The wind felt cold with the whispers of snow, it would be here soon enough. The food supply would quickly disappear once the white blanket began to cover the land. Then only the winter creatures would have to be enough, stringy and tough… but that was life.
Crouched low, her amber eyes followed the movement of the Alpha in the speckled pack. Each of the pups from his breeding kept his tell-tale freckled face. Now almost fully grown, the juvenile hunters flanked their mothers and kept a steady eye on the Alpha as they moved across the open grass. The speckled pack were the better hunters in the area. The other packs were weaker and didn’t have the strength that the speckled pack had in their numbers. This Alpha was smart and only kept the strongest bitches, weak and old females were cast away to the other tribes. His was also the most dangerous, he seemed to have an understanding of humans that often confused the other wolves. His hours of study of hunters, silently tracking them and remembering their scents had taught him to stay clear of the humans and their weapons. Even baiting the other tribes to attack the humans, watching them be picked off one by one by Man’s bite.
She respected this pack and made sure not to snatch their prey. They had pregnant bitches to fend for as well as younger pups in the dens, she gave them no threat. In return they stayed clear of her when she also needed to hunt and feed. The Alpha wasn’t sure what to make of the small creature that kept pace with them, yet allowed it to be as it had posed no threat.
Hours passed and still no hearty rabbit or deer had ventured into the clearing. The heavy grey clouds had darkened the edges of the tree line and the hooved creatures would hunker down in the thickets, not taking chances with shadows that often held their deaths. The tightening of her stomach as it ached with hunger only proved more reason for her to keep moving.
Far away from home now, it seemed like a distant memory. The voices of her Elders were always in her ear, but now their faces were harder to recall. “Treat the land as your sister, be kind and honor her. Never take more than you need.”
As they flash through her mind, she pushed them back. This was time to hunt, to prove that she would survive to honor them. She would keep moving, further and further from home, away from the place she had always felt the safest. There would be no more nights of listening to the Chief and his warriors smoking and talking of their great hunts. Tonight there would be no hot meal made from motherly hands or songs to the sky to lull children to sleep. She was the last child, the only child.
Gathering up her bow, she tucked back into the woods and headed towards the den she’d dug out for herself between the creek and boulders. She’d dug until her fingers bled and she could move no more. Slept for just long enough to remember her mother’s touch and the pain of putting her lifeless body on the timbers for the pyre. Then again she would carve out of the earth a place of safety just big enough to hide her small body from the snow. She’d gotten lucky and collapsed the soil into a cavernous place large enough for her to stand and easy enough to hide.
She was alone now. Her hair grew long and tangled, knotted back and tied with strips of hide. Her dark skin now ashy from layers of sweat, ash, and dirt and not the warm healthy tan of her native kin. Tonight she would feast only on the last of the red berries and wilted mint leaves she’d gathered the day before. She’d failed to hunt anything lasting, even the wolves howled in anger at the lack of food.
Deep in the belly of her den, the small child lay on her side and drew animals in the dirt as the light slowly faded and left her in darkness. Tomorrow she would follow the water down to the deep river and try to gather fish. She tried to keep silent and think of the family she’d left behind. Her strong father had been a brave hunter. His hands were wide and told many stories of his years as a hunter. His love of the wolves had given him the name Wolf Brother, for he had tended to the wild beasts with compassion and heart when they were in need. Her mother had often made poultices from herbs for her husband to tend to the animals who had injured themselves. She was their healer, a wise woman who had a tender smile and unnatural ability to know what leaves and berries made best medicines for the tribe. Just as her mother before her, and her mother before her, this knowledge of healing was a gift from the sky.
The little one breathed in deep, and pulled her knees up to her chest. The memory of her father telling her to hide in the mud and not to move. Pushing her body hard into the thick cold sludge, he covered his child before grabbing his knife and running as fast as his long legs would allow him back to the camp. They had been on the move for months, trying to get away from the strangers. Yet just when they thought they could rest, the white man came closer and the sounds of death and terror echoed over the native land. No elder could ever recall a tribe as evil and dark as that of the strange pale monsters. Warnings from other clans about how they had lost lives and others were forced to become slaves to the pale armies. There was no kindness, no offerings of peace, no compromises with the invaders. Her people had been forced from their hunting grounds and homes, pushed back in order to keep their people safe from harm. Their scouts were always warning them to keep moving as the disease of the white man spread.
Her father had taken her that morning to tend to snared wolf cub who had accidentally injured his hind leg in a rabbit trap. She had kept the small mouth closed as her father had rubbed the bitter green ointment into the gaping hole in the cub’s leg. Even as she tried to keep it from snapping at her father, the cub yipped and cooed at the young girl before she had to release it. The tiny bundle of fur had left free once released and ran through the brambles quickly out of sight.
The screams and sounds that came over the ridge as the girl lay immersed in the muddy waters would have made any other child slam their eyes shut or cry out in fear. She lay still and kept her eyes locked on the pale silver snout and freckled face of the cub who had also heard the thunderous cracks of the pale men’s bite. Both creatures knew not to move, else their lives would be just as quickly devoured.
Awakened from the memory, the child’s eyes thrust open. Outside the den she heard movement, slowly she grasped her father’s knife tightly. Then rolling into her den was a lumpy bundle of fur. She watched the bundle, her eyes straining to see. No movement and the unmistakable scent of blood and rabbit made the child curious as she sat up and pulled closer to find a large rabbit neatly killed and delivered to her door. Above her she could hear the scratching sound of nails over the boulders and stones as the Alpha and his pack had ensured the child would not go hungry. A slight smile moved over her lips as she heard a familiar yip and coo as the youngest of the speckled pack poked his nose deep into the canal before trotting off with the rest of his pack. Far from home the wild child had wandered, but she had not been forgotten.