Return to Lynwood: Part Six
"Millie!” Lexora grimaced and stood up. “I’m sorry, dear, did all this fuss wake you up?”
The grey Ogrin nodded, still staring at the odd scene below her. “Yes, and my brothers—“
A little yellow Moehog and a slightly larger white Skeith pushed past her, scrambling halfway down the stairs before they, too, saw the Werelupes and stopped. “Wow!” the Skeith said as he and the Moehog poked their heads through the banister. “Mummy, are those real Werelupes?”
“We certainly are,” one of Isengrim’s thanes said with a toothy grin.
“We’ve got real Werelupes in our house!” the Moehog squeaked, although he looked as though he couldn’t quite decide whether to be excited or terrified.
Lexora beckoned to them. “Children, come here a moment.” The two boys wasted no time in complying. They seemed to perpetually be in a race with each other, while their older sister took her time descending the stairs. “Millie, darling, it’s all right,” Lexora said. “They won’t hurt us. They’re—our friends.” She shot a smile at Suhel, who returned it.
“Simon, look at those swords!” the Moehog said, pointing at the blades stowed on a Werelupe’s back. “They’re huge!”
His Skeith brother paused en route to their mother to examine all the fine samples of weaponry. “Oh, smashing!” he said. “Alfred, look here, this one’s got a club of some sort!”
“A throwing club,” the Werelupe who owned the weapon said proudly. She took it from its holster to show the boys. “Made it myself out of bone. It can take down a charging Tonu from a hundred paces.” Simon’s and Alfred’s eyes lit up like today was Giving Day.
Lexora cleared her throat, which turned into a few coughs. “Boys!” she said. “Thank you, Millie,” she added to the Ogrin who stayed at her mother’s side. “I have an urgent family matter to discuss with you, since you’re all awake.”
Reluctantly, the boys tore themselves away from inspecting weapons to gather near their mother and father. Alfred promptly deposited himself on Mr. Fitchet’s lap, and the Grarrl affectionately mussed his Moehog grandson’s mane.
“What’s happening, Mother?” Millie asked. “Why are there Werelupes in our house?”
Lexora put a paw each on Millie’s and Simon’s shoulders. “These Werelupes are going to help me find a cure for my illness. I need to go with them on an expedition into the Haunted Woods. I shouldn’t be gone long.”
“I want to come!” Simon said.
“Me, too!” said Alfred.
Lexora smiled and shook her head. “This is something Mummy has to do alone. Well, alone with her friends. The deep Woods is no place for children like you.” She glanced down at Connor and bit her lip. Although he didn’t currently look it, the Werelupe-boy was probably just a little older than Millie, hardly what Suhel would consider an adult. But right now, Barrowmere was far more dangerous for him than the Woods.
“Mother,” Millie said, “will you be safe?”
Lexora looked up at Suhel, smiled, and nodded. “Safe as safe can be, darling,” she said. Her eyes caught on the katana over the mantel, and her smile widened. “And—I’ll bring you all something back from the trip, how’s that? Like how your grandfather used to return with souvenirs from his travels!”
Alfred clapped his hooves. “Yay! Bring us back something good, Mummy!”
“Bring me back a Werelupe weapon!” Alfred said.
Lexora chuckled. “Probably not that.”
“Well, it seems to be settled, then,” Isengrim said with a smirk. “We’ll leave first thing in the morning.”
“Oh, but you simply must at least stay for breakfast,” Lexora said. “You are my houseguests—it’s only proper.”
“I could go for a good full breakfast, sire!” a Werelupe said, and the perked ears and wagging tails of his packmates betrayed their sympathies.
Isengrim snickered and shook his head. “I do not wish to take advantage of any hospitality, but if Lexora wishes to fix us all breakfast, I should not refuse her generosity.”
Beoffrey cleared his throat. “Actually, I’d be making the breakfast,” he said, puffing out his chest proudly. “I do most of the cooking around here.”
“He grew up on a farm,” Lexora explained, “and he makes the most marvelous country breakfasts!”
“Plenty of meat, I hope!” a Werelupe said.
The Kau nodded. “We’ll have bacon, and sausage, and I think we’ve got enough ham so everyone can have a bit at least!” He looked positively raring to show off his mettle in the kitchen. “Not to mention beans and toast, and black pudding, and mushrooms…”
Just the thought of it made Suhel’s mouth water, and she wished it was breakfast time right now, but her practicality would not let her dwell on such things for long. “I think you’re all forgetting,” she said, “that we need to get out of town without anyone seeing us.”
“That won’t be a problem,” Beoffrey said. “We have a wagon that will fit all of you, and a tarp to cover you up. I’ll pull you out of town.”
“Gwyneth can walk alongside it wearing her Cloak of Night,” Pharazon said.
Suhel sighed and leaned back. “Well, that’s a relief. Good to know something’s going right.” She still kept pressure on Connor, even though he had stopped his tantrum and was now just watching sullenly.
“I guess they can’t all be skin-of-your-teeth escapes,” Terra said. “Where did that expression even come from? Teeth don’t have skin. At least, I don’t think.” She reached up to inspect her own blunt human teeth.
Isengrim laughed. “I do not think there is anything more to discuss, then,” he said. “Lexora, is it too much trouble for us to sleep here tonight?”
“None at all,” Lexora said. “I’ll go get you some extra blankets and pillows, if you don’t mind camping out in the parlor.”
Isengrim stretched out on the sofa, although he winced a bit as he moved his leg. “I should hardly call this camping,” he said with a yawn. Removing his crown and most of his bone jewelry, he tucked his paws behind his head. “Terra, Pharazon, will you be all right?”
“Yep,” Terra said. “I’m just glad everything’s going to be okay. You get all the rest you need. I want that leg to heal up correctly.”
