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The steele wolf, p.10
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       The Steele Wolf, p.10

           Chanda Hahn
 
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  I grunted out in frustration as I tried to move my body, but I was a prisoner in my own mind. I felt my hands twitch in response again and I focused all of my attention on moving my feet. The curling of my big toe gave me hope as I prayed that the horse was stubborn enough to delay getting any deeper in the water.

  “Darn it horse,” I heard Bvork yell out, as an angry snap of a whip accompanied his curses. The horse whinnied in protest and snorted and stamped against the oncoming lashes. My life was being spared by the stubbornness of a horse. I heard another whinny, this time in pain, and the horse stumbled backwards into the wagon, which made the wheels sink into the riverbed and start to slip on the rocks, farther, and farther into the river. This is it, I thought as more water splashed into the bed and began to pool around my feet.

  Another tug and the wagon stopped. Furiously the horse fought and pulled against the current and strained towards the shore.

  “Bvork! Stop!” a feminine voice yelled out, riding to the river’s edge.

  “Siobhan! What in the world are you doing here?” The sound of the whip stopped as I assumed Bvork turned to deal with his sister.

  The cold water made my limbs tingle and burn with feeling. Come on, come on, I silently urged as my legs started to spasm and twitch. Almost. PLEASE! I prayed. I didn't want to die.

  “I can't let you do this!” she begged.

  “You have no right to be here,” he yelled back. “You should be back in the village telling them that she ran away. It will look suspicious if our whole family has disappeared.”

  “I won't do it,” she snapped back firmly. “I won't live under your rules anymore. You can't make me.”

  Yay, cousin, I thought in amusement. I could really get to like her, if I lived past today. The grunting of the horse as he continued to try and pull the weight up the embankment stopped as he slipped and fell into the water.

  More water filled the wagon bed and weighed it down. The horse gave up on the embankment because it was too steep and tried to turn upstream to find another way out. The wagon lurched and water sloshed into my mouth and face. I spit it out as the wagon bed evened out. We were in trouble; there was five inches of water in the bed and it was covering and stinging my whole body. But at least it was taking the numbness away as pins and needles of coldness encompassed me.

  Grunting in pain, I was able to reach up my hand that felt like dead weight, grasp the wagon side and slowly pull myself into a sitting position. I could see that my ankle was swollen and black and blue. I didn't want to even look at my face knowing that I had one swollen eye and a swollen jaw.

  I saw Siobhan pull out a sword that was too large for her and challenge her brother. Bvork laughed and pulled out his sword from his pack.

  This was a very uneven fight and unfair knowing firsthand how devious a fighter he was. She charged first and I was surprised at how determined Siobhan was. She attacked and parried and fought her brother with the intent to kill. But I could see where it was going. She wasn't as strong as her brother and her heavy sword was tiring her. Bvork blocked her sword thrust and then backhanded her across the face. She fell into a heap on the ground and didn't move.

  An undertow caught the wagon and started to pull us into the middle of the river and the horse screamed in fury. He dug in his hooves and desperately tried to get out. I had to hand it to the horse, he wasn't going to give up. My uncle’s heavy body rolled against me and pinned me to the side.

  “Aahhh,” I grunted out as I struggled to move his body off of me.

  Another scream of the horse and I turned to look at a very familiar white back. Faraway! Somehow, Faraway was the horse that was attached to the wagon. Of course he would have to be here. No one would believe I had run away without my horse. I smiled in delight, as I realized why this particular horse was fighting so hard. I couldn’t speak to him and I tried to encourage him with prayer. But my smile turned to fear as I realized he was losing the battle. By turning upstream he was fighting the weight of the wagon and the rushing current.

  Bvork stood on the side, arms crossed, and watched silently as we were slowly being pulled farther out into the river. Any farther and Faraway wouldn't be able to touch bottom. I felt around Rayneld’s body until my hands found a knife on his belt. Turning my body as much as I could, I pulled myself over the back onto the driver’s bench.

  The bench dug into my stomach as I slashed at the tethers that bound Faraway to the wagon. I cut one tether off and the wagon slid sideways and Faraway screamed. It was too late. We were pushed into the middle of the current.

