Coming to Peace

"This is where we go our separate ways, dear heart," Blind Seer said, pausing in a swirl of leaves and bracken. Firekeeper felt her heart tear in two as she dismounted Nahni, the feisty paint stallion that had been a gift from Harjeedian.

"Please, brother, do not go!" she cried, wrapping her arms about his warm body. She couldn't believe this was occurring, even though he had warned her – her brother, whom she had known since he was a ball of fluff, and recently her one love, was leaving her to begin his own pack.

"Firekeeper, be reasonable," he begged, nuzzling her cheek affectionately. "We shall see each other again." She squeezed his neck firmly, burying her watering eyes into his thick fur. "You know that it is my time. I must split away, and find a mate." Firekeeper remember how she should have been that such mate. Obviously, Blind Seer was thinking identically. "We are of two different species. We cannot be together ourselves, but we can each make our race stronger, and is that not the duty of a wolf to his pack?"

Blind Seer wiggled from beneath her embrace to lick her tears from her cheeks. "Do not fret sister. Our paths will cross again, soon. I promise." With that, and one last heart-shattering glance from his pure blue eyes, the wolf vanished into the undergrowth.

It was always for Firekeeper. Blind Seer had loved her ever since he first knew what love truly was – first as a sister, later as more. That was why he left her.

He knew he could only ever cause her pain. The pain that they could never truly be together in the same form, whether human or wolf. Blind Seer needed for her to be happy, and live her life out in peace, and only a human could help her accomplish such. The longer he stayed, the longer he tore a hole through Firekeeper's heart. So, he vowed to himself, he would stay away for twelve moons or longer. That should be plenty of time for her heart to heal, and for her to find a human to care for.

Firekeeper wasn't sure how long she sat in the dirt, not ashamed in the least to let herself go. It was as if someone had torn her heart from her chest to leave a bloody, gaping hole. Nahni nudged her for a long while, but he eventually gave up his pursuit to pick at a few of the lower-hanging branches. His offended silence was worse than his constant pestering.

"I'm coming," she said, wiping her eyes on the back of her hand. He nickered cheerfully, trotting away through the trees. Firekeeper trailed after him, knowing that he was taking her to a stream. Nahni had quite a talent for finding edible plants and fresh water.

Thankfully, the quiet stream that she was led to had a deep pool at one end. Firekeeper stripped down from her leather breeches and vest, the crisp air biting into her bare skin. Before she could change her mind, she dove in. The sharp sting of the icy water was sufficient to distract her from the pain in her heart. She scrubbed herself clean furiously, attempting to stay in the water for a short a time as possible. Firekeeper leapt nimbly to the bank, shaking herself dry, her long hair – which she had allowed to grow out during her stay on Misheemnekuru – smacking her across the back. She squeezed the liquid from her tresses, permitting the wind to dry her. When she could bear the chill no longer and was sufficiently dry, Firekeeper tugged a dress from her saddlebags. It was a pretty, pale blue and had been a gift from Rahniseeta. Rahniseeta had said that Harjeedian had had someone buy it for her in Hawk Haven, but since she had no use for it in the arid climate of Liglim, she had gifted it to Firekeeper.

She pulled it over her head, struggling a bit with the lacings. Picking up her leather clothing, she shoved them into her saddlebags. With a leather thong discovered inside a tiny side pocket, Firekeeper tied part of her hair into a half-queue, using the surface of the pool as a sort of mirror. After finishing, she turned her head from side to side, ruffling her skirts, watching her distorted reflection. She sighed. There was nothing wolf-like about her reflection – there would never be if Blind Seer wasn't by her side. Firekeeper looked like a proper noblewoman, like an heir to a barony. Like Elise. The thought of Elise's name made her eager to continue on to the city of Eagle's nest.

Elise. Jared. Sapphire. Shad. Wendee. Edlin. The names flashed across her mind in rapid succession. Derian. This name followed more slowly than the others, and caused her heart to create a funny feeling inside her chest. Firekeeper grunted softly, shaking the feeling away as a horse would shake a bothersome fly. She mounted Nahni, a slightly difficult task due to her skirts. However, when this problem was resolved, Firekeeper steered the stallion in the direction of Eagle's Nest.

Firekeeper was nearly daunted by the looming city of Eagle's Nest. After so long of living in the wild among wolves and in the foreign country of Liglim, the civilization of Hawk Haven seemed like a far cry from what she was familiar with. However, she steeled herself, guiding Nahni through the city gates.

Nahni, for his unusual black paint color, attracted many a stare, but not as many as did the strange, beautiful noblewoman atop his back. Firekeeper began to doubt her decision. Would it not have been better to remain lonely in the wilds, searching after Blind Seer? Desperate to get away from the stares she attracted, Firekeeper caught a young boy walking along the streets, gaping at her horse.

