He was waiting, bitterly hopeful, not believing much in the faith his heart still clung to that she would accept the invitation his open arms presented and move into his embrace.
Her lips moved, a muttering of words he did not know the meaning of, and his stomach rolled with oily black waves of fear. How was he to explain what he had done? How was he to explain that he had never had any luck with women, and to know that someone had seen her, had admired her beauty, had struck anger – and fear as well – into his heart?
Wood nymphs were generally creatures if peace; they disapproved of any sort of violence, large or small. How could he expect her to accept this act, when it was gory and horrid even on a human's level of understanding?
Her gaze lighted on the river again, where the body was bobbing hidden in the reeds, and then back at Wolf. She slid back another step, and another. He made no move to stop or approach her, arms slowly dropping to his sides. Rejection burned like acid in his gut.
As she watched, he dejectedly turned away, his head bowed, and began the lonely trek back to his hut. Ivory was torn between fear and love, her heart aching to see him so obviously miserable.
When he was out of sight, she turned to head toward the trees, and paused. She turned back, feeling as though she was being watched, and found herself looking at him again. He was watching her, and the pain in his heart seemed to emanate from him like a tangible thing, visible and writhing. Her hands clenched into the garment she wore, and she looked down to realize it was his shirt. Tears blinded her; when she had finally blinked them away, he was gone once more, and though she waited for what seemed like hours, he did not return.
The hut felt empty and foreboding when he walked inside. Wolf could still feel her presence around the rooms, lingering to torment him. He shrugged off his shirt, kicked off his boots, and collapsed without thought onto the bed. He had no will left to do anything. He buried his face in the pillows and groaned when he smelled her there.
Earthy and sweet, like a flower after a light rain, it made him ache in more ways than one. He raised his head and rubbed one hand over the pillow, imagining her there with him. Pain made the corners of his eyes prickle and feel slightly wet.
He lowered his head once more and let misery be his sole companion while he tried to lose himself in the oblivion of sleep.
The trees were usually a solace to her, but this night their whispering leaves sounded as lonely as she felt. The stream bubbled in a perversely happy way, oblivious to the hurt inside her. She trailed her fingers through the water, letting it drip from her fingertips onto the ground, where it was swallowed up by the dirt. She leaned back against a tree trunk, and the roots seemed to rise on either side of her thighs, holding her. The leaves seemed to brush at her cheeks in an attempt to dry her tears.
She did not derive comfort, though. She felt only melancholy, gnawing at her heart as the wild carnivores gnaw on the bones of their prey. The forest could not help her through this time.
She heard no footsteps, as is customary for her kind. But the forest around her could sense the movement, and she looked up as the two wood nymphs approached, faces composed, studying her as they circled close and sat within feet of her, legs crossed beneath them as hers were.
The male, on her left, asked her what was troubling her, and his head cocked to the side as he awaited an answer. She looked away, guilty and ashamed, and said nothing of her plight. The female that sat to her right reached out and her fingers grazed Ivory's arm. Tell us, her eyes said beseechingly. Still, Ivory hesitated, and she kept her eyes averted.
Her fellow wood nymphs waited patiently, eyes never straying from her. Slowly, in the strange language no man had ever understood, she outlined what had gone on. Her hands moved to help tell the tale, gesturing to indicate the largeness of the man called Wolf, and the gentleness in the way he'd held her, the love in his eyes and the fear he'd struck with his crude violence.
They did not interrupt, nor did they show any emotion while she spoke. When she had finished, still they did not speak. She drew her knees to her chest and wrapped her arms around them, lying her head down sideways to stare at the happy little stream. She almost could hate it for its gaiety.
In guttural tones that made one think of the rough tree bark, the male nymph asked where her Wolf was now. She motioned in the direction of the village, and both of her companions glanced in that direction. What would he be doing, they wanted to know. She smiled a little, and explained his job of fixing things in the village, making them both nod in understanding.
The wind plucked at their hair and clothing, the man in a loincloth of the same material that Ivory's skirt and top had been made of, which were similar to the ones the woman wore now. They indicated the shirt she wore, and asked about it. She explained that it had belonged to Wolf.
Is it not proof enough, they wanted to know, and Ivory could only stare at them, puzzled. He had given her shelter, clothing, and sustenance. He had done nothing until this day to ever frighten her, always protecting. He had done his best to always put her wants and needs before his own. Lastly, he had let her go. Had he wanted, he could have forced her to go with him, but he had left her to go free. Was it not proof enough that the man was no threat, if anything could be?
Their reasoning left her stunned. The two stood, and bid her farewell. They told her to do as she thought best. She watched them go, but merely put her head back down when they had gone.