Torak had never questioned that before. It was how he'd always lived: alone with Fa, away from the clans. Now, though, he longed for people. He wanted to shout; to yell for help.
But Fa had warned him to stay away from them.
Besides, shouting might draw the bear.
Panic rose in his throat. He pushed it down. He took a deep breath and started to run again, more steadily this time, heading north.
As he ran, he picked up signs of prey. Elk tracks. Auroch droppings. The sound of a forest horse moving through the bracken. The bear hadn't frightened them away. At least, not yet.
Up ahead, the trees opened into a clearing. Torak stumbled into the sunand into a stench of rottenness.
He lurched to a halt.
The forest horses lay where the bear had tossed them like broken playthings. No scavenger had dared feed on them. Not even the flies would touch them.
They looked like no bear kill Torak had ever seen. When a normal bear feeds, it peels back the hide of its prey and takes the innards and hind parts, then caches the rest for later. Like any other hunter, it wastes nothing. But this bear had ripped no more than a single bite from each carcass. It hadn't killed from hunger. It had killed for fun.
At Torak's feet lay a dead foal, its small hooves still crusted with river clay from its final drink. His gorge rose. What kind of bear slaughters an entire herd? What kind of bear kills for pleasure?
Of course, this wasn't a bear. It was a demon. It would kill and kill until the Forest was dead.
No one can fight this bear, his father had said. Did that mean the Forest was doomed? And why did he, Torak, have to find the Mountain of the World Spirit? The Mountain that no one had ever seen?
His father's voice echoed in his mind. Your guide will find you.
Torak left the glade and plunged back into the shadows beneath the trees. Once again he began to run.
He ran forever. He ran till he could no longer feel his legs. But at last he reached a long, wooded slope and had to stop: doubled up, chest heaving.
Suddenly he was ravenous. He fumbled for his food pouchand groaned in disgust. It was empty. Too late, he remembered the neat bundles of dried deer meat, forgotten at the shelter.
Torak, you fool! Messing things up on your first day alone! Alone.
It wasn't possible. How could Fa be gone? Gone forever?
Gradually he became aware of a faint mewing sound coming from the other side of the hill.
There it was again. Some young animal crying for its mother.
His heart leaped. Oh, thank the Spirit! An easy kill. His belly tightened at the thought of fresh meat. He didn't care what it was. He was so hungry he could eat a bat.
Torak dropped to the ground and crept through the birch trees to the top of the hill.
He looked down into a narrow gully through which ran a small, swift river. He recognized it: the Fastwater. Farther west, he and Fa often camped in summer to gather lime bark for rope making; but this part looked unfamiliar. Then he realized why.
Some time before, a flash flood had come roaring down from the mountains. The waters had since subsided, leaving a mess of wet undergrowth and grass-strewn saplings. They'd also destroyed a wolf den on the other side of the gully. There, below a big red boulder shaped like a sleeping auroch, lay two drowned wolves like sodden fur cloaks. Three dead cubs floated in a puddle.
The fourth sat beside them, shivering.
The wolf cub looked about three moons old. It was thin and wet, and was complaining softly to itself in a low, continuous whimper.
Wolf Brother © 2005 by Michelle Paver. All rights reserved. HarperCollins Children's Books
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