CHAPTER 11- REAP
“What are you up to?” Frozen eyes darted at Snow as Celeste peered from her shoulder.
The five Grimlake she wolves now stood beside each other. Margaux was busy hiding the grin on her face and all Snow could do was chuckle. Lais and Willow look as equally thrilled except for Celeste.
Snow glanced away and found something interesting as she looked up. The flag above them was a dark forest green where an oak emblem embroidered above it in threads of glimmering gold. A humble clan such as Grimlake finally had this honor. Snow bit her lip as it made her cheeks red. And, it wasn’t just the sun.
Despite the overwhelming feeling of being acknowledged, Snow felt uneasy. She was used to Celeste’s glaring stare but found herself a humble prey among the eyes of the amount of people before her. She wondered what was wrong with her. Was it her hair? The green pigment on her arms? Or the vast amount of leather she had skin tight on her body?
From where she stood at the clearing, hungry eyes did not spare her.
There was a crowd gathered around them forming a circular border against the woods. There was a see of eyes in all colors and all expressions. She was near spilling the contents of her stomach when she saw Clara from a distance her belly a mound before her body. The sun made her skin look washed out, her eyes deeper and tired.
The pregnancy has taken a toll on her. If only they had enough elders in their clan Clara would have been taken care of. But the elders back home seem to be the ones who needed caring the most. Juggling her life as the house head while father is gone, Clara has put upon herself the responsibility of being a mother to them all.
Then out of nowhere, the sound of drums pulled Snow from her thoughts.
The crowd sprung to life in wild exalts as each clan raised flags of house emblems in the air. Drums and horns thudded against Snow’s chest as the energy of the crowd made the hair on her arms stand up. The beat of the drum paced a slow taunting rhythm as it made the edges of her lips curl.
As Snow basked in the diversity of people before her, she almost forgot who she was. From the olive-skinned wolves of Sato to the stern armory and steal work of Everett, each nation stood out. The Satos where in their traditional armor and garments showing their bronzed skin against dark long straight hair and squinted eyes. The Wolframs where in their uniform as the court of wolves. The maroon plated tunics stood against the gold studded leather baldrics against their chests.
The drums stopped.
“Welcome, to the Reaping,” The Burnwood elder said. Howls and screams filled the air once again. Margaux grabbed her shoulder and pointed to crowd of dancing people from a corner. From where Snow stood she could see clearly the astonishment on her sister’s faces.
“This year’s Reaping is all about accepting our diversity,” The elder spoke, “Thus, to win the Reaping we, nation elders, have taken a spin on the traditional ritual. Before we begin, may I call on among our contenders, to present before us the youngest hunter of their group.”
Drums banged against Snow’s temples as, Lais gave her a nudge. Her legs paced towards the fire near the group of elders who had antlers on their heads and pearls around their necks.
Each elder has deer weights on their arms. Deer weights are a Reaping staple. It was a leathered belt attached with chains where weights of various heaviness strung. It was used to keep deer or any foul in a certain field not allowing them to run too far off. This ensured that participants stay in their own respective territories.
The women held a different kind of deer weight. It was bigger, the leather belt had straps where it can hang against the hind legs of the animal. Whatever animal it was it was they were hunting, it will be big.
Snow stiffened as the elder in front of her lay the thick leather on her waist. There, the women placed the leather straps against the ball of her shoulders behind her back and fastened to her chest.
The Reaping | RULES
“Young ones,” The elder addressed Snow and the other four young hunters, “You are called the Carriers. You bear on your shoulders the weight of your house.”
As the women tightened the straps, two slabs of weight barely four kilograms each are hooked in a five-foot steal chain on the leather strap.
Each carrier now had two weights hooked to each of them. The solid metal was a dark gray against the sun. Each cylindrical weight embossed with a sign of each clan. Snow was confused. She sharpened her senses once the elder continue to speak.
“You symbolize the youth, the sole bearers of our future.” The crowd stood in silence.
“The victors of the reaping, shall be the first clan who will have a total of six weights under their house flag. With the two pre-existing weights already on your clan carriers, each team can hunt down weights of two other clans of a single weight from each four clans.”
“The weights can only be carried by the youngest hunter of each house. The carrier can bear all six weights until the end of the reaping or he or she can surrender the weights he hunted under their house flag here at the clearing.”
“Each carrier must have two weights strapped to him at all times. Only hunted weights are surrendered.”
“Hunters of each clan has the capacity to obtain the weights but must hook it on their carrier before it is surrendered before their flag.”
