Evolution by Sharon Collins

Chapter 1: One Small Step

Standing on the edge of Judgement, for that is what this cliff-edge is called, her prehensile toes curl over the rim.  Her body fights exhaustion while her brain, uncomfortably large in its sloping brain-case, fights frustration. For countless generations this cliff-edge has been where guilt is decided and punishment delivered.  The accused stand on Judgement for three moonrises.  The watchers rotating through the hours, are also required to stand. Victims, when the crime is not victimless, are allowed to crouch and watch as well.  On this third night, the entire clan crouches in condemnation as the Headsman has argued all are victims of her crime.  The witnesses know the guilty are always weak and when sleep loosens their knots of protest, they fall into Justice, as that is what the abyss is called.  The innocent stay strong; their knots never loosen; they stand and walk into the Fourth Sunrise.

She is so close to the Fourth Sunrise. Already its pearlescence warms the East reminding her of the evidence against her. Scattered at her feet are beautiful shells, perfect in their half-wholeness, not shattered as tradition demands. Suddenly the wounded pad of her thumb throbs; she licks the ragged cut still seeping and remembers…

Four days ago as the tide receded, she collected clams with the woman.  Sitting on the hardpan, they arranged their smashing stones and began the dangerous business of extracting the juicy meat.  The clacking clatter of their work, reminded her of the gulls, also feasting on the beach.  Watching them, she hit a large shell with a glancing blow. It exploded, a shard embedding itself in the flesh of her thumb.  Nursing the wound, she witnessed a gull scoop a shell and flap back into the sky.  Hovering above her, it let the shell drop.  Landing with a loud crack, she watched as the shell released its lock and slowly swung open.  Seconds later, the gull swallowed its glistening bounty and scooped up another.   Struck by the simplicity, she gathered several clams and climbed the steep track up the cliffside and cast them onto the hard sand at the water’s edge.  By the time she climbed back down the gulls had enjoyed her efforts.  All the open shells were empty.  Angry, she adapted. Calling her daughter, she explained.  Again, she climbed and cast.  This time the reward was theirs to reap, and reap they did.  Her clay bowl, filled to the rim, drew envious glances. Suddenly they were all collecting, climbing, and casting.  That is, all were except the Headsman’s First-Wife.  Returning to the cave, she reported.  Crime was being committed; tradition was being broken.  Change could not tolerated; evolution not allowed.  She was accused of the greatest transgression. She had done something different.

As the sun breaks above the horizon, the Headsman approaches, hands open in welcome and holding a necklace of broken shells, symbol of acquiescence. Hers to accept.  She hovers like a gull, step back into ignorance? Step forward into freedom? She steps..

Chapter 2: Sapiens

I did not witness Grandmother’s Judgement, although I was present, within Mother’s womb, but present nonetheless. To ensure our continued survival that Fourth-Dawn, Mother donned the Shattered-Shell-Necklace and became the Headman’s Third-Wife. The Clan believe me to be his, but my long bones and flat-brow, speak otherwise.

Today Mother sews me a new tunic. I fear it will be her last, for she is nearing her end. Bent with toil and shame, her greying hair tangles in the shells of The Necklace she must never remove, Grandmother’s lasting legacy. Laboriously she pierces the skin with a stone awl and then hole by hole pushes the gut-lacing along. I will wear it with pride when she is gone, but I will not wear The Necklace. I will weigh it down with a stone and cast it back into the sea.

I wish to take the work from Mother’s tired fingers, but the Headman’s First-Wife watches, and I dare not. I wait patiently for her to turn away. I have the tool tucked inside my tunic. Its point pokes me, and the small pain makes me smile as I remember the day I thought to create it.

Sitting on the beach breaking clam shells, I watched a crab drag a still-glistening string of fish-gut home to its lair. Depositing its dinner before the opening, it worked its way around the string of flesh and begin to push it through the hole. Try as it might, the piece of gut folded and twisted but would not go through. Failing to push its treasure in, the crab dragged the soggy lump aside and retreated into the den. I thought it had given up when I saw a claw reach out, grasp one end of the stringy mess, and pull the prize in with ease. The simplicity struck me. Pull the gut; do not push it…if only Mother could do this too…

It took many attempts before I got the tool just right. I tried making it of shell first, but the point was too brittle to pierce even the softest skin. I looked for a sharp stone with a hole, but I never found one. Finally I thought to use bone. Slyly, I secreted several wing bones from the midden and ground each to a point. Then using the stone awl, I tried to pierce the other end. How I wanted to cry when they cracked. But I did not give up. I shaped a new one and left it in sea-water to soften so I could drill without damage. Once dry, I had a perfect sewing tool. Today it pokes me and tells me that the moment has come. First-Wife has gone off to scold Second-Wife.

