I woke up with the giant wolf still curled around me. I’ll admit, I never slept better in my life. I started to move around and noticed that Merla was sleeping tucked tightly under the wing of Soe-Ar, the giant eagle.
At first I didn’t see Sirlriend, but I noticed a strange blob. The amorphous glob shifted and then flew off in many directions leaving the little king in the middle. I realized that he had slept at the center of a pile of pixies.
Sirlriend stood up, stretched and yawned. He saw me and stopped mid-stretch. “What?”
“I was just thinking,” I said.
“It is. I know Merla is so much sharper than I am, so I typically leave the heavy thinking to her. Thinking of Merla, did you notice that her sword, Froast, attracted, of all animals, an eagle?”
“And my sword, Trowr, attracted the very wolf we had been talking about?”
“Your point being?”
“I was thinking about totem animals. I thought you said that yours was a rabbit, but then I saw you this morning. I have to ask, what is your sword?”
Sirlriend smiled. “Good question! Anyway, let’s get breakfast ready. I, for one, don’t want to travel with a hungry wolf or eagle. Just because I attract fairies and pixies doesn’t mean I don’t have a lot of rabbit in me.” He winked.
I knew better than to ask. The little king always had the right answers and I figured he’d let us know when the time was ripe.
The day went well, but our progress was slow. Our trail from the high mountain pass quickly deteriorated. It wasn’t just the path, though. We all seemed to dread actually reaching our destination.
I really enjoyed being with Merla. We had grown up together and were always friends, but we had spent less and less time together as we grew older. Merla’s father was trying to marry her to a rich merchant while mine was preparing me to take over the family farm.
Thworn, though older, was also part of our little circle when we were growing up. He left and became a soldier at a young age. After scoring big in his first battle, he was picked up by the prince and made part of the prince’s honor guard.
I’ll admit that there was little love lost between myself and the soldier. Although I was Merla’s best friend, she never seemed to have any romantic interest. Thworn, on the other hand, enthralled her. It was obvious that the feeling was mutual. I hate to admit that I was jealous. On the other hand, it was obvious that Thworn was very jealous of me. He sometimes beat me up when Merla wasn’t around.
When the prince was lost, Thworn knew he had to take Merla because of her sight and insight. She made him take me as well, since she knew my powers. Unfortunately for Thworn, Merla showed a distinct lack of romantic interest in him and was 100% business. I think that is why he sent us ahead, hoping we’d be killed or captured.
Perhaps the outcome was far different in ways nobody could have predicted.
Our adventures had drawn Merla and myself closer together than we had ever been. I began to know what she was thinking with just a glance. At first I was afraid that bringing the wolf and eagle into our inner circle would push us apart, but I was pleased to discover that our active role in keeping these two top predators from fighting made us work even closer than before.
Being with Merla was great, and I didn’t want it to end.
It wasn’t just Merla. I liked Sirlriend. He was a great travel companion. He poked me in the ribs as much as Merla, but he was quick to come to my defense.
The wolf, Warph, became a second self. Half way through the morning we started to communicate without words. He would tramp through the woods and I would know what he was doing, seeing, smelling and hearing.
Merla had the same relationship with the eagle, Soe-Ar. The giant bird would be so high it would be just a speck in the sky, and Merla would report what he was seeing.
As we walked after lunch, Merla and I had a whispered discussion about our meeting with the prince and Thworn after the rescue. What would we be returning to? They thought we were dead. At the best, we were exiled. The king would understand, but I doubted we would get a chance to see him. Prince Braindead and his meat-headed minions would stop us. My guess was they would kill us with arrows before we were close enough to talk.
The ground leveled off in the late evening. We passed through small villages and farm fields on occasion. We were getting closer to civilization.
As the ground flattened, the weather worsened. A storm was brewing.
I felt a few sharp raindrops sting my face as we entered a big field. The looming shadows of giant stones darkened the ground, making the storm appear even more ominous. At the edge of the field two monstrous monoliths had fallen towards each other, creating a space that was relatively safe from the elements.
We pushed up close to the stones when the storm hit. We all huddled close together, the eagle and wolf willing to cuddle together to avoid the tempest.
I have never experienced such a storm. Lightning flashes every second with the thunder descending with the lightning, meaning almost direct hits. The wind was awful. Looking from our sheltered spot I could see leaves, branches and even entire trees blow by.
Although intense, the storm was short lived. The intense part was less than five minutes while the storm in its entirety was perhaps fifteen.
We left the shelter and looked at the changed world in wonder. A tree, bigger around than I am tall, fell very close to us. There was a lot of other damage. We all looked at each other, glad that we had found a place of protection.
Since it was late, we made our camp under the stones. As us humans, or at least human-like, people started the fire and prepared for diner and nightfall, the two animals went out hunting. In a few minutes they came back with a deer.
I watched the two great beasts and realized that something had changed. The animosity had evaporated. Warph and Soe-Ar worked together as an efficient unit. They became friends.
We dined well on the fresh meat and dried fruit.
“We will reach the capital tomorrow,” Sirlriend said.
Night had fallen and we were sitting around the campfire.
“Great,” Merla said. She looked as downcast as I felt.
“It is great. Our quest will be at its end. Your people will soon march on Slore. My people will stay hidden, but we will help. We always do. And…” He shrugged his shoulders and fell silent.
“He is right,” Warph said. “Tomorrow is the start. A necessity for the future.”
“Exactly,” Soe-Ar said. “The beginning of the end, for better or worse.”
Merla and I looked at each other. Why were we the only ones not convinced that the day would bring good fortune?
After a few minutes of silence we moved as one back to the protection of the stones. Without a word, we cuddled up together, Merla under the eagle’s wing, me surround by the huge wolf and Sirliend under his pile of pixies, but all of us touching. It was comforting.
For a minute I thought of the day ahead, but my mind went blank and I soon fell asleep.
As with the other nights, it was a deep, relaxing sleep.