“You have company,” Honeysuckle carolled. The beaver Kieran and Kaveri had been watching repair the winter-damaged dam started at the sudden sound and bolted into the water.
“They cut it close for all three moons being full!” Kaveri said.
That was certainly true: all were past their final moondark and waxing towards the shared full moon, Talir so recently that Kieran had yet to feel like it was worth the effort of changing to human.
“Vetch and Chipmunk are showing them the way home,” Honeysuckle said. “Are you coming?”
“Absolutely,” Kaveri said. “Tyrel will need to eat, the other two less.”
“You don’t need to forage,” Honeysuckle assured her. “We’ll take care of it.”
Only for anything that needed to be fresh; careful gathering and judicious trading in the village had ensured that there were some staples here waiting, in expectation of all five of them being present here for at least a month or so, and possibly over the next winter.
There was really no need for Honeysuckle to lead the way, but she did anyway, too excited to do anything else.
They made it back before the others arrived, and Kaveri used the time to start a fire and fill a pot with water to boil.
Kieran smelled all three, and perked his ears forward, tail thumping the ground—but he heard only two sets of feet, puzzlingly. The cats could be very quiet, but not so silent that amarog hearing completely failed to hear them at all while in motion.
When they came into the clearing, he understood, and chuckled to himself: Madoc and Mirren on foot, in human form, but each had broad moonspun straps over each shoulder and tied around the waist. He’d seen that configuration in Galimont and many other places in that part of the world: it was a sling, used in variations for small children, mid-sized burdens, and even small livestock. He rather doubted Mirren had brought much from her old life, and Tyrel and Madoc had eventually stripped possessions down largely to their preferred weapons, which suggested that they’d found a clever way to work around an inconvenient moon phase. The Tyrel he’d first met would probably have sulked over it as an indignity, or refused to tolerate it at all.
Madoc spotted them and called a greeting, and Kaveri bounded to her feet and down the slope to greet him with a fierce hug. It had, Kieran reflected, been nearly a year, and the first time she’d been away from Tyrel and Madoc for an extended period since she’d been captured. Any doubts about her real feelings for the pair could certainly be laid to rest by the kiss she gave Madoc.
A whine Kieran recognized instantly, and the sounds of motion at Mirren’s back, and a narrow muzzle appeared over Mirren’s shoulder, ears back. Kaveri laughed.
“Silly fox,” she said, in Mirren’s language. “You will have to wait until you change back. Have they been good, Mirren?”
“Most of the time,” Mirren said cheerfully, tugging the quick-release knot of the sling and carefully loosening it; she half-turned towards Kaveri, and the latter obligingly scooped the cross fox out of the folds of fabric. He snuggled happily into her arms, nuzzling at her face with a soft warbling noise. “We weren’t sure we’d make it in time,” Mirren added.
“We would have waited,” Kaveri said. “Something kept you in Galimont?”
“No, we left as soon as we were reasonably sure the weather would hold. We got sidetracked a bit by a situation on the way.”
Kieran looked up as Hickory laid a cool hand on his head. “You’re pleased to see them,” she observed quietly, in the language he’d learned from her and Neoma. “You don’t like it when your pack is apart for too long.”
Well, no, he had to admit—all instincts insisted that he was alpha and therefore responsible for the integrity and stability of his pack and the well-being of its members.
He looked up at the barely-visible topaz crescent, and sighed. He really should change.
“You do not need to change,” Madoc said, still in Mirren’s language. “Kaveri can talk. Changing can wait until it would be less uncomfortable.”
Kaveri beckoned Hickory over and made introductions. Hickory welcomed them all with open delight, and the rest of the forest-spirits fluttered around, some bringing fresh foods, the rest simply caught up in the mood and too full of energy to sit still.
They settled on the moon-washed ground, under pale blue Meyar and aquamarine Sahen which would both be full in the next couple of days, under barely visible yellow Talir and the substantial crescent of greengold Sanur and half-full violet Lirit, to catch up on news. Tyrel curled himself comfortably in Kaveri’s lap, and Kieran sprawled full-length, listening with interest and pride. The brothers had done well, and Mirren was adapting smoothly. His entire pack was together, in the one place that truly felt like home. His mother’s presence would have made everything perfect, but without it, well… all was right and good.