Natha gave a last lick under his chin, before he pulled away, espying Kerm panting among the pack. His lips looked blood stained, telling Tonunda he had done his part in the battle. He reached down and patted Kerm on the head.
It is you who must lead the pack now, brother.
Tonunda firmly, but affectionately grabbed hold of him by the scruff of the neck and stared into his eyes.
Never be cruel. Remember, one’s greatness is not measured by his strength, but by his kindness.
I will remember, brother said Kerm.
Tonunda nodded, smiling proudly as he removed his hand. Kerm would do well as leader.
As he stood, Andessa slipped a hand around his back.
“Come, Nusallean, meet my family and the rest of the village.”
Her hand fell from his back and took hold of his hand. Together they walked back to the perplexed villagers. Murmurs arose, questions. The one most predominantly asked; “who is that with Andessa?”
“This is my father, Velhaf,” she said.
The burly tribesman grinned broadly, thrusting out a hand. Tonunda merely stared at first then placed his arm out too. Velhaf gripped his wrist and shook his arm vigourously.
“What is your name, Nusallean?”
He gave no answer, knowing they would never understand him.
“His name is Tonunda!” cried a female voice.
All turned, and paled at the twisted wreck of an old woman hobbling into their midst. A glance at the rest of the village informed Tonunda they had never seen the likes of Zarnog before.
Composing himself, Velhaf beamed, gripping Tonunda firmly by his upper arms.
“Then, Tonunda, you are forever welcome among the Dog tribe.”
“Is he just?!” thundered Zarnog. “It was you who left him on a hill to die as a babe!”
Their faces became solemn.
“Aye, you remember the Nusallean boy now; the one with the green eyes. I too was left as a meal for the dogs.”
She hobbled closer to the idol of Yekunga, and looked up, tears beginning to well.
“How many of our children have died… because of this abomination?!” she screeched, striking the statue with her cane.
A few strokes later, her arm dropped, her strength spent.
She rounded on the villagers. “It is one thing to sacrifice a child born, blind or lame, but Tonunda had no defect!”
Zarnog waited for them to digest her words before going on.
“And do you know why he returned? Love! Love not just for a woman but for a people who rejected him! Do any of you think you deserve this?”
None answered her.
“Do you?!” she shouted.
She fumed in the silence that followed, then froze as Sodnammoc strayed from the back of the crowd. With glassy eyes, the old man cast his face to the ground. He halted shuddering before Tonunda then dropped to his knees.
Tonunda reached down and removed the dog cowl. All held their breath as they waited for him to take his revenge. He only had to grab hold of Sodnammoc’s neck. One turn of his iron fingers would end the old man’s life.