat as we reach the top of the dune. In the distance gather the women of the Clan. They are harvesting; I can hear the crack and clatter of stone upon shell. Dropping to the sand, I pull Sister close. She senses my terror and begins to whine. “Silence,” I beg. “Danger,” I warn. She stills. We wait, finally drifting into sleep cradled by the warm sand as the tide turns, sending the women away. I wake as the last disappears carrying her clay bowl.
Fairly drooling at the memory of the clam’s juicy sweetness, I tickle Sister’s belly to wake her and we race to the water’s edge. Spotting a telltale bubble hole, I dig. Sister quickly understands and digs too. When we have enough for our meal. I ask her to stand guard against the greedy gulls and climb the cliff-path. Soon we are feasting. Full and happy for the first time since Mother left, I lead Sister along the shore away from the Clan’s Sand. There are many empty caves and not all fill with salt-water when the waves are high. I will find one for us, and we will settle.
Hours later, bright flames warm our small cave as Sister and I lie on the brindled fur of her mother. She dreams puppy dreams and I watch the moon rise. Arrows of great birds cross her face; their honking saddens me. I do not believe I will journey to the Great Gathering of Clans this season, as I have nothing to trade. But I will next summer. I will harvest the precious salt to bring with much dried-fish. I will also make more sewing tools. “We will be most welcome,” I promise, waking Sister, who sings her name to the moon. I join her, singing my own true name, “Yy-sha… Yy-sha…Yy-sha…” our voices become one. Sisters, we keep nothing secret now.
Chapter 9 ( prompt -BRIGHT)
Towering waves lashing the cliffside frighten Sister but not me. I know they cannot reach us. I love watching the flashes turn night into day. I love the echoes that boom and bounce off the cave walls. Tonight the storm is more terrible than any I can remember. I am wild with the joy of it. Sister is wild with the terror of it. Singing her fear song louder and louder trying to drown the keening winds, she paces and pants until she is exhausted. I draw her close and wrap her mother’s fur around our heads. It dulls the sound and we sleep.
In the morning, the cloudless blue invites us out. Grabbing my gathering-basket and clam-bowl, we answer How strange the world looks; I barely recognize the dunes, all flattened and rearranged. Wandering onto the beach, Sister and I notice bits of yellow-bright bobbing along the water’s edge. Glinting gold in the white sea-foam, they remind me of Sister’s eyes in the firelight. Churned from the sea bottom by the wild wind and waves, I think how lucky we are to spy them first. I know they are called Amber, but Mother always called them yellow-brights. First-Wife wore a magical necklace made of them. Only she was allowed, as they are so very precious. Suddenly an idea forms; I grin and shout over the screeching gulls, “Sister, help me!! We will have something better to trade than salt!”
Leaping and chasing the floating pebbles, she splashes salty water everywhere. At first I am unhappy to be so wet, but then I think that maybe this game is a good idea. Sister is beginning to smell like old fish. Tossing our brindled cape aside, I plunge into the chilly waves with her. Together, we play at being seabirds, floating and diving and scooping. Sister snaps at the yellow-brights with her sharp teeth; I with my fingers. I capture and toss mine. Sister dashes and drops hers. When we tire of the game, we collapse onto the warm sand, our noses nearly touching the glowing, golden pile. As the salt dries on my skin and Sister’s fur, I pick bits of seaweed from the yellow-brights and arrange them, biggest to littlest. I am thrilled there are so many, as many as ALL my fingers and toes AND Sister’s claws! Some are round. Some are flat. All are smooth and beautiful and weigh nearly nothing. Dropping them into the basket, I imagine how pleasant my trading pack will be filled with bird-bone sewing tools and precious yellow-brights instead of heavy salt and smelly dried fish.
Realizing I am hungry, I rise and brush away the sand, but I can do nothing about my sticky hair or Sister’s stiffening fur. So together we search for clam-bubble-holes and our very late breakfast. Clay bowl full, we start the trek back. On the way, I run Sister through the waterfalls shimmering off the cliffside. The rains have swollen them to a pounding strength, enough to hurt my head, but I endure the brief pain to clean the salt from my hair and Sister’s fur. She growls at the hissing walls of fresh water, but for fear that I may disappear, she follows.
Later, seated by the fire, warm and dry, I peer into the largest yellow-bright, big as a gull’s egg. Rolling it round and round in my hand. I enjoy its warmth and the way it swallows up the firelight. Thinking Sister will also enjoy, I rub it back and forth along her muzzle. We both yelp when the yellow-bright crackles and spits the fire back out. I fear we are burned, but strangely, we are not. I do it again. This time only Sister yelps. I laugh and rub it along my hair. It crackles and spits sparks at me as well. “Magic…” I whisper as an image forms in my mind. I see myself arriving at the Clan-Gathering leading a full-grown She-Wolf, pale as moonlight. And we both wear necklaces of precious yellow-brights fit for only a Headwoman and her Sister.
Chapter 10 (prompt -SMILE)
Sister is shy. So am I. It is difficult not to be shy when you look so different from the rest. I think about how different Sister looks from other wolves. In the deep pine-shadows of the forest, she must have shone like a ray of moonlight with her yellow-bright eyes. It is no wonder the She-Wolf kept her hidden. Being different is dangerous. I know this to be true, for I too know what it is to hide my smile, to walk with eyes cast down, to try to remain unnoticed.
