I'd known it wasn’t going to be easy. I was prepared to hear from grieving widows, wounded warriors,
and heartbroken families. I was prepared to see their gruesome injuries and desolate faces, to hold
their hands while they wept. I was not prepared for the orphans... or for the parents who lost their
When we first walked into the main tent, the refugees had been too caught up in their own worlds to
notice us, but that quickly changed. As soon as they realized that not only the Vanaran King, but
myself, Henry and Roger were present, they were on their feet, gathering around us in eager throngs.
I’m not sure why it surprises me, but they seem even more thrilled to see me than the others, and soon
a pink blush is covering my cheeks as they cry out my name. “It’s Ella! It’s our Luna!” More than one
wolf throws their arms around me, and despite everything these people have been through, they only
express worry for me and Sinclair. “We're so glad you're all right. Is Alpha Dominic—”
“He’s safe.” I promise. “He’s in the capital trying to build the war effort.” I share, raising my voice so I
can be heard over the melee. “
He would have come along to see you but he’s spending all his time planning and trying to make
alliances. He’s determined to take back the continent from Damon before anyone else can be harmed
... but it’s slow going.”
Murmurs of understanding move through the crowd, and I’m ushered in to sit at the heart of the group.
A hollow-eyed woman moves all the clothing and personal items from her cot so that I can sit down,
ignoring my protests. Soon I’m seated in a large circle, with shifters gathered around on the floor or
other cots. The people seem to want to hear the story of our escape, but I can’t allow this.
“Dominic and I got out very early, because the Royal Army was on our doorstep. We don’t know what’s
been going on at home except for the few videos people have managed to get out past the media
blockade. What we need most is to hear from you, we need to know how the pack is doing, we need to
know what we can do to help you feel at home here. And your stories can help us understand the
situation on the ground so we can fight back where it counts.”
The refugees exchange a few mournful glances, before they start speaking one by one. Over the next
few hours I hear so many stories of tragic loss, violations and abuse, that it’s all I can do not to fall to
pieces. I listen with all my attention, trying not to steal focus by making a scene and crying like a baby,
no matter how badly I want to. I thank the people for sharing their experiences, giving hugs and making
notes for myself so I can work with Gabriel on finding places for all these people to stay. I'm actually
proud of how well I manage to keep it together, until we visit the tent where the orphans and
unaccompanied children are staying. My first thought when I enter is that it’s much, much too quiet. I
believe any place where children reside should be loud and messy, chaotic with the energy and
playfulness of little ones.
Instead I find a room full of pups who have aged well beyond their years in the last few days, and my
heart cracks open in despair.
There are pups ranging from infancy to young teenagers here, though the group seems to skew
younger overall. However, unlike the adults, the children don’t seem to care that they have visitors, or
even notice that we’re here. There are neglected toys sitting in the middle of the tent, and when I can't
get a single child to meet my gaze I simply go and sit down on the floor in front of a tower of blocks.
Gabriel, Henry, Roger and Cora stand at the entrance and watch me with baffled expressions, but I
simply begin to play with the toys, first building a tower and then grabbing a couple of dolls and staging
my own small-scale production of a popular fairy tale. I'm sure I seem like I've lost my mind as I begin
speaking in silly high pitched voices and ridiculous dialogue, but soon enough a small herd of hesitant
pups have gathered around me. I pretend not to see them at first, then pause, “If only I had someone to
play the witch.” I muse aloud, tapping my finger to my lips.
“You could use this one.” A little voice murmurs beside me, holding out a third doll.
“That is an excellent idea.” I agree, smothering my pleasure and pretending like this is no big deal. “But
I only have two hands... do you think you could help me?”
The little girl balks slightly. “I dunno the story.”
“Well that’s okay.” I reason. “We can make up our own story.Sometimes that’s the best thing to do when
things don’t go as planned.”
She still looks hesitant, so I bounce one of the dolls in my hand over to her, pointing it in the direction of
the offered doll. “Hmm, are you a good witch or a bad witch?” I say in the doll’s silly voice.
The corner of the child's mouth twitches up, and then she drops her voice to it’s lower octave and says,
“I’m a bad witch of course, mwahaha.”
I pry up each of my doll’s hands so that they’re raised in the air above it’s head. “Aaaahhhhh, it's a
witch, it’s a witch! What do we do! Somebody help!”
Right on cue, a little boy steps up and grabs a fourth doll, “Don’t worry, I'll save you!” Now I do grin, and
little by little the other children join into our game of make believe, until they’re enjoying themselves so
much that I’m able to back away and look on with the others.
I feel tears burn in my eyes as I watch them, but instead of tears of sadness these are tears of cold
fury. I’m so angry at the man who caused so many little ones such pain, that suddenly my wolf is
entertaining gorey fantasies of her own. I’m so caught up in my wrathful fantasies, that I almost don’t
notice a pale woman near the edge of the play area. She’s got great black circles beneath her eyes,
and her arms are wrapped tightly around her body. She’s watching the children with an expression of
such longing and heartbreak that my stomach roils. I have a terrible suspicion that I know her story, and
I carefully approach beside her.
“What's your name?” I inquire gently.
She was so caught up in the pups’ game that her eyes jerk to me in surprise, then drop to my round
belly almost as quickly. Something inside her hardens, and she barely grits out her name, “ Isabel.”
“I’m sorry that we’re meeting in these circumstances, Isabel.” I reply softly. “I’m Ella.”
“I know who you are.” She answers, shooting me another sullen glance.
I debate what to say next. First I consider sharing the story of the day I thought I’d lost Rafe, and how
unimaginable the pain was… but in the end I think my own happy ending might just remind her that she
wasn’t so lucky. Instead I nod towards the pups. “These little ones need more than the volunteers here
can provide, more than shelter and food.” I sigh, letting my genuine concern and sadness bleed into my
voice. “They need what they lost — love and nurturing, the protection of a parent.” I watch Isabel
closely, seeing the way the well of grief in her eyes deepens at my words. “ I'm wondering whether you
might be interested in helping here...”
Her eyes widen, but she still watches me with a begrudging expression, as if she’s determined not to
like me. “We could arrange a salary for you —”
“I don’t need to be paid to care for orphaned pups.” She snaps, affronted by the suggestion. I shrug.
“You may not want it, but there may come a time when you could use the funds. We can put it aside for
a rainy day.”
She gives me a noncommittal shrug, then looks back to the pups, her longing tinged with hope now.
“Go on.” I encourage, “whether you want to think of it as a job or not, don’t let your love go to waste.
You have it to give, and they need it.”
Isabel’s lower lip trembles, and steps forward uncertainly. I can see that she wants it so badly she can
taste it, and I try to nudge her forward with my nascent powers. Isabel pauses, casting a final glance
over her shoulder. “I know what you're doing, you know.”
“Then you know there's nothing to fear by accepting.” I reply, not the least bit bothered by her scowl. I
know what it's like to feel anger or jealousy for women with children when I didn’t have any of my own,
and I can only imagine the pain one must feel to have had a child taken, and how much deeper those
feelings of resentment must run.
Still, as I watch the childless mother enter the circle of little ones, her entire demeanor transforming as
she introduces herself to the pups, I feel a sense of profound rightness deep in my bones. When
Henry wheels up beside me, there’s only one thought on my mind.
“Dominic needs to see this. He needs to meet these people and hear their stories for himself. I'll never
do them justice.”
“I agree.” Henry murmurs. “Though I doubt you’ ll find it easy to convince him.”
I set my shoulders, determination pumping through my veins. “ Just watch me.”
Update Chapter 160 of Accidental Surrogate
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