Word Count 500
By Sharon Collins
Sister sniffs the scent of dried-fish and keeps licking my fingers, her pale eyes unblinking. Not wanting to threaten, I lower my eyes and offer another piece of fish. Hunger makes her brave, and she inches closer, slipping from beneath her mother’s fur. Like her eyes, her coat is colorless except for a spot of brownish red on her forehead. Sensing she will allow, I reach to rub the spot. It is prickly. Horrified, I realize the red is dried blood as bits crumble between my fingers. After the Watchers captured the other pups and we left the clearing dragging her dead mother, Sister must have come out of hiding and rolled in the She-Wolf’s blood. Like me she has been marked. Unlike me, she has not been able to remove it. I raise my green eyes to her pale ones and offer the silent apology of hunter to victim. I owe her much.
With two hungry mouths, my store will not last long, so instead of heading upriver toward the Summer-Gathering as suggested by Second-Wife, I will go back to the sea where I know there is food. The Clans of the Great-Water and those of the Endless-Ice will gather at the end of this moon. I was to travel this year on the journey to trade salt, as I am old enough to find a mate. Mother wanted a mate for me from among the Men of the Ice. Whispered stories of fierce, white bears and giant fish wearing spears on their heads, of tall men with red hair, and warrior women, delighted me as a child. Whenever I cried for more, she would hush me, saying that her stories were our secret and not for the Clans’ ears. I asked once where she learned them. She never answered, only smiled and sighed. For whatever the reason, she wanted me to find one of the tall men with red hair like my own from the edge of the Ice. The other women scoffed at her grand plans for me. A mate from any clan would be good enough for a tall, skinny, ugly girl like me they sneered. Suddenly I was glad the Clan released me. I did not want to be just any man’s mate, and I certainly did not want to be any man’s second or third wife.
While Sister busily gnaws a third piece of fish, I untie the lacing from around my waist and slip a loop over her head. Instantly rigid, she growls her best puppy growl. She shakes furiously hopping and dancing away from me. But the sinew holds fast. I remain still, holding the piece of fish and humming softly. Realizing she is not hurt, Sister edges back to me and the fish. I gather my pouch and water-skin in what is now OUR brindled fur cape, wrap the lacing around my wrist, and pick up my fire-bowl. Sisters, linked by loss and need, we head back to the sea.