I take the tunic from my mother and thread my tool. I press its sharp point through the soft hide. In and out it goes. I pull the gut through. I smile but Mother closes her eyes. She does not see me complete the first stitch in Time.

Chapter 3: Moment of Truth

Shadows darker than death lurk in the nightshade. Their hungry eyes float, fluorescing green in the waning firelight. My courage, sputtering and flickering with the flames, like the moonlight is nearly gone. My Judgement has begun. The presence of a dozen clansmen waiting in the forest pines, does little to relieve my fear as the fangs are closer now than they.  I will not die it, but I will suffer. Still believed to be the Headsman’s child, neither my complete failure nor full Justice will be allowed. This privilege angers me. I would rather die than be his. Another bitter benefit of Mother’s deceit I am forced to bear, like the crumbling necklace of shattered shell. The yellowed shells have gotten sharper with age and cut into my neck with each trembling breath.

After my Mother’s death ceremony, I tried to destroy the shameful thing. Intending to send it back into the sea, I climbed the very cliff Grandmother climbed when she invented the New Way to harvest the juicy sweetness of the clams. Trickster-Gull must have needed a laugh that day, because he did not warn me. With the wind in my eyes and the surf in my ears, I did not see or hear the approach of the Headsman’s First-Wife, who had come to harvest the clams herself. She, and only She, is allowed to use the New Way of harvesting. Dropping her basketful, she snatched the necklace from my hand just as I was about to fling it far into the waves. Slapping me over and over, she dragged me before the Elders…again.

‘Twice in the same Moon,’ I think and smile to myself as I draw close the dying glow of the embers. ‘Even the Headsman’s true son has never been sent to the Elders twice in the same Moon!’ I am a thorn in their side and I am glad of it. My first disobedience was creating that sewing tool. Of course First-Wife discovered my invention and complained. She demanded Judgement as she had for Grandmother and hoped for the same Justice. I would have been sent to the cliff-edge, but Mother left us that very night, and I needed to sew her death tunic. Since I was already half done with the one I was making, the Elders bade me finish quickly, despite tradition. A daughter’s last duty, it took less than one sunrise and sunset to complete, even with the tears in my eyes. Mother wears it now on her journey, and I have not been allowed to use the sewing tool again. First-Wife has it for herself.

Shaking away the memory, I rise to a crouch; I can hear their soft footpads despite the pine-needled floor…I can almost feel their hungry breath. I raise my spear as the firelight goes out.

Chapter 4: Next Step

My next step, my very next step changes everything…just like Grandmother’s…just like Mother’s. In the torchlight, He stands before me, the Headsman, his hooded-eyes dark with doubt. The others ring him, their dark eyes full of menace. Watchers all, they have arrived to witness the result of my Judgement and determine Justice. Bleeding, but still alive, I stand, the stone behind supports me more than I let on and meet his dark gaze with my green one.

Sprawled before me, its life’s-blood soaking the pine needles is the She-Wolf. Clamped in her terrible jaws, a shattered shell embedded deep in her throat, is Mother’s Necklace of Shame.

Dizzy with pain, I cannot give satisfactory explanation. Searching for words, I replay the chaotic memory… in the falling gloom, they strike. Snapping fangs circle; pain explodes with each lunge. Their attack coordinated and precise becomes a dance of death. Mine. Muscle meets tooth and gives way. Shoulders to the rock-ledge, I stab, lash, whirl, over and over and over… when I can fight no longer, I cry out for Mother. I know not how, but she comes; she protects me. A feral screech deafens me as fur and fury leap from the rock ledge. An enormous Forest-Cat launches and collides with the She-Wolf. Wolf-fangs reaching for my neck snap instead on sharp shell. It howls; its agony cut short by fangs, sharper yet, piercing its throat. As the death-echo fades, she straddles her kill, muzzle dark with blood, and looks at me, freezing me with Mother’s amber eyes. Her growl scatters the pack. I wait captive in the spell of her stare. Slowly she blinks and is gone, a swirl of shadow among the trees. I collapse in grateful sobs until I hear the Watchers approach.

