The International Year Of The Beast

Chapters 13, 14 & 15

Following a skiing accident in Alaska Devin is rescued by a mysterious race of people whom are like no other except one - his brother Vincent

Chapter Thirteen

Devin wasn’t sure, but he could have sworn for a moment he sensed his brother’s presence for as they entered the piece of tunnel Vincent had vacated some five minutes earlier Devin felt there was a real sense of ‘life’ about the place, not that it was warmer, not that there was any particular scent, but just a feeling, and he found it extremely disconcerting, because if he were right then Vincent would have known that his brother was coming, and even so had chosen not to meet with him, and that could be for only one reason – Vincent hadn’t wanted to encounter the people that were with him.
“We’ll rest here a moment.” Travis announced if only to make certain of the way ahead as before them lay three gaping mouths leading to tunnels that might go in any direction. “Have to hand it to them,” Travis laughed, “Look at that, enough to make anyone confused. What we do now, draw lots on which tunnel to take?”
Devin saw his chance. “Either that or we could split up.” He suggested hopefully, “Might cover more distance that way, and who knows maybe the tunnels entwine further up and we might meet up again in a couple of hours.” Travis gave the idea some consideration, rubbing his jaw thoughtfully, and reminding Devin of his father, Jacob Wells. A sweep of homesickness rushed over him which at any other time Devin might have found highly amusing, but right then he’d have given anything to be back inside the tunnels beneath New York City with his brother in tow.
“It might work.” Travis announced at length. “Anyone got another idea?” No one said anything to the contrary, and Travis went on, “Thing is, three tunnels and four men might pose a problem. I don’t mind going alone, that leaves one tunnel with two men and another one with one, so who else will go solo?”
Devin jumped at the chance. “Doesn’t bother me, I’ll go alone.” Travis frowned, that was said just a trifle too eagerly for his liking, still under the circumstances he wasn’t able to dispute the fact, for neither of the other two men had volunteered, in fact they looked decidedly uneasy about being split from the group as it was. “You’ll be alright.” Travis tried to reassure them, “just keep going straight on and we’ll meet again soon. I’m sure it’s just as Devin says. The main thing is, if you should reach the city group before we do that you stick to the story we’ve concocted and hopefully encourage them to turn around. There’s problems with the farce of course, but they won’t know what they are until they have returned to New York or made enquiries by phone find it’s a ruse and come back up here again, either way it gives us enough time to sort out some problems. At least it’ll take them all of ten days to get down to the valley and another two days to return to New York or even if they make the phone call we have at least three weeks before they get back this far again. Surely once we find the clan we can all come up with a decent plan before then?”
Obviously they hadn’t wanted to tell the hunters that the beast had been seen again in New York city for that would have made things harder for Devin and his friend to return there, but neither had they actually decided where the beast had been found, only that he had and word was being sent to the group up on the mountain that he had been seen.
“It has to do.” Travis spoke out loud, then in enquiry from his friends he explained, “The plan, it’ll have to do, under the circumstances it’s the best we can come up with. Its difficult you see, Devin” he explained. “Wherever we use as a place its likely there are members of the clan there already, so we don’t want bounty hunters after them as well. I really don’t know what else to say.”
“I do.” Devin told him, “Much as I hate to say it, much as I see your reasons for not doing so, really under the circumstances, if we are to say that the beast has been seen in this country or that country or this town or that town, its just going to make more hardship for clan members living in those areas. I think” Devin grimaced and spoke ruefully. “The best we can do is say the beast is back in New York City, or has been seen there, in which case we ought to re-write the letter and actually say so in order to get these people off this mountain for good. The worst of it is of course, that finding them before we reach Prowling Cat and his family will mean them having a head start back to New York and be out and about when my friend and I return there.”
“Ah,” Travis exclaimed. “So you do intend to return him to the city?” Devin paled took a deep breath and replied, “Under the circumstances is there a better way? I think we need to return him there, in order to keep the rest of his family safe. With his mother heavily pregnant, the last thing anyone wants is increasing the risk of harm coming to her or her unborn child. She’s had one child kidnapped already, remember?”
“Have to admit, that has been worrying me and there’s no real grounds of course to suspect that these people will kidnap her child, but since it won’t be the first time, one gets a little paranoid about these things. But Devin when you and your friend return to the city I assume that somehow, someway the two of you do intend to come back here, to the clan when the dust settles, in order for your friend to take up his rightful place with his true family?”
There was only one thing Devin could say, “Of course, this is where he belongs.” Because if there was one thing Devin had noticed it was the helper’s allegiance to the clan and they would move heaven and high water to ensure that the clan’s members were all in one place across the globe as their families insisted. Had he of said anything else and it was likely Travis would have packed him off now with a flea in his ear, it was obvious already that Travis mistrusted him.
“Good. Well all right then we’ll say it like that. Now I think we’ve rested enough, so then, Devin you take the tunnel to the right, I’ll take the centre and Rod and Dale you can take the left. Is everyone agreed?” There were murmurs in the affirmative and Travis went on, “Good, then whichever one of us reaches the next criss-cross you wait for the others there, okay? And if any of you should reach the city group first then still do likewise, only tell them what we are here for and make them believe the story okay? Be realistic, you’ve been sent here by the city officials to have them return back to New York, which reminds me…Devin can you re-write the letter before we set off?”
Devin nodded he had been about to say the very same thing and was glad that they were going to use his idea even though it did his brother no favours. In fact in many respects he’d be back to square one a prisoner to the tunnels, unable to go above through fear of being captured or killed no different than before. Briefly Devin wondered if under those circumstances Vincent would agree to go back with him, but then if he didn’t the hunters would return to the mountain track his family relentlessly and probably kill or maim some of them in the belief that they were hiding his whereabouts. Devin doubted Vincent would allow that to happen so unfortunately there was only one way out and that was for him to return to the city face the consequences of past actions or to remain beneath the ground as before with never the hope of feeling the sunshine on his face ever. Tragic really, to think the whole entire clan would be receiving citizenship wherever they resided, but Vincent would be destined to live in a hole in the ground and just because he had protected his family, be it his own flesh and blood or those that he had grown up with.

*** *** ***

“So, there are two groups?” Vincent was asking of Darren. “One group from the city and the other, from where, here? In Alaska?”
“Yes, apart from the city guy that seems to know you, but then he’s agreeable to helping them find Prowling Cat in order to protect his family against the other group. How far are the family anyway?”
“Deep, they went down rather than through the mountain, and the constant criss-crossing of tunnels will slow the hunters down, so my family are several miles ahead. But it’s only a question of time that my family will be found, and then what happens? I think I should go back, face those men and stop them.” Vincent replied.
“How? By killing them? Isn’t that what got you into this mess in the first place? Besides killing them won’t stop others from coming. It’ll just set a ball rolling I don’t know what you can do. They’re after your blood by all accounts and anything less won’t pacify them.”
“There’s never a spare body around when you need one, is there?” Swallow Tail piped up with a grin as the two men looked at her for explanation. She laughed, “You know, if there was a dead clan member we could pretend it was you, The Best Of Everything, who’d know? All they need is a scapegoat and that would get you off the hook unfortunately finding a dead member is not an easy one. Only the elders know of the whereabouts of the burial ground, not that we would find a body there anyway.” Swallow Tail shrugged guiltily, her idea was a silly one, sound but silly.
“I understand what you are saying,” Vincent told her, and he too shrugged then with a grin went on, “But unfortunately…”
Darren laughed. “Nice idea, my love…and not all that daft apart from having a body. Do you suppose they might believe The Best of Everything had fallen to his death over the mountain? There are some pretty deep crevices he could have gone through…”
Vincent stopped him there. “Don’t even think about it. And please both of you, call me Vincent.” He shook his head. “The idea would never work, and besides they’ve likely thought we might do something like that. Don’t worry about me, there’s a place I can go to where I will be safe and no one will find me, it’s where I’ve lived all my life…I won’t be able to go out in daylight of course but that’s small price to pay for my life. And at least with me gone from here, my family will be safe…except I wish I could do something about the group that are pursuing my family now. I think I should go back…much as I’d like to go with you now, there has to be something I can do to stop them from searching for my family, besides…”
Darren and Swallow Tail waited for him to continue and with a ragged sigh Vincent told them, “The fellow from the city, the one that is coming for me, he is a true friend, we are as brothers, and if only I could get to where he is we might be able to concoct a plan that would solve all our problems.”
“Do you need our help?” Darren and Swallow Tail looked one to the other then to Vincent and he noticed their reluctance even though Darren had offered. Vincent shook his head. “No, you have your own plans and your own escape to arrange, best you keep onward or the helper’s will only try to take Swallow Tail back to her family. Don’t worry about me, I’ll do whatever is best in the circumstances and try not to make matters worse than they already are.”
Darren nodded, then took Vincent’s hand and shook it and Swallow Tail came and hugged him. “Take care,” she told him, to which Vincent uttered the customary, “Be well,” and then the three of them parted company Swallow Tail and Darren down the mountain and Vincent backtracking the way they had come. Somewhere inside the mountain was his brother and come what may Vincent intended to find him, and hopefully find him before he met that other group, the ones that intended him harm.

