The Meek Valley Incident: Part 10
Election week in the USA... coronavirus cases on the rise to record breaking for daily new positive tests in Alberta... and out in public I see people force-smiling the holiday spirit early due to how rough 2020 has been in general... My little corner of the world has been having a lot of negative external forces shoving at it this week. I'm guessing everyone's little corners are feeling the external pressure. I really hope, for all of us, we can find a calm spot inside our little corners to just breathe for a few minutes before going back to dealing with all our pressures.
As for happenings inside my little corner, last week was pretty good. I called my kids in absent from school on different days so we could have one-on-one time together, the oldest on Tuesday and youngest on Wednesday. That made for two days in a row of freaking awesomeness. Out for lunch, a bit of shopping so they could blow the last of their Christmas money from last year, and a lot of laughs.
Plus, my husband is happy at his new job. For the first time in many years, his hours are based on a 40-hour working week and he has evenings and weekends off. He's also doing things that compliment his existing skill set while still being refreshingly new, for a company that seems to reward and retain good employees. For both of us, it feels a lot like he's working with and for unicorns at the moment lol. I know eventually the glow should wear off, but all the employees are treated like living people and they like working there (even the long term people pushing 20 years there)! After a 30-year career where he was treated like a numbered and disposable wheel cog, I feel like he's got the right opinion that this new place is downright amazing.
I got a couple rooms in my house cleaned, did a bit of writing, watched a couple movies I've been wanting to see but never gave myself the time to watch until now, and overall had an above-decent week. Giving myself permission to take a break improved my mental health by about a gajillion percent... and post-Halloween "sale candy" is probably a treat I'll still be enjoying after this Christmas rolls past lol. (Seriously, two mini chocolate bars and I'm done... my sugar tolerance is sad and very low.)
I hope you're safe and well this weekend!
Justin saw two rabbits were curled against Tor when he woke up. Tam snatched them up and broke their necks with practiced hands the moment she looked over to see if her brother was awake yet. They spent a quiet day under the branches and shared a pitiful stew that afternoon, using up the last of the wilted vegetables without any seasoning. The luxury of a hot meal was worth it.
Their burrow was completely enclosed by snow now, and the heat from the tiny fire warmed the space to the point of being only cool. Tam had initially been worried about the smoke from their fire being spotted, but Tor assured her they were close enough to the mine to look like hunters from there, so it wouldn’t draw attention. And it was still snowing, so the likelihood of anyone seeing smoke through the storm was impossible. They curled back to sleep for another full night once it was dark again, hoping for the snow to stop falling while they slept.
There was laughter. The quiet chuckles merged with good childhood memories that formed soft dreams to wake up from. Justin blinked awake, nearly happy, and looked around the burrow as he tried to orient himself for where he was. Tam was gone and Tor was laughing and… Justin blinked, scrubbed his eyes with his knuckles, and looked again. Tor really was gently wrestling with three young wolves as the she-wolf slept nearby. The cubs were lanky and lean, but their coats were just as shiny and full as their mother’s, and each young wolf likely already weighed the same as Tam.
Justin glanced at the she-wolf as he was sitting up. He froze half-way through the motion when her yellow stare snapped awake in his direction. Tor reached over and scratched her neck roughly. She grumbled happily at the affection but otherwise didn’t move.
“I met Ki in the spring before last,” Tor stated, the she-wolf’s gaze shifting to him as he spoke and freeing Justin to finish sitting up. “She’d been caught in a snare for what looked like a week or so. Her leg was raw and she was starving.” He picked up the leg in question and showed Justin the heavy scar circling above her foot. “Her cubs had been too little and had starved around her. There were a lot of tracks from a man nearby, and a few other wolf tracks that ended in blood. The rest of the loops in the line were empty, so we figured the rock-mind who set the snares was just leaving her to die slowly while using her as a way to lure in the rest of the pack,” he explained. “It was cruel,” he added under his breath.
Justin looked at the healthy wolf laying a few palmsides away and tried to imagine her being as sick and weak as what Tor was describing.
“Jin and I cut her loose and I carried her back to our camp. It took the whole summer for her to get healthy again, and she stayed with us for most of the fall and winter. She had gotten really fat when this Spring started,” he said, grinning at Justin. “Which explained why she only spent most of her time with us. Now she’s a happy mam, with three big sons, and I only see her when our patrols cross this valley.”
The sons in question tumbled across the burrow, deciding they wanted to play harder than Tor would play with them. Justin chuckled at the cubs, impressed at how well they dodged the small fire, earning him another wary stare from Ki.
“Most people think wolves are terrible,” Tor said. “They’re really not. Their packs are families and all the adults puke up meals they’ve eaten to feed cubs who aren’t big enough to hunt yet.”
Ki snarled a bite toward her cubs when they tumbled too close to her and all three contritely stopped playing. Tor laughed at them and scratched Ki’s neck again.
“You’re a good mam, Ki, to be able to keep these boys in check,” he praised her.
The young wolves noticed Justin was watching them and, curiosity filling their yellow stares now that they saw he was awake, each tentatively approached close enough to sniff at him. He held out his empty hands, chuckling when two went behind him and tickled the back of his neck with their noses. Their curiosity satisfied, one returned to play with Tor and the other two piled into a knot on top of the remaining warmth where Justin’s torso had just been lying.
Playful growling and quiet chuckles followed when Justin crawled outside the burrow and relieved his bladder a short distance away. He turned to go back and noticed Tor’s rope tied to one of the trees at the furthest edge of the copse they were camping in. Tam’s steps were barely dimples under the fast-falling snow; the trail left behind aiming away in the same direction that the long end of the rope was stretched before disappearing completely under the new snowfall. He thought about following the rope, worrying about her being alone after the failed ambush at the shed, but hesitating due to how relaxed Tor and the wolves had been. He instead crawled back inside the burrow. If he was going to go after her, he at least needed to be fully armed.
“She didn’t go far enough to get into any trouble. She only took one rope-length,” Tor stated as Justin was reaching for his swords. “We’ll be out of food today, so we have to get moving again in spite of the storm. The mine is about two hours away in this weather, but we can’t walk through the snow because it’s too deep now,” Tor said, still shoving the young wolf around as he was talking. “She knows the right things we need to make snowshoes for walking on top of it.”
“Snowshoes?” Justin asked, completely unfamiliar with the term.
Tor only smiled wider and continued play fighting with the cub. “You’ll see.”
Tam returned not long after and they rationed out the last of the food to eat later – a stale bun and small strip of salted meat each – before she started organizing the things she’d brought back. Three piles of variously sized branches, some fibrous plant leaves, and a few peelings of bark were set up around her when she was done.
“I need the cord the blanket is woven from,” she said, handing one of their blankets to Tor. “Do not cut it,” she added, seeing him first grab his knife. “Undo the weaving.”
“Why not just use the rope?” Justin asked.
“It’s a waste of good rope,” she shrugged. “This cord will work fine for the short time we need it. We can steal better supplies from the mine.”
Justin watched her lay out a few of the branches in an elongated triangle shape and then lash the intersections together. As soon as she started looping the initial length of cord from the blanket tightly over and under the triangle, two of the sides collapsed. She huffed in frustration after half an hour and four attempts.
“You’ll get it figured,” Tor encouraged her.
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A weekly blog updating on Fridays with quick personal blurbs about me, as in what's going on during my life as an Author and mom, and that doles out my short stories and novellas in bite-sized parts for everyone to read for free!