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The steele wolf, p.11
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       The Steele Wolf, p.11

           Chanda Hahn
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  Odin, Fenri, Joss and I didn’t tell him that when he was sick with fever and passed out from pain, that I had Joss sneak into his house and heal him of the worst of the burns and blisters from the fire. I thought it prudent to have Joss heal him this time, so if he awoke he couldn’t accuse me of disobeying him. Except that when he awoke he didn’t notice how much better he felt. I think the great warrior was trying to play up being sick to get as much sympathy as he could, except for the cough. We didn’t touch his lungs because it would draw too many unwanted questions.

  But he wouldn’t let a little cough burden him when he was about to lose his only daughter that he just found again. He wasn’t about to let her leave with his greatest enemy. When his cough had settled, he once again turned those angry eyes on me. “You are still underage, and must obey my rules. That is, until you become clan leader.”

  I had been, up until that point, sitting on a short three-legged stool next to my father’s bed; but I sent the stool flying as I jumped up in anger and pointed to him. “Father, you have to listen to me. You’ve ignored me every time I’ve tried to tell you about what happened. But you can’t ignore it. Not anymore, especially when it was Rayneld that had a hand in my kidnapping. It was your brother that sold me to the Septori to be used as an experiment. It’s his entire fault that this happened to me.”

  Siobhan, who had only a few days ago betrayed me and handed me over to my Uncle and cousin to be killed, stilled at my words. I don’t believe she would have done it if they hadn’t beaten her into submission. She had redeemed herself in my eyes when she rushed to the waterfall, sword in hand, and tried to save me from her brother. I glanced at her quickly to see if I offended her by bringing up her father’s involvement. But she seemed unaffected by my words and went on changing the bandages on Bearen’s almost healed wounds. It was as if, in her grief of losing her father and brother, she had sought comfort in caring for her uncle.

  “You will listen because it involves your family,” I spat out. Bearen’s eyes widened in shock. “Your brother was trying to kill you at the pass. He was the one who hired those mercenaries to ambush us so he could become clan leader. Bvork was the one who, months ago, drugged my drink and led me outside where your brother handed me over to the Septori.”

  My anger started to get the best of me and I could feel myself grasping for Faraway’s energy, something I tended to do when I got mad. But I quickly gained control of myself and released it. “Do you even know what they did to me?”

  “Thalia, I told you that we would never speak of this, and you agreed to the Kragh Aru so you could find a strong lifemate and become clan leader.” Bearen was sounding desperate from hearing the words. As if, by my speaking them, he could ignore what happened. And I could still be the clan leader, still be a perfect example of a Sinnendor vassal, still be his little girl.

  “No, father!” I interrupted him. “You agreed that I would never speak of this, not me. And I let my love for you keep me from speaking, but no longer.” I walked to the shuttered windows and threw it open, knowing that I would need the cool wind to blow on my face to remind me that I was free and no longer a prisoner.

  “They took me to an underground prison where I and other children, human and Denai alike, were kept to be used as test subjects. They were cruel. They starved and beat us if we disobeyed or spoke. The overdose of serum that Bvork gave me erased my memories and every night I prayed that my family would find me.” I turned from the window to watch my father’s reaction. His eyes had closed and his face had turned pale; the only movement was the bobbing of his adam’s apple as he turned his head away so he wouldn’t hear what I said next. But even though he was my father I knew it was time he heard it; he couldn’t ignore it, and because I loved my father I would have to hurt him with the truth.

  “I prayed that you would find me.” My anger started to disappear when I looked at my father’s stricken face. I knew he had searched desperately for me. “But no one came for any of us. Each night I would be hauled away to the Raven’s experimental lab and tortured, pricked, probed and subjected to a terrible machine. The Septori used their power and this machine to change me. I didn’t know what they were trying to do. I had no clue it had worked until after I escaped. Father, I’m no more a Denai than you are, but I’m definitely not human anymore. I can do things similar to a Denai, but the way I do it is wrong, twisted, inhuman. I steal where the Denai borrow. So if you think the Denai are inhuman beasts then I can only speculate at what you think I must be.” The tears that I had been holding back, started to burn at the corner of my eyes and run down my face.

