We set up camp for a few hours to rest briefly after this last encounter… the image of the dwarf apparently riding Wargie burned in the back of my mind. Are we too late to save her? Will she even recognize us or remember who she is? I looked around at our group… Chucaro was nearby, resting with her eyes closed, but I doubt she was sleeping… the two minstrels sitting together on the far side of the camp engrossed in a quiet conversation… the huntress patrolling the front part of the camp and the burglar watching the rear… all-in-all, a rather quiet time considering all that has transpired.
I got up and went to find Silentknife to figure out the next step. I found him squatting on top of a rock, looking out into the distance. “Something on your mind, Deathwulf?” he asked without moving a muscle.
“Where do we go from here? I’ve lost their scent and there is a large lake to the north. The caravan was slaughtered, but not all the dwarves died…” I answered, not including what I saw at the end of the interrogation.
“Ah, well, we’ll still be heading north, as I believe their destination is still that way… we’ll hug the eastern shore until we make it to the mountains… there will be a path we can take heading up through the mountains. It’ll be dangerous territory… lots of orcs and trolls in the area. There is also an elven outpost near the pass that we can use if needed.”
“Hmm… I think Chucaro and I can move safer through the orcs than the other areas… we can meet back up further north or once we pick up the trail.”
“We’ll discuss that once we get to that point. Is there anything else on your mind?”
“No, why do you ask, burglar?”
“Just wondered… figured you were concerned why Creami reacted to you the way she did…”
“Let’s get something straight here… my only concern is for the safety and well-being of Chucaro and Wargie… I don’t share human emotions and am only part of this group due to the pact I made with Winterwulf.”
“Ah, but you do have feelings,” Silentknife replied as he turned to look at me, a huge grin on his face, “regardless of what you say, I believe you really do care about her, if not the rest of us, as well.”
I turned on my heels as I heard the burglar chuckle. “We need to get moving soon… before we lose more daylight.”
We resumed our journey skirting the eastern bank of the lake… as we moved out, the huntress took the lead, followed by the minstrel, Chucaro and myself, then the burglar taking the rear. After a few minutes of travel, the minstrel spurred her horse and sped up to ride alongside the huntress… taking a quick glance back at me before returning her attention to the road ahead.
“What was that all about?” I asked to nobody in particular… more speaking my mind out loud than for conversation.
“You’ve obviously made quite the impression on the minstrel,” Chucaro answered back.
“What do you mean by that?”
“Well, it’s been rather blatantly obvious that she likes you,” she teased.
“I’m a warg, not some human’s pet,” I growled back.
“Oh, don’t get your fur all ruffled up,” she said with a laugh, “but you did show her a side of you that she hadn’t seen before… when you tortured that dwarf. She may not have seen what you did, but I’m sure she heard the screams when you crushed the bones in his hand,” she added, more serious now.
“As I’ve explained to the burglar… you and Wargie are my only concern… the rest of the group we are with only because of the pact I made with the hunter… once we have Wargie, we are done and heading back home.”
“I’m not doubting you, Death… but I think you do need to talk to her to smooth things out before all is said and done. Yes, we are ‘just wargs’, but there isn’t much different between our kind and theirs… save for the fact we walk on all four legs and the obvious physical differences. We can, however, reason, think and feel, just like they can, and human females appear to get overly emotional at times and take many things to heart. She’s avoiding you, that much is obvious, but there may be a time when you need her help and you can’t afford someone who isn’t behind you… that one moment of indecision could cost you your life.”
We walked along in silence after that as I chewed on what Chucaro said. She’s right, you know… just go clear the air with her and find out what’s bugging her before it gets to be too late. I decided the next time we stopped to go talk to the minstrel.
We traveled in silence until we ran out of daylight. The others didn’t want to attempt to travel at night by lantern for fear of being seen. We were near the pass through the forest between the mountains and found a cave that some creature used to call it’s home, judging by the skeletal remains of fish and small animals. The bones were very old and there was no sign of any recent inhabitants, so we made camp. The huntress quickly got a fire going and started roasting some of the game she caught while we had searched the cave. “I’ve left some fresh rabbit near the mouth of the cave for you two, if you are hungry.”