“It will,” Isengrim said. “And then we can go romping around abandoned towns and haunted barrows again.”
“Excellent,” Terra said.
As the other Werelupes began taking off their armour and weapons, Pharazon moved to the steps that led to the ground floor. “I should go check on Gwyneth,” he said. “She knows to stay put when she’s told, but I’m worried the mob might have run into her.”
“I didn’t hear anything about them finding a Ganuthor when Lexora spoke to them downstairs,” Suhel said.
“Oh, good,” Pharazon said. “I’ll just make sure she’s comfortable for the night.”
“I’ll come, too,” Suhel said. “Just in case you need backup.” She glared at Connor and hoisted him to his feet by his collar. “You’re coming with me.”
“Why?” Connor whined as she dragged him down the stairs after Pharazon.
“I want to talk to you,” Suhel said. She followed the Draik into the storeroom and watched as he poked his head out the door Suhel had broken. After a moment, he slipped outside entirely, and she could hear him talking to his Ganuthor.
She turned to Connor. “Look,” she said in a low voice. “I know you’re upset. What happened to you wasn’t fair, and you certainly didn’t deserve it. I’m sorry you had to find out the hard way that most Neopets are superficial idiots, and you can’t even rely on your own parents—“
The pup’s chin began to tremble, and Suhel shook her head, sending the fangs woven into her hair clattering against each other. “Sorry. I’m terrible at this whole pep talk thing,” she said. “The point I’m trying to get at is, you can’t just mope about it for the rest of your life. And you certainly can’t keep going around complaining that Werelupes are hideous monsters and you don’t want anything to do with them. That doesn’t make you any better than the Neopets who ran at you with pitchforks.”
Connor stared at her for a moment. The dim light from the fire upstairs barely reached them here, reflecting in his eyes and making them shine yellow. “Why are you lot so mean to me?” he asked. “You push me around, you tell me to just get over things like being cursed into a beast, you force me to come with you on some expedition that has nothing to do with me, and you let that big brute who calls himself a king boss me around like I’m one of his subjects—“
Suhel growled, her hackles rising. He had just touched a raw nerve. “I am sick of your attitude,” she snarled. “Don’t you dare talk about Lord Isengrim that way—especially after he took that pitchfork for you.” She let go of his shoulder and tore herself away from him. “You think you’re some super intelligent scientist,” she said, “but thinking the way you do, you’ll never get anywhere in life.”
Connor’s ears dropped. “W-well—now I never will, anyway, because I’m a Werelupe!”
The female glowered at him, her snout wrinkling in ire. “Get back upstairs,” she barked, pointing a claw at the steps. “Get some sleep. We’re going to the old keep in the morning. Don’t you dare think of leaving. You’ll never make it back to your parents’, and they wouldn’t give you sanctuary like Fitchet has.”
The mention of his parents seemed to break Connor all over again. Fur going flat, he ducked his head and shuffled upstairs, choking back a despondent howl.
“Was that really necessary?” Pharazon asked. He had come back inside and was just now closing the door behind him.
Suhel looked down at him for a moment and buried her face in her paw. “I don’t know. I’m sorry, Pharazon. I haven’t the slightest clue what I’m doing when it comes to pups. It’s a good thing I’m not a mother—I guess I just don’t have the patience for it. He’s been nothing but rude and burdensome since we met him.”
“It’s because he’s afraid,” Pharazon said. “And he doesn’t know how to handle it. He’s just a kid.”
“Being young is no excuse,” Suhel grumbled. “I was better-composed when I was his age.”
“Some people are,” Pharazon said, “and some people aren’t. We can’t control that, unfortunately.” He unhooked the clasp that held his cloak around his neck and began to bundle up the cloth. “But give yourself some credit. You’ve been really patient with him all day. I’m not exactly a big fan of his attitude, either, but I can understand it considering what he’s going through. He just needs time to work out his emotions.”
Suhel nodded. “I know… I just can’t have him endangering us or himself while he does so. And—“A growl rose in her throat. “No one, but no one, insults Lord Isengrim like that. It cuts at me like nothing else.” She began to cough, making her way back to the stairs hunched over and trying to catch her breath.
Pharazon scrambled to keep up with her. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m sure someday Connor will understand what Isengrim’s doing for him. But it is frustrating that he’s not right now, I know.”
At the bottom of the steps, Suhel paused, leaning an arm on the banister to let out a few last harsh coughs. It still scared her to realise that they were symptoms of a curse, and she just hoped she and Lexora could figure out a cure at Lynwood. She sighed. “Thanks, runt… when did you get so good at pep talks?”
“Terra taught me a lot,” Pharazon said. “Trust me, I used to be just as bad at it as you. But she taught me about stuff like validating the other person’s feelings and looking for a positive angle, and why people do the things they do. I want to be a better friend to you than I have been in the past, Suhel.”
She looked down at the little faerie Draik and smiled. “Thanks…” But that did not change the fact that he used magic, she thought suddenly, and her smile faded. “Let’s get some sleep,” she said, turning to head up the stairs.
In the parlor, Lexora and her family were passing out blankets to everyone—her sons using it as an excuse to chat with the Werelupes about weapons, armour, and battle stories. Connor sat in the corner, a blanket and a pillow untouched at his feet.
Suhel sidled over to him. “Connor… I’m sorry I got angry with you,” she said. “I hope you feel better.”
He glanced up at her but said nothing, letting his head droop back down to rest on his folded arms.
Suhel glanced over at Isengrim, who offered her a sympathetic look. She knew he and the other Werelupes had heard the whole thing. She sighed and went to find a free space on the floor. This day had just been too much for her. But despite everything that had happened, she found herself glad that she had run into Lexora again. She just hoped everything would work out.
To be continued…