Authors: Michelle Paver
Tags: #Social Issues, #Prehistory, #Animals, #Demoniac possession, #Wolves & Coyotes, #Juvenile Fiction, #Prehistoric peoples, #Fantasy & Magic, #General, #Horror & Ghost Stories, #Historical, #Fiction, #Values & Virtues, #Good and evil
No. That wasn't any good. He could picture Renn's face. "I'm your best friend--and you've been lying to me for
two whole moons!"
He put his head in his hands.
"They come back?"
Torak had been horrified. "Of course. You can't see them; they're deep in the 11 marrow. But they're still there." So that was the end of that, unless he could get her to tell him about the rite without revealing why he needed to know.
It was early in the Moon of the Salmon Run, and a sharp east wind carried a strong smell of fish. As Torak made his way beneath the pines, his boots crunched on flakes of bark scattered by woodpeckers. To his left, the Green River chattered after its long imprisonment under the ice, while to his right, a rock face rose toward Broken Ridge. In places it was scarred, where the clans had hacked out the red slate which brings hunting luck. He heard the clink of stone on stone. Someone was quarrying.
That should be me, Torak told himself. I should be making a new axe. I should be doing things. "This
can't go on," he said out loud.
"You're right," said a voice. "It can't."
They were crouching on a ledge ten paces above him: four boys and two girls, glaring down. The Boar Clan wore their brown hair cut to shoulder length, with bangs; tusks at their necks; stiff hide mantles across their shoulders. The Willows had wovenbark strips sewn in spirals on their jerkins, and three black leaves tattooed on their brows in a permanent frown. All were older than Torak. The boys had wispy beards, and beneath the girls' clan-tattoos, a short red bar showed that they'd had their first moon bleed.
Torak stared back, hoping he didn't look scared. "What do you want?"
Aki, the Boar Clan Leader's son, jerked his head at the antlers. "Those are mine. Put them down."
"No they're not," said Torak. "I found them." To remind them he had weapons, he hoisted his bow on his shoulder and touched the blue slate knife at his hip. Aki wasn't impressed. "They're mine."
stole them," said a Willow girl. "If that was true," Torak told Aki, "you'd have put 13 your mark on them and I'd have left them alone."
"I did. On the base. You rubbed it off."
"Of course I didn't," said Torak in disgust.
"Then put them down and get out of here," said a boy called Raut, who'd always struck Torak as fairer than most. Unlike Aki, who was spoiling for a fight. Torak didn't feel like giving him one. "All right," he said briskly. "I made a mistake. Didn't see the mark. They're yours."
"What makes you think it's that easy?" said Aki.
Torak sighed. He'd come across Aki before. A bully: unsure if he was a leader, and desperate to prove it with his fists.
"You think you're special," sneered Aki. "Because Fin-Kedinn took you in, and you can talk to wolves and you're a spirit walker." He raked his fingernails over the scant hairs on his chin, as if checking they were still there. "Truth is, you only live with the Ravens because your own clan's never come near you. And Fin-Kedinn doesn't trust you enough to make you his foster son."
Torak set his teeth.
Covertly, he looked about. The river was too cold to swim; besides, they had dugouts on the bank. That
He set down the antlers. "I said you can have them," he told Aki. He started up the trail.
"Coward," taunted Aki.
Torak ignored him.
A stone struck his temple. He turned on them. "Now who's the coward? What's brave about six against one?"
Beneath his bangs, Aki's square face darkened. "Then let's make it even: just you and me." He whipped off his jerkin to reveal a meaty chest covered in reddish fuzz. Torak froze.
"What's the matter?" sniggered a Boar girl. "Scared?"
"No," said Torak. But he was. He'd forgotten the Boar Clan custom of stripping to the waist for a fight. He couldn't do that, or they'd see the mark. "Get ready to fight," snarled Aki, making his way down the ladder.
"No," said Torak.
Another stone whistled toward him. He caught it
and threw it back, and the Boar girl yelped and clutched a bleeding shin.
