A week had passed before Ratonhnhaké:ton even managed to muster up the courage to talk to her again. She had made herself at home by that time and was walking around the manor freely, which he was glad to see.
He found her out in the back, sitting on one of the large rocks overlooking the bay while reading one of the books from the library. Using the power of the eagle, he swooped down from his window and landed a little behind her. He stepped heavily so she could know that he was there.
Ellie jumped in surprise and glanced over her shoulder at him. “Yes?” she asked, tilting her head.
Ratonhnhaké:ton cleared his throat before gesturing to the boulder. “May I join you?”
Ellie narrowed her eyes, but she eventually scooted over to give him room.
Ratonhnhaké:ton sat down and looked out at the sea, occasionally glancing at her out of the corner of his eye. She had started to read her book again and would reach up and tuck her hair behind her ear when the wind blew it into her face.
Ratonhnhaké:ton knew she had read the book of stories from his people. He had written it himself and he recognized it immediately when he found her in the library a week ago. Did she know of his curse then?
The wind coming in from the sea blew her scent toward him and Ratonhnhaké:ton felt lightheaded. She smelled like paper and the sweet spices she used to bake with. It was intoxicating.
“Would you mind if I started a garden out here?” she suddenly asked.
He could sense the nervousness in her and he inwardly flinched. She truly was frightened of him. Not that he could blame her.
“It’s just…I found some seeds out in the barn the other day and it would give me something to do and-“
“You may. You can do anything you want,” Ratonhnhaké:ton said softly.
Ellie looked up at him and Ratonhnhaké:ton suddenly realized how green her eyes actually were in the sunlight. She bit her lip and she looked away. “Can I take Dancer out for a ride every now and then too? You’re welcome to join if you want to make sure I come back and-“
“That is alright.”
Ellie’s surprised look instantly turned suspicious. “I can?”
Ratonhnhaké:ton sighed and looked away from her. “I have no ill intentions for you…you were correct about why I kept you here.” He just wanted her to stop being scared of him. If he could manage that, it would be perfect.
Ellie tilted her head as she studied him, Ratonhnhaké:ton found the action intriguing. “So, you were lonely,” she finally stated.
Ratonhnhaké:ton cleared his throat and looked away. He hated admitting it, and she was not making it easy either.
“You could have just said so,” she said softly, laughing a little. “Now, I’m going to take Dancer out for a ride. You’re welcome to join.”
She put the small book in the pocket of her dress and made her way toward the stables. Ratonhnhaké:ton stood as well and followed her. He watched in fascination as she was able to quickly get the saddle on the mare easily. He thought that her small stature would have made it difficult for her.
“Oh, do you not have any other horses here?” she asked, looking around.
Ratonhnhaké:ton scoffed. “I do not need one.”
Ellie arched a brow before shrugging and pulling herself up into the saddle. “Well, I hope you can keep up!” she laughed, flicking the reins.
She and the mare flew down the path toward the front of the house and Ratonhnhaké:ton almost laughed before anger bubbled up in his gut.
She was in for a surprise if she was trying to escape.
Ellie had never felt so alive. She was almost to the river when she finally slowed down. She looked behind her and was surprised to find that Ratonhnhaké:ton wasn’t right behind her.
“You were foolish to run.”
She looked and squeaked in surprise to find him standing in front of the bridge that went over the river. His arms were crossed and he didn’t look pleased in the least.
Well, maybe her galloping away did have the potential to give the wrong idea. “I wasn’t trying to run away,” she replied, sitting taller in the saddle.
Well, he said he had no ill intentions earlier. And he hasn’t tried to hurt her or anything so far. She decided to give him the benefit of the doubt.
“I wanted to see if you were lying about needing a horse or not. It’s called having fun,” she joked, gently flicking the reins so Dancer would step closer to him. She looked down at him from her saddle and smiled. She then tilted her head and asked, “How did you get down here so fast?”
He stiffened and Ellie immediately regretted asking. Ratonhnhaké:ton sighed and looked away. “That is not important. Where do you want to go?”
Ellie’s worry vanished and she gestured toward the cliff in the distance. “I just wanted to go there and back. That seems like a decent ride.”
Ratonhnhaké:ton nodded and started to walk across the bridge. He looked at her over his shoulder with a grin that strangely reminded her of a wolf. Her breath caught in her throat as well. He didn’t look as scary when he smiled. “You might want to get a head start,” he warned, taking off into the woods.
Ellie gasped in surprise at his sheer speed before her competitive side took over. She flicked the reins and took off after him. It was strange to ride along and occasionally see a flash of brown show up in the trees. So, he wasn’t completely human. Ellie came to that conclusion earlier that week. She didn’t know what that meant completely, though. There was a story in that first book she found that gave her a clue, but she wanted him to tell her if it was or not on his own for some reason.