Struggling to stand, I cannot explain that Mother’s spirit has saved me in death even as her sacrifice saved me in life, so I stand mute. My Judgement and Justice are satisfactory or they are not… I can do no more than wait. Refusing to lower my gaze, I watch as the Headman pries The Necklace from the She-Wolf’s mouth. Wiping a crimson smudge from the longest shard, He approaches cautiously and marks my forehead. Then folding the shattered-shell necklace into his pouch, He steps back…He steps back leaving my way clear.

Swallowing the turmoil, accepting the pain, I step just as Grandmother did.

Chapter 5: Too Late

The trek back is an agony of pain and dread. Pain from tooth and claw pulses with each step. Dread of First-Wife’s anger when she sees me living still, mounts with every breath. I know she thought to have me dead. Her Judgement will be worse than the one I leave behind. I shiver at the memory of the She-Wolf’s death-throes, clamped in the fangs of the Forest Cat with Mother’s amber eyes. I see the bloody shard in the Headsman’s fingers and touch the wet warmth where he has marked my forehead. I stumble. Two Watchers walking beside steady me, as the Headsman hurries us at a furious pace. Behind me, four Watchers struggle, dragging the carcass of the enormous beast back to the cave. It will be my privilege to take her fur. I will fashion boots and perhaps a cape. There will certainly be hide enough.

The other six Watchers carry, each, a wolf pup. The She-Wolf’s children will be welcomed by the Clan. Our Wise-Man has spoken with Men of the Ice and has learned that wolf-pups can be trained to help in the hunt. These six will be tried once they learn to stop snarling and biting. I do not envy the unlucky Watchers carrying them any more than I envy the unlucky pups that now share my orphan-grief. Their brindled fur bristles and their yellow eyes glare; they are both brave and foolish…like me.

As we near the mouth of the cave, I hear it. Riding the wind, an unearthly echo clogs my ears and sets my teeth on edge. The pups cease squirming and begin to whimper. They too recognize the anguish of Death-Keening. The Watchers drop them in their rush forward. Too weary and hurt to stand, I sink to the ground beside their dead mother. They clamber over me and nuzzle her. Foolish girl that I am, I want to sob for their loss despite my survival. Unable to resist further, I give in and close my eyes.

A sunset and sunrise later, I wake to the drumming of Death-Rites and the taste of fish broth spooned by Second-Wife. She tells me how it happened, how First-Wife boasted the night of my Judgement; how she gleefully feasted on roast fowl; how she snapped its bones and sucked the marrow; how a sharp shard lodged in her throat and choked her to death. Unfortunately, Second-Wife also tells the Headsman how I laugh until I cry when I hear this. She tells how I call out to Mother’s Spirit, thanking her for saving me from both She-Wolves.

Too late I realize my mistake. My reckless words curse me. Only the Wise-Man may speak with Spirits and even he may not command them. Shunned and forbidden to return, I am outcast. Barely healed, wearing my wolf-cape, I retrace my steps to the foot of the rock ledge where Mother’s Spirit fought for my life. Kneeling in the soft pine needles to bury her Necklace, stolen from the Headsman’s pouch, I feel her amber gaze upon me once again.

Chapter 6: Reunion

As my torn skin knit itself into thick, puckered seams, angry and red, the fever and the Wiseman came together to condemned me. Dancing around me as I lay on the She-Wolf’sfreshly scraped hide, he tossed grave-herbs into the fire, surrounding me with choking smoke, a barrier to protect The Clan from my dark powers. In rare moments of consciousness, I learn that I am judged too dangerous to be allowed sanctuary. Once healed, I am told, I must leave. The  Wiseman has spoken and The Clan has listened. He has called me a cursed thing, a creature of darkness and evil. I am no such thing; I am only a daughter lost. But, I become voiceless, my pleas fall unheard, unheeded. I am unwanted. The Hunters did not speak for me though I still wear their crusty mark on my forehead. The Headsman did not speak for me in his grief over First-Wife’s Death. Child of his I might be, but child of a third wife, especially one whose dark spirit caused the death of his favorite, I do not deserve the weight of his words. None of the women have any words left to speak for me; their words have dried up like blood on the edges of their hissing curses.

