Natures Denied - Part IV

She was lost. Baerle still held her clothes in her paws over her chest, but since scrambling out of the skunk’s door, she had stumbled through the woods and run from the lights of town as she did not wish to see herself. Now it would not matter if she was dressed or not, for the darkness of the woods was so complete that even with her animal senses, she could only see the vaguest of outlines in the darkness. The massive trees were just wide chasms of a deeper darkness that she could not penetrate. Of herself, there was very little to see.

So finally, after so many aching interminable minutes of stumbling, the opossum finally collapsed in a heap against one of those invisible sentinels, letting her tears flow freely. The daze of the beer was wearing off, making the thoughts filling her mind all the more painful. She pressed her face against her shirt, trying to fill her nose with her own scents. But still, she could smell the skunk’s musk, and she could remember what he’d done. And more, what she had done and wished.

It was not the first time she had been with the skunk at least, there was that solace. Though thinking of the time she had cared deeply for him hurt her. Baerle closed her eyes tight, the tears still staining her cheek fur. She dried them with her shirt, but her paws shook the whole time she did so. She could still feel the sting on her cheek from where the skunk had slapped her, and the tenderness in her wrist from where he’d grabbed her, but those pains were insignificant next to the pain of what he had said to her.

And it was so painful because she knew that he was right.

By the gods, she had wanted it to be Charles making love to her. She’d imagined it was the rat and not the skunk that was atop her. She had dreamed it was his tongue that stroked her chest fur, his paws running along her sides, his tail that lay atop her own. She had imagined all those things, and in her drunkenness, had thought them to be true too.

She sobbed anew then, pressing her paws against her eyes. Would Berchem tell others that she fancied Kimberly’s husband? No, he probably would not. He had never told another of the reason he had kicked her out of his life the first time nearly six months ago. It just wasn’t his nature. It was not much consolation, but it stilled her shaking for the time.

But she couldn’t deny it now, as she stared into the darkness of night. That one word, that one exultation, that one wish had been upon her lips, and she had heard it with her own ears. She loved Charles. It was something she had known since the day they had first met, when he’d rescued her from the falling bridge. She’d known it when Charles told her that he was engaged already and she’d slapped him and fled home. And she had known it when she went to meet Kimberly, hoping that she could drive them apart.

Baerle was in love with Charles, a man who was already married. Not only that, but he was married to her very best friend. She loved Kimberly like a sister, and could not bring herself to ever hurt her. If Kimberly knew that the opossum wished to be in her husband’s bed with him, how would she react? She would be heartbroken at the betrayal, their friendship shattered. Baerle would have no home at the Glen.

Looking out into the darkness, she wondered where she could ever find a home again. The cold air was beginning to bite into her flesh, and she pulled her legs closer to her chest and the clothes crushed between them. She could just continue out into that darkness. There were more villages to the South of Metamor that were also cursed. She could serve as an archer in one of them, start her life anew. Perhaps even find another who might love her, despite what she could not do?

Despite the tears that threatened to once more pour down her face, and despite the darkness that surrounded her, and the pain she had left behind her, she could not force herself to move from that spot. She wanted to run, to run far away, but still, her paws kept her pressed against the bark of the tree. There was one thing that kept her from moving, and she could not deny what it was.


As she thought on the rat who had become her sister in so many ways in the last months, she realized that leaving like this would hurt her in worse ways than anything she had done so far. She’d have to go back to that house, to be the wet nurse for her children, to be around both her and Charles for quite likely the remainder of all their lives. No matter how much it hurt.

But she couldn’t go back like this, and she was not going to put her clothes on while she could still feel the touch of the skunk upon her. Slowly, Baerle managed to rise to her feet, her back pressed against the massive tree trunk to steady herself. It took a moment, but finally she was able to step away from the tree and into the darkness of the night. She could see a bit better now though, the faint light from the few stars that managed to penetrate the canopy overhead bringing a few details of her surrounding to her. She could follow her nose and ears far better though, and so followed her own trail back towards the Glen.

She stopped when she neared Berchem’s tree though. It took her several minutes to return that far, and most of her strength had come back by then, but still, she could not go there again. Instead, she began to circle around towards the western mountains. The hills became steeper and the trees and brush thicker almost immediately. She kept her clothes in her paws against her chest to protect them from the clinging bushes, but her legs were clawed several times by the brush.