I have finally come to understand just how different I do look, for I have seen myself in the still water puddled at the mouth of our cave. I have known always that my bones are too long. But staring back from the water’s surface was a stranger with green eyes far too large, and a pale face much too flat. And then there was the seaweed-tangle of her strange hair. “It is true,” I almost sobbed to Sister. “What the women used to whisper behind my back is true; I am ugly.” How their hushed words had hurt.
They claimed my ugliness was the result of a curse put on the Headman by Grandmother as she fell from Judgement into Justice. They said she cursed his seed, that he should have only ugly, useless girl-children from that day forth. They said his laughter roared as the echoes of Grandmother’s cries faded and as he gave Mother the choice of her punishment.
Offering the necklace of guilt and shame, he said she could take her turn on the cliff-edge for her part in Grandmother’s crime, or she could don the shattered shells and take her place in his bedroll, as his least wife, and become servant to his First and Second. Knowing she was already carrying me, babe of a man taller than most with fox-red hair and green eyes recently met at the Summer Gathering, she chose the Headman’s bedroll, the necklace, and endless obedience. He claimed his rights immediately and often, boasting that Mother’s quickly swelling belly held another handsome son to sit at his side. When I was born, a girl, useless and ugly, no one dared speak aloud of Grandmother’s curse, but everyone whispered of it. When I grew old enough to understand, I stopped smiling and learned to hide my hurt in plain sight.
Remembering makes me hungry so I call Sister and we sneak to the top of the dunes. The gulls lay their speckled eggs in sea-grass nests. Both gulls and their eggs are delicious. My mouth waters at the thought. Luckily Sister blends well with the white sand, and the gulls never notice her until it is too late. She snaps one by the neck, shakes it hard, sending feathers floating on the breeze. She does this again. We will eat well tonight. Swallowing the still-warm insides of an egg, I smile.
Chapter 11 (prompt – WARNING)
Sister journeys away from me more often of late. She is gone again tonight. I fear she seeks to leave me. I will miss my beautiful, white she-wolf if she does leave, as I need her far more now than she needs me. Long past are the nights when I curled around her, keeping her little puppy bones warm. Now full-grown, she sleeps curled at my back instead. How our lives have changed. Besides sharing her warmth, Sister shares her food. Mid-way through the days of the Early-Dark, she decided food from the sea is not only smelly, it is not nearly as tasty as the rabbits she could hunt at the forest’s edge. Thanks to Sister, many rabbits have given their meat to our bellies and their white fur to my sewing tool. Tonight I lie beneath a cape of white rabbit rubbing my favorite yellow-bright back forth against the soft fur, sending bits of fire dancing into the dark. Lonesome, I stare at the sky and wonder if the moon is lonesome too, but decide not. The honking-birds that return with the long-days are keeping her company tonight. I asked the Wise-man once if they flew all the way to the foot of the Endless Ice. He said it was not necessary for a girl to know such things. But I wished to know…I always wish to know.
Without warning, my wishing vanishes as the floor of our cave begins to shiver like a live thing. I try to stand, and crash to my knees when the floor suddenly slants sideways scattering my bowl of yellow-brights toward the fire-pit and almost rolling me into it after them. The walls tremble and groan like a beast in great pain, and stones, shaken loose tumble toward me. One strikes my head and the last I see is my precious yellow-bright begin to burn.
I wake to a sound I have never heard before, a low, rumbling hiss. Scrambling to the cave’s mouth, I cry out for Sister. I do not know if I am angry or grateful she is gone this night, for the sight before my eyes terrifies me. The sea is gone. Far below, where there should be water and waves, there is nothing but empty sand, dark and damp in the cold moonlight. I sense this is very wrong and for the first time in a very long time, I do not wish to know why. In the distance, there is movement. The hissing rumble becomes a roar. I cover my ears but do not cover my eyes as I cannot believe what I see. A wall of water races toward me, getting bigger with each frantic beat of my heart. I am sure I am screaming as the towering wave slams into the cliffside, but I cannot hear myself over the grinding and groaning of water pounding on stone as the flood rises to within an arm’s-length of the ledge where I kneel.
Chapter 12 (prompt – PHANTOM)
I wake sprawled on the ledge and damp with sea spray. Struggling to stand I discover I hurt and I think one of my teeth is loose. I probe with my finger. Yes, one of the grinders wiggles and it should not. I touch the throbbing spot on my head and feel the swelling beneath the sticky mat of my hair. I push gently; that hurts more. I see my yellow-brights spilled and notice my fire has almost burned out. I cannot think why I did not tend the coals properly before I slept or why I slept so near the edge . Suddenly I remember and spin around in panic. The movement makes me gag with pain and the need to empty my stomach. On my hands and knees I stare out in wonder. In the glow of the rising sun, I see the sea has returned. Small waves foam far below; seagulls circle and call. All is as it should be. There is nothing to fear.
Slowly this time with my hand to the wall, I manage to get back on my feet. “Where are you Sister? I need you!” I cry as the pain in my head pounds with each beat of my heart.
Thinking to make a bowl of pain-killing tea from the bark of the long-haired trees, I spread my soup-stones in the fire-pit and add wood to reawaken the flame. While the soup-stones heat. I gather my yellow-brights and then limp to the pool at the back of our cave The fresh-water is why I chose this cave even though it is so high and difficult to reach. Leaning over the edge, I am startled. Little sunlight reaches this far back, but enough lights the surface for me to see dark stain on the side of my face. As I fill my bowl, I notice something odd. The water-level has risen. A small stream now fills the pool spilling it over the far side and away, deeper into the cave. I wonder if I might bathe in it as I struggle back to my fire-pit.
