This story picks up where last week's story ended....
When the news reaches Shayla, she sets down her cup of spiced tea and goes straight to the cellar. The mountain passes are open. At last it’s time for family to reunite.
The bountiful summer filled her barrels with apples, pears, and nuts. She adds smoked meat and fish to the provisions and the saddle bags strain under the load. The pony whinnies as Shayla tightens the cinch of the pack saddle.
She shrugs on a heavy knapsack and leads the pony to the overgrown track that winds up the side of the mountain. A golden dog, tall and slender, trots at her side. Overhead, a small crow flies, tracking their progress.
At the end of the first day, they stop at fading light. A thin layer of snow covers the ground at this altitude and Shayla builds a small lean-to. She feeds the horse and dog, settling them under the temporary shelter. The crow struts just out of reach. When she invites it to join them, it caws and flutters away from her. It scoops up the nuts and bits of dried meat thrown its way.
At the streak of dawn, the crow walks into the shelter and pecks Shayla’s face gently and persistently. She opens her eyes and the crow flaps its wings and squawks.
“What is it?” Shayla asks. Somewhere in the distance more crows answer in fractious alarm.
The dog stands rigid, hackles raised, staring into a curtain of falling snow. The horse snorts and shakes its head. Shayla leaps to her feet and straps the packs on herself and the pony. As fast as they walk, their footprints are covered. All sounds are muffled by the blanketing snow.
Deep in the forest she finds shelter under a rocky overhang. Leaving the dog to guard the pony, Shayla slips back toward the trail. She shimmies up a tree for a better view. Heavily-armed troops emerge, ghostlike, out of the white storm. Some are injured. One, eyes wrapped in bandages, is led by another in a blood-stained jacket. She has no doubt if they saw her perched there they would shoot her for the simple sport of it.
As if he senses her presence, a soldier peers up to where she sits. The crow dives at him, scolding and angry. The soldier smashes the bird with the butt of his rifle and walks on. It falls to the ground, as still as a stone.
Shayla waits for five, ten minutes before descending the tree.
“I will heal you.” Shayla rocks the bird close to her body. “You are family. Ohana. No one gets left behind.”
Photo from Wikimedia Commons: Traces of crow in snow by Ramessos