Savage Ep. 8
The dawn had broke over the land once more, marking the beginning of her second day of freedom. Fayre greeted the sun with eyes open, same as the night prior, after awaking from a sound slumber. Their trek through unpaved wilderness alone was an exercise on her legs so used to comfort and convenience. But to also help burden the body of a young foxkin was nearly more than her frame could bear. At the day's end, she had fallen into slumber as soon as she had put head to dirt.
Waking with the breaking dawn, Fayre sat up, stretched her arms and legs with a violent yawn, then greeted the day on her hind paws. She strolled leisurely about, arms dangling at her sides, as sore and aching as the rest of her body. Her muscles grumbled to her brain with every step taken. Yet her mind was refreshed, and newly reeling from the improbable fact of their most recent escape. What was actually her second escape.
She hadn't afforded herself even a sigh of relief yesterday, working as she was to help carry their newest accomplice on the run. She allowed herself one now, heaving in great breaths of air with a smile set on her face. She leaned against a tree, hind paws digging into the cool sand. They had made it. They had rescued the foxkin, and survived to tell the tale.
Fayre would have burst out in a fit of laughter at the absurdity of that very statement if she hadn't been so conscious of the others, still fast asleep on the soft grass and mosses.
This was all thanks, of course, to their newest friend and traveling companion, the mysterious monk sleeping silently between two skinny trees. His hood was down; his long ears sprawled down across his face like a lock of hair. His fur, light gray in color around his face and neck, was matted and tangled from having slept on the ground. To Fayre, the combination of his matted fur and long ears hanging in his face was almost too adorable to not pounce on him and smother him round in a big hug. Especially after all they had accomplished with him taking charge. It was almost unfathomable that behind that cute, sleeping face was a mind that could stay cool under pressure and formulate a plan out of any situation.
Fayre envied him greatly. He had remained calm while she had panicked. He had freed the girl while she had only sat there, useless. Had it been up to her, the foxkin would have never been saved, or, worse, they would have all found their end.
And then of course there was the foxkin herself, whom had still not awakened to share even as much as her name. She would be so grateful to them once she learned what they had done, grouping up to save her. Fayre couldn't wait to tell her; she hoped that Velius would choose her to do it, since he couldn't talk to do it himself.
And as excited as Fayre was to see her inevitable reaction, she also felt a great stab of pity for the creature and everything she had suffered through. During the night, Fayre had covered her in one of the long traveling cloaks that she had lifted. But still, even with most of her fur clothed, what parts of it did show were coarse and off-color, like dying grass. Her pale complexion and fever had not yet recessed.
Fayre hoped the girl would get better soon. They looked like they might be the best of friends. She was much happier knowing that, if she did have to be in the wilds on the run, that she had this new family to live and be with. They made the burden easier.
And she needed each of them, Fayre realized. Portia, ever her big sister, would keep her strong and confident, while Velius undoubtedly had a lot to teach her about living in the wilds. He seemed so smart, though one might not know just by looking at him.
This new girl, however: what would she contribute to their ragtag family?
Rippling with energy and welling excitement, Fayre put her enthusiasm to use, setting out to find kindling and dry leaves to fuel Velius' morning cooking fire.
When Fayre returned some time later with an armload of dry fuel, she discovered the silent monk and her older sister both awake and milling about.
Portia had tossed aside her old, tattered clothes in exchange for a fresh, low-cut tunic, sharp, green, and snug, with a pair of dark leather britches to accommodate. Velius, still in his monk's traveling cloak, had kept his hood down around his shoulders. Unbenounced to him, the fur of his head was still mussed about from sleep, causing Fayre to grin in spite of herself.
Fayre herself had selected her new outfit the night before, choosing a durable skirt, dyed red, and an airy blouse of creamy white and silk. Tied around her mid-section, serving as an impromptu belt, was a bright red handkerchief.
Both Velius and Portia were kneeling on either side of the resting foxkin, whose slumber had become shallow. She would often stir slightly, or mutter something intangible in her disturbed slumber.
Fayre discarded her load into an unceremonious pile and hurried straight over.
Portia reacted to her presence straight away. “Finally, someone I can carry on a conversation with!”
“How's she doing?” Fayre asked, her voice filled with concern. She settled herself near the foxkin's head, squatting down on the dirt.
Portia, in answer, scoffed, shaking her head slightly. “Mute boy seems to think that she's treatable, but we'll need plenty of water to keep the fever under control.”
“Well, that's great news!” replied Fayre.
“It would be a real shame if she died. That would have been a lot of wasted work.”
Knowing the layout of the land well, Velius had lead them to camp beside wide river, snailing along between weeds and rocks. It took only a few minutes of carrying their load, handling the sickly foxkin as gently as they could manage, before they reached the river of their destination. Once there, the cloak wrapped around the foxkin was removed, and her body was lowered gently into the cold water of the river. Velius, for sake of decency, removed himself from sight, choosing to bathe further up river.
