The Plan Emerges
Kayak is awake. But it’s not the nearly meaningless description of simply not being asleep. He hasn’t been asleep since meeting with Lark and his boy the previous morning. He hasn’t been able to return to seasonal slumber since hearing the noises of firesticks and rolling horses rising from the valley below.
Kayak supposes there might be another word for how awake he is. There comes a point when a bear reaches a state of groggy convalescence in his den, then finally dispatches himself on a routine of foraging and hunting. But that’s also not the full measure of awakeness that Kayak feels.
The previous season, like many of the valley dwellers, he made sure to keep himself hidden. He moved to a den higher on the mountain. He stayed away from the campgrounds and yards around the village. He didn’t help the wolves. He ran, separated from his like, and cowered.
It is a regret.
By the time he figured out that he and his clan were not the targets of the mens’ plans, it was too late. The season was growing cold. He regathered his clan and settled in. Staying out of the valley hindered their foraging and fattening. It is fortuitous that the new spring is arriving ahead of time.
Kayak considers visiting the other dens, prodding the rest of the clan to start the season. But something in him demands caution. The men are behaving differently, corralling each other and committing themselves to unknown violence in the valley.
Last season, Kayak hadn’t seen it coming. But now the great bear has the benefit of hindsight. All the valley’s denizens do. Kayak senses that his purpose has shifted. He will not run this time. This time he determines to discover what the men plan to do, and will stop their juggernaut before it can gain steam. He is awake.
It is in this moment of wakefulness that he senses a stirring in the thick fir saplings below the den. His ears swivel, he sniffs the air and sits back. There is nothing to fear. Robert, the fisher, emerges from the brush, breathing heavily.
“You would sneak up on a hungry bear in his slumber?” Kayak says calmly.
“You’re not sleeping,” Robert retorts. “Though I suppose you may be hungry.”
“Indeed I am,” Kayak says. “But it is information that will sate my desires most.” He sniffs the air and watches the trees. A distraction like Robert can easily render him unready, until he gathers his attention.
“Well, I have some for you. Lark has been captured.”
Kayak turns his head sharply startling the fisher. “By the men, I suppose?” he asks.
“Yeah, I don’t know how, but he went into the town and next I saw, he was being dragged into a cage in their pen.”
“It looked like he does,” Robert answers.
“Well, that is information,” says Kayak. He turns his head to scan the sky. “What to do with it is the challenge.”
Robert hasn’t considered how powerful the information about Lark’s capture may be. His intent is only to let as many of his comrades in the valley know about it. But what actions may stem from that information have yet to gain substance.
“What sort of thing do you have in mind,” Robert asks.
“I’m not certain, not yet,” Kayak answers. And it is true. While he has already considered that action must follow, he is only one bare step ahead of Robert. He has not yet decided what exactly to do. As he sits, his eyes suddenly clarify. He looks at Robert.
“Can you get word to the rest of the pack?” he asks the fisher.
“The rest of- you mean the wolves?” says Robert. His unofficial membership in the pack is a point of pride, but it is not often acknowledged by others in the valley. It is gratifying to him that Kayak recognizes it.
Kayak chuckles. “I have slipped in my haste, but yes. The wolves, though I suspect your fisher friends may also be useful if pressed into service.”
“Service?” Robert says. “So you’re planning something.”
“Indeed I am. And the time is now. Their bird won’t fly in this tempest. The ground must rise while they are barred from the sky.”
“Okay, whatever you say… but what do you have in mind?”
“Do what you were already planning to do. Tell the pack about Lark. Where are they currently?”
Robert shakes his head. “They’re spread all over. Livermore, the Gap, Lost Pass, Greeley, plus Red Scout watching the men on forty-nine.”
“Good. That’s where they need to be ready. Tell them nobody coming their way should be allowed out, except the roadway. That’s how the men will escape.”
“Escape what?” asks Robert.
The bear looks at him calmly and begins to amble away. “Us.”
Robert watches the great bear disappear into the forest. He drops his jaw as if to ask another question, then shuts it. Kayak is gone, and Robert is partly excited, and more than a little scared about what comes next. He feels almost paralyzed by fear, but Kayak has given him a mission, and that, if anything, is enough to get him moving. With a flurry of snow trailing behind, Robert scrambles into the brush, headed for Wheat and Little Scout at Lost Pass.
Kayak steams down the hill under the greying sky. The swirling snow keeps the early morning gloomier and darker than usual. He approaches a deep cleft in the mountain’s sunset side, and notices a track weaving its way alongside the streambed. It is the kind left by the men riding their rolling machines, its imprint freshly pressed into the mud and snow.
He crosses the track and heads down the ravine toward the village. The morning is growing late, shading the sky from a deep twilight to dusk, and normally he’d be heading back to his den.
The storm gives him cover. As the snowflakes begin to cake against the thick trunks of every tree, he knows that this won’t be a day to encounter many people. Though the people he might encounter in this blow will not be the trifling sort.
Kayak knows what he is looking for. It isn’t easy to spot among the swirling flakes, but next to a little riffle in the streambed, where the water course drops several steps between boulders, he sees the entrance to a small cave. It is the den of Beulah and her three fawns.
She has sensed his arrival, and she peeks from the entrance of the small dark cavern. Then she steps out onto the slab of rock just above Kayak’s head.
“You have a keen sense of interruption,” she says to him. “I was just getting the boys on our way.”
“You’re leaving?” Kayak asks her. “Like the rest?”
“Of course we are,” Beulah states, looking around. “It is only my wish that we’d gotten started sooner. Marcella asked us to stay and wait for a signal, but time grows short.”
“It does,” Kayak says. “But I am glad you’ve not left. Are there others of your kind still in the valley?”
“My kind? Ha,” Beulah says as one of her fawns pokes his head from the cave. She shoos him back in with a dip of her muzzle. “If there are any of us left, they’ll be the fools and miscreants… and the naïve I suppose.”
“Well, if the old she-wolf told you to await a signal, here I am,” says Kayak.
Beulah is pretty sure the bear is improvising. “You’re the signal?” she asks.
“Well, not so much a signal, it seems,” says the bear. “As a detailed communiqué.”
A gust of wind throws spindrifts of snow against them. A pile of loose powder falls above the cavern and lands behind her, and she can feel as much as hear the shuddering of the ledges beneath her. Beulah shakes her coat and blinks. She chuckles at the timing of the blast.
“Very well,” she says to Kayak. “This is no weather for a journey of any sort. What do you have in mind?”