Ruzan took another few steps toward the alpha's den. She shot a questioning look back at her guide, only to find an empty corridor behind her. She was comforted to know that she was not considered much of a threat, but had no idea how to proceed from here. Was there a traditional greeting? Some sort of custom she should follow?
Thinking back on all that she had picked up about Heyl during her short time in the territory, she realized just how little she actually knew. There had been a period of strife and sickness that had affected the alpha and the pack as a whole deeply, that much was clear, though she did not know the details. All mention of those times seemed tinged with a deep sadness, and she did not wish to cross any boundaries as an outsider. She understood that the pack held itself to a responsibility to care for the sick and injured, but now that she was undeniably well, she half expected them to send her on her way. They had already given her more than she could ever ask for; to expect even more would be foolish. And yet, she hoped.
Shifting her paws, Ruzan lowered herself into a stiff-legged bow. She had stalled this meeting long enough. Any greeting was better than none at all, and so she settled on the traditional hail to a superior that she was accustomed to.
"Honorable one, Ruzan calls on you," she announced in a low, steady voice, and waited. She had no way to know what sort of wolf the alpha was, but if the kindness she had seen in the wolves he lead was any indication, then she had reason to be optimistic.
Fitu heard two sets of pawsteps approach his den. One seemed to be a different kind of gait, which caused his ears to perk. The other set of pawsteps seemed to turn away, and the odd-sounding one stopped. A voice called into the darkness, and he shifted to see a small, hunched silhouette in the entrance of his den. The incredibly formal address almost made him chuckle. This accompanied by the scent told him this was a new wolf.
He moved to his paws and padded to the entrance to see a wolf-possibly the strangest wolf he had ever seen. She seemed half the length of a normal wolf. Fitu was socked-he'd never seen anything like this before. Instead of addressing this observation, as it would be rude, he instead thought back to her previous words.
"No need for such formality." he smiled. "Most here call me Alpha Fitu, though I prefer to go by only Fitu. Though I do understand that makes some uncomfortable, so you can choose what you want. What's your name?" he asked.
Ruzan nodded in acknowledgement and rose from her bow, surprised but pleased by his level response. Such composure was only fitting for a leader. The call for informality seemed to fit the general climate of the pack, though she was interested to find that it extended to the Alpha as well. It was something she would just have to get accustomed to.
"Alpha Fitu, I am Ruzan the wanderer." It was a title she had newly given herself, and one that she felt suited her, perhaps better than any title she'd worn before. Out of nerves, she began to speak again before he'd had time to reply. Each word sounded deliberate, and carefully chosen. "I am... grateful to you, and to all of Heyl. Your pack has given me back my life. I do not wish to abuse your hospitality any further, but... I owe one of your Medicine Keepers a life debt. It is not a warrior's way to leave debts unsettled." The last words were her mother's, and they felt awkward on her tongue. "I wish to join Heyl, if you feel that it would benefit the pack." Her mouth was as dry as the speech she'd just given. She nervously licked her gums. "I... would be honored to call Heyl my home."
Ruzan the wanderer...a warrior's way...where had this wolf come from? Likely a strict pack, Fitu thought. Looking down at her oddly proportioned body, he was impressed if she had lived in such a place. It didn't sound like it would be hospitable. Then again, there was a reason she was here, and if she'd been given her life back, as she'd said, it must have meant she'd been close to losing it.
As she continued Fitu listened on incredulously, and responded with confusion in his voice.
"Why....I believe you are mistaken, my friend. There's no breach of hospitality in what you ask! Our pack is made up of nothing but wolves who wished to live here, it's...we are open to all. You are most welcome here!" he smiled.
The pale wolf stepped outside the den hole into the slightly better-lit cavern.
"I'm sorry you feel indebted, Ruzan." he said. " I'd rather you stay here by your own will, though I will not force any mode of thought onto you. My question is...do you want to stay here? Is it appealing to you? I would like for you to be happy, and we would do everything we can to make that happen, but I'd hate for you to be forcing yourself. But if it's a warrior's contract, I can respect that too. It's very honorable."
Ruzan's eyes widened as the alpha questioned her resolve, heart pounding. She'd gotten it all wrong!
"I-I did not mean-"
She had thought it through carefully- what had she missed? She had stood by her debt and demonstrated that it was not her intention to malinger, that she was not there to take from them and give nothing back. Perhaps she had not offered enough? Fitu was still watching her, waiting for her response, and she was panting and shifting like a cornered animal, ready to flee. She shook her head and steadied her breath, willing herself to look at the situation objectively.
The alpha had said she was welcome. He was not looking for more promises or demonstrations- her intent had just not come across clearly. This was easy, a simple fix.
She nodded her head, eyes clear and calm again. "I... am sorry, alpha Fitu. Things are very different here." It took her another short pause to find the words she needed. "This place, Heyl, is like a dream. Some days I am not sure if I truly survived, or if this is where honorable wolves go to rest when they die." She barked a warm laugh at her own joke, but her bearing was sad and far-away. "It is true that I owe a debt, but if I did not, I would still be standing before you, asking your blessing to stay. I only wanted you to understand that I am not ungrateful. I know what Heyl has done for me, and I mean to repay it with my vitality, my life." She inclined her head toward him in a half-bow, awaiting his response.
Fitu listened to her explanation embarrassedly. He had taken her for perhaps somewhat simple-from a warrior-minded pack. He had never known much about the honor code but had never understood it. It seemed, however, that she was both abiding by it as well as going beyond it, and applying her own initiative to the situation.
"I see. Well, it's not a dream, but I do like to think we may give the honorable a home here. I understand what you meant now, I apologize. It seems there are things I must learn yet." he laughed.
"Well, then if you want a place within the pack, it's yours. I am glad to have someone as noble as you among us, it's a trait I find rarely in purest form these days." He smiled.
Ruzan could feel her spirits lift at the Alpha's words. She could barely believe this was truly happening, and yet there it was. He had welcomed her into the pack, and had called her... noble. Her lips closed over a broad smile that she couldn't contain. Noble. She had spent her life trying to be true to her mother's teachings, with varying degrees of success. Her mother was a wolf that she would consider noble. To have the word applied to herself was... uncanny. But she appreciated it none the less.
"The fault is mine. Heyl's ways are still strange to me, but I am happy to have the opportunity to keep learning." It was an understatement. To put the joy she felt into words would be simply impossible. "Thank you for offering me a place here. I promise to do justice to your decision."
There was so much more she could say, she knew, but actions spoke louder than words. This was her home now, a true home that welcomed her with an open heart. She made a silent vow to defend it to the death.