  “I had no idea,” Bearen whispered, his voice breaking and choking on the words. “I’m ashamed of myself and my clan for not being able to save you. But I had no idea what they did to you; I was too scared to know, for fear of hearing these very words. I thought maybe if I ignored it we could pretend that nothing happened. Pretend that I didn’t fail at saving my daughter, being there for her when she needed me most.” Bearen’s voice tapered off into nothingness and I heard soft sobs coming from behind me. Turning, I saw that Siobhan had righted my stool and was crying softly into her apron.

  “Father, I survived, but my cell mate Cammie didn’t. She died in that prison along with countless other children that didn’t have to. And more are going to die, because the Raven and the Septori are still out there. One of the prisoners, Tym, was murdered during our escape.”

  “Then let the Denai hunt for the Septori and this Raven; if he is a rogue Denai, then he is their problem, not ours.” Bearen defended. It was always hard to win an argument with Bearen, because he was so stubborn, but so was I.

  “It’s not their problem, it’s everyone’s problem. Human and Denai alike were kidnapped. It was specifically because of my Sinnendor blood that the Raven wanted me.” I grasped my head to cease the sudden pounding that started again. Though they happened less often. Usually they were a sign when Kael was near; a side effect of our shared bond. Sure enough, a knock at my father’s bedroom door came and I wasn’t in the least bit surprised to see that it was Kael.

  When Kael stepped through the door, Siobhan quietly let herself out. I had not forgotten that Kael had killed her brother at the waterfall, the fearsome Swordbrother intimidated her.

  Kael met Bearen’s steely stare without flinching. The two warriors engaged in a silent battle of wills. Kael was the first to move as he conceded with a nod of his head. He took out a small dagger and unsheathed it. Silently he placed it between both palms and bowed stiffly to my father offering him the knife. I was stunned. He gave my father one of the highest honors a SwordBrother could give by acknowledging my father as a fellow warrior. Bearen grunted and a small smile crept to his weathered face.

  After my father took the knife from him, Kael turned and addressed me. “Has a decision been made when we will depart?”

  “NO, she will not be allowed to leave and chase after those men without protection and with a heathen Denai, unescorted no less. I forbid it.” Bearen growled. I was sure that Odin, and Joss could hear my father from downstairs.

  “Father, I told you, we need to travel fast and light. We can’t afford to take a battalion of clansmen with us.”

  “It doesn’t matter; you won’t be allowed to go. I am not above putting you under guard and locking you away.” He glared at me. “Especially after what you just told me, that the Septori were very interested in your bloodline. I will not allow him the chance to take you again. I will not be lax in my duty.”

  “We are wasting time; Joss’ sister needs help!” I raised my voice to match my father’s. A clearing of a throat made me spin in anger towards Kael.

  “WHAT?” I snarled.

  “Do you mind if I speak with your Father?” he asked politely.

  “What?” I was floored that he had actually asked permission. “Fine, be my guest,” I said as I waved my arm dramatically in front of me so he could feel free to address my father.

e,” he said.

  “What? NO!” I said indignantly. “You can speak in front of me.”

  “THALIA!” Bearen spoke my name in the one tone I knew I couldn’t disobey.

  “What could Kael possibly wish to discuss that he can’t speak in front of me?” Bearen just glared. My voice rose in pitch like a child; I didn’t care. “But he’s not even clan. And pretending to be a Clanmember to fight in the Kragh Aru does not make him clan.” I was furious. I knew I was losing the fight but why not make my opinion known and go down fighting.

  Another cold stare from my father and I was reduced to the tantrum of an only child not getting her way.

  “FINE!” I sniffed and made sure to slam the door on my way out. I stomped downstairs to fling myself theatrically on a chair. The sound of barely contained laughter drew my attention to Joss and my godfather Odin, who were both covering their mouths and making awful faces. I glared at both of them and then threw the first thing I could get my hands on: a half-eaten dinner roll. Odin ducked and it smacked Joss in the face, which only led to another round of laughter.

