Annie continued to glare at the man, even after they had fed on a stew of rabbit and vegetables and the fire had been banked for the night. It had been decided that they would set out at first light, to backtrack the posse’s trail and to hopefully use the wolves to locate the true trail from there.
Annie had not wanted to wait. She had wanted to go as soon as possible, just she, Grey, and their wolves. The Lawman and his men could come if they were able to keep up. But Grey had been against it.
So now, she lay staring up at the ceiling, the blanket that served as a privacy curtain cast a lazy shadow from the dim light of the fire. She was unable to sleep. Anger filled her, along with distrust for these men and their laws.
She had been made to leave the wolves chained in their small den outside the dugout, so she could not even twist her fingers in their fur to soothe herself.
Grey shifted next to her, unable to sleep much either. When she moved to get up, his hand closed around her wrist. The silent question of ‘where are you going?’
She tapped his hand twice to indicate that she needed to relieve herself. Grudgingly, he let her go, but not before he pulled her face to his to better find her lips.
She crawled from under the blankets and pulled on her leggings and tunic before then stepping into her boots. The guard that Lawman had posted eyed her as she crossed the dugout toward the door, but since she made no move toward the prisoner, he left her be. Once outside, she made one careful trip around the dugout, checking for any other sentries.
Satisfied that there were none close enough to raise an alarm, Annie went to the wolves. Both animals eagerly licked her ears and neck as she buried her face in their fur. She undid the chains from their necks before taking up her bow and her quiver. She had been prohibited from having her weapons, but she did not want the men to have them. So she had left them for the wolves to guard.
Then, with nary a look back at the dugout, Annie and the wolves faded into the woods to look for the trail.
Grey did not need for Annie to say a word for him to know that she had planned on leaving. He had seen the murder in her eyes when she had set Maura on the man. It had then been all that the Lawman could do to hold her back when she had lunged for him, flailing and screaming in fury.
It had been an act of sheer patience for Grey to get answers from her. Under normal circumstances, it was a deliberate effort on her part to communicate in a manner that Grey could understand. But now, she was nearly unintelligible. Through many hand gestures, he had finally come to understand what had so thoroughly upset her.
The scrawny man had been one of those who had burned out her home and killed her parents. But he had not been the one to maim her, she made that perfectly clear.
“We’ve been trying to track a gang of bandits that burned out a homestead couple days back.” Law-man Alphonse Greene had said, glaring at the man who sat tied up on the floor of the dugout. “It’s no wonder we ain’t found them.”
Their prisoner was a scrawny man with beady eyes and a bandages on his arms. Maura had gone for his face, and it had been all that he could do to protect it until Grey had pulled the she-wolf off of him. There was no doubt that the man’s wounds would surely fester before they got him back to town. But even now, he grinned up at Greene with belligerence, like he was enjoying some private joke.
“Do you think this is funny?” Greene demanded.
“They’re days away, Law-man.”
Greene turned to Grey. “These animals have been criss-crossing the territory, robbing and killing good folk. They burned out a small homestead just east of here a few days past.” Then he jammed a finger toward the prisoner. “When it was discovered, he volunteered as a tracker to help us look for them. Shoulda known.”
“It was my hope to catch these men alive.” Greene continued. “Send them before the Magistrate for trial.”
“Seems that your squaw wants blood.” He said, looking directly at Grey. “As if Markl hadn’t given her enough.”
Greene kicked him then. “Keep a civil tongue in your head.”
Grey’s brow furrowed. So now he had the name of the man who had hurt Annie. If only he had the face to go with it…
At first light, they split up. One group took the prisoner back to town, Grey, Greene, and the rest of them hurried off to find Annie. She had the wolves, so Grey knew that she would be safe. He was just worried that she might not wait for them once she caught up the gang.
They traveled the remainder of the day, and much of the next before they reached the burned out rubble of the homestead. The men were slow, and noisy. It was a wonder the entire territory didn’t know they were traveling through the forest.
And Greene was not as good of a tracker as he was want to be believed. Several times he had completely missed the sign that Annie had left for them to follow. Sign that any child of the tribes would have noticed right off.
It was no surprise how this group of beasts had managed to stay free for so long.
When they came to the burned out homestead, there was no Annie. The Lawman and his posse then looked at Grey expectantly.
Grey slowly made his way around the clearing, studying the burned out buildings and slaughtered carcasses of the animals. The posse had buried the remains of the family, leaving wooden crosses as markers. The butchered carcasses of their two cows had been burned as well. The horses had been stolen.
“They had children, two boys. Killed alongside their Pa.” Greene said, coming up behind him. “The women and girls… They don’t fair too well.”
Grey flexed the muscles in his jaw. He understood all too well what was done to the wives and daughters. It made him keen to get his hands on this Markl. To see for himself what kind of a monster he was.
“Your woman, she won’t try to take on those animals by herself, will she?” Greene asked. “Wolves or no wolves, she won’t stand a chance.”
Grey didn’t answer, he only walked away.
It had frosted the night before, wilting the foliage at the edge of the clearing. But Annie had left clues for him. Two groups of small river rocks, one marking where they had come upon the homestead, and the other where they had left it.
“They went south, toward the lands of the Fox tribe.” Grey announced.
“But they won’t hit the tribe. That would be a suicide mission. Could it be a ruse to try and cover their tracks? Blame it on the Fox?”
Grey shook his head. “There is a small trading post near to them. No bigger than Bickett’s Station.” he said softly. That is where they will go.”
“You’re sure of this?”
“I’ve been there.”