  Movement on land caught my eye and I watched as four men on horses charged out of the woods led by a giant grey wolf. Fenri, Odin, Kael and what looked like Joss leading a thunderous charge to Bvork who turned in surprise and raised his hands as he was almost run over by the horse; unfortunately, he rolled away at the last minute.

  Dismounting at a run, Kael ran at Bvork, engaging him in a fight for his life. Fenri stopped to check on Siobhan, while Odin and Joss ran to the water’s edge.

  Odin hollered and ran down the side of the embankment, following us as we were flowing at the river’s mercy, Joss running as fast as he could ahead of him. Reaching for Faraway's reins, I wrapped them around my forearm and then desperately slashed at the remaining tether. Once the tether was cut away, the wagon flew from under me. I was dunked head first into the water. My arm burning in pain; it took on the brunt of my whole weight.

  Faraway moved more easily without the wagon, but by now we had floated too close to the waterfall. I tried to shift and move to one side of my horse so I wouldn't be in the way of his dangerous, kicking hooves.

  Gasping for air, I was repeatedly dunked underwater. There was nothing I could do as I had wrapped the reins around my arm and I didn’t have the strength to grab them higher up. At least my body didn't hurt so much in the water.

  Faraway made me proud as he fought and kicked to get to the edge. He foamed at the mouth with effort. Odin was yelling and pointing but, it was no use, I couldn't hear him over sound of the roaring waterfall. I heard the unmistakable sound of the wagon being smashed against the rocks. I turned and watched it get bashed to pieces before heading over the falls.

  Faraway was getting closer to the shore, but he was tiring fast. I was too heavy, and he hadn’t recovered from the ordeal yesterday. I looked and saw Joss perched on a large rock that protruded into the river, he was lying on his stomach, but the current slowly pulled us out of his reach. He caught my eye as I floated past him and he must have known what I was thinking, because I saw him mouth the words. NO! Don't!

  It was too late; we both couldn't make it out alive. I fumbled and unwound Faraway's reins from around my arm and sent, with all the effort that I could, one last mental thought to my horse, praying that he would get it.

  Farewell.

  I released my grip on his reins and swallowed a mouthful of water as my head dunked underwater before I rose to the surface and bobbed precariously through the waves. I watched Faraway, load lightened, touch the embankment and struggle slowly out of the water.

  Joss' horrified face was the last thing I saw as the thunderous roar became deafening. I felt like I was falling and flying at the same time as I went over the falls. My body was still too numb to feel the crushing waves pound me, and I truly felt a freedom and peace as if I was being embraced by God even in death.

  God must truly be a loving and forgiving God if he was willing to save a twisted monster like me. All of a sudden, a bright warm light surrounded me and I was floating in the air. It was ethereal, until I was dumped, wet and cold, on the rocky embankment back at the top of the falls.

  My eyes flew open and I spit up what must have accounted for half of the river. Choking and wheezing, I tried to calm the frenzied beating of my heart.

  Joss was next to me, pale and gasping for breath as he leaned his sweat stained forehead against the ground. This was something I was very familiar with, a sure sign that he overtaxed
his Denai abilities pulling me from the water.

  Odin collapsed next to me and the large warrior broke down into sobs. “I thought you were gone. I saw you go over.” He sniffled. “It's a miracle.” And then he looked at me and gasped in horror. “What did they do to you?”

  Silent and ashamed, I looked away and saw Kael slowly walk towards me, his shirt torn and bloody. When Kael saw my injuries he paused and stiffened, his eyes turned stormy in anger. I looked to Kael and flicked my eyes to where I last saw Bvork and he nodded slowly. It was all the affirmation that I needed; the SwordBrother had already avenged me.

  Joss looked at me with joy in his eyes, and then sorrow.

  “Are you okay?”

  “Yes, I'm fine.”

  “Thalia, don't you ever do that again,” he admonished. “I wasn’t even sure if I could.”

  “You could have burned yourself out doing what you did,” I challenged him.