  “Well, you two are no help at all. Joss, this is serious. I may not be allowed to leave. You will have to look for your sister, Tenya, without me. I’m very sorry.” I felt horrible; I personally knew what she was going through and knew that time was of the essence. The trail could go cold if we didn’t leave soon.

  Joss’ demeanor changed instantly. “I know, Thalia. Even now it could be too late, but I didn’t know where else to turn. My family is looking for her, the Adepts have sent Graduates and Guards out looking and no one has come up with any clues on where to find the Septori. You and Kael are the only ones who have firsthand experience with them.”

  “Well, Kael destroyed the prison and lab we escaped from, so if they are still kidnapping people then they must have moved to a new one. It could be anywhere in Calandry.” I was making myself depressed and the longer it took for us to leave, the more I seemed to lose hope at ever finding her.

  Odin picked up the half-eaten dinner roll I had thrown at Joss from the floor and was tearing it apart in frustration. “I’m sorry, Thalia, my girl,” he said. “I’ve known your father his whole life and I can’t see anything or anyone changing his mind on this. It would be best if the boy left on his own and returned to the city to seek help.”

  “I could run away!” I said desperately. “I will leave my father a note. Odin, you could explain everything after we have left.”

  “I will not,” Odin said sternly. “You will not take the coward’s way out. You will obey your Father’s decision, no matter what. I will not be privy to helping you deceive him again by helping you run away.”

  “She won’t have to,” Kael spoke from the stairs. “Even though I know she would take the coward’s way at her first opportunity. That won’t be the case this time.”

  “What do you mean, Kael?” Joss spoke up. Kael, slowly taking his time, walked the remaining steps down and didn’t speak a word until he came up to me.

  Kael’s lip went up in the slightest hint of a smile. “Because we leave in an hour.”

  Chapter 17

  “How? What did you say to him?” I gasped. “He is still alive, right? You didn’t kill my father so that I could go, did you?” I wouldn’t put it past Kael. In fact, he would and could. “Odin, go check on my father,” I blurted out worriedly.

  Kael looked at me and he actually looked smug. “Relax, Thalia, your father is fine. We just spoke warrior to warrior and have come to an understanding. If you don’t believe me, go speak to him, but make it quick. I want to be on the road as soon as possible.”

  I did just that; I ran up to my father’s room and burst through the door. Bearen was no longer lying in bed but was pulling a box out of his closet. He looked tired and worn but his eyes had a glint in them. The same glint I saw when he was about to go into battle. He turned to me and opened the box to pull out a small handkerchief. He handed it to me and I could feel a small weight in the middle. Opening it I saw a man’s ring with an onyx stone and a silver wolf’s head on it.

  Clearing his throat Bearen spoke. “Take it, Thalia. It’s your heritage. It’s King Branccynal’s signet ring. They may take our land but they can’t take our heritage.”

  “Thank you, father.”

  “Go, the SwordBrother has agreed to go with you and I put my trust in him. So come back soon, my daughter.”

  “How?” I demanded. “Why him? Why are you all of a sudden letting me go when you refused before? Did he threaten you?”

  Bearen chuckled. “A warrior knows how to battle with things other than weapons. He battled with words, strong enough to make me see the light.”

  “No. That doesn’t sound like Kael at all. I know you, Father. There is more that you are not telling me,” I said accusingly. “What about the contest?”

  “That hardly seems necessary now does it, since the SwordBrother already killed Bvork.”

  “Wait, does that mean…that he is considered the winner. What are the elders going to say about it, he’s not of our clan? What about—.”

  “Thalia, I have a huge mess to clean up with the fire, your cousin and uncle’s death and the Kragh Aru. Kael suggested to me that it might be best if you weren’t here for a while. Until things cool down.”

  “But how come you trust him…and not—.”

  Bearen interrupted me, “He also made an oath. He would bring you back safely or he would come and forfeit his life to me.”

  “Why would he do that?”