Warmed soup-stones dropped into my bowl, heat the tea. Waiting for the bark to release its magic, I sing Sister’s name as she has taught me. Wolf-song carries far on the wind. I squeeze my eyes tight against the pain and howl her name until I am exhausted, opening them only when I feel a chill. The shadow of a wolf appears as Sister steps between the sunlight and me. Then another shadow, a much larger shadow, appears next to hers. I barely breathe as Sister sings the great, grey He-Wolf’s name for me… the eerie notes of his true name echo from the rock walls. Sister tells me I may call him Phantom and asks me to make him welcome.
Chapter 13 (prompt -VISION)
Kneeling still, I blink away the tears, clearing my vision. ‘You wish me to make Phantom welcome?’ I ask her. Sister answers by nudging my shoulder forward, then lying down beside me, muzzle on her paws, watching, waiting. The enormous He-Wolf does not move. He stands before me, his gray bulk blocking the sunlight, the warmth, and the entrance to our cave. His eyes meet mine wary and wide. I do not know which of us feels more threatened… Phantom and I lock gazes, each knowing we have entered a contest we must not lose.
Voices explode in my head. ‘Stand! Shout! Fight! Flee!’ clamors my heart! ‘Calm…Quiet…Breathe… But do NOT look down…’ commands my mind. My heart and mind battle fiercely in this frozen moment. A third voice, Sister’s voice, whispers, ‘Fear not Yysha. I bring you no harm.’ I listen to Sister. Breath slowly returns to my body and I notice that the bowl of tea has cooled in my hands. I dare not waste the pain-magic of the long-haired-tree. Not knowing what else to do, I slowly raise it to my lips and sip, but I do not lower my eyes. I will never lower my eyes to another again. I sip until the bowl is empty. Setting the bowl carefully aside, I speak and am grateful my voice does not tremble.
“Phantom is welcome Sister, but he must understand. I am Headwoman of this tribe. Tell him Sister.” Sister hesitates, and then rises to stand beside me. Low sounds hum from her white throat. Without breaking his gaze from mine, he lowers his ears and answers her with a fierce growl that rumbles deep in his gray throat. Sister whines. I flinch, almost, but do not look away. I stare harder, my green eyes burning into his blue ones. Finally, he blinks and backs away one step. I stand and nod my head, hoping he will sit. He does not. He lifts his head and fills our cave with a howl that raises the hair on the back of my neck. I cannot help myself, this time I do flinch and Sister whimpers, but Phantom neither sees nor hears. With a flash of his tail, he makes his choice and is gone. For a moment I fear she will follow, but she does not. Weak with relief, I fall back to my knees and gather her close. “I am sorry Sister,” I sob into her warmth as she licks away my tears. “ I am sorry we are alone, together once more.”
Chapter 14 ( prompt -RIGHT)
The right choice feels very much like the wrong choice. I know that Phantom cannot remain with us. He was born wild and lives wild. Sister was born wild, this is true, but she lives with myself. We are not an entire clan, but we are more than one, and we are not entirely wild. I do not like this dark feeling I have looking into Sister’s eyes. I do not like making her choose between Phantom and myself, so I tell her she may leave. I tell her I understand. I thank her for sharing herself with me for so long. I tell her that I will feel great sadness if she chooses to go. I tell her I will feel great happiness if she chooses to remain. Then I give her the gift I have made for her.
I finished the gift the day the walls of our cave began to shake, warning me of the mighty wave. Sitting near the fire, I held the yellow-brights to the flames so that they might feed. I feared they hungered from giving away so many sparks. I remember how pleasing they felt, warm as skin. Turning them over and over in my hand, I thought of First-Wife’s Necklace and wondered if I could make one too. None of my bone sewing tools would be strong enough to pierce the hide of a yellow-bright. This I knew to be true without trying. I thought of the yellow-bright that burned and wondered could I burn a hole. But when I put another into the fire, it captured a flame and burned itself up into white smoke. I am sad it died. I can still smell the green, forest-scent it left behind.
I closed my eyes, trying to remember how First-Wife’s was made. I tried very hard and I did remember. Carefully I chose as many yellow-brights as are on one hand, the ones whose hides wore the most bumps and knotted the thinnest piece of rabbit-gut around and around. Then I pushed my sewing tool, pulling a thicker piece of gut, through the knots to make a necklace. I made Sister’s first as practice before making one for myself.
It is my wish to travel to the Clan Gathering and receive welcome as any Headwoman would. In this wish of mine, when the Wise-Men ask me to name my clan, I hold out my necklace and howl our name in wolf-song. I sing that we are Sisters of the Yellow-Bright-Sea and that I am Headwoman of the Wolf-Song Clan! It is a fine wish. But it is only a wish. Phantom made his choice. Now Sister must make hers. I place my gift around her neck and scratch behind her ears once more. Then I release her and go from the cave myself to gather clams. I am weak; I fear I would not be able to watch her leave without begging her to stay.
Chapter 15 (prompt – SPIRIT)
The long-necked, honking-birds have finished journeying toward the Land of the Endless-Ice. The danger of river-floods is past and the humming-biters no longer feed on me and make me itch. My fingers are the color of the sky from picking berries that grow on the low bushes. The long days are very warm, and the short nights are only a little cold as I prepare to make my own journey to the Great Clan-Gathering. Sadly, I must journey alone, as Sister has been gone from me for three turns of the moon. I have wished and wished that she would return. I speak to Mother’s Spirit each darkness before I sleep. I share with her my wish. Each waking, before I open my eyes, I reach for Sister’s warmth beside me. When I find her missing still, I understand, but I am still very sad.
