It is the soldiers; how thoughtless of them.

So very quickly. Drakon remembered vaguely his father had said events sometimes rushed one along, like a clumsy swimmer scrabbling at the riverbank. Father talked with him in that longago, before he sent him away.

The Vagari prisoner seemed satisfied. That smugness in his smirk evident under the moonlight. He had bullied an answer from the young mage he likely saw as no more than a talented boy with no more torture than the asking of his question. The answer contained the nugget of something strange and wonderful enough that this spy should not suspect more: nor that Drakon actually had given him nothing.

Drakon never would let slip that he by magical means transformed a she-bear into a girl; for schooled in the arcane he could guess why a grasper such as this one might want to possess no ordinary forest queen. And he had done this to her. And he would somehow make it all right again. And protect her meanwhile.

Madame de Silva’s kiss tingled still on his lips. It was a gift of clarity. Enabling him to hold the prisoner. To hear those approaching boots through the forest. To hear the crickets singing across the glade under the moon. And think how to comport himself when those boots arrive. And idle in the same moments about the Assessor, who he had not before thought of as a pretty woman.

Then the boots arrived. Soldiers. That woman in their company: seeming a refugee of the roads, perhaps tumbled by robbers, and wearing a soldier’s dark cloak and soldier’s woolens underneath. Disturbingly beautiful, she stared, direct as an arrow shot at him. Drakon sensed she commanded these men of his father’s.

Immediately the spy squatting on his tree stump piped – “Help me! – He means me harm!”

“What is this?” said the captain.

The woman whispered something in the captain’s ear.

“This boy uses evil magic! – Torments! –“

“Captain – I am the King’s son!”

Suddenly so quiet in that moonlit glade that the crickets' song rose clear.

“Captain – Think why you are here!”

“We pursue Borysko, the traitor.”

“And I might know where to find him – I will take you to him.”

She whispered again: the captain neared him – “How are you, the King’s son, come here? – What proof?”

Drakon revealed the ring on the chain round his neck, the royal signet.

“You are the King’s son. Why are you here?”

“Captain, this prisoner is truly the enemy –“

“No! – No! – I am loyal to the King as loyal can be! –“

“HE is a traitor, captain. And a shapeshifter – Take him under arrest with great care –“

“No! – “

“Sir, I can spare no men to arrest a shapeshifter. We are soldiers. We have no magic. You hold him now. Can you…indefinitely?”

The clarity that Madame gifted him started Drakon’s heart drumming. He clenched his trembling hand behind his back.

“No, captain, I cannot hold him indefinitely.”

“Sir, then there is only the logical.”

Drakon heard himself say, “Yes.”

“No! – NO!” the prisoner protested.

The captain gestured his hand. The nearest soldier drew his sword: in two blows struck down the prisoner.

Drakon heard the crickets singing, and the beating heart slowing, then stop.

“Sir. Sir, we must be after Borysko. There is nothing here.”

Drakon held back a storm of tears. Silenced the sudden hate for the stranger once his father. Longed to be with Borysko, because he knew the big man would say to him all the proper things.

“Follow, captain. I might know where he is.”

Glancing at the woman, Drakon shivered, seeing her gleaming stare, and smile.

The End

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