7. Her New Companion
They had traveled all day and part of the night with Bryn’s orb lighting the path. The brothers had insisted they push on until too tired to continue. The gentlemen had made them and they wished to create as much distance as possible.
Titen had swung back mid-day to see if they were being followed. Sure enough Sir Arion and his friends were on their trail. Titen had slowed the gentlemen down by sneaking up on their steads and startling the mattath enough that the men had to halt in order to calm them down.
On top of traveling half the night the pack kept vigilant watch when they did rest. Bryn insisted on taking a turn on watch duty. While sitting up, and trying not to doze, she had an eye on the sleeping brothers that curled up together. She could not help but worry about Kai. It had been two days since they had seen him. It was unsettling that the brothers did not show any hints of worry.
Early the next morning, Bryn was ungraciously awoken by Lorn. She could not remember the dream she was having, but it was a pleasant one she was sure of that.
“Arise now. We’re leave’n.”
Bryn forced her heavy body into a sitting position, she could feel her greasy hair was a mess and tried to tie it back as her eyes struggled to stay open.
There was hardly any light on the horizon. Even the shadows were fading away.
All five of the brothers were fidgeting about nervously. Two of them were in their dog forms, sniffing the air more often than not. Bryn tried to follow their gaze and see what was hiding in the dark, but saw nothing in those woods.
“What’s happening out there? Is someone nearby,” Bryn asked after coughing. She needed water to moisten her throat.
“Someth’n,” Lorn replied, “Get ready.”
“Wait a moment,” Bryn protested, as Lorn bent over to be a dog. It was either too late or he did not want to answer her questions.
“Nudd,” Bryn called glancing around, he would answer her, except he had already bent into a dog. He glanced up at her with his obedient, rounded dog eyes.
“Tory,” Bryn whipped around to question the scar faced man. He had not changed yet.
“Bryn, leave’n now,” He ordered, before she could say anything.
“Why, what’s going on?”
The severity of that word made Bryn obey. Something had the brothers nervously pacing the campsite that was enough for her to worry. Without any more delay, she saddled Eyelag.
She swung herself onto the saddle the moment she was ready. Without any signal two of the dogs lead the way, being as silent as hunters as they kept to the worn path. The remaining three were on Bryn’s tail, being just as stealthy. Even Eyelag was padding softly, almost as muffled as the dogs around him. Bryn bent low over Eyelag’s neck, as she kept an eye peeled towards the darkness. It was growing lighter each second, but not fast enough. She started to see the shadows all around her and some of the shadows were moving; following them.
They travelled like that for a few minutes before Bryn heard one of the dogs behind her give three dampened barks. It signaled the leading dogs to pick up the pace. The shadows around them slowly formed into shapes of large ghostly beasts. The pack was being stalked.
Bryn drew her pistol from the holster, keeping her finger off the trigger as she held it at her side. She wondered why the shadows had not attacked yet. That question held fast until she observed the reason was because their pack was on the move. The attackers had no opportunity to mobilize.
It all broke suddenly. Bryn hardly knew what happened until it was right in front of her. Something lurched at Eyelag and snapped at his front heels. It made the mattath veer away and break off from the procession. The next moment they were being attacked from all sides.
She hardly aimed her firearm before squeezing off a shot, at whatever it was that came at her.
Eyelag bore his great muzzle at a wolf that was charging him. The wolf did not stand a chance, Eyelag ripped it to shreds.
A cougar sprang on Eyelag’s back and caused Bryn to fall to her side, she almost lost her pistol in an attempt to get away from the swiping paws. The giant cat, stayed clung to Eyelag, causing the mattath harm. The next thing she knew a dog was crouched beside her, baring his fangs at anything unfriendly that tried to get close. The wild dog attacked two coyotes that came around Eyelag. The dog-brother fended them off skillfully not letting them surround him or go near Bryn.
Bryn rose to her knees unsure if she should try and stand. She could hear fighting all around. It was like an animal war. As it was happening Bryn realized Kind Kae had warned her about this. That someone was sending people and animals after her.
Bryn fired off two more shots. The first wounded a small mattath. The second only scared off a coyote and grazed his partner.
Eyelag had shaken the cougar, except it sprang on him again and clamped its jaw around the gruff of Eyelag’s neck. Two of the brothers circled around to help defend the mattath, dragging the cougar off with fangs and claws. Animals were coming from every direction and they did not stop.
