Outer Flower, 26

Oren’s Dilemma

“After the event of the Sea Star, the heavens over High North remained troubled. The Shautu continued to see unnatural configurations in the sky. The patterns spoke of blood and death and a terrible wrongness about to be visited upon all. At least those were the messages which were decipherable. Some of the patterns were beyond the Shautu’s skill.” Oren cleared his throat and spoke deliberately. “Many of my people found this even more alarming than the blood prophecies. The Shautu had come to be regarded as infallible and we. . .” He shrugged, a look of defiance crossing his face. “We had all seen blood before.”

William nodded, accepting the defiance, acknowledging the fact that, as the Warrior King, he had been responsible for the shedding of much Whitehair blood.

“The Shautu’s skills are great,” the King replied. “This is indeed surprising news.”

“Because of troubling configurations, the Shautu counseled the Elders to restrict us to the caves,” Oren said. “We managed at first, but then supplies ran low. The women bickered while harsh, sudden threats broke out among men. The children began to cry at night, first from vexation, then from hunger. Our camp had never heard the cry of hunger before, and as for me, it pierced my soul like a knife. Was I not the Protectra? Was I not responsible for their needs? The night I heard the call of the bear, I disregarded the Elders and left.”

Oren drank from his cup, swallowing hard. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

“I took a path up the mountain known only to me. The way was overgrown, but the roars continued, great growls of challenge, and I plunged ahead, eager for battle. My feet, though wrapped in thick moleskins, scarcely seemed to touch the ground. I’d always looked forward to battle, and the call of this beast promised much. Not only food and clothing for my people, perhaps a change of fortune as well. If the Shautu could read disaster in the heavens, could he not pull good fortune from the entrails of a bear?

Already, I was imagining the litter I’d build to transport its carcass when I stepped into High Bottom Clearing. That was where the sounds had directed me, but now there was only silence.”

Oren shifted uncomfortably inside his vest. A strand of snow white hair fell forward, and he pushed it back impatiently with his left hand.

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