Look After Your Brother
by Holliann R. Kim
At the base of jagged blue mountains rising out of the morning mist, Three
inspected the new prisoners, who were learning to work in the fields.
Four patrolled the main prison gate, her paws making prints in the dust.
Five sat near the gingko trees on the eastern border, eyes half-lidded, nostrils
flaring at the scent of pine blowing down from the mountaintops.
Watching through their eyes, I leaned back in my rickety wooden chair and took a
sip of tea.
One of the newcomers in the fields, a woman just out of girlhood, turned in the
corner of Three's vision. Something about her chin, the flash of her eyes . . .
My hand jerked violently. Tea splashed across my lap. I set the sloshing teacup on
the table and wiped my palms against the rough cloth of my shirt before
instructing Three to move closer.
When I was first imprisoned here in the camp, I mistook strangers for relatives or
friends nearly every week, but that yearning for the past had faded long ago. This
too was probably nothing, just another memory surfacing like a bubble from the
bottom of a lake, but I had to make sure.
Three stalked closer until he was only a few feet away. The girl pretended not to
notice the wolf, but the muscles on her back tightened as she pulled a bunch of
carrots from the ground and shook the dirt loose.
I concentrated on her face until the teacup in front of me faded away, replaced
entirely by Three's vision.
The resemblance to my younger brother's wife was unmistakable.
My chest tightened, suddenly finding it hard to inhale. Could this girl be Ah-ni's
younger sister? No, she would be too old by now. Maybe a niece, or a cousin?
I instructed Three to keep watch on the girl, and Four and Five to continue their
own surveillance. Then I concentrated on the teacup again until my wolves were
only dim nudges in my mind and I was back in my tiny, windowless room in the
guardhouse, with its single flickering supai stone lamp.
To still my shaking hands, I tried smoothing back my hair and realized it had
become matted. My chin was scratchy and unshaven, and my skin had grown
furrowed with wrinkles and scars like the hills near the capital where I had once
lived. If the girl was anything like Ah-ni, she could forgive my rough appearance.
But would she forgive me for becoming a Sneak Lord?