Tove walked slowly through the snow. Her strides were short and methodical, shoving through snow and tamping it down, making space for the steps of the wolf behind her.
Once, it had been the other way around, Randulfr leaping ahead and plunging through snow drifts, waiting for Tove to catch up. Now–
Tove could heal a lot of things. What Tove could not do is stop the advances of time, despite all the wisps, healing vines, and absolute fear and fury that she leveled at it.
Tove imagined that the snow was a lot of things as she stomped it down.
It wasn’t fair, adding this burden to her now. It wasn’t fair; she already had so much. Death by a thousand cuts, or something like that. There was a song about it, or a hundred of them, but she hadn’t the heart to sing any of them. They simply thrummed in her soul, vibrating her out of her skin.
Randulfr would never whine, but Tove heard him stop, and she turned around and scooped him up, draping him across her shoulders.
She had tried everything. What was the point of learning to heal in the depths of that fucking jungle, if she couldn’t save Randulfr, her shield-wolf? But he was twenty years old, and simply had nothing more to give.
Behind them, several feet back and barely seen between the wind picking up fallen snow, was Randulfr’s mate Valdís. A year or two younger than Randulfr, she remained somewhat more spry, although she still kept to Tove’s trampled path forward. She had never really been Tove’s wolf, for all that she’d tagged along everywhere they went and fought her share of battles. It had always been about Randulfr, and so in her way, Tove was saying goodbye to Valdís as well. She had no illusions that the small grey wolf would linger once her ties to Tove were cut.
…and so, her pack was really cut down, wasn’t it. Pared away to nothing, rather like her stoic resolve. Tears froze to her cheeks. Tove walked onward, into the snow.
There was a cave near where Tove had coaxed Rand to her side all those years ago. It was shallow but at the perfect angle to block the worst of the winds, and it took the scout no time at all to start a fire and get it warm and cozy. She settled him on his favorite blanket–hers, that he stole off her bed every single night until she conceded defeat and let him have the fucking thing–and sprawled out alongside him, fingers buried in his ruff.
Valdís settled across the entrance, keeping watch.
Randulfr crossed his paws, rested his head on them, and sighed heavily. Orange eyes stared into her blue ones. “Welcome home, boy,” she said hoarsely. “It’s okay. You can go.”
He whuffled softly.
“Don’t give me that. What better time than when my heart is already broken? What are you going to do, smash it into even smaller pieces?”
He gave her that squinty eyed look she knew to the depths of her soul.
“It’s not like I’ll die of it. Come on, it’s okay. I know you hate listening to me, but this one time it’s okay.” She leaned forward and whispered into his ear. “I won’t tell anyone.”
Randulfr licked her salty cheek and she buried her face in his thick fur. Tove had thought she’d pick one of their offspring to walk alongside her…but much as she couldn’t look at another cat after Sindri died, at the moment Tove couldn’t stomach the idea of another wolf.
Randulfr weaseled his head into her lap and Tove slowly fed him every last morsel of his favorite foods. Everything he’d stolen off tables, now delicately accepted from her fingers. And still he looked up at her, orange eyes pleading.
“…okay. Fine.” Tove raised her voice in song, singing what she’d once written about the escapades of Brave Randulfr, Best of Wolves.
As the notes trailed off, Valdís ghosted into the snow.
And then Tove was in the cave, entirely alone.