by Charles Matthias

In his long years at Metamor, Charles had learned about the natural cycle of the Valley. He’d spent many hours in the Keep’s libraries research any number of topics. He smiled as he remembered those long nights spent with nothing but a simple lamp to guide him through those musty halls, filled with writings so ancient it had made his fur tremble in delight. There had been much to learn in that library, old and dark as if hiding for another time, as if waiting expectantly for the dawn so that it might blossom. Too much for any one man to learn, but that had never daunted him.

And one of the things he had learned then, and in the last two months living at the Glen seen first hand, was that most of the elk made their yearly migrations along the western edge of the Valley through the mountains. As the Spring wore on they would continue Northward into the Giantdowns, staying near to the Dragon Mountains when they could. They would return with the end of summer, and remain in the Valley and South of it until the beginning of Spring again.

Thus it was that as soon as the Longs had split up, Charles had made his way Westward, skirting the Northern edge of the Glen in his path. He saw a couple other Glenners along the way, but apart from a short wave of greeting, they said nothing. He could dimly hear the voices of the women as they went about their task in decorating the Glen for the festival, but could make out no words. And soon he was beyond, along the rock strewn paths that led to the feet of mount Kalegris and Nuln.

It took Charles an hour to reach the familiar edge from which he could gaze up at those imposing spikes, their tops covered with snow still. By the Summer it would have melted, for both mountains were fairly low when placed against their mightier brethren further to the West. But from there he did not find it difficult to spot a herd of elk moving along the slopes of the mountain. They were moving down into the narrow ravine between the two mountains. Charles could well remember when he’d ventured there in his rat form he’d nearly become a meal for a Lutin!

This time, he needed to cover great distance, and so he undid his trousers. Closing his eyes, he felt the familiar washing across his body that came with the change. It was a smooth, like being rolled about between two hearth-warmed quilts. The ground beneath his paws became more real, and there was more of it to feel. The gentle wind through his fur was not nearly as biting, though it hit a few places that were still sensitive. Nevertheless, it brought an exhilaration that he could not deny. It felt good to use this other form, his rat-taur form.

Charles was able to speed down the low hill and up the slope to the lip of the ravine with ease. The elk had disappeared within several moments before, but now it would not take long for him to find them. He paused at the edge, staring down into the mix of branches that lay below, along with the last of the snow. It was a strangely still picture, but he could vaguely see shapes moving within. However, the wind was blowing at his back, so he could not approach them directly without being scented.

Just as Finbar had left carrying only knives, Charles bore no weapons at all. Perhaps it was hubris, but he still wanted to see if he could do it. And he was not going to let Rickkter bring in a better elk than him. If that happened, he knew the irritating Kankoran would rub his snout in it the whole time. This was supposed to be a festival after all, and he wanted to enjoy it the best he could! If he could show up Rickkter, that would certainly make any other indignity he must endure seem easy.

As he stood there staring at the branches that were hiding the elk, an idea came to the rat. He took a few tentative steps into the ravine, moving as quietly as possible, and staying close to the walls. At the first tree, he tied his trousers to a branch. He then removed his jerkin as well, and secured it in place, leaving him with nothing on at all. He closed his eyes, and let the waters tumble across his form, his own self image shrinking and contracting, shrinking and shrinking. Where once had stood the large rat-taur now was a simple field rat.

Now that he weighed very little, Charles used his sharp little claws to climb up the tree much like a squirrel might. Although he did not have the same sort of balance as a squirrel might, he did to find it hard to jump from tree branch to tree branch, making his way into the forest ravine in a manner that would not startle the elks in the least bit. Soon, he saw them beneath him, grazing away, biting at the bark of the trees and what grass had survived the snow. They were only a handful, perhaps seven all total. The largest of these was a buck whose velvety antlers already stretched a foot from either side of his head.

It took him a few minutes to scamper over to a branch he felt was sturdy enough. There, he was perched almost directly over the prize buck. He willed himself to grow once more, and soon, he was his normal size, bereft of all his clothes, and chilled from the cold mountain air, but he was waiting in the branches above the elk, they none the wiser.

Tensing himself, he could feel the Sondeck filling his arms and legs, flowing to every corner of his body. His fur stood on end, charged with the power he contained. His eyes were set upon that buck’s back, noting the way the others around him were all standing. Charles offered a quick silent prayer then, prayer that what he was about to do would not get him killed. He knew Kimberly would berate him for being stupid if she saw him do this. Yet he still had to try.