*** *** ***

He’d gone no further than thirty yards or so before Devin turned around in his tunnel and slowly made his way back, his intention not to go forward at all. Ever since he’d been sure that Vincent was somewhere behind him now, Devin had had an uncanny feeling that his brother needed his help, besides, what was he doing going into the mountain when the object of his visit was going outside anyway? What happened to Vincent’s family certainly hadn’t perturbed Vincent enough to leave them alone, so why should he care? At any rate Travis and his two companions could do whatever had to be done and hope the ruse was believed. Past that Devin couldn’t think there were too many obstacles that could hamper any operation to plan anything constructive.
Deftly, he made his way back through the inside of the mountain, his thoughts heavy. His heart matched them, he was deeply saddened for his brother’s sake that the newfound freedom had been snatched from him so cruelly and he was now condemned to a life beneath the city streets like it or not, perhaps never to go above again, not even after dark. Of course with Catherine in the tunnels, Vincent needed no reason to go above but that didn’t make the thought any easier to bear. So deep was his sorrow that he almost ran into Vincent before seeing him and only two strong arms wrapping themselves around him in one of the biggest bear hugs he’d ever received enlightened him to the fact that he’d found him at all.
“Oh, for God’s sake you almost scared me to death. I didn’t see you!” Devin exclaimed.
Vincent grinned. “I know you looked miles away. What’s wrong?”
“Everything. You.”
“Vincent there’s bounty hunters after you, wherever you go now you’d have to keep running. Travis and I have concocted a plan in the hope to throw them off your scent for ten days at least time enough to get your family to safety we hope, but after that…” He sighed heavily and shaking his head went on, “You’re going to be a prisoner all your life, Vincent after this and what’s to say they don’t try to come down into our tunnels to find you there?”
“People have tried before, we have always outwitted them.”
“But they never knew you existed before. They’ll stop at nothing now. Everything could go to pot, and they’d kill you, Vincent as sure as eggs are eggs. You do know that don’t you?” Devin told him tragically. “And when they find Catherine and the baby, what then?”
“Catherine will think of something, I have no qualms on that score. As to the other things you’re right, they have been going around and around in my head for the last few hours, ever since Prowling Cat told me I was being hunted. I don’t know what to do, Devin. I thought if I go back, perhaps kill them…” Devin shook his brother’s arm, “No, Vincent, that won’t help, they’d just sent more men out here, looking for them and for you. Couldn’t prove who’d killed their colleagues and might decide all your family were to blame, that might start something that would get completely out of hand, but I do see what you mean, if only it would stop there it would be the best option. I’d even help you. They’re probably city scum anyway.”
“So what do we do?” Vincent sighed raggedly.
“Well, we have to leave it to the helpers. Come what may their first allegiance is to the clan, they will help them and protect them come what may. I’ve forged a letter that Travis intends to give to the bounty hunters saying you’ve been seen back in the city, but that means you and I must arrived ahead of them in order to get you safely installed into the tunnels first and after that we just have to wait it out see what materialises. At least with Father, Catherine and the others and being on home territory we can think of a decent plan to succeed. There is one thing though prior to my coming up here there was another fellow, Travis didn’t trust him and sent him packing but we must make sure we don’t encounter him or he could blow our cover. Travis thinks he is an impostor just like Sarah was, hoping only to make money and not caring whose lives he wrecks in the process.”
“Then we must tread carefully, and try not to be noticed. How will we get out of Alaska, have you any ideas?”
Devin shook his head. “I’m fresh out of ideas, Vincent.” He sounded weary and suddenly felt it. It was as if they were running from the whole world and every which way they turned they’d walk into an ambush. “I wish I could wake up and find it was all a dream.”
“So do I.” Vincent told him surprising Devin no end.
“Not been good, huh?”
“Not like I’d imagined. I’m not just running from the bounty hunters, Devin, it’s my family I’m escaping also. I’ll tell you about it later.” Vincent sighed heavily giving Devin the distinct impression that whatever he had to impart was bitter to him.
“Yes, okay. Well then, let’s get out of here, shall we? Are we at least agreed on that? We’ll leave the bounty hunters and co,” and he indicated with a wave of one hand back the way he had come, “to whatever fate awaits them and concern ourselves with only getting away from here?”
Vincent nodded. “Yes.” He told his brother and the pair fell into step hurrying to reach the outside of the mountain. Even so it was with a heavy heart that Vincent went, he couldn’t help believing he had been a traitor to all concerned over the last few months, first Catherine, then his family back home beneath New York City and now those of the clan, and without thinking he uttered the only words that would show but for that everything would have been vastly different and uncomplicated, “Damn you, Paracelsus.”
Understanding at once and even though it would mean he’d never have known his unique brother, Devin was inclined to agree. “I’ll second that, yes damn you, Paracelsus!”