Shunned and alone, the Forest’s silence is a balm to my wounded ears and broken heart. Sighing, I watch the last shattered shell disappear beneath a blanket of brittle, brown needles. Rising from my knees at the foot of the rock ledge, I whisper to the pine-scented emptiness, “I am no creature of darkness… Mother is no creature of darkness,” I add as afterthought, although of that I am not truly certain. I cannot forget her amber gaze as She…It…She licked the Wolf’s lifeblood from her fangs. I cannot forget her scream as She leapt to my rescue. Thinking to honor and perhaps appease Her spirit, I take two pieces of dried fish from my pouch and lay them atop the buried Necklace.

Stepping out of this now sacred spot, I gather my water-skin tying it and the pouch to my belt with a precious sinew lacing. I look at my spear and fire-bowl with its ash-covered embers, still glowing, and smile a teary smile. Second-Wife has not been unkind. I am grateful. I reach for my brindled-fur cape and scream as it jerks from my fingers and growls. Every one of Wiseman’s dark words rush through my mind in the moment it take me to realize. And then I begin to laugh. It almost hurts to laugh; it has been so long… Carefully I lift a corner of the cape and peer under. Two unblinking eyes peer back. The growling stops and a warm tongue licks my hand; I am no longer alone. The She-Wolf’s seventh pup, pale as a mid-winter moon, has also come to say farewell to her mother. We are both Daughters Lost. I will call her Sister.

Chapter 7: Acceptance

Sister sniffs the scent of dried-fish and keeps licking my fingers, her pale eyes unblinking.  Not wanting to threaten, I lower my eyes and offer another piece of fish. Hunger makes her brave and she inches closer, slipping  from beneath her mother’s fur. Like her eyes, her coat is colorless except for a spot of brownish red on her forehead.  Sensing she will allow, I reach to rub the spot.  It is prickly.  Horrified, I realize the red is dried blood as bits crumble between my fingers.  After the Watchers captured the other pups and we left the clearing dragging her dead mother, Sister must have come out of hiding and rolled in the She-Wolf’s blood.  Like me she has been marked.  Unlike me, she has not been able to remove it.  I raise my green eyes to her pale ones and offer the silent apology of hunter to victim.  I owe her much.

With two hungry mouths, my food-store will not last long, so instead of heading upriver toward the Summer-Gathering as suggested by Second-Wife, I will go back to the sea where I know there is food. The Clans of the Great-Water and those of the Endless-Ice will gather at the end of this moon.   I was to travel this year on the journey to trade salt, as I am old enough to find a mate.  Mother wanted a mate for me from among the Men of the Ice. Whispered stories of fierce, white bears and giant fish wearing spears on their heads, of tall men with red hair, and warrior women, delighted me as a child.  Whenever I cried for more, she would hush me, saying that her stories were our secret and not for the Clans’ ears.  I asked once where she learned them.  She never answered, only smiled and sighed.  For whatever the reason, she wanted me to find one of the tall men with red hair, like my own, from the edge of the Ice.   The other women scoffed at her grand plans for me.  A mate from any clan would be good enough for a tall, skinny, ugly girl like me they sneered. Suddenly I was glad the Clan released me. I did not want to be just any man’s mate, and I certainly did not want to be any man’s second or third wife.

While Sister busily gnaws a third piece of fish, I untie the lacing from around my waist and slip a loop over her head.  Instantly rigid, she growls her best puppy growl. She shakes furiously hopping and dancing away from me.  But the sinew holds fast.  I remain still, holding the piece of fish and humming softly.  Realizing she is not hurt, Sister edges back to me and the fish.  I gather my pouch and water-skin in what is now OUR  brindled fur cape, wrap the lacing around my wrist, and pick up my fire-bowl.  Sisters, linked by loss and need, we head back to the sea.

