When Claire awoke at the next evening’s sunset, it was to the feel of fingers gently stroking her long sleep-tangled locks. She smiled a bit at the touch, finally forcing her pools of green up to where Ash now reclined next to her, his own long raven locks dampening his bare chest above the towel that was his only covering after his own bath earlier.
“You didn’t stay over there on the floor inside the door all day, again?” she smiled up at him.
“There was more room in your bed today.” he offered his explanation with his own shadow of a smile.
She chuckled slightly at his words before moving to sit up before speaking again, “Well, since you are here, now…” she began with her own plotting smile as she tossed the cover away and moved to lean over him, spreading light kisses over first his neck and then chest.
“You don’t mind us being alone now?” Ash had to tease her as his arms easily moved to embrace her, his body already responding to her kisses.
“Did I seem like I still minded when we made love downstairs last evening?” she had to tease him back, and then accented her reminder by moving to straddle his hips atop the towel.
He couldn’t help allowing his own small chuckle as his arms embraced her even more tightly while her lips continued moving over the heated skin of his neck, “I thought you would be hungry tonight. You usually are, after…” his words died out as she pressed her hips even closer to the immediate arousal that was already made complete by the simple feel of her body atop his.
“I am.” she told him in a slight growl, pressing herself even closer to him, before finally parting her lips to sink those fangs deeply into his dark skin, his body at once reacting, and giving in to the ecstasy of her Kiss as his warm blood poured into her mouth once again.
Allowing him the time to recover from that Kiss, Claire smiled back at him as she finally moved from the bed he still laid back upon, and began dressing in another beautiful darkly colored gown for the coming evening, while waiting for him to regain any of that strength of his once more. Finally, once she finished dressing and took a seat at her vanity to run a brush through her long locks, Ash at last managed to push himself off of the mattress to reach for his own clothing, not able to hide his own slight smile at the way her eyes couldn’t help moving over him as he dressed.
He finished dressing and slowly moved towards where she had now forced herself to return her attention to those beautiful strands of black. He gently touched the back of her chair as she soon finished with the brush and set it aside, now turning her eyes up to him questioningly.
“Something wrong?” she asked him, trying to keep the worry out of her voice as he allowed his smile to make way for his usual serious expression.
“I’ve been meaning to speak with you, about something. But with Sean and Baila leaving, there did not seem a very good time to do so.” he swallowed slightly as she continued to watch his beautiful face as he spoke, “Then, after they left, I let myself become distracted, again.” he allowed another brief ghost of a smile.
“What is it, Ash?” she asked, attempting to keep the worry out of her own expression.
“A few nights back, while I was out hunting, I ran into another of my people. Well, a young scout from a different tribe, but still.” he began, taking a breath as he moved to take a seat on the nearby sofa instead of continuing to hover so close to her and the distraction she so easily caused in him at all times.
“I thought all of your people had gone further west, now.” Claire managed, trying to keep her tone light, rather than the worry that so often permeated it.
“Yes, most of them.” he offered as he ran a hand through his only still slightly dampened hair before continuing, “His tribe, it seems, took in some of the remaining members of mine, shortly after I came to stay with you.” he added slowly.
“I see.” she swallowed as she moved on, “Did they settle near here?”
“In a small patch of forest that still remains on the other side of the next town west of here.” he offered quietly.
Claire sighed a bit, as it was obvious to her that he was having trouble getting out whatever it was that he was trying to say, “Did you want to go see them, then?” she asked, her voice only trembling a bit as she spoke.
Ash sighed heavily, “You know I have no intention of leaving you, especially with Baila gone now as well.” he began with another breath, “The remaining members of my tribe may be there though. Possibly members of my own family, who I have not seen in…” he simply shook his head before beginning again, “I just worry to know who among them may still be…there with them now.”
“Ash, if you want to see your family again, you can. I won’t stop you. Remember, I even said we’d help you locate your father, if you wanted us to.” she reminded softly, despite her worry about losing anyone else from her life again, especially while still adjusting to the newest loss.
“No, my heart no longer cares for revenge against a man who wouldn’t even know why I wanted it at all.” he admitted, “I do still care for the other members of my family though, and wish to see if they are still well, considering…” he decided he didn’t need to add to that sentence.
“Like I said, I wouldn’t stop you from going to visit them.” she repeated, forcing a tiny smile.
Ash sighed once again before continuing, “Where they are though, it is more than one night’s ride from here. If I went to see them, I wouldn’t be able to get back to you before dawn. And you coming to their village with me, it would be…difficult.”
“I also seriously doubt that your people’s homes would really be very safe for me, once the sun rose.” she reminded, trying again to make light of one of the very few things in the world that could actually bring a permanent end to this new existence of hers, after all.
“But, if Baila and Sean are both still not back, and I go to see them….You would be all alone. I couldn’t leave you in danger like that.” he told her worriedly.
“Well, how near have they settled to that town you spoke of? Could we maybe stop and find shelter for me there? Then you could go and see them after the sun sets again? That could work.” she offered, her own guilt about her part in separating him from his people for so long, easily showing through in her attempt to help him reclaim at least a bit of that missing time.
“You think you could take me into a town, with you?” he returned with a pointed look of disbelief.
“Your people often serve as guides for mine, now. Remember?”
“Guides.” he scoffed, knowing that if any of his people traveled with the white man it was either as a prisoner or a slave, no matter what they actually called it in polite company.
“Well, that’s what we could tell anyone we run across, though. Plus, we would be traveling at night, so there wouldn’t be many of the townspeople to deal with at those hours, anyway.” she continued to try and formulate a plan as well as assure him of it’s success, at the same time.
