Wednesday, January 05, 2005

The Taking

The she-wolf smelled the human female before she saw her. The scent of fresh birth blood was still on the human female. The she-wolf knew that smell, knew it well. She had left it back in her den, along with the bodies of her dead pups – twins, born dead, the mother cord tight around both necks. She had tried to nuzzle them awake, tried to make them suckle but by darkness had given up.

With an ancient instinct the she-wolf knew that she had to get the dead pups out of her den or it would be fouled. She worked through most of the night to move the small bodies up the narrow tunnel and out onto open ground where they could be taken by a hawk or owl. She was still exhausted from that work and the long, painful labor but needed to eat. It was the hunger than had driven her deeper into the woods that night, closer to the area of the humans.

She watched the human female lay the bundle down next to the river. And then the she-wolf heard the sound, a slight mewling and with that sound there had come a quickening in her teats and the first seep of milk. She whined slightly at the feeling and saw the human female stop moving to stare in her direction. She dropped her head to hide among the underbrush. Humans were not to be trusted. Humans had killed her pups’ father, scattering the pack, leaving her alone in the den.

She saw the human female bend down to the bundle and touch it and she saw the bundle move, once again making the small mewling noise. The female stood, again looking in the she-wolf’s direction. And then the human female did something the wolf had never seen before; she backed away from her bundle. When she got deeper into the woods, still staring at the brush where the she-wolf waited, she turned and ran into the night.

The she-wolf waited and watched. The noise from the bundle continued and with each sound she felt the drawing of her milk. She moved cautiously towards the river’s edge and the small bundle. This could still be a human trick. The human smell was there but different.

The darkness was beginning to give way to the light, a softness overtaking the sky, as the she-wolf finally stood over what the human female had left. She dropped her head down and moved the covers back with her nose. As she did that a tiny human hand reached up to touch the wolf. The wolf nuzzled the little one and another tiny hand reached out, the small human began to make slight gurgles as the misshapen face moved in a semblance of a smile.

There was no pack. There were no pups. She was alone, like this little one. For the she-wolf, there was nothing else to do.

Gently, she took the covers in her teeth and began dragging the gurgling bundle slowly across the ground to her den.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

The Leaving

She had wrapped the fur around her leather leggings and tied it tight with deer sinew. The snow was deep and it would be a long, cold walk to the river's edge. She stepped out of the longhouse, carrying the now quiet bundle in her arms. She held it close to her, still wanting her warmth to carry through the fur wrappings, still wanting to be a mother. The baby stirred slightly but made no sound - it was too weak, too tired from crying, too tired from the want. The lack of food had started to take its toll on the small infant. Now she had to finish it.

Her steps through the deep snow were hard, lift one leg and then settle it down to gain enough balance to lift the other leg. Carrying the infant made it more difficult. She could not use her arms for balance. Using the the back board would have been easier, but that had to be saved for the next one. It could not be tainted with this one's spirit.

Her labor had been long and the pain had been almost unbareable. But all of that had been quickly forgotten when the grandmother told her what had to be done. Her heart was heavy as she moved to the edge of the clearing that marked her village. But it had to be done - done now before the others awoke. And she must be the one, the only one who could do this thing. Grandmother had spoken.

The moon had moved halfway across the sky by the time she got to the river. She lay the bundle down, no longer caring about its need for warmth as she searched the edge of the water. She soon found what she needed - a rock, large and round - a weight. A weight to take her daughter to the bottom. A small mewing suddenly came from the blanket and she looked down. The child moved, the blanket parted, revealing the infant's mishappen face. Tears fell upon the small face, a face with no nose and only a bottom lip - a mouth so bad that the infant could noteven suckle at her mother's breast.

"A-shay, little one," the mother said. "I must do this. If not you will die slowly. This will be swift."

There was a rustle in the brush and she heard a low whine. A wolf was nearby. She knew wolves - it would not come near her - not while she was at the river's edge. Wolves were afraid of man so she was not afraid of the wolf. The child moved again and a thought, as clear as the night stars, shown its light.

"Brother wolf, I give you my daughter," the mother prayed through her tears. "Take her to the skyway. Take her swiftly so I do not have to."

The woman stood and stared in the direction of the whine. Were those eyes she saw through the gloom? Or was that a night spirit coming to take away her courage? Would grandmother know that she hadn't given her daughter to the river? No, she thought. Brother wolf would tell nothing. She would come back in the morning to make sure that all ways gone and if not . . well, then there was the rock.

She touched the smooth cheek of her daughter and let the infant's fingers curl around one of her own for a moment. This would be the last thing she would remember - not the act of pushing her baby into the river - just the tiny fingers around hers.

She stood up and said into the night, "She is yours, Brother Wolf." And then she walked away.