Moistening her lips, she prepared what she would say in Pellish. "Could you direct me to the nearest Carter family stable? I wish to board my horse." So the Pellish lessons with Harjeedian – at Blind Seer's constant urging – had ultimately paid off.

The boy grinned, and she thought there was something familiar about him. "I can take you right there." Firekeeper nodded her thanks. "If you don't mind me asking, what is your name, lady?"

She considered which name she should spit out. "Tamara," she said, with a small smile. Tamara was her true human birth name, which she had learned from the maimalodalum.

"Well, Lady Tamara, my name is Brock." He said this with a wide grin, half skipping as he led her off to her requested destination.

When they were inside the courtyard of the main branch of the Carter stables, Firekeeper dismounted Nahni, reluctant to surrender his reins to someone she did not know.

"If you'll come with me, Lady, I can show you where your lovely mount will be staying." A man, his nervousness evident by the way he was sweating, motioned for her to follow him into the stables. She turned to thank Brock, but he had already run along.

The stable hand explained all of the services that would be given to her horse during its stay, but she only listened with half an ear. Firekeeper had seen Nahni safely into his stall, and was about to wish him goodbye, when a voice echoed confidently about the stables.

"I see my brother was not incorrect when he told me there was a noblewoman about my stable. Good afternoon, Lady Tamara."

Firekeeper turned, and beheld the tall redhead whom had been her friend for many years. He seemed taller and happier than she recalled, dressed in somewhat grubby stable clothing. Derian smiled, dipping into the appropriate bow, but came up short when he saw her face.

"Firekeeper?" he asked, obviously unsure of himself.

"Derian," she said shyly. He laughed aloud, his face glowing as he advanced the few paces between them easily. Derian stopped, looking as if he wished to hug her, but hesitant of whether she would like to be. Firekeeper solved the issue for him by wrapping her arms around him. To her horrification, tears pricked at the corner of her eyes. She buried her face into his shoulder, trying to blink them away. Still laughing happily, he picked her up, and spun her about so that her skirts whirled around them.

Derian finally placed her down at arms length so he could admire her new appearance. "I can't believe this is you, Firekeeper!"

She was totally mortified when a tear actually rolled down her cheek. Derian wiped it away with his shirtsleeve, his eyes shiny with unshed tears.

"I so glad -" she began but couldn't finish because Derian had crushed her into a hug again.

He released her, guiding her politely into a secluded area of the courtyard behind a cluster of bushes. They sat down in the shade of an oak tree, gazing at one another. Derian could not stop looking her body up and down.

"You look amazing," he finally managed.

She smiled her thanks. "It's been so long…"

Derian sighed. "More than a year and a half."

"I missed you," Firekeeper admitted, blushing slightly as she gazed off into the distance. Finding Derian again almost made up for the loss of Blind Seer – almost.

"Everyone here has missed you extremely," he said, twisting a piece of grass between his long fingers.

"How's Holly?" she inquired. The elderly gardener had been one of the first few who had accepted her for who she was. And from the maimalodalum, Firekeeper had learned that Holly was more to her – Holly was her grandmother.

"She misses you with all her heart. When she found out what had happened to you, she cried for nearly a day."

"May I see her?" Firekeeper asked, feeling for Holly.

Derian nodded. "She's quite lonely. She extended an invitation to me to visit any time I like."

She leapt to her feet, pulling Derian up along with her. "Let's go," she said impetuously.

"There's some of the old Firekeeper spirit," he laughed, complying with her request. Firekeeper nearly sprinted up the hill to the castle, Derian hard-pressed to keep up. She reached the side gate to the gardens with plenty of breath left in her lungs. They opened the gate and walked in the direction of Holly's cottage.

When the two reached the cottage, Derian paused. "I'll let you go ahead first so you two can have a proper reunion. I'll come in later."

Firekeeper tapped on the door, attempting to control her impatience. "Coming, coming!" the elderly gardener called from inside. A few moments later, the door creaked open, revealing Holly. There was a brief silence, then she asked, "May I help you?"

Firekeeper felt sorry as she looked at Holly's bent over frame. She had aged so much, her skin beginning to hang off in folds. Firekeeper felt entirely responsible for the gardener's aging.

"My name is Tamara," she said, watching the shocked expression grow on her grandmother's face, "but you may know me better as Firekeeper."

"Firekeeper? You – you're my granddaughter?" All she could do was nod in reply. It was a great reward for her – the woman who had accepted her just as a girl who wished to learn gardening rather than rejecting her as a strange, feral child was related to her by blood. Holly made an odd noise of excitement, embracing Firekeeper.

"I'm so happy to see you again," she said, the words coming out muffled, for her mouth was pressed into her grandmother's shoulder.

