Christopher's head shot upward from where it rested upon his paws as Lurene's scream pulled him from the realms of sleep. ^What is it, lass?^, he asked, lumbering to all four feet as he shook the grogginess from his head. ^Are ye all right?^
"Oh, aye", replied his ward and love from the bed, where Christopher's poor eyes saw her only as a grey form. She sounded angry. "Aye, nothing amiss, save that misbegotten beast of a Wanderer put his ice-tray of a nose to my leg. I begin to think fondly of the Royal Kennels at times ... "
Christopher sighed within his mind as Lurene rose from her bed to retrieve the shapeless white patch that was most probably her pillow, lying on the floor not far from where the grey-hued blob of Wanderer lay crouched in a corner of the room. ^Aye, love. He is a handful. Be mindful, though, that he but behaves as a wolf should. They are quite social creatures, ye know. Why, were he among his own ... ^ Christopher caught himself. ^I mean to say, were he among true wolves, they should be constantly after touching. I fear me we are too civilised to make much of a pack for him.^ A movement caught his eye. ^But what is the daft fool after doin' now?^
In the dim light from the crescent moon, Christopher could see the former bard's shaggy form half in shadow before the casement. Still and unmoving, the form was nearly silent, save for a soft whine that escaped it at intervals.
"I know not", grumbled Lurene. "He has been behaving so ever since that first night he slept here. He awakens me, then goes to the window and whines, sometime three nights of a week. Look, he has finished now."
Christopher lowered his vast, furred bulk to a more comfortable position upon the sleeping mat that seperated him from the cold stone floor, watching Wanderer pad back toward him. The wolf seemed subdued, somehow. His tail lowered, he curled up against the curved wall of the ursine scholar's warm flesh and laid his head upon his paws.
^Could it be ... ?^
The wolf raised his head and looked at the bear.
^Are ye in there, ye plague of a bard? ^
The wolf cocked his head, curious.
^Are ye in there at all, lad?^
No sign came from the reclining wolf. Christopher sighed. ^Nay. For a moment, I thought ... ^
"Oh", whispered Lurene, understanding dawning at last.
^Ah, well. G'night, Lurene.^
^Night to ye, Wanderer.^
Suddenly, Wanderer opened his mouth ... and froze, his tail curling downward to pass between his legs. A brief whimper escaped him ... then another ... then, even more subdued than before, he lay down, trembling, against the bear's broad side. Christopher quickly looked into the mind that lay within the shaggy form, finding nothing more than jumbled, indistinct images ... and a quickly-fading longing and confusion . After a few moments, the mind settled into sleep.
And Christopher wondered.
Brian Coe yawned as he dusted off his shingle for use. Then, straightening his shirt, he hefted the sign and opened wide the door ...
Brian blinked as his eyes focused upon the large form of Christopher, noting the wolfish presences of Wanderer and Lurene (Lurene in a becoming robe, he noted) to either side.
"Morn, Christopher", he replied politely. "What is it that brings you to my door? Nothing too serious, I hope ... "
^Nay^, replied the bearish scholar. ^At least, I do not think so. But I am no physician. May we be coming in?^
Brian smiles gently. "Could I say no to a bear and two wolves? Make yourselves comfortable the while I hang my shingle." As the three filed inside, Coe hefted the sign and gently hung it upon the hooks the Keep had provided for him. Taking a pace back, he examined the piece of wood, shaped like a knife, upon which was writ, 'Chirurgeon' in larger letters, then 'Physician Brian Coe' in smaller. With a nod of satisfaction, he went in to his patients.
"Well", mused the physician after the two speaking members of the trio had informed him of the troubles, "there are many things it could be. A cataract, perhaps, or a food allergy ... even some humoral disturbance that has unsettled his thoughts, such as they are." Smiling, he ruffled the fur atop Wanderer's head, earning a doggish grin from the large canine. "You know, I believe I may come to prefer him this way. So much quieter ... "
^Coe ... ^
Brian looked up at Christopher.
^Do ye believe he could be ... returning?^
Still ruffling Wanderer's fur, Brian shrugged. "I know not, Christopher. Magic is not my realm of experience. Have you besought Raven ... ?"
^Nay^, returned the bear. ^She has kept her distance since he has changed, and I do not think it wise to put them together.^ Realising how that sounded, he began again. ^I do not mean to imply ... ^
"Nay, of course not", responded Brian quickly. "Still, mayhap there is a way ... is he averse to the lead?"