My stomach growled at the mention of food, and Chucaro’s answered back… it had been a while since we had eaten. We approached the mouth of the cave and found four freshly skinned rabbits. We each grabbed one and started hungrily tearing the flesh from the bones. It wasn’t long before we both devoured the rabbits… and it hit the spot without making us too full and tired.
I laid down next to Chucaro, watching the ripples in the lake and listening to the mating calls of the birds and the chirping of the nearby insects… the calm and solace was definitely going to be missed when we made it back to the moors… “then it will be back to the clamoring of weapons and listening to the grunts of orcs and the chittering of spiders,” I thought to myself.
We both sat up as soft voices and footsteps approached from inside the cave. The huntress and minstrel came to the mouth of the cave and the conversation stopped as soon as they saw us.
“Creami wanted to sit by the lake for a bit to enjoy the serenity before chaos ensues,” Sylwith said, breaking the awkward silence.
“There’s something I’ve been wanting to talk to you about, huntress, if you have a minute,” Chucaro replied, nudging me in the hind quarters with her back foot.
“If you want to go on ahead, Creami, I will catch up,” Sylwith offered.
“I’ll keep watch over you til the huntress comes back,” I offered as I walked to the cave entrance.
“No, no… that’s ok… I’ll just,” Creami started to head back inside until Sylwith cut her off.
“Go ahead with Deathwulf.. I’ll be along shortly,” Sylwith promised.
Creami hesitated before moving out of the cave without a sound. I followed her out, keeping a swift pace to match the minstrel’s.
I could feel both Chucaro’s and the huntress’ eyes on me as I followed the minstrel down to the water’s edge. She found a hollowed-out stump and sat on it, silently staring out at the lake… the moonlight glimmering of the water, as well as her eyes. We just sat there for a while… she looking out at the lake and myself watching her… neither saying a word. The silence got too much for me, as I got up and walked around to where she sat, so I could see her face. She seemed to be lost in a trance, as she appeared to not even notice me there.
“What’s bothering you?” I asked simply, seeming to break her from her thoughts. She continued to stare out at the water, but her eyes began to well up with tears.
“I never thought you would be one who could torture someone like you did earlier,” she started, “I mean, I know he is the enemy, but to cause someone that much pain and suffering…”
“War is hell,” I said, simply, “sometimes things have to be taken to the extreme in order to get the desired result. I did what I felt I had to do in order to protect and help those I care about… let me ask you, would you do any differently?”
“But to think you could do that so easily to a dwarf… what about an elf, or a human even?”
“If it was to protect or defend, then I would do so without hesitation. When it comes to war, it all boils down to kill or be killed… any hesitation from that can cost you your life.”
“I know… I just… it really hurt me to know you could do something so cruel so easily… but I can understand why, now. Thank you for explaining things to me.”
“So is there anything else bothering you?” I asked.
She looked at me as she wiped away the tears running downs her cheeks with the back of her hands. Then she smiled at me. “No, silly,” she laughed and threw her arms around me giving me a hug that felt more like a choke-hold, “things are just fine now.”
She let go of my neck and looked at me. I gently licked her salty cheek. “We should head back.” Her smile brightened even more as we slowly walked back to the camp… her hand gently petting me along the length of my back… as I looked towards the cave entrance, I could swear I saw the huntress and Chucaro smiling at us.
As we got back, Sylwith gestured towards the back of the cave to Creami, “You’d best get some sleep… we’ll be leaving at daybreak… I’ll take the first watch.” Creami nodded and hurried back into the cave. I laid down next to Chucaro.
“All better now?” she asked, failing miserably at her attempt to stifle a gentle laugh.
“Yeah, we’re good,” I replied as I plopped my head on the ground.
Before I could close my eyes, we popped our heads up at the sound of rapidly approaching footsteps… it was the minstrel… she had her bedroll in her hands as she unfurled it near me and laid down next to me, resting her head against my side.
I sighed as I set my head back down. Chucaro leaned close to me. “Yeah, all is good,” she whispered, smiling.
“Shut it…” I said as she gave me a quick lick…. “Females…….” I thought to myself as I quickly fell asleep.