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A new cub approaches...{Kagari's Arrival}


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Kagari was beginning to regret taking the Baerlon delivery.  Though the wide road was unmistakably the only path that went where she was going, it was uncomfortably empty this side of Whitebridge.  As she rode westward, other people grew few and far between.  There were no merchants to talk to, no peddlers to ride alongside for a mile or ten or however long they went before stopping at a village to display their wares.  There were villages, of course, and she still saw an occasional shepherd with his flocks, but they were growing fewer and farther between.  More often than not, she had to tether her horse Banner in a meadow and bivouac for the night.


People said that there was once a great nation in Baerlon, or maybe somewhere nearby.  She couldn't remember what they had called it.  Mantear or something.  If it was true though, she couldn't see it.  Other than the road, the only signs of civilization she saw were an occasional farmhouse.  Nothing that could compare to Whitebridge, or even Four Kings for that matter.  No, she was alone, and being alone made her nervous.


She wasn't concerned about brigands - not really.  There were slim pickings for such this far from civilization, and even fewer places to sell ill-gotten goods.  She never delivered packages of any great value, and even her horse was nothing special.  Her boy's clothing and haircut were another safeguard she always used, though in truth she hated wearing skirts and dresses; they were entirely unsuitable for riding.


No, what Kagari was really frightened of, way out here in the middle of nowhere, were the wolves.  And the bears, and mountain lions too, but lately she heard stories of wolf sightings everywhere she went.  She even thought she had spotted one last night, though surely if it had really been a wolf it would have tried to eat her, or her horse, or both.  Probably just a shadow.  Or an owl.  It could have been an owl.


Just as the sun was beginning to set, with five days' ride left before the outskirts of Baerlon, she heard a sound that chilled her to the bone.  It was a low-pitched howl, just like she used to hear during foaling season on the farm.  Banner needed no urging to quicken his pace.  The howl rose in pitch, and she found herself heeling Banner to a trot.  If it was only one wolf, she should be ok.  If there was only one, she could pull out her sword and...  A second howl rose on the other side of her.


Whether at her command or on his own initiative - she couldn't be sure - her horse began to gallop.  They were both breathing hard, Banner working up a lather before long.  Now she heard shorter howls and brief yips to either side of her, keeping pace despite their speed; Banner was no race horse.  The sun was in her eyes, but she could see a figure up ahead, silhouetted against the road.  A wolf stood, right in the path.  Kagari tried to keep Banner on the road, but he panicked and swerved into the trees.  The next thing she knew, she was dodging branches and leaves left and right.  Then something struck her midsection and she fell.


When she came to, she spent several moments trying to make herself breathe.  She could still hear Banner crashing through the undergrowth; she wasn't sure whether to hope he caught his reins in a tree branch or got free.  When she finally could see clearly, she blinked, uncertain she could believe her eyes.  Right above her, with panting jaws and huge, golden eyes, was a wolf.

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Winifred wasn’t too worried about this particular Wanderer. The wolves’ messages hadn’t been urgent but rather, tinged with something that could only be called wariness. Not wary on their own behalf of course. It seemed the girl was afraid of the wolves and they in return were loathe to come too close, too quickly. Instead, they’d been tracking her progress and making their presence known at a distance.


Still, the Tracker made good time and kept to a steady ground-eating pace, Midnight following on his own more meandering path. No point delaying after all. One could never tell just how any Wanderer would react to the Howling and Winifred did wonder briefly how far through the process this child would be. At least on this occasion they were relatively close to the Stedding.


Woman and wolf had travelled a fair distance by the time they caught up to the Pack who had reported the girl’s presence and found themselves some days out of Baerlon before matters came to a head. One young wolf, overly eager to pinpoint their quarry’s location, set up a howl that put the girl and her horse to flight.


Winifred sifted rapidly through the images flooding her mind from the Pack and angled her footsteps slightly westward, breaking into an easy lope.


Go Midnight, before that fool child harms herself. A sense of exasperation flowed back to her from her companion. He knew what to do without the obvious being stated. Mercifully, Winifred was spared any barbed response this time, both of them being too busy for wasted words.


I have the pup Midnight’s amusement was loud and clear and Winifred could see why given the scene she found as she pushed through the undergrowth.


“Midnight, get off the poor child! You’re more likely to squash her than help her. Let her breathe.” Winifred spoke aloud for the girl’s benefit, making her own presence known and attempting to allay any fear.


As Midnight moved back, indignation in every muscle, Winifred reached down a hand to help the girl up and smiled broadly.


“Well, that was exciting wasn’t it? How about some tea now? You seem to be in one piece despite that little adventure. Maybe a few bruises tomorrow,” she eyed the girl critically up and down as she waited for a response. Her own golden eyes were bound to produce a reaction if her words did not.