^Explain once more why we are leading Wanderer about the halls of the Keep?^
Brian looked up from his tight grip upon the leather thong that led to Wanderer's neck. "If, as you suspect, he is returning to himself, then the throne room may aid him in rememberance. Ah, here we are ... "
With that, the three allies and their wolfish friend entered the central throane chamber of Metamor, the guards passing them through upon their own recognizance. "I see Lord Thomas is busy elsewhere."
"Good den", came a voice from one side of the room and a slight-built young man stepped forward. "Art here for the competition, then?"
"Nay", responded Brian before the others could speak. "I did not know that Thomas had not found a replacement for the last bard."
The young man blinked. "I pray you, sir, how did I give myself away?"
Brian smiled. "The lyre at thy belt and the poetic cast to thy speech, friend. Nothing more."
The man chuckled. "And who may be thy furred friends, then? I trow the bear is of the Keep, yet I cannot so distinguish as to the wolf."
Brian smirked at the weak jest. "My ursine friend here is Christopher, tutor to the Keep." Christopher nodded amiably.
"Charmed", replied the youngster,
"The lady is Lurene, Christopher's apprentice."
"Delighted. And the gentleman upon the lead?"
"The previous court bard." Brian laughed as the boy blanched. "Nay, 'tis a lengthy story. A mistake, let us say." The boy partially relaxed.
"What are you to play?", inquired Lurene of the newcomer.
"Ah", said the boy, dragging his gaze from Wanderer's curious responding look. "I have chosen to perform the Riddle Song. You are familiar with it, mayhap?"
^Few are not^, rejoined Christopher. Then, with a start, he noticed Wanderer, gazing fixedly at the lute that dangled carelessly from one of the boy's hands.
"Aha", said the would-be bard with a chuckle. "Mayhap thou'lt review me, milord? Allow me to begin." With that, he swung the lute into his arms and began to play ... and sing.
"I'll give my love an apple without e'er a core.
I'll give my love a swelling without e'er a door.
I'll give my love a palace
Wherein she might be
That she might unlock it
Without e'er a key.
As the boy sang, Wanderer's posture grew tense, his eyes focused upon the instrument. A soft whine escaped his muzzle, even as the song continued:
"How can there be an apple without e'er a core?", the young man sang. "How can there be a dwelling without e'er a door? How can there be a palace Wherein she might be, That she might unlock it Without e'er a key."
A questing thought returned naught but the same confusion, rising in great swells that threatened to swamp the simple thoughts within. Suddenly, the wolf broke and ran, whimpering, from the throne room.
"Did I err?"
^Nay^, replied Christopher. ^It is another matter.^
"What are the answers?", asked lurene.
My head it is an apple without e'er a core.
My heart it is a dwelling without e'er a door
My love is the palace
Wherein she might be,
That she might unlock it
Without e'er a key.
For some reason," added the musician as he damped the strings, "Few persons seem to recall that old verse to the song. Perhaps it shall gain me a slight edge in this competition .. ?"
But the three were already leaving in Wanderer's wake.
^There was nothing, Lurene^, Christopher commented sadly after they had returned the lead to Coe. ^Naught but confusion and longing. He's got no trace o' what he was, that I can see.^
Meanwhile, the object of his worry was busily chewing a used-up soup bone from the kitchens.
^I so hoped, Lurene ... ^
"I know", she said consolingly as she sat on their bed. I know. Now rest, Christopher. It's been a long day."
And Christopher slept.
Christopher dreamed he followed a road. Onward he walked, sure of where he was going. Then, suddenly ...
The road stopped. Bare earth stretched away before him, where he knew something should be. Something ...
Suddenly, the wolf that was Wanderer stood beside him, gazing out across the lifeless ground. Tense, stiff, unmoving, it seemd almost part of the landscape. Then it turned to him.
"Where am I?"
^It was then I understood. I was right, an' Wanderer was still nothing more than a wolf in his mind.^. Christopher explained to Lurene afterward. ^He reaches the part o' his mind where the songs and instruments of a bard should be ... and there's nothing there. No wonder it scares him.^
Lurene shook her head sadly. "Alas. Yet you seem improved, somehow. Why is that?"
Christoper smiled within himself. ^Because in all that packed earth ... I saw a single blade of grass.^