“The arena you see before you is divided into two: The Safe Zone, the clearing and the Hunting Zone, the woods. Once all hunters enter the Hunting zone only the carriers are allowed to step back into the safe zone to surrender their weights.”
“The unfortunate team who losses possession all two weights to another clan, whether it is surrendered or not shall be considered disqualified. Marshalls will escort the team back into the safe zone prohibiting them from participating any longer.”
“Acts that impale and endanger the life of any contender are prohibited.”
“All contenders must not cross Burnwood territory, marked by the Sandstone River.”
“And, the hunters who emerge from the woods with a total of six weights under their house flag is the victor.
“The champions will be awarded with the badge of valor.”
All this for a badge? Snow’s forehead scrunched.
The crowd, now lost on faint mumbling, rustled as the elder finished. With a task as difficult as this against a multitude of very competent hunters, she wondered how many weights would be under Grimlake flag by the end of this day.
The drums rumbled the rhythm once again as it paced with the beat of her heart. As the women let the weights fall before her, she twisted against the tight leather on her waist. The heavy cylinders dropping on the ground before her feeling each tug as she paced back and forth. They were heavy but the load is bearable.
Her palms lay cold and damp beside her hips as she steadied her breathing. The horns blew and soon the hunt shall commence.
It was ironic, she thought, how she came here to hunt only to be the one being hunted.
She bent her knees, each arm entangling the chains to the weights. The thud on her chest was already running wild. Her eyes surveyed the crowd again, seeing each wolf scream in praises and howls. Then she glanced to her right beyond her shoulder. What she saw made her heart slam harder against her ribs.
It was Torryn, with his chest, shoulders and arms bear and damp with sweat against the blinding sun. His weight was between both his legs as the muscles of his shoulders tensed. He had two black stripes across his face as the sweat trickled down his temples made the pigment drip against his jaws. The black marks framing the hazel of his eyes. And Snow swore he was the most beautiful man he has ever seen. She could almost willingly fall prey to his stare.
The horns sounded and the chaos before her made her deaf.
Her legs froze as she basked in the mayhem of human and wolf. From her periphery, she saw her sisters waving their arms, calling her attention.
As she peeled her eyes from Torryn who came running towards her, Snow’s head jerked turning to her sisters.
Her eyes landed on Celesten with her furious gray eyes, her mouth screaming, “Run.”
The small clash at the clearing did not achieve anything, not for Burnwood, not for each clan as the carriers swarmed to the woods, a sanctuary against predators waiting for the kill.
His canines ached for fresh meat as his knees lay wet against the Sandstone river, he lowered his head where trickles of sweat run down his nose. His mouth hungrily drank the cold water. Although the sun was up and the frost now melted, the river from the mountains still had remnants of winter.
He splashed water against his bear chest, where the skin stung as it burned against the sudden ray of the sunlight.
The weight on his shoulders did not even break his stance when his cousin, Reed emerged from behind him resting his arm on Torryn’s shoulders.
“The manor has grown awfully quiet these days, cousin.” From his tone Torryn knew exactly what he was talking about.
“Shut up or I’ll hand you down to the Everetts.” He pushed him aside as the boy dangled the weights letting each on drag against the pebbly shore of the river.
Burnwood has been damned when his cousin was chosen as a carrier. The wolf, three years younger than him could not even walk straight with only two weights. Torryn shook his head and wondered how in heavens will their clan win.
“Has she not forgiven you yet?” Reed said.
“What’s for her to forgive? I didn’t do anything to her.” His jaw tensed still feeling the guild on his chest. He should have told her about Sophia. He hissed and started to walk away from the bank of water.
“Do you miss her?” he asked.
Torryn nodded as he began to enter the woods.
“Snow or Sophia?”
Torryn glared at him and continued with his tread. If not for his ability to track, Reed wouldn’t be part of the group. Since the dumbass could not sprint with the weight against his body, he might as well help Torryn find the others.
As his men where still scouting the grounds, Torryn had it all planned out in his head. The first target of their search once they regroup is Sato. The six hunters although adept in the bow and arrow were not used to hunt in climates like this. It wouldn’t be long before they set up camp and surrender under the mix of cold breeze and the burning sun rays.
Kyla Sato, their carrier, was exceptional with target shooting. Torryn would have to chase her off, keep her running, not giving her a steady stance. Then her shots will be less accurate.
