The trees waved slightly in the spring breeze. The air was cool and fresh; the crisp biting smell of snow, blowing off the nearby mountains, mixed with the pungent aroma of the thawing ground. Newly budding trees sheltered the damp forest floor, casting the ground in shadow. Feet ran. The soft ground thumping dully beneath thin boots. The cool air burned down the throat; air in, air out. The forest floor blurred, familiar to the feet that ran it. An Oak stood out among the pines, a stout trunk declaring an established status in the forest. Thick branches rose high, taller than most trees in the entire Táurian forest. The runner, little more than five feet tall, leapt and grabbing hold of one of the branches swung onto the bottommost branch. The leaves barely rustled.

The branches shook slightly, the disruption no more than a squirrel would make, as the runner made her way up. She climbed steadily higher, using her arms to pull herself onto the next branch. The Oak's bark was rough, deeply ribbed from years in the forest, but she climbed too quickly for it to bite into her skin. The palms of her hands were rough, calloused from years of climbing. The nails of her tiny hand were jagged, packed with dirt. She did not stop her hasty ascent until finally through the limbs of the tree she could see the sky. The rest of the forest stretched out beneath the Oak's branches, rolling with the hills in a wave of brown and delicate green. Winding through the army of trees ran a river, blindingly bright against the morning sun. It was lazy now, softly lapping the shores of the Táurian forest; but from her vantage point Evangelina could see the white rapids carrying the water out of the mountains, tossing and frothing as it cascaded down the hills.

With this view in sight she stopped. She leaned against the trunk and stretched out her arms; two branches exactly at arm length met her fingers. Holding onto the two branches to steady herself, Evangelina closed her eyes and slowed her breathing. The slight sway of the tree calmed her. Slowly she loosened her body, letting it move with the tree. Letting out a deep breath she opened her eyes and scanned the land beneath her. The white peaked mountains, cloaked in clouds. The calm green river. The forest, alive with activity. Birds, startled from their perch by some small woodland creature, rose up in a cloud of angry protests only to settle back down in a tree a few feet away.

A deer picked its way out of the forest, stepping lightly onto the riverbank, ears perked up for danger. It lowered its head and gently lapped at the water, the pale pink tongue delicately curving around the cool water. Suddenly, it tensed. Ears back it became still, muscle quivering and eyes unblinking. The deer stood there, silently, for a mere two seconds before darting back into the trees, its white tail disappearing into the dark shrubbery.

Evangelina watched, waiting to see what had frightened it away. But, the forest floor was quiet. Only the sound of the birds, chirping loudly overhead, interrupted the tranquil morning. A crash on the

forest floor drew her gaze down to the ground beneath her. Through the thick blanket of leaves under her feet two eyes gazed up at her; wide beneath a mop of thick curly hair her younger brothers eyes tricked many a person with a look of innocence that hid the streak of mischievousness that ran deep in his blood.

"Eva!" he called up, the eagerness in his voice betraying the innocence of his eyes. "Did you see?" He started scrambling up the tree trunk, his thin limbs barely reaching halfway around the trunk as he shimmied up the rough bark to grasp the branch above his head. Her quiet disrupted, and not likely to be restored in the near future, Evangelina started slipping down to meet Dylan on a lower branch.

"Did I see what?" she asked, pausing next to him, legs straddling the thick limb beneath them.

"The boat!" the excitement was barely contained in his voice and the branch shook with his exuberance. Flipping one leg over the branch, Evangelina paused only a moment before doing a quick back-flip over the bough to land lightly on the leaf-cushioned floor below.

"What boat?" she asked, watching carefully as Dylan followed her actions and neatly landed beside her with a slight "Oof" of air as he hit the floor.

"There's a boat in the Bend! It's upside down and one side of it has this huge ho-"

"What were you doing down by the Bend? Didn't Má say-" Dylan shrugged at Evangelina's words and looked pleadingly up at his sister. His light brown eyes danced with excitement even as he tried to look innocent.

"I know that I'm not supposed to go down there. But, I was playing with Lacha

LA-ch-a means: duck

and she wandered off and I couldn't just leave her by herself."

"Dyl, she's a wolf. I think she can fend for herself." Evangelina smiled indulgently at her brother's concern over Lacha. So named for the way she walked, Lacha had a funny gait that strongly resembled that of a duck, she had been found by Evangelina and Dylan two years previously as a pup.