Bryn was praying and reading to aim her reloaded gun, when she spotted out of the corner of her eye a glow and a flickering between the distant trees. Before she could comprehend what the light was, another beast caught her eye. It was a wolverine. He sprang from the circle of attacking beasts, straight towards her. Bryn celebrated Kai’s return for a moment. Until she observed he was not the right wolverine. Kai had a white strip at the base of his neck, whiel this one was all black. Also, Kai would not charge at her with bared teeth, and deadly intentions gleaming in his red eyes. Bryn backed away, hesitating before planting her feet and lifting the pistol.
Bryn fired off a shot that missed by a hair, whizzing over his head. In her fright she did not notice yet another wolverine springing from the shadows, gaining on the first. This wolverine pounced upon the first one’s back and began to snap at his neck viciously. The two tangled each other in claws and teeth. This one was definitely Kai. The wolverine used brute force to push his way out from under Kai, and turned tails to flee. Kai did not let him go so easily and pursued.
As this was happpening the light, Bryn had seen, was still approaching rapidly. With the light came a small black mattath that joined the fray. The light came from a torch, the rider on his back was holding over her head. Bryn’s mouth dropped open when she saw the rider was a young girl, with goggles pulled over her eyes.
“Bryn,” The rider called out with excitement as she waved the burning torch high over her head.
“L-l-Lidia?” Bryn had to force the words to come out.
The rider had the biggest grin on her lips, despite the turmoil all around her. As she made her way to Bryn she waved the burning twigs and branches in front of any beast. Lidia sprang from her saddle, letting the mattath fend for himself. She then ordered a dog that was at her side to stay close. Bryn recognized Burnt’s fur coat. It snapped and barked at anything and everything. As Lidia walked over she smacked a badger with the torch sending the creature fleeing with a violent hiss, it’s fur singed. She tossed the torch after that, it had burnt down enough that it was almost useless. Eventually Lidia made her way to Bryn and they clasped arms, it was too gory around them to fully embrace.
“What are you doing here,” Bryn asked with concern.
“I was looking for you, silly. I wanted to surprise you. Now we’re both surprised,” Lidia replied in an amused sort of way.
While Bryn reloaded her pistol, she saw Burnt push straight towards one of the brothers, his bloodied muzzle ready for a fight.
“Lidia,” Bryn shouted over her shoulder, dropping three bullets on the ground, managing to only stuff two in the slot holes, “Call your dog to you. He’s going after one of mine!”
Lidia lifted two fingers to her mouth to deliver a shrill, sharp whistle. Burnt turned back to obey, just to be smote by the brother that had noticed Burnt approaching.
“Oi,” Lidia exclaimed, flying to her dog’s aid. Unsheathing her cutlass, as she swiftly charged the dogs.
“No, Lidia! Don’t hurt him,” Bryn tried to grab at her sleeve but Lidia slipped out of her grasp. Bryn even tried to follow, but was stopped by the burnt badger that Lidia had hit. Bryn tried to shoot it in the eye, but it did not yield much damage, another shot did scare it off though.
In the meantime Lidia was filled with too much protective rage to hear Bryn’s protests. She ran to her dog’s side, raising her blade to the wild dog that was snarling at Burnt. The blade came to a stop midair, when the wolverine Kai pounced out of nowhere, standing between the girl and his brother.
Bryn’s heart leapt in her throat as she ran towards them. Kai could seriously injure Lidia with one blow.
“Lidia, Kai, Don’t,” Bryn screamed. As she approached she saw that neither of them moved. Instead, Lidia looked the wolverine in the eye, her cutlass poised to swing. She dropped the blade to her side and relaxed her tense muscles.
“I understand,” Lidia was saying, as Bryn stepped beside the younger girl, “He’s your brother?”
Kai firmly nod. Without a second glance he moved away to help chase away the remaining foes.
Lidia dropped down to examine Burnt’s bloodied shoulder. Leaving Bryn standing there speechless and wide eyed.
“What a mess.” Lidia muttered. She ruffled her dog’s head. It was not too serious a wound. He could clean it himself once they had settled down.
“Waste of good meat.” Lidia said as she stood again, sheathing her weapon, and observing the dead around them. “Do you think we should get away from here before we talk—what is it,” She noticed the odd look Bryn was giving her mid-sentence.
