"So... what do you think it all means? The glowing orb, the stars, the footprint patterns?"
I had finally gotten old Oakheart to look at the strange room under the Reception Hall. Of all the people on the island, he was the most likely to know what it all meant. He hummed and nodded as I described how the stars had moved from the first time I'd seen them.
"And then there's this.. umm..whatever it is. It's been moving too."
I gestured to the odd symbol.
"Mmm hmmm... fascinating.."
After what seemed an eternity of the old witch mumbling to himself as he examined the room, he turned to me again.
"Well, son, from what I can see, the orb is a calendar of sorts. See here? It's attuned to the phases of the moon. As for the seven stars...that's a bit more difficult to determine. But it seems to me, that they are somehow tied into the lunar calendar. We need to study them over a longer period of time to be sure."
"We?" I interjected, a little startled at the thought that the witch would want or need my help.
"Of course. Who better than you? You're already attuned to the moon's phases," he said as he gave me a bit of a wink.
"And I think you're enough of a perfectionist to keep a detailed log of the movements. So keep an eye on things here, and let me know when they move again. I'm way too old to do it myself."
I was astounded that he would entrust me with what appeared to me as a most important task.
"Don't worry, I won't let you down."
Jaxon was growing like a weed. I loved the way he giggled when I tossed him in the air. There was something off with Meg lately though. More and more lately when I returned home from hunting on the beaches or checking out the orb room, I'd find her staring off into space with a far away look in her eyes.
"Meg? Are you alright love?"
"Hmm? Oh, yes. I'm fine."
Then she wandered off again, a slight smile on her face, and that faraway look still in her eyes. I tickled Jaxon just to hear him laugh and take my mind off the worry that crowded the edge of my consciousness.
One rainy night soon after, who should show up on our doorstep but Aster and Rudy... and a tiny Rudy look-a-like.
"Hey big bro! Looky what we made! And big news! It's time to leave the old den. Too many she-wolves in that place. Aster and me and little Alick here are moving in next door! And well.. with Aster's mom and dad getting on in years.. we could use a little help fixing up the place. Whatdya say? I know you want to!"
I never could say no to Rudy, and we soon had the little place next door weather-proofed and decorated to Aster's satisfaction. After helping Rudy finish up the downstairs, I went to check on Meg and Aster. I couldn't help but overhear the two of them as I opened the door to the bedroom.
"Sooo.. Meg. I couldn't but notice. You are positively glowing today. Is there something you're not telling me?"
Meg picked up Alick and jiggled him slightly, that little faraway smile brightening her face again.
"Shhh. I didn't want to tell anyone until I'm sure. You know Andrae would be so disappointed if I were wrong."
I cleared my throat loudly to announce my presence. Meg glanced up at me with that smile of hers.
"Um... did you hear that?"
"Wrong about what?" I answered.
"Well. I think we're going to have another baby. But I'm not a hundred percent sure yet."
I was not disappointed. By the time Jaxon's birthday rolled around, Meg's tummy was beginning to grow.
"Blow da horn, papa!"
His mama told him to say that, I'm sure.
For a minute there, I thought perhaps he had inherited my wolfishness after all. He certainly had inherited my extensive hairyness.
"Watch this, papa! Se what I can do!"
But instead of transforming, his feet began to glow in an extremely Meaghan-like way and then he spun around in a circle faster that I could see.
"Wow. That's impressive, Jax."
Part of me was relieved that my son would not have to live with the periodic wolf transformations, but part of me also was a little sad that I'd still have to hunt alone.
Every few days, I still kept watch on the orb room, and it was at the next new moon that the stars on the walls changed again. Meg and I met the old witch there. He hummed and clacked his tongue quietly as he examined the new star positions.
"Too few points of data," he muttered. "Still looks completely random."
"There's nothing to be done, Andrae, but collect more data. We need charts, notes..." he frowned and looked me in the eye.
"I trust your observations, son. But can you write them down?"
