High summer’s night properly seen in, and the adventuring revelers wined-out, the expedition to capture ferocious Marron by unspoken consensus agreed to collapse, entangling their heavy limbs, and heaped like snoring piglets warming themselves one side of the campfire now hours later but embers, and a curl of blue smoke against moonbright night above whispering trees.
Only Alastor awake, so far as he could tell, himself far from wakeful. Ruler of nothing more than his cot dented in the yielding forest floor. Though happier than in many days: for this young son of his, his and Nyssa’s light, Drakon, snuggling under his arm.
Alastor kept the spy, this Donovan, under his other arm, tightly enough that he should feel it if the Vagari stirred. This one a boy, too, in his sleep.
Nyssa chose well, this Borysko. Laid out on his back, and alongside Drakon still as if guarding him, the big man soundless in his sorely needed sleep. Alastor allowed himself to muse, even while Scarlets likely ranged throughout the kingdom, and he ruled no longer: to muse on some meaningful gesture he might gift this one man.
And Alastor mused, because he wanted no sleep. Not this High Summer’s Night. Not with Drakon returned to him, and snuggling under his arm. And not when it was said the little forest folk played with the unwary they found. Sometimes stealing children away to their hidden homes in the shadows under the leaves.
Absurdity, that at last started him chuckling…
…Until she appeared.
Stealing from the night, from the trees, seeming the pleasing shape of an unclothed young woman. Inexplicable: deep in the forest all of a day and night from a town where young women hardly ever ran about as playfully under the High Summer’s moon, and certainly a magical thing.
She saw him. Knew he was not asleep as the others were. Her eyes shining like the moon. A smirk crossing her mouth. Alastor’s heart hammering in dread.
She started her mischief among the snoring adventurers, stepping lightly, like a ghost might. Took up first one wineskin, then one more: slung them round her neck.
Staring, then she came for him. Her gaze passed between Drakon – who Alastor now tightly held in both arms – and Borysko.
She knelt by his son’s protector, who might have been dead for he lay so still and quiet. Like a thing afraid of him, haltingly she bent close her body, her face to his.
Alastor dared no bark that might turn her aside. And her attention on his son. Tears welled over his eyes – the first in years – for he was powerless to stop her.
Then she turned from Borysko. And her attention on his son.
“Mine –“ she said, her hands scrabbling at his arms tight around him.
“NO, MINE – MINE – MINE –“
Beside them, a small relief, Borysko murmured, “Ur’ska”, like a man pining for his tavern girl.
And then the sky darkened above Alastor’s face. A great shape hung there, huffing hotly in his eyes. He saw the iron ring – comprehended here was ferocious Marron at last.
Reflexively but loosing one arm to save himself – Alastor lost his all. She prised Drakon away.
“You keep Borysko” – and she and Marron…simply vanished, in Alastor’s broken grasping of it.
He was alone. The weeping already begun. He felt no reason to stop it. He roused grumbles from the heaped adventurers, and stirred Borysko slowly up on his haunches. And the young Vagari spy, ostensibly too stunned by the King’s quite inconsolable bawling to escape.