I tug against my chains, tearing at my skin, crying out for my freedom. They killed my mother.
I want my mother back. I beg to the Mother in the moon. Bring back her warmth. Her voice. Please bring her back to me.
I hear them coming back, their sheep skin covered feet traipsing through the sand. They are coming to finish me off. They are not satisfied with the kill of my mother alone.
I whimper, gnawing at the bitter metal encasing my wrist. Searching desperately for a weak point. If only I was big enough to fight back. My mother fought back. She took down one of them before she fell. Why did they do this? We were not doing any harm. We were returning home from our walk through the wilds. They sought us out.
“Stupid little thing,” one speaks up, his voice harsh and gruff to my ears, “she cannot possibly expect to be able to bite through those chains.”
The other grins, baring his brown misshapen teeth to me, laughing as I cower back against a wall.
“What do you think we should do with this one?” The one with the gruff voice said.
The one with brown teeth stops laughing and shrugs. “Could sell her. Alive or in pieces. What do you think would fetch a higher price?”
I see something glisten in the gruff one’s hand. A blade, stained red. I know enough to fear it. The smell of death lingers. The blood of my mother’s life drips from that weapon. I quiver, uselessly trying to bury myself further into the corner they have chained me to.
“Pieces - I reckon. You know how heavy a price meat is these days since that old bugger of a sultan died.” The gruff one starts moving towards me. I whimper and cry, tugging fiercely at my bounds. Please let someone hear me. Be it man or beast – I do not care. Mother in the moon; save me.
He grabs me by the mouth, keeping me from snapping my teeth at his flesh. I watch the knife catch the moonlight, blood dripping down and onto my face as he raises it for a death blow.
Then it drops as the gruff one screams, clasping at his hand that now has a similar weapon pierced through it. My mouth is freed to yelp and bite at his leg within my reach, clamping my teeth around his naked calf. I delight in hearing him howl in pain. Feeling him fall onto the ground as he bleeds into the sand.
“You disgust me.” I catch a new voice. A lighter yet hardened voice.
I release my captor as he kicks his leg free from me. My bite is not deep enough for him to bleed out but I am proud that I was able to break the skin. I look past the gruff one to see brown-teeth standing oddly still regarding that his partner is howling on the ground at his feet. His mouth gapes, no longer pressed into a grin but hanging loosely. The light in his eyes fade and I hear steel slip through flesh as he falls to the ground, a young woman emerging from behind him. A blade identical to the one embedded in gruff one’s hand swings around in her grip as she curls her nose at the dead body. Then she turns her attention to the gruff one as he screams at her.
“W-why? Why did you do this?!” he demanded of her. She quirked an eyebrow before kneeling down, crouching in order to be eye-level with him.
“Because you kill for your own gain.” She reaches for his hair, yanking his head up as it droops weakly, “You kill a mother for her fur and then try her cub for the meat. Creatures that would otherwise have left us well enough alone. You chose to end a family.”-Her blade shoots up and buries itself up his jaw, slicing through to his brain.-“So I choose to end you.”
She wastes little time pulling her blades free from his head then his hand, wiping them off on his ratty clothes before sheathing them at her hips.
All this time I have stood frozen, memorised by her. Such a small human girl was able to take on and kill two bloodthirsty men. She must have been sent by the Mother. She slowly collapses onto her knees in front me and I finally get a good look at my saviour.
Brown - like tree bark - fur frames her face. Flesh darkened by the sun. Blue eyes. They remind me of the frozen rivers my mother and I once passed in our travels. Yet they do not chill me to the bone, they harbour something more. A deep sadness. This one has been wounded too.
“Poor young one,” her voice is softer now. The hard edge is gone now, the anger dissipated. The tone, the warmth in her voice draws me in like that of my mother’s. “I am so sorry for what they have done to you.”
I feel the cool metal fall from my wrist and look down to see that while I had held her gaze; she had been working on unlocking my bounds. The flesh is raw and blood stained. The air stings the wound.
“If only I had passed by sooner. I would have been able to save your mother – I know I could have.” She closes her eyes as they begin to swim. Tears.
Tentatively I take a step closer to her, taking it easy on my wound. Touching my nose to her clenched fist, I try to gain her attention. She blinks, her brow furrowing as I nuzzle her hand. She finally releases the tension and I rub my cheek into her palm, communicating; in the only way I knew how, my gratitude. She did more than what was expected of her kind by saving my life alone. She made those men pay with their lives. I am grateful to the one sent by the Mother in the moon.
I startle slightly as I feel warmth encase me. I open my eyes to see the river-eyed woman’s arms cradling me to her chest, the hairless flesh of her hand stroking down my back as she stands.
“I’ll look after you, little cub.” River-eyes whispers into my fur as she continues her soft petting. “I promise to look after you…as your mother no longer can.”
I hum, my eyes drooping in exhaustion. Her heart beat lulls me, beating against my ear as I nuzzle deeper into her warmth.
My protector. My mother. My strength will grow with me as the Mother in the moon travels across the night sky. I will be able to protect River-eyes as she has done me this night.
I promise to look after you. Promise to protect you, my River-eyes.