While I have waited for her, I have worked hard to prepare my trade-goods for the journey. For many sunrises after the mighty wave, yellow-brights swam to our beach. I wove three baskets from the sea-grass to collect them and keep them safe. When I am most lonely for Sister, I spill them near the flames and watch them swallow and spit the firelight. They make me think of the small, dancing fliers that blink in the grasses after the sun has gone to sleep. I have washed each yellow-bright, and I have put the large ones together and the small ones together in their own baskets. I will trade them for a new clay bowl and a better cutting tool, one made from the shiny black stone with the sharp, sharp edges. I have also made a special basket for the yellow-brights with bumpy hides. From them, I will make another necklace and trade it for something pleasing.
I may trade it for another necklace of the pretty, white pebbles sometimes found inside the dark clams, the ones that taste the best. Or, maybe I will trade it for a firestone! I know of these magic stones which can be knocked together to create a newborn flame. Our Wise-Man had one. How good it would be to no longer fear that my fire will die. I have also my bone-sewing-tools to trade, and of course I have many white rabbit furs and even a little salt. In the time just after the mighty wave, I collected the salt drying on the stones at the waves’ edge. Mother told me the Clans of the Pine-Forest, the Grass-Sea, and the Endless-Ice, always desire salt from Clans of the Great-Water. I feel very pleased with myself as I prepare my bundles and place them in the hide I will carry on my back. Smiling, I wrap myself in the brindled fur of Sister’s Mother and close my eyes. I will travel to the Great Clan-Gathering even if I must travel alone; even if I never have the chance to sing my own clan’s name in wolf-song.
Chapter 16 (prompt – SINGING)
In the dreaming-dark Sister returns to me. I lean against her for warmth as we sit on the ledge at the cave’s mouth, watching the moon dance on the waves. We are happy and we are playing our favorite game. It is a singing game. At first our song is soft and sends no echoes back from the cliff walls. I begin by singing my name-song high; Sister sings her name-song higher. I sing low; she sings lower. I sing fast; she sings faster. I sing slow; she sings slower. I sing loud; she sings louder until the echo of our name-song fills the sky and sends the dark-wings fluttering around our heads. It is a game I love to play, but I never win. Sister’ song is much more beautiful than mine. I am lucky she shares it with me.
In the dreaming-dark Sister is with me still. I rub her belly and scratch behind her ears. She growls and bites at my toes, but she does not hurt me. She would never hurt me. Her warm tongue tickles and we roll back into the cave, in a tangle. Suddenly, I hear other voices singing. They are not like mine; they are beautiful like Sister’s. I have never heard such voices. We stop our play-battle. Sister takes her paws from my back letting me lift my head. I see them, little ones, singing with their noses pointed to the stars. They stop their song when they see me and tumble over each other to reach the safety of Sister’s side. One, the bravest, the color of the deep forest pine-shadows shadows, peeks out at me. One, the color of frost on the sand, turns and shakes its tiny tail at me. And one, the brindled color of Sister’s Mother’s fur, trembles between her paws. Sister pushes them closer to me. Nose to nose we stare into each other’s eyes. They release their fear of me as they sniff and chew on my hair which is very long and spread about me. I hold very still listening to Sister’s voice inside my head. She tells me they are her children given to her by Phantom. She sings their name-songs, Frost-Shadow, Pine-Shadow, and Smoke-Shadow. Frost and Pine are girls like me. Smoke is a boy like his father. Sister says I may, so I reach for them but gather only emptiness into my arms.
Saddened, I wake myself from the dreaming-dark. I want to cry as I reach out my hand, hoping to feel Sister’s warmth, knowing I will not. This waking I do not cry. The joy of the dreaming-dark is true. I am no longer alone. I do not leave for the Great Clan-Gathering. The little ones cannot travel far, especially Smoke who is much smaller than his sisters. My family will stay in our cave, safe, and warm, and dry at the edge of the Great Water and make plans for what is to come.
Chapter 17 (prompt – PLAYING)
The cool air has been with us now for all the faces of the moon and Yysha must store food for the time of the Long-Dark. We left our cave with the sunrise and now the sun is high. We have taken Pine and Frost away from the Great Water to gather the red-fruits that Yysha loves. They are good to eat now, when they snap and crunch between her teeth. They are also good to eat heated with honey during the Long-Dark when they their skins have wrinkled and their insides gone soft.
My Yysha sings as she gathers those that have fallen. I am pleased that she does not climb. She is not bushy-tail who can run up and down the tree in the blink of an eye. I watch as she turns each one over in her hands, searching for holes that warn her the red-fruit is already claimed by another. She does not collect these. The wiggling-ones who live inside them taste bad. She keeps only the ones without holes. Yysha sings as she works, stopping often to take another bite. Her basket is almost full and we will return home soon. Pine and Frost have stolen one of her red-fruits and are battling over it as it bounces away. Yysha’s song is changing.
Of late, among the notes of her happy song, are notes of deep sadness, such as the sound of the waves when they reach the shore and find they cannot remain. The sound of their sighing as they are pulled away, is sound of her sadness. Something pulls at her as well. Like the waves she reaches and reaches for something she cannot have. I think my Yysha is lonely. I have offered myself and my children as her clan. She knows the sacrifice of my choice and smiles at my gift. But the light of her smile reaches only her lips. Her eyes no longer shine. She tries to lighten their darkness by playing with my children.
