The rabbits moved hesitantly around the small clearing, unaware of the predator in their midst. Their eyes sparkled like stars to Quick Fang. She could already taste the sweet flavors of fresh red meat killed by her own hand. She had at best time for two shots. She would only need one. Her arrow zeroed in on its succulent target.
"You half-witted, crack-skulled, flea-bitten and weak-kneed miserable excuse for a motherless whelp -- what in Burn's flaming pot of piss do you think you are doing with that bow?"
Birds scattered in the wake of One-Leg's baleful outburst, the terrified rabbits not far behind. Quick Fang growled in surprise, automatically straightening herself as One-Leg approached. She sniffed the air before him, picking out his heady aromas from those of the river and her wolf-friends Fang and Prowler who were holding down the camp well behind him. He smelled like fish.
She did not understand him, could not understand him. All the instincts yipping at the back of her mind told her that the male who was bearing down upon her was a mix of things that should not be.
He was a Not-Hunter, a fishgutter, beneath her as were all who did not bring in fresh red meat for the tribe. Worse still he was broken, hobbled, weak. She could not understand why he hadn’t been run out of the tribe well before she was born. No more than she could comprehend how he got away with roaring about like a pack leader when he should be deferring to the strong hunters who kept him alive.
But he was also an elder, and he held himself in the proud confident manner that went with high rank. As high as she'd risen among the hunting teams, he did not back down before her. It did not make sense. A high-headed fishgutter, the two concepts did not fit together.
Worse still, she could not help deferring to him of late. At least a little. She slid the arrow back into her quiver. She reminded herself that it was go with One-Leg or stay home to wait out more of her punishment back in the Dentrees. Those were the words of the Chief. Her brother had died helping her catch fresh red meat for the tribe, and she was being punished. That was why, that explained it. No, it explained her. It did not explain him.
“Snot-nosed, flat-chested pup!” her elder boomed, “You were granted that bow for defense only! Windburn gave you an order, and mark my words while you’re under my eye you will do as you were told!”
One-Leg had made the mistake of getting within bite range. She could feel the desire to do just that twitching in her jaws, kept at bay by the iron will his in eyes and the strength permeating through his dusky scent which was now overpowering the stink of fish-oil. He was not a rival to be cowed like his son or Chicory. Quick Fang had risen to face him, but she had not let go of her bow. That she would not do for any fishgutter. She bared her fangs with a low defiant snarl.
He met her glare with one just as fierce. The staredown lasted several beats before his scowl melted away into a broad, mischievous grin. The grin broke into a boisterous belly laugh. He started waving around, passing his hands around dramatically as though he was performing one of Notch’s ‘missing pebble’ tricks. Still grinning like a fool he waved around like he was playing see-me-see-me-not with a cub while also side-stepping about in an awkward dance. Quick Fang stepped back, confused. What kind of dreamberry mush was this?
Another flash of his hands, and he had her bow in his hand.
All he said next was a simple declaration of intent: "Mine!"
Quick Fang's feelings of confusion coalesced into clarity: The fishgutter had taken HER BOW. With a snarl, she launched herself at him, intent on reclaiming her property and teaching this stinker of fish a lesson.
With the practice of centuries of flipping nets, One-Leg deflected her rush and flipped her over to land with a breathtaking slam on her back. The air rushed out of her lungs and Quick Fang gazed up at him as he pinned her down like a dominant wolf subduing an upstart. Startled and unable to move, she gasped for breath.
One-Leg's blue eyes glared down at her, his playfulness gone in an instant. "No!" he growled. "Mine until you earn it back!"
Quick Fang submitted, turning her head aside. Grudgingly she acknowledged that the fisher had the upper hand, and that despite his injury, he was experienced and could hold his own in a fight.
One-Leg pushed himself up warily. Quick Fang kept her gaze averted, not wishing to appear to want to cause any more trouble. The elder straightened and grinned, then marched back to camp with a triumphant stride.
Quick Fang lay there a moment longer, then rolled over and pawed a leaf or two out of her hair. She tried to pretend unconcern as she collected the several stray arrows thrown from her quiver, though she glanced around to make sure no one else had seen her getting trounced. She suspected that if Whitestag had been here, he would be telling her that she just got off easy and warning her not to take another chance at earning Windburn’s disappointment.
She growled her displeasure and headed back to camp, far enough behind to show that she was not following One-Leg’s lead. Her wolf-friends would be there to greet her. At least their pack rankings were easier to understand.