“I’m not with them!” she said, her frustration and sadness coming through plainly.
“Then you led them here. Don’t deny it. So why are you still here?”
“I’d be chasing them down but I don’t know which way they went. And they’re too far by now. I’ll never find him again,” she said. She sounded hopeless.
Androkles gave her a dark look, considering he’d lost four good people and a fairy, and she was worried about her pet demon.
For a moment she didn’t say anything, and he huffed and turned to look for a trail. But before he had taken two steps, she said, “Remember when I said I found him two weeks ago? Well, that was a lie. It was more like two months. I stole him and ran off, but they keep finding me somehow.”
“Why don’t you just give them back their property, then?”
She glared at him and said, “They were keeping him in a gross, dark little hole covered by a rock. When I found him, he didn’t even know what a hug was!”
“Of course he didn’t,” said Androkles.
“I only found him because I heard him crying. When I moved the rock, he was terrified and he hissed at me. He even bit my fingers when I reached in to pull him out,” she said, ignoring him.
“Then why do you still have all your fingers?” he shot back at her.
“I can toughen my skin. When I pulled him out, I just held him close, and he was rigid like a log. He didn’t know what it meant! So I had to keep him, and teach him,” she said, wiping more tears from her eyes. “I’m a woman of seventeen. I’m certainly wise enough to know right from wrong, and that was wrong. I don’t care what those law doers say.”
“Law doers? You can’t mean the slave-takers,” he said. He continued to pace around the area, looking for anything he could use. Although the blankets had been left, it looked like the furs had been taken. If the gods were good, the children would still be wearing them and not left to freeze. Palthos, the Orphan, at least, was good; Androkles hoped that god was paying attention.
“They said they were just doing the law. They got mad at me for taking him and kept going on and on about the law this and the law that, so I call them law doers,” she said, annoyance coloring the sadness in her voice.
The cookpot had been left untouched, and the bread was mostly, but not entirely, burned; a small amount was barely salvageable. Androkles considered whether he wanted to eat any while his family went hungry. Best not fight on an empty stomach, however, and he anticipated a lot of fighting. Still, when he split a section of bread with great effort and started gnawing, he couldn’t help feel a bit like a thief.
Dyana watched him for a moment, then asked, “May I…”
He didn’t answer, but he didn’t stop her when she broke off a chunk of bread and bit into it with a crunch. ‘Regular, good people’, he supposed. No use turning back now.
While she ate, she said nothing, but looked down with a posture something like defeat. She shifted her weight several times as though she was about to say something, but never did. Finally she sat, buried her head in her arms, and started sniffing again.
“Shut up, fool woman. Go look for the trail if you have time to sit here and cry like a child. I’m going--” said, Androkles, but then he paused, listening.
Far in the distance, he heard Wolfscar shouting, “Papa papa papa papa!” It was impossible to mistake him; his little voice sounded like a bird. The fairy had started calling him ‘Papa’ when everyone else did, even though he hadn’t been adopted like the others. Androkles wasn’t sure if adopting him as a son made any sense.
Androkles cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted, “Here! Wolfscar! Here!” at the top of his lungs. After a moment, Androkles could see the fairy’s faint glow against the snow, and finally Wolfscar flew in at top speed and all but slammed into Androkles’ chest.
The fairy was naked again for some baffling reason, his pale blue skin appearing almost white in the dim light. Bits of ice matted his violet hair and left a trail on his face from his tears. He seemed to be glowing a bit more dimly than usual, as well. “I’m too cold!” cried the fairy in a tone of grave concern. Androkles placed him under his bearskin to start warming up and discovered that he was indeed as cold as a snowball.
Dyana looked on with interest, and it seemed her curiosity had periodically overcome her self-pity. Androkles turned slightly away from her, annoyed at her intrusion into a private moment. He gently patted the fairy under the bear skin to calm him down. He could almost feel the fairy sucking the heat away as he thawed. After a moment, he asked, “Are you going to be alright, little one? Can you move all your fingers and toes?”
Wolfscar wiggled around a bit, checking, then in a subdued tone replied, “Ya, I can. They all still move.”
“Where were you just now? Did you get caught? Are the others alive? Are they far?” asked Androkles.
“I f-found the Mama and Garbi, and then I found the boys and… and… they’re f-fine,” replied Wolfscar, stammering a bit as he shifted around. The fairy spread his arms and legs out to press as much of himself against Androkles’ skin as possible.
“How far are they? Do you know where they are?” asked Androkles.
“Yes. They’re all tied up! And one of them hit Pepper, but not hard,” said Wolfscar.
“Then we’ll have to go find them, won’t we, and kill them all for daring to steal from Androkles,” he said. “Just tell me what happened and where to go.”
