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8: Redefining Self

Oilcan called out, "Tinker? Are you here?" as he came through the door and then checked at the sight of angry Stormhorse, flustered Nathan, and Tinker in a towel.

The sight of Oilcan destroyed all control Tinker had, and she went to him, suddenly crying. Her cousin held her without asking questions, and the males regarded each other in tense silence.

"I think it's time for you to go," Oilcan said quietly, and Nathan left without another word.

Stormhorse's hand rode his hilt, and he eyed Oilcan with open suspicion.

"Nagarou." Oilcan identified himself as a sister's son of Tinker's father. His Elvish had always been better than hers. He and Stormhorse launched into a High Elvish discussion, faster than she could follow, which ended with Stormhorse bowing and letting himself out of the loft. And then Oilcan held her until she wept herself out. Then, in fits and starts, mostly from editing out what she didn't want him to know, she told him about Windwolf and Nathan.

"Look at me; I'm shaking so bad."

"If you haven't eaten anything for three days, then you're probably weaker than you think. Stormhorse went to get you something to eat."

"He did?" She got up. "Where would he get anything this time of night?"

"I don't know. Why don't you get dressed before he comes back?"

So she went back to her bedroom to dress. She found herself pawing through her underwear drawer, looking for the plainest pair of panties she owned. She stopped herself, picked a pair randomly off the top, and pulled them on. Clean jeans, a T-shirt, socks, and then her boots. She stomped around, feeling more like herself.

Oilcan had cleared her kitchen table, wiped it clean, and was washing her few pots and dishes. She got a clean towel and started to dry.

"How long do you think it will take him to get back?"

The sweep of headlights through her loft announced Pony's return.

"Not long," Oilcan said dryly.

She smacked him with the towel and went to open the door.

Pony came in carrying stacked wicker baskets, wreathed in the perfume of heavenly smelling food. Setting the baskets lightly on her table, he undid the lid and lifted it off to reveal noodle soup in the hand-painted bowl of an enclave restaurant.

"I didn't think enclaves did takeout." Tinker sat down on the footstool, leaving her two battered and mismatched chairs for the males.

"I persuaded them to do so this one time." Pony sat the noodle soup in front of her. "It would be best if you eat this first."

"Why this?" The noodles were long as spaghetti but nearly as thick as her pinkie and had a slightly waxy appearance. After her experience with the beer, she eyed the soup with suspicion.

"Rich foods on an empty system might upset your stomach, and you need to eat as much as possible. This has very little fat."

Oilcan found her a spoon, and she tried the stock. It was keva bean paste mixed with hot water, simple but delicious. She had to fight to get the noodles into her mouth. Despite their looks, they were mild but good.

"I told them of your nagarou, and they sent enough to share." Pony unlocked the top basket and lifted it off, exposing the next level of food: steamed meat dumplings.

"Mauzouan! You can count me in." Oilcan fetched plates and silverware, got himself a beer from the refrigerator, and settled at one of the chairs. Pony unloaded the rest of the baskets, but remained standing.

"Why don't you sit?" Oilcan paused in sharing out the mauzouan to three plates.

"I am Tinker domi's guard. I should stand."

"Sit," Tinker snapped.

Pony wavered a moment, then pulled out a chair and sat unhappily. "This isn't proper."

"Currently I'm too peeved to care," Tinker snapped.

Wise man that he was, Oilcan set a dish of mauzouan in front of Pony without comment.

With Pony on the other side of the table, and food in her hands, Tinker could study him now at leisure. While pretty as all elves tended to be, he was by far the most solid of elves she'd ever seen. He wore wyvern armor, harvested from a beast that ran to the dark blues, with an underlining of black leather to keep the sharp edges of the overlapping scales from cutting him since they themselves couldn't be dulled. The armor left his arms bare from the shoulders. Permanent protection spells were tattooed down his arms like Celtic knots. For reasons she thought were no more than artistic, the spells were done in graded shades of cobalt; they shifted with the play of his muscles. Unlike most elves she knew, who wore dazzling jewelry, from complex dangling earrings to rings, Pony's only decoration was dark blue beads woven into his black hair.

While previously it had seemed to Tinker impossible to judge an elf's age, Pony struck her as young, but she couldn't tell if that was from some hint in his face or just his manner. He fairly bristled with weapons: a long sword strapped to his back, a pistol riding his hip, and knife hilts peeking out of various locations. Still, he met her gaze with a look that shifted from open honesty, to slight embarrassment, to bewildered confusion, and back around again.

"Where is Windwolf?" Oilcan asked as Tinker ate her soup and studied Pony.

"A message came from Aum Renau." Pony glanced at them to see if they understood. Aum Renau was the name of the palace on Elfhome in roughly the same place as the Palisades were on Earthoverlooking the Hudson River, near New York City. "His presence was requested by Queen Soulful Ember. He couldn't refuse the summons. He had to go. He wished to leave Sparrow to care for you. She's quite fluent in Tanianante" the Elvish for "those many human languages" "and Pitsupavute. The queen, however, requested her appearance specifically along with Windwolf's."

"The queen is in the Westernlands?" Oilcan asked.

"It is very unexpected. She has not been here since the treaty signing," Pony said. "He wished to bring Tinker domi with him, but he didn't want to take her so far away without consulting her first."

That would have pissed her off proper, but at least it would have saved her from Nathan being a jerk.

"How did Windwolf change me?"

"II do not really know, honestly." Pony screwed up his face, and Tinker suddenly liked the sturdy dark elf. "I am only of the sekasha caste, and still considered young. The domana understand the great transformation spells. Windwolf took blood samples while you slept; by the old reckoning, you're genetically domana caste now."

She shivered. "What do you mean 'by the old reckoning'?"

"There was a time when clan leaders often transformed their most trusted followers to domana caste. They were then considered full equals by the rest of the caste."

"And now?"

Pony touched his own forehead where Tinker bore Windwolf's mark. "There is the dau."

Which Maynard said elevated her to Windwolf's caste.

"When is Windwolf coming back?" Oilcan asked.

"He couldn't say," Pony said. "But if he can't return soon, he might choose to send for Tinker domi." Seeing the look on her face, Pony added, "If she wishes to join him."

* * * | Tinker | * * *