Return to Lynwood: Part Seven
Isengrim awoke to a twinge in his leg and the smell of breakfast. No—to call it just a “smell” would not do it justice. The aromas wove a rich tapestry that told tales of sizzling bacon, hot mushrooms and tomatoes dripping with their juices, hearty black pudding, sweet and savoury beans, buttered toast, and hash browns with just the right amount of salt.
His mouth watered as his eyes remained shut. Then someone playfully whacked his shoulder. “I was wondering when you’d get up, lazybones,” Suhel’s voice said.
Isengrim opened his eyes to see her standing over the sofa with a smirk. He offered her a grin. “How did you know I was awake? My eyes were still closed.”
She let out a few coughs and took a swig of tea. “You were drooling, milord.”
He wiped the drool from his muzzle and sat up. “I shall have to be more discreet in the future. Sometimes I like to lie around in the mornings and gather my thoughts.”
“Too bad you’ve got me crowing at the dawn,” Suhel said. More seriously, she added, “How is your leg feeling? Should we stay here another day before heading to the keep?”
“No,” Isengrim said. “I will be fine. That tincture you applied should help it heal quickly, and it should not slow my pace any as long as I don’t put undue strain on it, so no combat or hunting for a while. But we need to find that staff and help you and Lexora.” He looked out at the parlor. Around him, Werelupes were eating their breakfast, and he could hear Lexora’s family chatting and laughing with each other in the kitchen. Connor sat in his usual corner, poking at a black pudding with his fork.
Isengrim sighed and looked back to his second. “Besides, I am not willing to endanger this household any more than we already have. The sooner we leave town, the better.”
Suhel nodded. “After breakfast it is, then.”
The Werelupe King was about to ask where his own family was, when Terra and Pharazon came out of the kitchen, Terra carrying two plates of food and the Draik carrying one.
“Don’t you dare think about getting up to eat,” Terra said, handing Isengrim one of the plates and sitting down with the other next to Pharazon on the floor. “You need some pampering.”
“Ah, thank you,” Isengrim said, his eyes gleaming at the bounty of meats she had brought him. The plate was piled with thick slices of ham, rashers of bacon, several sausages, and a black pudding, as well as a bit of everything else on the side. “You know exactly what I like.”
“Of course,” Terra said with a modest smile, digging in to her beans. Isengrim knew she would take any excuse to pamper him, or just forgo excuses altogether. He did the same for her.
Lexora came out of the kitchen sipping a cup of tea, and she smiled when she saw Isengrim was awake. “I’m just sorry there’s not more,” she said. “We’re not paupers, but nor are we able to feast like this every day.” Today she wore a skirt that seemed sturdier and more fit for travel than the sweeping elegant thing she had on yesterday evening, and it no longer reached the ground so Isengrim could see that she wore a sensible pair of boots underneath.
Isengrim snapped up a sausage and shook his head. “This is more than enough, thank you. We just appreciate your kindness.” He picked up a slice of ham with his fingers. “Just remember that no good deed goes unrewarded,” he said before biting off a meaty chunk, reveling in the taste. “My compliments to the chef, by the way. He has honed his art to perfection.”
“Mummy!” Simon said, appearing from around her. “Tell the Werelupes to use silverware like civlised Neopets! They’re being impolite!”
Lexora chuckled. “It’s not so bad, dear,” she said. “This is a bit of an impromptu breakfast, at any rate—and we don’t have enough sets of silverware to go around for all these guests.”
“Sorry,” Suhel said. “We don’t mean to lack etiquette. Ours is just a little different than yours. We always eat with our paws at home in the Burrows—and we do make sure to keep our paws clean.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Lexora said. “That’s sort of what I figured. You lot don’t strike me as the sloppy type.”
“Are you all packed?” Suhel asked.
The Kougra coughed into her arm and nodded. “Daddy’s letting me take some of his old travelling gear. Not too much,” she added. “I know you said to pack light, and we’ve only got a Ganuthor for transport.”