As he sensed something from the far trunks, he ducked on the ground where the hill shielded his body against the pathway bellow him. His eyes glared at Reed who made a loud thud as he dropped chest down on the ground.
He grabbed him by the ear as Reed silently winced before him.
“You two,” Alfred, Torryn’s beta wolf emerged from the behind them. “What the heavens are you up to?”
Torryn grinned as Alfred held out hand towards him, “Ducked on the ground, Torryn. By God.”
“I smelled you,” Torryn laughed, “I knew it was you.”
“That’s sweet,” Reed dragged the weights as he caught up with the men.
“The Satos are setting up camp by the North wing. Rob spotted their scent and followed them where they based against a cave. The group are still searching for their carrier.” Alfred said.
“Good thing, I’m such a good carrier,” Reed grinned continuing to struggle with the weights.
“More carrying. Less talking.” Torryn’s jaw stiffened.
Torryn did not want the boy to speak. Their discussion was loud enough as it is in broad daylight strolling around the woods.
To put it bluntly, he thought Reed sounded like a buck in mating season. He was making too much noise. He’d drag the weights against the ground letting twigs and branches crackle and snap to the weight. It wouldn’t be long if someone heard them.
“There’s no one here,” Alfred assured him, “No one knows a place like this existed this far back at the border, that’s why I have agreed to meet you here.”
“Everett has also set up camp by east,” He heard Alfred grunt, “The base is bloody genius. Traps everywhere, Damien has sent his men guarding their carrier in a make shift base they rigged with snares and God knows what, while the remaining half hunt other carriers.”
Torryn’s eyebrows shot up and admitted to himself that Damien upped his game this time.
“Who else has set up base?” Torryn asked.
“Just Everett and Sato.”
“We can take Sato down, their base is closer from where we are and the men are around scouting the area. They’ll probably engage just as we arrive but enough to keep the men exhausted.”
Torryn nodded his lips a straight line on his face. This sounded so easy. It didn’t feel right.
“What about the Grimlakes?” Reed asked.
Alfred stopped to his tracks as he shook his head with a smirk on his face.
“What?” Torryn’s voice was coarse and low as he raised an eyebrow at Alfred.
“None of the men can track them.” His answer made Torryn chuckle.
These women are indeed amazing. His men, the men who can track several Rogues miles away on a daily basis, cannot track five she wolves. But, they were Grimlake, an exceptional lot these women proved to be. He felt his cheeks lighten as a smile broke through his face.
“But you probably know where they are,” Reed prodded.
“What the hell are you talking about?” Torryn answered his pace faster leaving them both.
“Track Snow.” Alfred shoved Torryn’s shoulder as the alpha wolf walked away with his back facing both men.
The two followed him as he eased his way into the darker parts of the forest where the trees rose taller and the sunlight failed to shine down the ground. This casted shadows within the woods, a temporary shelter against the sun but a potential hunting ground. Torryn walked right through it with ease welcoming the shadows with his guard down. He chuckled again. He didn’t need to track Snow.
He already knew where she was.
She was about to land her night lock arrow on the neck of the Burnwood carrier when Torryn emerged from the woods.
She pushed the arrow back in her quiver strapped against her back.
Snow thanked the heavens she brought lighter arrows. Night lock arrows are feather weight with a small semi-piercing pine at the arrow head. The sharp tip barely a few inches long is coated with the pollen of the moon lily. It grew wild near Grimlake manor and they have used it to sedate prey. The arrows were sharp enough to cause a small puncture in the skin introducing the pollen which with one to three arrows can knock out even the largest buck.
They were tricky to aim, however, as each arrow lighter and bendable as it’s suspended in air. Snow would have to be closer to take a more accurate shot.
She stared at the Burnwood carrier and cursed to her breath as she almost got him.
The frustration made Snow breathless as she leaned against a Cedar trunk. The tree was massive, it stood close the river bank where the men were. Standing a great foot below the hard forest ground she shifted her stance as she leaned on the branch that supported her weight and the two heavy cylinders.
This was the farthest she could go up. None of the branches where strong enough leaving her a few yards from where the men were.
Snow stiffened as the breeze wisped cold wind from where she stood. Her eyes now on Torryn who was drinking straight from the river. As the wind blew small waves on the river surface, Torryn’s eyes glanced up at her just in time as she leaned against the rough bark.
Please don’t see me. Please don’t see me. She prayed. Lucky for her, the men disappeared into the woods.
Dragging the weights as silently as she can, she climbed down the century old tree and followed the men. She was alone still far into the woods waiting for Willow’s signal for a meeting place.
