He’s older than I’d expected—black hair, now mostly grey, and a weathered face. Mid-fifties, maybe. Neck down, though, he could be me, ten years older.
Garvey tries to lick at my hands again, but I pull them behind me, out of his reach.
There’s no way around it: what I’ve done is inexcusable, and Faolan’s going to kill me, when he finds out. If Torrin doesn’t do it first.
The whiskey hasn’t worn off much, and my brain feels as thick as soup.
I avoid his eyes as I respond. “I’m sorry, Sir.” I say it carefully, slowly, just in case. My words all sound distinct to me, but I can’t be certain. “My name is Tiergan, one of Faolan’s. I came here with Keely, one of Dugan’s, to ask for passage across your lands.”
I feel him react, and glance up, just for an instant. His eyebrow is raised.
“Rather unorthodox, wouldn’t you say? Running out here to do it?” His voice is almost flat—but, there’s an edge on it. Not anger. Amusement, maybe? Could it be? “Drunk on my best whiskey,” he adds, ominously, “if I’m not mistaken.”
My crazy hope fizzles. Shit—I must be drunker than I thought, to misread him so much.
“It is as you say,” I reply—again, to his mouth, “and I have no excuse, Sir.” And I really don’t. I’ve fucked us up.
But any explanation’s got to be better than none. I take a deep breath, and chance the truth.
“I got some . . . bad news, on the phone, Sir, while we were waiting for you . . . and I acted stupidly. I’m very sorry, Sir. I realize you can’t let this pass, but I . . . I beg you not to punish my whole family for my mistake. Please, Sir, you can do whatever you want with me—but my cousin, Brennan . . . please allow him to continue through.”
I chance to look up, hoping to communicate my sincerity, then quickly drop my head to wait.
“Through to where, exactly?” he asks, after a moment, still impossibly without anger.
Hesitantly, I look up to meet his eyes. I can’t read him, but he seems calm.
To his right, one of the younger-acting dogs lies down and curls up, yawning. That’s got to be a good sign, right?
“We are on our way to Carrigan’s, Sir.”
“Carrigan?” he says, and looks intently to the right for a moment. “Oh, yes, of course. Sorry, it’s been a long time . . . .
“So, what was your news?”
“Sir?” I ask, and start shivering again. I really shouldn’t have come out here.
For so many reasons.
“That drove you to my drink, and into my woods?”
“Oh,” I say, and drop my gaze. My eyes start to burn, a little. “Just, ah . . . ”—I look up again, and force a smile, but it doesn’t want to last—“somebody I care about . . . she, um . . . . ” What? She what? She left me? She didn’t. I left her. And Faolan’s just doing what he said he would.
“Don’t worry about it, son,” he says. “I get the idea.”
“Sir?” I ask again, like an idiot.
“Come on, we should get you inside. Or at least out of that skin.” He chuckles and reaches out to pull me away from the tree. “You seem sober enough. Can you run?”
“You know, if you keep calling me that, we are going to have a problem. The name’s Torrin. Now let’s get going, okay—even I’m getting cold out here.”
“You’re not . . . an-g-gry?”
He snickers. “Son . . . I’m not thrilled you’re here. I’ve told Dugan more than once, that as far as I’m concerned, you guys can go wherever the fuck you want. It’s a free country. All this territory bullshit is just that, and I’d just as soon not deal with it. It’s a pain in my ass, you know?
“But you’re here now, and hey”—he nods to Garvey, who has turned around beside me, his tail thumping raspily across something behind us—“Garvey likes you, so that’s something.
He smiles again, briefly, then grows serious. “Look, don’t worry about the whiskey. Hell, if you hadn’t had it, Sky would have, so, what the hell, right? And as for running in my woods, well, I bought them for running in, okay? It’s cool.
“Now, can we go?” He smiles, and it spreads mischievously up to his eyes. “Or are you going to try some more to talk me into being mad at you?” He laughs heartily and waves his hand to his dogs as he steps away from me. They crowd around him, tails wagging again, while I start rubbing my arms with my hands, for warmth.
I can’t believe it. No consequences? None? At all?
Who the hell is this guy?
I watch as he touches each of the dogs in turn. They jostle up against each other, vying for his attention, and a few of them even playing with each other. They all seem to have forgotten about me. Well, except for the dangerous-looking setter—she’s still watching me, standing apart from her packmates. But even she has dropped the air of threat.
Garvey snorts at my side, and bumps up against me.
“Well?” Torrin asks, turning again to me.
I nod. “Th-thank you, Sir.
“I mean T-Torrin.”
“Yeah, yeah—don’t mention it. Seriously—don’t mention it. Now, let’s go.”
I nod again, and we change.
Torrin barks back at me once, then runs off into the trees. His pack swarm quickly after, except for the setter, who steps over to sniff at me a few times, and Garvey, who seems determined to stick to me like glue. The setter and I make some kind of peace, and then he takes off after the rest.
Garvey trots forward a few steps, then stops.
I snort. Fucking dog.
But if it hadn’t been for him, I’d have . . . .
I shake my head, but the fog won’t clear. And worse, something new is growing there. Or maybe it was there all along.
Fuck it. Whatever.
I step over to Garvey and briefly nuzzle the side of my face against his. His tail thumps a few times into mine.
I shake my head again, and launch into the trees, with Garvey close on my heels.