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The steele wolf, p.7
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       The Steele Wolf, p.7

           Chanda Hahn
 
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  “Tvier!”

  Looking at my cousin I could see the rage building as he let the heavy two handed sword lay on the ground and continued on with his shorter, lighter sword. He made me pay for that second point as he pounded me with his sheer strength.

  Another cut mirrored my other arm and I felt myself begin to tire again. I had no idea where he got all of his energy. Missing a feint, I was too slow as he swung his sword level at my head again. I barely turned my head sideways in time. I felt the blade slice the side of my neck. It caught on the edge of my helm and ripped it off. I watched in horror as it flew, spinning in slow motion, across the arena to land at the feet of the drunk stahler.

  Grabbing my neck to staunch the flow of blood, I turned to see my cousin’s eyes widen in recognition and then turned dark with fury.

  “Is this some sort of joke?” he growled. “Are you just trying to humiliate me and our clan?” He approached me menacingly.

  “No, it’s a chance to win my freedom from having to marry because of someone else’s whim,” I called back. “It’s a chance to prove myself strong enough to lead our clan without a mate.”

  He grimaced and came at me again. “Don’t think because you’re my cousin and the prize for the Kragh Aru that I’m going to take it easy on you.” Lowering his voice so only I could hear, he went on, “I couldn’t care less if you are male or female. All I care about is becoming the Clan leader, with or without you.”

  Screaming, he attacked me and I had problems holding onto my sword that was slick with blood. He swung his sword downward and caught my sword and pinned it to the ground.

  Glancing up, I saw his fist swing and I saw stars as he punched me in the eye. I heard the crack and I tried to draw power but he punched me again in the face and this time I fell and as I fell I felt my sword, bloody, slip from my fingers and hit the dirt. I landed on a large round rough bump and I realized sadly right then, that I had landed on the rope. I had lost.

  The Dømari was too stunned to even call the count and winner. The whole crowd had gone deathly silent as soon as my identity had been revealed. I choked in pain and felt a hand touch my face and I looked into the angry, stormy eyes of the drunken clansman. How did I not notice his eyes before now? Was I that distracted by his smell and perverse acts that I didn’t notice how much they reminded me of Kael’s?

  Chapter 11

  “What were you thinking?” A familiar voice echoed or at least seemed to echo, as my head continued to ring.

  “Stop shouting,” I murmured.

  “I’m not shouting and you should explain yourself,” Bearen grumbled.

  Opening only one eye because the other was swollen shut, I gasped as Odin leaned over me and applied a poultice to my numerous wounds. Reaching for the side of my throat, I felt the length of the already stitched wound that reached from my throat up the side of my jaw to my ear. Odin quickly slapped my hand away.

  “Don't touch the stitches. You are going to have a scar to remind you of this day.” I grimaced at his tone of voice. I wished that I had the ability to heal myself, but I wasn't that strong. My own recklessness got me here and I would have this reminder for the rest of my life. Odin put something on my neck and I immediately took a quick intake of breath.

  “That stings. What is it?”

  “Harrumph, you don't want to know. But it will keep any infection from setting in,” Odin answered. I believed I already knew what he was applying because the familiar smell of cat urine invaded my nose.

  “Did you know about this?” Bearen rumbled at Odin. “Were you a part of this from the beginning?”

  Odin continued to minister to my wounds and spoke without making eye contact. “Aye! She told me of her plan.”

  “How could you? She could have been killed and then Rayneld's son would appeal to the clan council for leadership.”

  “And you!” Turning back to me. “You have a lot to answer for. Do you realize that Fenri is out of the running and that some stranger and your deceitful cousin Bvork are the last two standing to win the Kragh Aru?”

  When he said deceitful cousin it made me wonder what he could have done to anger my father so. But then, I also had deceived people as I entered the competition in disguise. So maybe the apple didn't fall too far from the tree on both sides of our family. Sighing regrettably, I asked about Fenri's injuries.