They stopped by the cliff and Ellie dismounted so Dancer could rest a little. Ratonhnhaké:ton appeared nearby, sitting on a boulder at the base of the cliff. “How are you so fast?” she breathed out, leading Dancer toward him.
“I already told you. That is not important.”
Ellie pouted and put her hands on her hips. “Well, I think it’s important.”
He actually grinned and Ellie found her breath hitching in her throat again.
Ratonhnhaké:ton suddenly stiffened and stood up, looking at the area around them. A growling sound erupted from him and Ellie flinched at the sound.
“Get on the horse and get back to the manor,” he ordered, crouching down.
“Why do I—“
“Just do it!” he ordered. Before Ellie could do anything, wolves suddenly leapt at them from the brush.
Ratonhnhaké:ton leaped forward and shoved the one that was leaping toward Dancer away. “Go!” he roared.
Ellie scrambled into the saddle and took off toward the manor. The howls of the wolves followed her the whole way. Right as she reached the bridge, more wolves appeared out of the bushes and leaped at Dancer.
Ellie screamed as Dancer reared. She felt herself slipping out of the saddle and there was nothing she could do to stop it.
Doing what Robert taught her to do, Ellie made sure to land on her back and not let her head hit the ground. A wolf sprung at her and Ellie managed to roll away and it only clamped its teeth down on the skirts of her dress.
A loud, booming snarl suddenly sounded out and Ellie gasped and covered her head when the wolf was thrown away.
She slowly looked up and her jaw dropped at the sight before her. A new wolf was standing in front of her now, growling furiously. Its dark brown fur bristled along its spine as it glared at the other wolves. Ellie instantly knew who it was when she managed to get a look at the wolf’s eyes. They were an unnatural blue.
So, the legend in the book she read was true.
The wolf snapped at another wolf that happened to come to close. The pack finally realized that they were outmatched and they started to back away slowly.
The large wolf snarled and that was it for the other wolves. They took off into the forest, yipping and howling.
The wolf turned and looked at her and Ellie finally managed to push herself upright. The wolf was still taller than her, even though she was sitting up straight on the ground. Before she realized what she was doing, she tentatively reached out and touched the fur that was still bristling on the wolf’s neck.
The wolf whined and turned his head toward her, nudging her arm a little.
“Sorry,” she mumbled, quickly pulling her hand away.
The wolf snorted and nudged her leg with its nose, gesturing toward her skirts.
Ellie suddenly realized what he was trying to ask. “Oh! I’m alright. That brute only tore my dress.”
The wolf huffed and started to pad toward the manor. Ellie stood up and snapped, “I can’t go back there yet! Where’s Dancer?”
The wolf paused and barked, looking toward the manor again.
“Are you sure she’s there?”
The wolf huffed again.
“Oh fine! You better be right.”
Ellie hurried forward and caught up with the wolf. They walked side by side up to the manor. Ellie wondered what they must have looked like. She guessed that she looked like one of the wild girls from one of her story books walking next to such a large wolf. The top of his head reached above her hip.
She almost laughed at the thought. They finally made it back to the manor and sure enough, Dancer was racing around the small yard in front of the barn.
“Easy girl,” Ellie soothed, barely managing to catch the mare’s reins.
Dancer wasn’t having it. The mare easily pulled away from Ellie and started to run around the yard again, eyes rolling wildly.
Ratonhnhaké:ton suddenly appeared and caught the reins, speaking lowly in a language Ellie didn’t understand.
She looked around and the wolf was gone. So, it was him. I’m not going insane.
Dancer, surprisingly, calmed down and was now whickering at the tall man.
Even though Ellie was grateful for all he did, she decided it was finally time for answers. She marched forward and poked his arm. “We are going to go inside and you’re going to explain some things to me. No exceptions.”
Ratonhnhaké:ton looked down at her sadly before he began to lead Dancer toward her stall. “Very well.”
Ellie was surprised that he agreed so easily. She shook the feeling away and made her way into the manor.
She plopped down in one of the dining room chairs, tapping her fingers on the table as she waited for him to come inside. Ratonhnhaké:ton finally walked in and he sat down across from her.
“Tell me everything. Now,” Ellie ordered.
Ratonhnhaké:ton looked down and set his clasped hands on the table. “What do you want to know?”
Ellie barked out a laugh. “Like I said; everything. I want to know why you’re like this? How did it happen? Why do you shut yourself out in the middle of the woods? Why—“
“I became this way after I drank the tea of the willow,” he began. “I wanted to avenge my mother’s death by finding her murderers. I wasn’t strong enough to do that when I was younger, so I went to the great willow tree, despite my grandmother’s orders.”
Ellie’s irritation instantly left her. “So the story in the book was true?”
Ratonhnhaké:ton smiled sadly. “Yes, the legend of the tea is true.”
