Maccon proceeded to describe to us all that had transpired in Ylva’s tribe in her absence. It seemed this 'Rezso' was an unforgiving opportunist, and one that had made finding the tribe an even more daunting task, so it seemed. It was explained to me that when an Alpha, or chief, loses a battle for dominance, he is banished from the tribe to be replaced by his usurper. The young Maccon had suffered this fate, but he had at least taken note of which direction the tribe had left when they became subject to a nomadic way of life. This, at least, was a clue. And Ylva's relief that her tribe was, in fact, still out there brightened her countenance with a more concrete hope.
“What if we do find them?” I posed. “I doubt that Rezso would just welcome us into the tribe.”
Ylva replied matter-of-factly. “No, of course not. If Rezso knows what’s good for him, he’ll see you as a threat.”
“Yes, you. You’re a very strong young male. But it’s alright that he’ll feel threatened; you’re going to battle him. And you’re going to win.”
“What? Ylva. I think you’re taking all this a little too seriously.”
“I quite agree with Ylva, actually,” Maccon butted in. “I’m too young to have stood much of a chance, but I believe he’s too old to stand much of a chance against you. And if Ylva thinks you’d make a good chief, she’s probably right.”
Ylva smiled to show appreciation of his confidence in her, but there was a sadness in her countenance. She looked over to me. “Liekos, my late betrothed of course, was Maccon’s older brother. He was expected to be chief of our people someday.”
“Maybe you could be chief in his place, then,” I suggested to her. They both looked at me as if I’d just eaten my coat.
“Firstly, we were not wed, so my connection to him presents no legitimate case. Even if we had been, the Alpha female is only defined as such through her connection with the Alpha male. When he dies, that connection is severed. There are no female chiefs in Dechi tribes.”
“They really messed you up when you got hit in the head, didn’t they?” Maccon asked, wide-eyed.
“Yeah well, if I remember correctly, my tribe had a female chief. Maybe you two are just out of touch,” I said, frustrated.
“De-- Look.” Ylva slipped. “You and I both know there are plenty of good reasons for you to fight Rezso. For instance, no one has more experience in wulfen form than you, and that’s how an Alpha duel is done.”
“He has?” Maccon asked curiously. “Why have you spent so much time in wulfen form? I’ve never liked it much, myself. It makes me uncomfortable to be in such a different body.”
“I know what you mean,” I responded, pulling at my tunic.
“This reminds me. You wouldn't happen to have a spare set of clothes, would you? Didn’t have time to grab any while I was fleeing.”
“Not unless you’d like to wear a tattered dress,” Ylva smirked. “You’ll get your clothes just as soon as Dechar--” she tried to mask having said my unusual name with a series of coughs. It seemed to work. “Just as soon as he takes back the tribe.”
I sighed. I didn't see an immediate way out of the situation; I couldn't let Ylva down after all this time. But in the same vein, even if I were to beat Rezso, I wouldn't be free to search for Oli once I became efficient in teleportation, and time was running thinner each day. I stalled. “Let’s just focus on tracking the tribe down first. Maybe Rezso will be more welcoming than we expect.”
Maccon replied quickly. “Alright. Glad we have a plan. Now that that’s cleared up, I’d like to point out the fact that I think I may have done something awful to my shoulder in the duel. And I’ve got several flesh wounds. And I’m also fairly starved. So I’m not going to be able to keep up much of a pace for long.”
He wasn’t joking; I’d noticed areas on his ear and back covered with what looked like dried blood, and his gait had looked strange when he first approached us.
“Here, drink some of this.” Ylva motioned to me to get the canteen out. I poured some warm water into her cupped hands, and she allowed Maccon to lap it up. It was entertaining to see his reaction to the water’s effect. Ylva explained vaguely enough that we had happened upon a healing spring on our way to Dechi country.
With that, we set off, following Maccon alongside the coastal cliffs that lined the beach. When we found a flat enough area to ascend back into the frosted hills, I took one last glance at the ocean, promising myself to return someday, perhaps with Oliana, when times would be better.
Maccon's voice broke the mood. “You know, we really ought to come up with a name for you, big guy. Ylva, help me come up with something.”
“I don’t really think he wants a new name, Maccon. He’ll probably remember his soon enough.”
“Well, it might jog his memory. Let’s see… What do you think of ‘Ulric’?”
“No,” I said reproachfully.