  “He'll be lucky if he can ever get the use of his hand back. I doubt he'll be able to hold a sword again. Bvork crushed it,” Bearen gritted out angrily and his eyes shown with anger as he looked at me.

  Odin quickly interrupted, “Well, maybe it's not as bad as all of that, hmmm? Maybe Thalia should take a look at it, considering it was her fault that he was injured.”

  “What? My fau...?” I stopped as I caught Odin's pointed stare. “Yes, I will look at it.”

  “NOOOO! You won't!” Bearen roared loudly. Quieting down, he came over to me and spoke slowly. “Do you understand what the consequences are of being found out? If someone sees his hand ruined now and then sees it later and it’s fine, questions will arise, and you will be banished.” Turning, he ran his hands through his dark hair. “If I was a good clan leader I would have already banished you. But I can't do that to my Thelonia. You are her spitting image, except for the black hair.” I wanted to speak up and interject on the topic, but he shushed me with his hand. “You will obey me, Thalia. I still can and will punish you if you disobey me again. Right now, having to be bonded to the winner of the Kragh Aru, is punishment enough for this crime.”

  My face paled at the possibility of having to marry my cousin. “Please, I need to leave the tent.” I began to panic. “I have to know what’s going on.”

  “Relax!” Odin said encouragingly. “You've caused quite a stir by entering. The clan is in an uproar! For one, Bvork injuring you the way he did after he found out it was you. Two, that you entered the competition at all. And three, that you were able to do so well.” He smiled. “The final match has been delayed for a few days.”

  Breathing a sigh of relief, I laid back and tried to contact Faraway. But I was still in a lot of pain, and it seemed to be blocking my abilities. I heard a commotion of people outside the tent, asking various questions. Looking to Odin, I asked him if he could get me home. Nodding, Odin wrapped his arms around me, picked me up and went out the back of the tent, while Bearen went out the front to distract the crowd. I couldn't ask for a better distraction than Bearen. His fierceness and size would deter anyone from coming near me.

  Taking a back path, we cut through the forest and wound our way through the trees heading towards home. There was nothing wrong with my legs, but I was weak. My head was still spinning and I didn't want to fall and cause a scene, so I let Odin quickly and quietly carry me.

  Leaning my head against his shoulder, I tried to keep my good eye closed against the fast moving trees. I still couldn't open my other eye. A quick shadow caught my attention and I motioned Odin to slow and stop. Seeing my alert expression and the tensing of my body made him tense and turn in response. Scanning the forest, he listened and sniffed the air for any sign of intruders.

  “It must have been my imagination,” I said meekly.

  “Nah, Thalia, my girl,” he whispered back. “I would trust your instincts any day.” Stepping with more care, we continued on. When we reached a turn, we took the path back into the open. I glanced again into the woods and I saw very distinctly the bushes move and heard a twig snap. Odin heard it too, and stepped back into the direct sunlight and quickened his step. He started to head to my home but I pointed at his. Looking at me in confusion, he nodded and went to his. Once inside, I curled up on a long wooden bench with a high back covered with furs.

  “Quickly,” I motioned back to the door. “Bring Fenri, don't tell him I'm here, and try to not let anyone see him.”

  Giving me a hard look, Odin bit the side of his mouth and left without a sound. Collapsing on the bench, the exhaustion overtook me and I slept until I heard the
creak of the back door and the sound of two pairs of boots.

  “I told you, there's nothing you can do.” The unmistakable sound of Fenri's angry voice reached my ears.

  “Nah, don't you go yelling at an old man. I may have a few trade secrets that no one knows about. So you sit down and shut up.”

  Fenri walked into the main room and stomped loudly over to the single stool by the fire. I could see that he had tried to bandage his hand by the evidence of wood bracers. I grimaced in guilt and empathy at his pain. Sitting down abruptly, he jumped just as fast when he came face to face with me lying down on the long wooden bench.

  “I refuse to stay here.” He moved across the room as far from me as possible.

  “No, you’ll sit down and be quiet.” Odin challenged, pushing him back towards me. Odin, though older, was still a large clan warrior and he demanded respect. Forcefully grabbing Fenri's shoulder, he pushed him down on the chair.