Some of the canopy thinned out the further westward she went, until even the moon began to cast a silvery light upon the sylvan landscape. Surely the scouts would have seen her by now, but she did not care. Looking eastward, she could see smoke rising from the stacks of the Inn and from the brewery and the lights of the rest of the Glen laid out behind them.

Baerle continued on her course, swinging southeast then as the terrain began to slope downwards. Skidding on her paws in a few places, she made her way down the hillsides, avoiding the jumbles of rocks that jutted from the soil. It took her a good ten minutes to complete her way around, bringing herself to the western edge of the small lake that they used for their water. The moon shone bright upon it, and the water was still but for the trickling of the small streams that fed it, and the larger stream and dam where it emptied southwards.

Setting her clothes on a rock, Baerle glided down into the water, feeling the chill fill her bones almost immediately. It had been warmed from the day’s sun, but still, the mountain run off kept it near to freezing. She shivered as she rubbed her paw between her legs to work the fur of her thighs clean. She spent only a minute in the waters before she climbed back out and rubbed her paws over her fur to work most of the water out.

Still, she was bitterly cold, and so she took her clothes and rubbed them across her flesh, soaking up most of the water. By the time she felt that her fur was sufficiently dry, both her shirt and breeches were thoroughly soaked. Grimacing, Baerle tucked them back under her arm and began to climb up the path back into the Glen. It was not uncommon for Glenners to return unclothed from a swim, but it would still draw attention.

Let them look, she thought bitterly. Her face hanging in a detached moue, she scrambled up back to the town clearing itself, though she lingered along the edges until she found her way back to their home. The lamps were still lit inside she could see, though she could not see anyone through the bleary window panes. Circling around the front, somewhat relieved not to see any others about, she opened the door and slipped inside where it was warm.

“Baerle!” Kimberly exclaimed as she slunk inside, clothes dripping water upon the floor. “Where did you go?” the rat asked.”We were worried about you.” She was dressed in her nightclothes, standing in the doorway to the kitchen clutching a small cup of steaming tea.

Baerle was still shivering though, shook her head, feeling the tears from before coming back. “Come, sit by the fire,” Kimberly beckoned, moving surprisingly quickly for a pregnant woman. She guided the opossum over to where the fire crackled, and bade her sit down. She then took Baerle’s clothes and hung them out on the mantle where they would dry. Before another moment had passed, a warm blanket was draped over her shoulders, and Baerle felt the first of the warmth begin to seep back into her body.

She was still crying though, she realized, and crying uncontrollably. Kimberly’s face was quite confused. “What happened, Baerle? What’s the matter?”

Baerle frowned and lowered her muzzle, shutting her eyes. “I’m so sorry, Kimberly. I’m so sorry.”

Kimberly sniffed and wrinkled her nose. “You were drinking, but you don’t sound drunk.” There was no disapproval in her voice, as she would often give Charles when he came home inebriated. “What did you do?” Kimberly leaned over a bit, and winced at the pain in her back.

Baerle shook her head. “I...” but the words were choked off by another racking sob.

But the rat reached down and stroked a paw between her ears then, brushing and straightening out some of her head fur. “Just take it easy. You don’t have to tell me now. You look awful. Did you go swimming?” Baerle managed a nod at that. “Well, you just dry here. Let me get you something warm to drink. Would you like tea?”

When Baerle nodded again, Kimberly passed over her cup. Baerle took it in shaking paws, but managed to lap up a few sips. “I just... I just... couldn’t stand to see you and Charles...” she broke off into sobs again.

Kimberly blinked in surprise at that. “Do you mean earlier? I am sorry we left you there with the stew. That was rude of us. I told Charles he should apologize too. He’ll be back later this evening. He had to go scouting along the road.”

Baerle felt a bit better knowing that Charles would not have been able to see her dash through the woods. But still, she shook her head. “No, that’s not it. I just...” but she could not find the words to describe it. There was just so much she had to tell, and no way that she could get it from her voice then.

Kimberly finally managed to sit down next to her, the smaller rat huddling close to her, smiling warmly as the glint of the fire brightened her eyes. “It is all right, Baerle. You are my dearest friend. I trust you to help raise my children too, I don’t think I can handle the bundle coming!” she laughed, and Baerle did a little too. “Just tell me what is wrong when you are ready.”

Baerle frowned, the worst of the sobbing finally passed her. She lowered her eyes again, unable to look into Kimberly’s. There was such trust in those eyes, and to know that she had betrayed that trust, and did so every day, whenever she looked at Charles, felt like a knife wound in her chest. “I did get drunk,” she said at last, frowning, “and then I went off with Berchem.”

