Until Canis turned sixteen, nothing more serious happened than a few new births, a few skinned knees and a few youths being greeted into manhood. There were no illnesses, no miscarriages or even births that were more difficult than usual and no deaths in the clan.
Andromeda’s oldest son, Corvus was chosen by Aquarius’ oldest daughter, Carina, who later also chose Cassiopeia’s oldest boy Hydra and the new woman of the clan, Halley, gave birth to a fine strong boy and was happily pregnant again.
This time of relative calm gave Canis the opportunity to settle into clan life in a more normal manner. Canis grew tall and strong with powerful wide shoulders and strong arms, narrow hips and long legs. He no longer appeared years younger than his actual age. His human heritage gave him longer bones and heavier muscles; it also gave him his face, as he never developed the profile of a clan male.
Though all of the girls let their eyes linger on him when he passed, none of them detained him more than social interaction demanded. Unbeknownst to him, Nike had made it known from the first that she had her designs on him and Canis had made no secret of the fact that he intended to leave one day.
This time of happiness and peace couldn’t go on forever. The winter of Canis’s sixteenth year was a year of heavy snowfalls and avalanches. Not a week went by, but what another snowstorm brought several more feet of new snow. Hunting became almost impossible and the hunters were forced to range far in search of meat. Despite the help of their four footed citizens, they didn’t always return successful.
Canis and his usual hunting partners, Leo and Eridanus were no exception, though they seemed to have better luck than most. It seemed that Canis had a good instinct when it came to finding game, but even someone with good luck can have a bad day. They were on a hunt five hard days from home, when they were caught in an avalanche. Canis had scant minutes to sound the alarm and it was almost enough. Both Leo and Eridanus were able to make it free of the crashing snow. Most of the wolves made it out of danger too. Canis wasn’t so lucky. Though he wasn’t caught in the direct flow, a flying clod of snow hit him in the head and knocked him off the trail, launching him into the ravine being filled with packed snow.
Two of the eight wolves that hunted with them were also lost in the crushing snow. Rrusharr, who was closest to Canis at the time he was struck, was knocked off the ledge with him, but sustained little more than a few bruises.
When Leo and Eridanus found Canis, he was piled face down at the bottom of one of the giant trees that was out of the avalanche’s reach; he was also bleeding. A cursory examination revealed three puncture wounds in his back, one high in his right shoulder and one low near his right hip. The third one, deep in his left ribcage, still had the broken branch in it. There was also a nasty cut in the center of a fist-sized lump on the left side of his head and a growing black eye.
Despite their grim findings, Canis was still breathing.
“Go see if you can find a sled, Leo,” said Eridanus. “We need to get him back home as fast as we can.”
With the wolves’ help, the eighteen year old youth was able to find the sleds, but the first two had been smashed or broken and useless, the third was also broken, but intact enough that it could be used.
While Leo searched, Canis woke up and coughed, something, he discovered, he shouldn’t have done, as the pain from that shallow cough robbed him of the ability to breathe at all for seconds.
“Take it easy, Canis,” said Eridanus. “Leo found a sled. He’ll be back here in a few minutes.”
Canis, still sprawled face down in the snow, clutched at it as the pain washed over him. As the tension increased, the amount of pain also increased. When he started to tremble, he finally fainted.
They loaded him on the sled and tied him the best that they could. It was impossible to make him more comfortable. They had no warm pelt to wrap him in and he was forced to ride mostly on his belly, plus sleds are far from comfortable to begin with, made much more so when the rider is already in pain.
Canis drifted in and out of consciousness for the duration of the first day of their trek, but seemed to stabilize somewhat after that. Each bump was agony and he sought the quiet of unconsciousness as often as possible, but with the tracker’s instinct running strong in his blood, not even that distracted him from keeping track of where he was, especially when he had a constant feed of sights, sounds and scents from five different points.
Leo and Eridanus toiled away day and night. They took turns pulling the sled without stopping longer than it took to pass around the water skin, then fill it again with snow. There was nothing to stop for, their provisions had been lost with the sleds and Canis needed to be taken home as soon as possible. Even though there was nothing that resembled a healer there, neither of them would have done any less. No one wanted to die out in the wilderness.
They were cutting across the terrain in search of their original trail and Canis was aware of this. He also knew that he had led them on a twisted route in search of the elusive game. “Head right,” whispered Canis for the wolves to hear; he would do what he could to shorten their trek. It took his mind off the pain.
This change of course and its source got back to the Leo and Eridanus through their companions and they stopped to check on him.
“Did you tell the wolves to change course?” asked Leo.
With a white knuckled grip on the edge of the sled, Canis opened what he could of his eyes. “Yeah,” he whispered then closed his eyes as he fought down the urge to cough. His lips were already lined with blood.
“Are you sure we should turn? How could you know where we are?” asked Leo.
Canis cocked half a smile. “Have I ever . . . led you wrong?” he whispered then struggled not to writhe as a jab of pain lanced through his body.
“No,” said Leo, “no, you never have.”
After giving Canis another sip of water, they headed out again on the new course. For the rest of their trip, Canis occasionally requested small course adjustments and in the end, he managed to cut an entire day off their trek. Unfortunately, Canis had succumbed to blood loss and cold and he wasn’t aware of their successful return to the stockade or how much time he had saved them.