The brindle had been living alone with the Adam-children for six months when the fox hunters came. The Odin-daughter had passed on five seasons before and the Odin-son, lasting far longer than Cu Fail prophesied, three full seasons after that. He had warned the brindle of the Wild Hunt’s coming, but she had seen no sign of a dog matching the Odin-son’s description of Cu Fail nor a change in the Adam-children’s fortunes. Being a dog who prided herself on living in the present, she went about her daily routine of snoozing and eating, taking nice walks and chasing small animals, and thought no more about the Hunt.
That changed the day the Adam-daughter found the fox hunters outside the door. Though the brindle was more proficient at the various communication media of the Adam children, her command of sign was passable enough that she recognized the newcomers desired to speak with her urgently. So after the Adam-son – whom she often thought of as the Headmaster – finished tying them to the hot tub lid’s lift bar she barked until he let her outside.
Alert! they cried aloud as she jumped down the steps. Danger! Warning! Alert!
Although she could no longer hear the Adam-daughter’s movements, the old black dog knew by instinct and subtle vibrations that she had risen in the early morning light. The Adam-daughter looked puzzled and tilted her head in the manner humans adopted for their ineffectual ears as she walked down the hallway toward the living room muttering something about the weather.
The old dog lay gathering her strength for a moment before standing, a matter complicated by the unexpected presence of Odin-son in her bed. The beginnings of a growl had rumbled in her throat and then subsided as he left his nest of towels and climbed in beside her in the waning hours of the night. The illness that chewed at his brain ravaged his fur as well, exposing patches of pink, fragile skin; the stove fire had died hours before and the house was cold. It would require effort to evict him and in truth he brought some small warmth of his own, so she let him remain.
The old black dog examined the newcomers with caution. The one her own size, young and beautiful and stupid with ostentatious flecks of gold woven throughout her fur and the white socks that turned humans into mewling puppies, smelled her sickness and barked a challenge. The old black dog was infirm but not stupid, and as the young one lunged she backed against a pillar, set her front paws and snarled. Her haunches were atrophied but her teeth were strong and white in her grizzled muzzle, and her forepaws did not fail her. She permitted herself a small, relieved exhale when the young dog threw herself on the ground. The house still belonged to her.
The other one was a puzzle. Small but deliberate of motion, long-bodied with the bark of a hunter, he did not contend for a place but climbed – with some difficulty, for his haunches also served him badly – onto a sheepskin pad the Adam-daughter set down for him. Rather than rest upon the wine-red towel the Adam-son unfolded he threw it across his body, peering out from its dark recesses like a hooded monk. So much so that a suspicion grew in her mind and, the young interloper cowed for now, she drew near to him.