There was no easy bandage to put on a kingdom torn apart by betrayal and blood, no matter how short the rebellion might have been. Emperor Baraz was officially mourned throughout the city and the kingdom. Our neighboring countries sent their condolences, even Arven.
Meanwhile, Navid was scorned as a traitor. His broken body was thrown to the vultures, along with the bodies of the wolf soldiers that died protecting him.
The Empress returned to the city at the head of a battered column of triumphant soldiers with Halina still at her side. Her army included what was left of the city guard. They had accepted her terms and surrendered upon hearing of Navid’s death. They served the office of the Emperor, and with Navid dead, their loyalties had transferred to the Empress.
The Empress, surprising everyone, abdicated her throne. Instead of ruling as a Dowager Empress until her son, the true heir, came of age, she turned the throne over to Nokomi, who would safekeep her brother’s throne until he was older and ready to take it. Neema fully supported the choice, claiming that she saw more of her father in Nokomi than she’d ever seen in herself.
So it was that with her father’s reforged sword as a knife on her hip, Nokomi took the throne with Dog and I at her side.
The Princess’ Dogs, as the few surviving dogs and boys of Old Blood were now called, were given a position of honor within the palace as royal guards. Scar and Mongrel were given captaincies over them, and they were charged with finding more of their kind to join them, but only if they were willing. That worked well for Mongrel, as Neema seemed to view him as something of a rescuer. I didn’t know if anything would ever amount to anything, but I hoped it would.
The Lord of the Vultures, or Tiny, as I knew him, was hailed a valiant hero and guardian of the realm. He wasn’t much for the adulation, but Bear enjoyed the spoils of food that came with the notoriety. Tiny accepted a position as Warden of the Sands, which basically meant he’d be paid to do what he’d already shown himself to be good at doing.
Nasha, as had been promised her, had been released from service to the crown upon completion of her duties. She asked for freedom to search the kingdom for others like her, bonded to birds or other animals, and to be allowed to dwell in the house her father had left her, whenever it pleased her to do so. Nokomi granted all of these things, and begged her to call upon the court whenever she was in town, that we might learn from her discoveries.
Adish and his family were welcomed back to the city with many thanks. The Empress showered Sherine and the children with gifts and begged them to stay in the palace, but Sherine could not be convinced to leave their home. There were too many memories there, she claimed. Still, with the favor they earned from the royal family, their business would not fade for generations.
Barid, much to young Jahan’s chagrin, found that Halina had taken to him as much as she had to him. While it was a slow courtship, for she still mourned loyal Masih, they did one day fall deeply in love.
But what of Dog and I?
In time, Dog and I reverted to our former roles, of a Dog and a boy. Our changes faded, but I would never pass for completely human ever again, just as Dog was far too human to ever be just a canine again. We were something in-between man and beast, both of us. All three of us, actually.
As she grew in beauty in wisdom, there were more subtle changes in Nokomi as well. You could see our animal nature in her cheekbones and her yes. There were hints in her hands and the backs of her arms, for certain. She was different, but we found her just as perfect as ever.
I was certain our children someday would show both the Old Blood and the heartfire sides of their lineage. Those bloodlines were ingrained in us. It made me smile to think about, filling me with hope.
We were always of one heart and soul after that. But then, we’d always been meant for each other, always been joined. We had been ever since that day in the alley so many years ago. We were no longer just two parts of a whole. We were three equal parts of one greater being.
We were pack.
When the Emperor left the next day, Kalb remained. He set to reordering the school, and, as promised, he involved me. We were creating something better, a place where we would all learn. I would teach these others to harness their own beasts.
Tiny and Bear were put off in a wing on their own. Once or twice, we caught glimpses of them, or we’d hear about how they were going for walks beyond the wall, walking or hunting together. They seemed like they might make it. It was still touch and go, but we had hope.
I’d come a long way. I’d started as a street boy with nothing but a dog. Now I had a whole pack. And, more importantly, I had a girl to get back to. Now that the Emperor knew of my bond with her, surely he would set me as her guard.
But first, I had to become the best version of myself. Dog would help me. Then our true pack would be reunited. It didn’t matter how long it would take. We would be together again.
We were pack.
National Novel Writing Month 2019: The Emperor's Dogs