  “You will have to ask him, not I. Now go before I change my mind.” He was firm. But he was letting me go. I heard it with my own ears. Bearen turned and I ran into his arms and hugged him, knowing that this could be the last time I ever saw him.

  “But you will take Hemi with you. I know this Kael is a strong warrior, but I will also send one of mine.” He stared me down as if daring me to argue. I did the only thing I could think of doing, rolled my eyes and hugged him again.


  We’d been on the road for over a fortnight. I was surprised how far Skyfell was from the Ioden Valley. We had been delayed by days of cold rain that made the roads muddy and hard to travel. We weren’t making the speed that we needed to and it added one more thing to worry about. Closing my eyes, I grasped my family ring on the chain around my neck and sent a quick prayer to the heavens to grant us speedy travel and fair weather the rest of the way. Kael rode us at a hard speed but argued with Joss more than necessary over directions. Kael was trying to lead but Joss was the one who knew how to reach Skyfell.

  “I’m telling you, we need to keep going. We’ve got another hour of daylight.” Kael was like a hound on the scent, frantic to chase after the prey. In his case, the closer we came to finding the Septori the closer we would come to breaking the bond between us and he would then be free to return home.

  “And I’m telling you that you aren’t going to find a better place to camp. There’s shelter off the trail a bit. Another storm is coming in and we have better coverage there. If we keep going, we are going to be caught in the middle of it with no place to seek shelter.” Joss threw his pack on the ground and stood firm, his blonde hair blowing in the wind, green eyes blazing.

  Kael’s muscle in his cheek twitched, a sign that he was holding his temper in check. His eyes flicked to me briefly and then back to Joss before nodding in consent. He pulled his pack off of his horse and grabbed the reins and started to lead his horse into the woods towards a dense stand of trees.

  Joss cleared his throat. “Um, it’s that way.” He pointed left across the road in the other direction than. Kael froze midstep and waited ten whole seconds before turning his horse around and charging in the other direction, showing the bushes and twigs no mercy as he stomped them to pieces.

  Hemi, the ever-quiet one, just gave me a look, shrugged his large shoulders and followed after Kael into the woods. Joss walked up to me, irritated. “What’s his problem? He’s been acting weird
since we left the Ioden Valley.”

  I hadn’t told Joss about Kael’s unfortunate bond, and how much Kael resented being tied to me. But they were both irritating me this trip. They’d been snapping and challenging each other’s authority. I was so glad that my father sent my clansmen Hemi with us. His solid, quiet presence was a relief and I would oftentimes sit with him and let the peacefulness that surrounded him calm my nerves.

  “What’s your problem, Joss? You keep goading him on! He is the one that’s risking his neck to help find your sister. I thought you would be pleased to have a SwordBrother on our side.” I needed to remind Joss how important Kael was to our quest. Having Kael was like having an extra ten fighting men.

  “I am pleased to have a SwordBrother helping me locate my sister.” He said loudly, before dropping his voice to vent under his breath. “I just wish it were a different SwordBrother.”

  “And what is the likelihood of that ever happening? How many SwordBrothers do you know?” I challenged Joss playfully as I dismounted Faraway in preparing to lead him down the same path Kael went.

  “Well, let’s see.” Joss pondered moment. “Excluding Kael, that would be… none.” He smiled at me and reached for my hand and placed a kiss upon it, rubbing the back of my hand with his thumb where he had just kissed it. My heart soared at the gesture and beat even louder when Joss leaned in to follow his peck on my hand with a full kiss. I wanted to prolong the kiss but a crack of thunder made us jump and grab our horses and start to head towards camp. I went to move away but Joss held firmly onto my hand and that’s how we approached the shelter.

  Kael was unsaddling the horses and moving them into the stable that was built into the side of the small but cozy shelter. It looked like an old way station that hadn’t been used in a while. Kael covered his horse with a blanket and stepped out of the stable and froze as he stared at our hands clasped together. He paused for three heartbeats, glancing between Joss and me before continuing on into the shelter, the door slamming loudly behind him.

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