Chapter 8: Harmony

Nearing the sea, I remove the loop from Sister, as she no longer wants to leave me. We have shared much on our journey.  I know her true name now; it is not a sound I can make with my mouth. It is much prettier when she sings it with her mouth.  Her name means the same as the Clan’s word for Snow-Moon.

Although snow no longer falls in the lands of the Clan, the Wiseman still tells tales of dark and brutal winters. In the days of the great, great, grandfathers, when the snow was about to fall, the Clan would heed the Snow-Moon’s misty warning and stay close to the caves. He says the Warrior-Men of the Endless-Ice, must still battle deep snows and terrible storms.  Mother told me stories of the same, but added the courageous deeds of the Ice-Maidens and their white wolves.  Oh how I longed to be one when I was younger.  “Mother,” I whisper to the salt-breeze rising from the sea-grass, “Look at me! I have a white wolf…Perhaps someday, I will….”

My words clot in my throat as we reach the top of the dune.  In the distance gather the women of the Clan.  They are harvesting; I can hear the crack and clatter of stone upon shell.  Dropping to the sand, I pull Sister close.  She senses my terror and begins to whine.  “Silence,” I beg.  “Danger,” I warn.  She stills.  We wait, finally drifting into sleep cradled by the warm sand as the tide turns, sending the women away.  I wake as the last disappears carrying her clay bowl.

Fairly drooling at the memory of the clam’s juicy sweetness, I tickle Sister’s belly to wake her and we race to the water’s edge. Spotting a telltale bubble hole, I dig.  Sister quickly understands and digs too.  When we have enough for our meal.  I ask her to stand guard against the greedy gulls and climb the cliff-path.   Soon we are feasting.  Full and happy for the first time since Mother left, I lead Sister along the shore away from the Clan’s Sand.   There are many empty caves and not all fill with salt-water when the waves are high.  I will find one for us, and we will settle.

Hours later, bright flames warm our small cave as Sister and I lie on the brindled fur of her mother.  She dreams puppy dreams and I watch the moon rise. Arrows of great birds cross her face; their honking saddens me. I do not believe I will journey to the Great Gathering of Clans this season, as I have nothing to trade.  But I will next summer.  I will harvest the precious salt to bring with much dried-fish.  I will also make more sewing tools.  “We will be most welcome,” I promise, waking Sister, who sings her name to the moon. I join her, singing my own true name, “Yy-sha… Yy-sha…Yy-sha…” our voices become one.  Sisters, we keep nothing secret now.

Chapter 9: Yellow-Brights

Towering waves lashing the cliffside frighten Sister but not me. I know they cannot reach us. I love watching the flashes turn night into day. I love the echoes that boom and bounce off the cave walls. Tonight the storm is more terrible than any I can remember. I am wild with the joy of it. Sister is wild with the terror of it. Singing her fear song louder and louder tying to drown the keening winds, she paces and pants until she is exhausted. I draw her close and wrap her mother’s fur around our heads. It dulls the sound and we sleep.

In the morning, the cloudless blue invites us out. Grabbing my gathering-basket and clam-bowl, we answer How strange the world looks; I barely recognize the dunes, all flattened and rearranged. Wandering onto the beach, Sister and I notice bits of yellow-bright bobbing along the water’s edge. Glinting gold in the white sea-foam, they remind me of Sister’s eyes in the firelight. Churned from the sea bottom by the wild wind and waves, I think how lucky we are to spy them first. I know they are called Amber, but Mother always called them yellow-brights. First-Wife wore a magical necklace made of them. Only she was allowed, as they are so very precious. Suddenly an idea forms; I grin and shout over the screeching gulls, “Sister, help me!! We will have something better to trade than salt!”

Leaping and chasing the floating pebbles, she splashes salty water everywhere. At first I am unhappy to be so wet, but then I think that maybe this game is a good idea. Sister is beginning to smell like old fish. Tossing our brindled cape aside, I plunge into the chilly waves with her. Together, we play at being seabirds, floating and diving and scooping. Sister snaps at the yellow-bights with her sharp teeth; I with my fingers. I capture and toss mine. Sister dashes and drops hers. When we tire of the game, we collapse onto the warm sand, our noses nearly touching the glowing, golden pile. As the salt dries on my skin and Sister’s fur, I pick bits of seaweed from the yellow-brights and arrange them, biggest to littlest. I am thrilled there are so many, as many as ALL my fingers and toes AND Sister’s claws! Some are round. Some are flat. All are smooth and beautiful and weigh nearly nothing. Dropping them into the basket, I imagine how pleasant my trading pack will be filled with bird-bone sewing tools and precious yellow-brights instead of heavy salt and smelly dried fish.

