Word Count 405
By Sharon Collins
My next step, my very next step is the one…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 my Judgement and determine Justice. Bleeding, but still alive, I stand, the stone behind supporting me more than I let on and meet his dark gaze with my green one.
Lying 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 sharper fangs 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 had.