The Werewolves' Story
Healer and Hunter: Chapter Twenty
"I guess this is it, then," Zzandoren said quietly,
looking up at the nine-foot-tall dragon who wouldn't quite meet his eyes.
::Suppose it is,:: Ronan replied, scratching uncomfortably at his arm.
"I'll miss you."
::You'll be glad to be rid of me.::
Zzandoren shook his head with a little smile. "No, I won't. You're not as horrible a bond as you think you are, even for a boring old healer like me."
Shifting from foot to foot, Ronan rumbled a little at the compliment, though whether it was a happy rumble or an unhappy one, Zzandoren couldn't tell. ::I'll come back a lot.::
"I know you will. You know how to find me."
Over the past year and then some, Zzandoren really had gotten used to the dragon's presence. Ronan had a vicious temper and terrible impatience, but he tried to keep both in check, for his sake and the sake of others. He was a good student, even in subjects he wasn't as interested in, and could be both kind and gentle now and then, to the surprise of many who knew him. He'd had to live with two people who didn't seem to like him, and one who was so different that sometimes seeing eye to eye was difficult, and he'd done an admirable job. Good, he was; fierce, he was; and now, independent once again.
Zzandoren had been free of the cell for two moons now, and unshifted for four. He was as safe as anyone with his curse could be, as in control of the beast as he thought it possible to be, and if he still lapsed into more wolfish tendencies when dealing with his pack... well, no one seemed to really mind. Rythri still was happier when he did, Ronan liked the show of assertiveness, and Thonyn, despite her grumblings, seemed more comfortable with him as a leader than as a mere healer. All in all, Ronan felt both his duty and his bargain fulfilled, and he had been itching for weeks, now, to get away and start "doing something important".
Of course, that usually was followed closely by a guilty, "Not that I don't think you're important, but...." To which Zzandoren would smile a bit, reassure him that he wasn't offended, and listen to him make his excited plans of where he was going to go, who he was going to rescue, what he was going to kill or drive off or put behind bars.
Their one experience with battle, the four of them, seemed to have lit his desire for more from a tiny flame of "someday" to a much more immediate blaze of "right now or as soon as I possibly can". About three months before, they'd come upon a village under siege by a very well-organized group of bandits, and while Zzandoren tended to the wounded and got the people organized, Rythri, Thonyn, and Ronan handled the bandits almost entirely single-handedly. That, Ronan had been saying since with a distressingly dreamy look in his eyes, was what he was created for, and what he wanted to do with himself. It was a lost cause, keeping him with the little pack-- Zzandoren had also finally given up on trying to call it anything other than what it was, and it was a pack-- and it had been a lost cause before he'd even tried fighting for it. All there was to do was accept that Ronan would never be happy the partner of a wandering healer and needed more excitement in his life, and help him to leave with as little guilt as possible.
It was probably just as well, anyway, as Ronan had never fit in well with the other two. They were even now hanging back in the trees, giving Zzandoren time to say good-bye, since they had nothing more to say than the brief farewells they'd given a few minutes ago. Rythri had never warmed to him and Thonyn, though she'd forgiven him whatever she used to hold against him a year ago, was still managing to grate on his nerves, which made her hostile towards him all over again-- especially lately. Their second birthday was approaching in the next half-year, and Thonyn, who was to be invited back to the ship of her birth for some sort of trial or ceremony, was getting increasingly edgy and demanding more time out of Zzandoren and Rythri both to train and test her. That Ronan, as a mixed breed dragon, was ineligible for this trial made him angry-- Zzandoren suspected he was jealous, but he would never admit that-- and so whenever Thonyn so much as mentioned it, he wound up getting irritated. When she continually brought it up, harped on it, worried about it, and begged for more practice, he got positively impossible to live with, and never let it be said that Thonyn refused to give back as good as she got. She had tried for a more involved good-bye, been rebuffed, and then retreated to her bond to commiserate.
So yes, it would definitely be quieter with Ronan gone, but Zzandoren still felt a little hollow at the idea of him not being there. Remarkably, despite their differences and despite their rocky beginnings, he felt like they were actually friends now. Not partners, certainly, but... friends.