“Well, I shouldn’t say ‘only’,” Pharazon said. “She has quite the weight limit.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t want to burden her,” Lexora said. “But Caradoc, I am bringing us a crate of that tea. I think we both could use it.”
Suhel smiled. “Good idea. Oh, and—you know, you can just call me ‘Suhel’. We’re not in school anymore—and Werelupes always use first names. Calling me ‘Caradoc’ just feels too impersonal, and I’ve not gone by my last name in ages anyway.”
“All right, then, Suhel,” Lexora said. “Then you may as well start calling me by my first name, mightn’t you? My last name isn’t even Fitchet anymore.”
The female Werelupe laughed. “Fair point. Lexora it is, then.”
After breakfast, they geared up and loaded into the Brownings’ wagon—the children wanted to come, but Lexora and Beoffrey convinced them that someone had to look after Grandfather. Gwyneth had settled down to sleep in the alley overnight, and she smelled as if she had thoroughly enjoyed rooting through rubbish when she awoke. But the Cloak of Night had stayed on her, and Pharazon looked quite odd coaxing thin air through the foggy morning.
The Werelupes, Terra, and Pharazon huddled beneath the tarp as Beoffrey hitched himself to the wagon and set off down the street, Gwyneth following closely in their wake. If anyone asked, Beoffrey and Lexora would make noises like they were delivering goods to Mr. Browning’s family in the country. Isengrim and his thanes set pieces of their armour and gear on their heads to disguise their shape better under the thick cloth. Connor sat wedged between two Werelupes, not looking very happy about the arrangements but not making any attempt to run away again. His head was low and his eyes focused on the bed of the wagon.
Isengrim felt sorry for the pup, even if he did not exactly know how Connor must feel. However, Isengrim could guess at just how hard it was for Connor to see his own family reject him and his neighbors turn against him, faced with a new life that he very clearly did not want. Isengrim wished he knew how to help him better, but the king had never before met a newly-turned Werelupe, whose hurts were still fresh. All he could think to do was keep extending a paw of friendship, and do his best to protect Connor from those who misunderstood—and from himself.
Next to Isengrim sat Terra, and on her other side was Pharazon. The Draik lifted a hand and said, “Oh, right, let me get a scent-dampening spell going.” His claws began to spark.
Isengrim thought this was quite wise, as many Neopet species had just as keen of a sense of smell as they did sight. On his other side, Suhel grabbed his arm, her claws digging into his fur. “It’ll be all right,” he whispered to her. “You probably won’t feel a thing.”
As Pharazon cast the spell, Isengrim closed his eyes and strained to feel any sort of magic, but all he could discern was the usual babbling noise of a town in the morning, the jolt of wagon wheels on cobblestone, and the overpowering odour of rubbish-coated Ganuthor. Werelupes just did not have a sensitivity to magic, so much so that they might be considered numb to all but the most powerful energies. This did not seem to be the case for Skoll, who practised magic before becoming a Werelupe, but Skoll was the only Werelupe magic user Isengrim had ever met, so he seemed to be an exception.
Not that Isengrim minded—he never had much of an interest in the magical arts anyhow, and he quite enjoyed the talents that came more naturally to his kind. As he opened his eyes again, he noticed that it was more difficult to smell anyone in the wagon. It was jarring, like not being able to taste food in his mouth, but he supposed most magic would be jarring simply by virtue of being magic. It did odd things and, like Pharazon said, played by its own rules. While it had great potential for power, it was also difficult to understand and control. Isengrim would stick to fang and steel—those, he understood perfectly.
Suhel remained tense, and she and the other Werelupes bobbed their snouts, also clearly perturbed by the anomaly. “Don’t worry,” Pharazon said, “it’ll wear off soon. I don’t have the kind of focus to sustain it for very long, anyhow. I wish I could have muted the smell completely, but this will have to do, and I think Gwyneth’s stink will mask what’s left.”
