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The steele wolf, p.2
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       The Steele Wolf, p.2

           Chanda Hahn
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  “I can’t help it, Odin; I’m scared.” Reaching down, I began to rub Faraway, more in an effort to comfort myself than him. “I’m going back to where it all started. I’m hoping that by retracing my steps, it will bring back the memories of what happened that night. Somehow, I disappeared amidst friends, family and all of my clansmen and no one saw anything.” Letting out a deep sigh I looked intently at Odin and let all of the fear and anxiety I was trying to hide show in my face. Lowering my voice, I whispered, “What if it happens again?”

  “We will be prepared this time, Thalia.” He sat up straighter on his horse, slapping a closed fist against his breast. “No one will steal one of the daughters of the Valdyrstal clan again.” His eyes shone bright at the thought of battle. “They will taste our blades and wish for a swift death, but will be granted a long and painful one.”

  I shuddered at the bloodlust that was evident in Odin’s eyes. The clan’s ruthlessness and protective spirit was probably why the Septori had not taken any children before me. I wondered what had changed. Thankfully the path we were traveling on narrowed and he had to drop back to follow behind me. I let my mind wander and settle on Joss, his crooked grin, sandy blonde windblown hair and blue green eyes deep with emotion, and my heart sang with joy before plummeting in shame.

  I felt a pang of guilt at leaving the way I did, but I knew that I couldn’t fully open up to Joss unless I knew more about myself. I owed Joss more. I knew deep down I wasn’t being fair to Joss.

  Kael’s stern face slowly formed in my mind and I tried to blink it away, tried to think of anything else. But Kael fighting his way out of the prison flashed through my mind, and then Joss appeared again bandaging my head. My own mind did a review of all of my encounters with Joss and Kael: Joss holding my hand during my bone setting; Kael fighting off a pack of mad dogs; Joss arguing with Healer Prentiss on my behalf; Kael killing the assassin; Joss stubbornly guarding me while I slept. Back and forth each scene played out and I felt more conflicted about Kael and Joss.

  And then a thought hit me and I almost pulled Faraway to a standstill as the enormity of what I was doing sank in. I was running away. I was running as far as I could from all of the conflicting emotions.

  My hands trembled as I realized, in some crazy way, I had some feelings for Kael as well. Joss was handsome, caring and safe, while Kael was striking, insensitive and spiteful.

  What was I thinking? I mentally berated myself. I hated Kael. He did everything he could to make me hate him. Maybe that was why. Maybe my heart knew that he was trying to make me hate him, so instead I pitied him and cared for him. The emotions I felt were only compassion for an uncaring vagrant warrior. Right? That, as of right now, I would focus on what was good for me. When I discovered more about myself, I would somehow go back to the Citadel and be with Joss.

  I must have spent a good hour debating with myself about my feelings; I had completely forgotten where I was. The sun began to go down and the woods we were traveling through became more sinister. We were passing through a mountain pass. Faraway stopped moving, his withers twitching in nervousness. Glancing around, I opened my mind to him.

  What’s the matter?

  Bad smell all around us.

  Not waiting anymore, he opened himself up to me and I could sense what he smelled. He was right; it was bad.

  This was no longer the Citadel’s arena; this wasn’t a practice game where I couldn’t get injured. This was real. I closed my eyes and pushed my senses deep into the forest searching, something Professor Weston taught me.

  I jumped when I sensed men on all sides slowly pressing in. We were surrounded. My heart started to pump nervously as I looked around. Odin and the others had stopped when Faraway stopped, the trail too thin for them to pass around me. Ahead of me, Bearen and Fenri paused and stared back at me questioningly.

  A quick mental command to Faraway and he began to dance about a bit. Steeling my voice to sound sure and not scared, I called out loudly, “My horse has gone lame, I need help.” Bearen carefully turned his horse and rode back to me, leaning down to look at Faraway’s flank.

  “Bearen, there’s no time,” I whispered urgently. “There are men in the woods and we are surrounded.”

  “Nonsense. You must be imagining things.” He looked at me intently. “Forsk would have seen them. He would have warned us.”