Ellie didn’t know what to think. She thought the stories were just that; stories. The story she was thinking of was the one of the Great Willow. The willow’s bark had the ability to give the powers of nature to whoever drank the tea made from it. The person could also transform into the animal they met. Ellie recalled that the abilities of the wolf also included speed and the ability to move around unseen.
These abilities had a downfall, though. The person would soon lose themselves after drinking the tea, becoming more beast than human.
“This is unbelievable. I have seen it with my own eyes and I still cannot comprehend it,” she said in awe. She was confused, though. Ratonhnhaké:ton should only have the markings on his face if he only met the wolf…which meant. “You drank the tea more than once, didn’t you?”
An ashamed look reached Ratonhnhaké:ton’s features as he looked away. “Yes. The men who killed my mother proved to be stronger than I thought. So I drank the tea two more times. I finally avenged my mother after doing so.”
Ellie gulped and crossed her arms. “It’s obvious that you met the wolf…what are the others?”
Ratonhnhaké:ton gestured to the markings on his ribs and arms. “These are the markings of the eagle.” He then gestured toward his eyes. “This is the sign of the bear.”
Ellie then noticed something off about his shoulder. Bright red blood was still oozing out of a bite mark on it. She quickly stood up with a gasp. “You’re hurt! Why didn’t you say anything?! Here I was yelling at you to tell me everything and you were hurt this whole time!”
She kept rambling on as she quickly stepped toward the bucket of water she drew this morning and filled a bowl.
“You don’t have to—“
“You saved my life. So, yes, I do,” Ellie argued, reaching for a rag. She set them on the table and dipped the rag into the water.
He hissed a little as she dabbed at the wound, but other than that, he didn’t flinch. “The book mentioned a way to do away with the powers. What is it?”
He stiffened underneath her touch. “I…do not know. The legend passed down among my people explains it in a vague way.”
Ellie bit her lip as she kept cleaning the wound. It wasn’t as bad as she thought it was and she might have overreacted a little, but she didn’t care. “Thank you…by the way. I probably would have died if you weren’t there.”
His bright, blue eyes met hers and they stared at each other for many moments before he finally said, “You are welcome.”
Ratonhnhaké:ton almost could not believe his luck. After the day Ellie discovered his curse, they had become close friends quickly. He was more than happy to spend time around her too.
Ever since she boldly reached out and touched him in his wolf form, his heart had started to thud in a strange way whenever he was around her. He never acted on this feeling, though. He just stayed quiet and helped her with whatever project she was doing.
He helped her start the garden she wanted. Then she managed to talk him into rearranging the books in the library, which took hours but it was worth seeing her get excited about the various books there.
Ellie loved to ask questions and learn, too. She asked about the man who used to own this manor, and Ratonhnhaké:ton was more than happy to speak of Achilles. The old man had left the manor to him, despite the fact he knew that Ratonhnhaké:ton could possibly lose his sanity to the curse of the tea.
Ellie also asked about his people. She even convinced him to start teaching her their language. And that was where he found himself on a beautiful spring day with her underneath one of the large trees in the manor’s yard.
“The phonetics of these words are tricky, but I believe I can figure it out,” she said, looking determined. They had been learning one phrase at a time, since Ratonhnhaké:ton’s people did not truly have a written alphabet.
Ratonhnhaké:ton huffed out a laugh and flopped down onto his back, enjoying the feel of the cool grass on his skin. “We have been doing this for hours. Let’s do something else.”
Ellie tilted her head—an action Ratonhnhaké:ton had come to love seeing—as she hummed in thought. “What do you suggest then? All the chores are already done.”
Ratonhnhaké:ton rolled his eyes. Even if he knew what he wanted to do, the chores she magically came up with while she was here was not one of them. “Do you know how to swim?”
Ellie’s eyes widened comically. “What? No. Girls usually are not allowed to.”
Ratonhnhaké:ton sat up, staring at her in confusion. “Why not?”
Ellie let out a laugh. “It’s not proper. Besides, why would we be near the water? The only reason I ever got near the river was to do laundry.”
“Your people are strange,” Ratonhnhaké:ton huffed, standing up. He held out his hand and helped her to her feet. “I would be glad to teach you.”
Ellie tapped her chin as she thought about it. “Hold on.” She hurried inside and Ratonhnhaké:ton stared after her in bewilderment. What could she possibly need?
It was many minutes later before she stepped out the door. “I found these in one of the drawers the other day. Looks like they’ll be put to good use after all,” she said happily.
Ratonhnhaké:ton was speechless. She had put on an old shirt and some pants that Achilles had given him years ago. The sleeves were much too long, and the pants were rolled many times to fit her short legs, but she looked beautiful to him still. He shook his shock away and started to walk toward the river. “I am glad you found those. There will be less fabric holding you down.”
