By the time the chief and his knot of hunters could get there, it was all over except for wrapping their wounded and howling for their dead.
Chief Burn surveyed the bloody glen in grim, grave silence. Even in death, the big, dust-colored grizzly lay in possession of the carcass of the elk cow it had killed Burn’s kin for, pinning the carcass beneath it. The torn bodies of four wolves lay scattered around the bear, while Moth’s paler-furred corpse had been pulled aside. Some effort had been made to straighten her broken limbs, but the bear had crushed her spine and shattered her. Burn’s half-brother Hornet lay hardly alive, the first to be wrapped, and Foamspray, Mushroom and Dewdrop were busy now spraying a second cocoon around young Boldscout, who had been conscious but so badly mauled that when Burn had first arrived, he’d known the young hunter only by his scent.
“I can’t find it,” Beartooth said at last, risking his chief’s temper with those words. “Should I cut the bear open to look?”
“If Hornet’s hand is that chewed up, not even Feverease can patch it back on,” Sentry muttered as he scouted through the brush of the glen’s far side.
“Just keep looking,” Burn snarled at them before finally turning a ferocious gaze onto the girl who crouched shivering beside the growing bulk of Boldscout's cocoon. "Tell me how this happened," he demanded.
Cricket looked up at her father, her pale face splashed with blood. Her beaded tunic was soaked crimson, and her hands red from fingertips to elbows. None of it was hers -- he could smell that. The girl was shaking where she sat -- weak, this child of his was, weak and fickle and probably somehow at the root of this fatal trouble, as she was at the root of most any trouble back at the hometrees.
"We were carrying home our elk," Cricket said, looking down at her bloodied hands. "The bear was following us since just after we crossed the Bounty. He wanted our meat and made it clear he was going to take it. We couldn't discourage him from our trail no matter what we tried; we even found a sleeping hive and got Boldscout and me all stung up trying to distract the bear with beesweets. But he wouldn't be distracted, and the cow was too heavy for us to run for it with. Moth, Boldscout and me argued we should just give it up and go catch us another, but Hornet refused, saying our cubs were just as hungry as the bear, and that the bear would have to hunt somewhere else for supper. Then Hornet tried to bluff it off..." Cricket shuddered and slid a miserable gaze back toward the dead bear. "Hornet and Blacktail couldn't outrun the bear when he charged, and then he clobbered Blacktail and had Hornet in a hug, and then--" The girl shuddered again and closed her eyes. "We were in it then, and nothing to do but kill the rotted beast, any way we could."
Burn glared at this daughter of his, feeling his own bloody rage swirling through his veins and wanting, *wanting*, some direction in which to loose it. Moth had been more than simply one of the tribe's best hunters -- she was a favored furmate of his, often more welcoming of his company than his own Recognized Sparrow, and wolf-wise always more tolerant of his dominance. And Hornet was the sibling who most understood Burn and who had backed his ambitions in every step. Burn would have rather lost one of his own whelps than lose either Hornet or Moth – after all, if Sparrow wouldn't spark for him again, he could use Feverease's touch to sire one off another female of the tribe. Burn *felt* Moth's loss, and likely Hornet’s loss as well, from the hunting strength of the pack. He felt it keenly, and his anger was easier to lock onto than was the grief that shadowed it.
**Whelp,** he cast contemptuously at his daughter. **Not a mark on you, while Moth lies dead, my brother is crippled for life, and Boldscout looks to have nearly had his head torn off. Were you too busy setting your rabbit snares to set a spear and fight?**
The girl's head jerked up in shock, and for a moment, he recognized the rage in her eyes -- but then the familiar fury faded, replaced by a hurt that just further fueled Burn’s rage. **I stood and fought,** she retorted, her sending as clear and open as his own had been. **Every arrow in my quiver, I put into that thing. Open its mouth and see for yourself, you’ll see my fletching down the back of its throat. I brought it down!**
**Too late for Moth,** he slashed back. **Too late for Boldscout, or for my brother.** With a last cold look, Burn turned his back on the girl. He wrestled with himself, knowing his need for cruelty when his temper took him, and as well in his impotent fury, that this child of his would was both too inviting a target, and too easy to hurt.
“Beartooth, Sentry,” he barked at two of his hunters, who were moving dead wolves aside. “Leave them where they fell. Cut branches for drag-litter. This healing chore is too big for young Ambergold, and her mother’s down gathering on Eagle Bay with Littlepaw and Cubmaker. Raincaller, find vines or scraps enough to bind the drag-litter with.”
His three hunters wisely did as told. Burn shot an assessing look toward Scar, his wolf-friend, and saw the pack leader had marshaled his own kin on guard duty around the edges of the glen, knowing the reek of blood could well bring more trouble down on them. Satisfied, Burn drew his skinning knife and approached the dead bear.
It wasn’t a stranger, this grizzly. The blond tinge to its coat was unusual, but Burn would have known the beast without it. The big bears were far and few between during most times of the year, and this individual bear had roamed these hills between the Rushwater and Bounty since the spring of little Smoke’s birth. Grizzlies and wolves were always rivals in a territory, and twice last summer alone this blond-tipped bear had stolen kills from other hunting parties. It had learned that the pack would retreat if pressed – for, like their wolves, the hunters of the tribe did regularly back down, not wanting to risk life and injury when there was other game to be caught. In his gut, Burn seethed to remember a discussion last autumn between himself, Hornet and Bravestride, setting plans to hunt this particular bear once the beast had taken to its winter den after the first heavy snows of the season. He had had every intention last winter to make the effort of tracking this grizzly down… but then the snows had arrived, and there had been other concerns that had seemed more immediate at the time to be attended to…
His fault, then, that Moth was dead and Hornet mauled. The weight of that was a bitter burden. Burn glared at the carcass, wishing the beast were alive yet to carve into, so that he could wash himself in its heartsblood until he was clean of his failure.