Yes, I am finally back in the habit of posting more than once a month. Today, I wanted to share with y’all the latest on Vynasha’s progress. And stay tuned for updates on my next GlitGal article, because it will tie into this.
Vynasha blinked rapidly against the bitter cool winds bleating against her face, her mind dragged back into the present by the constant ache in her belly, though she couldn’t understand why the left half of her body felt so warm. She opened her eyes and turned to face a fire and waiting on the other side was the grizzly giant who had rescued her. He dug his teeth into the roasted leg of some dead creature and spoke while he chewed.
“She wakens at last, Resha. Did I not tell you she was real?” He pointed the meat towards her and grinned garishly. “Perhaps I was right and someone has come at last? Could she be the one the songs make sport of? Like a lamb led to slaughter, this one, more than a curse breaker, I think. What would you say, daughter?”
Vynasha saw no one else sitting around their campsite, though it was hard to make out much past the fire’s glow, with the trees packed tightly around them. She curled into herself instinctively, to gather the courage to speak.
“I am not your daughter,” she said. The man laughed so hard in response his beard bristled and his bold brows quivered.
“No, you most certainly are not my spawn, child. Resha, come closer to the fire, pet. Do not mind her, girl. My Resha does not bite unless I tell her to.”
Vynasha jumped when something pressed against her right side, and turned to see a face shrouded by shadow. She fought back down the urge to flee, but it was the wide-eyed sorrow in the girl’s dark eyes that made her still. “Resha,” she murmured, surprised to learn the man was not lying. In response to her name, the sorrow lifted and the girl attempted a smile. She crept closer, so Vynasha could see it was black furs and not shadows that encompassed the mountain man’s daughter. Tentatively, the girl touched Vynasha’s worn cloak and crawled over her to crouch next to the fire.
“She cannot speak, my Resha. Daughter, show our guest what mark the wolves left you.” With grave solemnity the strange girl pushed back her hood, revealing a head of black, tangled hair. When she began to untie the lace at the top of her tunic, the firelight gleamed against ragged, teeth like scars, which ran from her chin and past her collar bone.
Vynasha wanted to speak, to tell the girl she was sorry for what the beasts did to her. But speech had not come easily for her, after so many years living alone. It was uncomfortable enough speaking to Stye and the other villagers who had known her all her life. It was quite another to meet two strangers who chose to live in so dangerous a place. Fortunately, the man had no trouble speaking for all three of them.
“That is enough, pup. Beasts ripped her throat out, but you showed ‘em the old rip and curl with your blade did you not?” He chuckled and tossed the rest of the roast to his daughter. Vynasha saw that the girl had placed the hood of her cloak back over her head. As she tore eagerly into her father’s scraps beside the fire, the face inside her hood stared back at Vynasha.
“Aye, that is the same wolf that ripped her throat. I taught my girl well, did I not?”
Vynasha turned back to the man with more than a little discomfort. She had always feared the unknown monsters in Ceddrych’s stories. These people were not beast or wolf, but she felt the same sense of danger emanating from them. She brushed her fingers against the furs the man had wrapped her up in and looked again at their garb.
“Who are you?” she asked. Though Resha kept to herself, only pausing now and then to glance at her stealthily, the man seemed only too eager to answer.
“I am called Wolfsbane. My daughter and I are the last remnant of the old mountain folk…” He paused to spit and glared balefully at the fire. “You come from the flatlands, then?”
Vynasha thought of Wynyth, how Old Ced found her during one of his long trading jaunts to the east. She had often longed to see the rolling plains where her mother came from. Snow drifted onto her nose and she looked across the fire to find Wolfsbane watching for her reply.
“No, I come from Whistleande, in the valley south of this range.”
“So there is life south of our border. Did I not tell you, Resha?” Resha looked up at her father first with a scowl and then turned her wide eyes to Vynasha. Rather than seeming as timid as she had before, the girl looked at her with intelligence.
“It has been many moons since anyone has seen strangers come from the flatlands,” he said as motioned to his daughter. She scrambled on hands and knees to their pile of furs. “Well feed her, then! Look at the child, half-starved already,” he mused.
Vynasha accepted the bundle Resha left inches from her reach. The meat she found within was rarer than she might have preferred a season before. Now she ate it just as eagerly as Wolfsbane’s daughter had. And while she ate, he told her what she already knew.
“These mountains do not want visitors, so it is strange you came upon us. But I should warn you, there is darkness that haunts these lands. If you hunt with us and earn your share, I will let you stay. Better to wander with us than take a chance out there.” He crossed his thick arms over his bent knees, so he looked even more like a bear.
Vynasha licked her lips and tucked what she could not stomach into the inner pouch of her cloak. There would be time to eat later and the strength of her hunger frightened her. The offer was tempting, the security of dangerous strangers. But she had not come here to learn how to hunt or chase wolves.
“I’m looking for someone,” she admitted and braced herself against the force of the man and his daughter’s stares.
“Ah, so it is like that, then…” He smiled, revealing chipped and stained teeth as he nodded to Resha. “I was right, pup. The girl is bent on becoming part of the legend.” To Vynasha he said, “I do not know what evil spirit sent you here, but you would do best to turn back to your flatlands and your Whistleande.”
“I can’t,” she said softly, trembling as a wolf began to cry mournfully in the distance. “I was told my brother came this way once. And I’ve already strayed from the path. Even if I wanted to, I can’t ever go back.”
For a long moment, Wolfsbane seemed to study her and while only moments before she had feared and mistrusted this strange figure, now she longed to meet his approval. She couldn’t remember the last time she had truly cared for another person’s opinion of her.
“I once met a man who passed through this territory long ago, a desperate man willing to make a foolish bargain. We never saw the man after he left our company in search of the lost city. Many of our people went there for favors or answers to their woes and never returned. In the old days, no offer was made freely without a price to be paid. But if you should seek those same gates, know this. The influence of what lies inside has been dormant for an age. It has slept but was never destroyed. Should it awaken again, would be a terrible thing.”
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