Realizing I am hungry, I rise and brush away the sand, but I can do nothing about my sticky hair or Sister’s stiffening fur. So together we search for clam-bubble-holes and our very late breakfast. Clay bowl full, we start the trek back. On the way, I run Sister through the waterfalls shimmering off the cliffside. The rains have swollen them to a pounding strength, enough to hurt my head, but I endure the brief pain to clean the salt from my hair and Sister’s fur. She growls at the hissing walls of fresh water, but for fear that I may disappear, she follows.

Later, seated by the fire, warm and dry, I peer into the largest yellow-bright, big as a gull’s egg. Rolling it round and round in my hand. I enjoy its warmth and the way it swallows up the firelight. Thinking Sister will also enjoy, I rub it back and forth along her muzzle. We both yelp when the yellow-bright crackles and spits the fire back out. I fear we are burned, but strangely, we are not. I do it again. This time only Sister yelps. I laugh and rub it along my hair. It crackles and spits sparks at me as well. “Magic…” I whisper as an image forms in my mind. I see myself arriving at the Clan-Gathering leading a full-grown She-Wolf, pale as moonlight. And we both wear necklaces of precious amber fit only for a Headswoman and her Sister.

Chapter 10:Shy Smiles

Sister is shy. So am I. It is difficult not to be shy when you look so different from the rest. I think about how different Sister looks from other wolves. In the deep pine-shadows of the forest, she must have shone like a ray of moonlight with her yellow-bright eyes. It is no wonder the She-Wolf kept her hidden. Being different is dangerous. I know this to be true, for I too know what it is to hide my smile, to walk with eyes cast down, to try to remain unnoticed.

I have finally come to understand just how different I do look, for I have seen myself in the still water puddled at the mouth of our cave. I have known always that my bones are too long. But staring back from the water’s surface was a stranger with green eyes far too large, and a pale face much too flat. And then there was the seaweed-tangle of her strange hair. “It is true,” I almost sobbed to Sister. “What the women used to whisper behind my back is true; I am ugly.” How their hushed words had hurt. They claimed my ugliness was the result of a curse put on the Headman by Grandmother as she fell from Judgement into Justice. They said she cursed his seed, that he should have only ugly, useless girl-children from that day forth. They said his laughter roared as the echoes of Grandmother’s cries faded and as he gave Mother the choice of her punishment. Offering the necklace of guilt and shame, he said she could take her turn on the cliff-edge for her part in Grandmother’s crime, or she could don the shattered shells and take her place in his bedroll, as his least wife, and become servant to his First and Second. Knowing she was already carrying me, babe of a man taller than most with fox-red hair and green eyes recently met at the Summer Gathering, she chose the Headman’s bedroll, the necklace, and endless obedience. He claimed his rights immediately and often, boasting that Mother’s quickly swelling belly held another handsome son to sit at his side. When I was born, a girl, useless and ugly, no one dared speak aloud of Grandmother’s curse, but everyone whispered of it. When I grew old enough to understand, I stopped smiling and learned to hide my hurt in plain sight.

Remembering makes me hungry so I call Sister and we sneak to the top of the dunes. The gulls lay their speckled eggs in sea-grass nests. Both gulls and their eggs are delicious. My mouth waters at the thought. Luckily Sister blends well with the white sand, and the gulls never notice her until it is too late. She snaps one by the neck, shakes it hard, sending feathers floating on the breeze. She does this again. We will eat well tonight. Swallowing the still-warm insides of an egg, I smile.

