Tilly watched as Libellule ran. She felt a bit daft standing there with a leash in her hands, but it was the only way that they could manage even in the semi ‘wilds’ of the open lands near Oxford. It had been a week since Tilly had spoken to Rose. No one had heard from Andre or Maria. Libellule had pinpointed an area on a map where she had last ‘felt’ her parents to be. Family had headed up there, but so far the search had proven worthless.
She ran. It wasn’t far enough, but she kept going. Round and round the green grasslands skirting the edges of trees and brambles. A rabbit nearly died of shock when it ran out in front of her, but she knew it wasn’t good to eat it here. Too many two-legs. After a while, she headed back towards Tilly.
“You do know it feels absolutely daft to have my niece on a leash. Oh heavens! It rhymes!” Tilly laughed as she lead her “wolfhound” back to the hotel.
An hour later, the two woman sat in the restaurant of the Royal Oxford Hotel sipping tea and eating crumpets.
“What do you want to do Libby?”
Libby sighed. “Part of me wants to go back to Canada and help search for Maman and Papa. The other part wants to get back to school. I feel guilty about that, because finding my parents should be more important. And yet I think that maybe they’d want me to get on with my life. I’m terribly conflicted.”
Tilly nodded. She didn’t admit to Libby that she had the same thoughts. The hospital was short handed enough with her gone, yet she knew that Libby needed her at the moment. What frustrated her was the lack of information from the family. “Well, you need to make a decision. Trinity term is half over. You’ve lost weeks at this point.”
“Yes. I don’t think I’ll be able to catch up. I’ll have to start up at Michaelmas. Perhaps I can do both. Go home until August and then return.”
Tilly thought about that for a moment. “Perhaps that would work. The warmer weather may help in the search.”
A week later, Libby had withdrawn from St. Hilda’s with a promise to return in the autumn. She’d said goodbye to her friends and places her belongings in storage with Gabby’s parents. The flight from Heathrow to Calgary seemed to take forever. When they finally cleared the baggage area, they found Rose, Quintus, Mary and a few of the cousins waiting for them. They all piled into cars and headed off to Rose’s house.
“So, we find that burned plain. Plenty dead bones. None of them your parents,” said Quintus.
Libby and Tilly listened as they ate dinner.
“Then we find that camp. Bits and pieces of gear all over. Signs of wolves, man all over. Don’ recognize any of them ‘cept Andre. So much snow, it hard to track clear. After a day, we finally find that cairn.”
“Aye. My son Brian, Alice’s Luc and I talk long time. Decide to bring Maria home. Ground, it too frozen. So, we mark it good and come home.”
Libby nodded. It was nearly May, and there was still deep snow in the mountains. “Where is Papa though?”
“No one has heard from him. No reports from the Mounties. And before you ask, yes, we’ve reported him missing,” said Rose.
“When the weather warms up, I want to go with you to bring Maman home.”
“Aye.” Quintus could see by the look on her face that there was no dissuading her.
Time passed swiftly as Libby caught up with her cousins and the family. Alexander and Jelka were happy to see Libby. Andrew, didn’t know what to make of her. Libby couldn’t decide if he was just shy or tongue tied. Every time she spoke to him, he blushed or his voice squeaked. Some of the family came up from Montana. Quintus’ son Brian brought his family up. Lutitia was a willowy toddler, while Helene was a sturdy two year old. Belle, their mother was pregnant with their third child. Margaret’s son Duncan was enamored with John Wayne and refused to answer to his name. The entire family had finally given in and began to call him Duke. Lewis had been happy to see Libby and tell her all about his lumber business.
Mid-May Quintus, Luc, Brian and Libby left for the Yukon and the site of Maria’s grave. The bush plane pulled up next to the burned wreck that Quintus and the family had found earlier. It was a short hike in from the lake to the campsite. The snow had begun to melt, leaving slush patches amidst the hardpack snow. Quintus winced when he realized that some of the brown patches were not mud or debris, but frozen blood. Before he could distract Libby, he saw her kneel and inspect one of them.
Luc looked at her quizzically. “What?”
“There is a lot of blood here. This is not Maman’s.” Libby stood and walked over to another spot near the blackened ring of a fire pit. “This is Maman’s blood.”
“Libby, you say we have more than one dead here?” asked Quintus.
“Aye. I think maybe there is more here than what we see.” She walked a little farther. “This is a third spot of blood. Different than the other two.”
Brian walked up to his father. “There is wolf scat over near the trees. Must have been a pack of shifters. Maria mebbe she gather shifters?”
Quintus walked over to where Brian had been. He saw the same signs and nodded. He was puzzled now and wondered what had really happened. He walked past the campsite and headed up to the grave.
It took them a while to move the stones and dig down to Maria’s body. What they found was a sleeping bag wrapped in a tarp. It was a frozen cocoon. They excavated as best they could. In the end, they levered the wrapped body and took it back to the plane. Once they got back to Calgary, they took the body to a local mortuary run by family. When the body thawed, they discovered the cause of Maria’s death.
“She’d been shot?”
“Yes, Tilly. Shot. Three wounds. One fatal.” explained Quintus. He’d asked to see the body when the mortuary assistant had called and explained what had happened. The subvocal growls had shaken the room.
“You think Andre and that pack of shifters kill the men and burn the plane to hide things?” asked Rose.
“It’s the only logical answer,” said Libby.
“And the only question left is where is Andre?” Tilly asked.
Two days later, Maria was buried in the family cemetery up in the valley next to her Grandmere Celia.