One of them reminded her of a little Shanti. She kept smacking a log with a stick, somehow not hitting her brother who jumped up and down on it. A small cluster of children whittled sticks into spears, carving the wood with tiny knives. Learning tools at an early age was important, and their red-faced focus told her they knew that.
A mother breastfed her baby, her back to a tree that some children were scrambling up. They urged each other along, yelling out words of encouragement all the way to the top. An adult wolf lounged in the sun. Pups took turn jumping over him, challenging each other to twirl as they did so. From the open doorway of the center, Shreya could hear children being read to in Marjanian and Casternian.
Shanti held a child by her arms, and her friend, Danilo, held the same child by her legs. They swung her gently between them, the three of them all laughing, as happy as can be. They looked like a glimpse into the future. Shanti. Danilo. A pup of their own. Shreya off to the side as the single aunt. Shreya wouldn't be surprised if that future came true. Shanti looked at Danilo like the artisan wolves looked at the bear.
"Hi, Shreya!" Danilo greeted her. He and Shanti gently put the pup down.
She kicked at the ground. "Not fair!"
"We'll play more tomorrow. I promise." Shanti ruffled her hair. "Now why don't you go play with your friends? Show them who's boss." Happy to hear that, the pup bounced off to play with a group of playwrestling pups.
"What are you doing in the crèche?" Shreya didn't know Shanti was this interested in children.
"I was paying Danilo a visit and got roped into helping him out," Shanti said. "It's not a bad gig."
"The kids loved having you around," Danilo said. He smiled in a way that made Shreya wonder if the kids weren't the only ones who loved having Shanti there.
"Wapasha asked me to tell you to return The Shaded Grove. He wants to read it."
"That's my fault, sorry." Danilo frowned. "I was already at my two book maximum so I asked Shanti to borrow it for me."
"I had a feeling that was the case," Shreya said. There were few things Shanti wouldn't do if Danilo asked. Her sister saw something special in him. What that was, Shreya had yet to understand.
"Did you have fun today? You sure looked like you did." Shanti raised her eyebrows. The blood again. Shreya clapped her hand over it.
"I had to put a bear down. We're going to have it tonight at the gathering."
Danilo pumped a fist into the air. "Splendid! I can't wait!"
Shreya's face burned with secondhand embarrassment. Splendid? Shanti was into someone who had no shame in saying "splendid" without any irony whatsoever.
Shanti said, "I'll have to hear more about that after the gathering." She looked up at the sky. "We've got to round up the kids and get all the supplies put away. Save us some good seats, Shreya."
"Will do. Take care, you two."
A/N: The latest chapter is still accepting votes until Monday at 11:59 PM EST. Go to the main site now to read and vote.
The next RRL update will be Chapter 10.3.