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Trinna hadn’t left off studying me. All the way to the Pridekeep, I set the pace, investigating whatever my Huntskills turned up – I wasn’t so foolish as to think I could outrun her, yet, Trueborn or no…she had been wisely chosen as my Huntmother, and I had the freedom to move as I pleased, explore whatever I thought might give Kaivelt my Solemate the knowing and pleasure of this place, only because she allowed it.

What I chafed for was freedom from her scrutiny. I felt her watching, wary, uncertain what to make of what I had told her and the silence of my mind, held apart from the flow of the Hunthread.

The concert and chaos of so many minds, all at once, was disturbing to Kaivelt. And I wanted only Kaivelt my mate.

Tacivaarii minds were river rapids, frothing and roaring their energy and strength, exalting in the pitch off the rocks and the landing and blending at the bottom.

Kaivelt’s mind was a deep, still pool…there was movement, but purposeful, controlled….like the stalk, or the spring to the throat…always, he was moving somewhere, with a sense that he must direct his flows, or be lost, drowned, spun away by the force of all that was within him, yearning to be freed.

I Ran, teetering between unrest at Trinna’s attentions and the singing power of Souldancing…not the same as those first, mad dreams, but there was deeper power in this weaving of knowing and sensing and learning. It made its own pattern, its own music, as it rolled through us, connecting us, and, sometimes, in a rising surge or a sudden flare, awareness was so strong that it was as though we both occupied both minds, both bodies, both worlds…

“Come to, and eat your stew, child.”

We looked, together. We were at the Pridekeep, and Tacivaar was watching us through his green-gold eyes.

Of a sudden, the sight and scent of kalaana stew tore a rift in the sharing. ~I do not eat meat!~

My own stomach twisted, tangling with bile that rose in him. Confused, miserable, I shoved the bowl away, wondering if I was going to vomit. ~Meat is life, Kaivelt. It has always been so, and cannot be any other way.~

~I will not consume the flesh of animals.~ I could feel that this was a thing that could not change, would not, no matter if we were together. Not understanding, my own needs opposite, cold sweat trickled down my back, and I shook…and, faraway in that red, dusty place, so did he.

“What is it, child?” Tacivaar and Kaivelt’s mother spoke as one, from two worlds.

~I must have meat, Kaivelt. I must Hunt, and kill, and eat, to live.~

Our souls drew together, close as mewling kittens in the birthnest. We felt the Hunt – with soaring joy, and with revulsion and trembling fascination….felt the kill, the surging of lifeblood at the back of the throat….we retched, at that, and the memory of our Claimings wove through it….

I took the liver, and he withdrew, but remained to watch as I feasted, as I honored the life given for mine, the balance that would, someday, take my life, in turn, that others might.

~ You will consume meat as fuel. I will not.~

The beginnings of understanding, acceptance. No, we were not the same; we could be joined, but we could not live each other’s lives, or demand change that could not be made.

~We have our own natures.~

~Yes.~ Something between us eased, to know we would not need to be other than we were.

“Child – answer me.”

Awareness….I was in the Pridekeep, with Tacivaar leaning over me, something sharp and strong slicing through his scent and shadowing his slitted eyes.

“I am well, Huntleader.” Suddenly, my stomach wanted the stew – the stew, organ meat, the thick haunch dripping on the spit for the night’s meal, and bread, and cheese – a snarl broke free as I attacked what was within my reach, and Kaivelt’s mind tensed, ready to defend, to fight, if he must…

“I will hear about this supposed Soulmate, child – as though a youngling of less than 8 sunrounds could have a Solemate! I will hear about it, and then you will give me your mind, so that I can learn for myself what truth is in it.”

Until today, I had never denied Trinna – but it had been lifetimes since anyone had defied the ancient Huntleader. My will clutched and quaked, but, within me, Kaivelt was straight, rooted as a lifepine, and as unlikely to yield.

I met those feral yellow eyes – eyes even I did not have, eyes that set him apart as being of the Beforetimes, and not of any such common making as I was, and said, “I will not, Huntleader.”