Chapter Fourteen

A few days later in the tunnels another was thinking the same thing and discussing it with Father. “You know I can’t help thinking that but for Paracelsus none of this would be happening.” Catherine commented as she sipped herbal tea in the quiet confines of Father’s chamber. It was late afternoon, classes had finished dinner was over and everyone was relaxing or preparing for a music recital depending on who they were. At Father’s quizzical look, Catherine explained. “Though you don’t need me to tell you that had he of not intervened you would never have known Vincent and its unlikely he and I would ever have fallen in love, even if we had of met. Chances are, of course, that I would have probably died that night with no one to rescue and bring me here. But all of that aside had Paracelsus not of taken Vincent from his family then he would never have been denied the freedom they have known or the chance to feel the sunshine on his shoulders or the wind in his hair. Some sacrifices would have been worth making if only Vincent had been able to know all of that.”
Tears bedimming his eyes, Father had to agree, though the thought of a life without ever knowing Vincent was almost more than he could bear. Still Catherine was right Paracelsus certainly had a lot to answer for and why he had done it he could only surmise at, for though to his last breath he swore Vincent as his son, he had not been overly concerned with him throughout his childhood, it had only been when Vincent was grown that he had shown any real interest and then it had seemed only in Vincent’s warrior abilities. For what good the kidnapping had done him, Paracelsus could have stolen a normal human child and passed him off as his own. Certainly he was never a father to the boy. And then of course there was Anna and what he had done to her and their own baby. Had he hated her so much that he had given to her a different child instead of one like the child she’d lost? How could anyone be that cruel, and then to take her life anyway? Certainly Paracelsus was disturbed just as much in the early days as he was the day he died.
By his silence Catherine began to wonder if she had overstepped the mark by making such a statement, but Father did not seem annoyed just overly sad. “Do you think they will be home soon?” She asked as she had asked every day since Devin had left. And Father replied in the same way as every day she had voiced the question. “I’m certain, my dear that just as soon as they are able they will be here.”
Both paused then from further conversation, sipping their tea thoughtfully. It had been almost a week since Devin had returned to Alaska, and not a word, that is from Devin though there had been some developments up top. The men folk of the families of the people Vincent had slain had returned to the city believing that Vincent had been seen round about, at which time Catherine had expected his arrival at any moment, but it would appear that either someone had been mistaken or those that had gone to Alaska had been lied to. The problem was that three days after their return to the city and having established that the beast had not been seen after all, those men had returned to Alaska more determined in their quest than ever before to find and kill the beast responsible for the deaths of their loved ones. And though no one voiced an opinion each were of like mind within the tunnels that perhaps in those three days they were away from Alaska Devin and Vincent had made good their escape, assuming of course they had known about the hunters retreat, and that Vincent wanted to return.
“I think I’ll go and lie down. You’ll tell me if you hear anything? Promise to wake me, okay and don’t worry about that?” Father nodded and spoke kindly, “Of course, my dear the moment I hear anything I’ll bring word to you myself.” Again it was the same old same old, a ritual they had covered each afternoon ever since they had assumed Devin would have had the time to arrive in Alaska and find his brother and return with him. Thus walking to the chamber that used to be Vincent’s alone, Catherine journeyed with hope surging through her heart that her husband would soon be back there. Not once would she allow herself the torture that he might never return. He loved her and he had spent long enough already with his family, surely he could see that? Therefore he would be home soon for she and his unborn child were his family now. Yet she had to make herself believe those things and stop the nagging doubts from creeping in and upsetting the applecart because deep down inside Catherine was well aware that the Vincent that had left her was not in mind the same person she had married. He had changed, and now having been away so long from all he had ever known, it was possible that when Devin did find him, Vincent would refuse to come back.

