The Amber Arrow – Snippet 19
From the trees charged–
Yipping, screaming, sounding like a cross between a barn owl and a squeaky door hinge. Coyotes in a pack, headed for her. As if their lives depended on reaching her.
Looking over their surging backs, Ursel saw that this was true.
They were being chased by wolves.
“Don’t shoot the little ones!” Ursel called out. She turned to Wannas. “Tell your men in Algonquin. Don’t shoot the coyotes.” She took aim over the coyote shoulders. “Do shoot the wolves.”
Wannas translated what she said in a commanding voice.
Ursel let fly her arrow. It sank into the chest of the closest wolf, and the animal collapsed, rolling around and whimpering in pain.
She didn’t wait to see if it died. She nocked an arrow, took aim at another. This one didn’t give her an easy shot at its vitals. So instead she shot it through the eye. It collapsed as if it had run into an invisible tree trunk.
The other Skraelings were letting their first arrows go. Most found their mark and at least distracted a wolf. Ottaniak’s tomahawk neatly split one through the skull. Ursel had her third arrow nocked. But the wolves were turning to retreat. They scampered for the forest. She almost released a shot after them, but she didn’t want to waste arrows. They were going.
The coyotes collapsed on the ground nearby panting. There were ten of then. One was bleeding from a mauled rear leg. It tried to lick the blood away, but the flow was too fast. Ursel saw that it was a male. He was a little more muscular than the others.
Maybe he was injured so badly because he had stayed behind to fight and drive away the wolves, Ursel thought.
“Let’s make sure those wolves are dead,” she said. She nodded toward the carcasses of the downed wolves which they could see through the saplings. She took a step toward the bodies. When she did the coyotes all got up and moved with her. Even the one with the badly hurt leg. She turned back to look at them.
They were all arranged in a semicircle behind her. She spun around and took a few more steps. The coyotes matched her pace staying just behind her. She turned again.
“I’m just going to make sure we are safe from the wolves,” she said to them. But the coyote pack kept following her. She stopped. They stopped. She moved, they moved.
Ursel sighed. “All right. I don’t want you going over there. I’ll just stay here.” She turned to Wannas who was a few paces away. “Can you see to the wolves while I try to figure out what is going on here?”
Wannas nodded. There was a curious smile on his face as he looked at Ursel. “They seem to think you’re their mother,” he said.
“Well I’m not,” Ursel replied. She turned her gaze to the coyotes. “I’m not!” she said again, this time to the coyotes.
When they saw that she was not going to move anymore, they lay down again. Ursel went to tend to the coyote with the bleeding leg. There wasn’t much to do except to wrap it in a strip of muslin cloth with enough pressure to stop the blood flow. The little coyote limped, but it was able to stand up on its four feet after being bandaged.
Ursel looked over the pack. Their panting was dying down, and they didn’t seem to be whimpering and whining as much. Then the muscular leader started to growl. He hunched up and backed away. For a moment Ursel thought he was about to attack her. But then she realized he was gazing at something over her shoulder.
She didn’t think. Didn’t look, just reacted.
Ursel swung her bow around with two hands. It was good that she didn’t wait a moment longer. The wood of the bow connected with the skull of a wolf lunging toward her throat. Its teeth were bared and she could actually see the saliva strands in the wolf’s mouth, a hand away from her neck. She’d swung hard, and the bow knocked the wolf to the side. It already had an arrow in its side. When it hit the ground, it tried to get up, but the arrow stopped it from being able to roll over.
Then the coyotes were on the wolf.
They attacked with fierceness. And they were led by Bandage-leg. The wolf was already wounded to the point of death. It couldn’t withstand ten coyotes pouncing on it. Biting. Tearing
Ripping fur. Skin. Meat.
The coyotes took the wolf apart. Then, almost as if they’d gotten a signal, they went back to sit near Ursel. They stared up at her.
She looked into Bandage-leg’s eyes.
And she understood.
Around the pupil was a shining purple iris. Even in the daylight, the iris seemed to spark slightly. It was an eye color that no true coyote ever possessed, nor a coyote man. Ursel had no doubt that at night, the edge of the irises would glow.
This was called a “dasein ring.”
It was a sign that Tier and humans had mated across species.
These were were-coyotes.
“All right,” Ursel said to them. “Why don’t you transform? Then we can talk about what you are doing on my land.”
Wannas had come to stand beside her.
“What are you talking about?” he asked her.
Before she could answer, the coyotes started to whine. Several of them fell over and rolled around, yipping. All of them contorted in some way. Then they writhed about.
Then they contorted again, in ways no animal could.
They seemed almost to be turning themselves inside out.
Hair disappeared. Claws retracted. Snouts shortened.
When it was all done, they were not ten coyotes.
They were ten humans.
Small, naked humans.
Boys and girls.