“You need sleep.” Londe had come before it was his turn. “You’ve been taking most of the night watches.”
It’d only been three nights since we’d finally defeated Balasamar, and since Wenn had given his life to save him. I still wrestled with the guilt, and it didn’t help that I refused to allow Londe to carry Wenn’s lifeless form.
The one we placed so carefully at the end of each trek so he could face the sky, his palms touching the earth of his birth. Tinn spoke words over him as we knelt. He’d been so brave, so willing to give of himself. Perhaps the specter of his sacrifice clung close, because we’d faced no danger from the wraiths, and no other evil had dogged our path.
“You all need more than I do.” It was a lie. I was exhausted. But sleep came fitfully even when I tried, and I couldn’t get comfortable.
“Just lean against me,” Londe said. I did, letting his body take the weight of my larger one. He was warm and quiet, letting silence taken over the moment. Te rhythmic movement of his ribs and he inhaled and exhaled soothed me and gradually I relaxed enough to lay my head across his withers and close my eyes to sleep.
On the fourth and last day of our journey to their home, Tinn began to ask questions. Ones I had few answers to.
“Where will you go after this?”
Londe looked over his withers to where I brought up the rear. We hadn’t really discussed it. “I don’t know,” I heard him tell Tinn.
“You don’t plan to return to the unicorn lands?”
I thought for sure Londe would say yes, but he stayed quiet. ‘You don’t want to go back?’ After all, I was a unicorn again. We could.
‘They didn’t support you when you needed it. If we go back, what will they do? Expect you to say all is forgiven? Take back up your former duties? Put yourself at risk again? Or will they still ostrasize you?’ He glanced at the foals trotting near him. ‘Us?’
Of course I knew his life in the herd hadn’t been easy after I’d left, but I’d hoped. “Perhaps we will find a new home,” I said aloud. “One where we can live together safely.” I’d traveled a lot. There were places the foals would be safer.
Tinn nodded slowly. We were quiet for a time, our hoofbeats the only sound beyond the calls of birds and small animals. Then he began to tell tales. Stories of Wenn’s life, his childhood, his family.
“He lost them, you see.” Tinn looked over his shoulder toward me.
I tilted my head. “He did? Was it like with Tinn’il? Did someone take them?” I clenched my jaw. I missed the little guy who’d always snuggled close to me. I hoped he was recovering as well as my foals from his abduction.
“No, though that is always a worry. A flood, from the lake, filled their tunnel. The mud was too thick, and his mate had just given birth to a litter of twins.”
“Oh, how sad,” Colette said. She sniffed.
“Yes, he has been sad for some time. He used to smile, tell jokes, always getting into trouble. Wenn lost a lot of joy that day.”
“Maybe he’s with them now.” Colette swished her tail. “And he’s happy again.”
Tinn gave her a gentle smile. “We like to believe that, as well. That when a locus crosses, especially when they are acting as a conduit, they journey straight to those they have loved and lost. That way, they are lost no longer and can live in joy. It is why we release them to the elements, so there will be no doubt their bodies will hold them to this world and this life.”
“I never thought of death like that before,” Marces said, trotting in a circle around Colette and moving closer to Londe.
“That is for those who are older who seek to shelter those younger or in need of protection. The young rarely think of death. And why should you?” Tinn looped one small hand into Londe’s mane and then reached down and patted Marces. “You have your whole life to worry about other things.”
“As long as he doesn’t scare me and his pater to death with his tricks.” I joined in the conversation, casting a stern look at my irrepressible son. “Like hiding in the weeds at the pond last night.”
“We were playing a game!” he said in exasperation.
“Games are only fun when everyone knows they are playing.” Londe nipped him. “So no more games just you know are happening.” He’d been frantic when Marces decided we should seek him last night in the last rays of the setting sun.
Then again, it was reassuring the misadventures the foal had been through had not been enough to dampen his spirit.
Mist was a sure sign we were nearly upon the lake where the locus were magically protected. With Tinn with us, it was no trouble to make it through the wards the witches had set and soon we were approaching the sparkling waters. The sun beamed down gently, the grass swayed, and the burden on my back felt like a crushing weight.
The locus clan all startled at the sharp whistle Tinn let out, but then his family came running. The rest soon followed. Voices clamored, and they all spoke over each other.
Tinn gestured to me. “As you can see, many things were changed upon our journey, but Wenn chose to allow his form to become a conduit and save Chasen.”
An old locus, his fur white-tipped and standing out in a ruff around his tiny face, leaned on a short stick. When he approached I knelt.
He touched one hand to Wenn, then one hand to my cheek before smiling. “He is at peace, finally. We will release his body tonight.”
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