  Quickly, I closed my eyes and scanned ahead past the men that had stopped and were quietly moving into position around us. I grabbed my head as the sight of bushes and leaves rushed past my vision, making me dizzy, praying and hoping that I was wrong. It took me a second, but my fears were confirmed as I saw Forsk’s body in a ditch farther up. He was sixty meters off of the path in the woods, laying facedown with arrows protruding from his body. His body position suggested he’d found the men and had tried to run back to warn us before being shot down.

  Tears formed in my eyes as I looked at Bearen, begging him to believe me as I whispered vehemently to him, “Forsk is dead.”

  Bearen paled. “How, do you—?”

  I cut him off with a wave of my hand, “Bearen, if you don’t do something, we’ll all be dead.” I glanced over his shoulder to the woods behind him. “Please, you must believe me,” I begged. “They’re almost here.”

  Bearen’s jaw clenched as he battled inner doubt. If he chose to believe me and armed the men then he would be affirming his worst fears. If he chose to ignore me, he could go on believing I was still his innocent daughter but he could lose more lives. He was taking too long.

  Jumping off of Faraway, I confronted him, “We don’t have time. You must decide but either way I will not sit idle and wait to die.” Storming over to Odin, I reached behind him to pull his sword from the sheath strapped to his horse.

  “Odin, we are about to be attacked; warn the men.” Odin stilled, cocked his head and listened, before giving me a short nod, and riding back to warn the men. Walking back to my horse, I kneeled and rubbed Faraway’s leg as he made a big show of pretending to be lame. I would have smiled if the situation weren’t so dire.

  Fenri came to me on foot, leading his horse. Stopping, he pulled his horse in behind me and gave a curt command to his horse to stand firm, making me a living shield out of horseflesh. Sliding his sword and small axe from the saddle pack, he kept it low behind the horse. I watched as the rest of the men slowly moved into defensive positions, acting casually as if we all had stopped to take care of a lame horse. Most cast furtive looks at the woods around them as they silently prepared for battle.

  Bearen looked deadly as he walked over to me.

  “Most of the group is down wind, and on foot. There are three behind us and two ahead of us,” I commented, not looking to see the astonished look on Fenri’s face.

  “This terrain is not made for horses; it would be better to meet our foes on foot. Their blood will cover this valley before the night is over for what they have done to Forsk,” Bearen growled.

  “They have stopped and are waiting to see what we are doing,” I answered.

  “It would be better if we could force them to come out of the forest. I hate not being able to see my enemy,” Bearen answered, twisting his fingers around his axe.

  “I will force them out and give us the advantage, but you won’t like the means by which I do it,” I said solemnly, leaving the choice in his hands.

  His only answer was a grunt, and the readjustment of his hands on his battle-axe. “I hate waiting.” He looked at me and looked away quickly.

  Smiling and taking it for the yes he would never verbally give, I scanned the forest for help; trying something I wasn’t sure if I could actually do. Searching, I found a family of opossums sleeping, a small herd of deer that were moving away from the smell of men, and finally I found something that could be the distraction we needed; a wolf pack.

  They were a small pack of five, but they would do the trick. The pack consisted of one white, two brown, one black and a grey wolf. Gently, I entered the alp
ha male’s mind. I wasn’t sure if I was even strong enough to do what I was about to attempt, but I figured if I could speak to Faraway, why not other animals? It was a leap of faith.

  Help me? I asked the large brown wolf. He shook his head and snarled at a brown male that had come to close to him, nipping him in the hindquarters.

  Frowning a bit in concentration, I realized I was dealing with the Alpha, who to lead a pack would need to be very strong willed. I was about to enter the mind of the female, when I felt a tentative touch back. Pulling away, I followed the thread back to a young grey male with a notch in his ear, who stood frozen at the ready in the opposite direction of his pack.

  Help? He asked. Following my good fortune, I didn’t hesitate to link minds.

  Yes, I need help in protecting my pack from these bad men. I sent him the picture of the men, who even now were closing in.

  He growled in anticipation, shuffling his feet and snapping his jaws.