“You did a fine job,” Isengrim said, still instinctively sniffing the air for scents he knew should be there but seemed much too far away. “Even our Werelupe noses are having trouble detecting our smell.” He stuck his nose in his own arm fur—it was the oddest sensation to not smell enough like himself.
Unlike use of magic itself, Isengrim understood quite well Pharazon’s frustration at not having a focussing implement. It was like having the right weapon that felt natural in one’s paws, was made well so it did exactly what one wanted it to, and meshed perfectly with one’s combat style and skillset. The weapon had to fit the wielder or it would do more harm than good, and Isengrim imagined it was much the same for mages and their tools. That concept was easy enough to grasp, unlike the slippery strangeness of spells.
The Werelupe King turned to his family and his ears drooped a bit. “Terra, Pharazon, I am sorry to get you caught up in this,” he said. “By all rights you should be riding out there with the Brownings, not hiding like fugitives.” He closed his eyes, wincing as the wagon went over a bump that jostled his leg painfully. “Enduring the persecution of last night was hard enough for me, but you should not be stigmatised by your association with Werelupes.”
Terra gave his paw a squeeze. “Pfft, I don’t care,” she said. “I’ve never fit in with anyone else anyway. It’s not something I’m concerned about.” More seriously, she looked up at him. “I’m sorry it’s upsetting you so much. Please, don’t worry about it. Pharazon and I are okay. Trust me—I’m more than up to the task of owning a Werelupe. No one ever said it would be easy, but the best things in life take fighting for.” She grinned fiercely. “And I’ll gladly fight for you any day.”
Isengrim smiled. She may have had soft fingers and blunt teeth, but inside she was just as strong and brave as any Werelupe.
“I think it’s more than worth it,” Pharazon added. “Other people can say what they like—we’re privileged to have you in the family.”
Terra nodded. “Not many people can claim a hardcore forest king as part of their clan, you know. And if other Neopets don’t like it—well, tough. They need to get their priorities straight. It’s their problem, not ours.”
Isengrim gave her a fanged grin. “That’s right.” Few Werelupes, he thought, were as lucky to have a family who not only loved them the way they were, but thought they were, in Terra’s words, “awesome”.
“What upset me most about last night,” Terra said, “was how those Neopets treated you and the other Werelupes. It just burns me up to see such unthinking hatred.”
The Werelupe King sighed. “I hate it, too… but it’s nothing new, at least.” The sounds of town had begun to fade, the road grew a little rougher, and he guessed that they had cleared Barrowmere, but they still had a way to go before they could stop hiding.
“I just don’t understand,” Pharazon said, “why Werelupes get such a bad rep in the Haunted Woods. I mean, painting a Lupe with a Halloween Paint Brush makes them look like a Werelupe too, and there are plenty of Halloween Lupes roaming around Neopia being normal citizens.”
“That is because in the rest of Neopia, the Haunted Woods is viewed as an aesthetic,” Isengrim said. “Much like how there exist paint brushes to make a Neopet look as though they came from the Lost Desert, or Mystery Island. They are an imitation of the real thing.” He adjusted his sword across his head, making sure it stayed firm between the teeth of his skull-crown. “There is good reason to avoid Werelupes in the Haunted Woods. They are certainly not just Lupes painted Halloween.”
As they went over another bump, Suhel reached up to steady the bone pauldron she was currently using as a helmet-disguise. “And matters here probably aren’t helped at all by those recent raids,” she said. “Barrowmere has a legitimate reason to hate Werelupes—“ She began to cough. Her shoulders hunched and she breathed in through her nose, trying her hardest to keep the hacking as quiet as possible.
This was the part that worried Isengrim. If she had a bad coughing spell now, it might blow their cover. Even outside of town, a coughing wagon would definitely arouse suspicion from travellers on the highway.
Pharazon frowned. “Gummy Rats,” he muttered, “I wish I could layer the smell-dampening spell with a noise-dampening one, too.” He glared down at his claws. “I’d be able to do so much more with an implement…”
While Suhel continued to struggle for breath, the other Werelupes sat still, listening for any sign of trouble. Isengrim’s heart ached for his second. It was painful seeing and hearing her so ill. The fact that it was caused by a curse just complicated things, as no one knew how easy it would be to break, while she and Lexora were steadily worsening. But they had to at least try.