She plays rough and tumble with Pine and Frost. She teaches them never to surrender, to always fight for what they want. Pine is stronger but Frost is faster. Whenever they finish a play-battle, Yysha places her necklace of yellow-brights around the winner’s neck and sings her song loud. She is getting better at singing their songs. My girls try to sing Yysha’s song and follow her wherever she goes. When Yysha sleeps, they sleep curled in her arms. They are my gift to her. Smoke does not sing nor does he play; he wishes to, but he is too weak for their games. He lies between my paws and watches, only watches. I fear his spirit is not sure it wishes to remain with us. If he chooses to leave, there will be notes of sadness in my song that are even deeper than the notes of sadness in Yysha’s.
Chapter 18 (prompt -FEED)
My daughters and I feed Yysha of late. Even the honeyed red-fruits do not tempt her. She eats only the long-eared-hoppers that we hunt. She roasts them only to get thin bones for her sewing tools. Ever since the awful night of the mock-battle, she sits in the sun making tools or stringing the yellow-brights into necklaces. We all wear a necklace now. The clearest yellow-brights glow like embers against Pine’s black fur. The brightest ones, like the low flowers which turn to moons and spread their seeds far, nestle against Frost’s white fur. Poor Storm wears one too. His looks like drops of blood against gray fur. How I wish not to remember that night Yysha made it for him, but I do.
The girls are so strong, so quick, so daring. Poor Storm, ever the timid watcher, wanted to join in their play. At first he was hesitant and the girls were gentle, but in his excitement and confidence he bit too hard . The welling of blood wet against Frost’s white fur, glistened in the firelight. She cried and Pine, ever her sister’s protector, leaped on Storm. They tumbled together, a growling ball of gray and black. Play grew serious and Frost joined. Sharp teeth connected, cries and fur flew everywhere. Yysha was frozen with fear. The girls were trying to kill their brother. I could not reach her mind to assure her that this was a the Law of the Forest. The strong survive; the weak do not. The girls are strong. Storm is not. I knew this day would come. I should have warned Yysha, but I did not. Although her courage is mighty, her heart is soft. I did not want to break it before it was necessary.
Yysha cried out for the children to stop. She sang their names loud and clear; the echoes are still trapped in the darkest reaches of the cave. She cried out to me to make them stop. When I did not, she sang my name and her song was full of anger and judgement. But I am bound by the Laws. The Law of the Forest is one of the cruelest. I could not interfere. When I did not act, Yysha did. For her sake, I wish she had not.
Yysha leaped toward the snarling tangle, pulling my children apart, paying no heed to the blood dripping from her own hands. Just as she would get one detached, the other would leap back in, trying to tear at Storm’s throat. Finally wedging herself between the girls and my poor son, she crouched at the mouth of the cave. The girls paced, growling their threat and throwing shadows everywhere. They frightened even me. Yysha kept backing shielding Storm. His whimpering was heartbreaking; her howling deafening. It mattered not. The girls lunged together; Yysha stood absorbing their attack. They struck her, knocking her to the floor and scrambled over her. Storm shrank back, not understanding how near the edge he was.
Chapter 19 (prompt – SCULPTURE)
The horror of Storm’s passing fades slowly. Yysha grieves still, and believes so should Frost and Shadow. They may have in the beginning, but do so no longer: in their hearts, I believe they are glad to have his share of the food.
Rising to block the attack of his brother and sister, I did not see Storm fall. In the eye of my memory, I imagine his small paws scrabbling to keep hold of the ledge, his bright eyes wide with fear. In the ear of my memory, I hear Yysha shriek as she twists and leaps toward him, missing him by a hands-breadth. I hear his cry and then I hear nothing but the waves and gulls. Turning, I find Yysha lying face down peering into the darkness.
Sobbing, she does not move for a long time and when she does, her green eyes are dark. Frost and Shadow slink deeper into the cave when she strikes at them. I move close, shielding them, protecting her. She does not understand.‘Yysha, we must obey the Law of the Forest; I tell her, licking away the tears reflecting in the firelight. It seems she weeps blood for my son. Turning away, she refuses to answer and despite the darkness, disappears over the edge of the cave’s mouth. By the light of the moon, she climbs down to bring Storm’s battered body back. She lays him before the fire and together we clean away the blood. She cradles him, the soft fur atop his head nuzzled to her neck, and sings the Grief Song. When she is done, she wraps him in the cape of my mother’s brindled fur.
I wonder what she thinks to do next. Will she keep him here with us? This is something I hope she does not do. But Yysha surprises me. Calmly she goes to her basket of special yellow-brights the color of blood and chooses as many as the fingers on her hands and one more larger than the rest. Humming to herself, she wraps and sews them onto a strip of hide. Her humming calms us, even Frost and Shadow who creep slowly back to the firelight. We watch as she carefully unwraps Storms little gray head and carefully ties the hide necklace around his small neck. Kissing him on his black nose she wraps him back up, and carries him deep within the cave.
On her way, back to the fire, she stops at the pool and gathers some of the sticky mud from the bottom into her clay bowl. Unable to help themselves, my remaining children crowd close, as do I, to better watch what her fingers do next. Yysha squeezes and pinches and smooths the mud into the shape of a perfect, little wolf pup. Pushing two black pebbles into where eyes would be, she then smashes the large yellow-bright and adds the bits of blood around the neck and suddenly we understand; she has captured Storm’s spirit.
