The Wanderer, Part 29
This story is part of a series, this is the twenty-ninth part.
You can read the first story here: The Wanderer, Part 1
and the most recent story here: The Wanderer, Part 28
Yao and Tas readied their gear for tomorrow, another day of hunting in the ice-cold mountains. They took turns to wash quickly, then dressed to eat with Yao’s cousins, the princes. He was even looking forward to the meal.
After washing from the day of hunting, Tas found himself missing Ice; he hadn’t ever felt this way. He just wanted to spend time with her, but knew that he would be busy tonight. But he was happy that he had a new friend. Yaina had taken well to the news that there would be someone new around to take care of and was already feeding Ice before Tas had a chance to think about it, much to the glee and confusion of the small pup. Ice would miss and accidentally scratch Yaina, but Yaina didn’t seem to mind. After a few cuts, she rolled her sleeves down and that kept the pup’s teeth from cutting her skin. She was even more keen to care for Ice when Yao had announced that she was an orphan now and needed a new mother. Tas said his goodbye to both Ice and Yaina, then adorned his furry cloak and followed Yao back into the icy wind.
The walk back to Yaina’s was a brutal ordeal and Tas was exhausted to say the least. But it was still early in the evening and they would feast with the cousins, Idril and Adal, and hopefully regain their energy. Yao had brought the unnamed male pup with them and they were all huddling close as they strode against the wind to the palace.
They arrived a quarter of an hour later at the huge structure, iced stone walls rising high into the night. There were three blacksmith forges surrounding the castle, running on wood from the immense forest behind the outcropping that housed the foundation. The mountain was still full of huge trees and Tas couldn’t help but wonder what kind of animals they might encounter in dark woods.
The group of three knocked on the iron door then Yao entered; he led the way into a dark antechamber and seemingly empty hall. The room was enormous, so big that Tas couldn’t see the ceiling in the darkness. But he could hear a dim sound in the back of the castle and Yao had continued in its direction. Tas scuttled to catch-up and found himself in another hall. Yao was just slipping through a doorway to his right and he followed the old man quickly, grabbing the door before he closed it and shutting it behind him.
The cousins didn’t notice Yao at first. They were both taken off guard and erupted into expressions of exasperation when they saw him sneaking a leg of elk from the table. They welcomed Tas and Yao to sit and feast with them, without question. Tas had never eaten venison before, but it was delicious and he enjoyed himself enormously while the cousins and Yao discussed the circumstances under which they had found Jaar; Adal named him immediately, but Yao kept Jaar in his jacket while he ate.
They all ate fairly quickly and the twin’s meal was taken away by their two maids while Yao was the last to finish. Tas took his time finishing the stew; it warmed his insides and seemed to finally get rid of the cold from their long day of trekking through the snow.
Finally Yao removed the small pup from his pocket so that it could eat some of the remains of the elk and both of the cousins hushed with astonishment.
“Yao, where did you find this glorious little arctic wolf?” Idril moved closer and started to pet it softly and tenderly, much to Tas’ surprise. “Of course, he will only be small for a couple of months. These are wolves.” He started to examine the long teeth and their eyes were silver as ice.
Adal picked the Jaar up, a little less tenderly, but that didn’t seem to upset it. It licked Adal’s nose, then he lowered it slowly while giggling. “What an interesting little guy. He’s so small. He’ll be a hunter soon?”
“Yao, this is the perfect age, thank you for your gift. He will be fun to have on our hunts,” Adal stared at his husband. “It would seem that destiny had a hand in this. You bring a white wolf back with you from your first day of hunting? We owe the gods a great honor! Who could have predicted it? We are honored to receive it Uncle!”
Yao smiled fully and embraced his cousin. But Tas was more interested in what Adal said about the gods; he wanted to know if he meant it. It seemed to Tas that everything was going very well, but as soon as Yao turned his back on his cousins, he expression turned dark and they left immediately, leaving the pup behind in the arms of Adal.
“We will return tomorrow night.” and Yao left without a backward glance. Tas shrugged at the stunned cousins as he left, then follow Yao.
They left through the same entrance and entered into the cold night without a backward glance. Yao trudged off into the darkness, forcing Tas to catch up; Tas was still confused.
“What’s the matter Yao? Why were you so quick to leave?”
“It hurts me to leave the poor wolf there; he will be cage and most of his life will be as a slave.” Yao looked back at Tas with tears in his eye. “I fear I have condemned that poor wolf to a life of enslavement.”
“Not all beings get to be free.” Tas said suddenly, surprising himself. He remembered his home and the small farms around it; many animals were locked up there. Many of his friends were slaves. He knew that what he said was right.
He returned back to the house, happy to greet Ice, who was still awake, but Yaina was startled as they entered. It was late now and Tas took Ice to his room, where they all slept in a warm feather mattress and comforter and kept each other warm in the cold.