I awoke in my bedroom a week later. At first, I thought it all a dream. But I combed my bangs out of my face, tossing them behind my head and happened to feel the peculiarly short length of my mane. A glance in the mirror betrayed the reality of my adventures. They had taken me out of my traveller’s tunic but my hair was as wild as ever. My body now bore the red welts of healing lash wounds and I was surprised that I did not lament those detractions from my beauty.
My parents came hollering with relief into my room as they heard me dressing. I bore their celebration with a soft smile. It was good to be home.
Yet, as we embraced in reconciliation, I could not keep my eyes from straying out the window as though I might be able to sight him.
My father guessed before I could say it. “You want to see Bramwell,” he stated.
I bit my lip and nodded. I expected Mother to protest, but her eyes misted up and that was about it. As for Father, he saddled Catharine and we departed without a quarrel. I didn’t allow myself to think of anything but the verdant hues of the evergreen trees as we approached Tunic’s valley.
Ladd and Addie waited outside Tunic’s house. As we came into the valley, Ladd was chopping wood and Addie gathering eggs. They both ceased their tasks to greet us as we approached. I heard a scuffle across the valley as my presence was noted by another being – Tunic’s horse whined in protest to my presence and then galloped off.
For the first time in my life, I had no words for my friends. I gathered them in a tight hug, but released them far too quickly. They stepped aside and let me pass through into Tunic’s cottage.
I opened the door without knocking and stepped inside. My eyes jumped to his empty bed; I expected him to be still unconscious, but I found him seated in his chair.
He lowered the map he’d been inspecting as I came into the room. “Are we leaving Kennbridge again?” he asked.
I frowned. It was not the response I’d been expecting.
He rose from the chair and moved for the kitchen; he began methodically withdrawing contents from the cupboards and stowing them in his pack.
“Hey, hey, hey,” I called as I moved towards him. I stilled his hands with my own. “I’m not going to run away anymore,” I told him. “You were right; we do belong here in Kennbridge.”
“Well that’s a relief,” Ladd’s voice added from the doorway. I turned to my friend and saw his hand comfortably draped over Addie’s shoulder. She smiled up at Ladd, agreeing with his sentiment.
Tears threatened to overwhelm me as I considered my friends. Tunic – who was willing to chase me to the ends of the earth – Addie and Ladd – who stayed behind to clean up after me. After all I had done, I didn’t deserve a single one of them.
“Addie, your father…” I attempted an apology.
Her face softened and he eyes swept downward. “He died trying to defend us. It was an honourable death.”
“And it wasn’t your fault,” Ladd added, knowing my thoughts.
“You saved us,” Addie agreed.
They were being too merciful. “I’m the one who brought the monster here,” I confessed. “Tunic is the one who saved you.”
“And I would not have ventured out without you,” Tunic countered. “Whether the monster would have come or not; whether another half-elf would have defeated it; whether the monster would have been awakened again: these are questions we cannot answer. It is best not to linger on what might have been.”
“Truth,” Addie agreed.
I threw my arms around Addie and Ladd, letting my tears fall on their shoulders. When I pulled away from the embrace, I noted that I was the victim of some shared exchange. They looked from each other to me, each wearing a coy grin.
“What?” I asked.
“Well…” Addie began.
“We just…” Ladd added.
“I asked them a favour, assuming you will consent,” Tunic clarified.
I prompted him to continue. But, as per his usual reticence, he was not the first to answer. Ladd interrupted, “We assumed you would not long be content in Kennbridge.”
“And so Ladd and I are going to keep watching over Bramwell’s place,” Addie continued. “With Weston’s help.”
“At least for the weeks where Bramwell is gone,” Ladd replied.
“What are you talking about?” I pressed.
All eyes turned to Tunic. He removed his cap and ran his hand through his hair. The fine points of his ears poked from the long strands. “I thought you might want to come with me; that is, if you don’t have any other plans.”
“Will you just tell me what is going on?”
Tunic shrugged as if deciding to cease his coy explanation and just get to the point. “Well, as you know, my grandfather used to manage the dire wolf population in this area. Without his hunting it has grown progressively worse. And it seems that with Ezebel’s destruction of this area, the dire wolves are growing bolder.”
“So you’re going to hunt dire wolves?”
“Yes… But, I was sort of hoping you would come with me.”
My face turned red. I was blushing like a schoolgirl. Of course, I knew he enjoyed my company, but I would never have expected him to ask me to hunt with him.
“You see,” Tunic continued, “dire wolves were bred to hunt humans. They don’t attack elves or half-elves.”
I coughed. “Wait,” I stopped him. “You want me along as bait?”
A lopsided smile crossed over Tunic’s face and he shrugged.
“His hunting will be more effective if you’re along,” Ladd chuckled. “There’s no way a dire wolf can miss you.”
My mouth gaped as I failed to form a reply.
“You know what your problem is Nari,” Ladd pointed to me with a smile, “You remain ignorant to suffering in this world. You do nothing about it.”
I scowled playfully at Ladd, hearing an echo of my words spoken to him long ago. “Alright, I’ll be bait. I’ll be the best damn bait there is in the whole world. I out-boasted a faerie-dragon and now I’m going to rid the world of every last dire wolf!”
Author’s Note: To read more of Nari and Tunic’s adventures hunting dire wolves, check out the sequel The Hirsute Witch.