  “I was going to try and slow the water and bring you closer but you let go. You left me no choice, I had to try.”

  “Have you ever tried to stop a raging river?” I asked.

  “Uh, no. I've never tried that either.” He looked sheepishly at me.

  “Then don't get mad at me for a decision I had to make. You would have done the same thing in my shoes.” I smirked at him and then felt the pain flare up in my jaw.

  He touched it and I felt a slight tingling go through my jaw. “It's not broken, just fractured. But I don't have the strength to heal you. I'm sorry.” He looked angry with himself.

  I reached up and grabbed his hand. “Joss, don't be sorry. You saved my life... Again. As long as you get me back on the road towards home I'll be fine. The sooner I get home the better. How's Faraway and Siobhan?”

  “Both are good.” This came from Fenri, who walked Faraway over to me. The horse leaned down and nuzzled me.

  I felt a warm flicker of emotion touch me and then another thought.

  In the words of the human, Don't ever do that again!

  The human must be Joss. I painfully grinned at Faraway.

  I won't do that again. I promise.

  We are bonded, we go together. Okay?

  Alright.

  “Where's Father?” I asked, looking around.

  Odin answered. “Thalia, he was injured in the fire and we wouldn't let him come after you.”

  “Then what are we waiting around here for? Let’s get home.”

  Chapter 15

  The trip home took longer than the trip up to the falls, mostly because we had two injured, a very tired horse and night had fallen. We chose to stay the night at a halfway point and make camp using supplies that survived the falls. Joss was strong enough by then to heal me of the worst of my injuries, but I asked him to leave the bruises and my stitches alone.

  “Let mother nature take her course on that,” I joked. “Save your strength for my father. Believe me; you'll need all the help you can get with that one, because I'm bound and determined to have you look at him when we are done. You are a much better healer than I am.” Joss chuckled and then headed to get some food.

  Odin came and sat near me and I asked him more details.

  Apparently Bearen had rushed into the burning house to try and save Aldo's child and the roof collapsed on him. The men were able to get him and the child out but he was burned quite badly. Bearen had protected the child from the flames by shielding him with his own body.

  “How did you know I was gone?” I asked him.

  Odin was chewing on a stick thoughtfully and pointed at Kael with the chewed end of the stick.

  “That one came running up to me, swearing to no end that you were gone. I tried to ask him how he knew, and he said he just did. I thought he must be crazy, but we searched for you and sure enough we couldn't find you. We did find a note from Siobhan saying that her father and brother had taken you.”

  Odin looked across the fire to where Fenri was leaning down giving Siobhan a bowl of soup. Fenri was really a caring man, and he was hovering over Siobhan protectively.

  “She's had to live under their thumb for her whole life, and she found the strength to finally stand up to her brother. She could have died today, Odin,” I said.

  “Well, what she should have done was come get us instead of leaving a crummy note. Or better yet, left us a map,” he complained gruffly. “We had to follow that one.” Again Odin pointed to Kael. “Back and forth around the village until he took off towards the mountains. I'm not sure what kind of compass he's following but I'm pretty sure it's broken.”

  I couldn't help it; I snorted and almost spit out the soup I was eating. Kael, Joss and the others looked at me in surprise. I muffled my laughter with my hand.

  “So then,” Odin went on, “We are following the crazy wannabe clansmen. Oh, by the way, we figured out he’s not from the Stahler clan. We take off towards the mountains, and he starts to head in the wrong direction again and that huge wolf from the pass shows up, and starts dancing and spinning and acting all wild.” Odin did a sign to ward off evil spirits. “So here I am, a crazy old warrior following a crazy young man and a crazy grey wolf into the middle of nowhere in the mountains, on a hunt for you.” Odin waved his hands dramatically and I could see Kael leaning against a tree, listening in with a comical smile on his face.

  I knew that Odin was having a little too much fun in retelling the story, but I knew that he did it for me, to make his goddaughter laugh. I glanced around the camp looking for the grey wolf and saw glowing eyes in the woods.

  Wolf? I called him mind to mind.

  Ja?

  Thank you.

