Ruzan had not had a particularly good week. Recently discharged from the care of the Medicine Keepers, she had emerged into an alien world that she could barely comprehend. Being brought back from the brink of death was something she had not expected in the least, and the implications of it troubled her. It stank of fate and ethereal meddling, and she didn’t know how to feel about it. Respectable wolves stayed dead when they died, whether carried up to the Wind-Den of the gods, or cast like offal into the depths of the Black Pit.
So, maybe she was not a respectable wolf. She could learn to accept that.
Wandering through the wooded groves of Heyl pack’s outermost territory, she mostly spent her days keeping out of sight, panting to ward off the heat of the unfamiliar southern climate, and returning to the dens to sneak meals. While she had a suspicion that the food cache she frequented had been established for the pack’s many cripples, thus giving her some legitimate claim to it, part of her still chafed at the charity of the southerners. To maintain the remnants of her pride, she nipped what she could and ate in solitude.
The end of a long day found her enjoying a full stomach after just such a meal. She lounged in the shade of a stunted tree not far from the riverbank, resting her aching joints as she watched the haze of the lowering sun shine on the water, thinking of nothing.
One could have thought that the blur of gold flickering through the trees was merely a glimmer of sunlight. They would not be wrong, but perhaps more in a metaphorical, than a literal manner.
Khione was racing through the trees faster than a rabbit. It was hot, her fur was long and the river was a-calling.
Like a flash, she bounded into the river clearing and leapt straight over the boulders of the bank into the river with an almighty splash. The water was cold and bubbling and after the initial shock of cold, Khione revelled in the release from the heat. Happily, she paddled about for a bit and then snapped at the bubbled in the water, loving the cold on her tongue.
It was only then out of the corner of her eye that she noticed a figure beneath a nearby tree. She figured she had best go say hello so the golden she-wolf quickly hopped back up onto the bank and shook herself dry, droplets of water flying in every direction. Looking rather more like a porcupine than she had intended, Khione trotted over to the other wolf.
Ruzan’s fur stood on end at the she-wolf’s sudden appearance, and the resounding splash that followed. She sat, tense and alert, watching the other’s antics and scarcely daring to shift her weight. Regaining her composure after a moment, she briefly considered disappearing into the shadows between the trees, but scrapped the idea. All of this slinking around did not suit her, and it was wearing her thin.
Seeing the stranger approaching from the edge of the river tested her resolve sorely, and the cordial greeting was almost more than she could bear. Ružan tensed a moment, certain that her prone position and the lush summer grass could mask the extent of her condition, at least for a while. She was loathe to fully reveal herself, but she knew too well her position as a new pack-mate at the bottom of the social ladder. The protocol here might not be the same as it was in her homeland, but she wasn’t going to take any chances.
Ružan stood stiffly to face the she-wolf, her stub-tail erect. She bowed low, the gesture’s solemn sincerity juxtaposed with the ruthless comedy of her twisted form. A voice came from the stunted figure, unexpected in its depth and volume.
”Well met, Honored Sister.”
The golden she-wolf blinked in surprise as the other wolf - a new pack mate - she remembered, rose from the grass. Their form was stunted and compact. Strangely built and huge about the shoulders.
Khione couldn't help that her mouth dropped open as the other she-wolf bowed to her. (At least she thought it was a she-wolf). Her mouth snapped shut and giggled at the formality.
“You don't have to bow to me...errr..sister. I'm no one special. Well. My uncle was a God. Apparently. But he's dead now anyway. And I don't think thank makes me very special? Does it? I don't know.” she happily plonked herself down in front of the other wolf. “It's very hot isn't it. That's why I like swimming. But then my fur floofs up and I look silly. I don't know why it does that but I can never seem to stop it. Do you want to sit down? Is your back sore? You look a bit stiff. My mama is a healer. She says the best thing for stiffness is stretching. What's your name? I'm Khione!”
Khione looked expectantly at the other wolf and smiled.
Before she had even fully recovered from her bow, the other had started to talk. Not prepared for such a verbal barrage, it took her a while to process the fact that she was now directly in the middle of a conversation, with no preparation and a blank look on her face. She shook her head to clear the shock, and proceeded to tune in.