“The skunk archer?”

“The same. We had once been in love, Berchem and I,” Baerle went on, finding her voice stronger now, though she still felt her throat catch. “But six months ago he cast me out of his life. You see, he wanted very much to have an heir, and I was willing to be with him. He was strong and assertive, and I wanted that. Even stubborn. I don’t know why I like that, but a stubborn man just makes me smile.”

She laughed bitterly then and shook her head. Kimberly patted her back, a concerned look on her face. Baerle took another sip of the warm tea, though she barely tasted it. “I was suffering from some belly pains and so went to see Burris to see if he knew what they were. He told me that he could heal the pain, but the damage had already been done.”

“Damage?” Kimberly’s frown increased. “What damage?”

Baerle turned her head and looked down to the rat. Her voice was filled with the agony she felt that day, and subtly every day after, “I’m barren, Kimberly. I cannot have children of my own.”

Kimberly’s shock was palpable, and she leaned closer, wrapping one arm about her shoulders. “That’s horrible! And Berchem cast you out for it?”

Baerle nodded. “When I told him, he dismissed me as if I had never meant anything to him.”

“And you went off with him again tonight?”

“Aye, I was drunk, and I needed something. He was drunk too and was only happy to provide. That is until I called out another’s name while we made love.”

Kimberly blinked at that but stayed close. “There is another you love now?”

“Aye. Berchem did not like that, and threw me out of his home. I had to wash him from myself before I could come back.” Baerle shivered anew at the memory of the pool. But the warmth of the fire and of Kimberly’s proximity stilled it.

Kimberly pressed her head against Baerle’s shoulder then, hugging as best she could with her pregnant belly getting in the way. Baerle leaned into it for several moments, simply trying to still her wild emotions with her friend. But what had to come next frightened her like nothing else ever did. She whispered a prayer to Artela that her friend might forgive her. The fire crackled as her prayer ended, and she could not help but wonder if that had been a reply.

After several moments repose, Kimberly lifted her head slightly, whiskers trembling. “You said that you fell in love with another? Does that also hurt you?” Baerle nodded then, cradling the cup of tea in her paws tightly. Her tail curled firmly around her legs, the end tightening about one ankle. “May I ask who?”

Baerle sucked in her breath, and in the barest whisper said, “Charles.”

Kimberly blinked, ears turning forward. “I’m sorry, I didn’t quite hear you. Who is it?”

Lifting her head, tears standing in her eyes as she met Kimberly’s, the opossum repeated that dread name. “Charles.”

Kimberly sat for a moment, her jaw lowering in surprise. Her eyes blinked, the moment of horror in them replaced with confusion and uncertainty. Almost instinctively, she drew back from the opossum, her paws stiffening only an inch from her friend. “Charles?” she asked at last, her voice almost strangled from her throat.

Baerle hung her head and nodded. “I’m so sorry, Kimberly. I fell in love with him when he saved my life during the siege. He never told me about you until it was all over. I... I wanted to meet you after you both came back to the Glen so I could drive you apart. I did want that until I met you, Kimberly. I cared about you, and I could see why Charles loved you so deeply.”

“You love him?” Kimberly repeated, still in a state of shock. She drew her paws back to herself, but did not move from where she sat.

“I have tried to banish it from me for four months now, but I cannot. Every time I try, every time I think of being with another, his face comes back, his voice, his name. But I love you too, Kimberly. I don’t want to hurt you or him. You are so special to me. I was wrong to leave the way I did tonight. I was selfish, and I should not have done that. I wanted him so badly I was willing to bed another and pretend it was him.” She pressed her paws to her face and the tears flowed once more. “I’ve never been so ashamed!”

Kimberly sat still for a moment before reaching out one paw and resting it upon Baerle’s back. “Baerle, I...” but her voice fell away, a quiet whispering against the weeping of the opossum. Still, the rat held her paw at her friend’s back, leaving it there to steady her as she cried.

Baerle could feel that paw, but could not understand why it was there. Any minute now, she knew that she should be cast from this house and asked never to return. What wife would dare have another woman in her home that was also in love with her husband?

“Baerle,” Kimberly began again, her voice soft, and uncertain. “I still care for you. I don’t know what to say though. You have been a friend to me for so long now, but to hear this? I am... confused. I need to sleep and think. So should you.”