*** *** ***

It was the scream that woke them. Struggling to sit up both Devin and Vincent moved as fast as their sleep drugged state allowed them to in order to hide behind the only cover available, some bushes and sparse ones at that, and there they crouched, ears and eyes tuned to the direction of the sound, hearts hammering, wondering what on earth had happened, and who had screamed and why?
“Move it!” The shout was heard amid the sounds of scuffle and then a pitiful sob, a moan and a stubborn cry of, ‘No!’
“I said, move it!”
From his position, Vincent could just make out the form of a woman walking hesitantly through the forest that flanked one side of the mountain and behind her came not one but eight maybe nine more men that appeared vaguely familiar. The one that he did recognise however was Swallow Tail, and though he looked avidly from man to man, Vincent could tell that Darren was not among them.
“Who is it?” Devin mouthed as he saw recognition dawn on his brother’s face.
“A friend.” Vincent mouthed back. “She was leaving here with a man.”
“I take it not one of the clan?”
“No. A man like yourself, not like me.”
“Oh. Where do you suppose he is?”
Vincent shrugged and Devin fell silent as the men passed not five yards from where they were hiding, both watched them go and waited several minutes until they were sure that they had all filed past and there were no stragglers. Then Vincent explained. “Her name is Swallow Tail, she met a man, fell in love, they left the caves an a day, maybe two before you and I did. I had assumed they would have gotten well away before the hunters returned. I don’t know what happened. Perhaps they too have incurred problems like you and I, and couldn’t leave here before the men returned. Obviously your friend’s plan worked minimally, for the hunters have been gone three days. I hope by now that Travis King and his companions have had time to find my family and conceal them to safety.”
Vincent and Devin had almost made it to the mountain’s foot, but it had been a slow and labourous journey. Deep snow had hampered them and they had had to build snow caves to shelter unable to use a bright coloured tent even if they had one.
“I hope so too, but why would the hunters return Swallow Tail? They are not helpers, it matters not to them who of the clan leaves and stays except for you of course.” Devin was confused. “I mean, okay I know that’s what the helpers would have done, returned her to her family, but not those men. They wouldn’t care whether she had absconded or not, so why would they escort her back?”
“At a guess…blackmail. Ten men, one woman, they need only to make threats of rape in exchange for me and then the clan…well…I’m not sure what they would do…but what would you do if it were your daughter?”
“But she left them.” Devin argued as if her parents would hold that against her and see her harmed by strangers.
“And they’ll be happy to have her back. She and her friend were going to be married and she was never going to return to the clan. Something about if she did they had a marriage arranged for her there and whether she had married another already or not would mean little to them. She would still be made to marry the man chosen for her since birth.” Strangely as Vincent said all of that alarm bells sounded in the back of his mind and something one of his sisters had said troubled him. It hadn’t meant much at the time, now he wondered just briefly if the same had been mapped out for him. But no sooner had the thought arisen did it die as a groan was heard and the rustle of branches that had them both diving for cover again.
They waited anxiously wondering who was coming toward them and if it was one person or more when from the cover of some bushes a man stumbled forth and recognition of him had both Vincent and Devin gasping the same name at once. “Darren!”
They turned to face one another. “You know him?” Both asked and nodded together. “He’s Swallow Tail’s partner.” Vincent told Devin who explained, “He’s the fellow Travis wouldn’t trust on the mountain. None of us trusted him we all thought he was like Sarah, out only for the profit to be made on a story he could give.”
“As far as I know, he is trustworthy. Swallow Tail loves him and they have a bond, like the one Catherine and I share, or shared. Since she has been pregnant its strength has been weakened somewhat but it appears that this bond is a gift of the clan, they all have it with their loved ones. Therefore I trust him also. Swallow Tail could not be mistaken in such a way.”
“Well since I do not know him and it was only his mannerism I have to go on, then I suppose I should trust him also. No doubt he acted shiftily for a reason, at any rate he needs our help, do you think he’s alone?”
By this time, Darren had moved past their hiding place stumbling forward with one hand held fast to the back of his neck. In reply Vincent called out to the young man, “Darren?” and watched as the fellow turned surprised at the sound of his name.
“Hey there,” He mumbled his eyes lighting up moments before he crumpled to the ground. “Here let me help you.” Vincent hauled him to his feet, held him steady, “What happened?”
“The helpers…coshed me…took Swallow Tail…”
“Yes, we saw them go by.” Devin stepped out and Darren recognising him at once flared. “You’re one of them!” Turned to Vincent and cried, “He’s one of them, he was there on the mountain…he’s one of them!”
“No!” Vincent exclaimed. “This is my brother, Devin, we grew up together, he came here to rescue me, and it wasn’t helpers that took Swallow Tail away, it was the bounty hunters that are here looking for me.”
“But I don’t understand…” Darren stammered.
“Not sure we do, but Vincent has a theory.” Devin told the young man, and together they ran it by him a little perturbed to hear him say afterward, “Yes, you could be right, but I hope not. Do you think your family would tell them where you are, even if they knew, to protect Swallow Tail? Trade one child for another? They’ve lost you once already, are you sure they’d do it again?”
Vincent shook his head. “I’m not sure the choice will be theirs to make. Swallow Tail is the daughter of Merry Wolf who is one of the elders…I’m afraid when it comes down to it, there will be no competition. My family will be made to reveal my whereabouts, except they do not know of it.”
“And therein lies the problem.” Darren told them bitterly. “If there is no trade off then what of Swallow Tail? They will hurt her, those men, they won’t believe that you can’t be found, they’ll think they are being lied to, and they’ll hurt Swallow Tail. I know they will.”
“Merry Wolf would never allow it, he might take the chance in the first instance and give me up in exchange for his daughter but faced with the consequences of no deal and he would never allow his daughter to be injured. The rest of the clan would rally round and believe me the helpers that are there among them…have no fear no harm will come to Swallow Tail…and we are only assuming that’s their intent after all. A trade off.” Vincent told Darren.
“Blood will be spilled.” Darren said sadly. “Mark my words. Those men want it, doesn’t matter if its you or someone else, they want revenge, might be they would soon as murder your family than you. After all those people caused your birth, that might be the way they’ll look at it.”
“Again the clan will rally round, they are peaceable people, and from what I have learned very persuasive in their dealings with others. I have no qualms that they will think of something to ease the situation. What concerns me more is bringing Swallow Tail back to you. Have you any ideas?” Sadly, Darren shook his head and tears formed upon his lashes. “This was our only hope. We should never have dallied about, should have got off the mountain as soon as we were able.”
“Then why didn’t you?” Devin asked.
Darren sighed. “Swallow Tail had some uncanny feeling that you would need our help, Vincent. She said that we would be better off together, the two of you and me who could be taken for a helper escorting a pair of lovers from Alaska to wherever we wanted to go, thus helping the both of you escape the clan. I didn’t know about Devin and neither did Swallow Tail, but no doubt that would have helped our plight. Swallow Tail thought that if the hunters were looking for you, it was unlikely you would be leaving with a wife…well it was a silly idea, but it might have worked and after all we’re all clutching at straws here. No one knows what the others are thinking, we all assume too much. And all each of us knows is how much we love the one’s we are prepared to die for. Now I fear I will never see Swallow Tail again. There is no way Merry Wolf will let her out of his sight now and likely she will be married within the week to her betrothed.”
“So what can we do?” Devin looked to Vincent and Darren in turn. All three were standing in a small clearing edged by fir trees. The moon hung low in the sky half round and gleaming, the sky was full of stars. Vincent had dreamed of one such night for most of his life, but now his current state of affairs all seemed too tragic to take the beauty in.
“I don’t know.” Vincent told them truthfully and watched the growing sadness in Darren’s eyes. What had he expected him to say? ‘I’ll turn myself in for the sake of your true love?’ As if that would appease Merry Wolf’s wrath.
Darren had an idea. “We could go after the hunters, get to them before they find the clan. After all they are miles behind them though Swallow Tail may be made to show them the way the clan took and arrive sooner than we expect. Huh, it may be even that the clan are returning searching for you, Vincent, and Swallow Tail…or worse, maybe they believe the pair of you have absconded together.”
“Why would that be worse?” Vincent asked. “At least if we had, then we would have been two clan members in love.”
“Because you would not be marrying the one’s chosen for you at birth. Okay, so the clan are peaceable people, that’s true with the outside world but among themselves, they have set rules, break them and there are penalties. If you should have eloped with Swallow Tail it would have been taken as adultery and the two of you would have been stoned to death. It’s their way. It prevents others doing the same, sets an example by fear to any that might set their eyes upon any other than the one they are betrothed to. There are many laws within the clan, Vincent, and with you being a newcomer they might be lenient, but Swallow Tail knows the rules, so there would have been no pardon for her, simply she would have died had that been the case and they had found you both.”
“But not with you?”
“No, not with me, Swallow Tail will be punished but not by death. Her family will plead her cause, say that I misled her, filled her head with false reasoning, she will be pitied and it will be assumed that she needs a firmer guiding hand than that of her father, it will be accepted that what she needs is a husband, and within the week she will be married. Then should she leave to be with me, and is caught, then she would be stoned to death, and me too, if they ever caught me, though without Swallow Tail I wouldn’t want to live anyway.”
“Then we have to go after her.” Vincent told his companions. “Otherwise I would have suggested you return with us to New York, maybe help us get there, since that is why we too have delayed for want of a plan and then we could return another time when we are more prepared, but since time is not on our side we must hurry and catch them up now.”
“Then what do we do, ambush them? Aren’t you in enough trouble all ready because of doing something like that?” Darren asked anxiously.
“Yes, and ten more won’t make any difference.” Vincent sounded so blasé about it, but Devin knew better, ten more would make a very big difference and once again it was all for the love of a woman.
“Come on then.” Darren urged. “We’ve given them a big enough head start as it is and it’ll soon be daylight. Perhaps they will be resting and we can surprise them. If we attack when they reach the snow we could even bury them in it. Then they won’t be discovered until the snow thaws, that should bide us enough time to get away and on with our lives.”
“Especially the two of you.” Devin remarked bitterly. “There should be no come back against you and Swallow Tail at all, it is my brother they will search for, though it could have been any one of the clan that killed them.”
“I’ve never killed a man.” Darren spoke softly though there was a steely edge to his tone, “but with any that are a threat to my girl I’d certainly consider it. What if Vincent just knocks them down and you and I ran them through, then there should be no come back to Vincent.”
Vincent listened to the exchange gravely. “No one need kill anyone unless we have to. They might assume you will go after them, but they will not know of Devin and I being with you. I think if you are willing to be involved in another scuffle, we should allow them to know you are near and when they rally round and they will try to prevent you coming for your girl Devin and I will rescue her, and only if we deem that you need our help will you have it. Allow them to subdue you, let them believe they have overpowered you before you are injured and hopefully the four of us can get away safe. As soon as is possible we should all of us run back here, and then when we have all arrived we will hurry to the bottom of the mountain, though I ascertain that the hunters will give up the chase knowing they are wasting precious time in reaching the caves where they deem my family to be hiding me. After all I am the prize catch, not Swallow Tail and this is the better way where no blood need be spilled. And after all they do not know me.”
Darren was thoughtful a few moments, hurrying in his thinking believing he was wasting time just considering Vincent’s views, but after some minutes he nodded, “Okay, we’ll try it your way, but I mean it, Vincent if they’ve touched her… I’ll… I’ll…”
“They won’t have. Come, let us hurry, Devin?” Vincent started forward stopping only when he felt his brother’s reluctance to do so and he frowned when Devin stated, “I think we should just forget her. I’m sorry Darren, but Vincent can’t take this kind of risk. Not only is he running from his family and the hunters but he has a wife back home that is longing to see him and worrying herself sick about him…”
“You’re married?” Darren exclaimed stunned.
“What, to a clan member?”
“No.” Vincent stated calmly. “To a beautiful woman whom I owe everything to and have treated very badly of late. I do not deserve that she frets over me so, Devin you did not tell me this.”
“I didn’t think you’d need telling. Catherine’s been beside herself, Vincent, we all have.”
“Crikey. Do the clan know?” Darren asked.
Vincent shook his head. “I have told them little about my other life. Now are we doing this or not, we are wasting time?”
Darren seemed to shake himself from a trance, he couldn’t believe that a member of the clan was married to a full-bloodied human, and the clan didn’t know about it! God, if they did! Suddenly as eager as he was to rescue his truelove he saw Devin’s point of view. “Maybe we should reconsider this. Devin could be right. You’re taking untold risks, Vincent, and this is my problem. I’ll sort it.” And he started forward at a quick trot before anyone could argue. Vincent made to follow, but Devin grabbed his arm and pulled him back, shook his head, begged him to stay, forget it, return home to Catherine, but Vincent was adamant of the young man Darren’s plight, understood the love between him and Swallow Tail, knew how hopeless it could be in the face of what others might deem as right, and shrugged his arm free of Devin’s hand. “We can help him. We have to.” Vincent told his brother. Devin tried to argue saw the determination in his brother’s eyes and relented. “Just this once then…and if it turns nasty…” He left the sentence unfinished. He wasn’t sure what it was he’d meant to say anyway.