Chapter 11: Without Warning

Sister journeys away from me more often of late. She is gone again tonight. I fear she seeks to leave me. I will miss my beautiful, white she-wolf if she does leave, as I need her far more now than she needs me. Long past are the nights when I curled around her, keeping her little puppy bones warm. Now full-grown, she sleeps curled at my back instead. How our lives have changed. Besides sharing her warmth, Sister shares her food. Mid-way though the days of the early-dark, she decided food from the sea is not only smelly, it is not nearly as tasty as the rabbits she could hunt at the forest’s edge. Thanks to Sister, many rabbits have given their meat to our bellies and their white fur to my sewing tool. Tonight I lie beneath a cape of white rabbit rubbing my favorite yellow-bright back forth against the soft fur, sending bits of fire dancing into the dark. Lonesome, I stare at the sky and wonder if the moon is lonesome too, but decide not. The honking-birds that return with the long-days are keeping her company tonight. I asked the Wise-man once if they flew all the way to the foot of the Endless Ice. He said it was not necessary for a girl to know such things. But I wished to know…I always wish to know.

Without warning, my wishing vanishes as the floor of our cave begins to shiver like a live thing. I try to stand, and crash to my knees when the floor suddenly slants sideways scattering my bowl of yellow-brights toward the fire-pit and almost rolling me into it after them. The walls tremble and groan like a beast in great pain, and stones, shaken loose tumble toward me. One strikes my head and the last I see is a yellow-bright melt and puddle like honey.

I wake to a sound I have never heard before, a low, rumbling hiss. Scrambling to the cave’s mouth, I cry out for Sister. I do not know if I am angry or grateful she is gone this night, for the sight before my eyes terrifies me. The sea is gone. Far below, where there should be water and waves, there is nothing but empty sand, dark and damp in the cold moonlight. I sense this is very wrong and for the first time in a very long time, I do not wish to know why. In the distance, there is movement. The hissing rumble becomes a roar. I cover my ears but do not cover my eyes as I cannot believe what I see. A wall of water races toward me, getting bigger with each frantic beat of my heart. I am sure I am screaming as the towering wave slams into the cliffside, but I cannot hear myself over the grinding and groaning of water pounding on stone as the flood rises to within an arm’s-length of the ledge where I kneel.

Chapter 12: Phantom Shadow

I wake sprawled on the ledge and damp with sea spray. Struggling to stand I discover I hurt and I think one of my teeth is loose. I probe with my finger. Yes, one of the grinders wiggles and it should not. I touch the throbbing spot on my head and feel the swelling beneath the sticky mat of my hair. I push gently; that hurts more. I see my yellow-brights spilled and notice my fire has almost burned out. I cannot think why I did not tend the coals properly before I slept or why I slept so near the edge . Suddenly I remember and spin around in panic. The movement makes me gag with pain and the need to empty my stomach. On my hands and knees I stare out in wonder. In the glow of the rising sun, I see the sea has returned. Small waves foam far below; seagulls circle and call. All is as it should be. There is nothing to fear. Slowly this time with my hand to the wall, I manage to get back on my feet. “Where are you Sister? I need you!” I cry as the pain in my head pounds with each beat of my heart. For the first time in a many, many days, I wish not to be alone.

Thinking to make a bowl of pain-killing tea from the bark of the long-haired trees, I spread my soup-stones in the fire-pit and add wood to reawaken the flame. While the soup-stones heat. I gather my yellow-brights and then limp to the pool at the back of our cave The fresh-water is why I chose this cave even though it is so high and difficult to reach. Leaning over the edge, I am startled. Little sunlight reaches this far back, but enough lights the surface for me to see dark stain on the side of my face. As I fill my bowl, I notice something odd. The water-level is rising. The trickle that fills the pool has grown into a small stream. Before my eyes, the surface reaches the lower edge on the pool’s far side and spills away, deeper into the cave. I am grateful my bed-roll and fire-pit are on the high side.

Warmed soup-stones dropped into my bowl, heat the tea. Waiting for the bark to release its magic, I sing Sister’s name as she has taught me. Wolf-song carries far on the wind. I squeeze my eyes tight against the pain and howl her name until I am exhausted, opening them only when I feel a chill. The shadow of a wolf appears as Sister steps between the sunlight and me. Then another shadow, a much larger shadow, appears next to hers. I barely breathe as Sister sings the great, grey He-Wolf’s name for me… the eerie notes of Phantom’s name echo from the rock walls. Sister tells me I may call him Shadow and asks me to make him welcome.

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