Letting go of the branch, he landed solidly on the elk’s back. He tightened his grip with his legs so that he would not be thrown, and then hugged his arms to the creatures neck. It let loose a sudden below, even as the other elk began to bolt through the forest. Charles felt the powerful muscles bunch and stretch beneath him, but he was ready for it. The elk tried to turn its head back to impale him with the horns, but each time he leaned to the side to avoid those velvety spikes. The elk kicked and danced, trying to brush him against the nearby trees as well. Yet Charles held his place, pushing more and more power into his paws.

Several times the elk nearly managed to crush him against a tree, but each time the rat slid up or down his back, ever watchful for the next motion, spinning about as he was. And then, satisfied he possessed enough power, he brought both of his palms down against the back of the elk’s neck. A loud snap could be heard, and it collapsed to the ground in that moment. Charles let his grip with his legs go, and he tumbled off, bumping his head against a tree trunk.

The pain was quick and sharp, but dulled soon after. As the rat rolled over and rubbed at the crown of his head, he saw that the elk lay still, its eyes wide in terror, neck snapped completely at the base of the shoulders. Charles continued to rub his head even as he could feel a knot forming there. Slowly, he rose to his hind paws, and smiled at the beast he’d managed to fell. The elk was quite large, nearly twice his own height.

And then another pain came to him. How was he to get this to the Glen? Grimacing, Charles ran back through the woods to his clothes. He pulled his jerkin back on, but left his trousers dangling over one shoulder. He then scampered back and gnawed off a few small limbs from the nearby trees so he could have a sled. He used a fairly springy bit of wood to fashion a harness for himself, and then once he was satisfied, took his taur form once more.

Charles began to hum a little tune as he hauled the cargo back up the ravine, feeling the Sondeck flow through him as he carted that huge weight by himself. Even so, he knew that he would be very glad when he returned to the Glen.

Earl Schanalein’s arboreal garden was filled with a variety of tree, most not found in the Southern reaches of Pyralis. Ash and beach lines red cobblestone walkways, while bamboo shoots and ginkgo trees frolicked amongst the mulberry bushes. The centre of the garden was a jade pool, the fresh water reflecting brilliant colours from the many varied rocks settled in its basin. Along either side of the pool were benches carved from ivory, images of eastern elephants blended into the arms, while shadowing them from behind were several banyan.

This was not the first time that Marquis Camille du Tournemire had the pleasure of sitting in those ivory seats listening to the rippling of the water and the rustling of foreign leaves. But like every other time, he found it eclectic and designed merely with an eye for gewgaw and splash. But it had its redeeming qualities. It offered him a chance to speak freely in a place where none would be listening.

And, with the Earl obediently sitting in the other bench waiting for his instructions, it was a mildly amusing way to spend his afternoon. It was not what he wished to be doing, but like everything else, this was a matter that must be waited upon. He’d enjoyed his game of cards with the Earl, though as they had not made any wagers, what power they had given him would not last. But since then, there had only been the quiet breaking of his fast, a bit of tea at noon, and now this. Waiting.

To keep the Earl’s wife and son from becoming a nuisance, he’d had the Earl send his son Kurt to train with his tutors and weapon masters. Gutreth’s lady friends had been summoned to keep her busy in whatever inane prattle women chose to engage in. Even so, after the first hour of listening to Friedrich Schanalein prattle on about the politics of Breckaris, he’d grown bored and so ordered him to silence.

But he could not wait in that silence forever, for just as the city bells chimed two, a servant came upon the jade pool bearing a golden platter atop of which rested a folded piece of parchment. The Earl was animated again and glanced at the man curiously. “What is it?”

The servant knelt before the Earl, eyes casting downwards. “A letter arrived for the Marquis, your grace.”

“Then hand it to him,” the Earl said, his voice brusque. The servant, chastened, took a few steps and knelt before the Marquis. With a nonchalant gesture, he picked the parchment up between thumb and forefinger, and then waved the servant back without a word. Scuttling backwards still bent at the waist, the servant waited in the event there were further instructions.

The Marquis glanced at the letter and frowned. He folded it back up, and then let his eyes rest upon the servant. “I wish a decanter of chilled wine. Flavour it with a cherry.”

“Yes, Monseigneur.” The servant quickly departed, as if relieved to be out of their presence.

Once he was gone, the Marquis turned to the Earl and smiled. “Your grace, I would like to see Bishop Hockmann while I am here in Breckaris. Would you please arrange for me an audience with his grace tomorrow.” The Earl nodded and rose to his feet. “Before you leave,” the Marquis added, smiling, “would you ask one of your servants to bring me a quill, some ink, a slip of parchment, a candle and some wax. Thank you, your grace.”