*** *** ***

Back in the caves, Travis and his friends had indeed caught up with Prowling Cat and his family and since Swallow Tail had been found to be missing Merry Wolf his brother Singing Jay and their families had congregated with Prowling Cat’s family. All were incensed for their own reasons, all believing that The Best of Everything and Swallow Tail had eloped.
“How did we not see this coming?” Merry Wolf stormed up and down angrily.
“If I may be permitted to speak.” His wife edged closer to the small group of men folk timidly. She honoured her husband, but knew that women should not speak out of turn in men’s affairs. And this was very much a man’s affair since it was the rules of the elders that had been broken by her daughter.
“What is it?” Her husband asked. His eyes glinted malice, he did not like the fact that she interrupted, he would speak with her later that she had.
“I thought Swallow Tail was still hankering after that other young man, you know, one of the helper’s, you know, Darren Clarke.”
“Darren Clarke?” Travis who was standing nearby took notice and told the three men, “Darren Clarke was on the mountain the day the three of us were, I sent him packing for he seemed shifty, untrustworthy though he has the mark of a helper.”
“Yes, we did rescue him. He has been good to us, we have known him several years, but his frequent visits brought him into contact with my daughter, and we had to stop him coming so often. Swallow Tail began to speak of him more than she ought, and we were concerned that they were becoming too well acquainted. We banned him from having further contact with her since she is betrothed.”
“Then since he was here that day, perhaps she is with him rather than the son of Prowling Cat?” Travis suggested.
“Perhaps.” Merry Wolf replied. “But that does not explain why The Best of Everything has gone missing also.”
“I think I can explain that one.” Travis told the group and he went on to explain about Devin and his intention to return The Best of Everything to the city.
“Then it’s just a case of circumstance.” Singing Jay sighed, he was happier for that fact, since it would not mean the death of two clan members, though in all probability The Best of Everything’s life would be spared since he had not yet come under the clan’s laws until the first year had passed. He was also happy to know that his niece’s life would be spared since she couldn’t have been of her own mind when she had run away with the young man Darren Clarke.
“We must find my daughter.” Merry Wolf announced, “and we must send word to Fallen Oak and his family to bring their son, The Sin of Pride, for the wedding which will take place the day after my daughter’s return to us. She must not be given further opportunity to run from us and she is well aware of our laws for married couples. Believe me once she is married to The Sin of Pride she will not run away again, or she’ll risk the penalty for so doing.” Merry Wolf sniffed back a sob as the thought that his daughter might just do that and he would have to watch her be stoned to death, and worse that that he’d be alongside her husband the two being expected to throw the first stones. He’d witnessed that before, it broke a father, he did not relish undertaking the same experience, but it was the clan’s way, and nothing not even exposure to the world would have them change their laws to suit modern society. “Our way is pure.” He announced as if trying to convince himself of that fact would make him stronger. “Have The Sin of Pride brought here and we will have my daughter returned to await his arrival.”
Singing Jay nodded and turned on his heals begging his wife and family to follow. They went silently though the women from each family sympathised with those they left behind. Their laws were strict, set by the older men of the clan, but not all of the women believed in them. Very few had married the man they loved and many grievances lurked among the people of the clan. If only the laws could be altered…but that was doubtful…they had been handed down for generations…it would take something spectacular or someone stronger to change their ways, all they needed was one link in the chain to be broken…it was just finding the one with the courage to do it. Swallow Tail was to be pitied, if she had run away with a young man her capture and return to her family, her marriage and life would not be an easy one. Still The Sin of Pride was a good man and he would care well for her, but sometimes that wasn’t the whole picture though the older men among them failed to see what was.
“Now, we must address this other problem.” Merry Wolf announced to Prowling Cat, Travis and his companions. “The return of your son, The Best of Everything. There is no reason why he should return to the city, and his life is in danger there. We know that thanks to Travis the hunters have gone, but they will return, it is only a reprieve we have had and the fact that The Best of Everything is not here to appease them is troubling. We must make a plan, something that will work and then we must ensure that The Best of Everything is returned to us. After that, we must have The Tongue of the Bear bring his daughter Radiance to us, and she and the Best of Everything must be married, it is our way and it will be so. Is everyone agreed?”
There were nods of approval and Merry Wolf held up one hand. “Then so shall it be. Now, Travis I’d like to invite you and your men to join with myself and the elders to discuss a plan to throw the hunters of The Best of Everything off his track, something they will accept and leave him alone for the rest of all time. I have a few ideas, let us toss them about and discuss them among us, and then we will send out scouts to find out where The Best of Everything has been taken and return him to his parents, and ultimately to Radiance, his wife to be.”
Travis nodded, agreed and he and his men followed Merry Wolf and Prowling Cat to the cave of the elders. They had much to discuss, but Travis knew these people and he had no doubts that whatever they came up with would work to the best of everyone’s interests and returning Prowling Cat’s son would not be a problem.

