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“I Am Brahkis” Episode 18

The Adventures of an Intellectual Barbarian

Shadow comes bounding down the rise, having circled around the elk. They spot him and flinch, then run in a panic down the hill in my direction. I must react quickly. Springing up from cover, I raise my bow as I cut the elk off. The yearling is a few steps behind its mother, unsure of the best path to take without seeing her move first. That hesitation is its doom.

As the mother elk changes course and dashes aside to avoid me, its youngster pauses to assess me. During that instant, Shadow catches him and latches on to its flank with a violent, sure snap of his jaws. The elk’s rear legs buckle under the pressure of the wolf bearing down on it, extending its tongue in a pitiful wail, hoping its mother will save it. But that is not the way of the taiga and will be the last lesson this creature learns.

I have no need to waste an arrow; the young elk is not escaping from Shadow’s powerful jaws. Instead, I drop my bow, pull out my knife, and pounce forward to end things quickly. Wrapping an arm around the fawn’s neck, I pull it up tightly and slit its throat with my knife. Within a few breaths, the creature ceases struggling. Shadow releases his grip and licks his lips, already thinking about the taste of fresh meat.

He did much of the work and I will not deny him. I look for a piece to carve off as a reward, then scan the tree line for sings of the mother. She is nowhere to be seen, but no doubt knows she will never see her child again. As usual, I feel a brief sadness for that fact, but I know there will be others. Taking prey is the way of the wolf, and I cannot regret it.

Once I’ve gotten Shadow sated with a snack, I bind the elk’s front legs together, then do the same to the rear. Even a beast this young is worthy burden as sling it across my shoulders and rise. I’ll have to carry my bow and use the elk’s weight to help keep it in place. Shadow nips at the exposed flesh of his meal’s leg a few times, nearly toppling the prize from my grasp.

“I already gave you some!” I shout, hoping it’s enough to deter him. “You must learn the importance of providing for the clan.” He stares up at me and whines, but ceases his antics. I nod, hoping it’s resolved, but then nearly jump out of my skin when I turn and find a man standing two paces in front of me. The yearling carcass drops to the ground, providing Shadow with a brief victory.

It’s the Grackle. “Could you not do that?” I admonish, crouching to steady myself and setting my bow on the ground.

“My apologies. I needed to talk to you.”

“And you waited until I was loaded down and ready to leave?” I ask.

The Grackle shrugs. “I didn’t want to interrupt.”

It’s clear this Shaper is persistent – a quality I both admire and detest. Stubbornness is a trait I’m all-too familiar with. It runs throughout the Shadowwolf Clan, and I’ve inherited some myself. I stand and cross my arms, displaying mine. “All right, then, speak your mind – though I can guess what you’re going to say.” I doubt he’d threaten me directly, but I’m unsure what the Grackle is capable of if he becomes desperate.

“I think I’ve been approaching this in the wrong way to convince you,” he begins.

I shrug and raise my eyebrows. There’s an idea.

“You are hesitant to help mend the Great Mountain, because you think doing so means abandoning the needs of your people. You are right, Brahkis, in that the Shadowwolves need you… they just aren’t aware of how you can best serve them. You know how the snow melt in the early summer brings a rush to all the streams of the valley?”

Of course I do. It is a time of great bounty, when the rivers are flush with new salmon. I nod, cautiously allowing that perhaps I should give his words a fair chance.

“It will be the same with this danger, Brahkis. Though the Mountain might be days away, the monsters it has birthed will eventually flow down from it like the melting snow, and then it will be too late for all of us. You and Rhiannon, together, must stop this threat before both of your peoples are brought to ruin.”

It is hard to believe because I haven’t seen it with my own eyes, but my heart tells me this man speaks truth. I uncross my arms and place my fists on my hips. Shadow is still unabashedly gorging on the elk nearby. “Do Shapers always bring ill news?”

The Grackles smiles wryly and lifts his hands in surrender. “It is the uncanny result of far-reaching knowledge. What I was going to say, is that you need not trust only me. Why not return to your Spirit Shaman and seek his advice? If he suggests the same course of action, perhaps you will not regard it as folly?”

I laugh. “You clearly don’t know Yorilis.” Even though our reclusive Shaman has a reputation of madness, it does sound like a reasonable way to put my mind at ease. If Yorilis is at odds with the Grackle, perhaps hearing his opinion might grant me peace from this shape-shifting nuisance. If not…

“The problem is that, whether dealing with the threat of the Great Mountain is in the interest of my people, my chieftain has given me an order. I am to plan the assault on the Roaring Bears in the Golden Valley, before they establish a strong enough foothold to attack Treehorn Hall. If I abandon that duty, Rulgor may have me exiled.” Would that be a totally undesired outcome?

The Grackle nods as if he understands my plight. “Go to your Shaman,” he says. “I will do what I can to delay the strength of the Roaring Bears.”

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