Aki had nearly reached the bottom of the ladder, his friends swarming after him like ants on a honey trail.
Grabbing one of the antlers, Torak ducked behind a pine, hooked the tines in the nearest branch, and swung into the tree.
"We've got him!" shouted Aki.
No you haven't, thought Torak. He'd chosen this tree because it grew nearest the rock face, and now he crawled along a branch "and onto the ledge they'd just left. It was littered with quartz saws and grindstones, a small fire, and an elkhide pail of pine-pitch, planted in hot ash to keep it runny. Above him the slope was less steep, with enough juniper scrub to make it climbable.
Bellowing like a stuck boar, Aki slid down the ladder.
Torak clawed at juniper bushes and hauled himself toward the ridge.
He ran northeast through the trees, and their cries faded. He
running away. But better be called a coward than get found out.
After a while the slope became gentler, and he was able to skitter down it and make his way to the river again, keeping off the clan trail and sticking to the wolf trails, which he could find almost without thinking. Once he reached the ford, he could get across and double back to the Raven camp. There'd be trouble, but Fin-Kedinn which he could find almost without thinking. Once he reached the ford, he could get across and double back to the Raven camp. There'd be trouble, but Fin-Kedinn would be on his side.
In a willow thicket on the bank, he came to a halt, the breath sawing in his chest. Around him the trees were still waking from their long winter sleep. Bees bumped about among the catkins, and a squirrel dozed in a patch of sunlight, its tail wrapped around the branch. In the shallows, a jay was taking a bath. No one was coming. The Forest would have warned him.
"I'm not one of you," muttered Torak. "I'm
Somewhere to the south, Wolf howled. He'd caught a hare, and was singing his happiness to the Forest, his pack-brother, and anyone else who was listening. Hearing Wolf's voice lightened Torak's spirits. Wolf didn't seem to mind his tattoo. Nor did the Forest. It knew, but it hadn't cast him out.
Struggling to his feet, Torak scrambled backward. "I didn't do it on purpose! I didn't know you were there!"
"Liar!" Aki swung his axe at Torak's shins.
Torak jumped out of the way, then sidestepped and kicked Aki's axe-hand. Aki dropped the axe. He drew his knife. Torak drew his, too, and they circled each other. 18
Torak's heart hammered against his ribs as he tried to remember every fighting trick Fa and Fin-Kedinn had taught him.
Aki released him and staggered back. Torak's legs wouldn't move.
Aki glanced from the mark to Torak's face. Beneath the pine-pitch, his features were blank with shock.
He recovered fast. He pointed one finger at Torak, aiming straight between the eyes. He made a sideways cut of the hand: a sign Torak had never seen before. Then he turned and ran.
Torak's devoted follower, rushed to greet him. He was yanked back by his father.
Renn burst from a reindeer-hide shelter, her dark-red hair flying, her face flushed with indignation. "Torak, at last! It's all a mistake! I've told them it isn't true!"
They had such faith in him. He couldn't bear it.
The Boar Clan Leader glared at Fin-Kedinn. "Are you calling my son a liar?" He was a bigger version of Aki: the same square face and ready fists. "Not a liar," replied Fin-Kedinn. "Simply mistaken."
The Boar Clan Leader bridled.
"I've told you," said Fin-Kedinn, "the boy is no Soul-Eater. And he can prove it. Torak, take off your jerkin."
Renn turned on her uncle. "But you can't even
Fin-Kedinn silenced her with a glance. Then to Torak, "Quickly now, let's clear this up."
Torak looked at the faces around him. These people
had taken him in when his father was killed. He'd lived with them for nearly two summers. They had begun to accept him. Now he was going to end that. Slowly he took off his quiver and bow and laid them on the ground. He untied his belt. There was a ringing in his ears. His fingers belonged to someone else. He said a prayer to the Forest--and pulled his jerkin over his head. Renn's mouth opened, but no sound came. Fin-Kedinn's hand tightened on his staff.
"I told you," cried Aki. "The three-pronged fork--I
you! He's a Soul-Eater!" 21