Chapter Fifteen

Men should never underestimate women and nothing was nearer the truth when Vincent, Devin and Darren dashed up the mountain to ‘save’ Swallow Tail, or when the band of bounty hunters dragged her with them for their own ends.
Swallow Tail had not just spent the last year plotting and planning to have her dreams dashed now, and nothing or no one was going to take her back to her family submissively. So as the hunters strode on up the mountain Swallow Tail’s mind was scheming and she had all kinds of scenarios ready to act upon should they turn out as anticipated. Out of them all one proved fruitful and strangely it almost involved another bump on the head for the fellow Gary.
They’d set up camp for the night, having gained as much ground as possible, knowing nothing of Devin, little of Vincent except that he was the ‘beast’ they sought and believing Darren to be unconscious, the hunters prepared their campfire and their bedding and Gary drew the short straw to take the first shift, keeping one eye on their ‘hostage’. He was tired though, that was the problem, couldn’t tell anyone, would seem like he was weak or lazy, but that bump on the head he’d abstained a few weeks earlier still pained him and he had a thumping headache right behind his eyes that never seemed to go away. Swallow Tail missed nothing of this, the fellow might not make his feelings known to his colleagues but to her they were as plain as the light of day and due to this if she were cautious enough she knew she might well escape their clutches before daybreak.
Amid the sleeping forms of his friends Gary leaned his weary back against the trunk of a tree. His eyelids drooped and he suddenly snapped his eyes open focusing on anything that would lend him an opportunity to stay awake. He dwelled upon the tree he sat beneath, why did those things grow like they did? How come in time all of the bottom branches withered away and left an almost straight trunk that was useable for so many things, telegraph and fencing poles in the main? This tree only supported one low branch and that looked about ready to fall. How high could those trees grow anyway? His gaze took him as far to the top of the surrounding trees as possible seemingly touching the very stars themselves. Oh, but to be able to climb to the top like a squirrel or to fly above them like a bird, what sights he would see!
As he looked upward cold air fanned his cheeks and eyes and Gary huddled more snugly into his jacket. He wished he had some furs for his blanket of sorts wasn’t warm enough to cover his legs, denim was okay for wear and tear but useless when wet and it was cold too. He should have worn oilskins over them as some of his colleagues had done, with big heavy boots and thermal socks. His teeth chattered and Swallow Tail supposedly asleep nearby saw her chance. Beneath the heavy furs that had been placed over her hours earlier, she tossed and turned and then deliberately threw back the furs as though she were hot. Gary took it all in, surprised that anyone could be warm let alone hot out on the mountain, but then the woman was used to such temperatures and she was wearing furs that probably kept her warm enough without further covering.
The furs now lay on the frozen ground between them seemingly with Swallow Tail oblivious to their being there and Gary staring down at them, as though he were a poor man tempted by a windfall at his feet. ‘Well since they’ve been discarded…’ he thought and reaching for the furs with fingers that shook from the cold he carefully placed them around himself and snuggled into the warmth left behind by the woman. ‘Lovely,’ he spoke out loud and covered by her hand Swallow Tail’s smile was one of triumph. Now all she had to do was wait till he fell asleep, and he would…tired and cosy…he most certainly would.
When his even breathing signified to her that he was well and truly asleep, Swallow Tail opened her eyes just enough to watch him. His head had fallen forward, his nose tucked tight into the furs, his hat and scarf pulled over his ears and around his neck respectively. He looked snug and warm and most undoubtedly was but Swallow Tail could not leave it there. Too much was at stake if he should wake and find her gone. There was no way on earth that anyone was going to return her to her father. He would have her married within the week and she would never see Darren again. Her heart ached at the thought, she loved him so much and at least this way just as soon as they’d had a child they could return to the mountain and her family and be accepted, their strange laws allowing this for the sake of the child. However, she did not wish to bring ostracism upon her family in the meanwhile, and therefore if she meant to procure her escape with soundness then she must ensure that her watcher’s unconscious state be attributed to a natural element and not human intervention. Therefore, Swallow Tail looked about her for something decent to crack over Gary’s head thus really rendering him unconscious without killing him when she noticed the branch neatly positioned a few feet above his head. Well okay, the site was right, but how to reach it without disturbing him that was the problem? Swallow Tail thought about it logically and quickly wasting as little time as possible she knew that she simply could not climb the tree snap off the branch and use it, since the sound alone would wake either Gary or one of the other men, therefore she had no alternative but to make good her escape without the added precaution of injury to the night watchman.
Thus she ran as surefooted as a young doe from the camp and down the mountain pausing for breath not once. There was a lark in her heart and it was singing and Swallow Tail was happily anticipating the reunion with her truelove Darren. On and on she ran until deep within the nucleus of her being she sensed him just ahead and cried out his name with joy!
“You hear that?” Darren stopped dead his heart racing as Vincent and Devin to each side of him stopped to listen. Their hearts were racing for they knew not what he’d heard. About to tell him so, Devin gasped, he heard it now, someone crying Darren’s name, someone feminine and that could only be…
Through the trees ran Swallow Tail, her eyes sparkling with happiness as she threw herself into Darren’s waiting arms. “Oh my love, my love!” Darren cried hugging her tightly. “You got away from them?”
“Yes, yes, hold me, just hold me…tighter…tighter…”
Instead Darren drew her away from him searching her eyes gravely. “Did they hurt you…I’ll kill them if they did.”
“No, no…they did not touch me…I’m fine…unharmed…all I want to do is get off this mountain before they discover I’m gone.”
“They aren’t aware?” Vincent asked as Swallow Tail shook her head and laughed a little. “No,” she told him. “I had a plan, it worked and they are as far as I know, still asleep. Hopefully they won’t know I’ve escaped till first light.”
“Which is any time now.” Devin reminded them. “We’d better get going.”
“Yes.” All three agreed. “We had.”
So arm in arm Darren and Swallow Tail retraced their earlier footsteps followed by Devin and Vincent equally relieved that they hadn’t had to rescue Swallow Tail and thus put themselves at risk of discovery. “You’re one brave lass, you know that?” Devin couldn’t help remarking as he walked briskly behind Swallow Tail. “A lot of women wouldn’t have dared do what you just did.”
Swallow Tail stopped to turn and speak to him. “They would you know? Especially when everything looks bleak. Had those men returned me to my family, I would never have seen Darren again. I was also in danger with those men, none of them hurt me but I heard their comments and I knew what they meant and what the intentions were. What terrified me the most was the fact that when we finally faced the clan and I was to be used as a bartering instrument for Vincent here, and the clan did not have him to hand over as if ever they would, then what? Would I have been freed to return to my family? Or would they have carried out their threats regardless? It would have been an unbearable situation for any to have faced whomsoever side they were on not to mention the pressure upon Prowling Cat and his family. I also worried about their little baby. Indigo Sky has had one child stolen already, it might have come about that had the hunters seen that their plan to use me as a bartering tool was not effective they could have snatched Indigo Sky and forced the birth of the child just to hold that as ransom in exchange for Vincent. All these thoughts were running through my mind the whole time I was with those men. So, Devin you’re wrong. Given the circumstances and anxieties like that any woman would have taken any risk to be free, although doing so does not necessary mean that those men won’t do any of those things, except now they won’t be able to use me.”
“You think they might hurt my mother?” Vincent asked grimly.
Swallow Tail wished she hadn’t said so much, but as she had she answered sadly. “Its possible.”
“I don’t think Prowling Cat will allow his wife to come too near the hunters. I’m not even sure if Prowling Cat himself will do so. And I can’t imagine Merry Wolf Singing Jay or even The Tongue of the Bear insisting that he comes forth even though you are the one the hunters seek, because to do so would highlight just whom your family are.” Darren tried to reassure Vincent.
“To be honest, Darren,” Devin laughed uneasily. “They all look alike to me.”
Darren laughed also. “It used to be like that for me, but you get used to them. Different mannerisms slightly different mode of dress tones of speech that kind of thing. Did either of you ever meet Freedom of the Will? Now he’s different!” Darren laughed out loud, too loud, his laughter echoed around them. “Sh,” Swallow Tail reprimanded.
“Sorry.” Darren apologised feebly. “Blame it on freedom of will…” he tried not to laugh at his own pun but did so anyway though quietly when he saw Swallow Tail’s lips twitch with mirth. “Great name.” He whispered and explained to Vincent and Devin. “There’s one in every group, isn’t there? An extrovert, I mean. Ole Will would have you in fits just by looking at him.” Swallow Tail giggled in remembrance.
“He sports a beard for one thing.”
“A beard!” Both Devin and Vincent exclaimed together. If there was one thing it was Vincent’s incapability to grow a beard. The whiskers on his face grew to a certain level and that was it, they stopped, he never shaved but they never formed anything more than stubble and the same was true of all the clan, except it would seem with ole Will.
“As true as I’m standing…or walking…he does.” Darren laughed. “Nice fellow though ole Will, if you get the chance to see him. He’s a nomad seldom seen. Not quite sure what he did, the clan won’t speak of it and nor will he.” At this he gave a sideways glance at Swallow Tail who laughed softly. “Don’t ask me, we women were never allowed to know such things. I have an inkling though.” She laughed quietly and Darren replied. “Hm I thought you might. Come then tell us.”
“Much the same as you and I, dear heart. He fell in love with the wrong person.”
“Oh, dear and so he left the mountain?”
“Something like that and the clan won’t speak of it. It happens from time to time, and they hate it when it does. Generally they rush through a wedding to prevent the ‘wanderer’ wandering. It doesn’t stop the heartache though. The problem with Will was that he fell in love with another clan member only not the one he was betrothed to. Couldn’t bear seeing her married to someone else because of him so he left the mountain. That’s as far as I have been able to glean from what I’ve picked up. You were lucky to meet him at all. I’ve only seen him once in all my life.”
“How did you meet him?” Devin asked intrigued.
“It was when I first arrived on the mountain. I was snowboarding. Great fun, ever tried it?” Devin shook his head and hoped he might do so one day, it sounded safer than skiing.
“Well nothing untoward happened, I was just there and stopped for a breather and along he comes, as bold as brass. At first ‘cos of the beard I didn’t see anything about him that was untoward, he looked like you and I Dev someone ruffled up in furs to keep out the biting wind, it was when I looked close that I saw he was different but not frighteningly so. I was, I remember awed at the sight of him, and the same is true of you Vincent, and anyone of the clan, you are all…so…well beautiful for want of a better word. “ A warm glow spread through Vincent to hear someone other than Catherine call him beautiful. “Anyway he told me about himself and that there were others like him and then he built a small fire and told me that I needed to be identified in future as someone that had met one such as him because that’s what they did, and without any qualms I allowed him to give me this tattoo and very privileged it made me feel I can tell you. After that I actively sought for him again and instead met the clan, and then Swallow Tail, and then my visits really intensified. However, when Swallow Tail’s family started curbing my visits, and it became apparent to me that I wasn’t being made as welcome as I once was, I sought out Will again and amazingly found him, not just once, but time and time again, and he and I have become firm friends, I now know where to find him and I know he would help me with anything I ask. Which is why…” Darren hesitated, and looked appealingly at the others.
“What?” Devin asked.
“We should go see him now. I should have thought of it before. Will would know how we can all escape the mountain and get away from Alaska. He might even be able to suggest something that would work for both Swallow Tail’s and Vincent’s benefit. Come, I’ll take you to him.” Swallow Tail caught his arm. “Wait, we don’t have to go back up the mountain do we?” Darren shook his head. “Not at this time of year. Old Will likes his comfort these days.” Darren smiled. “Remember I told you at first sight I thought he was no different from me? Well for the most part he gets away with that. He now lives in a log cabin in the valley.” Swallow Tail laughed out loud, she couldn’t help it. It was absurd to think of a clan member living in a cabin, and had so obviously done so before the International Year of the Beast? No way!

