Caretaker

When baby Ama awoke, her skin was flush, and her tiny body was cocooned in thick, grey fur.

She reached out, stretching her arms and grasping at the hairs, her new caretaker shifting as the infant stirred from slumber.

The great wolf shuffled in the den, curling her body around the small child as the raven watched vigilantly from atop the totem stone. The predator had answered his call, though there was no telling when her fancy might shift—when the plump little babe would suddenly seem like a succulent slab of meat. But the she-wolf had used this spot recently to nurse her own young; she would have known it was sacred ground, and under the raven’s watch, she was obligated to abide by his wishes.

The wolf’s tail flicked back and forth before draping over the child like a blanket, supplementing the skins in which she already lay. Turning to her side and nuzzling the wolf’s belly, Ama groped around in search of her mother’s breast. Had the wolf given birth to her own pups any earlier, she would not have had milk to spare. But it was as though Ama herself was a little beast, hungry and eager for life. Remarkably, the wolf allowed her to feed, lazily stretching onto her side as the baby suckled contently. Warmed by the nourishment, the child crooned and snuggled against the wolf’s tail, promptly falling asleep again.

When dawn broke and the birds greeted the morning with their song, the wolf knew it was time to return home to the dark sea of trees. Carefully, she untangled herself from the human child and gave her a cursory sniff as if to make sure she was still breathing, then turned her nose skyward. The raven remained perched on the stone, his plumage ruffled as he huddled sleepily in the glacial mist of sunrise. Huffing in annoyance at the raven’s boldness, the wolf turned her tail up and ambled towards the forest that awaited her. She had her own children to care for.

Soon after, a man’s footsteps could be heard approaching from the place where the tribesmen lived. It was Ama’s father, his pace hurried and uneven as he tripped over the snow in his anxious attempts to scramble towards the deathless tree. The raven cracked open one eye as he watched the clumsy two-legged creature. The man’s breath fogged the air as he wheezed desperately against the ice that struck his lungs. Collapsing to his knees, he clawed his way to the den, halting as he looked upon the tiny bundle that lay in the nest.

The entire world went silent for that one, brief moment, and then the sound of Ama’s cry filled the air. Her father threw himself back, fisting the white earth and gazing up at the sky with his mouth agape. There were tears in his eyes as he mumbled prayers and thanks to the spirit of his wife, his voice trembling with awe and reverence. Without another moment’s hesitation, he reached down into the hole and scooped out his baby daughter, nestled her against his chest, and peered at her like she was a goddess reborn. It was only then that he noticed something about her had changed. Her eyes were no longer the colour of stone like those of all their people. Instead, they were a warm, luminous amber, like someone had stirred sunlight into her soul.

Quickly returning to the settlement, Ama’s father took his child to the elder. The old man looked the girl over, his eyes seeing deep into her soul, into the events that had transpired over the course of the night. Never in their history had a child survived a night alone by the deathless tree.

Ama, the elder proclaimed, had been touched by the spirits. She would never again be whole in this world of men.


Art by Valentina Remenar


2 Comments

  1. Reply

    Caroline Price

    December 7, 2020

    Brilliant, I loved that xxx

    • Reply

      A. J. Vrana

      December 8, 2020

      Thanks, Caroline! Glad you enjoyed <3

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