"I know, but I knew if I just went after her she wouldn't go far. Anyway, Eva, that's not the important part!" Dylan said, a hint of a whine in his voice as his story was interrupted. "There was a boat on the shore of the Bend and it was flipped upside down and there was a giant hole on one side and pieces were sticking out everywhere and there was a man next to it!" He finished his sentence in a rush, face flushed with pride at his story.

"There was a what?" Evangelina asked sharply, her eyes darting east toward the river, hidden by trees.

"A man!" Dylan was already pulling her hand to follow him toward the river. "He was under big pieces of wood, they wouldn't move when I tried to pull them off."

"You went up to him!" Dylan shrugged at the fierce scowl she gave him.

"Well, he wasn't awake. His face is all cut up and he was asleep." He continued to pull her through the forest, underbrush snapping beneath them as they hurried down to the shoreline. The sound of rushing water became clearer as they neared The Bend.

The Bend was a sharp curve in the river where the water still ran fast off the rapids down the mountains. No fisherman went near it, though the best fish were found there. The unruly currents easily lead to an overturned boat and a painful toss into icy mountain waters. The Fions had forbade their children from going near the quickly flowing waters; it was too easy to lose balance on the sloping shore, get caught in the water's current and never be able to escape from the river's bitter grasp. The thought sent a shiver down Evangelina's spine. For as long as she could remember, she hated the river. The tugging currents and the slippery rocks, so hard to hold on to, made her nervous.

Still, she followed her brother down the sloping ground until they reached The Bend. As he had said, an overturned boat rested in the reeds and rocks of the shore. The wood splintered and cracked where the bow had driven into the sharp rocks that edged the river way. Evangelina carefully picked her way down to the river's edge. Beneath the soft leather of her shoes, she could feel the rough edges of the rocks, pushing up into the soles of her feet. The roar of the rapids was deafening here; Dylan's mouth was moving but the rushing water washed the words away. He was pointing toward the far side of the boat. Evangelina scrambled behind him until she saw the limp hand and pale face of a man. She uttered a soft cry and knelt next to the boat.

She had to push thick strands of hair away in order to see his face. The brown curls clung wetly to his cheeks, contrasting sharply with the pallor of his skin. Dried blood caked his right temple and cheek and the deep purple of a fresh bruise was beginning to show on the underside of his jaw. Lightly touching his cheek, Evangelina drew back slightly. His skin was cool, clammy to the touch.

"Dylan," she said, looking urgently at her little brother, who had been staring fixedly at the inert figure sprawled across the rocky shore. "Run back to the house, run as fast as you can. Get Mam, and Da too, if he's there. We need to get him back to the house. After you find Mam, get Tessa and Nora. We might need them to help carry him." Dylan nodded his eyes were wide beneath his flopping hair. By the time Evangelina had turned back toward the man on the ground Dylan had already scrambled across the rocks and disappeared into the dark forest floor.

The boat had crashed against largest of the rocks, probably as it had rounded the bend out of the rapids. From what Evangelina could tell, it looked like it had flipped with the impact, throwing the man beneath the path of the boat. His legs and lower body were pinned between boat and rocky shore and his breathing was coming in ragged gasps. Quickly surveying the scene, Evangelina gingerly slipped her long fingers between the man's abdomen and the boat. Her fingers skimmed the smooth wood of the underbelly of the craft searching for a good place to grip. Finally, her fingers met splintered wood, a piece of the bottom had been torn off in the accident, leaving a wide patch just below the man's ribcage where the rough splinters held onto her skin. Digging her fingernails into the sharp wood, Evangelina heaved upward with all her might, trying to pull the boat up and off his ribs, but it did not move.

She bit her lip and sat back on her knees to reassess the situation. Clearly, the man could not breathe, the boat was cutting off his air supply and she needed to get it off him; but, the boat, however small it seemed, was too heavy for her. Her eyes took in the splintered edges and cracked surfaces and then looked down at her own long, thin fingers in her lap. The nails were rough and splintered like the wood and dirt caked her calloused palms. Reaching out one hand she clawed at the wood, pulling at the splintered sides until, with a loud CRACK, the wood came way and she held a sizeable piece of wood in her hand.