Ellie followed him and she asked questions the whole way, like he knew she would. “So are we going to start small? I don’t know if I’ll like being too far out into the water. I—“
Even though he loved how she rambled, it still got a little annoying to Ratonhnhaké:ton occasionally. But, it was one of the many quirks about Ellie that made her Ellie and Ratonhnhaké:ton decided that he liked everything about her.
He had lied when he told her he did not know how to break the tea’s curse. He knew the answer, but he was not going to tell her. The curse can only be broken when one can tame the beast inside. His people have had stories of this successfully happening. These stories involved the cursed one falling in love and having that person they loved loving them in return. This was hard to do, though, because of the unpredictability of the cursed person’s mental state.
Ratonhnhaké:ton rarely felt the madness, but that did not mean it did not exist. He knew it was unfair to keep how to break the curse from Ellie, but he did not want her to be afraid of him. Nor did he want her to say she cared for him out of sympathy. The love had to be true, not empathetic. And so, this was Ratonhnhaké:ton’s dilemma. He knew he truly cared for the little woman walking beside him, but he had no idea how to make her care for him in return.
He had come upon this realization after she had been in the manor for a month. She was teaching him how to cook something her mother taught her to make years ago. He could not even remember what she was making he was so focused on her.
He was more focused on the way she tucked her hair behind her ear. And the way she tilted her head when she looked at him caused his heart to flutter anytime he saw it. And the way her eyes crinkled up when she smiled or laughed always made him feel happy. He noticed that her hands never stayed still either. Her fingers would tap as she read her book and they always moved swiftly with whatever task she was doing.
He also loved her voice. It was a lower pitch and it reminded him of his mother. That was not the reason he loved it, though. It was always kind, even when she was scolding him. Her voice soothed him and he could not remember feeling more relaxed than he did when she read the books aloud to him.
He loved her. He loved her kindness and everything else about her and knew she probably would never love him in return.
Despite this, he was happy. He was happier than he could ever remember being and it was all because of her.
They finally made it down to the river and Ratonhnhaké:ton did not hesitate to jump into the water. This day was warmer than usual and the cool water was refreshing.
He turned so that he was facing her and held out his hands. “Do not worry. I will help you.”
Ellie took a deep breath before pulling off the boots she had slipped on and she tentatively stuck her toes in the water. She squealed and let out a laugh as she shivered. “How can you stand this?! It’s freezing!” she laughed, finally putting her whole foot in.
“I just do,” he chuckled.
She shuffled out far enough to grasp his hands and Ratonhnhaké:ton’s heart fluttered at the contact. He shook the feeling away and he focused on the task at hand. He started to slowly step backwards toward the deeper part of the river, pulling her with him.
Her grip on his hands tightened as the water started to lap around her waist. Ratonhnhaké:ton’s heart clenched at the fearful look on her face and he gently squeezed her hands. “I got you. Nothing bad will happen.”
Ellie took a deep breath and let him pull her further into the water. Her eyes suddenly widened when the water reached her upper chest. “I can’t touch! Ratonhnhaké:ton, I—“
“It is alright. Just kick.”
She started to kick and Ratonhnhaké:ton was able to easily help her stay afloat. She beamed at him when she was able to successfully do it for many moments. “I’m swimming!”
Ratonhnhaké:ton almost did not know what to do with himself. She looked so happy and it filled him with joy. “Ellie, do you trust me?”
She gave him a look of confusion. “Yes, why?”
“Because I am going to let you do this alone now. I will be right here,” he said.
Instead of the fear he was anticipating, her brow furrowed in determination. “Alright.”
Ratonhnhaké:ton slowly let go of her hands and let her try on her own. Ellie proved to be a quick learner and before Ratonhnhaké:ton knew it, she was able to paddle around without difficulty.
“This is so much fun! I can see why you wanted to do it now,” she giggled.
Ratonhnhaké:ton rolled his eyes and dove beneath the water. He waited until he could hear her call out his name in confusion before he pushed off the bottom of the river and popped up right next to her.
She squealed in surprise and splashed him playfully, laughing.
An unfamiliar, playful feeling bubbled up inside of Ratonhnhaké:ton and he returned the splash. Soon, they were having a full out war. Ellie suddenly swam to where she could touch the bottom and she started to run away from him. Unfortunately for her, he had the advantage with his longer legs. He quickly caught up to her and wrapped his arms around her waist and picked her up with ease. She shrieked with laughter as he leapt into the deeper part of the water.
When they surfaced, she gasped in surprise, wrapping her arms around his neck in fear. Ratonhnhaké:ton realized that he was in a significantly deeper part of the river and she probably was not comfortable. He quickly swam to where he could touch. “I got you,” he whispered.