Baerle lifted her face from her paws. “Do you want me to leave?”

“No,” Kimberly shook her head. “No, do not leave. Sleep in your room tonight. Do not speak of this to Charles. Let me speak to him first. Do you need any help?”


“Getting to your room?”

Baerle shook her head then, choking back her sobs. “No.” Kimberly did not seem angry with her, and she could not understand why. But then again, she had never been this distant either. “Do you need help?” she offered.

The rat nodded slowly, holding up her arms. Baerle came around behind her and hoisted her back onto her hind paws. “Thank you, Baerle,” she said politely. “Sleep well. You may keep the tea.”

Kimberly turned and went back to the doorway. She pushed past the tapestry, but turned at the last moment. “Please do not disturb me. I care for you Baerle, and I do not want to hurt you, but I need to think.”

“Sleep well, my lady,” Baerle said, lowering her head. Kimberly frowned a bit, and then let the tapestry fall back into place. Turning, the opossum carried both tea cup and blanket up the narrow winding stairs that led to the next level. There was but one lamp lit still there, and she carried it with her into her room. Laying the blanket down in one unused corner, she set the tea and lamp beside her own pallet, and then laid down.

Strangely, curled in her own bedsheets, it did not take long for her to get to sleep.

It struck Charles as odd that even though he had been the last to finally lay down to sleep last night, he was still the first to rise in the morning. His body, especially, his legs and arms were sore from all of the riding yesterday. Groaning audibly as he slipped from underneath the heavy blankets – which were beginning to grow too warm for the season – he looked to his wife, but found her with her back to him, curled up and face pressed tightly into her pillow.

“Good morning,” he said in a half whisper, but she did not respond. She hadn’t responded when he’d wished her a good night either. He frowned. . It wasn’t usual for her sleep so soundly and for so long.

After dressing – he’d no desire to repeat yesterday morning’s fiasco in the kitchen – he went into the main hall and stared ruefully at the clock Misha had fashioned for him so many months ago when he’d still been living at Metamor. He missed all of his friends there, especially his fellow Longs, though scarcely a week would pass when one or two would not drop on by after a mission to the Dike or beyond. The last had been Meredith the bear, whose strength had recovered enough that he’d picked both Charles and Kimberly up in his arms at the same time after managing to squeeze through the doorway. He smiled at the memory, at least until his eyes snapped back to the clock.

It was a quarter till ten, and Erick had said he expected Charles out in the field for more training by thirty after ten. Unless Baerle had already prepared something for him, he’d have to break his fast at the Inn. But, he realized as the soreness abated in his limbs, that the only sound he could hear in the house was the ticking of Misha’s clock on the mantle. Disquieted, the rat poked his head into the kitchen and saw that it was empty. He strode up the stairs, and saw the door to Baerle’s room was closed. Leaning against the door, he pressed his ear to it, and could hear the quiet breathing of a sleeper.

Returning downstairs, he wondered how both Kimberly and Baerle could still be asleep. He glanced at the clock again to see if he had only imagined the lateness of the hour, but it had not lied. But it was then that he noticed Baerle’s clothes draped over the mantle as if put there to dry. He stepped over and rubbed the fabric between his paws. They were dry, but his nose caught some scent upon them that was more than just the opossum’s. Leaning forward, he brought them to his nose and sniffed a few more times. Grimacing, he realized the faint lingering scent was the acrid musk of a skunk, laced with quite a bit of alcohol. She must have gone to Lars’s then.

Still, after Kimberly and he had finished making a mess of their bed, they’d emerged to find Baerle had left all three bowls of stew and gone outside. He’d not found out where either, and he’d promised Kimberly that he would apologize to the opossum for being so rude. And he did feel ashamed. She had gone to a great deal of trouble to make dinner after all. He was glad to know that she’d returned at least, though it must have been later than he’d thought if she were still asleep. Then again, if she’d had too much to drink, she could be sleeping in very late indeed. Perhaps she’d need a bit of the foul draught that they forced him to imbibe whenever he’d been generous with his libations the evening before.

He stepped over to his writing desk, one of the few things he had taken from his own quarters back in Metamor, that they’d set against the wall adjacent to the kitchen. Opening the lid, he pulled out a piece of parchment and a quill. After tapping the ink a few times, he penned a quick note to both the women so that neither would worry when they woke and found him gone. He then put the ink and quill back, and left the note upon the small table between the circle of couches.

