Prince of Shadows by Susan Krinard

Prince of Shadows by Susan Krinard

Prince of Shadows by Susan Krinard


Maheengun County, Minnesota, 1979

The beast stalked her silently, its paws drifting among the pine needles as if it were no more than the merest wraith.

Alex knew the wolf was there, right behind her, as it had been for the past hour. She had caught a glimpse of it once: black as midnight, yellow-eyed, frightening in its single-minded intensity.

Granddad had told her almost no one ever saw a wolf in the wild, even fourteen years after the wolf bounty had ended in Minnesota. But the old wolf hunters still told tales of massive brutes with glaring eyes, cunning and unpredictable and unfailingly dangerous.

Those stories were exaggerations. Alex knew that, even though the first time she heard them she’d felt chills up and down her spine. Granddad and Grandmother had lived in the north woods long enough to know the real truth.

Alex hummed a soft, steady tune under her breath and kept reminding herself that she wasn’t afraid.

She had no reason to be. This was her special place. She had been coming here every summer since she was old enough to walk; now, at ten, she knew how to roam these woods like any forest creature. Granddad had taught her to watch and listen and understand, just as he’d once taught Mother. She knew all about the animals that made these woods their home: gray and red squirrels chattering in the pines; snowshoe hares and cottontails; raccoon, bobcat, black bear, and red fox.

But none was as mysterious as the creature that trailed her now.

Alex stopped, her damp tennis shoes sinking in rich, spongy earth, and listened. She’d thought the wolf would go away. They were supposed to be shy, never coming close to people. This wolf clung to her like a lost shadow, always a few yards behind.

I won’t look back. I won’t. I’m not afraid.

She shivered, though the early summer day was warm even under the trees. She pushed out her lower jaw and stared up through the canopy of birch, aspen, and popple, the deeper green of pine and spruce. A squirrel scolded and fell silent as she passed beneath a spreading sugar maple. A single narrow twig spun down to bounce from her shoulder.

“I hear you, Squirrel,” she said defiantly. She listened again, but the wolf would not reveal himself.

She clenched her fists. This is my place. Wolf. Mine as much as yours.

Alex knelt down, a carpet of last year’s autumn leaves and old pine needles giving under her knees. Even the birds were quiet. If the wolf wanted to pounce now, it had its chance. She cupped her hands around the petals of a trillium as if the brilliant white flower were so much treasure, wealth beyond counting and far more precious than all the things her parents’ money could buy back home.

“Wolf,” she said. “Can you hear me?”

She waited uneasily for an end to the silence. It came with a whisper of sound, a hesitation, a soft whuff of air.

“Do you hear me, Wolf? You can’t scare me.”

The fine hairs rose on the back of her neck. It was closer now; she felt it on the chilled skin of her cheek and in the very earth beneath her. She turned her head carefully, resting her hands flat on the ground. “You can’t make me run.”

This time the wolf abandoned any attempt at secrecy. A body crashed through the bushes. Alex scrambled around and rocked back on her heels, raising her hands to fend off the attack she knew would come.

It never did. A pair of amber eyes regarded her with bright curiosity. The wolf sat three feet away, huge paws planted squarely under its body, ears pricked and jaws agape, and tongue lolling. Alex felt her own mouth drop open in awe.

A wolf. A real wolf, close enough to touch.

It was not a monster. It wasn’t scary at all. She knew in that instant, between one heartbeat and the next, that she had never seen anything so beautiful in all the world. Its coat was still lush and thick, even with the coming of summer, black fur rippling with silvered light. A single splash of white marked its chest.

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