Word Count 425
By Sharon Collins
Kneeling still, I blink away the tears, clearing my vision. ‘Make him welcome?’ I ask. Sister answers by nudging my shoulder forward, then lying down beside me, muzzle on her paws, watching, waiting. The enormous He-Wolf does not move. He stands before me, his gray bulk blocking the sunlight, the warmth, and the entrance to our cave. His eyes and mine wary and wide. I do not know which of us is more shocked… Shadow and I lock gazes, each knowing we have entered a contest we must not lose.
Voices explode in my head. ‘Stand! Shout! Fight! Flee!’ clamors my heart! ‘Calm…Quiet…Breathe… But do NOT look down…’ commands my mind. My heart and mind battle fiercely in this frozen moment. A third voice, Sister’s voice, whispers, ‘Fear not Yysha. I would bring you no harm.’ I listen to Sister and to my mind. Breath slowly returns to my body and I notice that the bowl of tea has cooled in my hands. I dare not waste the pain-magic of the long-haired-tree. Not knowing what else to do, I slowly raise it to my lips and sip, but I do not lower my eyes. I will never lower my eyes to another again. I sip until the bowl is empty.
Setting the bowl carefully aside, I speak and am grateful my voice does not tremble. “Shadow is welcome Sister, but he must understand. I am Head-Woman of this tribe. Tell him Sister.”
Sister hesitates, and then rises to stand beside me. Low sounds hum from her white throat. Without breaking his gaze from mine, he lowers his ears and answers her with a fierce growl that rumbles deep in his gray throat. Sister whines. I flinch, almost but do not look away. I stare harder, my green eyes burning into his blue ones. Finally, he blinks and backs away one step. I stand and nod my head, hoping he will sit. He does not. He lifts his head and fills our cave with a howl that raises the hair on the back of my neck. I cannot help myself, this time I do flinch and Sister whimpers, but Shadow neither sees or hears. With a flash of his tail, he makes his choice and is gone. For a moment, I fear she will follow, but she does not. Weak with relief, I fall back to my knees and gather her close. “I am sorry Sister,” I sob into her warmth as she licks away my tears. “ I am sorry we are alone, together once more.”