Chapter Eight –
Stepping closer to the northern edge of the grove, Kira heard the growls. She turned to see where Zoosk had gotten off to, and saw him just behind her. His ears were upright, like he was listening to the low growls, too. “Stay, Zoosk” Kira said to him, his ears turning slightly as she spoke.
“Do you hear that, father?” Kira asked Aedan as she touched the back of his shoulder. He didn’t have to answer, she saw him already reaching for his scian. As he unsheathed the long dagger, an old, scraggly appearing wolf stepped out of the trees. Kira stepped backwards, grabbing for her own blade, Zoosk now beside her, front feet forward and teeth showing.
Aedan was also stepping back, not taking his eyes off of the wolf. He told Kira to get back as far away as she could. His voice was low and quiet, but his words hit her hard. She didn’t want to leave his side, she felt safe with him near. But Kira knew that her father would keep her safe, so she did as she was told.
The wolf stepped closer, teeth glaring at Aedan through the low growls escaping the wolf’s angry snout. Gnarling, glaring, warning… the wolf didn’t leap forward. He just stood his ground, threatening the trespassers. Aedan stopped moving backward, lowered his raised blade to his side, and tried to appear non-threatening. The wolf continued to growl.
Kira now kneeling behind the large cracked boulder, placed one hand on the tree and one on her chest where the medallion hung. “Mother, please help me, help us. I know you are with me.” She felt a warmth within her, a slight humming vibration, as she closed her eyes and focused on her plea. She saw the image of her mother, her long ebony locks of hair, her soft smile. Kira, slightly startled, opened her eyes and the image was gone. She felt silly now, asking her mother for help. She knew her mother was gone, and only appeared in her dreams.
Aedan, still standing near the edge of the clearing just feet away from the wolf, seemed to be shaken up as his hands trembled slightly. Sweat was beginning to bead upon his brow. He knew the risks of coming here, but thought that he would have support from the gods. Now he wasn’t so sure. The wolf had began to edge closer to him, and he heard movement to the left of him. He dare not turn his head to see what it was, he was hoping it was just Zoosk.
Raising his hand back up, blade gripped tightly, Aedan decided to challenge the wolf. He lunged forward, two large steps and he was inches from the wolf. Swinging his arm downward, stabbing at the wolf who was now lurching toward him, his blade sank into the wolf’s ribs, but moments too late. The wolf bit him on his leg, tearing a chunk of meat away from his lower leg.
Kira jumped up and ran toward Aedan, screaming for her father. Aedan had fallen to the ground, unable to stand on his injured leg. As Kira closed in on her father, she saw a figure step out from the trees to the left. She stopped in front of Aedan and pulled her blade up in front of her, holding the shaft with both hands. The stranger walked slowly, hands up in front of him, saying he wanted to help. “We must stop the bleeding and get him to the village.”
Kira turned to look at her father, who was trying to untie his belt that was knotted around his waist, but his hands wouldn’t cooperate. Kira helped him, then wrapped the belt around the shredded skin and muscle. “Can you walk, father” Kira asked him softly as she anxiously eyed the wolf lying just feet away. It didn’t move, even to breathe, but it frightened Kira after seeing it attack her father.
Aedan attempted to get up, but still could not bear weight on his leg. The young man helped Aedan stand, holding most of Aedan’s weight as he hobbled back toward the Tree of Life. As he settled under the shade of the enormous tree, Aedan asked the young man to fetch a large stick he could use as a crutch to aid him in returning home.
As the young man walked away, Aedan hurriedly spoke to Kira.
“Kira, you must go find the stone. I cannot help you anymore, there is no way I will make it with my leg torn so badly. It is at the crest of this mountain, at the head of the stream, where the spring bubbles up from the earth. Once you make it through this grove of trees and into the dense forest, straight north, you will find the stream. Follow it to the very top. You must do this Kira. Once you have the stone, come back here, where I will be waiting for you. You will be back here by night fall if all goes well.”
As Aedan finished giving his instructions, the young man reappeared with a large stick. He took some twine and a blanket from Aedan’s pack and padded the top, so Aedan may rest it beneath his arm and support his weight. Aedan rose on one foot in an unsteady motion, and tested it out. It was sturdy, but he still couldn’t use his injured leg to walk. He would definitely be waiting here for Kira to return. “Kira, you go, I will be fine here, waiting for you.”
