Echo North

Echo North by Joanna Ruth Meyer

For my mom—someday, we’re going to find the wolf’s library and explore it together, okay?

And to the spinners of stories: Robin McKinley, Edith Pattou, and Diana Wynne Jones. Thanks for the magic.



I WAS CALLED ECHO FOR MY mother, who died when I was born, because when my father took me into his arms he said he felt the echo of her heartbeat within me.

My father didn’t blame me for my mother’s death, but he was often sad. He had me and my older brother Rodya to raise on his own. Two mouths to feed and no dark-haired laughing wife to come home to.

But he bore it all cheerfully. He gave me my freedom, and I loved both him and my brother fiercely. I was allowed to run barefoot in the summer, to tumble with the blacksmith’s hounds, to skip my classes if I wished and go fishing with Rodya in the lake.

Not that my father wanted me to be ignorant. He taught me patiently from his books when we were at home together every evening. He read to me and asked me questions and answered all my questions. I couldn’t have been happier. I’d never known my mother—my father and Rodya were my whole world.

And then my whole world shifted.

It happened the summer I was seven. Our village stood on the edge of a forest, and that year had been a particularly bad one for wolves attacking cattle and sheep in their fields. Old man Tinker had set traps all around the village, and my father told me to watch for them carefully. “Those traps could snap you in two, my darling, and what would I do without you?”

I promised him solemnly to take care.

But as I was coming back from picking wildflowers in the meadows, my embroidered skirts dirty about my knees, my kerchief forgotten somewhere amidst the waving grass, I heard a sharp, yelping scream—the sound of an animal in torment. I dropped my flowers, standing for an instant very still. The sound came again, and I ran toward it as quickly as I could.

Round the corner, caught fast in a steel trap that butted up against a fence post, was a huge white wolf.

I stared, frozen. For an instant, his pain seemingly forgotten, he stared back at me.

I could feel him, not just looking, but seeing me, as if he were searching out something deep inside my soul. I should have been terrified but I wasn’t. I felt drawn to him. Connected to him.

Then I glanced down and saw the blood staining his white fur where the trap had caught his back left leg.

I was brave. I was foolish.

I went to help him without another thought.

I knelt beside him in the dirt and touched him, gently, my small hand sinking into his white fur; it was the softest thing I had ever felt, softer even than the velvet cushion on my father’s favorite chair. I knew I was right to want to help the wolf. I was certain it was the most important thing in all the world.

I took a deep breath, grasped the jaws of the steel trap as firmly as I could, and pulled.

I couldn’t shift it. Not even an inch. All I managed to do was jostle the trap against the wolf’s wounded leg. He howled in pain and jerked away, a sudden whirl of claws and fur and snarling teeth. The trap was slippery with his blood and I dropped it back onto the ground. He lunged against the trap, desperate and screeching, but it held him, the metal jaws biting deeper and deeper, down to the bone.

The wolf grew more frantic with each passing second, and I started digging, tearing into the dirt around the stake and chain connected to those ugly metal jaws.

The stake loosened. The wolf gave one last desperate yank and pulled it free. For an instant, joy and triumph filled me up.

He leapt toward me in a blur of white, the trap and chain rattling behind him, and slammed into me with the force of an avalanche. Everything was all at once falling and fear, an impossible weight. Darkness.

And blinding, earth-shattering pain.

The weight lifted, but something wet and awful was smeared across my eyes and the world was distorted and bleared. It frightened me even more than the darkness had. Pain pulsed through me, lines of raging fire in my chest, my shoulders, my face.

Someone was screaming and I realized it was me.

I must have fainted, because when I opened my eyes again my father was kneeling over me, his form warped and strange. The light was fading orange and birds were singing in the wood. I was dizzy, my face and chest strangely numb. One of my eyes was swollen shut. Bits of rock and dirt had ground into my palms and behind my fingernails when I’d dug the stake from the ground—in that moment, it was the only pain I could feel.

“Let’s carry her inside,” I heard someone say. “She’ll be all right, Peter. She’s strong.”

Peter was my father. The other voice belonged to old man Tinker. He must have come to check his traps and found me there instead. My father scooped me into his arms, and I passed out again.

The next time I tried to open my eyes there was only darkness, and something thick and suffocating pressed against my face. “Papa!” I screamed, “Papa!” I jerked upright and fell in a tangle to the floor and then my father was there, coaxing me back into bed, calming me down.

“Just bandages, little bird. We’ll take them off soon. Hush, now. All is well.”

I clung to him and he kissed me quietly on the forehead and sang me to sleep.

Later, I don’t know how much, they removed the bandage from my right eye. It gave me an oddly skewed view of the world, but it was better than no sight at all. We lived in a house back then, and I sat for many weeks in my room on the third floor, watching through my little square window as the world below turned from the green and gold of summer to the red-brown blush of autumn.

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