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“I Am Brahkis” Episode 16

The Adventures of an Intellectual Barbarian

Night has fallen thick upon the land, and no matter which path I choose, the dark keeps gifting me obstacles. It doesn’t help that my mind is occupied by the vision in the Grackle’s fire. The Great Mountain is not even adjacent to Shadowwolf lands, though it can be seen in the distance, and its snows foretell of the changing seasons. If the Spirit of the Mountain is in pain, it is not my task to assuage it. I have other concerns and so do my clan.

Right now, for instance, I need to find my way out of these forsaken woods before sunrise. Sleep once again has to wait. “Shadow, I don’t suppose you have any suggestions?” I ask, gesturing to the maze of interlacing brambles ahead of me. The wolf remains several paces behind, licking his lips as if bored, completely unimpressed with my ineptitude.

As I backtrack to find a better way around, I wonder how long the animal is going to follow me. It probably doesn’t help that I gave him my bowl back at the Grackle’s home. At least he’s no longer growling at me, though a few hours seem awfully quick for a wild creature to become tame.

Not long after I feel like I’ve made some actual progress, I nearly collapse down the crumbling embankment of a sinkhole, just barely grabbing a nearby trunk to save myself. Frustration boils over, and I consider whether the Grackle is magically punishing me for leaving so abruptly. “Why don’t you take a turn and lead?” I yell at the wolf – his eyes are about the only things I can still see clearly. Hardly any moonlight reaches the forest floor where we stand.

Astonishingly, Shadow moves in response to my request. I hear the soft padding of his feet and catch the swish of his tail, then realize I’ll quickly lose him if I don’t hurry. I have no idea where he’s going, but since it’s not back the way we came, I figure it can’t hurt to follow for a while. I realize a few moments later that of course it can – if he’s leading me back to his pack and they decide to have Brahkis for supper. I’m too weary to let that dissuade me, though, and do my best to follow in the wolf’s footsteps, imagining I am one of his kin.

Miraculously, it seems to work. Prowling as if searching for prey, rather than thinking about being lost, keeps me moving, weaving through clearings and around thickets until I spot the relative glow of starlight ahead. We’ve reached the edge of the woods. I peek out warily before leaving the cover of the trees.

No Roaring Bears are within sight, and I don’t see any movement other than the tall grass waving in the night breeze. I’m counting on it being too late and too close to Treehorn Hall for enemies to be laying an ambush, and keep to the worn path. I find solace in speed, given that my warm furs are probably missing my presence and will be happy to greet me.

I run almost the whole way back, and Shadow bounds after me, easily keeping pace. I’m not sure how I will explain his presence, but figure I still owe him for saving my life. I’ll find a way to keep him safe, and maybe he stays because he knows it.

Dawn is near, but not quite arrived, when I make it back to the settlement. A guard is still awake, watching from his perch above the closed gate. He whistles as I approach, a signal for me to identify myself as friendly in the darkness. I give the proper response and see the gate move slightly as it is unbarred and pulled ajar from the inside.

“Welcome home, Brahkis, though the news can’t be good for you to have returned so early.”

I recognize Nertram’s voice from above as I squeeze through the gate, though it is too dim to do so by his face. “Indeed, I should talk to our Chieftain. Is he awake?”

“Brahkis, there is a beast behind you!” Nertram means to warn me, but I make sure to react with the same lack of surprise that I feel. I don’t want to further alarm my kin or have him act drastically.

“This is my new hunting companion, Shadow. Yorilis, the Shaman, trained him,” I lie. “Should I speak to Rulgor now or let him sleep?” I try again.

“I will check for you, Brahiks,” says the guard who opened the gate. I don’t know his voice well enough to recall his name. “He bade me wake him with any important news.”

“My thanks.” I would rather get this part over with so I can finally have some uninterrupted sleep. Shadow is reluctant to enter the fort, but I coax him with clicking sounds and a few snaps of my fingers. I close the gate once he’s inside and walk slowly toward the Chieftain’s shelter, anticipating I will be beckoned in for my report.

The guard lifts the flap to Rulgor’s lodging, letting the orange glow of lit candles fulfill my eye’s longing for radiance. Seeing me near, the man holds it open for me and I enter, but not before pointing to the ground and ordering Shadow to stay. Remarkably, though I am no longer truly surprised, he obeys.

“What is it that causes you to return in the dead hour before dawn, Brahkis?” Rulgor wears only a loincloth, having just been roused from bed and perhaps not yet fully awake as he feels along a little table for his pipe weed.

“It is dire news, my chieftain. The Clan of the Roaring Bear has claimed the Shadowwolf stronghold in the Golden Valley.” I stay silent for a moment, allowing my message to sink-in to the half-woke.

He turns to me but doesn’t speak, the search for his morning smoke forgotten. For some reason, his hesitation prevents me from keeping my mouth shut, and I imprudently add, “And I would like permission to investigate a massacre at the base of the Great Mountain.”

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