I've spent an entire night here in this cave with this pack, and here's what I've discovered. The yellow-furred one who had told me off yesterday was named Julian, and he wasn't someone you would like to contradict. I saw a young dog with brown patches ask him if she could sleep somewhere away from the snoring of some other pack dogs. He quickly snapped, telling her to stay where she was. It makes me wonder what ice has gotten under his pelt.
That young dog who he told off didn't listen anyways, and dug herself another nest next to mine. Her name was June, and she was six months old, like me and Collin. Apart from that I don't know much about her. She seemed to enjoy being here next to me instead.
Collin was being obnoxious, keeping me awake all night with weird questions. And the ones that weren't weird either unsettled me or made me self-conscious.
"Why do you smell like ice?" he asked.
"I lived on ice," I gave an exasperated howl, "and if you haven't noticed, I nearly froze to death yesterday, remember?"
But it was fine. In some ways he kind of reminded me of Willy. It was comforting to have someone to talk to. He probably doesn't have a lot of real company here. The only one who I could recognize as being around his age was June. Besides, as he had proven when he had first welcomed me here, he also has a sensible side. I had a feeling we were going to be good friends.
Elidor… well, he had this air about him. He strode around, barking orders from time to time, offering suggestions to Julian. But he was a lot more good natured than Julian. He doesn't snap at dogs. I also noticed that Jewel hung around him a lot, which led me to think; were they mates? That wouldn't surprise me. Jewel seemed like such a caring dog, and she'd be a great mother to their pups, if they had any.
There were two more who I didn't meet yet. I've only had time to notice them at night, when I was feigning sleep. A yellow dog was still wide awake, and she talked with Julian. They looked nearly alike. I figured it was a she-dog from the lighter barks she used.
The other one was a lanky one, mumbling in his sleep about something called "kibble". I cringed before falling asleep that night.
I woke up early the next morning, shaking myself off of the sand that clung on to my fur. I stood up, noticing that my flank was much better than it had been yesterday. It was still a little stiff though, so I took extra care as I walked over to the entrance of the cave. I took a deep breath, relishing the scent of the pines carried over by cool wind.
The sky was a dark hue, with a tinge of orange on one side signaling the start of a new day. The red ground outside was wet. But it wasn't churned up. It must have snowed again last night.
I looked out at the forest, the trees a mixture of pines and the other kind of tree. I imagined what it would be like, going back out there and trying my luck again against the elements. I shivered.
Aside from the forest-scent coming from outside, I could smell the scent of fur and warmth emanating from the sleeping dogs in this cave. The scent of security I missed so much.
They saved me.
I suddenly found myself wanting to stay. Desperately, I wanted to. Here, where there were others to talk to and just be with. A place where I could live with friends and mentors around me. Not out there in unfamiliar territory, with biting cold and wild creatures roaming around.
But what was I thinking? They've just saved me, provided me with shelter and fed me. I had no idea how to repay them for what they have done for me, and I'm just going to ask them to be a part of their pack? Great idea, Pana. I mock-praised myself.
I heard pawsteps heading in my direction, then a grunt as Elidor sat down beside me. He seemed to be staring outside, checking the surroundings like I was earlier.
"So," he started, still staring out of the entrance, "the weather's chilly, don't you think?"
"It… is." I replied hesitantly. I sensed him turn his gaze to look at me.
"How's your leg, pup?" he asked, giving my flank an experimental nudge.
"It's fine. I can walk." I said, and I couldn't help but give a little amused snort at my last comment. He snorted as well.
"Good." He nodded, heading out into the clearing just outside. It seemed like he was going to trot out into the forest. I wasn't sure whether or not to follow him, when he beckoned me over. I bolted out, stopping next to him, my tail wagging behind me. The damp soil clung to my paws, staining them a russet color.
"Want to join me for a little walk? The others won't be awake for a while," he asked me, glancing back at the entrance.
"Sure!" I barked, probably a little more enthusiastically than I needed to be. He didn't seem to mind as he went into the forest, me tailing him.
Here, the pine trees' sweet smell was stronger, with the scent of fresh snow lingering everywhere. The trail underfoot was slightly worn down, grass a little flattened where his paws must have walked on it. Elidor just kept walking.
"Do you walk here often?" I queried, curious.
"I walk here whenever I want to, I suppose," he replied, "It helps clear my mind. I have a lot to think about."
