20: The Stronger ManMature

Zolan arrived in the woods as the evening set in.  Everything had changed.  His nephew was alive.  Alive, and a shapeshifter who had yet to learn how to resemble humanity.  He tried to wrap his head around it, but it would never make complete sense to him all that had surely gone through Calysta’s mind.  He had scooped the pup up in both hands now, finding that holding him by one was too heavy.  The now nameless wolf sat rather contentedly in his arms despite having lost his mother.  He began to lick the man’s face.

“Stop it!” Zolan hit him lightly.  He set the pup down on a large stone before him, restraining the infant’s squirms.  This is far enough, he thought.  As Zolan raised the dagger, he caught the pup’s innocent eyes again and heard Jarrah’s words in his head: A son whom will seal a great bond of peace between humankind and the Dechi.  The steadiness of his arm wavered.

The younger brother had always obeyed Gillireth’s commands.  He was the king, after all.  But Zolan had had a sense about his brother’s marriage, and the same boding feeling screamed in his mind now.  He could not do it.  He could not kill that which Fate decreed a savior of hope.

At length, he decided to bring the pup to Jarrah.  He knew where the old man was hiding; it was a small village only a couple of hours from the capital city.  He asked a guard on the outer wall to fetch him a horse, adding that he should tell no one, and galloped all the way to Henenshire.  His nephew seemed to enjoy the adventure and leaned over the back of Zolan’s shoulder to take in the wind’s many scents.

After asking around a bit, he was directed to the cottage where Jarrah was staying.  Upon knocking, he was surprised to be welcomed inside by a young woman with bright red hair and a pretty face.  She was surprised to find a man so royally dressed at her doorstep.

“Erm-- Hello.  May I help you… your highness?”  Her voice was as sweet as the pup’s honeyed eyes.

Zolan tried to conceal the fact that he was quite charmed.  “Zolan will do nicely.  I’m looking for Jarrah.  I was told he might be staying here.”

The woman’s eyes lit up.  “Oh, well in that case, follow me, Zolan!”  He trailed her through the cottage.  “I’m Aasta, by the way.  Your dog is so cute, if you don’t mind my saying!” she laughed.  “What’s his name?”

“He’s actually a Dech-- uh--”

“Deck-uh?” her head tilted.

“Dechar.  I meant Dechar.”

“Oh, well that’s a fine name,” she turned and patted the pup on the head as he yawned.  They had reached the den, where Jarrah sat reading a tome by the light of a candle.  Another middle aged man sat on the opposite side of an unlit hearth, bandages wrapped around his head.  

“Father, we have a guest.  Prince Zolan.”  The injured man looked over and nodded his head lethargically, not managing a smile.

Jarrah looked up from his occupation.  “Zolan?  What brings you here?  And what is that?” He looked down at the animal in the young man’s arms.

“This, well… we should probably speak privately, elsewhere.” Zolan said.

“These people are our friends, Zolan.  It will not hurt to let them hear what you have to say.”

The prince was tired after the events of the day and was in no mood to argue.  “Well, if you really feel that way, then I must tell you that the Dechi are shapeshifters.  They have been all along.  The queen is dead, and this is Gillireth’s son he told me to kill this evening,” Zolan blurted out.  “The Dechi are the greywolves.”

Jarrah rose to his feet and paced over to the wolf with a grave face.  Aasta’s eyes widened.  She knew her father had fought the Dechi and their warbeasts in battle.  It was the Alfar, however, that had rendered him handicapped.

“So Fate did not lie to me,” Jarrah looked down.  Then he added sharply, “Neither did she prevent this tragedy.  It will cloud my memory and dull my senses, but I have resolved to never consort with Fate again, Zolan.  What do you wish me to do?”

Zolan was shocked.  Jarrah had spent his entire life learning the ways of mysticism, and the prince had not thought there was a thing in the world that would keep him from using his abilities.  But he could see in the old man’s eyes an immense amount of guilt for the events that had transpired.

“It’s not your fault, Jarrah.”

“Perhaps if I had been better practiced--”

“No.”  Zolan placed a hand on Jarrah’s shoulder.  “This was Gillireth’s doing, not yours.  You’re the finest mystic in Eirethstead, but Fate will always keep her secrets.  It was meant to be this way, and there's nothing more to it.”  He paused before saying, “All I need you to do is keep him safe and hidden.  Give him some cow's milk to sustain him.  I believe he’ll fulfill your words yet, Jarrah.  He only needs the chance.”

The End

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