Chapter 20 (prompt -CONNECTION)
In this time of cold winds and raging storms, I am ever grateful to live with Yysha and my children in her cave above the waves. Yysha knows the magic of fire. Its warmth and light are generous gifts when the nights are even colder and darker than the days. The girls have done their penance and Yysha has forgiven them or maybe she has just grown used to the emptiness left by Storm’s passing. We do not speak of him or that horrible night, but I notice that Yysa always touches her lips to his clay image just before she lies down to sleep each night. She may forgive but I do not believe she will ever forget. From her earlier time, she knows the pain of being the one not welcomed.
Today, the girls and I hunt the long ears who turn white with the cold. We each catch one. But before I can stop Frost, she eats most of hers, coating her muzzle with red warmth that steams in the sharp air. I do not reprimand her. Frost listens not. Shadow and I bring ours to share with Yysha hoping she will roast them over her wonderful fire. Raw is good but roasted is better we have learned.When we return she is kneeling before the fire carefully adding her heating stones to a bowl of water and stirring in shreds of bark from the long-hair-trees. The hot smell is harsh and I feel fear. She makes this tea only when she is hurt. Sniffing again, I smell blood. Her blood. Dropping the long-ear, I hurry close. Yes, there is blood on her arm, a lot of blood. ‘How?’ I question, my mind pressing into hers.
She tells me of the fall. Deep in the cave, is a warm chamber where she has been spending much time of late. I followed her once and watched as she did the strangest thing. Scraping a lump of dead-fire along the wall of the cave, she brought forth the image of Storm! Seeing the connection between the bumps and cracks in the stone, she captured the haunch of his shoulder, the hollow of his belly, and the stretch of his neck with strokes of black. In the flicker of firelight, he looks as if he might leap from the wall right into her arms.
As the Time of Cold lengthens, Yysha practices her spirit-magic on the cave walls more often. Now there are long-ears, tree-climbers, forest-cats, jumping fish, screeching-gulls, and more I do not have names for. She has given Storm’s spirit many friends to keep him company. Today, while my daughters and I hunted, she climbed upon a jumble of stones loosened when the earth shook. She was reaching to capture the outstretched wings of a screeching-gull along a high crack on the cave wall when the slippery stones shifted and she fell. Yysha finishes her tea and then takes me to see what she has discovered. Blood, mixed with mud, makes a wonderful color.
Chapter 21 (prompt -PRESSURE)
Great sea-grass baskets of dried fish, bundles of salt, sharp sewing-bones, glowing necklaces of yellow-brights, and those of shining shell as well are wrapped and ready to go. Sadly, the baskets and bundles are too many and too heavy for Yysha’s strong shoulders. She has many desirable goods to trade and bring honor upon herself. Sadly she does not have a way to carry them all.
My Yysha’s mind is swift. When there is a difficulty to solve, she studies the creatures around her. I find her sitting at the edge of the great saltwater watching the crawlers. Suddenly she bursts out laughing and jumps to her feet. I follow her as she races away from the dunes to where the pine- shadows cool the air.Watching her I think what a strange girl she is, dancing with the young trees, bending them over and letting them snap back. Finally choosing two as slender as my forelegs, she breaks them off near the ground. Carefully she tears away all the leaves and then tears away all the branches. Together we walk back to our cave where she makes herself a tail. She lashes together the tops of the naked trees. Between the other ends she ties a large piece of hide and then places the salt bundles in the center. When she puts the small end around her shoulders and pulls, the heavy bundles follow her like a strange tail. She knows I am laughing at her as she practices with her wooden tail. I now have two tails and she laughs as I practice.
Yysha makes smaller drag-tails Frost and Pine as well. Frost attacks hers and spills the bundles of salt. Truly angry, Yysha removes Frost’s necklace of yellow-brights and banishes her. My difficult daughter is gone from us and I wish her well, but feel little loss at her leaving. The wound between Yysha and Frost never truly healed after the death of my son. I fear Pine will follow her sister, but to my great happiness, she does not. We three will make the long journey to where the paths of running water no longer taste of salt and the green-scent trees replace the sky.
The Moon’s belly grows full as we travel and then begins to empty. Yysha believes that the Moon grows large with babies, and at her fullest, she bursts from the pressure, and births the tiny sparks that fill the great darkness. I do not agree. Why then, do the tiny, bright children not grow to become mother-moons themselves? We are wondering on this as we turn the last bend and see, spread before us like leaves fallen on the forest floor, the countless hide shelters and glowing fire pits of the Great Gathering. Pine whines as the smell of roasting meat and crackling fat tickle our noses making our bellies growl. She and I begin to run, spilling the the bundles and baskets from our drag-tails. With a sharp whistle, Yysha calls us back.
Chapter 22 – (Prompt – NEVER)
With a final sniff, we turned away from the meant-scent. Offering us salted-long-ear in apology, Yysha explained. ‘Sister, I wish to watch the comings and goings.The clans-people may never have seen a woman with a wolf-sister and child. I fear the hunters may try to hurt you. You do look very fierce with your hungry jaws wide and dripping. Now, you are not beautiful. I would ask you and Pine to satisfy your bellies and then cleanse yourselves. Covered in dust and weary from walking, neither am I beautiful, nor do I look like a Headwoman, and THAT is as I wish to be welcomed. Yysha, Headwoman of the Wolf-Song Clan. I must plan our arrival carefully. We will feed, wash, and then sleep. When the sun is at its highest, we will approach the Great-Gathering. I must tie a lash you and Pine, and for that I ask your forgiveness. I must do this thing to show you offer no threat to the people who will certainly fear you.’