After a minute, the coughing fit finally subsided. Suhel cleared her throat a few times and sat back on the side of the wagon, panting. “Sorry,” she said.
“Don’t worry about it,” Isengrim said. “It doesn’t sound like you gave us away.”
“If I had,” she said, “I’d be the first one to jump at our attackers, to make up for it.”
“I know,” Isengrim said. Not that he wanted her to, but he knew she would anyway. He was just glad it hadn’t come to that. He was in no condition to fight right now.
The wagon stopped. “Well, this should do it,” Beoffrey said. “You can come on out now—we’re off the main road and there’s no one around.”
Isengrim twisted around and lifted the tarp to peer out. The Woods rose around them, with their familiar scent of old and wild things, and he smiled. He would always like the smell of wilderness better than civilisation. The road beneath them was dirt and looked little-used, and wound out of sight in either direction.
“Well done,” he said as he and his pack threw off the tarp. “Thank you.”
“Not a problem,” Beoffrey said as he unhitched himself and lent his wife a hoof to help her down. “I’ve been meaning to visit my family, anyhow.”
As the others disembarked, Isengrim clipped his sword around his waist and eased himself to his feet. His wound ached, but he had similar injuries in the past and knew he would be fine as long as he didn’t push himself. “I’m sorry I cannot help you down,” he said to his owner and brother, his tail drooping. “My leg precludes me from being a gentleman for the time being.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Pharazon said, fluttering his wings to fly out of the wagon.
“You just rest up,” Terra said, staying by the Werelupe King’s side as he trundled off the vehicle and dropped to the ground on his good leg. “Are you sure you don’t want to ride Gwyneth?”
“I don’t want to be a bother,” Isengrim said. At the pleading look on her face, he put a paw on her head. “But I promise I will ride if my leg starts to hurt too badly.”
Terra frowned. “Before it starts to hurt too badly.”
Her Werelupe gave her a conceding smile. “All right.”
As his thanes fixed up their gear and Beoffrey and Lexora said their goodbyes, Isengrim rummaged around in one of the pouches on his belt for something he kept for just these occasions. He always liked to leave home prepared for dealings with other Neopets, and preparing for the good was just as important as for the ill. His experiences over the past few years had helped him have at least a little more faith in non-Werelupes, if not as a whole then at least as individuals.
Beoffrey was just reassuring Lexora that he would take good care of the family and the shop when Isengrim approached them and cleared his throat. He held out a small leather bag to Beoffrey and placed it in the Kau’s outstretched hoof.
“What…” Beoffrey loosened the string and looked inside, Lexora leaning over to do so as well. Their eyes lit up with the gleam of the Neopoints and gems that Isengrim had placed in there.
The Werelupe King smiled. “As I said, a good deed never goes unrewarded. Expect more where that came from. I trust you will use it wisely.”
“We will,” Beoffrey said, drawing the string tight and clutching the bag to his chest. “Don’t worry, Your Majesty, we will.”
“Oh, Lord Isengrim, you didn’t have to do that,” Lexora said. “However can we repay you?”
He shook his head. “This is my payment to you for room and board. And I should hope that next time I am in the area, I can expect another breakfast feast for me and my pack.”
“Of course!” Beoffrey said, pocketing his payment. “Any time! We’ll be happy to have you!”
“I know the boys will,” Lexora said before starting to cough. She put a paw on Beoffrey’s shoulder for support.
Knowing there was nothing he could do to help her at the moment, Isengrim turned to his pack. “Are we all set?”
“Aye, milord,” Suhel said.
Isengrim nodded, and looked over to the still sullen Werelupe pup. “Connor… you will stay with us for now. After all of this… we will see if your parents have had time to think things over.”
