Gathers Gaia's Milk stands almost chest deep in the clear water of the lake, ripples lapping at the fur of her belly while her ears twitch in the gentle breeze. Eve completes the tranquil picture, asleep in a soft, hammock-like crib that hangs from the branch of a nearby tree.
The sound of singing wafts up the path from town -- at this distance, no more than a rich, wordless baritone rumble.
Gathers Gaia's Milk is distracted from a likely-looking trout swimming her way, and looks up, ears swiveling toward the sound.
The song and singer get close enough to make out words -- a lullaby, perhaps, sung slow and almost melancholy in a deep, masculine voice: "...problems that upset you, well/Don't you know everything's alright, yes everything's fine..."
Gathers Gaia's Milk, curious, temporarily abandons her fishing and wades up onto the bank, shaking herself off in a shower of glittering droplets.
"...And we want you to sleep well tonight/Let the world turn without you tonight..." The singer emerges from the trees in the form of the smith, Lucas. He seems distracted and draws up short, startled, at the sight of the bear.
Gathers Gaia's Milk drops onto her haunches and looks up at the big man. She blinks and wiggles her ears disarmingly. ~Sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt your song.~
Lucas huffs out a breath, sharply, looking disoriented for just a moment as he parses the bear's greeting. Then he visibly relaxes, his face splitting into a wide grin. "Hullo!" he say with a little nod, "Would you be Miz Sashenka, then? Ah don't belive Ah've had the pleasure of meeting you in this skin before."
Gathers Gaia's Milk chuckles, a couple of sharp exhalations. ~That's me,~ she says, bobbing her head in greeting. ~I was fishing. Easier in this form.~
"Reckon it would be, at that," the smith agrees. "Sorry if mah caterwauling scared them away." He steps a little closer and leans one massive shoulder against a treetrunk. "Ah was told there was an old Mill by the lake," he explains, "but nobody was too specific as to *where* by the lake..."
Gathers Gaia's Milk pauses for a moment, considering, then shifts back up into human form, her pant legs and the front of her shirt still slightly damp. "Of course, this form is much better for conversation." She smiles. "And if the fish were frightened away, well, it's their loss. You're a fine singer." She doesn't wait for the blacksmith's likely protests on the subject, continuing, Anyway, the mill's thataway."
"Thank you," he tells her, though it's unclear whether his thanks is for the compliment or the directions -- possibly both. He turns his head in the direction indicated, but seems reluctant to leave. Instead, he takes the opportunity to get his first close look at Eve. "From the Hive, eh?" he murmurs solemnly.
Gathers Gaia's Milk nods soberly. "I'm sorry to say I wasn't here when her mother came to ask our protection. Some of what Kelsey sang at Moot was news to me. Her mother was a brave girl."
Lucas nods, a frown in his blue eyes. "Ah wish Ah'da made it back a little quicker. Ah reckon Ah might've been of some use. Not that the folks who *were* here didn't do far better than anybody could've asked," he hastily amends, concerned lest his musings give offence. "Ah just-- Ah just hate that useless feeling, you know?" He shakes his head, still regarding the tiny baby in her wrappings. "They said the raven-girl found her? The one the ghosts are so fired up about?"
Sashenka crosses her arms over her chest. "I know exactly what you mean. I hate knowing that I could have helped and wasn't here, even if my presence wouldn't have changed anything, in the end. At least I would have -- been here." She sighs and lets her arms fall back to her sides. "Anyway, yes, apparently Niska found Theresa. My granddaughter helped her, too, it seems." Pride flares deep in Sasha's dark eyes.
"Your... granddaughter?" The smith's open face shows his burning curiosity plainly, but also a natural equine hesitation to step onto treacherous -- or simply painful -- ground.
Sashenka hesitates, not sure how to explain. "Well, you were there the night of Lele's birthday, and I told you I saw my granddaughter. Since then, I haven't seen her again, but she -- she seems to appear to those in trouble, to help them. To tell them where to go, and keep them safe." She smiles, and though there is some pain in her eyes as she speaks of the girl, it is outmatched, now, by joy and pride.
"Ah remember," he says kindly. "It seems like she's decided to stick around, then." He shakes his head again, then frowns, looking pained. "Hearing what went on at the Gathering, and hearing that the raven was the one found the Hiver girl, Ah was ready to be suspicious of just what they'd left at our doorstep." And Sashenka's keen ears would not miss the 'our'. "But not if your Lele's cub was involved. Besides," he says, his face clearing, "she's awful pretty, isn't she? Yes she is." He coos softly to the bundle, proffering a finger as thick as Eve's wrist for the baby to play with. "Yes she is," he repeats.
Sashenka smiles as Lucas speaks, then breaks into a happy chuckle as the big man coos at Eve, and the baby gurgles back. After a moment, though, she sobers a bit. "I do wish I knew what that was about, what the ghosts are talking about with Niska. The girl can be a pest -- though even there, she's gotten better -- but she's always seemed good and loyal, and there in a pinch. And she's certainly not 100 years old." The bear-woman shakes her head, her looped braids flopping by her ears. "The ghosts make good Wards, but... I wish we could bring them peace and send them on their way. It's just not *right* for spirits to be trapped so long in one place."
"No, Ma'am, it isn't," he agrees sincerely. "And after the Gathering, we've got two more totems helping out." He nods to himself as if tallying up defenders in his head. "Plus what me and mah Kinfolk can do -- and without being too arrogant, we're no small addition, we three." In the distance, a dog's excited yapping can be heard through the trees. "We four," Lucas amends with an easy grin.
Sashenka looks appreciatively at Lucas' strapping physique. "I have no doubt of that."
Lucas ducks his head and rubs one hand across the back of his neck, hiding a blush. "Well, ah, sun's moving on," he observes. "If Ah want to find this mill before Ah lose the light, Ah reckon Ah ought to keep moving." He gives a low whistle and Arslag bounds out of the brush, muddied to his elbows. Lucas nods to the Nittak-ita. "Ah may be around for supper," he says, smiling at her almost shyly, "If the Diner will be serving tonight?"
Sashenka grins. "Of course. It's gonna be trout tonight, and potato soup. You're always welcome, Lucas." She points again in the direction of the mill. "You can't see it from here 'cause it's behind those big trees, but it's not far."
"Thanks again, Miz Sashenka," he smiles. He turns briefly to the bundle in the hammock-cradle, making wordless noises that sound almost like a horse's whicker, then he turns and strides purposefully back the way he arrived, Arslag at his heels.
Sashenka waves. "See you at dinner!" Then she, too, turns and moves back toward the lake.