Torak reached the stream. Glancing quickly around, he snatched a dock leaf and moved forward, his boots sinking into the soft red mud.
Beside his right boot was the track of a bear. A front paw: twice the size of his own head, and so fresh that he could see the points where the long, vicious claws had bitten deep into the mud.
Look behind you, Torak.
He spun round.
Willows. Alder. Fir.
Dark yew. Dripping spruce. Dense. Impenetrable.
But deep withinno more than ten paces awaya stir of branches. Something was in there. Something huge.
Torak forced himself to stay still. Don't run. Don't run. Maybe it doesn't know you're here.
A low hiss. Again the branches stirred.
He heard the stealthy rustle as the creature moved toward the shelter: toward his father. He waited in rigid silence as it passed. Coward! he shouted inside his head. You let it go without even trying to save Fa!
But what could you do? said the small part of his mind that could still think straight. Fa knew this would happen. That's why he sent you for water. He knew it was coming for him. . . .
"Torak!" came his father's wild cry. "Run!"
Crows burst from the trees. A roar shook the Foreston and on till Torak's head was splitting.
"Fa!" he screamed.
Again the Forest shook. Again came his father's cry. Then suddenly it broke off.
Through the trees, he glimpsed a great dark shadow in the wreck of the shelter.
He turned and ran.
Torak crashed through alder thickets and sank to his knees in
bogs. Birch trees whispered of his passing. Silently he begged them not to
tell the bear.
The wound in his arm burned, and with each breath his bruised ribs ached savagely, but he didn't dare stop. The Forest was full of eyes. He pictured the bear coming after him. He ran on.
To the east, the sky was wolf gray. Thunder growled. In the stormy light, the trees were a brilliant green. Rain in the mountains, thought Torak numbly. Watch out for flash floods.
He forced himself to think of thatto push away the horror. It didn't work.
At last, he had to stop for breath. He collapsed against an oak tree. As he raised his head to stare at the shifting green leaves, the tree murmured secrets to itself, shutting him out.
For the first time in his life, he was truly alone. He didn't feel part of the Forest anymore. He felt as if his world-soul had snapped its link to all other living things: tree and bird, hunter and prey, river and rock. Nothing in the whole world knew how he felt. Nothing wanted to know.
The pain in his arm wrenched him back from his thoughts. From his medicine pouch he took his last scrap of birch bast and roughly bandaged the wound. Then he pushed himself off the tree trunk and looked around.
He'd grown up in this part of the Forest. Every slope, every glade was familiar. In the valley to the west was the Redwater: too shallow for canoes, but good fishing in spring, when the salmon come up from the Sea. To the east, all the way to the edge of the Deep Forest, lay the vast sunlit woods where the prey grow fat in autumn, and berries and nuts are plentiful. To the south were the moors where the reindeer eat moss in winter.
Fa said that the best thing about this part of the Forest was that so few people came here. Maybe the odd party of Willow Clan from the west by the Sea, or Viper Clan up from the south, but they never stayed long. They simply passed through, hunting freely as everyone did in the Forest, and unaware that Torak and Fa hunted here too.
Wolf Brother © 2005 by Michelle Paver. All rights reserved. HarperCollins Children's Books
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