Ylva took a lady-like approach to entering the water. She gradually lowered herself in, cautiously keeping her head as dry as could be managed. Dechar, on the other hand, found a large rock from which he could leap into the pools. The splash thwarted all of Ylva’s efforts to stay at least partially dry. Dechar laughed when he saw what had happened.
“And here I thought you were a gentleman,” Ylva said, ears pinned back.
“They don’t teach wolves to be gentlemen,” Dechar retorted.
He found himself wondering where Oliana was. “Hey, follow me,” he told the she-wolf. “I want to introduce you to Oli.”
“Please don’t expect us to be best friends,” Ylva warned. “I’ve never really done anything but hate humans. I’m only making an effort for your sake... the sake of my tribe, rather.”
“Of course.” Dechar swam ahead of her, around the bend, until he saw Oliana pacing somewhat nervously on the water’s edge.
“Hey Oli, I found Ylva. She’s going to be travelling with us for a while, if you don’t mind.”
“Oh, and Oli, could you fetch our clothes for us? They’re behind some trees over in that direction,” Ylva added.
Dechar sighed. Here we go, he thought.
“Um, nice to meet you, too,” Oliana said sarcastically. “I can get your clothes, but frankly, I’ve got some very important things I need to tell Dechar in private first. And don’t call me Oli. Only Dechar does that. It’s Oliana to you.”
“Well excuse me,” Ylva snapped. “How exactly was I to know any better? And I’ve got some important things to say to you, too!” She rose out of the water, sticking her snout near Oliana’s face. “What exactly was your justification in treating Dechar like a slave? Anyone who speaks perfectly well, despite his form, has the worth of a man, wouldn’t you say?”
“Look, I…” tears welled up in Oliana’s eyes. Dechar was about to say something in her defense when she added, “You’re right.” She looked over to her long-time companion. “I’m so sorry, Dechar. I guess I never really had a second thought about the way I used you. You never deserved it. I think you deserve better than I do after all I’ve put you through.”
Ylva was as touched as Dechar was floored by Oliana’s humility.
“In that case, I’ll leave you two to have that conversation and get those clothes myself,” Ylva said, trotting away, strangely satisfied.
Oliana recounted all that Jarrah had told her of Dechar’s past. She had not gotten far when Dechar interjected. “You… you’re trying to tell me that the king… that fiend… is my father?” If he had been in human form, his face would have been pale as the moon.
“I… yes. You look a lot like him, actually.” She saw his face turn. “Like my father, really, is what I meant.” This did nothing to abate his alarm.
“What?” He knew that she was not referring to the hideous scar, but he still had to see it with his own eyes. “Can you look away for a minute? I want to see this for myself.” Oliana turned her back as Dechar shifted into a man. He gazed down at the still pools and a chill ran down his spine. The salt-and-pepper hair, the amber eyes, even the beard in the reflection did little to eclipse the strong resemblance Dechar bore to Gillireth. His heart jumped from his chest and sunk to the bottom of the deep pools. Ylva was right, he thought. But she would never understand if she knew this. He took on his wulfen form again.
“Let’s not tell Ylva about this, alright?”
“Oh. Alright,” Oliana said, turning back around. “Look at it this way: we're cousins, and you’re a prince!” She proceeded to finish her story. Dechar just wore a look of unsettled sadness by the end. He had had so much respect for Zolan, but he had difficulties trying to justify the measures the king’s brother had taken to keep Dechar’s secret from him. All the distrustful looks he had received from the clan members over the years made more sense now. It was not who had been, but from whom he had come.
“Jarrah knew it was important that he share this information with us. Do you know what this means for you? You have a prophecy to fulfill! I know Jarrah thought that I’ll be a part of all this, too. I haven’t sorted that out yet.”
“I don’t know about this prophecy, Oli. What if it was just a lie? I may have liked to think that I was special all these years, but I certainly can’t imagine myself as some great hero.”
“Hate to interrupt, but there’s something very unsettling happening on the other side of the spring!” Ghillie Dhu appeared seemingly from nowhere.
“Oh! Dechar, Ghillie says something’s happening. I think it’s Ylva. We should take a look.”
Ghillie jolted. “What? Maybe not. Forgive me if my confidence in your stealth is lacking, but it didn’t work out so well last time, and those thugs look dangerous,” he warned.
“Thugs?” She wanted to stop Dechar, but he was already disappearing from sight. “Dechar, wait!” she yelled, but it was too late. Against Ghillie’s insistence, she rounded the corner. She had just been reunited with Dechar, and she was not about to lose him again.
A wild scene was spread out before her. A band of dark elves, rogue Alfarian bandits, had encompassed Ylva and Dechar, who were both confined by glowing chains, their mouths bound with cloth. Ylva was clothed and in her human form, a defiant look on her face, while Dechar, on all fours, only showed concern for his dear cousin.
A blonde young human stepped out from the midst authoritatively, a crooked smile tainting his lips.