Oliana peered into the blackened wood. “Alright, I can hear her pacing over here still. I’ll try to introduce Dechar first.”
The night was dim at such a distance from the fire, but the four pairs of searching eyes had adjusted well with the aid of the moonlight. Dechar followed Oliana softly as she led the way to her horse.
“Hello, girl,” Oliana reached out and patted the mare on her snout.
Dechar was taken aback. Though the creature blended well with the darkness, he could see its striking pitch silhouette with wings resting at its side. Suddenly, Oliana’s claims about an invisible faerie were validated in his mind.
“I think I’ll name her Fia,” Oliana said with excitement. “Would you like to pet her?”
“Seems a little strange for me to pet something,” Dechar said, but he humoured her. “She’s gentle after all,” he remarked as the horse stood still for him. “I’m glad you found her, Oli. She’s probably much smoother to ride than I ever was,” he laughed.
“Well, she could never beat you for company,” Oliana hugged his side. She found her eyes watering once again and was glad for the concealment of caliginosity. “I suppose Keon and Ylva can come see her now.”
She called them over, and the horse allowed them to draw near. But when Ylva attempted to touch Fia’s coat, the mare recoiled with her ears pinned back.
“Well, she doesn’t like you, does she dear?” Keon smirked behind the piece of cloth he held to his bleeding nose. “Let me try. I’m good with horses.” Fia squealed and faltered back from his hand in the same manner as with Ylva.
“Something very odd about that horse. And I don’t mean the wings, obviously.” Keon said. “It only lets me touch it if I’m unconscious, I suppose?” he scoffed.
“She’s fine with me and Oli,” Dechar shrugged. “I can sympathize with her not liking you, but I’ll agree that it’s strange she doesn’t like Ylva.”
“Ah yes, that’s very funny,” Keon rolled his eyes sarcastically. “Well, I’m sure this horse is even more majestic in daylight. I’m going to get a taste of that venison. Not even magic water can keep a young man’s appetite at bay, I suppose.”
“I have to agree with that, as well. I'll go get some meat myself if it's all the same to you, Oli,” Dechar said.
"Of course, that's fine."
The boys began to walk back toward the firelight, but Dechar turned around after a moment. "Are you coming?"
"I'll be right there. You go on ahead," Oliana said, and Dechar turned away contentedly.
Ylva waited until the men were gone to speak. “Dechar and I will be leaving tomorrow, now that we’ve got access to the supplies we need. We’ll just add a canteen and a dagger to what we’ve been given for good measure.”
“Right,” Oliana looked down. “I’ve been told the healing water will lose its effect after cooling, so you can keep that in mind.”
“Thank you. And thank you for doing this. No offense, but if we were to bring a human into our lands, it would have complicated things incalculably.”
“None taken; I can only imagine.”
“But this reminds me, I need to ask Keon to teach Dechar to shave his face. That beard of his is not of the Dechi…. Perhaps it’s none of my business, so I won’t ask, but I am very curious of his origins.” She waited for a response, but soon realized she should not expect one.
The two of them rejoined the company in their celebration, anxious about what would come when the sun once again emerged in the forest.
“How does it look, Ylva?” Dechar asked charily. Ylva’s eyes rose to see Dechar’s smooth face for the first time. He was far more strapping than she had realized when his strong, angular jaw had been covered in scruff. Dechar noticed that her cheeks appeared rosier than usual, and they both looked down in sudden embarrassment.
“You look like a true member of the Dechi,” Ylva said. “Do you think you’ll be able to maintain that yourself while we look for my tribe?”
“I’m sure of it,” Dechar said.
“It’s not as easy as I made it seem,” Keon said, wiping off the blade on a rag. “Remember to be especially careful in your throat area.” He ran his finger across his neck in a cutting gesture and smiled.
Dechar swallowed, briefly reminded of the image of the man in the dungeon, whom he had left with blood streaming from his neck. He was ripped from his vision at the sound of Oliana’s voice behind him.
“You look so handsome!” she said. “There’s something I need to tell you, Dechar. I forgot last night, but it’s very important, and a bit private.” She looked at Ylva, who took the hint immediately and walked off, somewhat annoyed.
“What’s wrong?” Dechar asked, watching as Ylva left.
“When Keon was checking the wanted postings in Stromton, he found a sketch of you. They’re offering a bounty of five million raeds for your deliverance to the king. But they only know what you look like in wulfen form. So just be careful about how much time you spend as a wolf.”
Dechar paled. It was only a matter of time before Ylva would have to find out about his true identity. He shook his head. “I don’t want to endanger you. I’ll be cautious. And I’ll have to get used to being in this form most of the time, anyway. Let’s just say I’ve got a little more incentive now. If Gillireth wants my head, he’ll have to try harder than that.”
Keon butted in. “Aren’t you going to thank me for holding my tongue? We bandits would be living like royalty if we turned you in."
“You know, I might have thanked you, but I don’t appreciate people who try to rub things in my face,” Dechar’s eyes narrowed. “Anyway, I’m going to go check on Ylva. And before the next sun sets, we’ll be free of you bandits for good. Right, Oli?”
“Right,” Oliana replied, but she could not look him in the eye.