The creature called Raif snuffled along the corridor floor, tail arched in expression of its curiosity. The ground here, it perceived, was not at all like the forest floor—it was flat, segmented and cold. It smelled of stone, but Raif had never seen so much stone in its canine memory. This whole strange new landscape seemed to be made of the stuff.
And thus, in Raif’s tiny brain, the Castle Carviliet came to be known as the Great Big Stone Thing.
At this moment, Raif was trotting alongside its new Friend. Its Friend had taken it to this place. Raif liked its Friend, and it liked the Great Big Stone Thing. A few minutes earlier, it had tried to claim the Great Big Stone Thing as its own territory, but it had received a swift smack on the muzzle for its trouble. This hadn’t hurt much; however, it had been enough to get the message through to Raif. For as long as its mind could retain a thought, at least.
The creature, which had been about to lift its leg on a convenient corner, abandoned the intent and slunk after its Friend with its tail curled up beneath it.
* * *
The arrival of the carriage had been forecast for six that evening, and Fiona intended to be there to greet it. The sky was darkening already.
“Come on, Raif. Stop wi’ the sniffin’ aboot, will you? Ye’re goina mak’ us late!”
Then she smiled at it as it trotted to catch up. She was quite proud of her work with the creature. Upon returning to Carviliet earlier that afternoon, she had taken it to the stables, where she had used a groom’s mane comb to brush its reddish orange coat, and now its fur was silky and smooth, catching the fading sunlight as they passed windows on their way down the corridor. It was a beautiful animal, there was no denying it, healthy and lithe, plump but not fat. There was a certain sort of majesty about it, the way its shimmering coat fit its body, puffing out at the shoulders and chest as if it were wearing a fur-trimmed cloak. Castle life would suit it fine—she could already tell.
There was a crowd gathered upon the lawns of the central courtyard, where the carriage would be landing. Every face was turned upward, eyes—a mix of both mismatched and typical—fixed on the northern skies, awaiting the return of the Alt-Mage and company. Fiona remained on the edge of the congregation, aware of the anxiety that the chattering mass of people might bring upon Raif. The creature didn’t seem to be overly fond of humans—Fiona was the exception.
After a few minutes, a shout rose up from the onlookers, and, squinting, Fiona could see the carriage approaching over the treetops. From this distance, it seemed a small dark splotch against the lavender backdrop of the sky, but as it came nearer and flew lower, it took on a recognizable shape. Soon, she could hear the horses’ individual wing beats and make out the sound of their heavy, snorted breathing.
Raif whined and cowered at her feet.