“What… How… So many questions,” Bryn sounded aggravated and helpless.
“Yes, I can imagine you are confused,” Lidia tried to hold down a smirk, failing miserably.
“Bryn,” Muir softly said almost timidly, bringing both the girls back to the situation at hand.
For half a second Bryn was alarmed. She did not know how she was going to explain to Lidia about these dogs turning human right in front of their eyes.
That half a second was gone when Lidia spoke, with a light hearted giggle, “I’m never going to grow used to that,” She smiled at Muir, who did not know how to react to her.
“What do you mean by that? Have you seen this before,” Bryn asked, astonished.
Lidia pushed up her goggles to rest on her forehead and sheathed her cutlass as she answered, “The quick explanation is that I found Kai, or he found me. He was hurt as a wolverine fighting off a cougar that had been stalking me, while I had no idea. He turned into a human so I could tend to him. I managed to make him tell me that he had found you in a shed one night, where you had been sleeping, that him andhis brothers were searching for you. It has all come together like providence, all of us meeting as if we were supposed to.”
Bryn hardly heard Lidia’s last words as she whipped around to glare at Kai, who was human and smearing blood from his stubble chin.
“That was you in the shed,” Bryn accused angrily, “You were the one that scared me so much I could not sleep the rest of the night, and you gave me nightmares!”
Kai stared blankly at Bryn, not understanding what she was speaking about. A slight gleam lit his eyes when he understood. His only response was to shrug casually, as he said, “We were look’n for ya.”
Bryn sneered at him.
“How d’ya know each one,” Lorn interrupted Bryn as he stepped in between Kai and her.
Bryn had to take a breath before she could make the introduction. “Everyone, this is Lidia Balaur, my little sister.”
Lidia gave a small wave towards the brothers, with her most friendly and sincere smile.
Bryn introduced each of the brothers to Lidia one by one. While giving the names Bryn spotted the unmistakable deadpan look on her sister’s face. Lidia was not going to remember those names and who they belonged to any time soon.
After the five brothers gave Lidia the look over, as if they could know if she was trustworthy just by observing a person. Gathering in a huddle they began talking among themselves. Lidia gave a glance towards Bryn. Her older sister could only shake her head, unsure what they were discussing. It went on until Kai made his way to the encircled brothers.
“We’re leave’n,” He instructed. Bryn was startled when he spoke again, he did not speak often enough.
His two words said a lot to his brothers. Without a word of argument the dog brothers accepted his decision.
“Oh, yes,” Lidia blurted out, as if Kai’s voice had reminded her, “There were fancy men behind us when we found the path. I don’t know who they are, but Kai really did not like them, he kept snarling back at them as we hurried on to outstretch them.”
“I’ll explain on the way,” Bryn hurriedly replied.
Lidia nodded accepting that answer. Being around Kai had made her exceptionally patient.
Lidia searched the area with her eyes. “Where did Nimble go? He’s my mattath.”
All six of the brothers pointed upwards and to the right. The sisters followed their pointed fingers with their eyes to see Nimble half way up a pine tree. The fighting had frightened him enough to scale a tree to safety.
“He is such a coward,” Lidia muttered, before raising her voice, “Nimble, come down!”
It took some coaxing, and bribery of food, for the mattath to obey, even if he was being weighed down by her saddle and bags.
Eyelag was still nearby. He knew better than to leave the dogs side when in a fight. Bryn had him readied in moments.
The brothers bent into dogs and wolverine again, causing Burnt to bark uncontrollably. Not even Lidia could quiet him; he was too riled up from the fight. Lidia had to pet one of the brothers to show Burnt she trusted them. Satisfied he followed obediently and they were all off at a fairly quick pace, even though they were all tired and some of them injured.
Once they had settled on a pace, the sisters could ride side by side, since Nimble was small enough to squeeze beside Eyelag on the path. Bryn went first and explained who their pursuers were. Lidia listened patiently and was clearly displeased at how unreasonable theses gentlemen were acting.
“Interesting men,” Lidia said with mockery, once her sister had finished, “They sound like desperate ex-lovers that can’t let you go.”
That made Bryn giggled, “I suppose so. Now it’s your turn. How did you think to follow me here, and why are you alone?”
