The change in the air is impossible to miss. Aisha goes very, very still. The bird lands on Tabe’s head, taloned feet digging into thick white fur.
Fala’s ears droop. “What?”
“About that,” says Aisha, with a scuffle of one little foot. She ruffles her feathers up, pulling in a deep breath like she’s trying to steal herself – and that’s when Fala knows, without a single doubt, that he’s been tricked.
The realization settles inside of him like a cold, cold stone or a chew toy he shouldn’t have finished eating. The hair along his spine raises even as his tail droops down, tucking angrily between his hind legs.
“You lied to me,” growls Fala.
“I needed help,” says Aisha, both firm and frantic. The bird alights again, swooping around the head of the fox. “You saw her! You saw Tabe! I couldn’t get her out on my own and if we left her here – if I didn’t get her free – “
The words don’t need to be spoken to be accurate.
Tabe’s fate would have been sealed, had that snare held her true. Either a hunter would have come to claim her or, more likely, considering the age of the trap and these lands, she simply would have starved to death, caught in the remnant of something long forgotten.
But still, the idea of having been lied too settles wrong with Fala.
He snarls, like a dog three times his size, and snaps out, “ye could’a said something! Asked, maybe! Now I’ve done wasted all of my time on this, and haven’t even started looking!”
“I’m sorry,” wails Aisha, the sound nothing like a song. “I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to lie! I just – I needed your help, and this was the only way! This was the only way, dog, it was!”
Fala spins around, making to run back towards the beach. If that’s where he was dropped off at, that might be where he’s supposed to start looking.
Before Fala can get very far, Tabe darts in front of him. The fox’s long legs give her an edge when it comes to speed. “Stop,” says Tabe. Her black tipped ears flick, just once. The hind leg that was caught in the snare is being held just slightly above the ground. “Just wait a moment. Aisha might have lied to you…but that doesn’t mean we don’t owe you a great debt. Tell me what you’re looking for, and I’ll do what I can to help you reclaim it.”
Fala hesitates for a long moment, utterly rankled over the entire ordeal.
But in the end, he doesn’t have much choice, does he?
So he tells Tabe about his search, and ignores Aisha, and hopes that everything works out in the end.
Katelynn E Koontz – Author