Nathan froze, halfway in and halfway out of the truck, staring at the black bear.
I turned and whispered into Nathan’s ear from his shoulder. “She’s a good bear; she won’t hurt you.” She better not.
Nathan turned and looked at his dad for a long moment.
“You can do this, son.”
Nathan hugged his dad goodbye, and Celina escorted us to the cabin. Gretchen, Dichall, and I climbed in Nathan’s parka for warmth. About halfway there we felt Nathan’s heart rate slow, and he actually reached out and petted Celina’s fur on the side of her body. The bear turned to him, snorting a puff of vapor into the freezing air.
As Nathan walked through the woods, I listened as hard as I could, trying to hear anything moving in the woods over the soft crunching of Nathan’s boots in the snow. I inhaled deeply and got a feel for the surrounding wilderness with my nose: a snowshoe hare, a beaver (maybe) and a ruffled grouse somewhere north of us. But most of what I smelled was bear. I didn’t smell any faerie, but we were walking with the wind, so I didn’t know what was coming up.
When we got close to the cabin. I poked my head out and whispered to Nathan. “Now, there are probably faeries around here, invisible, spying on us. Yonya is going to want to know that you’re really here before she exposes herself. So just play or something, like you’re waiting for your dad to come back.”
Celina lay down in the woods, out of sight, and Nathan went into the cabin. He warmed his hands at the low fire burning in the fireplace, then pulled out a book of North American Mammals and started looking at the pictures. “It’s kind of hard to concentrate…”
Dichall got warm by the fire, too. “Okay, Nathan, here is the plan. When Yonya comes out, you are going to escape back to the truck.”
“Riding the bear.” His voice was shaking.
“You can do this. It will be fun.” I hoped it would be fun.
He looked at me and I smiled at him. “Okay.” He started rubbing his hands again.
“Don’t worry, I’ll coach you.”
We waited. Nathan poked at the fire, and we mice luxuriated in the warmth of his coat – Gretchen clutching her backpack, with the acorn trap inside. I was very aware of Dichall’s fur against mine.
I shook away the fantasy brewing in my thoughts, and turned to Gretchen. “So, Yonya is just an essence?”
“Yes, so the acorn trap should work. But you never know. Fae seem to be able to break the rules. So hold on to Grassblade.”
I hope a two-inch sword has enough magic to hurt a three-meter god of the faeries.
About half an hour later we heard Bracey’s hooting call. I glanced up at the window, and I might have seen some small, alien eyes ducking out of sight.
“It’s time!” Gretchen was the first to jump out of Nathan’s coat, expertly bending forward to let the acorn trap fall out of her backpack, over her shoulder, and into her front paws. “Nathan, run outside and climb onto the bear’s back!”
We followed him out and Celina Weirwarden emerged from the darkness. “Get on!”
Celina didn’t have a veilring, she must have sounded like she was growling. Nathan hesitated. Celina lowered herself to the ground and put her chin on the snow. Hands shaking, Nathan grabbed hold of her fur and pulled himself on to her back.
Celina loped into the woods, back toward the car, moments before Yonya arrived.
I stared. Too many limbs shot out of her body, some ending in fins, or wings. Her top half looked like a lobster but the bottom half was… I couldn’t make it out. It just turned into lacy, silk threads, waving as if underwater, floating above the frozen ground. She flowed toward Celina’s departing form, screaming. The sight of her turned my insides to a gibbering stew of nerves, and I let out a frightened squeak.
I heard Bracey the Talonted land behind us as I drew Grassblade. Gretchen held the acorn trap in both paws, pointed the opening toward Yonya, and invoked its magic.
Yonya’s body twisted violently in the air, and the end of one of her limbs pulled and stretched toward Gretchen. The fae screamed and shuddered. It was working!
But a second later one of her other limbs swung at us. I jumped out of the way but the acorn was shattered in Gretchen’s hands. Yonya turned her head right at us, then shot out one of her limbs at Gretchen, who leapt out of the way just in time, amid a giant explosion of snow.
I leapt onto Bracey and shouted to the other Councilmice. “Get on!