Raise a Glass

As Mother Lorin left the grandchildren safe and asleep in their room, Erix was there and he asked “so they’re alright?” gray bearded chin nodded toward the door now closed.   He turned to walk with her down the corridor whose chill came directly from dark stone bare between tapestry and drape.   His pace was slowed by more than one old injury and the arthritic back which had finally kept him from this latest battle.
Lorin patted the shoulder of her fellow oldster and kept a more spry stride in check to match his pace. She smiled tersely knowing the direction the discussion would take and already not savoring the thought “I think we’re all more worried than they are” she assured him “I believe they may not even have noticed.”
With a shake of his head he went right past a frown and downright scowled “when they do, I don’t want to be the one to explain it to them.  Those little faces are my only weakness, you know that.” He sighed and wished again that he had gone with the rest.  He might be old but he still much preferred howling battle to a moon missed in safe chains.

“Bite your tongue!” she snapped and then ignored his pessimism entirely too soon in which to indulge.  “One message about a single defeat means next to nothing” she insisted.  She shook her head refusing to start speculating on who may or may not have been injured, let alone entertain the thought that anyone may have perished.  Impossible.  At least not anyone they cared about anyway.  Having been in the thick of more than one herself, she was no innocent to the fact that even battles won cost some dearly.  Someone else’s somebodies though, this she clung to steadfastly.  “It will only put more fire in their blood for the next, which I’m sure has already been won and we’ll hear word of shortly” she assured both him and herself.
“It’s a far battle this one, perhaps not so soon as it should be” Erix pointed out.  The king’s ruling strategy had long ago turned from protecting outlying villages to expanding the kingdom, almost now an empire.  He grasped the hand which Lorin put on his shoulder yet again.   Two of her children were his and the surviving one’s continued survival in question now put far too much the count what they, just as much as the rest of the pack from which they were separated, had been through together.   No amount of personal conflict or the quick-shifting jealousies and betrayals and reconciliations of relationships as mercurial as their curse, had ever weakened the attachment of pack over all else.  It made these times of being left behind as elders no longer strong enough for battles, all the more difficult.
“We’ll never hear soon enough but we will hear” Lorin looked over at him no longer as upset “let’s just not act like old fools doddering in circles and quivering in unfounded fears.  When we know we’ll know, we might as well believe that everything is fine.”
Erix snorted not sure whether he was comforted or disgusted by that reasoning to accept their helplessness.  It was an alien concept that he neither liked nor had come anywhere near becoming used to.   While he, Lorin and Blake had been considered old for quite some time now, up until the last few battles had knocked them out of the roster for good, they had only been left behind rather individually during rotating Homeguard duties since the first of the younger generations.  With the increasing distance of campaigns the older grandchildren had gone with their parents for a straw-drawn Homeguard to keep them at the outpost nearest the border.  That left just the three oldsters at the fortress home with the three most youngest.  Being in the company of Lorin and Blake rather than child-tending alone tricked the mind.  Too close to a full-pack feeling yet too far removed.  The endless reminisces wove into worries about the current campaign which they could imagine well enough to feel that they should be right in the thick.
“I need a drink” he complained against restless unease, their path already aimed them toward the dining hall.  Lorin nodded and the two walked directly through it right into the kitchen beyond.  They ignored the cook and two scullery maids still recovering orderly arrangement from dinner.  As the rest of the pack had gone, so too had the usual bustle and efficiency of kitchen and keep.   Leaving even that behind they ducked further and descended to wine cellar.
There Erix snorted again to see that Blake was already there and clearly with the same idea, though from the looks of it he’d beaten him too it by a couple hours.   Their founder and once-upon-a-time alpha was asleep on a stool with his feet sprawled at odds before him.  Head lolled over crossed arms that hugged half-empty bottle under chin.  Even crushed between bottle and chest, the length of coarse hair made his frosty white beard seem just as soft as sleep made the man attached to it seem peaceful.   Only the tangle of disarray that ever coated Blake in both appearance and manner still carried to the eye any sense of the toughness that had once defined him.  These days it was overshadowed by distracted age yet still matched by the old man’s grizzled and wiry form.
Lorin just sighed and shook her head before turning to pull a bottle from the wall.  Just as Erix stepped over to take the bottle from Blake’s protective arms, he caused the other man to startle awake.  “Huhwha?” he murmured, sat up, rubbed face with a hand that followed the motion with extended scratch of his beard.  Frowning as he realized Erix had taken the bottle “I was drinking that.”
“You were sleeping and lucky I came along and kept you from dropping it” Erix said with a lopsided smile and drew another stool over to sit beside and nearly facing Blake.
The other man snorted and rubbed hand along his face.  The beginnings of hangover already hinted at a later plague upon both skull and mood.  “With the way things are looking, you’re lucky I didn’t drop every damn bottle in the whole damn place” he griped “on purpose.”
“We’re all on edge but Lorin just made a great point” Erix pointed out as arm settled over Blake’s shoulder and hand rose to knock knuckle’s light aggravation on the man’s irritable skull.  “Until we know the worst we might as well assume the best” he paraphrased the words of one mate to the other.
Blake seemed quite displeased by the words and turned with a growl toward Erix, even less by the rap upon his head.  “Don’t make me cuff you!” he snarled and did just that.  Hand old and wrinkled but large enough nonetheless as he struck Erix upside the head, causing both of them to wince.  Erix rubbing his head as Blake shook and rubbed his now-bruised hand.  He muttered under his breath “ten years ago that would’ve hurt you more than me.”
“Five if memory serves” Erix quipped back to remember more than once less than ten years ago that the sentiment had rung quite true.
“Memory serves” Lorin scoffed as she handed them each fresh bottles, done with waiting for them to roll through anymore banter.  “We’re all too old to be worrying whether memory serves or not.  I dare you to remember what was for dinner yesterday” she laughed a little though as she herself would have to ask the cooks about it to settle such a bet.
Erix pulled the cork from his bottle and handed it to Blake who was far too drunk already to do more than struggle to open the other.  While they swapped open bottle for sealed he answered Lorin “speak for yourself you old biddy, it was a tasty meat stew.” He remembered specifically because it hadn’t left his jaw sore to chew it.  He had counted stews as his favorites for quite a few years since his teeth had been the first sign of aging to really hit him, at least where it hurt.
“Oh just drink your swill you creaky old lunatic” Lorin chuckled shaking her head as she sat down with them, her own bottle in hand.
Clearly the oldsters prepared to drink themselves senseless, complete with toasts as Blake swung his bottle unsteadily upward “to all of us creaky old lunatics!”
“And our lunatic friends who didn’t make it to creaky or old” Lorin added with quieter tone as she lightly tapped her bottle to Blake’s.
Erix added his own to the full-bottled dull clink and to the toast included “May their children and ours make it just as far and further!” With no way to know how belatedly useless such a toast now was, had been for days.

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