“But you would have to be inside during the day. And I would have to be with you. A white woman, alone, with me, inside one of their inns…Claire, you know we could never convince them to allow that.” he told her sadly.
She swallowed a bit, and then looked up at him once more, “The same way they couldn’t be convinced that your people were gone, and to leave your tribe in peace all those years ago, you mean?” she asked him pointedly.
“You mean…” he began, creasing his brow as he thought on her words.
“Haven convinced an entire hunting party to leave your people be. We’re only talking about getting you into my room, at night, only past a caretaker or possibly a servant, if that.” she smiled at him.
“You think you could do that?” he asked her slowly.
“Remember, I am like Haven, after all. The spirits favor us, and do our bidding.” she assured him with her own little smile, reminding him of his previous statements, while attempting a new confidence in her own abilities, for both of their sakes.
As predicted, Claire did indeed have the ability to subvert the will of the old man who ran that town’s inn, even if she hadn’t also had the advantage of her arrival startling him from his sleep only a short while before dawn. Thanks to Claire’s controlling abilities, Ash did manage to make his way to the room with her that night without any kind of disturbance leading to a possible lynching, as he had first worried would be the case upon his arrival in town, with a white woman.
He stayed with her there during the day and then managed to leave there under the cover of darkness as the next night fell. Assured that he would return to her at dawn, even after seeing his people once more, Claire attempted to busy her mind reading over Sean’s latest literary endeavor as Ash rode off through the night to finally connect with his people again, and possibly even his family, once more.
She tried not to worry herself that the pull of his own kind and his old life would make him want to leave her side, even though she knew the bond would make him always choose her over anyone else’s desires, or even his own. Though that fact still did not alleviate her guilt at pulling him away from them in the first place. She sighed at that thought, continuing to read, and not yet aware of any other reasons she might have had to worry over his safe return to her. Though, that contentment would soon turn out to be painfully false one.
Upon arriving at their camp later that warm late June evening, he found that most of the men were out on a nighttime hunt. But any concern over not being able to properly introduce himself to their leader, quickly melted away when he did come to discover that a few members of his tribe were indeed living among them now. Included in those few surviving members were none other than Ash’s own mother and younger sister, who he greeted joyfully upon being told of them by the other tribeswomen and children.
Ash and his remaining family drank and celebrated their reunion late into the night before the hoof beats of the men’s horses returning could be heard through the night. Ash smiled back at his mother and sister and stood to greet the chief and the other warriors who were dismounting several feet off and readying their kills to be brought to the fireside where the women and children waited eagerly for the night’s feast.
Once the men began approaching on foot, laughing and reminiscing over the night’s hunt in their own native tongue, which was thankfully quite similar to Ash’s people’s language, a few of the men slowed their approach, causing the other’s to quiet as well. Upon nearing the firelight, the fiercest among them, moved forward through his companions, centering a dark gaze on Ash as he made his final approach.
“What is this?” was his greeting, in their tribe's language. Though Ash could still follow his words, as well as his cool gaze.
“This is the Apache I ran into several nights ago.” the young scout who had first made Ash’s acquaintance spoke up to make the somewhat strained introduction to their leader.
“No need to be upset, Black Wolf, this is my son, Hridayesh.” Ash’s mother spoke up, her own worry apparent at the obvious change in the other man’s demeanor and even in his breathing pattern, as he refused to move his eerily predatory gaze from Ash.
“Your son.” he returned, his voice making it obvious that he was not swayed by her words, just as his gaze did not waver.
“Yes, when my people left there, he stayed behind to try and find, his father.” she added, her voice dropping more than a bit on the final two words.
That was when the young scout, spoke again, “Yes, he is a half-breed, but he is loyal to his people.” he made his own attempt to quell the obvious distrust their leader had.
“He is worse than a half-breed.” Black Wolf responded in a near growl.
“Black Wolf!” Ash’s mother spoke up at once, placing a hand over Ash’s shoulder quickly to stop his pride from forcing him to react to such a statement, violently.
“I do not insult your son, Nizhoni. He is no longer your son.” the slightly older man stated as he took another threatening step closer.
“I do not know why you say such things, but I will not tolerate it.” Ash returned forcefully as he stepped from his mother’s grip to move a step closer to the other man as well.
“You…you are polluted.” he told Ash, an almost feral sound to his tone as he spat on the ground.
“Polluted? I may have white blood in me, but there is no love in my heart for the man who made it so, or any of his people, over my own.” Ash returned in his own near growl, telling himself that spirits such as Claire were not truly part of the race he hated so.
“It is not the white man who pollutes your blood…It is the Wyrm, and I will not tolerate that.” Black Wolf stated plainly, as his breathing sped up further while his muscles seemed to begin to stiffen and even move and change under his dark, smooth skin there in the moonlit night.
“The Wyrm?” Ash repeated, forcing his voice to remain strong as the other man continued his strange physical changes, “I do not know this word.” Ash managed, only taking a slight step back as Black Wolf doubled over with a snarl as his seeming transformation continued.
“It means evil, pure evil.” Ash’s young sister whimpered as she and their mother stepped back, their despair causing tears to begin pouring from their dark eyes, as they forced themselves to turn away. The others also stepped back from where their leader’s metamorphosis continued there in the firelight, some of them rushing to help pull Ash’s remaining family members away as sobs wracked both women’s bodies
Ash simply stood there, frozen in several dizzying forms of shock as Black Wolf finished changing into the very embodiment of his name. In a flash of motion that no human eyes could fathom, the hulking wolf that he had now twisted and writhed himself into, lunged at Ash in a flurry of growls, claws, teeth, and blood.