:::»^«::: :::» 2 «::: :::»^«:::
“Where are we going, Daddy?”
Strapped to his back, Bill carried his young son up the narrow path through the thick forest. “We’re going to see Mr. Ateara, Mr. Uley, and your grandfather.”
“But this not the way.” Billy peered around nervously. He’d been to his grandfather’s house many times, but the trail they were following was unfamiliar.
“I know. We’re not going to his house. We’re going to a special place.”
“For stories?” Billy asked. His voice went even higher with his enthusiasm. His favorite stories were about the wolves who could fight and save the women and children from the cold monsters.
“I don’t know, son. Do you remember the stories your grandfather has told at the bonfires?”
“Woofs!” Billy cheered, swinging his legs and clapping his hands.
“Yes—the wolves. The brave Spirit Warriors who protect our land and our people.” Bill smiled as he entered a wide clearing and halted just beyond the copse of trees. He untied the straps securing his son to his back and eased Billy to the moss-covered ground. He knelt down and straightened his boy’s clothes.
“Nora likes the stories, too. We play woofs in the woods.”
“I know, son, but Nora is helping your mother with the twins.” Bill clasped the small boy’s shoulders. “This is a meeting just for us. You’re going to be chief one day, and this is part of the very important information you’ll need to be a wise leader.”
“It’s a secret?” Billy asked worriedly, wringing his little hands. “Mom said no secrets.”
“William Black, Junior,” a deep voice intoned from across the expanse of ground.
Three tall men with blankets wrapped around them, stepped into the clearing from the shadows of the forest. Though they had streaks of steel grey and white in their long hair, and their shoulders curved with age, all held themselves proudly and walked forward confidently.
“Grandpa!” Billy shouted eagerly and tried to run toward him.
Bill caught him in his arms and held him back. “Stay right here, son,” he whispered in his ear.
“As son of my son, you will lead the Quileute people one day, William, Junior, and what you are here to learn is not for everyone to know. It is only for the men who are deemed worthy enough to guard our home and people should our most deadly enemy return.” Ephraim removed the blanket from around his shoulders and let it drop to the ground.
“It is coming to the time of our rest.” Ephraim gestured regally at Levi Uley and Quil Ateara who stood on either side of him. They also removed their blankets and allowed them to puddle on the ground. “We have seen many years and remained to protect the land held sacred by our ancestors, but we are growing old. It is time to pass on our knowledge to the next generation.”
With Ephraim in the lead, all three men, dressed only in simple breechcloths, walked sedately into the center of the clearing.
“Within each of us runs the blood of the great Spirit Warrior, Taha Aki, as it does through you, William.” Ephraim gestured toward Billy with one gnarled but steady finger. “It gives us great strength when the need arises, but there is also great responsibility. We must guard this knowledge and make sure our people know of the legends and the glorious gift that has been bestowed upon us. We must ensure the spirit of Taha Aki remains alive in our hearts and souls, and is passed to sons of the tribe.”
Billy leaned into his father and tugged at his shirt. “I have Taha Aki’s blood?”
Before Bill could answer, Ephraim smiled kindly at his grandson and spoke again. “Yes, William, you and your father. I have it, as does Levi Uley, and Quil Ateara. As do their sons and their sons after them.”
“But what about Nora and Connie and Jennie?”
“Billy,” Bill said with caution in his voice.
“Your sisters safeguard the spirit of the wolf within them so that they might pass it to their sons.” Ephraim answered and then looked to each of the men at his sides.
They nodded and moved several feet away from him.
Ephraim raised both hands slowly. “William, as a son of the Quileute tribe and of Taha Aki, and as the one who will next be chief, we asked your father to bring you here to witness the power of the Spirit Warriors so that you might better understand.”
“Power?” Billy asked, ducking his head into his father’s chest before peering again at his grandfather.
Through the forest canopy, the sky darkened and an unnaturally cool breeze wafted through the clearing, rustling the pine boughs and the men’s long hair.
Goosebumps rose on Billy’s arms and the fine hairs stood up. Shivering, he looked to his father. “Is there a storm? There was a storm with lightning, and the ‘lectricity went off, and—”
“No, son,” Bill whispered. “We feel the power of the Spirit Warriors.”
The air around the three elders began to shimmer, and right before Billy’s incredulous eyes, the men appeared to grow larger and their shapes were reforming and becoming indistinct like a fog had settled around them. In the next instant, the open space was filled with three giant wolves.
Billy shook and trembled in his father’s arms. The huge animals’ amber and golden brown eyes were staring at him!
“Don’t be afraid, Billy.” Bill patted and rubbed his son’s back soothingly. “This is a great honor. The red one in the middle is your grandfather. The light grey wolf is Mr. Ateara, and the dark grey one is Mr. Uley. They are filled with the spirit of Taha Aki.”
“They t-turn into woofs?”
“You know the stories. When Cold Ones come near and threaten our people, those who have the spirit of Taha Aki within them change into mighty wolves. They are big and strong. They can destroy the evil Cold Ones with their teeth and claws and protect our people.”
“Can you turn into a woof?”
“No.” Bill gave his son a bittersweet smile. When he had been a child, he had often thought he wanted to shift into one of the large protectors. He had dreamt of it. But as he grew older and gained maturity, he realized how fortunate the tribe had been to avoid confrontation with the pale, stone-like creatures. With the birth of his own children, he’d come to hope the deadly creatures would never be seen again. “I haven’t turned into a wolf, but we have to be prepared. Our Spirit Warriors are brave and strong and have kept the monsters away, but we always have to be ready just in case the red-eyed demons should return.”
Secure in his father’s arms, Billy relaxed and studied the wolves. They appeared to be as old and wise as the men they’d replaced. Billy could see these wolves were of no danger to him. Even though their eyes were a different color, he could see the kindness there.
When a happy smile broke over Billy’s face, the wolves appeared to smile back at him and dipped their heads in approval. Shedding the last of his fear, little Billy squirmed around to get a closer look. He was fascinated by the size of their paws and slowly swishing tails. His grandfather’s wolf even had white fur around his muzzle.. “Can I pet them?”
Bill’s voice was rough with sadness. He knew it would be the last time he would ever see the magnificence of the Protectors in their wolf forms. “No, son. They have told me they are going for one last run through the forest before they return to their homes.” Bill stood, hugging his small son to his chest. He didn’t know if he was trying to reassure and comfort his son or himself. The stirring sight of his father as a wolf filled him with awe, as it always had, and a part of him would mourn the loss of the impressive and imposing beings, but he also felt immense relief that they, and the young men of their tribe, had not been called upon to protect them all. He also knew that soon those three brave men would journey to their final rest. The ache of loss began to spread within him, and he looked into the golden eyes of his father.
Bill had to swallow the sudden lump that formed in his throat so he could speak. “It’s …it’s time for us to go home.”
Each wolf made a sound deep in his throat as if he were laughing, and they raised their huge heads, their eyes shining bright. Then, as if they were saying farewell, the three wolves dipped their heads in a bow, turned, and slipped silently into the shadows of the forest.
:::»^«::: :::» 2 «::: :::»^«:::