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Like Autumn

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"Sometimes existence isn't prepared to exist, it is simply thrust, unready, into wakefulness."

A map of Eski Ev

      Autumn was what the ancient ones called it, named in honor of a Canid with a pelt that glowed like falling leaves touched by the sun. Slain in cold blood by a wolf, pelt as pale as the winter moon, Autumn was the first great martyr and the catalyst of suffering. Cold, dark days of harsh reality follow her passing in a cycle that repeats endlessly, leaving every beast longing for the sweet embrace of spring.
     Delphia, like Autumn, had seen her fair share of life’s bitter cycle. The journey of life from joy to suffering and back again was all too familiar, but she had long since detached herself from the movers and shakers of the world. Now her life was contained in this small and familiar sphere, and that’s where she was most content to be.She walked among the autumn leaves, following a clear path through the forest. Her pelt was often compared to the reds and yellows that her tail brushed through as she traveled. The cool but colorful forest path opened up like a river’s mouth into a sun-warmed clearing of fading greens, a welcome change of scenery along the trodden path from settlement to settlement. In the clearing, a weathered tavern with walls composed of mossy stones bonded together and a roof of chipping shingles and hay served as a way station for weary travelers passing through. Several rugged posts stood at the right of the tavern door, with a couple Avin tethered to each. Hanging over the posts was a simple but effective hay canopy that sheltered the giant avian steeds from the elements.
      The building looked moments from toppling inwards, yet Delphia was completely confident in it's safety. The walls always stood strong on her many previous visits, so she opened the door with confidence, facing the wood-clad interior. The door’s hinges whined in protest, announcing her presence, and she was greeted first by a musty smell that had become as recognizable to Delphia as family itself. Light seeped in through the roof, dappling the few inhabitants hunched at round tables, nursing their beverages in lazy sips. Her cane knocked against the boards as Delphia found herself following her personal tradition of sitting at the bar closest to the shaggy Canid that busied himself with tallying his stock of mead.
     "Well, I wasn't expecting to see the sun rise in my corner of the world," the shaggy eared dog turned to her, grinning. His crooked grin complimented his pleasantly tousled maw fur, A perfect picture of an old, handsome mutt.
Delphia simply smiled warmly, her heart swelling with appreciation for her old comrade. "Well Jean, It's a special day, I figured I'd celebrate."
     A mug of a frothy liquid was placed in front of her with a clatter and she hummed a smile, nodding approvingly in response. Jean wagged his tail, pleased; he no longer needed to ask what drink Delphia desired.
"A special day, eh?" He leaned in, looking at her inquisitively. "It wouldn't happen to be your littering day, would it?"
Delphia bit back a bark of laughter. "No, not quite," She allowed herself a small chuckle, relishing the moment of company. "It is the littering day of my only daughter."
     She gazed past Jean as her thoughts regarding the circumstances of that day resurfaced again. Something about that day always brought with it a sense of dread that hung around in her mind, a sense of loss that may never heal. The world hung far away as that day enveloped her in a murky abyss. There was a vast ocean of turbulent emotion and pain in that abyss, an ocean she took great care to avoid stepping into again.
      "Hm….” Jean paused, stroking his shaggy maw thoughtfully. “No, I don't think you've mentioned her yet!" Jean's gruff voice broke through her trance. Once again, she was surrounded by the tavern, warm, and with friends.
"I don't need to, you already know her name," Delphia’s golden eyes twinkled, not giving away her lapse in present thoughts.
If there was any doubt before, Jean's attention was most certainly piqued now. "I don't think I'd forget a fact like that!" He protested.
Delphia laughed gently. "Her name is Maerwynn," she conceded, leaving a moment for the threads to connect in the old bartender’s mind.
Jean's eyes bulged for a moment as recognition came to him. The country the tavern sat within was known as Rosenshire, and the ruler presiding over this territory was known far and wide as “Maerwynn the Mongrel.” It was common knowledge that Maerwynn, whose territory spread far up to the northern cape of Eski Ev was a bastard, the product of the blood of inferior wolves mixed with the elegant and noble blood of a borzoi dynasty that lay claim to the lands of Rosenshire for generations. Delphia braced herself for her old friend to look upon her bedraggled form and guffaw at her claim at former royalty. The silence drew out as Jean studied her.
     "Now Delphia, correct me if I'm wrong, but that would mean you’re making a claim that you were the Lady of old king Jarlath himself? Mighty Jarlath of the Jupiter Court?" He said the words with stern but amused seriousness, his eyes confessing he expected the elder bitch to crow her victory in fooling him. Delphia held his gaze, serious as ever.
She studied his bewilderment for a moment, then continued. "I no longer lay claim to that title, but yes, we did lay together." She affirmed the statement quietly. Sipping her stout, the foam parted, beginning to reveal the true colors of the drink.
Jean leaned back, whistling long and slow as he processed the information. Settling his paws on his waist, he looked down with pursed lips, shaking his head slowly. "Mmm-mm," He said, finally looking up to study her again, and putting a padded finger to his lips. "Well, I can say he had great taste. I always knew you were too beautiful to be of the common beast," he said after a silence that seemed to last too long.
      Delphia felt her cheeks warm under her fur as she failed to stop a puppish giggle from escaping her lips. "You are a silly old dog, Jean," she said, her eyes softening as they took in her friend. Jean merely offered that same crooked grin that he had the first day they met.
     The two continued to banter through the sun's daily journey from youth to old age. As the sunlight began to dim, the topic of times long past surfaced again, and with it, the topic of the old King Jarlath. Twenty-five years had passed since the old borzoi had met his end, and the new age had begun.
"I do have to wonder what ailment did him in though," the old dog mused.
Delphia looked at him with raised brows. "An ailment?" she echoed, amused. Interlacing her fingers she formed a bridge to rest her maw upon as she leaned into the bar. She knew more than she was letting on. "How long have you lived in these parts?" she asked, knowingly.
Jean stopped in his thoughts to consider her question. "Ah, around fifteen years. I came from Pochnya during the drought. I had heard rumblings that the cruel King Jarlath had passed and his daughter took upon the mantle," he said, recounting the events from his outside perspective. "Why do you ask?"
     Delphia let the moment linger in the air, the smell of mead and ale surrounding them like a veil of shadows. She chuckled quietly to herself. It was funny how the lens of history could distort the past.
"Because the ailment you speak of was my daughter,"
She finally let the words sink in as Jean tried to recount the years and the events he had missed. He didn't speak for a time, gazing off with a puzzled expression. There were many things about it that didn't quite make sense. Rulers who got their power through bloodshed were oftentimes ousted by the people to avoid years of suffering under further bloodlust. And if Delphia really was Maerwynn’s mother and the consort to the King, shouldn’t she stand to be queen herself? What he didn’t know and didn’t understand burned at him in a secret and curious part of his mind, yet he knew better than to abandon caution. "Delphia, saying such things might have you charged with treason," he warned in a hushed voice, glancing around.
Delphia only shrugged off his warning. "It would not be the first time," she said casually, making no attempt to hide her past. "And I have very little cause for worry. I was the reason she succeeded in such deeds, after all."
      Jean leaned over the bar, curiosity finally having overcome his skepticism just enough. “And I don’t suppose you’ve got the time to tell me about these ‘deeds,’ do ya?” He spoke in a low, conversational tone, hoping to the spirits that he could hear her tale. Something was telling him this story was going to be good.