9c (Argentum’s Song – PG)

“Hmm, I don’t suppose you’d be up for a fencing match before we press on. It’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to really exercise my blade skills.”

Earl’s yellow teeth showed through a cruel grin and Franklin wondered how many of his thoughts and secrets the man was able to guess.

“Well, you and me must have differin’ definitions of ‘a while’ then. Unless ya stumbled upon the two weirs hibernating, I don’t see how ya could have earned them claws without exercising yer skills.”

“I meant with an armed opponent.”

“Yer the first I’ve met who walked away from a weir fight and called the enemy unarmed, and that’s a fact! Nuff yammerin. I’m mighty anxious to get dinner on the fire. If yer bored once it’s cookin, I might be willing to teach ya a lesson or two.”

As they pushed further up the mountain, the terrain got rockier and more bare, leaving less definite signs to track. However, even without a clear paw print in more than an hour, Franklin was still confident he had the trail. There was one point when he was afraid he may have lost it, but soon after there were signs of a struggle where it had tracked down prey of some sort and wounded it, leaving a clear path of blood spatter over the next ridge.

“Like I said, this bear might be sick. It’s clearly hungry and attacking anything it thinks might be food.”

Franklin glared back at Earl and motioned for silence. They could philosophize about the bear’s motivation later. This spore was fresh enough that the kill could have been quite recent and they might very well find the bear nearby. There was certainly no reason to announce their presence and give away the element of surprise.

Earl seemed to grudgingly understand and crept slowly behind. As they neared the ridge, Franklin dropped to his stomach and crawled up silently, while Earl stayed put. Peering between the branches of a snowy briar patch, Franklin saw the black hide of the bears hindquarters. It’s head and forelimbs were hidden by a rocky outcropping. A couple seconds later he heard the crunch of a bone being ground by powerful jaws. Franklin nodded back at Earl, waited to make sure the foreman’s bow was at the ready, and started creeping down the slope.

As soon as he was close enough to have a clear double lung shot, he let loose and charged. The spear struck true and sank deep into the bear’s side. There was no expected reaction however, no death spasm or angry yell. Just a menacing growl that wasn’t coming from the bear.

Franklin skidded to a stop mere feet from a large grey weir raising itself up from chewing on the black bear’s skull.


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