Slowly, Fa's gaze left the sky and came to rest on his son's face. He looked as if he was wondering how much more Torak could take. "Ah, you're too young," he said. "I thought I had more time. So much I haven't told you. Don'tdon't hate me for that later."
Torak looked at him in horror. Then he leaped to his feet. "I can't do this on my own. Shouldn't I try to find"
"No!" said his father with startling force. "All your life I've kept you apart. Evenfrom our own Wolf Clan. Stay away from men! If they find outwhat you can do . . ."
"What do you mean? I don't"
"No time," his father cut in. "Now swear. On my knife. Swear that you will find the Mountain, or die trying."
Torak bit his lip hard. East through the trees, a gray light was growing. Not yet, he thought in panic. Please not yet.
"Swear," hissed his father.
Torak knelt and picked up the knife. It was heavy: a man's knife, too big for him. Awkwardly he touched it to the wound on his forearm. Then he put it to his shoulder, where the strip of wolf fur, his clan-creature, was sewn to his jerkin. In an unsteady voice he took his oath. "I swear, by my blood on this blade, and by each of my three soulsthat I will find the Mountain of the World Spirit. Or die trying."
His father breathed out. "Good. Good. Now. Put the Death Marks on me. Hurry. The bearnot far off."
Torak felt the salty sting of tears. Angrily he brushed them away. "I haven't got any ochre," he mumbled.
In a blur, Torak found the little antler-tine medicine horn that had been his mother's. In a blur, he yanked out the black oak stopper, and shook some of the red ochre into his palm.
Suddenly he stopped. "I can't."
"You can. For me."
Torak spat into his palm and made a sticky paste of the ochre, the dark-red blood of the earth, then he drew the small circles on his father's skin that would help the souls recognize each other and stay together after death.
First, as gently as he could, he removed his father's beaver-hide boots and drew a circle on each heel, to mark the name-soul. Then he drew another circle over the heart, to mark the clan-soul. This wasn't easy, as his father's chest was scarred from an old wound, so Torak managed only a lopsided oval. He hoped that would be good enough.
Last, he made the most important mark of all: a circle on the forehead to mark the Nanuak, the world-soul. By the time he'd finished, he was swallowing tears.
"Better," murmured his father. But Torak saw with a clutch of terror that the pulse in his throat was fainter.
"Fa, I'm not leaving you, I"
"Torak. You swore an oath." Again he closed his eyes. "Now. Youkeep the medicine horn. I don't need it anymore. Take your things. Fetch me water from the river. Thengo."
I will not cry, Torak told himself as he rolled up his father's sleeping sack and tied it across his back; jammed his axe into his belt; stuffed his medicine pouch into his jerkin.
He got to his feet and looked about for the waterskin. It was ripped to shreds. He'd have to bring water in a dock leaf. He was about to go when his father murmured his name.
Torak turned. "Yes, Fa?"
"Remember. When you're hunting, look behind you. Ialways tell you." He forced a smile. "You alwaysforget. Look behind you. Yes?"
Torak nodded. He tried to smile back. Then he blundered through the wet bracken toward the stream.
The light was growing, and the air smelled fresh and sweet. Around him the trees were bleeding: oozing golden pine-blood from the slashes the bear had inflicted. Some of the tree-spirits were moaning quietly in the dawn breeze.
Wolf Brother © 2005 by Michelle Paver. All rights reserved. HarperCollins Children's Books
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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