Charles then removed his tunic and lifted the mail shirt from the armour tree that Saulius had brought for him. He slipped it over his head, feeling the familiar links slide into place. He winced as patches of his fur were caught in them and pulled, a few even pulled out. But he wore the undershirt for a reason, and so most of his body was spared that torture. Satisfied that the mail was in place, he pulled his tunic back on over top and quietly left his home.

As was usual for that time of the morning, most of the Glenners were already well into their day’s activities. Charles did not see Sir Saulius out on horseback, though the posts he’d set up for the run were still there. He did however see Lord Avery walking about unattended. The squirrel was greeting all by name as he passed, as was his custom. In fact, he seemed to be spending a few moments talking with everyone, which was hardly unusual for the rather unprepossessing noble.

Waiting until he had finished speaking with one of the other scouts just returning from their watch, Charles approached the squirrel with a wide grin on his face. Brian saw him and walked over, long tail lashing behind him, the end as always curled up behind his head. “Ah, good morning, Charles. Or should I say, Sir Matthias?”

The rat laughed warmly then as he nodded his head respectfully to his liege. “You will be calling me that if Sir Saulius has his way. I’m going to take my meal at the Inn presently. Afterwards I will once again be practising as his squire.”

Brian nodded thoughtfully, arms crossed before him. “You must be tired. I know you were watching the road late last night. You retired sometime after midnight, yes?”

“That’s right.”

“Well, as you are now Sir Saulius’s squire, I will have your responsibilities for scouting lightened so that you may spend more time training. We’ve enough men to keep watch now. If you take shorter shifts we will not suffer.”

Charles frowned. “I enjoy being able to keep watch, my Lord.” Though Brian did not insist on any using his title, most did whenever speaking to him as subject to liege.

Lord Avery smiled. “I know, and you’ve Garigan to train still. You will be able to do all those things still. And should you need to attend to any Long business, I will be sure to explain the matter to our good knight. But you do have a title to defend, and I for one will not miss such a gallant occasion.” He looked wistful for a moment and offered Charles a slow smile. “In my father’s day, we did have some knight’s here at the Glen. Never many but some. It is nice to see a run again here in my demesnes.”

Feeling somewhat trapped, Charles began to grouse, “Does everyone want me to be a knight? Ah well, thank you, my Lord. I should get something to eat.”

Patting him on the shoulder, Lord Avery walked past, a trilling laugh in his throat, “You will do fine, Charles. Enjoy your meal.”

Charles continue don his way then westwards through the Glen. It took him only a minute to cross once more into the Inn. Jurmas was not immediately visible, but James the donkey was wiping down some of the tables. His long ears turned at the sound of the door closing, and his head followed a moment later. “Charles!” James cried out in delight. “Is there anything I can get you?”

“Whatever meal you’ve ready this morning would be fine.” Charles looked but did not see anyone else present. He sat down at the table nearest the kitchen entrance. “Where is Sir Saulius?”

“The knight?” James asked after a moment. “I think he is out riding in the mountains. He ate an hour ago at least. One moment and I will return with your meal.”

“One moment more if you please,” Charles said, smiling warmly to his friend. “Will you be finished here soon?” The donkey nodded, long tail flicking back and forth. “Good. When you are finished, will you attend to chores in my home? Both Baerle and Kimberly were still asleep when I left a short while ago.”

“And that’s why you’re here to break your fast,” James reasoned with a nod. “Certainly. I’ll be finished here by noon. How are they?”

“They’re well enough I suppose. I didn’t wake them to ask. They should be up by noon though. I left a note, so they will not worry after me.”

James stood up from wiping down the table and offered him a lop-sided grin. “Practising to be a knight again today?”

Sighing, Charles forced himself to smile. “Aye, that is it exactly.”

“You’d make a good knight,” James offered.

The rat sighed once more before asking his friend for the meal.

Kimberly had not risen at all that day, and it was nearly noon. Baerle had risen late herself, the sun already high into the sky before she’d climbed out of bed. But when the opossum had crept to the tapestry that blocked their bedroom, she could hear nothing beyond. She could smell that Kimberly was still there, her scent was strong enough, while Charles’s was faint and led out the door. But Kimberly was quiet and unmoving. She had asked not to be disturbed as well, and so Baerle accepted the unmoving tapestry as something she could not disturb, though it pained her to look at.

