Chapter 4

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DOMINIC DIPPED HIS FINGERS through the glassy surface of the pool, dragging them in figure eights. It was always the perfect temperature for swimming. Yet the stones around the rim were dry. There was no sign of his wife's presence. She must have gone elsewhere to sulk and avoid her alders. Suddenly a spray of water struck his face. He straightened from his crouch, drying himself with his shirt. The naiades giggled and disappeared below the surface. She was lucky, because he would have torn her from the pool and duly taught her better manners.

Trying to temper his mood, Dominic looked across the moonlit meadow. A flash of white appeared in the tall grass near the southern tree line. A flock of ground-burrowing owls batted their wings and took to other places in reaction to the wolf. Hands on his hips, Dominic frowned. If he moved quickly, he might catch them. Then again, he might catch a lioness's wrath, or the mighty jaws of her companion. Wisdom suggested he call on his guardian for help, though Luthias would be long in getting there, and he was a pushover for Maiel. He would take her side like a smitten swain. In his eyes, she could do no wrong. He wasn't sure he wanted to listen to the fun the guardian would have at his expense.

Dominic walked through the tall grass, holding the leaping white wolf in his sight. A cool breeze came over the trees and dipped into the meadow, sending a shudder through the clearing like an ocean  wave. As he drew closer, he saw the top of Maiel's crimson head as she knelt over something. He closed the distance between them. There, the gentle whines of a wolf reached his ears.

Shee lay in the grass, while Maiel gently arranged some dark bundles along her belly. His wife stroked her companion's side and whispered encouragingly.

"That's a good amba, Shee. Just rest, they'll come when they're ready," Maiel said.

"The puppies are coming?" Dominic said, announcing his presence.

"I'm sorry I left like that. Just sometimes it's better to be left alone, before you say something you'll regret," Maiel said, after a moment.

"I should be the one apologizing," Dominic said. Her expression didn't alter. He added, "I shouldn't have pushed."

Shee whined and licked her hindquarters. Another puppy was on its way.

"How many?" Dominic asked as Maiel moved to help her friend birth the next pup.

"Five, so far," Maiel answered. She wouldn't look at him. "You didn't bring Luthias?"

"No. He would only help you."

The puppies lay on the shredded skirt of her gown. Maiel's bare knees rested on the thick grass. His wife was always selfless like that, using whatever it took to comfort another, regardless of the discomfort to her. She would say: it will mend; and mend it would. She bore no thought to how or why or even when. She just knew that all things would mend if she gave her time and love to another. His lips curled in a smile. Still, she could be stubborn. After all, she still expected him to mend.

"Your family is back at the house," Dominic said.

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