I looked around, taking in the sights and sounds. This was the same trail we followed when we were going to the cave. But I had just been rescued; I was too cold and distressed to care about looking around. I tried to force all the memories of yesterday out of my mind and tried to keep my eyes on now. Now.
I closed my eyes, and when I opened them, I started looking at everything, and the view was breathtaking. The ground slightly tilted downward on the trail, offering a wide view of what was ahead. I saw the pine trees, sweet-smelling and large. I felt the really soft ground at my feet. I could just see the fish jumping in the la— Wait, what lake?
I shook myself, trying to snap out of it. "It's because you're alpha, right?" I questioned.
Elidor huffed. "You figured that one out. How could you tell?"
"I just…" I hesitated, "noticed that you were the one running things back there."
"If so, then you must know by now who my beta is."'
I thought. "It's Jewel, isn't it?"
"Yes. Now, can I ask you how you figured that one out?"
"I presumed that you two were mates," I told him, "Isn't that how it works most of the time in packs?"
I could see his russet ears twitch from the back. "You're a sharp pup, I'll give you that. I'd never have guessed that you were this clever."
I wagged my tail at the compliment. Elidor kept his eyes straight on the trail.
By now, the ground had become level, and I could scent water nearby. The trees cleared out a little, revealing a large field of dead grass to our west. It dipped sharply at the edges, and in the middle there was a lake, slightly frozen over. A few large birds flew above it, swooping down occasionally, a fish in its claws. Apprehension hit me with a jolt as I recognized this place as where I nearly drowned in snow.
Elidor stopped and sat himself at the edge; still on the trail, but facing the field. He looked me over, and I tried to hide how scared I was right now. He didn't seem to notice, and he turned back to face the lake.
"Do you know why the edges of this plain drop and slope down towards the lake?"
I thought hard for quite some time, but could seem to settle on an answer. I gave him a shrug.
Elidor looked at me with his puzzled look, just like the one he gave me when we first met. "It's 'cause this entire plain was also once part of the lake," he explained, "Then certain things happened, then most of the water got drained out."
"What certain things?" I asked.
"I don't know for sure. The lake shrank around the same time the humans left this place. They used to use the cave we stay in now. They'd always come out carrying rocks, and we don't really know why…"
Elidor shifted a little. "But I suppose they ran out of their precious rocks, so they left, and we settled in. It took some getting used to, of course. But we did it and now we have a place to stay."
We stared out at the lake for some time, watching the birds swoop down to catch fish. By now, the sun was well up in the sky. It was starting to get hot under my thick pelt. I think Elidor caught my discomfort, and we started moving again.
The trail led on, and the ground felt like it was sloping upwards again. It was going up steeply. It became difficult to push on and follow Elidor. He walks this every day?
Finally, the ground leveled out at the top, and I clambered up the last few pawsteps.
The view from up here was magnificent. From up here, I could see the entire forest. Out beyond, there were mountains. A lot of them. Trees filled the landscape like water in the lake and a river wound through them. It reminded me of my view from the ship window. And yet, this is so much better.
"You know how a pack works," Elidor spoke up, "Have you been in one before you got here?"
"No, alpha," I answered, "My mother and I lived alone in a den back at our place very far away."
Elidor snorted in amusement, probably at the awkward way I called him alpha. "You haven't told anyone here about your story," he barked at me with an inquisitive air. He faced me and looked at me seriously. "Tell me. I suppose there's more behind you than a puppy who got stuck in a blizzard."
I took a deep breath, then I told him everything. As I told him about myself, it felt like being slowly crushed under the weight of snow as I went on. Each word I spoke reminded me of who I am and what I lost, and it hurt.
Elidor nodded when I finished. "You came here from a faraway place, carried here by humans then got lost in this forest."
"Then we won't deny you shelter. Stay here until you feel well enough to be on your way again."
My ears perked up in joy. "Takk fyrir!" I thanked him. When I realized he didn't understand what I said, I corrected myself. "I mean… thank you."
"No problem, I suppose," he woofed, "So if you'll be staying, we're going to have to address you by name. What's yours?"
"My name's Pana." I said.
"And you may call me Elidor."
Elidor turned down the trail again, and I followed him as we slid down the slope. "Let's head back before anyone notices we're gone." He wagged his ears at me as he said this, and I wagged mine back. It felt good to be part of something again, even if it was only for a short while.
"By the way, Pana, how did you learn to bark like that?"
"It's… complicated. Ég veit ekki."