Part 14 of my ongoing prompt-based serial story.
193: The light was hauntingly surreal.
Sasha whined and pawed at Allyandrah. She took a deep breath and stretched. Sasha barked, a high-pitched yap, and hopped off the bed. She barked again.
“Okay, okay,” Allyandrah breathed. “I’m coming. Don’t pee on the floor. Grandfather doesn’t like that.” She paused for a moment, stunned by her use of Grandfather rather than his name. It was the first time she had done that.
Sasha barked again.
Allyandrah pulled on a robe and rushed to the front door, flinging it open. Sasha bounded out, disappearing into the deep snow when she strayed from the small area she’d already packed down slightly.
Allyandrah scanned the horizon. Clouds hung low, and it had warmed. A light fog settled in near the trees, but to the north, the ground melded with the sky. It didn’t even feel real to her. She stared, trying to discern the horizon, until Sasha bumped into her legs. The snow clung to Sasha’s fur, making her seem bigger than she actually was. Allyandrah reached into the house and grabbed a glove to wipe the snow off. Sasha bit at the glove as it traveled down her back.
“Oh, stop it,” Allyandrah said. “You got to be used to this by now.” She stood when finished and Sasha shook herself off and pawed at the door.
“Yes, let’s get some food.” They went in. Allyandrah pushed the door closed.
“That must be a whole day now without a single pee in the house, am I correct?”
Allyandrah smiled. “Only took her three days to figure it out.”
“Takes Kjelgers much longer than that. Perhaps we should all have wollo instead of children.”
“Ain’t enough to go around,” Allyandrah laughed. Kru’Dael’Nah joined.
“Come, eat some breakfast. We need to decide our plan.” He brought two plates to the table.
“Plan for what?”
“Our plan for getting back home.” He sat and pursed his lips. “Real home. Not this Guardian-forsaken wilderness of ice and snow.”
“How do you know they’ll let you back in? They’ll probably just kill us both.”
“I’ve lived too long out here, doing what I was told, and have missed out on the entire life of my grandson.” His voice shook and he wiped at wet eyes. “I didn’t realize what I had missed out on until it, until he, you,” he pointed at her, “stared me in the face. Things had gone so sour with Kru’Nah’s mother that for a while, I was happy to be away from the drama of it all. Distance dulls the memory. I had him in front of me, then I lost you. Then I lost him again. I came home to this empty house and those days alone again were almost unbearable. If you hadn’t shown up…” He sighed and looked away.
“I did show up. You’re all I have left. He don’t love me anymore.”
Kru’Dael’Nah’s mouth dropped open. “That cannot be true at all.”
“I saw it in his eyes at the camp. I was by the fire and he came over and there it was, right in his eyes, nothing.”
“Don’t treat me like I’m stupid. I may not be trained in talkin’ and politics and all that, but I’m no idiot.”
A tear ran down his face. He took several breaths. “My dear girl.” His voice quavered. “What could you have possibly done to make him change his mind?”
The look on Kru’Nah’s face as she ran away the first time flashed into her mind. The confusion. The hurt. The betrayal.
“I ran. I ran when I shoulda stayed. I didn’t want no one to die. Didn’t trust him to protect us.”
“You made one mistake, my girl,” Kru’Dael’Nah said. “If he doesn’t love you because of that, then he was never worth your love to begin with.”
Pain tore through Allyandrah’s chest, tears spilling out.
“But, I don’t believe that,” he said. “I don’t believe he doesn’t love you. I spent many, many years in the snake pit of politics, and I’m sure that he was doing his best to protect you both. He saved you. Then he came out here for you.”
“And then I betrayed him,” Allyandrah spat, pushing away her plate. She stood and walked away from him.
“Did you plan to run away from him?”
She stopped and turned.
“Did you plan to do it?” he repeated softly.
She shook her head as her face crumpled and tears ran again. She covered her face with her hands. Arms encircled her, and Sasha pawed at her legs, whining. Allyandrah slid to the floor. Sasha pushed her nose into Allyandrah’s hands, trying to get under them. Kru’Dael’Nah grunted as he sat and pulled her close to him again. Anger and sadness raged against each other inside her. Everything had gotten so much more complicated.
“Love is not so fickle, my dear,” he whispered. “He did not seem the fickle type to me. No, he is different. And we have both lost him for now.”
He sat silently holding her while she cried.
“We will not lose him forever, though,” he eventually said. “We will go to him, and if we both die because of it, then we die. But at least we will have tried. We will have braved the danger instead of hiding from it.”
“Okay,” she whispered back. Sasha curled up next to her.
“Come, my dear, we must plan. Now help up an old man who has gotten himself stuck on this floor.”
Allyandrah laughed and helped him up. They went back to the table.
“This fog, I see, is not going to be of much use to us. If it warms up this much, we’ll struggle to stay cool during the day and warm at night.”
“Let’s just wait for better weather, then,” Allyandrah said.
He shook his head. “But how much time do we dare spend waiting for better weather? Winter has only begun. We have months of terrible weather ahead of us.”
Allyandrah drummed her fingers on the table.
“I also did not get my regular winter supplies, so we will run out of food,” he said quietly. “We really have no choice but to leave. If I didn’t have extra mouths to feed…” He looked away.
“How much time do we have?” Allyandrah asked.
“Maybe a few weeks is all. Not more than that.”
“It would take us that long just to get to the city!” Allyandrah gasped. “We would have to leave…” she stared at him.
“Tomorrow or the next day, yes.”
Allyandrah blew out the breath she just realized she’d been holding. “How long have you known?”
“Since you returned.” He dropped his eyes to the table.
“And you didn’t say nothing?”
He got up and walked around the table, kneeling on the floor next to Allyandrah and grabbed her hands, pressing them against his cheek. “I thought you were dead. I just wanted to enjoy your company, and now that of your lovely wollo, for a few days before this terrible reality set in. And I have. You’ve breathed life back into me, my dear.”
Allyandrah pulled her hands from his and wrapped her arms around him, pulling him close. “I love you, Grandfather.”
His body shook with sobs. Sasha nudged Allyandrah and lay down on the floor next to Kru’Dael’Nah. Allyandrah looked at her wollo and tried to think how they would survive. This was just a cub, not an adult, so Sasha couldn’t get them food. Mama was gone forever. It was just the three of them against the winter. She took in a deep breath. They had to go, that was clear. But would they survive? It was anyone’s guess.
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