Since Wlvn had turned old enough for the pilgrimage, he got to hunt that winter with the men. He did not have to hang around his mother’s skirts and dig through the snow to gather whatever he could or climb trees to steal nuts from the squirrels. All of that digging and climbing could be hard work, especially when it turned ten or twenty below. Of course, hunting was not exactly easy, though as often as not, for the first couple of years Wlvn got to stay in the camp and keep the fire burning while the older men went out into the wilderness. In fact, he was busy doing that very thing one day when he had an unexpected visitor.
A mature man came to him, one certainly older than Wlvn, though it seemed hard for Wlvn to tell exactly how old the man was, like the man appeared very old and quite young at the same time. The man held in his hand a string of large, swift animals tied in a line. Wlvn had seen such animals before and ate one once when the men brought back one that they claimed had fallen into a ditch. He had never seen them before, though, with bits in their mouths and reigns and standing still in a line as if the man himself was the lead stallion.
“You are Wolven?” The man pronounced the name imperfectly. “I’m sorry. You must be. I can’t read your mind all that well.”
Wlvn felt that he knew this man even if he could not find a name. He decided to stand up as tall as he could to show that he was not afraid, though indeed, if he felt anything, it was a protective warmth that emanated from the man.
“I am Wlvn,” Wlvn said. “What brings you so far from home?” He asked that because he felt that surely this man had to be a long way from his normal haunts.
“I have Odin’s permission,” the man said, assuming that Wlvn knew who Odin was. “Nereus, the Sea Elder said that in all the world you would be the only one who would know what to do with these and make proper use of them.”
“Horses?” Wlvn said the word like a question even as his mind flooded with images from the future—images of riding horses, plowing in the fields, of chariots and carriages and millennia of cooperation. The dog might be man’s best friend, but the horse was always man’s best help. Wlvn had to sit down again to clear his head.
“Who are you, really?” The man asked as he tied the lead horse to a tree branch and stepped closer. Obviously, the man had some thoughts on the subject.
“Poseidon?” Wlvn named the man and the man stopped where he was. “But I don’t really know what to do with them. The idea of catching them and training them and caring for them is all too complicated right now for me to remember. I think I am still too young.” Wlvn looked up into the big man’s eyes, but the man smiled as if he had guessed correctly.
“No, but that is easy,” the man said, and before Wlvn could protest, the man took that last step forward and laid his big hands on Wlvn’s head. Then Wlvn knew. In that moment, he knew more about horses than anyone alive, perhaps ever. “And here.” The man took Wlvn’s hands to help him stand, and Wlvn felt a strong tingling in his hands as he stood. “Now you can give the basic knowledge to others. It is that simple.”
“But where did they come from?” Wlvn asked. He let go of the man’s hands to examine the lead horse. He felt a little uncomfortable and not sure he liked the way the man kept staring at him.
Wlvn put his hand to his head. It all felt like too much, too fast. He felt a little dizzy. “Athens.” He got that word out and it helped him say the rest. “The olive tree.” Poseidon nodded and smiled and Wlvn felt the strangest thing happen that he had yet imagined. A woman pushed up inside of him; or rather, not inside, but from somewhere in time, one of those imaginary lives he would one day live. She pressed really close to his consciousness. It almost sounded like she might be speaking to him, like she stood right beside him, or inside him as he thought at first. She appeared to be asking if she could visit with her husband for a minute.
No. Wlvn thought, absolutely not. But the woman pleaded so sweetly, and Wlvn felt so confused at the moment, he finally said yes, but make it quick. Then Wlvn no longer stood in his own shoes. A woman stood in his place and Poseidon spoke her name.
She stepped up into his arms and they kissed, passionately, before she asked how the children were.
“How like a woman,” Poseidon responded. “Our son is just fine.” Then he got a very curious expression. “Children?”
Amphitrite nodded but said no more. She had obviously appeared very deep in the past, and they only had one son, Triton, so far. She knew she was not supposed to tell him about the future, so instead she reached up again and let him kiss her again and again. Finally, they heard a “Cooo! Cooo!” in the distance and Amphitrite stepped back.
“I will do my best with your gift.” Amphitrite spoke for Wlvn.
“You always do.” Poseidon grinned, knowing it was time to leave. “Children.” He let that word float on the air as he vanished.
“Thank you Wlvn,” Amphitrite said, not hiding the grin on her own face. She said the words out loud, though she knew Wlvn would have heard her merest thought. She told the horses to be good and mind the boy, and then she let out a “Cooo!” in Wlvn’s voice before she vanished and let Wlvn come home.