And she was suffering from enough pain as it was. Apart from the injury to her heart, her head hurt tremendously. She had never had so much to drink before, and from the throbbing that bounced from one side of her skull back to the other like the Avery children bouncing between branches, she knew that she would never do so again.

She’d even taken the time to prepare the draught that Kimberly made for Charles when he’d come home drunk the night before. Charles was right. It was revolting.

But it did clear up the opossum’s head, and she was somewhat able to focus on matters of the home. She cleaned up her clothes left on the mantle from last night. Then, taking the dishes aside, she cleaned them and the pot she used for the stew. They’d not been touched since the night before. Several times as she scrubbed across their surface, her paws began to tremble. She’d take a deep breath, close her, eyes, and will herself not to cry again. And the moment would pass. Sometimes it took a few minutes, but it always passed.

But the scene from last night continued to play back inside her mind, seeing Kimberly there kneeling next to her, and watching her face draw back in on itself when the truth was told. When Baerle had spoken of her love for Charles, Kimberly had withdrawn, folding in on herself slowly but inexorably. And though she said she still wanted Baerle there, she had folded back into her room afterwards, and now, was so quiet, if her scent did not give her away, Baerle would have sworn that she was gone too.

Several times she thought about just leaving again. She’d even spent several minutes when she’d cleaned up her clothes simply staring at the door, wondering how hard it would be to open it and step outside. The answer came to her a moment later, as she found she could not even move one paw closer to that door. She simply stood, staring until she broke her eyes from it, turning her muzzle aside. Baerle could not leave. Not after Kimberly asked her to stay.

And what of Charles? She had said the words, and could no longer deny it even to herself. She thought of the rat, and felt the pain anew in her. She loved him, but it was an unrequited love. Was she destined to be forever unlucky in love? Her fingers began to tremble anew, and the bowl in her paws slipped. She tightened her grip, whispering a prayer of comfort to Akkala. She did not often pray to the goddess of healing, but if there were even a time she had need of her services, it was now.

Baerle was putting the last of the bowls away, when a knocking came at the door. Whoever it was did not wait for a response before opening the door and stepping inside. From the sound of a hoof tentatively set upon the wood, she had no doubt who it was. “Hello?” James’s voice called out. “Baerle? Lady Kimberly?”

Sighing, the opossum strode from the kitchen and looked at the inquisitive donkey who had slipped inside, the door still ajar. The day looked pleasant and bright outside. “What is it, James?” she asked, and was immediately abashed at how tired she sounded. There was an audible sigh to her voice. Her tail flicked back in forth in self-reproach even as she spoke.

The donkey looked a bit startled, the smile that had crossed his face disappearing, before slowly growing one more. “Charles asked me to come and help with the chores. Are you okay? You don’t look so good.”

She gritted her teeth. She did not need him here. Turning aside her head, Baerle waved one paw. “I’m... fine. Thank you for coming, James, but I can attend to everything. You should go back to your training.”

“But...” James began, his voice trailing off. His ears folded down at his sides, looking rather abashed and quelled. “I suppose you are right. I’m sorry to have disturbed you.” He turned then and clopped back out the doorway. “If you need me, Baerle, I’ll come back.”

She nodded then, but did not watch him shut the door. Returning to the kitchen, she found another bowl she could clean. At the very least, it kept her from noticing the way her fingers trembled.

Guernef still had yet to return. It was not uncommon for his Nauh-kaee keeper to be gone for days at a time. Most of the time, Abafouq welcomed his absences, as it gave the Binoq time to think and be alone. But he was always the happier when his keeper returned. Though they had lived in the same cave for five years now, there was that level of distance between two creatures of such different races that could not be breached.

But there had never been a time in all those five years that Abafouq longed for the return of the Nauh-kaee as he did then. After returning from his trek to the summit and discovered that the thaw had begun, he’d packed all of his belongings in preparation for the journey to Metamor. He’d even sent off birds to Qan-af-årael and their friend at Metamor informing them of his departure. But now, he had to wait on another sort of bird, and he couldn’t stand it.

Back and forth he paced. He walked the length of the cave, and then walked back it again. He’d managed to get some sleep the night before, but after making himself a meal, tidying things up once again, and inspecting his packs and climbing gear, he began to pace. Several times he’d forced himself to sit down on his pallet, but each time, only a few minutes later, as he stewed in his thoughts, he’d realize to his consternation that the walls of the cave were passing by him again.

Abafouq tightened his hands into fists, fingers digging into callused palms. Where was that blasted Nauh-kaee?

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