And so we ate and we slept, only to be awakened by a great thundering of drums. Crawling from the shelter, we saw the reason. Above us Mother-Moon’s face was covered with blood. She was being eaten by the darkness. The fur on my neck and haunches rose and I began to howl. Yysha clamped my muzzle closed with a hiss. It was with luck the drumbeats were so loud, or the entire Gathering would have been alerted to our arrival and would have spoiled Yysha’s plan. ‘Hush Sister; it is just the Time of Mating for the Mother-Moon. How do you think her belly fills with babies without the Spirit of the Darkness entering her?’ Lowering my head, I felt foolish, as I know of the Time of Mating. Back inside the shelter, I explained to Pine as Yysha snored softly between us.
As the early mist burns away, into the cold water we go. Yyhsha scrubs us with sand mixed with the petals of the foaming-flowers that grow along the bank. Over and over she pushes our heads under the water. I had forgotten how glossy her hair of red is or how dark Pine’s coat is. I can tell too that I must look my best by the great smile Yysha gives me as she ties my necklace of yellow-brights. How Pine’s also sparkles in the sunlight, so bright against her black fur.Yysha looks taller and bolder in her best tunic sewn all over with shells, their insides shimmering with sunlight. Around her neck, she wears many necklaces of yellow-brights and around her brow she has tied her best, the one with great yellow-bright the color of fresh blood. Standing in the sunlight she looks like flame come alive. I am proud of her, my sister, and stretch out my neck for her to loop the lash. Pine allows as well, and together we slowly walk toward the largest shelter of the Great Gathering.
The End Part I
Evolution Part II
Chapter 23 (Prompt – ANGSTt)
At the very last moment, Yysha asked Pine, to remain and guard our camp. Yysha made much of the responsibility so to soothe her disappointment and promised to add another yellow-bright to her necklace. Ever the obedient daughter, Pine agreed. As we left the camp in our finery, I questioned the wisdom of approaching strangers without Pine and myself to protect her. Yysha reminded me that her people do not trust my people. She feared seeing two full-grown wolves would frighten the Gathering’s Hunters into attacking first and asking questions after.
Yysha’s wisdom was great, for her fears nearly proved true. Our first contact was difficult, nearly deadly; the confrontation is etched in my mind. I feel my hackles rise at the memory or it…
We stand surrounded, an island of angst in an ocean of accusation, condemnation glaring from the angry eyes and snarling mouths threatening us. Crouching, I bare my fangs ready to leap. My amber eyes narrow and focus on the largest man, the one aiming his killing stick at me. My growl deepens with warning.
“No, Sister! Stay!” Yysha’s shrill command cuts through their guttural cries. I hesitate, my growl silenced, my muscles still trembling with readiness.
The man with the killing stick gestures for the others to quiet and begins to speak. His words are not unlike Yysha’s and I understand. His people are angry and afraid. They point at me and demand I return their girl-child taken in the night. They believe I am a moon-wolf, a spirit sent during the darkness of the moon’s mating to steal the child. I am confused; the only girl-child I know is Yysha, and she took me, not the other way around.
When Yysha does not respond, the man barks out a name. A couple, the grieving parents, push through the crowd. They are a strange pair. The woman looks familiar. She is of the Elder People, like Yysha’s clan, stout and dark with large sorrowful eyes. The man startles me with his great tallness, red hair, and eyes the color of sea grass. He looks like Yysha. What is more strange is that he smells like Yysha.
Curious now, I sit in response to the touch on my head. I do not however take my eyes from the second killing stick held in the father’s hands. The mother has something hidden in her hands. The man opens his mouth to speak and points. First at Yysha’s throat and then to mine. I do not recognize his strange words, but I do recognize the hidden thing his weeping woman drops in the dust at Yysha’s feet and I understand.
My difficult daughter did not abandon us after all . She must have trailed us to the Great Gathering and during the Moon Rite, stolen into the camp and taken the child. ‘Oh daughter, what mischief have you done now…’ I sigh as Yysha bends to retrieve the condemning evidence, Frost’s broken yellow-bright necklace, from the dust.
Chapter 24 (Prompt – YIELD)
Forced to yield me to the Red-haired man with the killing-stick, Yysha entered the shelter of the Clan Elders. The Headmen and Headwomen gathered within waited to hear Yysha’s truth of me.
While I wait, I must remain good-fierce and not bad-fierce for Yysha’s sake. I must not frighten these people with my fangs. I must allow this lash of vines tied about my throat and lie close beside this bright fire, so that my shadow can been seen. These people still believe me a Moon-wolf and fear my shadow will loosen and prowl. The great heat makes me drowsy, but I dare not drift into sleep. I must remain watchful.
My ears gather the night-sounds. Against the crackling flames and rumbling murmurs of the watchers surrounding me, I hear the river of questions from the Elders and Yysha’s slow, careful responses. She is like stone and their talk flows around her. Cries of excitement and anger rise and fall as do the rapids in the great water-path we followed traveling here. She explains much and promises more, if only the Elders will release me to her. My girl is desperate for my freedom. I wish she would open her thoughts to me. I would calm her. These vines and the killing sticks do not keep my bad-fierce at bay. My love of Yysha does. I, WE can leave this place at any time.