*** *** ***

Axe to metal, axe to metal, was the first sound that the group of four heard as they made their way stealthily through the trees at the edge of the valley, the sound being recognisable to both Swallow Tail and Vincent as a tell tale mark of craftsmanship. A member of the clan was sharpening his axe for making precise cuts in a tree trunk ensuring no jagged edges since that particular cut of wood was likely to be used in shaping into some kind of tool, or item of furniture a bowl or a utensil for eating with.
Darren stopped the group with one raised hand and then to their surprise he placed the hand to his mouth and uttered one long fluty whistle whereupon the sound of the axe froze in mid air and came down with an almost silent chop upon the metal used to sharpen it. Not many seconds after came a returning whistle along with the bark of a dog.
Darren laughed. “The old bleeder! He did it, said he would never would have believed it.” His infectious laughter made Swallow Tail and Devin do likewise and Vincent grinned.
“I hasten to ask?” Devin asked anyway.
“Got a dog. Said he would, said he needed one out here, for company if nothing else. Wonder where he got it?”
“You should ask me.” Came a voice from the other side of a bush as first a golden Labrador raced through with tongue lolling and secondly a giant of a man sporting a thick salt and pepper beard and a shaggy mane of hair to match followed his faithful friend halting only when he saw Darren had company. His eyes narrowed. “What’s this you do, young friend?” He asked gravely, as he looked first at Devin and gasped when he laid eyes upon Swallow Tail and then Vincent.
“These are my friends.” Darren explained. “And believe me Will, your secret is safe with them, or I’d never have brought them here.”
“Let’s hope you’re right.” He replied as the three companions nodded vigorously telling him in turn that they would never reveal his whereabouts to a single soul.
Will nodded. “Come then you must be thirsty, or hungry, or cold maybe. I have a fire in the cabin where you can warm yourselves, beds where you can rest food that you can eat…and…” he grinned at Darren. “I have wine!”
“Wine!” Darren exclaimed. “Where’d you get that?”
“Made it.” Will announced proudly. “From berries. I even managed to store it in an oak barrel.”
“No way!” Said Darren flabbergasted. “How’d you do that, Will?” The exchange was humorous to the others, especially Devin, whom to procure an oak barrel would have been simple, the dog too come to that, but he knew well enough that this man, for all his likeness to human kind in general could not simply stroll into the nearest store and purchase these things. He’d need money for one and he’d need to be pretty sure that no one noticed his catlike appearance under all that fuzz for with or without a beard the cleft lip was distinguishable as was the flat catlike nose.
“Trading.” Will announced as though it were nothing.
“Trading?” Darren exclaimed as though it were everything. “With someone obviously?”
“Of course with someone, you dork. What you think I go around this place trading with myself! Some might think I’m eccentric, young’un but I ain’t stupid too.” He laughed heartily at the very thought and Darren blushed. “No, I didn’t mean it that way, it’s just…well it’s just…” Words failed him he wasn’t sure what he meant but the thought of Will trading was almost as ludicrous as him walking into a store and purchasing something. It still meant interacting with human kind.
“How did you learn to speak so well…er…well…” Devin too was lost for words because he did not wish to offend, but this giant of a man, a member of the clan, ex member, no less, spoke almost perfect English and come to mention it, Scottish too.
Will laughed jovially. “My, we are treading on eggshells, aren’t we? Spit it out man! How did I come to learn the native tongue of the Americans, the British and the Scottish? Easy peasy lemon squeazy… same way as I learn everything, and get everything around here… children.
“Children!” Everyone chorused together.
“Sure thing. Children are so trusting are they not? So gullible, so sociable so friendly! Keep secrets too. Oh, don’t look at me like that, what you take me for? I’m not as green as I’m bush looking.” Devin laughed out loud, with all that hair and that monstrous size Will could easily be taken for a bush if he sat still long enough. As it was, he had the remarkable likeness to Vincent, he paced literally as if he had ants in his pants and could not keep still even for a moment. Vincent on the other hand was quite still as he listened, otherwise Devin decided with some mirth that had they both been on the go at once in such a tiny cabin they would have collided.
“Well, anyway all you need to know is, I do have friends. Of the little kind and thanks to them I get by. They help me and I help them. I teach them things and they bring me gifts. Old Bruno for example, he’s kind of one of them and that there oak barrel outside, that’s another.”
“I can see how you might procure a dog, Will but an oak barrel? What did the kids do, roll it in?”
Will laughed jovially. “Exactly!” he told his friend thumping him on the back. “Now, how about some wine?”
The four nodded more from amazement than acceptance, and moments later each was thrust a wooden mug half filled with red fragrant wine. “Bottoms up!” Will cried and took a huge swig of his own. “Mm good stuff even if I do say so myself.” Devin did likewise and almost spat it out again. “Good?” He spluttered. “My God, it almost took my tonsils out!”
Will laughed loudly. “It’ll put hairs on your chest man, get it down ya!”
“Well I don’t want hairs on my chest thank you, Will.” Swallow Tail laughed and set hers to one side. “You got anything else? Like good old plain water perhaps?”
Will’s eyes sparkled. “Over there, lassie, just pour yourself some from the jug. You’re Merry Wolf’s daughter aren’t you?” Surprised Swallow Tail turned back to face Will from where she had made it half way across the cabin. “Yes, I am how did you know?”
“Likeness.” Will told her with a wink in Darren’s direction.
“Likeness? To my father? You’ve got to be joking.” To which Will laughed out loud. “You are joking?” Swallow Tail laughed relieved. “Then how?”
Will pointed to Darren. “Told me all about you he did, Swallow Tail this, Swallow Tail that, Lord, but almost burnt my ears off.” He laughed then sobering strode to where she was and took her hand. “Nice to meet you at last. And may I say that I understand why he couldn’t stop talking about you?” Swallow Tail appeared embarrassed and bowed her head whispering thank you then actually made it to the jug to pour some water into a clean wooden mug. “Have an awful lot of mugs, don’t you?” she asked noticing how many were actually strewn about the place. Will nodded. “Like I said, trading.” Light dawned among the group. “Ah, now I understand.” Darren said. “You make the mugs, and the kids take them and sell them then bring you the cash?”
“Almost.” Will told him finishing his wine, and since it was obvious none of the others would do likewise he returned theirs to the jug from where he’d poured it. “Waste not, want not.” He told them, “Like something else, some fruit juice, perhaps.”
“You have fruit juice!” Swallow Tail wailed. “And I’ve got water?”
“You asked for water.” Will reminded her with a grin. Deftly he poured juice into the four mugs he had emptied. “Here, I’m sure you’ll find this more palatable.” They did it was delicious!
“Berries.” Will enlightened them as they drank. “Can be used for a great many things. I have pie too, and pancakes would you like some?” He opened the door to his oven and showed them. Inside was a plate of pancakes oozing with fruit and a pie the rim of which showed a definite sign of red berries.
“So let’s get this straight, you have flour, and butter and wine…eggs?” Darren asked. Will nodded with each item and then added, “And a dog and an oak barrel, all brought here by children, who happen to be my faithful friends when they are passing through. Oh, don’t ask me another thing, Darren, so stop raising those eyebrows. You think I’d be daft enough to make friends with local kids? Local kids have local parents, and I for one keep myself to myself but from time to time people pass through, kids go exploring and they stumble on little ole me out here in the woods. They bring me things. I’m grateful and I give them mugs, and everyone is happy. As to Bruno here, because I can see you are just dying to know, he was left behind one day. Don’t know if it was on purpose or by accident, but until his owners wander by again he’s mine and a great companion he is too.”