  I’m strong, fight to death, ja? I almost laughed at hearing a wolf accent through mindspeech.

  We will need the rest of the packs’ help. Can you get them to come?

  Ja, come, I’m strong, pack stronger. Not sure how he was going to do it, I pulled my mind back and came to my father staring at me in obvious horror.

  “Get ready,” I told him. “They are going to come to you.” It was barely two minutes later when we heard snapping, growling and screams as three men came running from the forest, two wolves chasing them down.

  “Ah ha!” Bearen yelled in triumph, running to meet the first foe head on, swinging his humongous axe. The man slid to a halt and fell backwards into the dirt as he tried to duck the swinging blade. As all intent of a surprise attack was now gone, armor clad men from all sides came rushing down the hills to engage us in battle.

  My fellow clansmen flew into action, their fighting very basic and strong. Even though they relied more on brute strength over speed and skill, I couldn’t help but be proud of my fearless clansmen.

  Fenri threw his smaller axe into the shoulder of a large attacker. The injured man kept coming and swinging his own blade. I gasped as the two met in a furious dance of blood and clashing metal.

  The wolves chased and attacked the rest of the men from hiding as they all ran towards us. Looking up, I saw the grey wolf snapping and growling at a tree while desperately trying to climb it. The wolf’s large claws raked deep furrows in the bark as he jumped and snarled. I barely had time to ponder his behavior as I heard the familiar ppfffsst sound of an arrow being loosed.

  I heard a grunt and saw Bearen stumble as an arrow lodged in his chest. Screaming, I grabbed my sword and engaged in battle, fighting my way towards my father. Another pffsst followed and tears stung my eyes as a matching arrow protruded in Bearen's chest few inches lower.

  Screaming at Fenri, I pointed towards the tree as I desperately looked for a bow and arrow; nothing. None of my clansmen fought with bow and arrows. I had no way of reaching him in time. I was about to take another step toward my father, when my whole body was knocked to the ground by a grey blur as an arrow imbedded in the dirt where I was previously standing.

  Rolling over, I saw that the grey wolf had given up on the tree and instead knocked me out of the arrow’s path, but not before getting an ugly shoulder graze. I looked to my father whose chest was covered in deep red and was wide open for an attack. I knew what I had to do.

  Protect my father, I commanded the wolf, who grinned dog-like at me, tongue hanging out of his mouth as he ran towards my father’s opponent. With a growl, he jumped up and bit the man’s sword arm. I heard a scream and the sound of bone breaking.

  Opening my senses, I looked for the archer and found him perched high up in the tree, notching another arrow. Rage consumed me and I didn’t even blink as I pointed my finger at the arrow embedded in the dirt. Raw power flowed through me as I whipped it around and sent the arrow flying at an impossible speed straight towards the archer.

  The arrow didn’t lodge in his chest but blasted right through, leaving a gaping hole. I watched dispassionately as he fell from the tree with a thud.

  Odin was limping from a bleeding leg wound, but was still able to swing his axe with nimble dexterity, beheading his foe. Fenri was fast and deadly as he fought off two attackers. Rushing in, I engaged one of them and saw Fenri’s shocked face as I blocked a deadly downward thrust. I showed no mercy as I kicked the man between the legs, and smirked as I wondered what Kael would think of that move.

  As the man crouched over and grabbed his groin, I swung the handle of my sword and struck him in the temple as hard as I could. He crumpled to the ground and didn’t move. Moving through the battlegrounds towards my father, I wondered if I was now becoming hesitant about killing since I dispatched the archer so ruthlessly.

  Come, I called and Faraway ran to me. I swung up on his back and raced over to Bearen, who had moved farther and farther away from us and was now kneeling on the ground clutching his chest. The grey wolf stood in front of him, hackles raised, teeth barred in challenge at the ugly attacker with a short sword who was trying to dance around the wolf to get to Bearen.

  Hold on! Faraway warned as he ran towards the man and rose up on his hind legs, striking out with deadly hooves. The man was so shocked he dropped his sword and fell onto his back as he tried to duck the hooves. The grey wolf lunged for his neck and I heard snarling and a gurgled scream that quickly ended as his throat was torn out.

