He woke on the cold ground, cold himself; cold everywhere, even where
his head lay cradled against the shoulder of his companion.
He sat up carefully but still felt the wave of dizziness and thought he
would be sick. Cradling his still ringing head, he looked down at ruffled
fur, the imprint of his own cheek, long limbs stretched out as though
at full gallop. Though he ached from the simple effort of moving, he reached
to rumple the crooked ear that had never learned to stand, marring Lôkhîs
beauty for his breeder and bringing him into the life of a ranger on the
trail two rangers on the trail, he corrected himself, still stroking
the soft thick fur behind the ear. It was about then he realized the big
grey hound, the wolf in his fold, was more than asleep.
He lay back down and buried his face in the fur where his cheek had been
cradled, and wept. How will I ever comfort Nâlo, he
sobbed, wishing they were home with her, fire in the hearth, latch on
the door, smells of bread and mulled wine, safe and warm, safe and home.
How will she ever comfort me, he thought.
When he could stand, he began his farewells. He sang unconsciously as
he gathered the stones for the cairn, a tuneless aching of the heart forcing
its way into the cold night air. His own folk would think it was strange;
might even misunderstand it but not Nâlo. She sometimes shook
her head at his ways, but she never questioned the things that made him
who he was. He had partnered for several years with an elf, and he had
learned the habit from her. Elves seemed to make everything into a song,
as though they were trying to hammer their pain in the forge of their
fëas until it became something of beauty, something they could understand.
Or maybe it was not elves, but only his partner who did so still,
the habit was his now.
As his mind cleared, impressions flashed behind his eyes a sharp
crack like the snap of a twig; swinging around, reaching for his blade
nothing. A hard blow from behind had taken his senses as the hound, snarling,
leapt forward in front of him. Except for darkness, that was all he knew.
His hand searched the big chest now until he felt a dart, and he pulled
it free and snapped it mercilessly in his hands as though he could still
gain some satisfaction over their unseen attackers. Then he wept again.
They say a mans life will flash in front of his eyes if he fears
he is dying, but no one had told him that the dogs life would do
so. Their days together unfurled backwards in his mind, clear and strong
and bright as the woven pictures that lined the walls of the great hall.
He saw each day as he laid the long body in the curl it would have used
beside the hearth. He placed beneath the big crossed paws the broken dart
and cradled the head on his extra shirt one of the few things that
remained from his ransacked pack - though the night was cold enough to
consider wearing both. The work of shaping stones would have to keep him
He thought at last of the day Lôkhî had come to him, a squirming
ball that seemed more wag than dog. His partner had brought the pup with
her to dinner - to see how the animal took to them, she said, and how
his brand new wife took to the idea of big paws and another mouth to feed
- a slavering one at that. She had been stroking the sharply pointed ears
as she handed him over, and her eyes were sad.
I cant take him from you, he insisted, feeling she had
already formed a bond with the beast, but she shook her head.
Please, mellon-nîn. You need a companion to walk the road
with you, and I need to know he is loved.
I think you want to keep him, hed tried one last time.
Her hand caressed the curve of the animals skull, incidentally stroking
the long fingers of his hand. I would come to love him, she
sighed, a foregone conclusion, and that would break my heart, for
what could he be to me but a breath.
Nâlo had just reached them, was extending her strong firm hand to
pet the pointed muzzle, and a look passed between the two women at those
words. He did not understand it, but Lôkhî had become his
in that moment, and his wife loved the big grey beast as much as he.
There was never any doubt that Lôkhî was the brother at his
back upon the roads, and Nâlo depended on him having that protection,
even though there were many nights that she would muse aloud that a good
provider was supposed to supply a woman with firelight to keep the wolves
away, and wonder what strange fate had made her give her heart to a man
who put a wolf between themselves and the hearth
and to the wolf
The grey light of morning was already touching the clearing when he piled
the last stones on the cairn. He placed his hands upon them and whistled,
then whispered a name to the wind. There was no answer, and he patted
the stone beneath his hand. Remember the call, brave heart,
he said. You will hear it again some day, and we will find other
quarry, you and Nâlo and I.
He took three steps along the road toward home, then turned and whistled
one last time. Farad maer, he called, and turned into the west
toward home, the wind stinging his eyes to tears.