“Oh.” Was all Darren could say, his questions were exhausted. Will had answered them all, except perhaps for one he had not and Will now voiced it himself. “So I take it this is not just a social visit? These friends of yours, whom you have yet to introduce by the way…” Darren coloured up. “Need my help, is that it?” He looked around at the sea of anxious faces and told them, “Don’t fret so. If I can help I will. Darren?”
“I’m sorry,” Darren apologised. “This is of course Swallow Tail, and this is Devin and his brother, Vincent.” Will’s eyebrows rose and Darren hurried to explain. “That is his adopted brother.”
“Ah.” Will smiled and then astonished them all by remarking, “Alias the Best of Everything, no doubt?”
“How did you know?!” Darren exclaimed.
“I hear things. Haven’t forgotten the old tongue even if I seldom use it these days.”
“But right down here!” Darren was sure sound didn’t travel that far.
“And if I was to wander up there?” Will asked with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes. “You think I’m too old and decrepit to climb the mountain, huh?” Everyone could see he was fooling and they laughed. Will asked, “So I’m right then. I take it?” He turned to Vincent. “You are Prowling Cat’s missing son?”
“So they tell me.” Vincent replied.
“You do not believe this?” Will asked intrigued. “Prowling Cat is a fine man. Indigo Sky is a fine woman, if you are not related to them you would want to be.” Vincent’s frown concerned him. “What, what is it?” And then as if it had only just occurred to him he asked, “And why are you not with them?”
“I have a family already.” Vincent told him simply. “I miss them.”
Will was quiet for an enormously long time after this omission, seemingly tossing it about in his mind analysing its every turn, until finally he said, “Yes, but Prowling Cat and Indigo Sky are your real parents, and they love you. Not only that but they have missed you and cried over you for so long, you should be indebted to their generous heart for never giving up on you. I feel shame that you should wish to abandon them when you do not need to do so.”
This was something that had also bothered Swallow Tail she had to admit but she remained silent.
“I do need to do so.” Vincent replied simply. “My wife is expecting our child and I have been away from her long enough.”
“You’re married!” Both Will and Swallow Tail cried together and looked at each other as if they could not believe it was so.
“Do your parents know?” Swallow Tail asked.
Vincent shook his head. “Those parents did not want to talk about my life, and when I did they spoke of it in past terms, as though they expected me to forget about everything so I refrained from telling them too much about it”
“If you told them anything at all.” Will spoke glumly. “You should have told them that. They had a right to know especially about the child. It alters everything.”
“I fail to see how.” Vincent told him, looking from Will to Swallow Tail in turn. “Can you explain?”
“We can, but we won’t.” Will looked to Swallow Tail begging her to remain silent with his eyes. “Something like this is between you and your parents. I have to ask you however, how much you know of their future plans for you.”
“As in what way?” Vincent asked.
“You know?” Will told him expecting that he would. Vincent shook his head and explained, “I know they expected I should live with them for the rest of my days. I know they wanted to teach me how to live their life, and in many ways it wasn’t so different to that which I have known, but I could not explain homesickness to them, neither did I dare. It would have hurt them too much.”
“At least then you have a heart. Alas, I fear they did not enlighten you to your future on the mountain and plans are being made which cannot possibly go ahead. You should have enlightened them, young man your kindness in not so doing will bring a different kind of heartache. Dreams will be shattered and not just to your parents.”
“I don’t understand. How can this be, apart from the fact that I have left them? I can always return, but they must respect that I come from a different place and wish only to visit and not be a permanent member of the clan.”
“You are also a wanted member of the clan, by all accounts. There is much unrest among the clan. Loyalties are being tested. I believe The Tongue of the Bear is very restless for his daughter’s sake.”
“His daughter, why?”
Will frowned. “I’ve said too much. Look, what is it exactly that you want from me all of you? How can I help?”
Feeling very much left out on a limb Vincent sighed, obviously the matter was closed and he hadn’t really learned anything. Still what little Will did let slip bothered him, something about The Tongue of the Bear’s daughter. Warning bells sounded in Vincent’s head and just as Darren began to explain their problem, he blurted, “Am I betrothed to The Tongue of the Bear’s daughter, is that it? Do they expect us to marry?”
Silence gripped the room and loath to lie and yet tell the truth Will finally nodded. Vincent gasped. “So that’s it! One of my younger sisters spilled the beans one day then stopped dead as though she had been too outspoken about something, and I’ve always wondered what it was that she knew and I didn’t. Who is this woman, does she have a name?” Will laughed at that. “Of course she has a name!”
Vincent said nothing just waited until Will finally enlightened him. “Her name, that is her full name is The Radiant Life, but most know her as Radiance. She’s a very beautiful young woman and she has waited her whole life for you. What are you thirty? No you’re more than thirty aren’t you, thirty five?”
“Thirty seven.” Vincent answered.
“Thirty seven…mm” Will scratched at his beard thoughtfully. “And Radiance will be the same. You owe it to them to let them know. They’ve made Radiance wait, you see in the hope of your return. A clan member loose in society? You were bound to be noticed one day and when that day arose they were to come and get you, that is the helpers would and return you to your folk, then you and Radiance would have been wed and you would have produced children…but now…well that rather lumbers Radiance, don’t you see?”
Vincent didn’t see. All he could see was what a lucky escape he had had.
“Well now, if her betrothed is alive and well she cannot marry another and she is almost past the age of child bearing. It would be unlikely that another man would want her due to that fact even if there were one able to marry her. Only one that has lost a wife would be available, you see or one whose wife has been unfaithful. The main problem is the shame of it all. I take it your wife is not a clan member?” Vincent shook his head and Will continued “Thought as much and you’d be doing the same?” He nodded toward Darren and Swallow Tail. “That is, you two will be expecting to follow down the same path?” To which they nodded.
“Tis a shame, Swallow Tail’s betrothed could not marry Radiance since both will be free, but in the light of the fact that neither will know for certain what has become of you both, then your partners to be will wait and wait and wait in the hope of your return to them someday. Both will die unfruitful and unhappy. I should say I don’t know how the two of you can rest in your beds knowing that, but I won’t because quite simply, I’ve been there done that and I know exactly how you feel. When you love someone you love someone and no one else whether prettier, mightier, cleverer or anything else can replace that one. Therefore, despite everything, know what?”
“What?” Four voices chorused together.
“I’ll help you. True love reigns right?”
“Right.” They agreed hopefully.
“And I suppose I could always carry the message to the lonely hearts club? Might be even that I could marry Radiance myself? Mm.” Will stroked his beard thoughtfully. He almost had them but for Swallow Tail who asked smugly, “And will you marry The Sin of Pride also?”
Will guffawed loudly. “I may be gay as in happy, young lady but I am not the other way! No, I’m afraid your betrothed will have to die a wanting man.” Saying that made Swallow Tail feel sad, for her betrothed was a kind man, it was just that she did not love him, though had she of not met Darren and known the overwhelming all consuming kind of ever after love that they shared she may well have happily married The Sin of Pride after all.
“Well this won’t get the baby a new crib, will it?” Will asked looking outside to where it was growing dark. “It’ll soon be nightfall, and here you are still in the valley. True, no one knows I’m here, as far as I know, but you’ll not be safe until you’re out of Alaska entirely, therefore this is what I suggest, for I take it that is what you came to see the ole wise one for?” At their nods he went on, “Thought so. Then as far as I see it, there’s only one way. Vincent, Swallow Tail…” he took both of their hands in his then placing them one upon the other he told them, “I pronounce you man and wife.”

To be continued in Chapter Sixteen




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