Home is where the heart is, so the proverb tells us. And it would seem, therefore, that Aoibheann’s heart lives in a tree, specifically, Ardan. Of course, that is no surprise, but it is the first time that she has explicitly said so.
I had been doing my usual rounds of the village when I ran into Dorina by her hut. She was complaining about her variable luck with growing her herbs. I didn’t have much help to offer, but I mentioned such things as I remembered learning from Mother. Helene turned up then, so I suggested they talk, although Helene protested that she was better at finding wild herbs than she was growing them. Curiously, the conversation took place partly in French. Well, curiously for Dorina anyway, for I had not known that she spoke the language. Helene and I, on the other hand, have conversed many times in that tongue.
Before we could get very far on the matter of growing herbs, I felt a disturbance in the roses about the same time as I heard the guards calling to one another from the direction of the entrance. Within moments, one of them came up and reported that a large cŵn was approaching the village in a hostile manner, and that it was possibly the one that Aoibheann had asked us not to attack. I sent him to fetch Kustav or Davor. I also asked him to send for Aoibheann. I wasn’t entirely sure why. Possibly, I hoped that maybe she could explain what we were supposed to do with a ravening cŵn if we weren’t supposed to hurt it.
I headed over towards the village entrance, drawing my sword, just in case. I was vaguely aware that Helene and Dorina had decided to follow me, and as I glanced back, Dorina had armed herself with a rock, and Helene had grabbed a stout broom. I could only hope that they had the sense to stay well back if things got ugly.
Davor caught up with me as we got towards the edge of the village, drawing his own sword once he saw I had mine to hand. I briefly explained that Aoibheann’s favourite cŵn was possibly approaching. It then occurred that while he and the cŵn were different creatures, there might be some commonality, enough maybe that they could communicate. He grudgingly agreed it was possible, though it hadn’t helped when they attacked the hill before. The beast’s roars had clearly disturbed Maric, as his thoughts came to me through our mental link, asking what was wrong. I updated him and he said he would come down too.
The beast appeared, slavering and howling, standing upright, and from its stance, ready for a fight. I felt Davor shift into the wolf-man shape, which approximated closely to the form the cŵn had taken. The rest of the guards and I formed a half-circle, swords ready, but held down, non-threatening. The beast howled at us, and then looked at the sheep that were nervously clustered nearby. I was wondering if we should risk defending the sheep, or maybe let it have one in the hope that would satisfy it, when Aoibheann came charging in out of nowhere, screaming “No!” Whether that was meant for us to stop us attacking the beast, or if she hoped to dissuade him from our sheep, I didn’t know. Davor also issued some sort of challenge; at least, I assumed that was the intention of his howl at the beast.
It seemed nonplussed by Aoibheann charging at him, and swung its arm, not to strike, but to grab, scooping her up and tucking her under said arm, holding her almost possessively. It then reacted to Davor’s challenge with a roar of his own that fair rattled our eardrums. Davor answered him in growls, possibly warning him to not harm her, but the beast’s stance seemed more protective than aggressive, at least to her. I warned the lads to keep their swords down and addressed Aoibheann, who seemed to be trying to growl at it herself. I asked if this was her friend, and if she was in any danger. She had asked us not to harm the cŵn, I said, but if he tried anything, we might not have a choice. She didn’t answer, save by trying to roar at us. The cŵn, however, did answer, surprising us all by speaking English in a somewhat cultured voice. “She is mine,” he said, “not yours. I will keep her safe.”
Davor had started to growl something, but switched to English, telling the cŵn that Aoibheann was already safe with us here. For some reason, this earned him a whack on the back from Helene’s broomstick and a command to hush. Perhaps she thought he was being too aggressive. I quickly advised Maric that the beast spoke English before following up Davor’s comment, insisting that Aoibheann belonged to nobody but herself, and as Davor had said, she was already safe, as she had all of us to protect her. I also asked her what she wanted; pointing out that Maric was concerned for her. What she wanted I didn’t get to hear because she just shouted at me for not listening and not, despite my expressed preference, wanting to solve things with words rather than swords. I would have pointed out that my first duty was to the village and therefore, having my sword ready when a ravening beast comes charging up the path was a perfectly reasonable response, but somehow I don’t think she would have listened.
Davor, meanwhile, reacted to Helene’s attack with a swift wag of his tail, which knocked her off her feet. I am sure he meant no harm, but it earned him what sounded like a reproof from Maric, who had just turned up. Maric then responded to the beast as I had, saying that Aoibheann was perfectly safe here and asking if they could talk about it. The beast settled down a bit, so I motioned the guards to stand down somewhat. Maric said that this was Aoibheann’s home, so why would he want to take her away from it?
I stepped back, letting Maric take charge of the situation. I noticed that Davor apologised to Helene, after shifting back to human shape, and even offered to buy her a drink when they were both less stressed. That seemed to nonplus her and she grudgingly agreed that maybe he could, after this problem was dealt with.
The beast, meanwhile, was telling Maric that the Little Rabbit was his home, that the forest was his home and they should be at home in the forest. He then asked Aoibheann, where was his home, where was her home?
What her answer was, I did not hear directly, for Maric asked me to take the others away, and have the servants prepare a room for our guest, should he choose to stay. I later learned that the question was asked of her again, by both of them, where was her home? Her answer? Ardan. I guess we should not be surprised. This was probably not the answer that either the cŵn or Maric expected, but it makes sense to me.
Thinking about it later on, it occurred to me that the cŵn might be the one that Valene had been trying to rescue, what was his name, Gwrgi. He had been an elf, if I recall correctly, before being captured by the Huntsman and turned into a cŵn. Something else occurs to me, something that I feel I should be concerned about, but I have no idea what to do about it. The cŵn said that the Little Rabbit was his home. This was a curious echo of the Huntsman’s last statement, his last wish; that Aoibheann was to be his home. Could this be because the cŵn was once part of the Huntsman’s pack and therefore, the Huntsman’s home was his home? Or was he heir to the role of the Huntsman? Could it be that with the Huntsman gone, that function devolves to his cŵn? So many questions, and I do not know how to ask them, much less answer them.