He suddenly realized how close their faces were and his heart started to race in his chest. Her mouth was open and Ratonhnhaké:ton could feel the soft puffs of her breath on his face. Their gazes met and Ratonhnhaké:ton suddenly did not have control of himself. His grip around her waist tightened and he reached up and gently buried his fingers in her hair as he pressed his mouth to hers.
To his surprise, Ellie tightened her own grip around his neck and returned the kiss. His eyes slowly closed and Ratonhnhaké:ton let himself get lost in this moment. The rush he felt from the kiss was similar to the one he felt when he flew as an eagle, but intensified infinitely.
Her soft, gentle hands moved to cup his face and Ratonhnhaké:ton moved his hand from her hair and wrapped it around her waist with his other arm, pulling her body closer to his. They both pulled away, gasping for air, and Ratonhnhaké:ton’s eyes met hers again. She grinned and pulled his lips toward hers again and Ratonhnhaké:ton could feel her smiling into the kiss.
The kiss was hungry, yet sweet at the same time and Ratonhnhaké:ton wondered how that was even possible. He pushed the thought aside and focused entirely on the woman in his arms. Ellie pulled away again and her fingers gently stroked through his hair. “Ratonhnhaké:ton,” she whispered, grinning.
Ratonhnhaké:ton’s heart was thundering in his chest and his eyes widened when a raw, overwhelming need took over him. Without saying another word, he tossed her away from him, gulping in air. No! No! NO! Not now! he begged to himself.
“Get away! Get back to the manor!” he managed to growl.
“Is it happening again?”
He could feel his body start to change, despite his pleading. The power of the wolf overcame him and he quickly swam to the opposite shore as her. He had to get away. He had to get far away from her before the beast’s mind took over. He would die before he hurt her.
Ratonhnhaké:ton dared to pause as he stepped out of the water as a wolf. He looked across the river to see Ellie standing on the other side, looking at him with worry. The look caused his heart to sink.
He let out a mournful howl before taking off into the forest.
Ellie didn’t know what to think anymore. She had seen the curse take over Ratonhnhaké:ton before. The first time it happened was when they were working on the garden one day and the power of the bear appeared. Ellie remembered watching in terror from inside the manor as the largest bear she had ever seen lumbered off into the forest.
Ratonhnhaké:ton had told her that these moments can come at any time without warning and that he would try to get away if they did.
Ellie huffed to herself as she walked up to the manor. “That bloody curse couldn’t have had worse timing,” she grumbled.
She had noticed that she was developing new feelings for Ratonhnhaké:ton for the past couple weeks. At first, Ellie thought of Ratonhnhaké:ton as a close friend. Then she noticed how he was looking at her while she was reading aloud to him one day. It was only for a moment, but it was enough to get her heart to start fluttering in her chest.
Ratonhnhaké:ton was looking at her like she was the most wonderful thing on the earth.
It was enough to get her to start thinking of him in a different way. Now that she had gotten to know him, she discovered that he actually was a kind hearted person. She started to see the man that was there before the curse. She noticed how soft spoken he truly was and how that one minded intensity that she noticed in his eyes went toward everything he did. Ratonhnhaké:ton gave everything his all and he never held back.
He also was intelligent and she was happy when she found that she could have conversations with him about the books on philosophy and history he owned.
She also was starting to see his rugged, handsome features in a different way as well. His high cheek bones and broad nose fit right in with his sharp jawline and it contrasted with how big and wide his eyes were and how soft his lips looked.
She was also glad to know that his hair was as silky as it looked, even when it was wet.
Ratonhnhaké:ton had somehow burrowed his way into her heart and she had no idea what to do about it. What was she going to do when he returned?
Ellie sighed as she stepped into the manor. Well, she should at least dry off and change before worrying about it.
Ratonhnhaké:ton hated changing back after the beast took over. The sensation usually only felt strange, but it was painful after changing unwillingly. He gasped in air as soon as his lungs returned to normal and he groaned in pain as his body finished changing. He had made it back close to the manor, at least.
Ratonhnhaké:ton finally managed to push himself to his feet and he started to wearily walk toward the front door of the manor.
Ellie must hate him now for what happened. She probably never wanted to see him again. He would not have been surprised if he found the manor empty. His heart felt like it was being ripped apart at the thought. What would he do if she was not there? He did not even want to think about it.
The opposite happened. Instead of an empty manor, he opened the door to the smell of one of Ellie’s stews and the sound of her humming in the kitchen.
He silently made his way toward the kitchen and peered around the entryway.
Ratonhnhaké:ton’s heart felt too big for his chest as he just watch her chop away at whatever was on her cutting board. She did not pull her hair back after their swim and she was letting it fall freely around her shoulders in soft waves. Her intoxicating scent overwhelmed his senses and he forgot why he was anxious. All he could feel was joy for a moment.
The anxiety came back with a kick when she turned and looked at him. Now that she has seen him again, surely she must be having doubts about being around him.
