They called her the Wolf Girl, which sounds like a compliment, but it wasn't really. Emilie was still and shy like the wolf who slides effortlessly through the trees, blending between the snow white and bark brown, but her eyes took you all in. She watched and she listened. It was her way, but it made the other children nervous, and nervous children will tease and taunt. That was their way, too.
Emilie pulled her hat down over her ears and tightened her scarf as she strained to hear what Elder Khaman was saying over the chilled winter air. It was the season of the the Games when a champion would be selected from the best of the tribe and the village pups crowded around him, eager to gain favor and maybe learn a trick that would give them an edge over the others. Ellie watched and listened, but she never competed. It always made her feel too exposed, too vulnerable. But still, she knew that Elder Khaman had much to share, so she listened.
Elder Khaman was recounting the tales of Games gone by. He had faced many winters already, roaring in the morning stillness to keep the Frost Giants at bay. He had even faced the chilling presence of the Frost Giants on more than a few occasions and lived to tell the tale, which he reveled in now around the morning fire.
" Emilie!" he called out. Elder Khaman never called her Wolf Girl, although the other children were already whispering her name. "Come and join us by the fire. You are always welcome."
"That would mean she would actually do something," sneered Phoenix. He was highly regarded as the best and brightest among the young warriors. The people were already placing bets over how he would do in this year's Games. "Let the Wolf Girl hide behind her hat so that we can keep the Frost Giants from disturbing her sleep." Emilie's face flushed, her rage barely contained. She turned to walk away when Khaman voice cut through the wind like a blade shattering ice.
"Every member of this tribe is important, vital to its survival," Elder Khaman roared. "It may not be Emilie's way to toss the spear or run barefoot in the snow, but I've seen many of you beg her for the herbs that keeps the rattle out of your lungs when the winter chill settles in your bones, so she deserves your respect."
His voice softened and stretched out his hand. "Please Emilie... join us. The Jotun are always watching and we are always stronger as a tribe than we are alone."
Suddenly, Khaman stiffened, his eyes darted as he scanned the trees. Emilie felt it too: her stomach tightened and her feet tingled, wanting to flee. Khaman gestured to the others to stay by the fire and his heavy feet cracked through the crust as he strode past Emilie, facing the trees. She could no longer see the snowy foundation of the forest floor, but she peered out past the shaman's furs as he stretched out his arms and whispered in a language she did not know. Perhaps it was the magical language of shamans that keep the tribe safe, perhaps he was appealing to the generous nature of the forest spirits, requesting protection. Emilie tried to see what hid itself behind the wooden wall of frost-covered trees, and although she saw nothing, she could feel eyes upon her. She clutched his robes ever-tighter.
"Back to the fire, young-one," whispered Khaman firmly. "Do not speak of what you have seen today, if anything. Watch, listen, but speak only to me if you have anything to say."
Emilie gathered up her courage and turned her back on the woods, even though she could still feel a gaze upon her. The fire warmed her skin, but her thoughts were still troubled and sent shivers through her composure.
Chapter 2: The Cleansing River
This work by John David Hickey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at www.johndavidhickey.ca.