The first thing Wlvn did was wipe his lips clean, though it had not been his actual lips that did the kissing. Then he sat down because that had been the strangest experience in his life. He wondered briefly if he could do that again, and he thought of Flern; but no, he did not want to be another stupid girl. He got a shock when he actually heard a response.
“And I don’t want to be a stupid boy, either.” Flern spoke clearly into Wlvn’s mind, and he even heard the raspberries. Fortunately, the lead horse had just nudged him and let out a puff of cold air. Wlvn had to look at the horse. The men were coming back, and he realized that he had to act fast. Even so, it was nearly impossible to keep Ktrn from immediately killing one of the beasts.
After Wlvn explained things as well as he could, leaving out the part about Amphitrite, of course, he laid hands on the men so the horses would not appear to be simply lunch. They returned to the village without much meat, but with the most sensational find any village ever knew. They rode home, and Wlvn felt two things he never felt before. First, he felt proud, and second, he felt happy. Until that moment, Wlvn could honestly say he did not really know what happiness was, and given the hardship of his life, that was no wonder. Now, with the horses, that life might be immeasurably improved. Sadly, that elated feeling lasted a very short time. Mother had been taken by the selection.
A great deal of yelling happened at first. Brmr and the boys fell to tears. They could not frame clear sentences, but Wlvn could hardly blame them. Finally, Father and the other hunters got old man Wlkn to explain.
“They came on the ground and with one of their air wagons, though I cannot imagine how it stays up in the air. Anyway, they had some selections on the ground, and they looked like a despairing lot, though I did not see anyone from the other villages that we know.”
“They come around for selections every few years.” Father interrupted. “They want to make sure we are not hiding any grain in the years of calling. We know this.”
“They searched everywhere,” Wlkn said, and his eyes got big and filled with fear at the memory. “They were very thorough, and I felt sure that this time I would be selected, but when they finished searching my house, your wife asked me to keep the children while they searched your house. Then they asked about everyone and made sure we were all accounted for. They wanted families and ages and all. Your wife was very honest. She said she had three sons and a daughter that was six. That seemed to satisfy them, and I thought they would leave, but they said something about her replacing herself and she got added to the selections. It was just like that.” Wlkn snapped his wretched old fingers. “They tied her to the end of the line, and they were gone.”
“Where did they go?” Wlvn spat and growled. The red rose to his face and made him look and feel like he had a fever.
Wlkn raised his brows, surprised by the fury of the boy. “To the next village, I suppose.”
“Father.” Wlvn turned to his father, but the man stood still like a statue. “Father, we have to go after them and get her back.”
“Oh, that would be very dangerous.” Wlkn verbalized his fears. “They have an air wagon that can rain fire from the sky, and the immortal came with them.”
“What?” That got Wlvn’s attention. “What immortal?”
“The tall, boney one with the crooked eyes.” Wlkn blinked. “They said he was looking for a particular person. I am only glad he did not find that person here. I hate to think what might have become of us.” Wlkn looked away and started to shake his head.
“Loki!” Wlvn spat again as he turned to his father, but the man kept shaking his head as well. “But we have the horses now. We can catch them by surprise.”
Father looked up at that, but his head still shook. “No, son. There is nothing we can do.” He grabbed Wlvn by the shirt and spoke sternly into his son’s face. “And I forbid you to go after them.” He shook his son hard before he let go.
Wlvn’s face turned red with both anger and tears. He stomped off and for the first time in his life he seriously considered being disobedient. Someday, someone had to do something. He knew the Princess could track them easily in the snow. She had been gifted by the goddess Artemis herself and knew all of the ways of the hunt. And Diogenes could beat them up. Wlvn believed that Alexander the Great’s first cousin was the greatest warrior of all time. It was hard to think of Diogenes as simply himself in another lifetime. And if Mother is hurt, Doctor Mishka can heal her.
“And accomplish what?” Wlvn heard the words clearly in his head. It was like when Flern talked to him, except this sounded like a man’s voice—like the Storyteller. “All you will do is make them mad enough to kill everyone.” There. He said it.
“I’m sorry, Wlvn.” Flern added her words, but by then, Wlvn sat down to cry, bitterly. There was nothing he could do.
MONDAY Chapter 2
It does not take long to get horses into the hands of the people, but it puts a strain on Wlvn. He takes a break before his village is called to the center of the universe where Loki and the Neanderthals are looking for him.