With another nod, the Earl went about the required tasks. Smiling to himself, the Marquis leaned back upon the ivory seat, and stared at the glittering ripples in the pond.

Misha was one of the last to arrive back at Glen Avery. Most of the Long Scouts and the Glenners had gone out in groups of three or four, sometimes even more to capture their elk. Nevertheless, he arrived shortly after Charles had to judge from the way the rat slumped over the carcass of his own elk. The rat had changed into his taur form to haul the beast just as the fox had, yet he had not bothered to change back yet.

Most of the rest of the Longs had already gathered along the roadside outside the Glen. Somebody had retrieved a few wagons, though most were unhitched. Sitting upon one wagon was a tub of salt and some preparing knives. Jotham and Padraic were leaning against it, laughing amongst themselves as Misha arrived.

“Ah, you went to four feet too,” Jotham chided, noting Misha’s taur form.

“Should have known he would,” Ralls called down from one of the wagons where an elk lay. He was inspecting the creature, and trying to get around the spindly legs that stuck up awkwardly out of the side of the cart.

The fox-taur brought his load to a stop a short distance from the carts, and immediately felt the exhaustion claim him. He flung off the harness, and let his load rest upon the sledge where it lay. He stumbled a few paces on his four paws, and then settled down upon the road heavily. Charles glanced up at him, and lightly smiled, noting Misha’s four-footed state. “You too, eh?”

Misha smiled though at the rat and nodded. “How could I not?” He glanced around, seeing three more elk besides the ones that Charles was laying against and that Ralls was inspecting. Rickkter was cleaning his katanas with a damp rag and whetstone, even as his own elk appeared to be already desanguinated. Misha suspected that was because of all of the slash wounds that adorned the body. Meredith was resting against the back of one wagon, his crossbow slung across his lap. The elk in the wagon behind him was pierced with several bolts in the neck and head. Allart and Kershaw flanked the bear, though the latter had not taken part in the hunt, his promise to Akkala forbidding it.

George was with his own elk as well, his quite large, though Misha judged he’d found a better one. The jackal regarded him with a wry grin, but said nothing. It was Padraic though who came over to see how large an elk that their leader had brought in. There was a bright look upon the rabbit’s face as he saw it, and he grinned. “Ah, it looks like you’ll have to hand the reins of the Longs to one of us for a day then, O fearless leader!”

Misha stared down at his fellow Long in surprise then. That had been the prize he’d set out. Whoever brought back the largest elk would be the head of the Longs for a day. If Misha had won, he’d have bought them all a round of drinks, but now it sounded as if his money purse was secure. In truth he rather relished the notion of another taking on the job for one day. It would be a good chance after all, a chance to learn many things.

“Has everyone returned?” Misha asked, even as he stretched each of his four legs in turn. In a moment he would have to shift back. Certainly before any of the Glenners saw them. He’d tell Charles to do so as well. He had plans for those forms after all.

Padraic shook his head. “Finbar’s still out there.” The rabbit gestured at the wide trees. Overhead the sun had moved past the middle of the valley, declaring the onset of the afternoon. They would have to head back to the glen proper soon.

Misha crossed his arms then. “So how stands the tally?”

Meredith waved a thick paw in the air, patting his crossbow with the other. “The honour is mine, Misha.”

The rabbit nodded, lop ears flopping at his shoulders. “Yes, Meredith has the biggest catch so far, but not by much I wager! George, Charles and Rickkter all brought in elks of roughly the same size as yours. Ours is a bit smaller, but we had a good time catching it. I hope that my stomach will let me eat some of it! It sometimes objects to meat.” Padraic made an unpleasant face then, but there was still good cheer behind it.

“Well,” Misha said at last, nodding his head to the burly bear. “Congratulations are in order for you Meredith. I wonder what Finbar will bring for us to see.”

Even as he spoke, the plodding hoof beats of two ponies, and the scrapping sound of something dragging could be heard making their way down the road. All eyes turned Northwards as they watched Finbar leading his team of ponies, as they carted something on a long tough sled. The animals were exerting a great amount of effort merely to drag what lay behind them, and watching their struggles, Misha felt the soreness in his own muscles anew.

But as the ferret and his team of ponies approached, what lay on the sledge behind them became visible. Misha’s eyes opened wide, and a few gasps of shock came from the other Longs. For upon that pallette lay the largest elk that any of them had ever seen. It must have weighed over one and a half tons so great was its size. Along either side of its neck two long wounds had been sliced. The long narrow nature told the fox that they had been made by the long slim blades of the ferret’s daggers.