Kira turned to the young man and noticed him for the first time. He was tall, skin tanned from working in the sun. Dark blonde curls sat upon his head in thick locks, framing a handsome face with eyes of dark green. He smiled at her, a dimple forming in his cheek. She blushed shyly, and thanked him for his help with Aedan. “I don’t know what we can do to thank you” she said, shaking his hand. “Please, what is your name?”
“Finley” he replied, adjusting the small quiver slung across his shoulder. I was hunting, and I heard someone speaking. “I came down to see who was here, as I am usually alone. Looks like I could have come out of the trees a little sooner.”
“Well, we are glad you came out when you did. I could never have gotten my father back to the cover of the tree alone” Kira said, blushing again as she quickly looked back down at her father who was now sitting against the large boulder. “I must get going. Thank you, again, Finley.” Kira began walking away, remembering what her father had told her. She was trying to keep the nervousness at bay, recovering slowly from the wolf attacking her father.
She approached the trees lining the clearing, and slowed her walk. As she stepped into the grove, she began humming the same tune that brought her comfort many times before. Heading due north, Kira kept a steady pace while remaining alert to any sounds. As she saw the undergrowth become thicker and the trees more dense, she knew she was getting closer. She could hear the faint sound of a stream, so she kept walking.
“Kira, wait” she heard Finley say behind her. “Your father wants me to go with you. I have my bow and arrows, I can help protect you.” Kira stopped, looking back at Finley sprinting toward her.
“And did he tell you what I must do?” Kira asked, eyeing Finley suspiciously. Her father had been so vague with her, she doubted that he would send a stranger along for the journey.
“He only told me to stop and wait for you where the tree splits in three. That you would be safe past that point. I know nothing of what you are doing.” Finley looked back at Kira with suspicion momentarily. “Please, I just want to make sure you are safe, and that you get back to your father” Finley pleaded.
Kira acquiesced, reluctantly, and began walking again in silence. Finley tagged along, barely making a sound as he strode behind her. The brush now more dense, limiting their available path. Following the due north directions that her father had given was becoming more difficult. Kira was navigating around shrubs and thorn-covered plants. The sound of babbling water was growing louder. Kira paused to scan her surroundings. Just ahead, there was a shimmer of light as the suns stray rays struck down onto the water’s surface. Kira squealed delightfully, feeling she was accomplishing something. She turned to Finley, smiling as she said “There’s the stream. Now we just follow it to the top!”
Finley grinned back, his dimple forming again, and Kira had to turn away. She didn’t know why he made her blush so easily. She was uncomfortable around him, but also felt an easiness when he spoke to her, like she could tell him anything. They both began climbing again, the path now a bit more rocky by the bed of the shallow stream.
After a while, Kira found she was winded, and wanted to rest for a moment. Leaning against a tree, she took her canteen out to sip some water, then offered it to Finley. Both feeling better after the cool drink, Finley saw the tree up ahead that appeared to split into three separate trunks. Pointing, he told her to look up ahead.
“I will wait for you there, as your father said. But if you need me, you yell loudly. I will come to you.”
“Thank you” was all that Kira said, and then she was off following the stream again. Leaving Finley at the tree, she hiked up higher and higher, until the stream was just barely flowing from a small pond of water. The small pond had formed beneath a rocky area where water bubbled freely from beneath the stones.
Kira waded through the water, the pool only deep enough to reach her lower legs, and came to the rocky formation. Reaching into the crevice where water was flowing freely, she blindly felt around for a small round stone. That is what she imagined she would find, how she saw the images in her mind when her father spoke about the stones. Her fingers hit something smooth, and it rolled in the crevice. Grabbing hold and pulling out the smooth stone, Kira knew instantly that this is what she was seeking. The vibration of a strange energy traveled from the tips of her fingers up to her shoulder, and she gripped harder to not lose the stone. As she squeezed her fist around the stone and stepped backward, she stumbled backward, landing in the pool of water. Stone still in hand, she closed her eyes, relieved she didn’t lose it. There she was again, long black hair, eyes welcoming and smile enchanting.
“Kira, I knew you would find the stone. Let Finley help you, he is kind and will protect you on your journey. You must find the other two stones. Your father cannot help you, he is growing weaker. Get back to him now, he needs you, Kira.”