  “If it weren't for her hare-brained ideas, I wouldn't be crippled,” he breathed angrily through his teeth.

  “Nonsense, this could have happened during any hunting trip. And it's not Thalia's fault. Why are you blaming Thalia, when it's Bvork who chose to play dirty? Listen to me, young warrior. It doesn't matter how it happened. What matters is what you are going to do about it.” He spoke slowly and with meaning.

  “Do? Are you kidding me?” Fenri spoke with such anger and despair that spit flew from his mouth. “There's nothing I can do. I can't use my hand, old man. I'm crippled.” Standing up, he paced the room. “What honor is there when I can't hunt game or protect and provide for a future wife?” Stopping to stare at me, he went on. “I'm useless.”

  I could see that Odin was quite pleased with the fact that he was wearing down Fenri. Watching silently, I listened as the old wise warrior talked down and calmed the injured young man. When Fenri was tired and out of options, Odin went and grabbed a small knife and cut his own palm, letting a small flow of blood ebb onto his hand. Fenri opened his eyes wide in confusion.

  “I know that you already made a blood oath about what happened in the pass and you swore to protect Thalia. But I'm surprised that after all you saw, you didn't give her a chance to try and help you.” Fenri's shoulder's dropped in shame.

  “I didn't think she would want to help me after the way I talked to her after my fight.” He looked away from me and stared at a far wall.

  “I do, Fenri,” I spoke up for the first time. “Or I would like to try, if you will let me.”

  A small glimmer of hope shone in his eyes. “You would still help me?” he asked disbelievingly.

  Smiling, I nodded.

  “But,” interrupted Odin, “you will swear a new blood oath about anything you hear and everything you see happen tonight. Your hand being healed is not worth my goddaughter’s life. You hear me?” Odin threatened, pointing the already bloody knife at Fenri's throat. Fenri swallowed and shook his head.

  “Good. Now hurry up before I have to cut my hand open again,” he complained. Fenri eagerly took the knife and made an identical slice on his palm and the two swore an oath in the old language.

  When they were done, Odin unwrapped Fenri's hand and I almost vomited at what I saw. His whole hand had turned purple and swollen to twice its normal size. His fingers were bent in unnatural positions. I knew that the human hand consisted of numerous bones, nerves and muscles and that usually an injury like this would make a warrior lame. I could tell that Faraway and I were both to the point of exhaustion but we needed to work fast before anyone saw this.

  “How many people have seen your hand like this?” I asked quickly, feeling myself start to second-guess what I was about to do.

  “No one. I was afraid that if I went to the healer tent and someone told me that I would never regain the use of it, I would believe them, but it was already obvious I would. I went into the woods and tried to wrap it myself.”

  Throwing me a look of relief, Odin nodded encouragingly for me to continue.

  “Fenri, I can't take away your pain while I'm doing this. But I will do the best I can to make it like it was before. You have to make sure that you keep it wrapped for the weeks to come. You have to pretend it’s healing slowly; do you understand?”

  He nodded. “I think I have some dye that I can use to color my hand and make it looked bruised.”

  “We are talking weeks of pretending to not use your hand at all, Fenri. If you mess up, I could be in serious trouble.”

  Fenri came and kneeled before me and, taking my hands with his good one, he spoke. “Thalia, if you can heal my hand or even heal it to where it can then heal itself on its own, then that is worth not being able to use it for a few months. I would be eternally grateful to you.” I could see tears of hope form in his eyes.

  “Papa Odin, if you have any ale or medicine for pain, please give it to him now. He's gonna need it.”

  Odin had both and we gave him pain medicine and got him near drunk. We switched spots on the bench so that Fenri was lying down upon it and I was kneeling. I let myself relax as much as possible before reaching for Faraway. It was starting to come easier to me the more I reached for it. Now that I was calm and numb from the pain, it came almost eagerly.

  Closing my eyes and opening my sight, I saw the mangled mess of bones and muscles and nerves, and I began to doubt myself.