Misha let out a bark of laughter then. He could not quite believe what he saw, but it was there before him nevertheless. Finbar had really snuck up on the massive king of elks as this certainly was, leapt upon its back plunged his daggers into the elk’s neck. From the way its head was twisted, in much the same way that Charles’s own had been, the impact had probably snapped its neck instantly. Without a doubt, the elk had been dead before it had hit the ground. And the ferret had done this without so much as receiving a single cut or bruise.

“How in the world did you find one so big?” Ralls asked in disbelief as he strained to see the massive elk that put all the others that had been killed to shame.

Finbar shrugged, fingering one of his knives at his side. “I looked for the biggest hoof prints I could find.”

Jotham had already come around to where the ponies had brought the elk to rest, and was examining its body. He held up one of the legs, showing the hoof that was as large as his hand was wide. “I’ve never seen any this large. Not in the Valley at least.”

Charles had managed to rise up from where he’d lain. Still a rat-taur, he trotted over to the ferret’s prize and whistled in a high-pitched squeaky tone. “That is some catch there, Finbar. But this is no ordinary elk. This is a beast out of legend and lore, a sight from forgotten days when the world was still new. I am very impressed, and I hope that Misha will not let you run the Longs until I return to Metamor so that I can take some of your orders!”

Finbar smiled lightly at that, and nodded. “I’ll wait to claim that for you, Charles.” He looked around and saw that all of the others had already assembled. In fact, most were now assembled around him and were offering him their own congratulations.

Meredith, gave him a firm pat on the back and knelt to one knee in a comradely fashion. “You have bested me, my good friend. It could not have been done by a finer Long than yourself!”

It took a few minutes more before all had their say. At long last, Misha clasped his paws together, and stared up at the sky. Although the sun was hidden from view behind the many trees, he could still see that the hour was moving past noon, and would be well past noon ere long. “Well, we should bring Finbar’s elk to the Glen for all to see. I cannot imagine any brining in a larger elk than this! Charles, you and I need to change back so that we might wear some trousers once more before we return. The rest of you, do please get all of these loaded up for the journey. Charles and I will help you out in moments. I’m eager to get back so that we can eat!”

At this there was a chorus of approval. Now, many began to talk of how they found their elks, even as Charles and Misha went off behind some trees to make their change. The sound of pleasant laughter filled the mighty boughs for quite a ways on either side of that old Northern road.

When they arrived back at the Glen, they found it much changed. Along both of the two main clearings wooden lampposts had been set up in which brands had been set, but had not yet been lit. The casings were fashioned from hard iron, making them surprisingly visible against the otherwise earthy tones of the Glen. From the lower branches of the trees hung sways of flower strung together, bright pinks and yellows and even some blues. Their fragrances were thrilling, a sweet call that only beckoned tem closer. And yet, even more than the brands, gave the Glen a brightness that none of them had seen before.

Tables were set out with various food, the pies and such, even more than before. Most were still quite warm, and each bearing the promise of a wonderful taste, a bliss from which they would not soon return. A few small raised platforms had been erected on either end of the clearing. Upon one, Misha saw Caroline playing a simple jaunty tune upon her flute. The fox could not help but smile at that, and ran ahead of the rest of the Longs to greet her.

Most of the rest of the women were still busy setting up decorations, but when they saw the Longs return, they all gave delighted shouts. From the crowd gathered to one side, and the numerous elk laying upon the cleared ground, it was clear that few of the men had not yet returned from the hunt. Quite a few were sprawled out against tree trunks resting their tired bodies while women brought them a little food and drink. Lord Avery himself looked weary, though he was telling his boys and several others of his travails in killing one of the larger elk.

It was only a short time after Misha had nearly leapt upon the stage and crashed into the otter that Charles saw Kimberly standing with Baerle as the two of them were lifting yet another string of flowers up to a low hanging branch. As there were not too many of them, some of the strands were held aloft by other wooden poles that appeared to have been placed within small holes dug from the Earth to hold them in place. The two were laughing as they worked, but it was Baerle who saw him first.

“Charles!” she called. Kimberly turned then, her belly clearly with child, or five little children in her case, and she also called his name, waving with one paw for him to come over.

Charles was still quite exhausted from dragging his elk across the vast distance. Yet he nevertheless broke out into a run, even as the other Longs all found somebody they wished to be with. It was not long before their entire party had broken up, leaving the wagons full of elk laying unattended in the entrance to the Glen.