::I'll keep track of the moon for you,:: Ronan added, with the air of someone putting off the inevitable. ::I don't think you'll need me, but I'll be paying close attention, anyway.::
"Thank you," Zzandoren smiled again. "I'll call you for Thonyn's trip, if you'd like to come. Your grandfather might have something for you, too."
Ronan snorted, as if he doubted it, but he didn't tell him not to. Sometimes, with Ronan, that was as good as a "please do".
There was another pause, where neither one of them were quite sure what to say. It was Ronan who broke the silence: he dropped to a crouch, shifting so that his weight rested on one knee, and bowed his head. ::Bless me,:: he said gruffly.
"Excuse me?" Zzandoren blinked, confused.
Ronan's eyes flicked up to him, then back down to the grass at his feet. ::You're a priest. I've seen you do it. It would... mean a lot to me if you did.::
Surprised, but also pleased, Zzandoren obliged and put his hands on his bond's thick-browed head. He sent a quick, silent prayer up to his goddess, fingertips stroking the leathery hide under them slowly, then said quietly, "May the gods of good smile on your path and light your way. Goddess Glace, watch my bond and keep him safe."
As well as I am able, her voice promised warmly. His hands felt briefly warmer, a glow from underneath them clearly illuminating his bones through his flesh, and Ronan, under them, blinked but held carefully still until the light and heat died down.
::Well,:: he said, blinking at Zzandoren as he shook out his fingers a little. He never entirely got used to the times when things decided to manifest quite so obviously; it didn't happen all the time, after all, and it still surprised him when it did.
"Well," he smiled back at his bond. "Congratulations. My goddess, at least, is looking out for you. Probably others will take an interest eventually-- Krystus would probably like you, honestly. --He's protection, honor, and oaths," he added with a broader, more amused smile when Ronan gave him a confused look.
::Ah.:: Ronan shook himself a little. ::Thank you....::
"I probably would have done something similar after you'd left," Zzandoren admitted, chuckling. "Thank you for asking," he added, catching Ronan by the tusks gently before he could stand up again, "and for thinking it was important."
::I'll take what help I can get,:: Ronan answered, actually sounding a little cheerful. When Zzandoren kissed his forehead lightly, though, he actually wriggled uncomfortably. Laughing, he let him go.
"Go on, before the daylight is gone," he said. "You have things to do, I'm sure. We'll see each other again soon."
Drawing his tusks apart to show his smile, Ronan butted his head into Zzandoren's chest once in rare affection, then turned and trotted away, breaking into a lope when he hit the open grassland beyond the trees. Zzandoren shaded his eyes to watch until he disappeared into the distance.
::That done with, then?:: Thonyn asked, coming up behind him and looking over his shoulder-- since she was a good eleven feet tall, that was ridiculously easy for her to do. Rythri was right behind her, coming up on his other side, but he didn't say anything. ::He sure dragged it out. You'd think he didn't really want to leave.::
"He did," Zzandoren sighed, dropping his hand. The hollow feeling was still there, and he expected it always would be, but he could live with it. At least Ronan had left happy and as guilt-free as he possibly could have. "Sometimes even the thing you want most has a price you don't want to have to pay." Thonyn shifted uncomfortably-- thinking about her own bond, maybe, with whom she still wasn't terribly pleased, though the seemed closer than ever even so. Zzandoren patted her hand and said, "He'll be all right."
::He will,:: she agreed, though whether she spoke of Rythri or Ronan she didn't clarify, and he didn't ask. It applied to both of them.
Rythri, oblivious to his bond's thoughts at least, gave his shoulder a reassuring squeeze. Zzandoren put his own over it briefly, shutting his eyes, and thought, even if his bond was busy elsewhere, at least he still had his pack. He looked up again and picked up his staff from the tree he'd leaned it against. "Come on, then," he said. "Let's get moving."
::Lead on, then,:: Thonyn nodded, and Rythri grinned at him.
Yes, definitely still had his pack, and that helped.