Breakfast was a small piece of dried fish each for Feanra and Talia, which they ate while waiting for Atalin to return from wherever he had gone. It was a brilliant and clear morning, the sky without a cloud.
Before the sun had properly risen Atalin came trotting silently back into the camp. Instinctively brother and sister rose, put on their travel packs and followed him into the woods, setting a tireless and brisk pace. They traveled like this for hours in silent companionship before stopping by a stream as the sun reached its noon peak. As Atalin went ahead again, Feanra and Talia cut thick willows near the water’s edge and quickly improvised some fishing rods, soon enough both had caught 3 fish between them in the deeper pools of the stream, which they quickly cleaned and hung off their packs for later.
Near the end of the day they came to a place where the trees stopped, and a vast plain stretched out into the horizon. The snow was in patches, saved from the sun in depressions within the ground, or protected by a scraggily shrub that would rise form the ground randomly. Atalin and Talia quickly went about gathering a large bundle of sticks each, which they tied and carried on already heavy packs. Soon they were trotting behind Atalin through a treeless landscape, both with a feeling of being exposed creeping through them.
“How long does this treeless place go on for Atalin?” Feanra asked as they were settling in for the night, in a mini-valley within the plains, which while it was colder than other areas, offered some shelter and privacy against passing eyes. Their small fire was burning merrily, slowly fed by the sticks Feanra had gathered earlier.
Atalin looked up from the fish he held between massive paws that he’d been tearing large chunks off of. “Some days yet, and after that an even longer journey to where the pack waits.” His deep voice seemed to rumble through Feanra and Talia. Made deeper still from the prolific traveling he’d done recently.
Suddenly Atalin’s manner changed completely. His ears and fur stood straight and his eyes narrowed. With deathly grace Atalin silently stood. The look he gave Feanra and Talia instantly drying their mouths, and freezing the blood in their veins. “Silence the fire, and wait here.” He hissed, then moved so quickly and quietly he vanished into the night. After a few stunned seconds brother and sister shakily smothered the fire, waiting with chilled breaths in a pitch-black night, each clutching to the other.
Through long tense minutes they waited, shivering, half from cold, half from a sudden fear, having seen a part of their companion unmasked and unprepared, and having seen something they’d not have believed possible in his eyes, fear. A scream broke the night. It was long, sharp and hollow, filling their senses completely. It was the promise of pain, vast and unending, seeping into them, harmonizing with each nerve, one by one. It was only when the scream was suddenly cut-off that they both realized they were each balled-up on the ground, palms pushed against their ears, their own screams adding to a chorus. Covered in sweat and shaking violently they both stood with trouble, looking at each-other in the moonlight that had broken through the clouds. The thought of Atalin both struck them at the same time, as they began to race towards where they felt he was, and nearly bowled him over. With cries of relief they threw their arms around him, hugging fiercely, then wetting his fur with their tears. He sat and let them cry, knowing he’d been no better off in his first encounter with what he’d just dispatched. Eventually they fell asleep, each against Atalin’s warm fur, safer than they knew. Atalin didn’t sleep that night. He lay down with his head resting on his paws and stared into the night, worry in his eyes.
© Copyright 2016 Micheal Grey. All rights reserved.
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