Niece to a God? The golden she-wolf didn’t look like any of the Gods that Ruzan knew. But these southern Gods were strange to her, and she had little knowledge of them by which to judge the claim. She made a mental note to review the matter further. The rest of the comments came so quickly that it was all Ruzan could do to keep them straight in her head. At last silence returned, and she found herself, dumbfounded yet again, staring into the expectant face of this “Khione.”
”My name is… Ruzan.”
Following Khione’s lead, Ruzan lowered herself back onto the soft grass, appreciating the relief it gave her sore back. She sighed, and gave herself a moment to compose the rest of her response. Her anxiety regarding meeting other wolves centered mostly around their reaction to her condition, which ranged from perplexity and curiosity to fear and violence. Incidents involving the latter were less common, but the uncertainty kept her on edge, and she did not like taking chances.
This wolf’s reaction, however, was somewhat uncanny. Her complete lack of concern perplexed Ruzan, but she was not bothered by it. It was refreshing. When she finally spoke, the words came rhythmically, each pronounced with care, as if getting the sounds correct caused some small difficulty.
”Yes, my back is stiff, and it is very hot here. I have tried stretching. When I was younger, I thought if I stretched enough, my body might get longer. It did not work.” If this was meant to be a joke, no change in expression betrayed it. She looked at Khione for a moment, examining her drying fur. ”I do see some... ‘floofing,’ I think. Mine does this too.” She hunched her shoulders a bit to accentuate the fur bunched around her stunted neck. “Perhaps it is good that I do not swim.”
”Ruzan.” Khione tried the name upon her tongue and liked how it rolled.
She stared at the wolf who was obviously her newest friend in shock.
“wha-what do you mean you do not swim?!” the golden she-wolf spluttered. “You do not know how to swim?! But you are a Heylian now, you must learn how to swim!”
Khione panted heavily. It seemed that it was only getting hotter rather than cooler. She eyed the other she-wolf critically and laid her head on the ground.
“I think if you knew how to swim you would be a good fisher. You have very broad shoulders. Good for buoyancy and a strong jaw for catching fish! And you're compact! So there wouldn't be as much resistance in the water! I am not very good at fishing. Mama once said I had the body of a ferret - long and fluffy-tailed. But I do like to swim! The world does not weigh so heavy when you swim.”
She smiled contentedly up at the other she-wolf from the ground.
Ruzan considered Khione’s words. It was true that she had seen many wolves swimming during her short time in the territory. She had suspected it had some sort of cultural significance, but wasn’t sure exactly what that could be. Perhaps she could get clarification.
”I have seen that Heylian wolves swim often. Why is that?”
She was also uncertain of the rest of the she-wolf’s convictions, which she expressed through a quizzical look. Compact she was, but also disproportionate. She had a feeling that her too-long legs would get in the way of themselves, and she would have trouble staying rightside-up. Drowning was a very real possibility, and while she was beginning to like this wolf, she was not willing to trust her life to a stranger. She would have to adapt to the ways of this pack somehow, but she would do it on her own terms, and in her own time.
”I am thinking it is important to the pack, but…” She afforded the river a long, considering look. ”I am not so sure that I’m ready to try it.”
Khione cocked her head to the side, considering properly the question. “I think most wolves here swim because most are disabled. When you are in the water you do not bear weight like you do on land.” she replied happily, ”Because you do not bear weight, your movement is less inhibited and you are able to exercise with ease.”
The golden she-wolf smiled at her new friend. She yawned, ”A wolf is not born knowing how to swim. My daddy had to teach me. I was not allowed to swim on my own until he was satisfied.”
“But that was a long time ago.” Khione laughed and rolled onto her back, her legs sticking straight up in the air like a frozen moose as she stretched.
”When, or if you wish to try it. I can always help you.”
”Yes,” Ruzan nodded. “This makes sense.”
She thought back to her limited experience with water, and her mother’s many warnings. While it was not unheard of for wolves in her previous pack to take to the water during the short northern summer, it was more as a relief from pests and parasites than a recreational pastime. She had wet her feet once or twice, but never thought it wise to go further.
Hearing the other wolf’s last remark, she nodded gratefully. ”Khione, I will remember your offer.”
It was not an empty promise. Though she still had misgivings, she knew that it would be foolish to neglect to learn a valuable skill. For now, though, she could give herself time. She laid her head on the soft summer grass, and panted contentedly to herself.
Contented silence was not something Khione experienced often.
But it was something she slipped into then.