I think I fell asleep before she left the room. I woke, probably hours later, to a chamber lit only by firelight. I tried to make sense of the day. So much wonder and terror packed into one day, and then to be abandoned at the end of it! I wondered why my father had not taken me with him, and who the beggar was that he was so important. My father had claimed he was his old friend. How was that possible? There was no one of whom I could ask those questions. All around me the house was very still. I slipped out of bed and went to the window, opening the shutters. The sky was black and snow was falling thickly. It was very late at night, or very early. And I was hungry and no longer sleepy at all.
I was still chilled from the long ride home, with a cold that seemed to radiate from my own bones. I went to my wardrobe to find a wrap and discovered that someone had added a new robe for me. I took it out, and found it was made of soft red wool lined with wolf fur. And below where it had hung there were soft boots made just the same, but soled with leather. The moment I put them on, I felt both warmer and safer.
I went first to my father’s bedchamber, to see if perhaps he had already returned. I found no comfort there. His bed was empty and the room so rigorously tidy that it could have belonged to anyone. Or no one. “This is not his true den,” I said aloud but softly. I nodded to myself, knowing now where I must go to find my answers.
I padded softly through the darkened hallways. My eyes adjusted quickly to the darkness, and I made my way to his private study without encountering another soul. The silence in the house was almost unnatural, as if I were the sole inhabitant. As I approached the study, I rebuked myself for not bringing a candle, for I would need it if I intended to search his private library for clues to my questions. But when I came round the corner I saw that the door was slightly ajar; warm firelight spilled in a sweet wedge on the floor and up the wall.
I pushed the door open and peered in. No one sat at the desk, but a large fire was burning merrily on the hearth. I stepped into the room, asking softly, “Father?”
“I’m right here,” he replied. “I’m always here for you.” The great gray wolf who had been sprawled on the hearth sat up slowly. He lolled his tongue out over his very white teeth as he yawned, and when he stretched, the black claws of his toes protruded and then retracted. Then he looked at me with his wild brown eyes and smiled.
I stared at him. “I don’t understand.” I said faintly.
“You don’t have to,” he replied comfortingly. “Understanding how or why is very seldom as useful as understanding that things are. I am.”
His voice was deep and calm. I moved slowly toward him. He sat very tall, his ears perked, watching me come to him. When I was closer, he took in my scent and said, “You’ve been frightened.”
“There was a dog killer in the market. My father couldn’t save the dog anything except pain. Then he killed someone, and unkilled him, and then went off with him. And left me all alone.”
“You’re not alone when I’m with you. I’m the father that is always with you.”
“How can a wolf be my father?”
“Some things just are.” He stretched out in front of the fire again. “Perhaps I’m the part of your father that never stops thinking about you. Or perhaps I’m a part of a wolf that didn’t end when the rest of me did.” He looked up at the carved black stone on the fireplace mantel. I glanced at it. It had three faces, my father, a wolf, and … I stared for a long moment.
“That was him. But much older. And blind and scarred.”
“The Scentless One. Then I do understand why your father went. He would have to.”
“He wasn’t scentless. He was a smelly old beggar, stinking of dirt and filth.”
“But having no scent of his own. He and your father are pack. I spent many days in his company as well.” Wolf-Father looked up at me. “Some calls you cannot ignore, no matter how it may tear your heart.”
I sank slowly down to sit beside him. I looked at my feet, gray now with little black claws. The robe had changed. The wolf fur that had been on the inside of it was now on my outside. I curled up beside him and rested my chin on my paws. “He left me. The Scentless One is more important to him than I am.”
“That is not so. His need must have been greater. That is all. There comes a time when every cub is left to fend for himself. You’ll do well, if you don’t mire in self-pity. Self-pity only gets you more of the same. Don’t waste time on it. Your father will come back. He always comes back.”