  Then I realized how lame a thank you it sounded; but before I could say anything else, I felt a growl of appreciation from him and felt him melt into the forest and take off running. I chuckled.

  “What about Joss?” I asked Odin, settling down.

  “Lass, you will have to ask him yourself. That one came riding into town as if ghosts were chasing him looking for you. When he heard you were gone, he demanded to ride with us in search of you.”

  I nodded in understanding and then caught Joss’ eye over the fire. He stood and made his way over to me. Odin politely stood up and gave him his seat.

  He looked at the ground, then back up at me. “Are you strong enough to walk?” To show him that I still could, I stood up without help and we walked slowly around the camp. Joss led me into woods and pulled me into a close embrace, resting his chin on my head.

  “I was so worried about you.”

  Turning towards Joss, I looked at him curiously.

  “Joss, why did you come here?”

  “A messenger arrived from my family. My sister is missing, and we believe it has something to do with the Septori. I selfishly implored the Council to send me after you, in hopes that you would help me find her. You are the only one that has made it out from the prison and you may know more clues about how to find them.”

  Shocked, I froze and felt my knees started to shake at the thought of hunting the Septori on purpose.

  “No…um, not the only one,” I whispered nervously.

  “What do you mean you’re not the only one?” He clutched my shoulders desperately. “You mean there’s someone else who can help us as well?”

  “Well, if you can get him to agree to.”

  “Who?” he demanded urgently.

  I pointed with my chin over in the direction of Kael kneeling by the fire.

  “How come you never said anything before?” he asked accusingly.

  “It wasn't my place to tell his story,” I explained quietly. “Not everyone wants to the world to know what happened to them down there.”

  I saw Joss’ eyes fill with pity as he looked at Kael.

  “No,” I snapped. “Don't pity him. He would hate that. None of us want that. We are all stronger than that. We may be different now and changed, but please don't ever feel pity for us.” I didn't realize it, but that look he gave Kael cut me deeply.

 
“I'm sorry, Thalia,” he whispered as he cupped my cheek in his hand. “I won't feel sorry for either of you, even though I know what you went through.” He leaned forward and kissed each of my closed eyelids. His lips pressed lightly against them before giving me a light and reassuring peck on my nose. I was too shocked with mixed emotions to do anything and I let him give me a soft, slow kiss on my lips.

  It was warm and comforting; when he pulled back I saw a soft, caring look in Joss' eyes. But not before looking over his shoulder and seeing the exact opposite emotions displayed in Kael's eyes. I stiffened at the hard, uncaring glance he shot Joss as he turned away and silently stepped into the darkness. The dark cloud followed him.

  Joss felt me stiffen and turned to see the back of Kael. He let out a discouraged sigh. “Well, there went my chances of convincing Kael to help me. He's been very blunt in his feelings towards me.”

  “It's okay, Joss. I will help you find your sister,” I said good-naturedly. I hated what I was about to do, but we needed to find Joss' sister and time was of the essence;. Afterwards I would help break the curse on Kael. Who knew, maybe the answer lay in hunting the Septori.

  “What about Kael?” he asked. A sliver of hope came through in his voice. “I'm pretty sure he won't want to help find my sister.”

  “Don't worry, if I'm with you, he will surely be close by. He can't help it.” I grinned reassuringly to Joss, but felt my gaze search the darkness for Kael's form.

  Sadness overcame me, as I knew my decision to help Joss first and not Kael would hurt the stoic SwordBrother and drive an even deeper wedge of hatred between us, one that I didn't think could be repaired.

  Chapter 16

  “Absolutely not! By all that is holy, I refuse to allow you to travel with this heathen.” Bearen breathed in deeply as if he were trying to make himself look more intimidating. At six foot four he was a bear of a man with his black beard and hawk-like nose, and his blue eyes were intense with anger. But he was only scary until he started to cough great heaving coughs that shook the whole house, which were the after effects of breathing in smoke as he saved Aldo’s child from a fire. Then, the clan leader was reduced to being tended to like a sick child as my cousin Siobhan rushed in with water and a handkerchief.

 
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