Lidia took her time to reply, preparing herself for a long explanation. “Once our mama and papa decided we were going to travel to the dozen rivers, I was not so keen on following. Once I told mama, she produced the idea that I could join you and grangran—by the way, I almost forgot to ask where grangran is, but we can come back to that—papa arranged for me to travel with our cousin Julo as far as Quant Town, where you were supposed to be. He left me there on my own, because he had to catch the train to meet with some friends. I scoured the city looking for you both, until I heard from a train conductor that a girl named Bryn had boarded the train going north towards the mountains. He told me where you departed. So, I set off to follow your trail, until I found Kai who led me to you. Now, here I am.” She stretched out her arms, so that everyone could see she was there. Once she had dropped her arms she went right to what she had wanted to ask. “Now it’s your turn to answer my question. Where’s our grangran? Did you leave her behind somewhere?”
Bryn took a deep breath, “Lidia, we lost grangran a while back.”
Lidia was silent a long stretch of time. It was not grief or shock plastered on her face.
With disbelief and disappointment Lidia said, “You misplaced our grangran?”
“That’s not what I meant,” Bryn desperately exclaimed, “Grangran died. The same day I received mama’s letter. Her illness was too much for her to handle.”
Lidia did not react, she looked straight ahead at the dogs in front of them. Bryn glanced over many times, but there was no expression on the young girl’s face. She did not shed a tear, she did not ask for details, she just stared ahead, absorbing the words. Bryn let her ponder it, although after some time she began to worry. Either Lidia sensed it, or she had her fill of being in a trance state. It looked as if she was pulling herself out of it, tugging away to look Bryn in the eyes.
“What happened,” She asked without emotion.
Bryn explained every detail of the day, even her mysterious memory loss. It explained why she was so hard to find. It felt comforting to Bryn to let out everything that had been bothering her. Now she had someone to share her burden. Lidia did not have anything helpful, to contribute to Bryn’s situation, but she was listening and concerned with Bryn’s decisions, that was all Bryn needed for the moment.
Lidia was still brooding over the news of their grangran. It would take time for that to sink in. The fact that Lidia did not shed a tear impressed and disturbed Bryn.
After Lidia had her time to think and let the news settle, slowly the conversation turned to other topics. They spoke of everything under the sun, and went on like that until Bryn mentioned Kae the selest in passing.
“Did you say Kae,” Lidia abruptly said, unintentionally interrupting her sister’s story. “As in Kind Kae, the selest?”
“Yes, why do you ask,” Bryn thought perhaps her sister had an encounter with him as well.
“Because, you met a seles,!” Lidia exclaimed, mesmerized, “What was it like to meet one? Was it as scary as we thought it would be? What was he like?”
While they spoke Bryn and Lidia noticed the brothers were glancing up at the two of them every once in awhile. The dog-brothers were getting extremely close to the mattath, and were almost getting stepped on. They had been listening to the sisters talk the entire time, but now they were really trying to hear.
“You’ve never met him?” Bryn turned back to her sister.
Lidia was confused as she spoke, “No, I never have, was I supposed to?”
“I guess not,” Bryn then went on to explain her encounter with Kind Kae.
Lidia let all that settle in her mind, and let out a little chuckle, “You know, a lot has happened to you the past month.”
Bryn sighed, “It does feel like that now.”
There was silence for some time as they trudged along. The girls wished to rest their tired throats and let their thoughts wander to many things.
Lidia’s own thoughts strayed back to their grangran, “Did you gather grangran’s belongings?”
Bryn lifted her coat to reveal the belt at her waist, “There was also a will and her journal. They are in my pack.”
“You have grangran’s stash-belt?”—That is what Lidia always called it—“I’m jealous.”
Bryn gave a gloating sort of smile, “You should have accompanied us, then I wouldn’t have been grangran’s favorite… What am I saying, I was always grangran’s favorite.”
Lidia laughed heartily, “If only that were true, I’m the loveable one, remember.”
One of the dogs in the front gave a sharp bark. Bryn was sure it was Lorn; he had that leader sort of trot.
“I think he agrees with me,” Lidia said sarcastically.
“I think he wants us to pick up the pace,” Bryn guessed.
“Or that could be it.”
The two kicked their mattath into a faster trot and hurried on.
The girls had no idea how close Arion and his gentlemen were. The dogs were aware, they did not like the closing in distance.