The boys made their way slowly down the mountain. Owen was in a lot of pain, but he kept going, knowing that they had to get back to the village. The bears paw had directly hit his side, and he knew that he probably had broken ribs and maybe something worse. The sun had reached the top of the sky and was now beginning to drop to the west. They went slowly, and Owen had to stop and relax every little while.
As he collapsed in the snow for the fifth time, he growled. “We aren’t going to be able to get there in time at this rate.” He grimaced. “It’ll be dark before we even get close.”
“You need a healer.” Replied Kallan, looking concerned. “I don’t know what else to do.”
Owen struggled to his feet. “I know. We have to keep going, or I might get hurt worse.” He started to walk down the hill into a gully. “This gully goes almost to the village.” He called back. “If we follow it, we will end up pretty close.”
Suddenly, a cry broke the silence. It sounded human, but barely. It was colder, deeper, more menacing, like a vicious animal. Owen froze. He looked back up the mountain, to the direction the chilling howl had come from. “We have to go faster.”
The two boys began to run down the hill, fear filling their hearts. They had heard tell of the mighty war wolves of the mountains, which could instill fear with their howls, but it had always been a legend. If the war wolves were about, the village was truly in danger.
Owen ran as fast as he could, struggling to ignore the pain in his side, but every step was agony and eventually, he couldn’t take it any longer. Kallan looked back, and saw his friend collapsed on the ground, clutching at his broken side.
“Go.” Owen said, breathing hard. “Go, and warn them.”
“I’m not leaving you behind!”
Kallan usually did whatever his friend told him when they were in the wild, but now, he didn’t. He lifted Owen, using all his strength to lift him onto his shoulders. There he hung, like a lost lamb found by its shepherd. He made one last attempt to resist, and then fell silent as he fell insensible from pain. Kallan began to run again, careful not to jar his friend’s broken bones. The sun was already dipping down toward the mountain when he broke into the clearing and ran into the village.
They were instantly surrounded by a crowd of curious and concerned people. Kallan let Owen gently to the ground, and then fell to his knees, exhausted. Stephan walked up. “What happened?!”
Kallan struggled to regain his breath. “Bear….. Smashed Owen….. howls…”
Stephan looked around. “Take Owen into the hall and doctor him up. He looks pretty bad.” Rory and Baird picked the prostrate boy up and carried him into the hall, while several women and girls followed behind. Stephan knelt before Kallan.
“Now take it slowly, lad. What happened to Owen and you that caused you to be so frightened?”
Kallan straightened himself, regulating his breathing.
“We found some deer, in a meadow, and Owen was creeping up to get a shot off. Then we heard this roar, and the deer bolted. This huge bear charged out, and then was coming for me, when Owen shot it. The bear went after him, then, and he shot it again. Then it came right up, and hit him, and was going to kill him, when I came up behind and threw my sword through its head. Then it fell down. I managed to shove it off Owen, and then wake him up, and we looked at the bear. What we saw though, is that it was running from something. It had all these nasty cuts on it, and a couple of black arrows in it. Owen got the arrows out, then we started coming back as fast as we could. We were up the gorge when we heard a howling cry.” Kallan shivered at the memory of the sound.
“It wasn’t wolf, and of that, we were certain. It sounded just barely human. So we started running, and Owen fell, and I carried him the rest of the way.” He looked Stephan in the face. “I think, and so does Owen, as he said before he passed out, that we are in danger. If those are some of the men of the mountains, well……” He shivered. “I don’t know.”
Stephan frowned. “I don’t know what to think. You’ve never been known to tell lies, especially on serious matters like this. But….. This story I find hard to believe. The men of the mountain were destroyed by the king over 20 years ago.”
Kallan looked at him sincerely. “I’m telling the truth.”
“I think I believe you, but the others might not. We’ll have to hold a council.”
Kallan nodded slowly. “I understand, but….. If those are the men of the mountain, they could be here any time now.” He shook his head, and walked toward the hall. Keegan and Baird walked out.
“You shouldn’t go in there lad,” Baird said. “The womenfolk drove us out as soon as Owen was settled.”
Kallan nodded, then turned and walked toward his cabin.
“So, what did he say?” Said Baird, walking up to Stephan.
“Well, a bear attacked Owen, and then they heard a wolf howl. Kallan says that it sounded like a mountain cry.”
“The men of the mountain!?” exclaimed Baird, “Those beasts haven’t been seen nor heard of for over a hundred years. None of us have ever seen one, and why should that change now?”
Stephan looked serious. “Kallan and Owen aren’t afraid of wolves, but Kallan looked so terrified when he spoke about that howl that I’m inclined to think that whatever they saw or heard up there was more than just a grey wolf. Maybe it wasn’t one of them, but, who knows.”
Rory nodded. “Kallan doesn’t have the habit of telling tales. I believe him as well.”
“I’ll call another council, and we can discuss it there.”
© Aidan Moon 2012