I couldn't meet his gaze. Learning to read was a breeze compared to learning to write. In the end I'd given up, and had begun dictating my journal to Meg.
"But I can! Andrae and I are a team. We can do it together."
"Of course! You were always my best student, Meg. Well, my only student besides my own kids. I leave this project in your capable hands then. Remember, Andrae - charts of all the changes, notes on times and anything unusual. Someday long after I'm gone, you'll figure it all out."
Meg took her job as scribe as seriously as I took my observations. Even Jaxon wanted to get in on it, and Meg used the project to help him with his writing. Mandrake had taken over Oakheart's little school, and we insisted on Jaxon attending every day.
"Ugh. Fruit again? I'm sick of fruit! A big juicy steak would taste so good right about now!"
"Stop complaining and eat. And talk to your father if you really must have meat. Just keep it away from me."
I snickered to myself, careful to keep a totally blank look on my face. I'd have to talk to Jax about his attitude, but after that, I planned to introduce him to the glories of grilling.
"And don't forget to wash up your dishes. This morning you forgot," Meaghan instructed as Jaxon started to race out the door.
"Alright," he groaned reluctantly. He started to pick up the bowl, then set it down again with a slight smirk.
"Jaxon, listen to your ma," I said sternly.
"Watch this. I've been practicing."
"I mean it, Jax. Now."
"I am.. just watch."
He waved his hands like Meg does when she summons her fruit parfaits. I figured he was just stalling.
But suddenly, to our surprise the bowl sparkled with instant cleanliness, and we heard a clatter as it dropped into the cabinet behind him.
"There. Can I go play now?"
"H-how did you do that? Your grandma Summerwind says even her mother couldn't do it. The trick of it was lost before her time."
Jaxon just shrugged.
"I thought of it, and I could do it. I don't know how. Can I go play now?"
The next day I took Jaxon out to the Garden Grove for a little father and son time.
"See here? This steak is ready to harvest."
"How do they grow? It doesn't make any sense."
"Hmm? They just do."
"But my book at school says that only fruits and vegetables grow on plants."
"I guess you'll have to ask your teacher about that. His Pa, the old witch Oakheart made this garden. Maybe it's some sort of witch magic. All I know is the steaks are delicious. Come on, let's go home and cook."
I showed him how to skewer the steaks and roast them over the fire.
"Remember to keep turning it so it doesn't burn."
"Ah.. ah! It's on fire! I was turning it, I was!"
Poor Jaxon. He waved the stick around wildly until the fire went out.
"Sometimes it happens even when you turn it," I sympathized. "It looks done now, anyway."
Even though it was half burnt, he gobbled it down in no time - a child after my own heart.
"Well?" I asked, "How'd you like it?"
"Yum. But there's got to be a better way to cook it. I bet you could invent a better way."
He was right about that. I didn't even have to invent it. There was a blueprint in my old book. I just needed to find the right materials. And so far I'd had no luck in that department.
But there were more important things to worry about right now - such as the eminent birth of our second child. It was hard to believe the baby would be here any day now. It was amazing how different this pregnancy had been from the first one - gone was the uncertainty and fear, and replaced with joy and anticipation.
No matter how prepared I thought I was, when Meg went into labor...
...I panicked once again. It was just so hard watching my poor Meaghan in so much pain and not being able to do a thing but wait.
But before long it was all over, the pain and panic forgotten, and Jaxon had a new little brother. At first glance, little Ezra looked identical to Jaxon at that age. I swear if we could have set them side by side at birth you wouldn't be able to tell them apart.
But as he grew, it became apparent that Ezra was his own little man. Not only did he sprout strands of coarse red among the fine blue hair on his head, but in other ways as well.
"Grrr.. grrr.. grrr."
"Ezra, no! Stop scratching the furniture!"
"But Papa, id fun to scwatch!"
"I know, baby. But Mama doesn't want the chair ruined."
"Yu like to scwatch too, Papa?"
"I do, baby. But not here. Alright?"
I couldn't wait to start teaching him to hunt...