Her eyes widened in surprise at first before they softened and stared at him in sympathy.
“Are you alright?” she quietly asked, setting her knife down.
Before he could say anything, she was walking across the kitchen and reaching up to gently touch his cheek. Ratonhnhaké:ton almost could not believe this was happening. She was accepting him, even after what happened in the river.
Instead of saying anything, he reached forward and wrapped his arms around her, resting his cheek on her head. He just needed to hold her. He needed nothing else. “I am sorry,” he finally whispered.
Ellie let out a soft laugh and Ratonhnhaké:ton sighed when he felt her gentle hands resting on his back as she returned his hug. “Why are you sorry? You can’t control it.”
He stepped away and spluttered as he tried to come up with everything wrong he did.
Ellie, instead of berating him, just giggled and tugged on his braid. “Come on. I need your help with the stew. I have a couple more vegetables to chop before it’s done.” She smiled up at him before stepping away and walking back to the counter.
Ratonhnhaké:ton felt his jaw slowly drop as he just stared at her. She was staying?
He walked with a new hop in his step as he made his way toward the counter.
Maybe there was hope for him after all.
Who would have thought that it would come in the form of the tiny, kind, beautiful girl next to him?
Ratonhnhaké:ton just seemed happier and happier each day and Ellie had no idea what to make of it. It made her happy as well, though, and she wasn’t about to complain.
Her beast of a man was affectionate, too.
He sometimes reminded her of the various animals he could turn into while he was being affectionate as well.
Ellie curled up against his side when she read aloud to him now and he always wrapped an arm around her and kept her close like a bear would. And when they kissed, he would playfully nip her lips or her ear like a wolf. And the look he gave her always made her heart soar.
There was one thing that did enter her mind occasionally, despite how happy she was.
She had not seen her god father or friends in almost three months. She missed them all terribly, but she also didn’t want to leave Ratonhnhaké:ton.
Ratonhnhaké:ton always seemed to know what she was thinking though. He said the words she never wanted to hear one night at dinner. “You miss your home…don’t you?”
Ellie looked up at him and tried to give him a convincing smile. “Well, yes, but I’m happy here as well.”
Ratonhnhaké:ton didn’t look like he believed her. He suddenly stood up from his spot at the table and walked over to her. He knelt down beside her, taking her hands in his. “Ellie…I do not want you to be unhappy. Please answer me truthfully. Do you want to go home?”
Ellie bit her lip as she looked into his eyes. All of that one minded intensity was on her and she knew that she should answer truthfully. She reached up and rested her hand on his cheek, lightly rubbing at a tiny scar on his cheekbone with her thumb. “Ratonhnhaké:ton, believe me when I say I am happy with you…but I would like to be able to visit my friends.”
Ratonhnhaké:ton looked away and Ellie’s heart almost broke at his expression. “Ratonhnhaké:ton?”
“I release you. You are no longer bound to stay here,” he said quietly, standing up.
Ellie looked up at him in confusion. “Are you…sending me away?”
Ratonhnhaké:ton sighed and stepped away from her. It reminded her of the way he used to shy away from her when she first started staying here. “You deserve more than this. More than me.” He paused and looked away. “It was selfish of me to keep you here, and I can never make that up to you.”
Ellie felt irritated instantly. “How do you know what is good for me or not? Yes, I would be happy to visit my friends but what makes you think I won’t come back?” She stood up and marched over to him, cupping his face in her hands. “I am happy here, you fool.”
Ratonhnhaké:ton pulled away from her hands. “Do you want that? To visit your friends?”
Ellie knew where this was going and she also knew she wasn’t going to win if she didn’t do it. “Will you stop acting like this if I do?”
Ratonhnhaké:ton narrowed his eyes before sighing and resting his hands on either side of her neck, gently rubbing her jaw with his thumbs. Ellie’s heart fluttered at the sensation. His eyes were now soft and caring as he said, “Yes, I will.”
Ellie reached up on the tips of her toes and pecked him on the lips. “Then I’ll go.”
Ratonhnhaké:ton stared at her for many moments before pressing a long kiss to her forehead. “And I will be here.”
Davenport barely changed since the last time Ellie left. Strangely, though, the town seemed almost deserted. She stopped Dancer in front of her house and quickly dismounted. What was going on?
She hurried to her door and opened it. “Robert?!”
The tap of wood and the heavy footsteps she knew so well entered the room. Robert’s eyes widened in shock. “Ellie? What are you doing here?”
Ellie couldn’t stop the joy rising in her chest and she hugged him before saying anything. “I missed you so much!”
Robert suddenly stepped out of her embrace. “Lass, how did you escape? How are you here?”
Ellie suddenly remembered how she met Ratonhnhaké:ton in the first place. “Oh Robert, it was all a big misunderstanding. He was just lonely. He’s the only one in that manor after all.”
