The boy was running away. From the police or other children, none of them knew, but the worst things turned on decisions made from fear or anger. Judging by the damage done, Brian guessed it had been a mixture of both. He sat on the shed roof, dismayed as the boy sprinted through the trees, towards the territory Sir Brian Dreadbelly protected.
He stroked his whiskers, reassuring himself everything would be fine.
The boy had seen the gap in the fence and scrambled through it, tearing the last panel free as it slapped onto the thick bed of moss, dead leaves and roots behind him. Sir Brian wished he could have seen him do it, so much lost and he had not even been at watch when it happened.
He had made it to the gate. Police officers came and took him, but Cherry and her mum were fine. Celeste had been there, if anything had happened, but Pinky and Lovechops had gone hunting. It was safer during the day, but the Spoil waited in the shadows, so they took care with their practice.
However, between the boy and his pursuers, the fence panel fell along with the remains of the branches, which had all but rotted away. An ancient idea of protection and safety, Brian thought, and it hadn’t survived a brash, stupid boy’s adventures.
He was too old to weather such times, he decided and adjusted his sword belt. The armour, forged for him by the First King himself, weighed on him more these days but he bore it with purpose, and seeing as he was the last male Faeline Knight left at the house, without complaint.
The moment of self-pity reminded him of Boots, and a pang of acute longing ran through his chest with enough force to make him gasp for breath.
He was on the other side, ranging, but gone too long to trust he was ever coming home.
Marvin had climbed into the drying machine in the kitchen, and it had been a hard death to bear. They had lost enough to the Spoil without accidents taking them to another life. Since then, the machine had remained unused and Lovechops would dance beneath the shadows cast by the rotary line installed in the garden.
Celeste limped over to him. Her hips were bad, and her eyes were dull and unfocused, as they so often were these days. Under her white fur, visible only to other Knights, were the brands and tattoos to mark her understanding of the Mysteries. She wore the robes appropriate to her station, stitched with symbols and images of Bast, the First, earned through practice and study. It had cost her mind, but it was a worthy sacrifice.
‘I could see if there’s any weirdwood worth salvaging?’ she said.
Brian shook his head and folded his arms.
‘No, it’s done. They’ll come and replace it, and we can say goodbye to a peaceful watch for a while.’ he said.
Celeste mewed with disappointment.
‘It has held through worse, old knight.’ she said.
He shook his head and sighed.
‘That batch of weirdwood came with me, and it was scarce even then.’ he said.
Celeste pushed past him.
‘You stare and see disaster too often.’ she said.
His tail brushed the ground in slow, sullen strokes.
‘It’s kept me alive,’ he said.
Celeste looked at him as she fiddled with the charms on her left wrist.
‘But Sir Brian, you’ve forgotten something important,’ she said.
He frowned as he stared at her.
Celeste smiled, and it made Brian shiver. On her soft days, she was a burden, but there were days which were borrowed from her earlier lives and on those, Brian remembered the stories of her service to the First King and the things other Faeline said she did.
‘The disaster has been here forever,’ she said.
Brian curled his clawed fingers around the hilt of his sword and raised his chin. A stout faeline, with long black fur threaded with silver and a suit of battered but well-made plate armour, he looked at Celeste and pressed his lips into a line.
‘And so have we,’ he said.