To stay my eyes from closing, I focus on the Red-haired man, he who smells so strangely of Yysha. His nervous footsteps are light, like the great leaping creatures, brought down by the hunters. He never takes his sea-grass eyes, so like Yysha’s, from mine. If not for the fear of displeasing Yysha , I would try to reach into his thoughts as I do hers. There are other men of his kind among the watchers and one woman, as well as those of the Old People. The woman offers to guard me while the Red-haired man eats. His mate has brought meat and a bowl of something that smells of honey, bad-honey. I am curious. I have smelled many rotten things, but never rotten-honey. While he crouches to eat and drink, I study the red-haired woman. She too shares the strangely familiar blood-scent of Yysha and I wonder how this can be…
Noises behind me halt my wondering. Yysha emerges from the tent followed by the Elders and her thoughts fly into mine. I leap up happily, my unexpected movement startles the watchers and the points of their killing-sticks raise in defense.
‘Sister, shake your tail high and lick my hand,’ I hear in my own thoughts as she walks to me. I do this adding a little prance with my front paws. ‘Now, lie down and let me scratch your underbelly… ‘ I do wiggling delightedly. ‘Now, Sister, stand up and put your front paws on my shoulders and lick my face… ‘ And this too, I do as the killing points lower and the murmurs resume.
Chapter 25 (Prompt – CAPACITY)
Reaching my capacity for humiliation and belly-tickles, I rise and loose a howl intended to shake the darkness and scatter the litter of human-cubs scrambling over me. Wolf-cub, human-cub, there be no difference. Both are annoying when one wishes only to sleep.
After proving to the Elders and to the Watchers that my presence was not a threat, Yysha returned to the council. With the fear I was Moon-wolf gone, a litter of little ones, their eyes huge with bright curiosity, began peering out from behind and from between the legs of the Watchers. Each time I closed my drowsy eyes and lowered my muzzle to my forelegs, one of the human-cubs darted forward to poke my paws, pull my tail, or pet my ear. Their giggling grew louder with each daring. How I wished to growl and nip, but I endured, for Yysha’s sake and even licked one of their sticky little hands. Its fingers tasted like roast long-ear and my mouth watered. Resigned to my fate, I slumped back onto my side exposing my underbelly to this human litter. ‘Come soon,’ I call to Yysha’s mind. But she does not…
The last of the fire’s heat, my patience, and the litter’s curiosity finally exhausted, three human-cubs now sleep, fingers tangled in my fur. I am utterly miserable by the time Yysha again emerges from the Shelter. ‘Sister, I have made great progress. The Elders have listened to me,’ Yysha whispers in my ear as she gently nudges away the small sleeping bodies and frees my neck from the vines. “We are permitted to return to our shelter and gather our belongings. We are invited to join the Gathering and to trade our goods! But you must not prowl among the shelters at night. The People…”
I do NOT allow her to continue. I thrust my concerns into her mind, past her smiling lips and sparkling eyes. ‘What of Frost’s yellow-bright necklace?’ I demand. ‘Why does the father of the missing girl-child have your blood scent? What will you do with Pine? How is it that the Watcher Woman has your face? Yysha, there are many confusions here. I do not want to return; let us leave this place!’
‘Sister, I cannot tell give you answers,’ she admits as we leave the hum of the Gathering behind. I can promise you we will remain only as long as needed. I wish you to understand that I am lonely with just you and Pine for companions. I wish to learn about these people.’
I understand but will not be content until we are safely back in our cave beside the great salt-water. We walk in mind-silence until we reach our shelter among the trees, then break into a run as we realize what we are seeing. Two wolves await our return. One dark as a moonless night, the other as white as, “Frost!!!” We call in unison. “You have returned!”
Chapter 26 (Prompt – BAREFOOT)
My difficult daughter had indeed returned. My surprise stiffened into horror when I saw what she held between her front paws. Filthy and barefoot, tiny fingers curled into its slack mouth, lay the missing human-cub, the girl-child I had been accused of stealing from its nest. Fearing Frost was eating its other hand, a grief-howl rose in my throat. Then I realized she was licking, not chewing. Remembering similar sticky fingers, scented with roast Long-Ear petting my own coat, I whispered into Yysha’s mind. ‘Fear nothing. Frost is only bathing the cub! ’
‘I see that now, Sister,’ came Yysha’s flood of relief. Lowering to her knees, she cautiously crept toward Frost, who stopped licking, raised her yellow-bright eyes to meet Yysha’s, and gave the Wolf-Song of Reunion. “Oh, Frost, it is so good to see you again. I have carried many worries for your safety these past moons. Where have you gone and what have you done…?”
As the light faded and the darkness gathered, we learned of Frost’s great battles within. She told us of her grief and guilt over the needless death of her brother. She told us of her jealousy of poor Storm and her resentment of Yysha’s scorn. She told us of her hurt and her leaving and then of her loneliness and despair and of how she had returned to us but could not overcome her pride. So she, true to her name Frost Shadow, became Yysha’s shadow. We learned that she sometimes followed us and others foraged ahead, but always she stayed within scent-distance of our shelter. She released Pine, aware of her presence since we began the long trek to the Great Gathering, from her promise of secrecy. And then my beautiful white daughter, so like to me in cold appearance but so without the warmth of my heart, revealed her darkest secret. Frost’s heart, cold with envy, wished for the same bond shared by Yysha and myself. She admitted wanting the magic of mind-knowing and the security of sisterhood. However, Frost wished to be Head-Wolf like Yysha and have her own Sister. So we learned that when this human-cub with the blood scent of Yysha wandered away from its shelter, Frost seized her chance and captured it. She called the cub by the Wolf-song name for My-Yysha, which she had already changed to Myysha.