The cold water moving slowly past her tattered arms and legs caused the foxkin to stir even more. She appeared to be trapped inside a bad dream. Lowering her torso into the river, with the two sisters supporting her light frame, brought an unconscious gasp uttered from her swollen lips. Fayre and Portia, their new wardrobes left behind on the river bank, waded further into the cooling waters. There, they drank, bathed, and washed away their foul scent of slavery and the unclean memories of days past.
Some time would pass before the three of them would return to shore again. For the sisters especially, even as pampered slaves, the luxury of a bath was a rare privilege, and they took time to savor in its delight as free women. They relished the feeling of the icy cold water moving past their fur, washing away weeks of dirt and sweat. They would have stayed in the water longer, laughing and playing gaily with each other, had not the foxkin suddenly stirred from her slumber. The combination of rest and refreshing water had finally worked its magic, breaking her fever, bringing the young girl out of her sickness-induced slumber.
The foxkin awoke with a start. Finding herself mostly submerged in a large body of water, she panicked. She whipped her head to and fro, trying to get her bearings all the while terrified that she might drown as suddenly as she had awoken.
Fayre and Portia went to her aid immediately, trying to comfort her while helping her back to shore. She flailed wildly, her limbs thrashing about, trying to both stay afloat and keep the strangers away. Once safely to shore, the foxkin scrambled up the bank, her arms and legs straining frantically to pull herself away. She took for herself the traveling cloak from the grass, not realizing that it was in fact given to her, and held it close, covering her nakedness. She was crouched down, trembling, looking every direction at once with eyes nearly the size of her head. She was bewildered and confused, but mostly terrified, as if a legion of enemies hid behind the trees and rocks, ready to strike at any moment.
The foxkin crawled backward, edging away from the shoreline, eyeing the two sisters as if they meant to eat her.
“It's alright,” Fayre assured the young girl, gently. “I am Fayre, and this is my sister Portia. We're friends.”
Unconvinced, the foxkin still looked around frantically.
“We rescued you,” Fayre continued, trying to slowly approach the foxkin with arms outstretched in invitation. Portia, meanwhile, hung back, arms crossed over her chest assessing the situation with cold eyes.
“From Stonetide,” Fayre continued. “Can you recall? You had fallen rather ill, I'm afraid.”
Approaching Velius' pack, she bent down slowly and pulled the leather thongs open. “You must be hungry. Would you prefer something to eat?”
This last question, at last, aroused some interest in the foxkin, and she regarded Fayre with renowned interest.
Fayre, seeing that she had peaked the girl's interest at last, procured the monk's loaf of bread and cheese, breaking each into fractions. Taking some for herself, she offered the foxkin her portion with an outstretched paw. Approaching ever so slowly, the foxkin swiped the goods from Fayre's paw, retreated a few steps, and started feasting greedily. Pleased that she had made progress with their new friend, Fayre began to eat as well.
Several minutes later, the foxkin alone had drained much of Velius' rations. Fayre worried about what they would do for food soon, but was content knowing that her new friend would be alright.
While the foxkin ate, Fayre and Portia dried and pulled on their new clothing. The stranger, between bites, had slipped on her cloak. Fayre gestured to it now that the foxkin had at last finished dining.
“You can have it, you know,” Fayre offered compassionately. She pointed, and the foxkin considered her cloak anew. “It's yours.”
With some of the color returning to the fur of her face, the foxkin looked much calmer now. She certainly seemed much more hale than only a few moments ago. And for the first time, acting much less in the manner of a wild beast, she seemed actually grateful.
The foxkin wouldn't let the others approach yet, but neither was she so quick to want to flee. And she seemed at peace now with where she was, out of the city and in the wilderness, a free woman.
And it was that very wilderness around her that Fayre was considering, causing her to not hear as the stranger muttered a word.
“I'm sorry?” Fayre said.
“Hazel,” replied the girl, her tone low and her eyes averted to the grass. “It's my name.”
By this development, Fayre was genuinely pleased. “Hazel it is, then. We are well met.”
“Why do you offer me these things?” asked Hazel, her voice still very tiny. Fayre had to strain her ears in order to catch her words.
“Because you were in need,” Fayre responded, her tone light and comical, as if Hazel had asked the silliest of questions. “I always help those in need.”
And there they stayed a moment longer, no further words exchanged, sitting in companionable silence amongst the trees and grasses. Fayre was looking forward to the adventures she was sure to have with her new sister while Portia stood sentinel nearby, her face still impassive. Hazel herself was considering each of them in turn now; Fayre smiled back while Portia glared down at her. She seemed uneasy around Portia still, but Fayre was sure that they would grow to like each other soon.
And the peaceful silence and wordless exchanges would have continued, if not for Velius' sudden arrival from further upstream. He plodded through the trees, as silent as he always was. When Hazel spotted his unannounced approach, however, that peaceful silence quickly transformed into something much more primal.