  I knelt by my father who had fallen on the ground and was pale as death. Pressing my ear to his bloody chest I tried to listen for the life giving rhythm to his heart. Not being able to hear it, I grabbed a leaf and held it to his mouth. The faint flutter of the leaf told me he was alive.

  “Oh, what do I do? What do I do?” I cried, the tears freely falling, as I heard a blood curdled cough erupt from his large chest. “I don’t know how to do this!” I fervently wished that I had taken a healing course.

  “Bearen, I don’t think I can take the pain and heal you at the same time. In fact, I’m not even sure I can heal you.”

  Odin came over and leaned down to look at Bearen’s wounds. “It’s pierced a lung, Thalia.” He looked at me gravely. “There’s nothing we can do now but pray that his spirit finds peace.”

  “No! I just got him back,” I glared angrily. “I won’t let him die.” Reaching forward, I gritted my teeth and pulled out the arrow that was piercing his lung.

  “THALIA! What are you doing? You are just killing him faster!”

  Placing my hands over the wound, I tried to open my senses and follow the instructions Healer Prentiss had given to the students when they healed my leg. I could see the hole in his lung and the blood flowing in, filling it up. I reached deep inside myself for the power to heal it and found none. What?

  “NO, NO, NO, NO!” I chanted.

  FARAWAY! HELP! I mentally called. I felt a rush of power, his, and I sent it towards the hole, siphoning the blood out and at the same time encouraging his lungs to keep breathing. Faraway was giving me his strength. I focused the energy into the surrounding tissues and encouraged them to reknit and grow. A grunt and cough erupted from my father, as sweat beaded off his forehead. He gritted his teeth in pain.

  “I’m so sorry, Father,” I tried to reassure him. The tissue was healing, but very slowly. I didn’t think my father had that much time, and I felt myself begin to panic when another wave of power washed over me and I felt a cold nose press into my shoulder. Without looking I knew it was the wolf. I was drained from vision searching and my arrow stunt from earlier and I was using all of Faraway’s strength to do the healing, so I took what the wolf was willing to give, pulling that power into the healing process. The lung reknit itself faster and I was able to quickly heal any other damage. Before moving on to the second arrow, I released his lungs and watched him breathe on his own for a minute or so.

  Odin’s eyes had gone wide and his face turned grey when he saw what I was doing. My hands trembling in
exhaustion, I reached for the second arrow, but he stopped me.

  “Thalia, I wouldn’t have believed it if I didn’t see it for myself. I will do it.” His strong hands pulled out the arrow from Bearen’s shoulder, who grunted in pain. Desperately wishing that I had Joss’s abilities, I did what I could to heal the shoulder wound, albeit slower this time.

  When I was done, and my father was breathing on his own and seemed fine except for the pain. I leaned down and rested my head on his large chest and cried.

  I cried for what I had almost lost, realizing that my heart remembered my father even if my mind didn’t. My tears made my father’s vest damp with their wetness, and the smell of dried blood tickled my nose, but neither one of us moved. I knew he was well because I could, in this position, listen to the beating of his heart and I prayed a prayer of protection over him. When I felt a light touch on my head, I almost moved, but the touch began to stroke the back of my hair and I sighed in relief, as my father tried to comfort me as I comforted him.

  Chapter 3

  We stayed the night. My skin crawled as I tried to help with the cleanup. Odin and Fenri kept shooing me away and telling me to watch over Bearen, who was on the mend but just tired and sore. After all, the healing process was painful. I wasn’t talented at taking away pain, and I myself felt drained and sluggish. So after numerous requests, I collapsed on the ground and stared at the bonfire that lit up the night sky.

  The smell of the dead burning made me want to retch, so I pulled a spare piece of cloth and tied it around my face. Odin had counted thirteen bodies, and saw the tracks of at least two that had escaped back into the forest.

  “Well, Thalia, my girl,” he had said to me earlier. “It didn’t look good for us. Fifteen to six were not good odds.”

  “Seven. Fifteen to seven,” I countered, raising my eyebrow at him, daring him to dispute me.

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