Copyright© 2018 by Christopher Leadem
The Mantis appeared at the entrance of his cave about an hour after sunrise. Kalus and the wolf had waited by the opening of the smaller enclosure, and knew without being told that he was ready with an answer.
Seeing them high above, Skither raised one foreclaw and summoned them to come down. As they drew closer he stepped out slowly toward the center of the ledge. He wanted to choose the right words.
He exchanged simple greetings with the wolf, nodding passively at Kalus. He addressed Akar first, and after several minutes the wolf nodded his understanding and moved to wait at a far corner of the ledge, without giving any indication what the answer had been. Turning his attention to Kalus, the Mantis signaled his words slowly and carefully.
‘Son of the hill-tribe, I have made my decision. I have thought long on your words, and on other things you do not know. Understand, I have good reason to mistrust your kinsmen. But Akar tells me you are not like them, and I accept his judgment.’ He stopped for a moment, genuinely moved by the man-child’s countenance: the troubled face, exhausted by hope and fear alike.
‘I have decided to let you stay, young one. But under the following conditions. You will remain in the smaller cave, using my own only at greatest need. Further, you must be prepared to leave it upon my return, twenty days, perhaps more. You may fool my enemies for a time, but it is unwise to think you could hold them off longer. I will circle the mountain twice, giving credence to your sound-making device. Beyond that you are on your own. I will give Akar the rest of my thoughts. He stands in my place while I am gone. Heed him well, I do not place my trust in him lightly ... Do you hear my words?’
‘Yes, master. I am grateful.’ He wanted badly to leave, but the Mantis’ knowing gaze would not release him.
‘Is there nothing else you would say to me?’
Kalus’ heart sank. He KNEW! Despair overtook him at the last.
‘I--- I took from your cave a weapon. Please believe me, it was not for myself alone. If you had banished us from the mountain ... I have only this knife.’ He threw it weakly to the ground.
Skither waited patiently, and at length Kalus looked up at him. Again he signaled slowly. ‘Be at peace. I am not angry. You may keep the sword, and one other weapon of your choosing.’ Kalus stared in disbelief.