There’s a chill in the air tonight, and the little valley they’ve camped in is offering precious little protection from the north wind. The fire is high, but the wind takes away its usefulness. Every blanket has been taken out and shared. A little ways from the fire, her broad, noble-faced horse lies curled, dog-like, on the ground. Finn rarely sleeps laid out on the ground anymore, not the way he would in their forest, sprawled wherever he liked. Their forest had been safe. Every animal had been their friend and family.

Beneath his wings, there is just visible a tousled head. His little limbs are wrapped all around Dae, the young snow leopard being fuzzy and warm and given to purring in his sleep. She only has Kell with her, his little squirrel nose poking free of one pocket, observing as she stokes the fire. She pets the place between his eyes with one finger.

From overhead a nighthawk cries, and she lifts her head to look for it, even though she knows she won’t be able to pick it out on this dark, moonless night. Her father had often become a nighthawk; he would fly the corners of their forest and watch over them. She never could hear the cry without thinking, just for a moment, that outsiders had entered the forest. It was a physical effort, sometimes, to remain seated in the camp.

I can become a nighthawk now too, father, she thinks, still gazing skyward. Or a doe, like mother. I have learned it without you.

Arric mumbles anxiously in his sleep, and Odene rises to go pet his hair, humming a Sylvan lullaby under her breath. If anyone were to look, they would see her smiling.

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