Susan heard the excited voices of the children long before she broke from the cover of the trees. She frowned and hefted the buck more firmly across her shoulders, wondering what could have set them off. The other hunters would surely be back by now, but that had never caused this level of commotion in the past. A few more steps, and she scented them. Outsiders.
It wasn't unheard of for their tribe to receive visitors, even this far away from the white man's world. Just because they lived isolated didn't mean they eschewed all contact. Hikers that occasionally stumbled across their community, tourists on the hunt for the 'authentic' native experience, or amateur genealogists who had been told there was some Sioux 'somewhere' in their heritage. Still, it was a rare enough thing that the young ones always squealed with glee at the chance to meet new people.
When at last Susan emerged from the forest, and her eyes had adjusted to the sudden swelling of light, she looked around for the newest visitors to their home. They weren't hard to find: the garishly large black SUV was immediately obvious. Not far from it, a woman and two men were talking to Black Crow, who was leaning on his walking stick. Or rather, the woman was talking to Black Crow while the two men looked on. Interesting, that. But the hundred and fifty pounds on her back was a more pressing concern, so she continued on toward the hanging area.
By the time she finished hanging the buck to drain and age, she'd all but forgotten about the outsiders. It wasn't until she was halfway back to her cabin and she heard Black Crow calling her name that she remembered. She turned and got her first close look at the visitors to their home. The two men could not have been more different. One was tall, thin, and pale, with blond hair and light eyes, like a Viking torn out of time. The other was shorter than Susan herself, stout without being pudgy, and dark of hair, skin, and eye.
It was the woman with them, though, who was the most striking. At first glance, she might have been mistaken for a man. Her sandy brown hair was cut short and above her ears. She wore jeans faded enough that to call them 'blue' would be generous, and a man's flannel shirt buttoned up against the morning chill. But a single look at her face (and chest, Susan noted with a tiny flush) confirmed her femininity. Her face was round, all gentle curves and smoothness. Her green eyes seemed to take in the entire world around her and thank it for existing.
"Susan is the youngest of our tribal elders," Black Crow was saying. The mention of her name snapped her wandering mind back into place. "Susan, this is Jesse Westfield, Tyler Elison, and Jorge Rios." He indicated the woman, the Viking, and the stout one. "They are making a documentary about the wolves."
Susan's mouth went dry, but she kept her voice casual. "Which wolves are those?"
"Oh, the Werewolves of South Dakota," Jesse said, but followed it up with a laugh. "Well, that's what people call them, anyway, seeing as they're almost never seen except during full moons. I've spoken to several people who claim to have seen them, and most of them were in this general area at the time."
"So you want to know if we have seen them, too?" Susan darted her eyes nervously toward Black Crow.
"That's one reason. But I did my research before coming out here. Other Lakota refer to you as Shungmánitu Thánka Thiwáhe. Family of the Wolf."
Susan raised an eyebrow at that. "Your pronunciation is excellent," she noted. "But I assure you that has nothing to do with these... werewolves. I don't believe we can be of any help to you."
"I have told Miss Westfield that she and her friends are welcome among us," Black Crow said, a tiny note of reprimand in his voice that meant 'be nice'.
Of course he had, Susan thought. Black Crow was friendly and welcoming to a fault. If the white man's devil walked among them, Black Crow would offer to sharpen his horns and hold his pitchfork. "However, we will do our best and share freely anything that we have," she continued smoothly. "Now, if you will excuse me, I must assist with the cooking." She didn't wait for a reply, choosing instead a hasty retreat. Even so, the memory of those green eyes lingered well into the afternoon.