"Derian told me what happened to both of you, and how you decided to stay!" the old woman sobbed. "I couldn't believe it! But now you've returned…"

The rest of the reunion was joined by Derian, and many tears were shed (mostly by Holly) through recollections of each other's tales during the time Firekeeper was in Liglim. Firekeeper and Derian remained at the gardener's home until early evening, when the sun began to sink below the horizon, displaying its colors in a magnificent sunset, as if it too were happy that Firekeeper had returned.

That night, she ate dinner with the entire Carter family: Derian, Brock, Damita, Colby, and Vernita. There, she was asked many questions regarding Liglim. Occasionally, Derian jumped in, seeing she was growing uncomfortable. She was given a cot in Damita's room, and quickly fell asleep under the badly concealed inquisitive gaze of the girl.

In the morning, Derian outfitted her in breeches, boots, and a tunic to help in the stables. "You stay here, you help," he joked, handing them to her. However, when she came out of Damita's room dressed in them, his cheeks flushed.

Firekeeper giggled, recognizing the red color that often spread across her friend's cheeks. "You're blushing," she teased, jumping down the stairs two at a time. He muttered to himself, following her to the stables. Choosing a mellow mare, Derian showed her how to properly groom it. Firekeeper turned out to be quite adept with the tools offered to her. He also instructed her in the way of all of the horses' names, the different reasons they were stabled here, and the proper way to conduct business.

Around noon, Derian went into the house to grab something for them to quickly eat. Calling to one of the stable hands, "I'm going outside for a few minutes. Yell if you need me."

The two settled in the shade of one of the few large trees, eating the handful of crackers and meats Derian had brought out. "Sorry for the bad meal," he said apologetically, "but there's not much I could snatch up that wouldn't take long to eat."

"That's all right," she said.

Silence spread between them, and Derian thought to ask something that had been on his mind since Firekeeper had arrived. "Where's Blind Seer?"

This question stung right to her heart. She struggled, trying not to cry. Blind Seer. The sole reason she had no more wolf side. "He – he – he left," Firekeeper managed to choke out.

Derian gazed at her sympathetically. "I'm sorry," he said, putting his arm around her shoulder. She leaned in close, breathing in his familiar scent. It comforted her, but it wasn't the same as when Blind Seer comforted her. Her eyes flitted up to Derian's face, and he bowed his head, bringing it closer to hers. Firekeeper could feel the breath issuing from his mouth on her skin.

"Derian!" the sharp call brought them both from their spell. They jumped, separating themselves from each other, but ending up looking embarrassed in a slight tangle.

Damita crossed to Derian and Firekeeper, appearing somewhat uncomfortable finding them in their current position.

"Yes?" he asked, standing up, helping Firekeeper along with him.

"Sir Jared and Lady Elise," she said, averting her eyes in awkwardness. "They say they have heard of Firekeeper's return and wish to see her." Having delivered her message, Damita bowed her head and hurried off. Firekeeper made an excited noise in her throat, and raced to the doorway of the stable where the waiting forms of Doc and Elise could be seen.

That evening, when Firekeeper and Derian sat in his bedroom, speaking where it would be near impossible to be interrupted, Firekeeper was barely able to sit still. After having not seen Elise and Jared for almost two years, she could not contain her pleasure.

Derian had a hard time getting her to sit still. "Let's talk," he said seriously.

Amazingly, this statement actually got her to sit next to him on the bed. She peered at him through the curtain of her hair with dark, inquisitive eyes. "About what?"

"You," he said, wondering if this was touchy ground. "You've changed so much. You're demure, and that's strange for me to see you like this. Whatever happened to the Firekeeper who was climbing trees in cutoff leather breeches and a vest, frightening seamstresses and assassins alike, running in the gardens with wolves?"

"I am a wolf no more," she said gruffly, looking away.

"Why?" Derian pressed, aware that his inquires might come with consequences.

"Blind Seer is not with me," she lamented. "He made me wolf, and now he take that from me." She sniffled, wiping her eyes on the back of a hand. "He gone from my life and now I am human. Not wolf. Not ever again."

Derian noticed the way she slipped into the way she spoke when he had seen her last. "Firekeeper," he said gently, stroking her cheek with two fingers, "Blind Seer wasn't the only thing that made you wolf." Firekeeper turned her head away, staring at the wall. "You are wolf here," Derian touched her head, "and most importantly you are wolf here." He laid his hand across her heart. "No one can tell you otherwise."

At last, she turned to face him again. "You think so?"

He smiled. "I know so," Derian said, bending his head, at last kissing her.

As Firekeeper felt a fire growing in her chest as she surrendered to the rapture of Derian's kiss, she figured that he was right. Her wolf side was only hiding, waiting for the right person to bring it to the surface.