Published in Darklaw
Copyright © Teresa Wymore. All Rights Reserved.
Epic fantasy | 2017
WHEN SHE WASN’T helping with chores, Kami spent her time exploring the forest. She had always felt safer among the trees than in settlements. She loved the trees. She also loved to hunt, and in the Fulbern, she found an abundance of game. She brought wild pigs, geese, rabbits, and deer to Riverside’s communal table, so even those once suspicious of her presence encouraged her to stay.
Having caught a goose on one of her hunts, Kami slung it over her shoulder and returned to the compound, where she saw Avestine sitting on a stump gutting a pile of fish. Two men leaned against the fence as they spoke with her.
Kami had been careful to avoid Avestine since the day at the river, afraid she might make good on her threats. She was less fearful now and stopped to watch. She liked the way Avestine moved—the hard muscles and taut skin. She noticed the competitive way Avestine menaced a man and the possessive way she crowded a woman.
Kami didn’t believe Avestine was as cruel in action as in word. In fact, she found it hard to believe anyone could do the things legend said Avestine had done. And still, Kami had not been able to get the memories of Avestine’s threats out of her mind. They had even merged with pleasure in erotic dreams—violent, sexual dreams that made no sense, the kind she had not suffered since before she and her mother moved to the attic room, away from the vile sounds of the girls servicing their customers.
The men got Avestine laughing so hard she had to wipe tears from her eyes. She glanced over her shoulder at Kami. The men turned to look, as well, and Kami wondered about them. How long they had known Avestine. How well. She wondered many things before she realized Avestine was walking toward her.
When Avestine arrived, she asked, “Is there a problem?” She nodded back toward the men. “Unless it’s one of them you were staring at?”
Kami’s expression soured.
“Always hungry, aren’t you?” A wicked light shone from the cool blue eyes. “And I know what you hunger for.”
Kami straightened. “Dinner, I think. That fish you had looked good.”
Avestine poked a finger into the bird over Kami’s shoulder. “No better than this fat thing.” She examined the bird more closely. “How did you kill it?”
“It’s not dead.”
Avestine leaned back, poked the bird again, and saw it blink. “Why does it just lay there? Did you club it? Poison?”
“I told it to stop and it did.” When people asked how she managed to catch her prey, Kami explained how full the forests were or how lucky she had been. In reality, the prey always came to her. She had only to imagine what she wanted. It had always been that way.
Avestine wasn’t amused. The shadow of a sneer always rested on her lips, and her nose was broad, as if flared with passion. Avestine had a face that hid nothing, so every gentle moment softened her eyes and every angry thought tightened her jaw. Despite her fair features, Avestine impressed Kami as something dark. A wolf.
Humor finally brightened Avestine’s face. “More than you know.”
Avestine stepped closer, but Kami refused to step back. She wouldn’t give way to fear this time. She kept herself braced. The goose slid from her shoulder, and she held it by the neck as she looked up, her raised chin just reaching the height of Avestine’s collarbone.
Avestine turned her head, glancing at the men. Kami followed her look and saw the men watching the exchange with great interest. She assumed they would have a laugh at her expense later. When she looked back up, Avestine was staring down at her with a feral look, her breath hot, the scent of her body growing stronger, and every breath began to make Kami feel a little drunker. She wasn’t sure whether her heart beat with fear or desire. The confusion was an old one, nothing to do with Avestine.
“Everything to do with me,” whispered Avestine.
When Avestine stepped back, the spell lifted, and Kami felt clarity return.
Avestine looked her over. “That’s going to taste good.”
Kami lifted the goose, but Avestine laughed and walked back to the men.
Kami got to work butchering her goose. She didn’t want to taint the meat, so instead of breaking its neck, she hung it up near the shed and cut its throat. The bird bled out, and Kami was grateful the docile bird listened to her so she didn’t have to deal with flapping death spasms. Since she didn’t have long before dinner, she stripped the goose of its skin and feathers, removed the organs, and partitioned the meat.
As she was finishing, she noticed Avestine and the men staring at her with alarm. They were staring behind her. She turned to see a wolf standing not twenty paces from her, jowls dripping with hunger. She glanced back at Avestine, who stood, knife in hand. Kami didn’t like the ending she saw, so she tossed the goose skin at the wolf, which snatched it and ran.
When Avestine reached her, she scolded, “Stupid girl. You feed a wolf, and it’ll come back.”
“The compound is surrounded by wolves.”
“They may start wandering up to the buildings.”
“Not that one. It’s alone. Likely won’t live through second harvest, not without help.”
“Then let it die.”
“I can take care of myself,” said Kami.
“Maybe it won’t be you sitting here next time it comes back. Maybe it’ll be Serene sitting here.”
Kami bit her lip, not having thought of the danger to the others. She nodded faintly as Avestine went back to her fish.