Somewhat unusually, Connor did not look like he wanted to leave. He was hovering near his Werelupe guard, his ears and tail low. “I’d be right foolish to run off into these woods alone,” he muttered, not meeting Isengrim’s eyes.
“You’d also be right foolish to run out of a house when a mob’s looking for you,” Suhel said under her breath.
Isengrim said nothing. Although the boy could act irrationally when upset – something Isengrim could understand – Connor at least had a caution about the Woods drilled into him, which helped immensely. Isengrim did not want to worry about him running off, on top of everything else.
Lexora had stopped coughing and was eating another of the lozenges Suhel had given her. Beoffrey looked very reluctant to part with her as Terra helped her onto Gwyneth. “You’ll take good care of her, won’t you?” the Kau asked.
Isengrim put a paw on his own chest. “By my life,” he said, “she will return to you safely. And we will do everything in our power to break her curse.”
“Our thoughts will be with you,” Beoffrey said. He moved to the wagon with a sigh. “Take care, dear!” he said as he hitched himself to it. “If you need anything at all, send a Weewoo!”
“I shall!” Lexora said. She adjusted her travelling coat and gloves, and smoothed out her skirt as she rode side-saddle. “Please don’t worry about me, dearest—I’m off to have an adventure! I’m sure I’ll have so many stories to tell when I get back!”
“You are your father’s child,” Beoffrey said with a bittersweet smile. “I’ll see you in a week, dear.”
Lexora waved to him and put a paw on Terra’s shoulder. “You know, it’s strange,” the Kougra said, “I suppose I should be more serious about this, but I just can’t stop being excited about going on a real expedition!”
Terra smiled at her. “There’s nothing wrong with that. I’m excited, too! I think good things are going to happen. I can feel it.”
“Then I believe they shall,” Lexora said.
The trip to the old keep would take two and a half days from here, but they would be far from boring ones, Isengrim thought as they began their march through the forest. The Haunted Woods was full of wild beauty, and the company couldn’t be beat. The only things dampening his mood were the curse, Connor’s struggles, and the nagging fear that someone or something might have found the staff by now. After all, it had been nearly fifteen years since that keep was destroyed—more than enough time for looters to comb through the ruins.
But he tried not to let that get him down. After all, the air was cool and clean, the trees were aflame in autumn colours, and he and his party chatted and sang as they went. Lexora was quite good company, and the secondhand shopkeeper had a great deal of secondhand stories from her father about his globetrotting business exploits. Isengrim was fascinated with everything Mr. Fitchet had seen and done in places like Shenkuu and Krawk Island. Someday he would have to figure out a way to travel over Neopia more widely without causing too much trouble.
They traveled south all day, and the forest grew deeper and older as they went. At nightfall, they found a clearing in which to camp, and Isengrim, Terra, Pharazon, and Lexora set to building a fire.
“If Celice was here,” Pharazon said as he fetched a flint and tinder, “she’d have a flame going with a snap of her fingers. I think even I could manage it if I had an implement.”
“I’m sorry,” Terra said as she helped Lexora arrange firewood into an optimal arrangement for burning. “I really hope you find one soon.”
Isengrim looked up from breaking branches into manageable pieces. “Is there anything I can do to help, Pharazon? Perhaps after all of this, I can reach out to my contacts and see if any of them know much about where to find such things.”
“I might have to try that,” Pharazon said. He sounded reluctant, and Isengrim knew it was because the Werelupe King’s contacts were Neopets like Malkus Vile and Balthazar. That was what came of long years spent antagonising Neopia, but Isengrim had to admit that it at least gave him some unique resources.
“Well,” Suhel said, “I’m going to lead the others off on a hunt. I don’t want to use up all our stores, especially since we’re going to Lynwood now, too. Time to replenish.”
Lexora looked up from her work with an expression of distaste. “Oh my, do you really hunt? That’s quite beastly.”
