“Stay on the paths,” Blaire called after her girls as they dashed down the stairs from the back door into the woods behind their home. She knew she could shift into her eagle and track them down, but it would be easier for everyone if the twins stayed on the paths.
“Of course, mom,” Killa answered, her deep blue eyes sparkling with excitement.
“We promise, we’ll stay on the path up to the stones and back,” Maura echoed her twin, her eyes emerald green exactly like hers.
The two of them were as opposite in looks as possible. Killa with her long auburn locks, a double for her great grandmother Gaia, and Maura with her petite stature and black curls swirling around her shoulders. She had Harry’s black hair, and his confident, joyous swagger, she’d inherited Blaire’s curls and her quiet determined nature.
The girls were growing up and even though she’d had to hunt them down in the woods more than once, she knew this time would be different. Their older sister Alanna was already up at the stones, clearing the winter debris from the ancient circle. Ostara was just around the corner. The first green shoots were poking through in open patches between the trees, and prairie crocuses were ready to burst into bloom.
This would be their first rite of Ostara, the ceremony welcoming spring as the days lengthened and equaled. It was also the first time their great grandparents wouldn’t be there. Harry and Gaia had made their leap into the stars almost two years ago, leaving a hole behind until Harry had put in an unexpected appearance at the high cabin during last year’s record setting spring blizzard. Know their spirits lingered was a relief for the younger Quades, even though her boys were fully grown and off at university now.
She shook her head, it was hard to believe Alanna was interning in Billings, living in her old house with her grandmother Gloria. As she turned to go back inside, she caught a glimpse of Morgan’s Tahoe, and knew her nieces and nephews would be chasing after the twins in short order. Morgan’s second daughter was already eight months old and growing like a weed. Showing her stubborn nature, she was crawling, and a curious as a puppy following their nose.
The triplets tore after her twins almost before their mother had the car parked, six months older than her twins, they did everything as a unit. Fiona and Maura looked so alike they were often mistaken as twins when the cousins were out as a group.
“What do you think? Will I have to track them down this time?” Blaire asked her sister in law.
“I’m not worried about them this time. They don’t want to miss the Ostara celebration, so they’ve promised to help Alanna and stay on the path.” Morgan replied, “Let’s get some tea, I have to feed Rowan before we put her down for a nap.”
“Wait, Killa,” Maura stopped halfway up the hill behind the house. “I hear Fiona.”
“That means Eddy and Harry will be with her,” Killa pouted.
“They’re not so bad, besides, I want to go talk to the animals,” Maura insisted. “They’re too noisy. Maybe I’ll let Fiona come with us.”
“We promised mom we wouldn’t go into the woods.”
“I’m only going into the clearing at the top of the hill. The one that’s right by the path. I want to talk to Iggy and Misty.”
“They’re beavers, we can’t go to the pond, we have to go to the stones like we promised.” Killa grabbed Maura’s hand and tugged her up the hill.
“Wait for us,” Fiona yelled as she spotted them from the bottom.
Her brothers passed her, racing each other to the top and continuing under the canopy of lodge pole pines. They stuck out their tongues at the girls before disappearing ahead of the girls.
“Killa, Maura, I know they’re planning something. They want to scare us. I know it,” Fiona insisted.
“Then we have to scare them worse,” Killa said, and impish grin spreading across her face.
“I agree,” Maura added, “and I know exactly how. I’m going to call my friends to do it for us.”
“Your friends?” Fiona said. “Do you mean you can really talk to the animals? I thought you were joking about the beavers.”
“I hear them all,” Maura said. “It’s kinda bad though, especially when the big flocks of birds fly through. The Canada Goose migration is hard, it’s like there’s hundreds of people yelling in my head.”
“Are you going to call a bunch of birds to peck them?” Killa asked.
“No, they’re gone, they said they’d be back in the fall with their babies.”
“Besides, Harry and Eddy aren’t easy to scare. I’ve tried.” Fiona admitted. “I want to get them good for once.” Their cousin was only a few months older than them, born on midsummer’s eve. The family teased the triplets regularly, for keeping their mother in labor and being born as the bonfires should have been lit.
Their great grandfather had declared their birth an Alban Heruin miracle, and blessed the circle asking for a special boon for them. Killa and Maura had been born on Yule. The argument as to who’s birthday was luckier was fierce between them.
“I’m going to call Ussa. She’s a bear. And Lupa and Luna, they’re wolves,” Maura decided.
“But bears should still be hibernating,” Fiona argued.
“I think she’s awake, but if I can’t get her to come, I’ll just call the wolves and they’ll bring their pack with them. Luna’s puppies haven’t been born yet.” Maura said.
“Will they howl and run around them, and scare them?” Fiona asked.
“The wolves love a good joke as much as Grandda Harry used to,” Maura said, and then winced as she saw sadness drift across Killa’s expressive face. She turned to grab her sister’s hands, squeezing them as she saw the tears brimming in her eyes.
