S UMMER this year was shorter than usual. As if they knew that the winter would come early and be long and hard, the deer left the Valley of the Good Spirit earlier than ever before, and began the slow journey back toward the winter grazing grounds. At the first movement of the herds, Aklak and Tuktu had been sent back to the main camp to help break camp and move to their winter home. So it was not until the deer were back on the home pastures that they had an opportunity to look for the deer Aklak had so carefully trained.
An unusually bold family of wolves had attacked the herd on the way. There are no more cunning people in all the great world than the wolves. For days they had followed the deer without once being discovered by either the deer or the herders. Perhaps the latter had grown careless. Perhaps they had allowed the deer to scatter too widely. Anyway, the attack came when there were no herders near enough to interfere.
A wary, clever old mother was the leader of those wolves. She knew deer as not even the herders knew them. She knew just how to cut out a small band of animals from the main herd and drive them into the hills to be killed at leisure. She knew how to do it without stampeding the rest of the herd, and she and her well-grown children did it. It wasn't until one of the herders found their tracks in newly-fallen snow that the presence of the wolves was suspected. Then it didn't take long to discover what had happened.
Two of the herders, who were also noted hunters, set out on the trail of the wolves to make sure that the band was not still hanging around. They also hoped that they might find some of the missing deer.
But those deer had been run hard and fast and all the hunters found were the cleanly picked bones of several. The others had been so scattered that it was useless to try to round them up.
There was no way of knowing whose deer the wolves had killed until the winter round-up. Then when the count was made, it would be discovered whose deer were missing. But it was a long time to wait for that winter round-up, so Tuktu and Aklak spent much time going about in the herd looking for those trained deer. And they were not the only ones who were looking. Kutok, their father, had been very proud of those deer, and as soon as the herd was back on the home pastures, he asked Aklak where they were. Of course Aklak had to tell him that he hadn't seen them.
Now trained sled-deer are valuable animals, and Kutok at once called the other herders to him and told them to watch out for these particular deer. He remembered the attack of the wolves and he feared greatly that the eight sled-deer might have been the victims. This was the same fear that was tugging at the hearts of Aklak and Tuktu. There was no way for them to know whether the Good Spirit had chosen those deer, or whether the wolves had killed them. There could be no way of knowing until the return of the herds to the seashore in the early summer. Meanwhile, Aklak was busy training more deer, and one of these was Little Spot. He was still young for sled work, but he was such a splendid young deer, so big and so strong and so willing, that everybody who saw him said that in time he would make the finest sled-deer in all the Northland.
Of course, Tuktu and Aklak said nothing to their father of their hope that the Good Spirit had chosen those deer. They suspected that should they tell, they would be laughed at. Also, they were afraid their father would not like it that they should have dared to think that they could train deer for the Good Spirit. So, when the round-up came and none of the deer were found, but it was discovered that several others of Kutok's deer were also missing, they pretended to think as did all the other folk, that Kutok had been unfortunate and that the wolves had gotten his deer. This was what every one believed and it was repeated so often that Tuktu and Aklak found it difficult at times not to believe that it was true. "Had it not been for those wolves, we should know," Tuktu kept saying over and over. "I hate those wolves! I do so!"
Kutok also hated the wolves. He hated them for the same reason that Tuktu did, and he hated them because he knew that if those deer were not safe in the Valley of the Good Spirit, they most certainly had been eaten by this time and all his hard work had gone for nothing. So it was that the wolves brought worry to the home of Kutok.