“The birds will lead the way,”
Willow would always lose Snow in the blinding forest fog when they’d scavenge for mushrooms near Grimlake manor. They used the humming birds to lead each other back from where they left. The ability proved to be helpful for the Grimlake sister letting them venture into unexplored lands without losing each other.
But an hour into the forest and still no birds. She wondered where her sisters could be. The horn did not sound, none of the carriers has surrendered anything yet. It calmed her as she dropped beneath a thick bush.
Snow was an ample distance from the men as she crawled beneath the foliage of green and brown. The Burnwood carrier made it a point to be hunted as his movements caused more noise than the conversation between Torryn and another Burnwood wolf.
Damn. Now, they’re three of them. She cursed. Snow was about to retreat from her pursuit when she overheard their conversation.
Everett. East. Base filled with traps and more -traps.
Sato. North. Where the Burnwoods will ambush.
At least she has gained something from risking her discovery. Her nose landed on her shoulder as wild mint stung her nostrils. She and her sisters would rub their shoulders with forest herbs specifically mint. This made their scents untraceable as they blended in with the forest scent.
Her palms clung to her mouth as she suppressed a growing sneeze. Before air shot out from her nostrils the men were already gone.
The base was against a cave where the Northern hills rose.
There were only two men standing guard at the entrance and one of them was the son of Kaius Sato, Akar. He and Torryn were friends way back in childhood as both shared similarities of being a son of an alpha. Both trained together for as long as he can remember.
Torryn sniffed the ground with the fur on his nostrils laden with remnants of dried leaves. His paws firmly placed on the ground as his hind legs remained erect for the attack. As the Burnwood wolves surrounded the base, Torryn could see the discomfort in Akar’s eyes.
A small rumble growled from Torryn’s mouth as fangs peeled from his lips, drips of saliva leaving trails from where he stepped. His men circled in as Akar finally saw Torryn from the woods.
“Hello, Brother,” Akar grinned and without another word he and his men turned to wolf form as well.
Snow knew they were in for hell.
Her arms ached as she knocked her arrow against the bow string. As both arms still hung down her shoulders she held on to the fletchings of the arrow and started to walk.
A few minutes has passed since her little pursuit for the Burnwood carrier when she finally heard the birds. This led her to the eastern part of the woods where Celeste and Lais plotted their plan. Celeste made it a point that no one was searching for them until near the end of the reaping. They were a smaller group, easy to dominate but difficult to find. An easy target would be clans who established bases.
Her nostrils still stung because of the mint as she inhaled letting the breath settle in her trembling chest.
As soon as Margaux arrived, Snow had to open her mouth and give her small piece of information to her sisters. Just as soon as mentions she went following three Burnwood wolves, Celeste scowled at her spitting curses back and forth leaving Snow silent.
Snow relaxed her shoulders as she began to tread the path towards Everett base.
Whatever plan her sisters made up she agreed that it was pure genius. The base of the largest number of participants, a total of ten, made a safehouse of metal sheets in the forest. The dark steal marking a sharp contrast against the woods.
These men did not plan to hide, Snow thought. They wanted to be seen and pursued.
An attack from the smallest clan would be least anticipated. With the Burnwoods busying themselves with the Satos, Wolfram was the only clan they had to worry about.
But who would hunt the largest clan first? Tackling the ten wolves alone needed all hands on the goal. But who would risk their carriers?
Snow let the weights drag behind her as her boots made thuds against the soil. Just as she was about to step on the first trigger where Everett laid their traps. She stopped letting the men guarding the entrance see her.
The men chuckled as they approached her.
Snow was certain they were in for hell.
She steadied her breath eyes on the men before her. Two. She counted. Three. Another wolf stepped out and joined the two. Their faces but a haze as Snow’s heart pulsated a loud rumble against her ears.
As the men grew near, Snow was certain she grew deaf as a hawk’s call made the blood rush to her face.
It was time.
As soon as she made a full draw, two night-lock arrows flew from her bow one landing on the man’s neck, the other on another man’s torso. With one smooth movement she reached out to her quiver and just as she touched the arrow, the two men grew weak in front of her.
A black wolf, the most massive she has every seen, now ran towards Snow with yellow furious eyes. Snow only ducked down with an arm against her face and her head deep beneath her hood.
Just as the two men shot by night-lock fell to the ground, their sheer weight triggered the traps as clouds and clouds of foul gas burst through the air.
Beneath her tunic she heard the wolf squeal.