Fiona came up behind her and wrapped her arms around Killa’s waist, hugging her taller cousin hard. She knew how close she’d been to her Grammie. They all missed her, but it was worse for Killa, she’d been closer to Gaia than any of them.
“Here?” Harry asked as they approached the first of the big Douglas firs.
“Let’s go a little further. I’m pretty sure Fiona knows what we’re planning.” Eddy half jogged along the path.
“They can’t be more than a couple of minutes behind us, let’s hide behind this one,” Harry pointed at the giant tree, its distinctive rough bark had cracked in a couple of places, and resin pooled in golden patches, the clean scent as refreshing as a spring rain.
“It’s big enough for both of us to hide behind. Let’s get under the branches back here. They’ll never see us, and we can sneak up on them after they go past us.” Eddy lifted the heavy branches tipped with buds threatening to burst into pale green heralds of rebirth.
“Ssshhh. Be really quiet.” Harry whispered as they crouched under the branches.
“This would be a great place to camp. It’s really cozy under here,” Eddy whispered.
“Quiet, Fiona has ears like a bat.”
As they waited, they heard snapping and cracking in the forest around them, and Harry felt shivers run down his back. It had been too long, where were they? He looked at his brother and put his finger to his lips.
Eddy’s eyes were wide, and he could see goosebumps on his arms where he’d shoved his sweater up over his elbows.
“Are you sure this is the only way up to the stones?” he whispered so softly Harry had to lean in closer to him to hear. More noises penetrated their hiding spot, and they heard a high pitched whine followed by a snuffling bark.
“It sounds like there’s a dog out there,” Harry said.
“Do you want to look?”
“Not really. What if it’s not a dog, what if it’s something else?” Harry squeaked.
“What if Fiona got hurt? I’m looking.”
Eddy parted the dense green needles and found himself face to face with a pair of golden yellow eyes. He froze, his lungs quivering as he held his breath.
“What’s out there?” Harry whispered impatiently.
Eddy never stuttered unless he was truly terrified. Harry got up on his knees so he could look over his brother’s shoulder and found himself gazing into a second pair of amber eyes.
“There’s two of them.”
“What do we do?” Eddy sank down till his butt hit the carpet of soft brown needles covering the ground.
“Nothing, we’re trapped.” Harry said and reached up to pull the branches apart. He couldn’t quite believe what he’d seen.
On the path, two grey timber wolves sat on their haunches and pointed their noses into the air. And they howled. Wolf song rang through the forest, and under it giggles erupted.
Harry pulled the branches apart, and Maura’s laughter broke out, as she gasped for air.
“Gotcha!” Fiona’s guffaws had her doubled over as she wheezed trying to catch her breath.
Killa’s dark blue eyes sparkled as she walked up to the others.
“Tell them to stop, Maura. I think they’re scared enough,” her smile bloomed as she tried to stifle her own titters.
“I can’t, they think it’s funny. Luna, Lupa, stop. My cousins are scared.” Maura tugged, one hand on each wolf grabbing a handful of fur as she tried to get their attention.
“I’m sorry, they’re laughing, can’t you see their smiles?” Maura asked as Luna stopped mid yowl, pushing between Harry and Eddy to lay down under the tree.
“You can talk to them? I thought Fiona was pulling a fast one when she told me,” Harry looked at his cousin like she’d grown an extra nose, but Maura had followed the wolf into the dark shelter under the ancient pine.
She was stroking the wolf’s back and a worried frown wrinkled her forehead. Lupa’s howl died into a quiet moan, as he pushed toward his mate, and she snapped at him forcing him to crawl backward, his hind quarters in the air as his tail wagged.
“What’s wrong, Maura,” Killa tried to join her twin, but the big male wolf grabbed her wrist with insistent teeth and pulled her away.
“She’s trying to have her babies. She says they’ve been ready for days, but they don’t want to be born. She say’s she can’t push anymore. She came for me, and I made her worse. I’m sorry Luna, I didn’t know.” Maura collapsed beside the wolf wrapping her arms around her proud neck.
“We have to help her,” Harry said.
“I’m the fastest runner, I’ll get Alanna. I’ll make her come she’s a doctor.” Eddy was up before anyone could think of anything else to do, and the thump of his feet died out as he disappeared up the path.
“I’ll go get mom,” Killa and Fiona said in the same breath.
“No, stay here, they’ll kill us for this,” Harry said.
“Luna says not to blame me, she came to see if I could help. Lupa didn’t want her to, but she’s going to die if the pups can’t get out.”
The cousins looked at each other, and Killa said, “Let’s cast a circle, maybe we can get some magic to help.”
None of them had ever done it, and no one had any salt, but Fiona pulled at Maura’s hand until she crawled away from the panting wolf. Killa took her other hand, and Harry clasped his sister’s.
“Let walk around the tree, there’s room to get through,” he pulled them off the path and followed the edge of the drooping branches.
