Elyria stroked the gashes in the pups’ necks. The blood had not finished congealing. She smoothed the fur on their necks covering the cuts. She wiped away the tears running down her face, marking her cheeks with blood-red battle stripes. Careening back and forth on her knees, hugging herself and shaking her fists at the heavens, she screamed out in agony. She tore her smock at neck and hem. She grabbed fistfuls of dirt and rubbed the dirt onto her arms and legs. She pulled her hair from its woolen string, unwinding her braid and splaying her hair to the wind.
“I will kill him.”
Elyria stood and took a deep, steadying breath. She must do what was needed to avenge this evil act. Standing in the spot where she had collapsed in pain, she surveyed the scene.
Both wolf cubs did indeed have their throats slashed. She couldn’t see any other signs of injury. Their bodies lay next to each other. Two’s left paw rested on top of One’s chest, as if comforting his brother.
Elyria did not understand how one man could have killed both dogs and walked away without injuries of his own.
She looked over her shoulder in the direction she had come. She saw Fendor’s footprints, and the hoof tracks of his animals. They got lost in the destroyed grass and churned dirt, and moved off clearly to her right, continuing on the path up the mountain. She saw no signs of blood anywhere except on the pups. Only the area around the dogs was disturbed, an area a man’s height in a circle, enclosing One and Two. She turned around, scanning the area, confirming her first view.
Elyria got down on her knees to see the ground more closely. Fendor’s boot prints moved in a continuous line from one side of the killing space to the other side, never changing direction. There were no boot marks on the outer edges. This made no sense. She found two boot prints that were disturbed by soft rounded pressure over top of them. She moved out from the center but didn’t see any other marks.
Walking around the area in ever widening circles, she came back to the bodies of One and Two. Kneeling by them, she combed down their fur with her hands and straightened their limbs. Holding a palm over each of their heads, she prayed.
“Great Mother of us all, gather your children back to your breast. Suckle them to grow strong in their next lives. Mighty Father, let your sword avenge this wrong committed against your innocent creatures.”
Elyria kissed One by his ears. She bent to place a kiss on Two’s forehead. She saw a bright blue shiny piece of material between his teeth. She gently pulled the strip from Two’s mouth. Rubbing the cloth with her thumb and first finger, it felt fine and smooth. This was no material she had seen before. She folded it and carefully placed it in the pouch she carried around her neck.
After one more silent look at her companions of the last six months, she turned her back on the bodies of the pups and left them for Nature to reclaim her own.
With her dagger drawn in her right hand and her left hand gripping the hilt of her sword, she moved forward along the path letting her weapon points lead the way. She followed Fendor’s tracks, watching the trees on each side of her. She traveled on in caution and determination. The continuous uphill climb had no effect on her. She had grown up in these mountains and her breathing adjusted with ease. She kept her mind on her goal: finding Fendor and killing him. She shoved aside the voices of her parents telling her revenge only hurt the person exacting the revenge. Fendor must be made to pay.
On she trudged for more than an hour. The sun ducked below the peaks of the mountain, but she did not put on her cloak despite the drop in temperature that happened at this time of day. Her exertions kept her warm. She knew that three more turns in the path would bring her to the base of the cave entrances. She slowed her pace so that she could catch Fendor unawares.
The first cave in the series of four caverns had a public shrine. It was easiest to reach and was maintained in a comfortable way to distract the uninitiated from the more holy sites further up the mountain. She predicted Fendor would stop at this cave and go no further. Very few people knew about the additional caves and the three other caves did not have accommodations for pilgrims.
Just before the final turn in the path to the first cave, Elyria left the path to her left. She knew a back way to the cave that would allow her to sneak up on the area. She parted the tree branches, making sure they made no noise. The ground was covered in moss and absorbed any sounds her feet might make. Taking her time moving up through the spruce grove, she came to the edge of the wood and positioned herself behind a trunk. She looked around. All was quiet.
Elyria moved tree by tree to the right, getting closer to the front of the cave entrance. She still did not see anyone or anything.
She heard a horse whiny, to be answered by the snort of a second animal. The sounds came from further to her right. She kept moving in that direction, stopping periodically to listen. After ten minutes, she heard a hoof stomp and a neighing.
She saw three horses tied to a tree, their packs removed and placed in a pile on the ground. Moving closer still, she looked for signs of Fendor. He did not seem to be in his camp, but there was a pile of kindling in the center of the area he had chosen.
She sat down by the boulder she was hiding behind to wait for his return. Laying her dagger and sword beside her on the ground, she shrugged off her backpack and untied and removed her cloak from her waist. She rummaged in her pack for the dried meat she had placed there when she had started out on this trip. She couldn’t eat the meat, saddened when it reminded her she would never feed bits of it to One and Two again. She jumped when she heard metal grind on metal.
She turned towards where she had laid her knives to see a suede booted foot standing on them.