The night had ended pleasantly, and Va’il and Ruby slept in the large main room by the fire. The baron had offered them rooms to sleep in, but they refused, citing what they were used to normally. They had also slept this way the first time they had stayed over at the baron’s, though at that time it was only the children who had been present. Never did Va’il and Ruby ask about Missus Laloo. As she was never seen, the two of them knew not to ask prying questions.
“Hey Va’il, are you asleep?” Ruby asked.
“No. I won’t sleep before you. Just go to sleep for now, Ruby,” Va’il said. He yawned afterwards, damaging his credibility.
“I just wanted to tell you something. But you cannot tell anyone else. And don’t think about it too much! It’s just for while we travel, so you need to be one. You’re a lupus, partly, anyways, so that’s why you should be one as well.”
“I don’t get it. What do you want to say?”
“You’re my chevalier. It means knight, guardian. The person that protects me. I know I’m a selfish and willful girl. I know we’re both out of our comfort zone in this country. But I want you to know that you’re the one I’ll have to look to when I’m in trouble. I’m weak. I don’t want to burden you. But this is what I think of you. I don’t know if that’s placing too much on you,” Ruby said. Her voice trailed off a times, but Va’il’s sharp ears didn’t miss anything.
“That’s what it means? A knight, huh? I guess so, in the crudest way. Don’t worry, Ruby. I’ll be here for you until we return.”
“Thank you, my lupine chevalier. If only it were longer,” Ruby said, though she assumed Va’il could only hear the first sentence. Ruby trailed off with the second, and was soon in a blissful world of slumber.
Va’il wondered what he should do. He was stuck in Grizz without much of a plan, and he knew it. But as much as that bothered him, he couldn’t think of the answer just yet. And he didn’t want to, not when he was being cared for by so many people.
Va’il discarded his thoughts, one by one, as each minute that passed told him that sleep was coming soon. A final thought occurred to him: why did Ruby place so much trust in him, even going so far as to call him her knight? He felt warm at the thought, but couldn’t describe the feeling. He knew he could do it, but couldn’t describe why. All he knew was that he must protect her until she returned to the place where she belonged. That was his duty for now. One he wished he wouldn’t fail at.
Va’il drifted to sleep, his mind eventually coming to peace with his circumstances. All thoughts of either distrust, puzzlement, or guardianship dispersed as he embraced the sweet relaxant that came with sleep.
Va’il awoke, but he didn’t know how many hours had passed. It was still dark, though the embers from the fire told him that it was only recently that the fire had died. He had awoken due to the call of nature, instigated by the large amount of water he had drunk so soon before bed. But that wasn’t the only think that had awaken him. His ears were perked; he had heard something that had triggered his subconscious mind.
Va’il’s nose was keen, and there was something strange, but unidentifiable, in the air. It was familiar, something he had smelled earlier in the night, but wasn’t something he could identify right now. As much as that and his bristled fur troubled him, the pain in his bladder was a more urgent concern.
He avoided making a single sound while making his way to the washroom closet. He mainly avoided disturbing others, but part of him didn’t want to be discovered awake at all. He relieved himself with as little noise as possible, not enough that a bearan would notice, and then left the small room. He was about to make his way back to the main room, but he heard voices in the distance. He told himself not to pry, to return to his bed and sleep the rest of the night away. He told himself to ignore it and return to his bed, where he could spend another day without worry as he adjusted to his surroundings. And then his thoughts turned on him.
“What are you thinking?” Va’il asked himself, his thoughts suddenly stirred and unquenchable, the lupus in him waking and taking control. “How many months have I spent in this foreign town? I’ve been waiting and waiting, and have become accustomed to it! Why aren’t we gone? Why didn’t I go back right away? I was concerned for Ruby, right? Idiot! She can take care of herself, or at least you can assist her. Do you think she’s alone? The noble girl, and you were afraid for her, thinking that together you wouldn’t be able to fend off the secret attacks of an unknown foe? If she were to stay with her overbearing mother, she’d still be safe, even if unhappy! What have you done? Where did your will go? Have you forgotten what peace you fought to achieve? And now that something is obviously going wrong, you ignore it and seek safety for yourself and a friend you love? Just like a scared avian fleeing, remember the regrets of one who doesn’t fight. I’m a fool, I’m no one. I’m just a pathetic half who cannot save himself, cannot save the girl who trusts me. Maybe the kids back then were right. Why did I fight to keep myself relevant? Why didn’t I retreat? Because you’re not just a fool; you’re a great big fool who cannot see beyond the here and now. And that was great at times. But now, you need to look at what’s more important. Do I see where this is going? Get out of here, go home, and fight, tooth and claw, against anyone that tells you to leave. Rising is your home! You are the son of Fidel, the great king! I need to go back!”
Va’il couldn’t move. His own thoughts told him of truths and questions he didn’t think of and couldn’t have answered before. He counted the months since he had left Rising, and realized that he shouldn’t have let a single day go by, let alone the months and the seasons, before his attempt to return. He had been overly concerned for Ruby, against her own wishes, without realizing just how overbearing it was. She had been willing to take the risk to her life. Frail human that she was, possibly the target of a greater hatred, she had still been determined to return. Va’il realized that even back then, Ruby must have acknowledged him as her chevalier. As such, she let him take her away, to a land where no one knew them.
He internally laughed as his own foolishness. The past year had been one where he calmed down much more from his younger years. Life had become easier in Rising. And then with his move to Grizz, things had become different, but simpler. He had grown accustomed to things becoming easier ever since Fidel’s death, but only now could he realize that only made things worse.
“I’m not that much different compared to a while ago. I’m still that child. I need to move forward with my gut, not resting on my paws. I’m far more lupus than human. I take after Mum, not dad. The man who I thought loved someone so much he abandoned them. Mum wouldn’t, a lupus wouldn’t. I’m not like him, I shouldn’t prioritize what’s easy over the pursuits of happiness and what is right,” Va’il thought. He grinned, and smiled widely into the darkness. He made up his mind. Tomorrow, they would pursue the path of hardship.
A voice in the distance interrupted Va’il’s thoughts. He heard another voice, what sounded like a whisper in the distance. He again considered ignoring it, but his renewed determination told him to plunge headfirst into everything, even if it would cause a problem later. His curiosity took over, and he silently made his way to the source of the voices.