Killa’s voice wavered as she began, “I call the elements four, to protect this wolf as she gives birth. I call on Aine, and Gaia the Goddesses brave, please help our friend in her need. As I ask so mote it be.” Her voice strengthened as she paced.
As she finished, her plea, the other three repeated, “As we ask so mote it be.”
Silence descended, as the birds quieted and the gentle whoosh of wind in the treetops, settled into calm. As they knelt to watch over Luna, none of them noticed Alanna and Eddy as he pulled his older cousin by the finger he’d grabbed.
“Alanna, you have to come,” Eddy’s voice pitched high in desperation broke into her thoughts as she swept winter debris off the stone alter in the middle of the circle of stones.
Memories of her first Samhain flooded her mind, as she whirled to see her younger cousin’s panicked face.
“A wolf needs help. You’ve got to come,” Eddy grabbed her by her index finger and yanked.
“Whoa, a wolf? I’m not a vet, and that’s not a tame dog.” She followed as Eddy scrambled ahead of her, still yanking her finger.
“You’re the only one who can help, Luna’s having babies and Maura says something isn’t right, she’s going to die.” Eddy started to run, never letting go of her hand.
The first thing Alanna noticed was the shimmer in the air around the tree and her cousins seated in a row staring under the branches of the biggest Douglas fir on her father’s ranch. The tree had to be almost five feet in diameter, and it’s dropping branches swept the ground in a perfect circle.
How had these children managed to cast a circle, their innocent plea to the God’s had born fruit and she wondered if she could even enter to help. Eddy let go of her and pulled the branches apart. Maura crawled through, and the biggest wolf she’d ever seen pushed against her legs, nudging her toward the opening. What had her tiny cousin done?
“I can talk to her. I hear the animals, and they talk to me.” Maura answered her unasked question. “You have to help her, she helped me, now I have to help her!”
“I don’t know if I can Maura, I’m a people healer.” Alanna knelt beside the laboring wolf. “What’s her name?”
“Luna, help her please,” Fiona was begging too.
Alanna pulled her bloodstones out from under her shirt, they were already heating. She could only try. She could feel the power of the circle flickering around her. Their faithful plea had been heard, so she placed her hands on the heaving furry abdomen. She made note of the swollen nipples with pearling drops of milk already oozing from them. This wolf needed to give birth.
Silently she chanted her own plea for help, and let her mind follow her questing fingers. Six pups, and one wedged sideways in the birth canal. His little back bent in two as each contraction forced him deeper into the narrow passage. The uterus was a different shape, two horns filled with wriggling babies, and the biggest turned the wrong way to get through.
She felt Luna’s mate as he leaned against her side. Wolves mated for life, he’d be alone for the rest of his life, if she couldn’t fix this. She closed her eyes, and stilled Luna’s next contraction, stroking her hands along her stomach and eased the pup free, turning him with her mind and hands together.
“Tell her push again, I’ll help her,” Alanna ordered.
Maura laid her head against Luna’s.
We’re here; push again. Alanna will help you.
I’m so tired.
You can’t give up. Your babies want to live.
“Did someone bring water, give her some,” Alanna barked, joined with her unlikely patient, thirst was uppermost in her mind.
Harry pulled a plastic water bottle out of his back pocket.
“Dribble it over her muzzle, she’s thirsty. Let it hit her tongue so she can swallow.”
As Luna’s thirst abated, she pushed again, and the first pup slithered into the world, freeing the rest. As the children watched, the wolf licked her babies, cleaning them of the blood and mucus that eased their birth. As Luna finished with each one, Alanna moved them so they could find a nipple to nurse.
The eerie quiet filled with mewling calls from puppy to mother and the children watched the age old miracle of new life.
“Luna says thank you,” Maura’s voice penetrated her trance as the last puppy slipped into the world.
“What were you doing? Wolves never come to bother people.”
“I wanted to scare my brothers. They’ve been so mean to me, and I wanted to pay them back. I almost killed Luna. She came to scare them for me, but she was trying to have her babies. I think I might have made it worse,” Maura’s shoulders drooped as she spoke, and her face flushed red.
“It worked out Maura,” the voice sent shivers down all their backs as they turned to see who spoke.
“Grammie!” Alanna and Killa shouted together.
“Aye, you called for the Goddess, but she let me come. Close your circle and know this: If you ask with faith, the Gods will answer. Maura, your prank wasn’t a great idea, but it ended up being what Luna needed. It’s going to be all right.”
As the children walked around the tree again, led by Alanna, Lupa wriggled toward his mate and her children. Laying beside them, they all could see his lupine smile. The shimmer faded and the birds sang once more.
“Alban Heruin is in two days, be sure to bring food for the new mother, and go make the circle ready.” Gaia told them.
“Will you be there when we do the rite?” Killa asked.
“I’ll always be there when you need me child.”
Reedsy contest #86
Write a fairy tale about someone who can communicate with woodland creatures.