My sleep was disturbed before dawn by the sound of Ylva’s cry. I could see that she’d just awoken, shivering.
“What happened? What’s wrong?” I looked over at Maccon to see from his steady breaths that he was still fast asleep despite the ruckus.
“Nothing, I just…” Ylva sighed, then decided to tell me the truth. “I dreamt that you’d left us. That you’d decided to go back to Oliana without my help.”
“Is that all?” I had loosed my tongue before realizing the insensitivity of my statement. “I mean, no, I’m right here. I’m staying. I won’t leave you, Ylva. Not yet.” Seeing that she was still shaking, I felt a compulsion to draw near to her. I loosed the delicate flakes of snow from my coat as I strode closer.
“I want you to understand that what you’re doing is of the utmost importance, Dechar,” she watched me as I approached. “Not just for me, of course. But I don’t want you to be disillusioned into thinking that, once you defeat Rezso, you can return to a simple life as Oliana’s guardian. As the last true Alpha, you have the power and responsibility to unite the tribes, and that’ll be no simple task.”
My stomach turned as I let out a rushed response. “I think I should just take things one step at a time. Don’t you?” Having reached her, I bedded down right beside her. Our thick, insulative undercoats had served well to keep us warm and dry despite the weather, though I could tell the clothes around my neck had dampened.
“I suppose so-- what are you doing?” she cast a suspicious eye over at me, our noses touching accidentally for a moment.
“Uh. Just… if I sleep over here, you’ll know I haven’t left you.” I looked away in embarrassment and saw thankfully that Maccon was yet unconscious. “You’ll be able to feel my presence. It may help you sleep.”
“Fair enough,” she replied hesitantly. “I’m so thankful it was just a dream.” She rested her glossy white head on her forelegs and closed her eyes of blue.
I had another compulsion, this time to kiss her. I did so in proper wolf fashion, the only way I had ever kissed anyone. I licked her behind the ear, then became mortified at what I’d just done. Was that an acceptable thing to do in wulfen form? My heart raced when I heard her voice in critical reaction.
“Dechar,” she began. “You ought to know not to kiss a lady without first asking permission.” Her voice was so flat that I couldn’t read how she’d felt about it, and it irked me.
“If I had asked… would you have said yes?”
“Well I suppose you’ll never know now, will you?” I sought her face for a true answer. I was relieved and delighted as I found a smile gracing her lips. “Goodnight, Dechar.”
“Goodnight, Ylva,” I tried to mask the glee in my tone. Maccon snored lightly as I draped my head and neck over Ylva’s shoulders and closed my eyes.
“Ylva, wake up! Dechar’s brought us breakfast!” Maccon nudged her awake with his snout. I had risen early to go hunting and had managed to take down four rabbits by swiftly snapping their necks. I had always enjoyed hunting, as it was one of the few pastimes I’d had as a greywolf. I had used to always bring my catch directly to Zolan since he’d once scolded me harshly for eating a rabbit whole and raw in front of him. This reprimandation, of course, made a good deal of sense in retrospect.
But this hunt was something special I had done for Ylva, and I appeared before her in my two-legged form, shivering in my wet clothing and soaked head hair as I laid the rabbits in the snow in front of her.
At first, she just gazed at me, and I back, looking for her approval. She was larger than I was, being in wulfen form, and I felt small indeed. “I don’t know how to skin them, but I know you brought that dagger and--”
“Thank you!” she smiled. “Maccon knows how to skin them; he can walk me through it, and I can build a fire and cook the meat,” she said excitedly. “Though I feel underdressed. Let me go change into something a bit more practical,” she laughed. She seemed to have completely transformed her mood from the night before, almost coming off as light-hearted, a side of hers which I rarely got to see.
“You need to shave again, by the way,” she yelled behind her as she trotted off into the woods to shapeshift.
“Let me see!” Maccon walked up to me to get a closer look at the hair on my face. “That’s a bit disgusting somehow,” he recoiled. I frowned, now wondering if I had rubbed Ylva the wrong way. “Unnatural for the Dechi. I can see that human side of yours now. Strange. I can’t help but wonder how you’ll be recieved when the rest of the tribe knows exactly who and what you are. Does it worry you?”
“Worry me? I suppose I’m used to people having poor perceptions of me. For the most part, I really don’t care. Only certain people’s opinions matter to me.”
I looked at him in surprise.
“Don’t think I haven’t noticed that you’ve got feelings for her. It’s alright; I think she might just reciprocate, given time. I think my brother would be happy if he knew Ylva might end up with the true Alpha instead of him.”
I thought through what I would say next. “Do you think Ylva was in love with your brother?”
“I wouldn’t know,” he shrugged. “I always liked to think that they were in love, but then I always thought Ylva might be too intellectual for Liekos, as well. I know she loved him. I think she wanted to be in love with him, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she'd felt a bit trapped by the whole betrothal situation and not said anything out of respect.”
“Thanks for your honesty,” I told him.
Ylva came back in her half-soaked lilac dress. “Alright,” she said, rubbing her hands together for warmth. “Let’s find a place to get that fire started, shall we?”
The rabbit was dressed and cooked, and after our meal, we had meat left over for later on in our journey. I shaved my face in preparation for the unknown day ahead. We drank melted snow and warmed our dampened bodies before making tracks in the forest. It wasn’t long before we came upon a group of massive wulfen tracks that were not our own. Rezso and the tribe were closer than we’d thought.