It took him but a moment to reach them, and once there, he wrapped his arms about Kimberly in a tight embrace, planting a firm kiss upon her snout. She kissed in return, her breath warm against his face, her scent filled with the fragrance of the flowers and the pies. There was something else, something subtle that tantalized him and made his whiskers stand on end, but he could not place it.

“You’ve been busy,” Charles said at last, glancing once to Baerle, who stood close, but not too close. The opossum smiled back at him lightly, though there was a subtle distraction to her glance. The rat felt once more the bit of embarrassment that had come over him when he’d embraced her after the ice breaking. He gestured up at the ropes of flowers, and noticed for the first time that only a few of them were actual flowers. The rest were intricate lace work fashioned from bright cloths. He smiled at that and said, “This is very beautiful. From a distance they all look real!”

Kimberly smiled and glanced up at them as well. “Most of them were already made in previous years. We just spent some time fixing them up, and making a few new ones to replace the old.”

“And stringing on the real flowers in places to make them stand out,” Baerle added, her long tail curling about her paws. Her narrow snout moved between Kimberly and Charles, favouring them each with slightly different smiles. To Kimberly, her grin was warm and welcome, and open as if there were no secrets between them. But to Charles the opossum was slightly reserved, as if holding some great thing back.

The rat had a pretty good idea he knew what that was, but it had been quite some time since the two of them had shared even a moment alone together, and so they had not spoken of it in an equally long time. He was determined to enjoy the celebration nevertheless. Perhaps they would find a moment to speak soon. Strangely enough, he hoped that they would.

“Well, you did a wonderful job,” Charles said, smiling once more, and kissing his wife. He rested one paw on her belly, but still, he could not feel anything. But it did seem to be active down there. He wondered what she might feel within her womb coming to life, but did not ask then.

“So the Longs have returned?” a loud voice called from near the elks. Lord Avery had stood up, his children prancing about near him, each trying to get their father’s attention. He shushed them with a wave of his paws, and they fell silent. He then crossed his arms, gazing at the wagon load of elk that they had brought with them. “And do you think that you have an elk to beat the one that Berchem here has slain for us?”

All eyes went to the skunk archer who stood before a massive beast slain with but a single arrow. The skunk had his long bow between his paws, his tail curling up behind him over the cervine. His gaze was deliciously triumphant and his posture reflected that. There was little doubt in his mind that he had slain the largest of the elk, and he’d done so with only one shot. Charles let his eyes wander over the creature’s form, and a smile crept across his muzzle. While the kill was certainly very impressive, better than he himself had done. Better even than Meredith had managed with his crossbow. But it was still smaller than the mammoth that Finbar had slain with but his two daggers.

Misha let out a raucous laughter as he stood up on the raised platform with his paws around Caroline’s middle. He waved a dismissive paw at the skunk and his prize, and gestured back to Finbar, who still had his own snout buried with Danielle’s behind one of the pastry tables. “Our very own Finbar can beat that paltry offering!” Finbar did not look up then, but instead gripped Danielle’s slender paw in his own and led her back to the wagons, and showed her the elk he’d slain, which was hidden from the Glenners’s view. She smiled and hugged him tight, planting a firm kiss upon his muzzle when she saw what he’d done.

“Then show us this amazing find,” Berchem called back, still standing defiantly over his kill. There were more cries of the same from the Glenners. After a few moments, Finbar and Danielle broke their embrace, and the two mustelines lead the ponies around the other wagons, revealing the massive elk that he’d slain. There were a few sharp intakes of breath. Berchem himself narrowed his gaze, the skunk obviously not entirely pleased that he’d been beaten by a Keeper.

Out from one of the overhanging branches a large shape swooped down. This proved to be the woodpecker Burris who perched on one edge of the wagon with his slender talons. His long beak pored over the shape, nudging it in a few places, as his eyes scanned along the creature’s lifeless hide.

When the wagon finally came to a stop, the woodpecker lifted off again and swooped down to where Berchem and Lord Avery stood. “It is true. Finbar of the Longs has brought the largest elk for our celebration.”

At this, the skunk let out a loud laugh then, shaking his head in disbelief. He crossed the empty space between them, and clasped Finbar’s paw in a firm hold, embracing him in a comradely fashion. “Congratulations are in order then. Next time you won’t be so lucky.”

Finbar returned the embrace. “I’ll find a way.”

