Talty rose to her feet. “Hulch is sleeping, and I promised Kavie I’d give him some archery tips. You old fellas have a nice rest.”
She sauntered across the clearing, hips swaying, arms swinging, nothing like the trembling young woman Neil had held in his arms at the crater. She’d never admit it, but looking into the volcano had frightened her. She had needed him. Would she ever admit that?
Talty and Kavie hunkered down beside the hot springs with Kavie’s quiver of arrows. A lesson on straightening the matted white feathers by holding them over steam followed. Neil dozed off to the sound of Talty’s silvery voice offering confident guidance. His eyes fluttered open at her command to the boy to retrieve his arrows. He ventured into the underbrush to find them.
Talty stood near the woods, holding the bow and the half-full quiver, apparently waiting for Kavie. Neil rubbed his eyes, got up, and stretched.
Kavie came running from the trees, though he held no arrows. “I found baby boars!” His high-pitched voice cracked with excitement. The piglet wriggling in his arms let out a bloodcurdling squeal. “Isn’t he cute?”
“No!” cried Talty. “Drop it, Kavie! Drop it now!”
The urgency in her voice worried Neil. The rapidly intensifying crashing in the woods horrified him. Behind him, the panicking horses screeched and strained at their tethers.
An enraged she-boar burst from the underbrush. Kavie released the piglet and screamed.
Neil tore across the clearing. Powered by sheer terror, he tackled Kavie to the ground, rolled with the boy in his arms, and slammed into a massive boulder beside a stand of trees.
The raging sow’s momentum carried her straight ahead. She cantered to a stop and wheeled about, tossing her head and stamping her hooves.
Gasping for breath, Neil assessed the grunting, snorting nightmare’s size. Three feet high and four feet long, she had to weigh over two hundred pounds. A mane of black bristles ran down the back of her wooly brown coat. Six inches of razor-sharp ivory curved from the base of her long black snout—and her swinging head left no doubt that she knew how to slice.
The sow’s tiny eyes squinted in murderous search of the culprit who had defiled her litter. Tufted tail whipping, she scented the air and shifted toward Talty, who seemed frozen in place.
Afraid to move or shout lest he cause the pig to attack, Neil held the trembling boy and agonized over what to do.
The whoosh and subsequent thwack of an arrow set the sow shrieking. She spun. Hulch’s black-feathered arrow protruded from her left flank. She stomped the ground and rushed at him. Talty’s arrow hit her broadside, passing clean through her chest to disappear into the brush. Mortally wounded, the grunting sow trotted for the cover of the trees. She made it thirty feet before collapsing to the ground.
Holding Kavie against his hammering chest, Neil sat up. They were safe.
Or so he thought, until more crashing sounded in the underbrush. His arms tightened around Kavie. Wedged between the boulder and the trees, he backed against a tree trunk until the bark dug into his shoulders. He held his breath when a coal-black monster twice the size of the sow exploded into the clearing.