Suhel paused for a moment, probably to allow the irony of that statement to soak in, but she offered no witty remark back. Instead, she looked somewhat hurt and said, “We don’t hunt for sport, Lexora. We’re not like those arrogant buffoons back home who treat nature like a plaything, and live for new trophies to hang in the parlor and brag about.” Her fur bristled as she spoke, but she took a deep breath and it smoothed again. “We take hunting seriously, as a matter of obtaining food and provisions. And we always try to use as much of it as we can.”
“Oh—I’m sorry,” Lexora said. “I didn’t mean to offend you. That was insensitive of me to jump to conclusions like that.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Isengrim said. “It’s an easy conclusion to make when we are covered in bones and teeth.” He paused and smiled a bit. “Although we still brag from time to time.” The Werelupe held up the necklace that adorned his chest, with one large fang in the centre flanked by several slightly smaller teeth. “There are a few trophies on here from when Terra and I felled a Monocerous.”
Lexora’s eyes widened. “You don’t say!”
“Don’t give me so much credit,” Terra said, backing up so Pharazon could light the fire. “I barely did anything. You went warrior-mode and I mostly just got the wind knocked out of me.”
Isengrim gave her shoulders a squeeze. “You are too modest! Do not forget who wounded its leg and kept it from trampling me! And,” he added in a softer tone, “who convinced me to fight it in the first place. It is you who should be credited with saving that village, Terra.”
Terra thought for a moment, then patted his paw. “I think we both deserve credit,” she said. “Neither of us could have done it alone, but working together, we can achieve great things.”
“I think so, too,” Isengrim said.
“It sounds like there’s quite an adventure to be told there,” Lexora said.
“Aye, and perhaps we can talk about it after dinner,” Suhel said. “For now, we’d best be off or else there won’t be any dinner.” She coughed a bit. “Ah—Lexora, could you put some tea on while we’re out?”
“Of course,” Lexora said. “Am I to assume there’s a teakettle in one of the saddlebags?”
“That would be correct,” Pharazon said. “The one on the left. I think. Things get shuffled around a lot.”
No one needed to tell Connor to stay put—the boy had parked himself in front of the fire, watching Pharazon get a flame going and staring at it as if in a trance. Isengrim wished the pup would open up and get his feelings out, but that was something that could not be forced.
By the time the fire was going at full bore and the tea had been steeped, Suhel and the other Werelupes had returned with their catch. While they prepared it, Isengrim kept his family company, as Terra was squeamish about such things and Pharazon didn’t exactly like watching either. As much as he liked to help his pack, Isengrim had to admit that his wound at least let him sit back and enjoy his family. Lexora, on the other hand, was fascinated by everything the Werelupes were doing, and ended up assisting them with dinner.
“Typical for a carnivore,” Pharazon scoffed as he leaned against Gwyneth’s ribs.
Terra looked up from her sketchbook, where she was showing Isengrim some of her latest doodles and concepts for her Neopian Times writing. “Aren’t Draiks carnivorous, too?” she asked.
“Oh, I guess we are,” Pharazon said. “That might explain the whole breathing fire thing—I don’t suppose that’s particularly handy for gathering fruit.” He puffed his cheeks and blew hard—instead of flame, swirls of sparkly aqua magic plumed from his mouth. “Maybe being faerie takes all the bite out of me.”
Isengrim chuckled. “Could be.” He thought Pharazon was not really the type to be aggressive in the first place, though.
Over dinner, at Lexora’s request, Isengrim regaled them with the story of how he and Terra had saved one of his vassal villages from a Monocerous. That particular event was important to him, not just because of the incredible battle that he and his owner had emerged victorious from, but because it had been the start of a better attitude toward the non-Werelupe communities he governed.
Before, his peasants had lived in fear of the ravening monsters who demanded tribute from them—now, the Werelupes actively worked to protect the villagers and provide them aid in difficult growing seasons. Although their lands had technically belonged to Brightvale, by the time Isengrim and King Hagan sat down to talk about it, Isengrim’s vassals felt more like citizens of the Werelupe Woods, so Hagan ceded the entire territory to Isengrim. Which was just as well, the Werelupe King thought, as Brightvale was not doing anything at all with the distant wilderness region. All of these might have been Isengrim’s decisions to make, but he had to credit his owner with inspiring him to seek a better path.
