Watching her bobcat frolic in the snow was only entertaining for so long. Tove pulled her coat in more snugly around herself and sighed. “Where’s Uncle Koli?” The area around Koli’s tent was more cluttered than usual, and the stack of firewood was slumped over. She frowned at it. Koli’s mate had kept an orderly place, but she’d taken herself and their son closer to her mother’s homestead.

Her cousin Alvor shook her head. “I don’t know. It’s not like him to be late.”

“Maybe not usually, but he’s been weird lately. He’s missed stuff with the family a few times the past couple of months.”  Tove kicked the snow. “Well, I’m not waiting for him forever. Tracking lessons are great and all, but the homestead chores aren’t going to wait, and Luuk will be tinkering and forget to do stuff if I don’t remind him.”

“Unless this is the training?” Alvor squinted. “Maybe we should track him to find where he is.”

Tove didn’t think that was really the lesson. If it was, there’d have been a note or something. But curiosity burned bright, and also: she was annoyed. Just because she was young didn’t mean she appreciated having her time wasted. Maybe he was one of the best hunters this side of the Shiverpeaks, but she couldn’t benefit from his wisdom if he didn’t show up, now could she?

“Sure, why not.” Tove whistled and Sindri bounded over, standing next to Alvor’s snow leopard. “Let’s go.”

—-

“Tove, I don’t think this was what he had in mind,” Alvor said, as they dodged their second Svanir patrol.

“No shit?” Tove hiss-whispered, struggling to pick the trail back up. “Wolf’s teeth, why do we both have cats? One of us should have a wolf, or a bear. Something that would track better,” she muttered.

Sindri just glanced over his shoulder in apparent disdain. Tracking was her job, he seemed to say. His job was being a ferocious murder fluff.

“Don’t act like you can’t use your nose,” she said with a sniff, her eyes still on the snow.

Uncle Koli was good, and most wouldn’t have been able to track him at all. But Tove had been tagging along at his heels since she was a tot, forever enchanted by his bear, Stagger. And so she knew that Stagger loved to nose bushes as he walked by, hoping for forgotten berries. Tove followed these patches of snowless leaves across the forest.

—-

Alvor sat back on her haunches, absently chewing the end of a stick. “We can’t be sure it was Uncle Koli, Tove. He was bundled up in furs, and there were a whole bunch of Svanir in that camp.”

“I know his stride,” Tove said grimly, stuffing her hands deep in her pockets.

“So do I,” Alvor groused. Her shoulders were hunched. She had seen it, too. She just didn’t want to admit it.

“So what are we going to do about it? If it is him.”

“I don’t know. We could tell Aunt Geira?”

“And Grandmother,” Tove said with a firm nod. “She always knows what to do.” Grandmother ruled the clan with a small yet iron first.

—–

Along with the iron came wisdom. Grandmother Nauma wasn’t called Sageye for nothing. Tove wedged herself into the chair next to Nauma’s slim frame. “What do you mean, there isn’t much we can do?”

Her grandmother stroked Tove’s hair and sighed. “The only mind you can change is your own, pup. We can try to talk to him, but if he isn’t willing to be swayed, there’s nothing we can do.”

“That’s stupid.”

Nauma smiled. “The truth often is. That’s why we don’t like to tell it.”

Tove made a disgruntled noise in the back of her throat. Well, she’d just have to convince him, then. 

Author Ambrosine
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