“That monster was lonely? That’s why he forced you to stay?!”
Ellie’s heart sunk at the word ‘monster’. That was the last thing she would call Ratonhnhaké:ton. “Robert, he let me go! He truly is kind and caring and—“
Robert suddenly grabbed her shoulders, looking into her eyes. “Are you in your right mind?”
Ellie frowned and huffed. “Yes, I am! He truly is not a monster Robert! Why do you think I stayed there for as long as I did?”
Robert furrowed his brow. “You mean…you could have left?”
Ellie shrugged. “Ratonhnhaké:ton wouldn’t have stopped me. You must believe me, Robert.”
Robert sighed and plopped down into a dining chair. “Lass, I have horrible news for you then.”
Ellie’s heart sunk even more. “What do you mean?”
Robert looked up at her wearily. “That Baker boy was finally able to gather all of the men that were willing to fight that man. They were all too scared when I asked them.”
“Oh no,” Ellie whispered, bringing her hands up to her mouth. She knew that Ratonhnhaké:ton could handle a fight, but against a whole town’s worth of men? No one could win.
Ellie quickly hurried to the door. “I have to stop them!”
“Hold on Lass! I’m coming too!”
Ratonhnhaké:ton knew that the past two months were too good to be true. He could hear the men of Davenport coming.
As soon as he heard the racket with his human ears, he immediately went into his wolf form and went out into the forest.
Ellie must have told them to come…there was no other reason why they would.
Instead of the anger he wanted to feel, sadness only formed. Was it all a trick to get him to let her go?
It did not matter anymore.
If these villagers did not kill him, the curse eventually would.
He sat on his haunches, waiting patiently for his end.
That was before the mind of the beast took over without warning.
Ellie was distraught when she reached the manor. She could tell that there was a large fight. Some men were lying on the ground, groaning in pain and clutching at various parts of their bodies. No one seemed to be dead or gravely injured though. She quickly raced toward one of her close friends, Clipper, while Robert checked on the other men.
Clipper looked up at her in shock. “Ellie?! We thought you were dead when we couldn’t find you!”
Ellie gripped his hand. “Clipper, where did he go?”
“The man with the markings on him?!”
Clipper’s eyes widened. “What man? All we found was a crazed wolf! Biggest bastard I’ve ever seen.”
Ellie felt the blood drain from her face. There was only one way to get Ratonhnhaké:ton to fight back against these men. The beast must have taken control. “Where did the wolf go?”
“I dunno. The beast ran off after doing this to us and Matthew chased after it.”
Ellie pressed a kiss to Clipper’s cheek. “Thank you, Clipper. I’ll stop him.”
She raced over to Dancer and jumped up into the saddle, taking off down the hill. She followed the sound of shouts and gunshots. Men from the town were running away from a specific area and Ellie made sure to go toward it.
Then she heard the snarling.
“Ratonhnhaké:ton,” she whispered, urging Dancer to go faster.
She leapt out of the saddle when she reached the cliffs were she and Ratonhnhaké:ton first rode to two months ago.
Matthew Baker and Ratonhnhaké:ton’s wolf form were circling around each other. Matthew had his gun drawn and pointed at Ratonhnhaké:ton. Ellie raced forward with a shout and shoved the gun away right as Matthew pulled the trigger. The shot went wide and Ratonhnhaké:ton surged forward, snarling.
“Ellie! What are you—“
Ellie ignored him and stood her ground against the wolf racing toward her. “Ratonhnhaké:ton!”
The wolf skidded to a halt and started to pace in front of her, whining one moment and snarling the next. The bright blue eyes switched from being pleading to wild with the sounds. Ellie’s heart dropped at the sight in front of her.
Ratonhnhaké:ton’s dark pelt was drenched with blood on his shoulder and back leg and Ellie immediately knew they were gunshot wounds. He also was stepping with a limp. She knew he must have been fighting extremely hard to keep the beast at bay.
Without thinking, she knelt down and reached forward and wrapped her arms around his neck, digging her fingers into his thick fur. She immediately was reminded of his hair. “Come back to me, Ratonhnhaké:ton,” she begged, burying her face into his neck.
The change was smoother than she imagined it would be, Ratonhnhaké:ton never let her see it in the past. She could feel the fur retracting and the bones and muscles replacing themselves underneath her fingers, but she never let go.
Soon, she was met with the familiar touch of his skin and his own unique scent that reminded her of pine needles and leather filled her senses. “Ellie?”
Ellie pulled away and pushed some loose strands of hair from his face. “Hey,” she laughed softly, smiling at him.
He reached up and cupped her cheek. “You came back?”
“Of course I did. I couldn’t let them hurt you,” she managed to croak out past the lump forming in her throat.
His surprised look turned into the soft grin she knew and Ellie’s heart started to lift again.