When he finished up that story, as a bonus, Isengrim told the tale of how he earned the largest fang on his necklace—a Monoceraptor tooth. This was one of the oldest stories in his repertoire, but it was well worth retelling, because it was the story of how he formed his pack. Before this, all Werelupes had been solitary creatures, fighting with one another for food and territory whenever they met, but during one of these chance meetings, a Monoceraptor attack forced a change in priorities.
Isengrim was the one to realise that they had to work together to survive, and he rallied the other Werelupes that night to fight under his leadership. When the Monocerous was felled, Isengrim extended to his new allies an offer to form a pack, and they accepted. That was the beginning of Isengrim’s crusade to join together the Werelupes of the Haunted Woods to be more than they could be alone—and to be the family they all needed so desperately.
As he spoke of it, the king’s eyes met Suhel’s, and she smiled. She was one of the Werelupes who fought alongside him that night, and her prowess in battle was still unsurpassed by no other pack member except himself. Just as importantly, she was a loyal, hard-working friend who cared deeply about her place in the well-oiled machine that was their pack.
It was odd for Isengrim to think that there was ever a time she had not been a Werelupe—that apparently, long ago, she had been a little girl at a secondary school with Lexora. She had never spoken of her past to him. He guessed she did not really want to remember it, so he never bothered her about it. But now it seemed it had come back to her whether she liked it or not.
Lexora was positively enthralled by the Werelupes’ tales of daring battle, which made Isengrim’s heart swell with pride—but that pride was dampened a bit by Connor’s unresponsiveness. The pup had sat watching the fire the whole time, barely eating, seeming to completely ignore the stories, the chatter, and the singing. When everyone finally began to quiet down and curl up on their cloaks and bedrolls – or just the bare ground, for most of the Werelupes – Connor trudged to the blanket Lexora had kindly brought for him and tucked his tail between his legs, burying his snout in his arm. His ears stayed low and he shut his eyes tightly, like all of this was just a bad dream.
“Give him time,” Terra said, crouching by Isengrim’s head as Suhel checked his wound. “He’s been through a lot these past two days, and he’s just a kid, he doesn’t have his brain chemistry quite sorted out yet. It could take him a while to process everything.”
“This is my fault,” Suhel muttered as she applied more salve to the wound. “I shouldn’t have been so harsh with him last night. I scared him.”
Isengrim shook his head. “You were acting to defend everyone in that house, Suhel. If you hadn’t stopped him, he would have put us all in danger. And you were trying your best to talk to him, I heard you downstairs.”
“Children are tricky things if you’re not used to them,” Terra said. “They definitely operate differently than adults, and I think that’s why a lot of adults lose patience with them so easily. But your heart was in the right place, so don’t worry about it. It just takes practice.”
Suhel grimaced as she re-wrapped the wound. “He just really knows how to push a Neopet’s buttons,” she whispered, flicking a glance over to Connor to make sure he was asleep. “And the worst part is, I don’t think he quite understands he’s doing it. But when he insulted you, milord—I’m sorry, I just couldn’t bear it.”
Isengrim took her paw in his. “Your loyalty is admirable, Suhel. I am sorry he offended you. But you apologised, so there is nothing more for you to do but forgive yourself and move on. It is not your fault if he continues to be difficult.”
His second gave his paw a squeeze. “Thank you, milord. I promise, I’ll be more patient with him from now on.”
“You have always done your best,” Isengrim said with a smile. “Do not let it trouble you anymore. Go get some rest. We’ll have that curse off of you soon.”
At the mention of the curse, a jolt of fear passed through Suhel’s green eyes, and she smiled nervously. “Thanks—I hope so—“ She began to cough and moved away, covering her arm so she wasn’t coughing into his face. “Good night, milord,” she managed to get out as she went to her spot on the ground. Isengrim watched her until her coughing subsided, and only then would he let himself sleep.
To be continued…