A week later, they were still making their way through the grasslands, and the plains still seemed to go on forever. By this point, Hamish was becoming certain that he was never going to see his family again, and he was going to spend the rest of his life with these people (despite what they had told him about taking him back home).
He found that after several weeks, he still had little more than suspicions about what they might be; they still kept up the pretense of being Romani, and he still suspected that they may have been some kind of fay. He still wasn’t sure exactly what kind they might be, but he wasn’t sure how much it would matter; if they were (no matter what kind they might be), he wasn’t likely to get away from them.
He thought about the white stag and what they had said about how it was good luck that the stack had bowed its head to him. Two things occurred to him about that, if it were true; he might use that luck to help him get away from them, if the chance presented itself (however unlikely he thought it might be), and they might be hoping to use that luck for their own benefit.
There might have been some reason why the stag would not have bestrode any luck onto any of them, and they might have needed an outsider to get some for them to use. But if the second one were the case, what could they need him for? What were they planning on doing?
They must be planning something.
In the evening, after they had travelled for a long time, they stopped near a lake, and the horses were allowed to roam a bit. They all made their way down to the water and had a drink, and several of the Romani also went down to the banks and filled up pans for cooking, while others replenished their drinking water.
Hamish watched them for a while, but he was soon distracted by a flurry of butterflies swarming around him as they made their way to a nearby tree. He smiled at them and did not move, not wanting to frighten them into moving away from him more quickly (and not wanting to do anything that might accidentally harm one of them).
He watched them settle into the tree, turning it into something far more colorful than it had been before, and when the sun went down, fireflies came out. He had never seen fireflies before, and he was fascinated by the light that came from them. At one point, he lifted his hand toward one of them, but he pulled it back before it could get too close; these were more creatures that he didn’t want to harm. They seemed too defenseless and innocent to him, and the idea of harming one of them made him feel horrible.
Elanor found him not long after this and lured him to the campfire. It was at this point that he noticed the smells of the roasted venison that had been roasting over the fire, and his stomach grumbled.
He wrapped his arms around his middle as he made his way to the place where everyone was eating and got himself some, eating it with relish. There was still a tiny voice in the back of his mind that told him that it might not be wise to eat their food, but he was hungry, and their food was delicious.
It would do him no good to stop eating. He did not want to starve himself. He wanted to live.
When they were finished eating, and a story had been told, the children were sent off to bed. Many of the grumbled at the idea, but Hamish went without any such protests. He fell asleep quickly, and he dreamt of the butterflies and the fireflies.
The next day, did not set back out again when they were finished eating their breakfast and cleaning up after themselves. Hamish went looking for Fern to find out why, but when he found her, he was reluctant to ask her what was going on. Instead, he stood a few feet away, biting his lip and fidgeting.
“What’s gotten into you?” Fern said with a smile when she noticed him. “Got something on your mind?”
“I . . . I was just wondering why we hadn’t started going yet,” Hamish said. “Why are we still here?”
“One of the dogs is about to have a litter of puppies,” Fern said. “We wanted to give her some time before we headed out again.”
Hamish became excited by the idea. “Can I watch?”
“If you’d like to,” Fern said with a nod, and she led him to the place where the dog had sequestered herself. He made sure to keep far enough away as to not make her nervous; she had enough on her mind just then, without having to worry that he was going to try and do something to her.
He stayed for the whole process, watching all seven of the puppies being born and being cleaned by their mother. When one of them men came over to check on her, Hamish asked if the puppies were all going to live, knowing that sometimes they doing, and he was told that they looked good so far (but that it might take some time before anyone could really be sure).
When some time had passed, mother and babies were placed into one of the wagons, so the caravan could continue on. At night, when the puppies were big enough to walk around on their own, they would be allowed onto the ground for periods of time, letting them get used to the feel of the grass underneath them.
And as the weeks went by, and the puppies grew old enough where they could have (and would have) been separated from their mother if they had been with any other people, Hamish formed a bond with the runt of the litter.
He loved that little dog, teaching it tricks and playing with it. When they walked along the plains during the day, the puppy would race along next to him as well as it could manage. When it grew too tired for this, he would carry it, scratching behind its ears and rubbing its belly.
It licked his face lovingly very often.
And at night, it started following him to the place he slept under Fern’s wagon, and it slept curled up next to him. When it grew a little bigger, and it could manage it, the puppy would rest its head on his chest while the two of them slept.
As he became more and more invested with the small yellow dog that he had named Whitie, he stopped noticing how much time had passed since he had first found himself among these people, stopped thinking about his mother, stopped worrying that she was worrying about him.