“Okay. What happened is they caught me and put me in a bag, but I bit it with my teeth and got out and saw Mama and Garbi. They were all tied up on a horse. I tried to chew on the rope but they kept trying to catch me so I flew back here, but you were gone. Then I got scared, so I picked a trail and followed it for a long way, but it was just a man, so I flew back. Then I picked another one, but I was going too slow so I took off my robe so I could fly really fast. And I found Flower and Pepper on a horse with some men. And I came back to find you so I could say where they were, but I took a shortcut and got lost. So I went faster but that made me too cold and I thought I was going to die, but then I felt your evil, so then I found you. And I heard you yell,” explained the fairy, talking very quickly. After a short pause, he added, “That’s all.”
Androkles patted the fairy again through the bearskin. “I wish you wouldn’t keep losing robes. It’s a waste of cloth.”
“I had to hurry! I said that!” shouted the fairy, slightly muffled.
“I guess I’ll forgive you, then. So my boys and my women were taken in different directions?”
After a moment, Wolfscar said, “Ya. They were. I didn’t think of that until you said that. It’s hard to think when you’re cold.”
Dyana stood and said, “Little… um… whatever you are, tell me which way the boys went! Was my Seff with them?”
“Ya, he was,” said Wolfscar, “and let me point.” He began trying to climb out of the bearskin, but Androkles held him down with one hand.
“Hold on. Can you fight, woman?” he asked Dyana.
She opened her mouth to answer, then shut it. She walked over to a tree and said, “Watch this.” Then she punched it, and her blow sounded heavier than a splitting maul. The tree, a foot thick or more at the trunk, shook and groaned. Large clumps of snow fell from its branches and crashed into the ground, kicking up a great deal of powder. When she pulled her fist away, it left behind a deep impression in the tree’s surface where bark and wood had splintered away.
Once again, she had shown him the impossible, leaving him momentarily bewildered. A punch like that would crush a solid bronze breastplate at a stroke and every rib it protected. She had to be some kind of goddess, but she acted nothing like one. Nothing. If she had long hair and a proper robe, she’d look completely ordinary, although she did have good muscle tone in her arms and stomach. And it wasn’t like he had no measure for comparison--the goddess Mari had looked every bit a goddess, from her hair that floated on unseen zephyrs to her attire of leaves and fire that changed to match her emotions. Dyana was nothing like that.
Dyana walked back over, crossed her arms, and looked at him with clear worry on her face. She said, “Now please have your little person tell me where my Seff is.”
Androkles inhaled stiffly to balance his mind and recover his wits. If a man like himself could exist, then so could a woman like her; it wouldn’t do to lose any dignity. After a brief moment of consideration, an idea struck him, a good one. He said, “Fine, so you can fight. You still led the slave-takers here. I don’t trust you to save my boys once you have your demon, so here’s what we’ll do. You go after Agurne and Garbi, and I’ll go after the boys. Bring my women back safely, and I’ll bring back your demon. We meet back here.”
A look of frustration bordering on anger briefly crossed her face. Androkles watched as her mind rolled through her various options, until finally she looked down and said, “I guess what you’re asking isn’t unfair. I’ll do it. Which way to the women?”
He nodded and said, “Wolfscar, I want you to keep an eye on Dyana here. Just tell me what trail to take to find the boys, then go with her. No shortcuts. Got it?” If she tried something wicked, Wolfscar would come find him, and he didn’t want her getting lost.
The fairy emerged from Androkles’ bear skin and looked Dyana over. “But I’ll be cold! Oh, wait. I know,” he said. Then he darted over and slid down between her breasts before she could react. He calmly tucked himself into the cloth she was covering herself with and snuggled himself in until he was content. Then he looked eastward, nodded, and said, “Flower and Pepper and Seff are that way. It’s the trail that’s that way.”
Androkles looked at Wolfscar, who only had his head poking above the cloth. He looked awfully comfortable in there, which under other circumstances would have been hilarious. Well, maybe it was a bit hilarious anyway. Androkles tried and failed to suppress a smile. He asked Dyana, “Are you ready to go now?”
She blushed ferociously, but said, “I guess so. Is he going to… do anything weird?”
“More than he just has? No, he just likes to sit under peoples’ chins. He spends half the time wrapped up in my beard. Wolfscar, when you find Agurne, tell her I said not to get any ideas. She’ll probably get free before you find her and get herself into trouble,” said Androkles, taking his spear and making sure his xiphos rested loose in its sheath.
“What kind of ideas?” asked the fairy.
“Just tell her I said that,” said Androkles. Then, to Dyana he said, “I’ll bring back your demon, dead or alive. Meet me back here with my women, or I will hunt you down and kill you slowly. I swear it by Arkos Oathfather.” Then he turned and left in the direction Wolfscar had indicated, not waiting for her reaction. After a moment, the sound of crunching snow told him Dyana had gone the other direction.