The moment was shattered when a gunshot rang out and all of his weight suddenly sagged forward.
Ellie gasped and looked to see blood oozing from a wound in his side. She gently tried to put Ratonhnhaké:ton on the ground, holding back her gasps of panic.
“No. No no no no no no no! Ratonhnhaké:ton!”
“He deserved it.”
Ellie glared up at Matthew, who looked pleased with himself.
“He was a monster. He deserves the slow death I’m giving him.”
A gurgling sound came from Ratonhnhaké:ton and Ellie quickly turned her attention back to him. “Ratonhnhaké:ton, stay with me. You’re going to be okay,” she shakily said.
Ratonhnhaké:ton shook his head, reaching up and touching her face again. “I’m glad I got to see you…” he paused and gulped. “One last time.”
His hand fell and Ellie didn’t know what to do as she stared at his face. The blue in his eyes seemed to dim more and more by the second.
“No, don’t go,” Ellie quietly sobbed. She cupped his face in her hands and pressed her forehead against his. “I love you, you can’t go yet.”
His eyes finally closed and Ellie heard a small sigh escape from his lips.
Ellie sat up a little and her lip quivered as she stared down at Ratonhnhaké:ton’s still body. No, this couldn’t be happening. Her whole body started to shake as she tried to keep the sobs in.
Matthew made a sound of disgust. “Why are you mourning him? He kept you a prisoner.”
Ellie’s fingers tightened into fists as she glared at the young man behind her. “Just. Leave,” she growled.
“You actually care about this monster?”
“Leave!” Ellie screeched, leaning over Ratonhnhaké:ton’s body again. She couldn’t stop the sobs now.
She eventually heard Matthew leave and she openly wept over the man she loved.
Ratonhnhaké:ton felt like he was floating.
He was back in the spirit journey. How was he here? He did not drink the tea. The only thing he could remember was…
“Ellie!” he shouted, looking around desperately.
For the first time ever, he was able to pull himself out of the beast’s mind and it was all because he heard her. She had asked him to come back to her and he forced himself to be sane again.
A bark caused him to look over his shoulder and he stiffened when he saw a wolf, an eagle, and a bear standing behind him.
You are free, a melody of voices said in his head.
Now, he was falling.
A hissing noise forced Ellie to open her eyes and look around. She had thrown herself on Ratonhnhaké:ton’s chest, trying to convince herself that this was all a dream. She looked down and gasped when the markings on Ratonhnhaké:ton’s skin started to glow.
She scurried back, watching in awe as the markings slowly melted away. A faint glow was also coming from behind his eyelids. Ellie’s jaw dropped when she saw the gunshot wounds start to slowly close up.
What was happening?
Soon, the marks were gone and all of Ratonhnhaké:ton’s wounds were healed.
Ellie reached forward, gently touching the skin of his arm.
She yelped when he suddenly surged forward, coughing.
She scurried back, wondering if she had gone mad.
Ratonhnhaké:ton looked down at his hands before looking at her. Instead of the brilliant, cold blue gaze she was used to, she was met with soft, warm brown eyes.
“Ellie?” he softly breathed out, tentatively reaching forward with his hand.
Ellie crawled forward and let him touch her face. “Ratonhnhaké:ton?”
He grinned and Ellie immediately knew she wasn’t dreaming. She let out a laugh of joy and surged forward, wrapping her arms around his neck. She pressed kisses to wherever she could all over his face and her heart leapt when his arms wrapped around her waist.
No, she couldn’t possibly be dreaming.
She finally pulled back and cupped his face in her hands. “How?” she shakily laughed, running her thumbs across his cheekbones.
He beamed up at her and her heart melted at the sight. “You,” he replied, pulling her down for a kiss.
Ellie wasn’t going to accept that answer, but she was too busy kissing back to care.
“So you had to love someone and have them love you in return to stop the curse? You could have just told me silly!” Ellie laughed.
Ratonhnhaké:ton rolled his eyes. “Yes, and you would have said you loved me out of sympathy. That is not good enough.”
He honestly did not care that she was asking so many questions. She was here, and he never felt more human in his life. That had its downsides, though. Ratonhnhaké:ton had never felt more sore in his life and it was because he did not have the curse to weaken the pain.
He welcomed it with open arms.
It was a reminder that he was free from the curse for good.
And that was how he found himself with one arm draped over Ellie’s shoulders and the other draped over Dancer’s saddle.
His heart had never felt so light and it was all because of Ellie.
She kept rambling on about how silly he was to keep the cure for the curse from her and he just looked down at her lovingly.
“Konnorónhkwa,” he said softly, interrupting her.
Ellie’s rambling stopped and she looked up at him with an equally loving look. “I love you, too.”
And Ratonhnhaké:ton was happy to say they lived happily ever after.