Genre: Young Adult, Teen Alternative Historical Fantasy
Publisher: Tor Teen
Publication Date: May 23, 2017
From Chapter 23
Puppies and Dreams
(The wolves are in London with the girls and the female has made a makeshift den and given birth to her first litter of puppies.)
Tromos had already whelped an hour ago, maybe longer. The mess is gone and her pups are licked clean. Two black puppies no bigger than my hand cling to her teats, suckling.
“Oooh,” I gasp. “They’re so tiny.” I notice Phobos nudging a third pup toward Tromos. This one is a tiny silver ball of fur.
“Oh no,” Tess laments softly. “It’s crippled.”
Tromos lets out another plaintive howl, this one softer and obviously directed at Tess. Tess kneels down beside the makeshift den and utters a string of ancient Welsh I can’t begin to understand, but I recognize the strains of comfort in the old words.
“How can you tell it’s crippled? What’s wrong with it?”
Tess holds the lantern closer to the silver cub as it squirms helplessly.
Phobos picks it up and dangles the third pup in his mouth. I see one of its little paws is shriveled and misshapen. Phobos drops it closer to its mother. The poor thing wriggles but then flops sideways, its little sides heaving.
Tess explains, “Cubs are all born blind and deaf, but they can smell their mother. It should be crawling toward Tromos.”
I scarcely listen. The helpless little waif sprawled in the dirt captures my heart. Except I do hear the next cruel words Tess says, “If the cub doesn’t latch on soon, Phobos will have to put it out of its misery.”
“No!” My heart pounds in protest.
Tromos lifts her head at my cry and bares her teeth.
I don’t care if Tromos is angry at me. I kneel beside Tess. “Do something. Push it closer.”
Tess sits back and stares at me as if I’ve run mad. “Won’t help. This is the way of things. It’s how they know which cubs will be able to fend for themselves in the wild.”
I grab her shoulder. “Look around you. We aren’t in the wild.” I swing my arm out indicating the garden and walls around us.
I see that silver lump of mewling fur and my heart refuses to let it go. I growl almost as threateningly as Tromos did. “Push that cub closer.”
“I’m as sad as you are.” Tess frowns and comes at me with a heated whisper. “Why do you think Tromos is howling? It’s breaking her heart, too. After she lost her last litter, she grieved so hard she wouldn’t eat for days. Neither of them did. Wolves grieve whenever one of their pack dies. Even if it’s a lame cub. But this is how it is in nature. We can’t interfere.”
“Nature,” I grumble, staring at the tired hungry helpless puppy. “I don’t care. This one is not going to die. I’m not going to let it.”
I start to reach in and Tess grabs my arm. “Reach in and you’ll lose a hand, or worse. Tromos won’t let you touch one of her puppies.”
We stare at one another, both of us breathing hard. Both of us sad. She’s probably right. Both of us have seen enough death to understand. Except, this is different. This tiny sliver of moonlight made flesh, this little lost girl cub, I simply can’t bear it.
I can’t sit here and watch it die without doing something. I can’t.
We are sisters, Tess and I. Not always friends, but always sisters. I know her heart. I know she aches for that baby wolf as much as I do. “She won’t let me,” I pause waiting for her to follow my meaning. “But Tromos would let you help her. You’re one of her pack.”
Tess lets go of my arm, and she pulls the lantern back so the wolves’ den rests in dim shadows. “I’m not sure. She might. On the other hand, she might take a bite out of my throat if I dare do such a thing.”
Tess does not accept closeness easily. Neither do I, for that matter. Nevertheless, there in the faint amber of the oil lamp, it seemed right to put my arm around her shoulders. There is a language every sister knows, a language tender beyond words and rarely spoken. It runs like a string between two hearts, and we only pluck that string in times of trouble. This night, even though I do not know ancient Welsh, we speak as sisters.
“Tess, she called you here. Tromos howled for her pack, and we came. We’re here because she needs us. She needs you.” We stare at one another heart to heart. I hug her tight and let her go. “Now, either you must do something to save that little dog or I will. I don’t care whether Tromos bites my hand off, or not.”
Tess’s shoulders heave. “All right, but you need to stay back. If either of them attacks me, don’t run. Don’t do anything except back slowly away. Do you understand?”
“I mean it. Don’t do anything. They might bite me, but I don’t think they’d kill me. You, on the other hand . . .”
“They would kill me. I understand.”
Tess scoots closer to Tromos, murmuring. I’ve listened to her speak to them in ancient Welsh before, but never like this. The strange language is full of grief and empathy. With a plaintive whimper, Phobos moans and lays down beside Tess’s knee. They are mourning, the three of them. Tess reaches for Tromos and softly strokes her fur.
I watch from the shadows, in awe of the compassion in Tess’s voice, as she slowly lifts the dying cub to one of Tromos swollen nipples.
I watch in amazement as Tromos lowers her head and closes her eyes. Hope floods the garden. Hope as palpable as a mist rising in the morning. A mother’s last desperate hope. And if wolves can pray, I swear, I hear the prayer of the wolf mother lifting around us.
“Live,” I urge the baby wolf, and turn my plea to the stars above us.
Tess edges back, and I ignore the pain in my leg and kneel up, to look over her shoulder. There in the moonlight I see the tiny silver cub has latched on to her mother, and is feeding.
Other Books by the Author
A SCHOOL FOR UNUSUAL GIRLS
Series: Stranje House, Book 1
Napoleon is exiled, Europe is in shambles and Britain is at war on four fronts. Daughters of the Beau Monde who don’t fit high society’s strict mold are banished to Stranje House, where headmistress, Emma Stranje, entangles these unusual girls in the dangerous world of spies, diplomacy, and war.
“A completely original–and totally engrossing–world, full of smart girls, handsome boys and sinister mysteries…Sign me up.”
– Meg Cabot, NYT Bestselling Author of The Princess Diaries on A School for Unusual Girls
EXILE FOR DREAMERS
Series: Stranje House, Book 2
Tess Aubreyson can’t run far enough or fast enough to escape the prophetic dreams that haunt her. But with Napoleon threatening to invade England, Tess’s disturbing dreams may be the only means of saving Lord Ravencross, the man she loves, and her friends at Stranje House.
“This spy school for girls . . . is impossible to put down! . . . I recommend this book to anyone that loves brave girls, adventure and great friendships.”
– 5 Girls Book Reviews
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About Kathleen Baldwin