Raif liked this new creature, this Bearer of Food. Her voice was kind and gentle, and although it didn’t understand her words, it knew they must mean good things. She smelled nice, too, and her touch was as soft as her speech. She was scratching Raif’s ears now, right where the itch was, and Raif was quite pleased. It tilted its head to grant her easier access to the itch-spot and bounced its hind leg reflexively, letting out a contented sigh.
“You ha’e all sorts o’ beasties livin’ on you,” she remarked, running her fingers through its long, thick fur. “Yech!”
Raif thumped its tail again, apologetically, knowing it had been found guilty of some fault or another. Then it nosed her hand to encourage her to resume the ear-scratching.
The other, smaller two-legged creatures had begun to emerge, guardedly, from the trees once more. Their high chatter irritated Raif’s ears, and their sporadic, unpredictable manners of movement caused anxiety to flutter inside its gut again.
Raif growled at them.
“None o’ that, now.”
It recognized the scolding tone of her voice and shrank back culpably, cowering in the dirt before rolling onto its back to expose its white underside. She hesitated a moment, then rubbed its belly. That was nice, too.
* * *
She was taken with its eyes. They puzzled her, seemed out of place in its narrow, pointed features. And there was something familiar about them, too. She felt as if she had seen these eyes before—not only their shape and color, but the look in them as well. Innocent. Childlike. Eager to please.
And then it struck her: Raif had Seoc’s eyes.
Perhaps she had known this subconsciously from the moment their eyes had met. Perhaps that was why she had fed it, why she was petting it now. She didn’t interact so closely with wild animals under normal circumstances.
For a chilling moment, she entertained the notion that Raif was Seoc. But that couldn’t be so. Her brother was in Waelyngar—maybe escaping at this very moment—and whatever horrid things they might have done to him there, it seemed extremely unlikely that turning him into a fox-thing and setting him loose in the woods would be one of them.
Regardless, she couldn’t just leave it here. Perhaps it was the eyes, perhaps it was something else, but she felt strongly that the creature needed her.