Even Tonunda surprised himself at how deftly he snatched hold of the haft. He swished left and right then spun the weapon in his grasp. It felt right in his hand, but then… he was Nusallean born.
His attention shifted to the pale stranger in the red cape atop his horse.
It is he who leads the pack.
Southmen between him and his goal turned on him with swords at the ready. Tonunda broke into a jog, quickly building momentum. Sprinting, ducking, and dodging, he slashed without loss of momentum into the Vindavians; mere blurs in his peripheral vision en route for the officer. Merikay’s eyes widened in horror, for it became apparent the “dog” now had an “iron fang.”
The officer attempted to draw his sword too late as Tonunda, growling, all but ran up its flanks and shouldered him from the saddle. Merikay landed heavily onto his back, the sword tumbling from his grasp. He lay there badly winded, managing to get to his knees as Tonunda’s pack tightened a vicious circle of fangs about him. Tonunda watched impassively; the screams brief, then diverted his gaze to the sound of cheering.
The tribesmen stood triumphant about their houses, laughing and embracing each other. He looked to the valley. Animals of every description pursued the last of the Vindavians, kicking, biting, and goring them. None would survive.
Doors opened in the houses and women with children began to emerge. Tonunda looked among the Nusalleans for Andessa. An older woman exited a house, followed by a younger one.
He yapped once. Andessa!
Her stare met his. Recognition glinted in her eyes. She left the company of her village and headed towards Tonunda, as his pack formed around him.
“Daughter, do not go out there!” warned Velhaf. “They will tear you to pieces!”
“They will not harm me,” she assured him.
Tonunda smelt her fear. It seemed she spoke more from hope than certainty. His pack growled as she drew near.
Let her through, he admonished.
Growls ceased as he gestured for Andessa to approach him. She embraced him a moment before he returned the action. It felt good to hold her. On breaking away she smiled. He did the same, except tears also ran from his eyes.
It did not make sense as he was so happy.
Natha whined for attention. Andessa stooped over the little dog and patted her fondly.
“I remember you.”
Natha pulled away and nudged her nose against Tonunda’s leg.
Go with your female, brother. You belong with her now.
He felt a great weight on his heart at the suggestion. Until the now, the pack had been his family. His eyes rolled to Andessa. Life without her ached, even with the love of the dogs, making the choice obvious; he would be with her. The ease with which he made his choice perplexed him. Perhaps this was what Corbran meant, when he said “he would one day return to the man pack.”
He dropped to one knee and hugged Natha around the neck.
I will miss you most of all, little sister he whimpered.