The pine marten that was dangling from his side nodder her agreement. “He always does.”

Berchem stood back a bit, gripping his bow tightly in one paw. “Then I must redouble my efforts.”

“Well,” Lord Avery said as he examined the kill. “That is one of the mightiest elk’s ever slain for the festivities good Keeper.” He smiled then, long tail twitching behind him. “Not quite the best, that distinction goes back to the days of my father, but still the finest in many years. Tomorrow we shall feast upon its flesh. But for now we must prepare the rest. Angus, do we have enough salt for this many?”

The badger who had followed after them along with most of the rest of the male Glenners nodded once. “We have enough and more. But we won’t after today!”

There was pleasant laughter at that, and many nodding heads. “How true!” Lord Avery then turned to Misha who looked on proudly as his fellow Long won great distinction and honour for himself and for the Longs. “So, Misha Brightleaf, we had a wager I believe. What is this dance that we must have.”

The fox let his grin show once more, plainly enjoying the moment. He winked once to Caroline, and she just laughed at that, still clutching her flute in one paw. “It will be the first dance of its kind anywhere in the world that I know of,” the fox said dramatically. “Never before has anything of its sort been attempted, for those that might have not existed before now.”

“What are you saying you, fox,” shouted one of the Glenners, though good-naturedly.

“I will show you all how it is that we will dance, at least those of us who have been made into animals, which is just about all of us.” He said with a sweep of his paws across the assembled Glenners. Charles openly laughed now, knowing exactly what his friend had in mind. Both Kimberly and Baerle looked at him strangely, wondering what had led him to laugh.

“I will be back in but a moment, no peeking now.” Misha leapt from the platform, and ran behind one of the large trees that stood at the outskirts of the clearing. Charles rubbed his paws together, looking at the faces of Lord Avery, Berchem, Angus and the rest, eager to see how they would react. He could already see his student Garigan rolling his eyes. His fellow Sondeckis likely already knew what was going to take place.

It took Misha only a few moments before he returned, this time standing upon four legs instead of two. A gasp arose amongst the Glenners, many rubbing their disbelieving eyes with their paws in order to bring the image into the proper focus. But no, those four legs remained, the massive fox-taur form visible for all to see and admire. Misha stood and jumped up onto the platform, making himself clear to all. “This is how we shall dance tomorrow! We shall dance as taurs. Or at least, as many of us that can take such a form will dance.”

“What magic is this?” one voice cried out. It was not the last, as several others chorused their amazement. Lord Avery’s eyes were wide and perplexed. Angus stared and stared again. Garigan shook his head, trying not to laugh too hard. Even James looked on, his ears folding back along his head.

“Only the magic of the curse,” Misha declared in delight. “I and a few other Longs have discovered the way to take on such a shape. It is nothing more than the Curse’s own doing. I will tell you all how to find this shape, and help any who are having difficulty. But the wager was made, and this is how I choose to be repaid for our victory. So you will all do your best to become taurs for a dance!”

Lord Avery finally let out a laugh. “When you asked for a dance, I had no idea this is what you meant. You rogue! If you wish us to embarrass ourselves that badly, very well! You shall have your dance tomorrow, and as many of us who can will join you in it.” He paused for a moment as these words sunk in with his fellow Glenners. And then he added, “We must prepare the meat first though, before any of it begins to spoil. If you would bring your elks to where we have the rest, we may begin. Afterwards, you may teach us to take on this form, and then we shall celebrate with a fine dinner.”

“And then you shall all taste of my special brew!” Lars called out from amongst the Glenners, his voice carrying over them all, deep and heavy. There were quite a few hearty shouts of joy at this, though it was mostly kept to the men.

Lady Avery then made herself heard over the rest. “If any of your men take a liking to Lars’s brew, I have a brew of mine own that you may give to him in the morning that will help.” Quite a few of the ladies laughed at that, including Kimberly. Charles winced, knowing exactly what sort of foul tasting concoction was to be ladled down his throat on the morn.

“And if you have a lady with a liking for the good Lady Angela’s brew,” the bear said with a laugh, “you’d best have a great deal of mine to make it worthwhile!”

At this, even Lady Avery could not help but smile and laugh. This was a day of celebration after all. How could any of them not want to celebrate in the best way possible? After the laughter managed to die down at long last, Lord Avery clapped his paws together, and started issuing directions on what to do with the elk. Giving Kimberly one final kiss, Charles, his body still sore, walked on over so that he might help. He hoped the evening came soon, because he really wanted to find out what the brew that the bruin had prepared was!

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