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Kagari stared at the stranger with wide, brown eyes, sure that she had hit her head and was hallucinating.  Sure enough, as the adrenaline started to fade, she could feel a lump rising on the back of her skull, but she also felt the warm, supporting hand.  Her first reaction was to start laughing.  Or maybe crying.  Either way, she was shaking with relief, and needed the support to remain standing.


Finally, she took several deep breaths and straightened her back, eyes red and cheeks pink from embarrassment.  "I'm sorry...thank you.  I thought...I didn't know they were your pets," she said, glancing at the wolf.  Something made her nervousness return, though.  The wolf was staring at her with those huge eyes, and somehow she knew that his expression was disapproving.  "...Aren't they?" she asked, more hesitantly.  She turned to look at the woman who had helped her up, really looking for the first time, and her breath caught.


Suddenly, Kagari's mouth was very dry, but she managed, "My...my horse.  Which way has he gone?"

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  • 2 months later...

Winifred kept her gaze steady on the girl as she tried not to grin at Midnight’s clear disapproval.


Are you my pet then, Midnight? Would you like me to tickle your tummy and feed you strips of rabbit meat? The return sending wasn’t something that could be repeated in polite company and Winifred’s mental voice echoed with laughter at the wolf’s outrage.


“Not to worry, child” she responded cheerfully aloud. “The horse hasn’t gone far. Got his bridle stuck on some briar bushes so the wolves tell me. We can pick him up on our way.”


Best to leave questions about the wolves until they were more settled.


Even if she hadn't been able to smell the conflicting emotions in the girl, Winifred could see them easily enough, chasing over her expression like storm clouds across the sky. She patted the youngster’s back gently, guiding her slowly to flatter, clearer ground. “Just you sit here a moment,” the Tracker pointed at a moss covered rock, “and I’ll get a fire started. Do you have a name?” An eyebrow rose quizzically. “I’m Winifred.”


While she waited for the girl to gather her wits, Winifred swiftly gathered twigs, larger branches and small rocks, created a small fire pit and used her flint to get it smoldering. It wouldn’t take long to heat some water and she was a firm believer in the restorative power of tea. Then she could see just what manner of Wanderer she’d collected this time.

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Kagari, unsure that she heard the other woman correctly, kept quiet for a moment. I had to have heard wrong. There's no way that wolves could tell her anything, is there? She jumped when the woman touched her again, but let herself be guided to the glade. Here would be as good a place to camp for the night as any, she guessed, and with wolves about - tame or otherwise - she would prefer the company. Wouldn't she?


She sat down on the rock, slipping dizzily from its mossy surface before she found her balance, and tried not to meet the woman's wolf-like eyes. "Kagari Yurehl. I'm a courier. All my things are in my saddlebags..." she began, peering anxiously in the direction she thought her horse had gone. Her head still spun a little when she turned. Best to sit still.


She took her tea with a careful hand, sipping gingerly. "You're the first person I've seen all day. I was beginning to think that nobody actually lived out here." She hesitated, then asked, "This is still the road to Baerlon, isn't it?"

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Winifred regarded the girl with a thoughtful expression as she settled cross legged on the grass, only her eyes betraying some inner amusement. Well, at least she doesn't look about to run off anywhere for now.


"Delighted to meet you Kagari," the older woman responded warmly. "We're some way from the Baerlon road now... it's off that way." A hand waved airily in a vague westerly direction and she added firmly, "It'll suit our purposes much better to be off the beaten track where we can stay undetected though. I'm quite certain some few woodsmen and hunters live around these parts but we'll be heading towards the mountains."


Winifred spoke as if there couldn't possibly be any other option, as if the decision was a foregone conclusion. She didn't like to encourage Wanderers to argue with her. They were usually in no fit state to know what was best at this stage and being firm with them tended to produce much more satisfactory results.


"I expect you have many questions to ask and that's what I'm here for. Some of the answers may not please you, or will seem strange but I assure you I'll speak only truth..." she paused, watching Kagari's face and reactions carefully. "My people call me a Tracker. All that means is that I track and find others who are like us. We refer to ourselves as Wolfkin and live in a small community together in the Mountains of Mist." Winifred indicated her own eyes with a small grin, "This is a feature all Wolfkin share, along with the gift of communicating with the wolves and having exceptionally sharp senses. And no... before you start worrying, it is not a thing of the Dark but an ancient ability."


Sipping her tea and enjoying the warmth that spread slowly through her body, Winifred wondered how far along Kagari was in her Howling. Not far by looks of things which might make it harder for her to accept.

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