  Don't doubt. We are here.

  We?

  I heard it first and then felt a familiar breathy laugh touch my consciousness.

  Wolf?

  Ja, it seems small one needed my help again. Four feet called me back. The laughing retort came back.

  My heart soared with delight. And I could visually see the grey wolf snapping his jaws in wolfish laughter.

  I tentatively reached out towards wolf and felt them both in the woods outside of the house. I plucked at their energy and pulled it back to me, and all sense of nervousness fled.

  Grasping Fenri's hand gently with a newfound confidence, I carefully worked on maneuvering each bone and set them to reknitting, then restored the nerve endings. I had to take frequent breaks and I stopped when Fenri's pain became too intense. I was so proud of him. He grunted and held in all of the agony, and made very little sound. When my hands started to shake and my sight became blurry, I had to quit for the night.

  “I'm sorry, Fenri, I can't do anymore.” A terrible guilt washed over me. I felt like I failed him. I tried to stand and immediately came to my knees. Even with the help of my friends, my body was physically drained.

  If borrowing power from one being was doubly draining on me, pulling from two was three times more exhausting. I was just glad I didn’t throw up. I was unable to heal myself, and my own injuries were making it hard to help him.

  “I've set the bones and sped along their reknitting. I've also healed all of the damaged nerves and your muscles are starting the healing process. I've taken some of the swelling down and your body will heal itself, although faster. So wear the splint and check it in a few days. But everything looks normal. Maybe in a few days, I can try again.” I said, feeling my eyelids start to droop with weariness.

  “No, Thalia, thank you for what you have done. It's better this way. If people ask about it and look, it still looks like it's injured. You've prevented me from being a cripple.” Sitting up and biting his lip through the pain, he held up his hand and slowly moved each of his fingers. “Everything's set and now Mother Nature will run her course.”

  Sitting down on the floor, I leaned on the bench and laid my head on my arms. “I'm glad. I truly am glad, Fenri.” And I closed my eyes, I felt a slight touch on my face and I opened my eyes in shock. “You can't do anything for yourself?” he said, gesturing to my bruised face and stitches.

  Smiling, I shook my head. “That's not how the gift works. We were taught to use the gift for others, not ourselves. I wouldn't, even if I could,” I whispered tiredly. Fenri nodded to Odin who came and gently picked me up. I felt the cold night air brush my skin as I w
as brought back to my own home and room. My body felt numb and tingly, and I instantly fell asleep, only to dream terrifying dreams.

  Again, I dreamed I was back in the iron butterfly and being tortured. The pain felt real as the clamps buried themselves deep into the pressure points along my body. I felt weak and drained.

  Even though I knew I could access power now, the mere thought of the iron butterfly made me freeze in panic. I started to whimper and cry out and then I felt like I was suffocating. My eyes flew open as my mind came awake and I struggled to breathe. Someone was in my room, trying to smother me.

  Chapter 12

  “MMMFFFFF” I screamed into the hand that covered my mouth and nose. Opening my eyes, fear shot straight to my heart as a dark figure leaned over me and had one hand pressed on my chest and the other over my mouth, keeping me from moving or screaming.

  “Shhhhh! Quiet!” the deep voice rumbled.

  I tried to kick my legs, but I was too tired and weak from earlier. All I managed was a pathetic twitching of my knees.

  “Darn it. Thalia, be quiet and stop moving,” the figure growled out quietly.

  I knew that voice. I stilled and tried to think through all of the possibilities of how he could be here but it didn't make sense.

  “That's a good girl.” Sitting back on the bed, the moonlight from the open window illuminated him. I stiffened when I saw the drunk Stahler. Only this time, his voice didn’t’ match his body. He didn’t have an accent.

  What I saw was the same drunk, smelly fur-wearing Stahler. What I heard was Kael’s voice. I dissected his costume with my eyes, stripping away the many layers of fur, leathers and dark makeup. If I had paid attention to the eyes, Kael’s dark stormy eyes, I would have noticed sooner.

 
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