Torak woke with a jolt from a sleep he'd never meant to
The fire had burned low. He crouched in the fragile shell of light and peered into the looming blackness of the Forest. He couldn't see anything. Couldn't hear anything. Had it come back? Was it out there now, watching him with its hot, murderous eyes?
He felt hollow and cold. He knew that he badly needed food, and that his arm hurt, and his eyes were scratchy with tiredness, but he couldn't really feel it. All night he'd guarded the wreck of the spruce bough shelter and watched his father bleed. How could this be happening?
Only yesterdayyesterdaythey'd pitched camp in the blue autumn dusk. Torak had made a joke, and his father was laughing. Then the Forest exploded. Ravens screamed. Pines cracked. And out of the dark beneath the trees surged a deeper darkness: a huge rampaging menace in bear form.
Suddenly death was upon them. A frenzy of claws. A welter of sound to make the ears bleed. In a heartbeat, the creature had smashed their shelter to splinters. In a heartbeat, it had ripped a ragged wound in his father's side. Then it was gone, melting into the Forest as silently as mist.
But what kind of bear stalks menthen vanishes without making the kill? What kind of bear plays with its prey?
And where was it now?
Torak couldn't see beyond the firelight, but he knew that the clearing, too, was a wreck of snapped saplings and trampled bracken. He smelled pine-blood and clawed earth. He heard the soft, sad bubbling of the stream thirty paces away. The bear could be anywhere.
Beside him, his father moaned. Slowly he opened his eyes and looked at his son without recognition.
Torak's heart clenched. "Fa, itit's me," he stammered. "How do you feel?"
Pain convulsed his father's lean brown face. His cheeks were tinged with gray, making the clan-tattoos stand out lividly. Sweat matted his long dark hair.
His wound was so deep that as Torak clumsily stanched it with beard-moss, he saw his father's guts glistening in the firelight. He had to grit his teeth to keep from retching. He hoped Fa didn't noticebut of course he did. Fa was a hunter. He noticed everything.
"Torak . . ." he breathed. His hand reached out, his hot fingers clinging to Torak's as eagerly as a child. Torak swallowed. Sons clutch their fathers' hands, not the other way around.
He tried to be practical: to be a man instead of a boy. "I've still got some yarrow leaves," he said, fumbling for his medicine pouch with his free hand. "Maybe that'll stop the"
"Keep it. You're bleeding too."
"Doesn't hurt," lied Torak. The bear had thrown him against a birch tree, bruising his ribs and gashing his left forearm.
"Torakleave. Now. Before it comes back."
Torak stared at him. He opened his mouth but no sound came.
"You must," said his father.
"No. No. I can't"
"TorakI'm dying. I'll be dead by sunrise."
Torak gripped the medicine pouch. There was a roaring in his ears. "Fa"
"Give mewhat I need for the Death Journey. Then get your things."
The Death Journey. No. No.
But his father's face was stern. "My bow," he said. "Three arrows. Youkeep the rest. Where I'm goinghunting's easy."
There was a tear in the knee of Torak's buckskin leggings. He dug his thumbnail into the flesh. It hurt. He forced himself to concentrate on that.
"Food," gasped his father. "The dried meat. Youtake it all."
Wolf Brother © 2005 by Michelle Paver. All rights reserved. HarperCollins Children's Books
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