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.”“You’re not a true alpha, then,” I said defiantly.He glared down at me.I bit my lip and tried to explain.“A true alpha does the right thing, regardless of what his pack thinks,” I said carefully.“Your pack will follow you, if you stand up for what you believe.”“Let’s hope you are right,” Alekk said, a curious look on his face.“You’re not the soft girl I thought you were, Princess.”If it was a compliment, it was a strange one.I didn’t know what to say in response, so I just waited.“I’ll send Leah with some more normal clothes for you to wear.You must be ready to move soon.”“Move?”“Our pack moves towards your territory today and tomorrow.Do what I say and cleave close to me.Don’t try to escape, Princess.And if you try to ally with my sisters, know that they’ll be happy to cut your throat once they’ve finished with you.” He raised one finger in warning.“And you won’t?”It wasn’t a question to be answered, but Alekk leaned toward me anyway.“This morning… in front of the guards,” he said.“You did well.”Blood rushed to my face and I felt beads of sweat on my temple.“I was tempted, and I couldn’t resist the temptation,” he said.“I will repay you the kindness sometime, I promise.”My jaw dropped, and I couldn’t so much as put together a single word to respond to him.His eyes swept down my scantily clothed body, and I saw another flash of something—desire?—before he shut it away.He stood up straight, his face turning blank.“I’ve said too much already,” he said.“I’ll nap in my main tent.” He turned and opened the tent flap, throwing a single order back over his shoulder.“Get ready to leave.”Chapter SixIt was only a hour or so before Leah leaned in through the tent flaps and tossed an armful of clothes at my feet.“Get dressed,” she said.“We’ll be traveling shortly and it will be colder in the wind.”“Are you… will you shift?” I asked.“When you travel?”“You’ll see, human,” she said.“Wait!”She stopped in the doorway of the tent.Her long black braids swayed between her breasts.She was beautiful, and I wondered if she was jealous that the prince had chosen me.For some reason, the thought gave me a measure of comfort.“What is it?” she asked.“How long will it take us to reach… to reach the other territory?” I had almost slipped and called it my territory.Well, she might think I was a slave there, anyway.But she did not answer my question.“You’re too curious,” she said instead.“Stop thinking so much.That’s the job of the soldiers.It’s your job to please them, and you’ll do it in whichever territory we’re in.”“But—”“I gave you a chance,” she hissed, leaning into the tent.“I risked my life and gave you a chance.And you didn’t take it.So now you’ll follow orders.I don’t care what happens to you.You’ve brought it all on yourself.”She turned on her heel and left without a goodbye.“Thank you,” I murmured to nobody in particular, pulling the clothes toward me.There were leather moccasins, and a furred pelt sewn into a kind of baggy sack dress.It would cover me only a bit more than I was covered now, but it seemed as though that was all I would get to wear.The other women here—Leah, the sisters—could shift into wolf form to keep themselves warm.Nevertheless, I pulled the clothes over my skimpy pelts.It felt warmer already.A sound came from outside.It was a few short barks, and then a murmur rose.When I opened up the tent to see what was going on, I was shocked to see that the rest of the camp had already been dismantled almost completely.There were only a few tents left standing, and those were being taken down quickly.Wolves were trotting through the camp with packs bundled to their backs.One of them growled at me until I stepped back out of his way.From the sky, a sprinkling of snow fell.On the ground, wolf prints had already darkened the fallen snow with mud and leaves.“Alekk?” I called out.I didn’t know if I would recognize him in wolf form.“Leah?”Behind me, two soldiers were dismantling Alekk’s personal tent and packing it up.They ignored me as they worked.I suppose they thought that a human prisoner was nothing to worry about.I couldn’t outrun a wolf, after all, and we were in the middle of the forest.Most of the supplies and tents had been packed up.I could see some wolves hitching themselves to sleds with supplies.A sprinkling of snow fell from above in the morning light, but the wolves paid no mind to it.They began to move, the sleds moving bumpily over the frosted ground.The sleds were narrow enough to go through the pine trees, and they moved reasonably well over the icy ground.They would have to leave their sleds behind once we got low enough in the mountains, I thought.Would it take them longer to reach the territory?It doesn’t matter.I bit back tears as I thought of my mom and dad packing up their things to go.It wouldn’t matter when we reached the territory, because they would be long gone by then.The wolves here thought that they were traveling to war, but I knew the truth.There would be no army there to meet them.There would be nothing there, an empty surrender of all our land and resources.The thought tasted bitter in my mouth.Now, wolves were beginning to run around me, their packs piled high on their backs.Even though most of them were burdened down with a heavy load, they bounded quickly over the frozen ground in one direction.Towards my pack.I didn’t know what to do.I couldn’t turn into a wolf to run with them, certainly.I took a hesitant step in the direction most of the wolves were headed.I would soon be left behind, and Alekk—“Ahh!”I cried out as a line of wolves raced past me.A strong hand grabbed me up and lifted me off of the ground.Even before I saw who it was, I could feel his hand gripping my arm and I recognized his touch.Alekk.He pulled me off of the ground and into the sled.I fell back against his body as the sled raced forward.“Didn’t think I’d leave you, did you?” Alekk said.We swept through the camp and quickly past the edge of the last wolves who were packing up.Before I could take another breath, the wolves pulling the sled leapt over a hillside and we were in the forest.I gasped.The trees had darkened out the light of the sun, and the dark fir branches swept quickly past us on all sides.Underneath, the sled blades cut through the frosted ground.Immediately I began to shiver, my teeth clacking together.Even the extra leather pelts Leah had given me were no match for the chill of the wind cutting across my face.I thought of a poem my mother had taught me once, by Robert Frost.I didn’t remember most of it, but I remembered two lines in particular—“The only other sound’s the sweepOf easy wind and downy flake.”All I could hear was the rush of wind, and as we pulled through the forest, Alekk shifted his weight back in the sled and opened up his robe.I said nothing as he took me back onto his lap and pulled the robe around me.As he did, I caught a glimpse of his scar, running down his neck and disappearing back behind the fabric of his undershirt.Then he had me turned around again to face the front, and I was staring ahead at the line of wolves pulling us deeper into the darkness of the forest.The black robes were thick and warm, and I curled up inside of them gratefully, letting my body ease back against his warm chest.The wind still whipped my cheeks until they stung, but I was warm at my core.It was strange, to be pulled along so quickly without exerting any effort.It felt almost like being a wolf—like running through the forest as an animal, wild and alive.I’d never been able to appreciate the sensations before as a human, but they were just as powerful now [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]