I couldn’t stop pacing, and Lionel watched with worry etched in his eyes. I couldn’t shake the vision from before; Lionel’s eyes pinched with pain and fear. I heard shouts, and my head snapped up. “Stay.” I ordered, and Lionel’s eyes widened at my tone. I rarely used it.
I went outside, and snarled as my claws extended. Foot soldiers had broken through the guard, just as I had seen. I had not, however, berserked in my vision. Now I did, and I was hell bent on their corpses. “Oh, shit!” I heard a gasp, and a scrabble from inside the cave. “Stay inside!” I called franticly with a rapidly changing voice box as my voice took on a gravelly sound. It was one made for a growl or a roar, not speech. The soldiers halted for a moment in surprise and then charged on, heaving their swords high above their heads and yelling the names of their gods. I laughed, a chilling sound, and cracked ones neck with a vicious backhand. I continued to giggle, and then laugh as I dispatched them as they came. More and more appeared, and I noticed I was bleeding in many places; I didn’t know when it had happened. Didn’t matter. I was defending my own, and nothing was going to take me down. I could take down a kingdom, let alone a company, in this form and state. I grew longish brown fur along my arms and legs, and my hair turned into whip like strands as they grew bloodier. I was roaring my joy of the hunt and kill now, stepping the dance of death as I whirled with claws and teeth. Finally, there were no more to kill. I breathed heavily for a moment, looking around for another opponent, and then realized there were none. They lay dead, in a ring around me. My smile faded in disappointment; I had wished for a challenge. But it had sated my bloodlust for a while. The fur shrank into me, and my claws became nails, my fangs teeth. I dropped to the ground in a wave of pain, grunting, and then forced myself to my feet to take stock of my wounds.
I had lots of cuts and bruises, and a slash from my navel to my shoulder would slow me down for a while, but I would live. Suddenly there was Lionel, with the same look I had seen in my vision; I had put that look on his face. I looked away, biting my lip, and broke away from him. I wondered what I had looked like; not anything one such as Lion could love. A killer, death made flesh.
Listen to me, I’m waxing poetic about very possibly the worst session of berserking I’ve ever had, and my mate very possibly leaving me. I realized, then, that he had an arrow jutting out of his forearm. “Lion!” I yelped, and he jumped. “What? What is it?” He cried, and I grabbed his hand. He looked with horror at his arm, and I realized it had cut the feeling off from the arm; he hadn’t felt it. “Who did this?” I snarled, and he shrugged. “It must have been a stray arrow aimed for you; they didn’t even know we were there. But Nio, what were you thinking? They might have killed you!” he yelped, and abruptly I smiled. He wasn’t leaving me after all. “Why are you amused by this?! I could have lost you!” He said, growing more distressed, and I silenced him by planting my lips firmly on his. He made a small sound of surprise, and then wrapped his arms around my waist. I broke it quickly and then clucked my tongue at him. “You have no faith in me. And now look, I’ve gotten you bloody.” I said, and he sighed and shook his head, massaging his temples with soft, delicate fingers. I had always found that the most amazing thing about him; my own hands were callused and worn with a million scars.
I suddenly remembered Jerne. “Did you figure out what your brother wanted?” I asked, and he seemed torn for a moment. “What is it, lover?” I asked, reaching out to him, pulling him into my arms. “They want to take me back, but only if you will come with me and fight for them.” He said, and I think my eyebrows disappeared into my hairline. “What?” I squeaked, and he was instantly alert. “You don’t have to, that’s just what he said-" I shushed him. “No, of course I’ll come! I’m just…” I trailed off, and he let out a shriek of joy as he threw his arms around me. Jerne came out of the cave, swallowing convulsively at the sight of the dead. “I didn’t believe that you could help us alone, but after this…” He trailed off, and I grinned. He took a closer look at one of the bodies. “This one looks as if you tore his throat out!” He yelped. “With my teeth.” I confirmed, and he gaped like a fish for a moment. “I-Incredible.” He said, and I smiled kindly at him. It was hard to get used to for them; I had grown up with toddlers having worse fits. I had destroyed an entire farm and the company staying there when I was nearly five. That included livestock. My mother hadn’t been pleased, but it had been an enemy so she wasn’t as hard on me as she could have been.
“Where are you headed?” Shenn asked as I packed for the trip. “Lion has some family business to take care of; they requested he take me along.” She gaped at me for a moment. “We’re in the middle of a war!” She said, and I sighed. “You won’t have another attack for at least two months.” I said, and she pressed her lips together. “Fine. But take care of this business and then get your ass back here.” She snarled, and then stomped out of the tent. I smiled and shook my head at her retreating form; she was worried, I knew that much, but she didn’t understand; if the Nevari were sending for a warrior then their danger must be dire. We stayed the night, Jerne disappearing sometime before we went to our bed. I didn’t worry too much about it. We set out the next morning. The trip took about a month.
“Lion, I think this was not a shortcut.” I muttered as we were surrounded. Brigands; an unfortunate part of traveling the backcountry roads. “Stay clear, men. You don’t need to see me pissed off.” I warned, and they laughed. “We been picking on your kinfolk for just nigh a moon cycle. You don’t fight, you don’t do nothing. Hand over everything you got.” He ordered, and I smiled. Just smiled, but it was enough to put a chill down their backs. Because my teeth were sharper than their blades. “I’m not like my kinfolk in the Nevari tribe.” I said, and the leader grumbled. “No one scares us! Kill it!” He ordered, and I sighed. Just what I needed; some idiots who don’t know a Nevari from a Korani. “I’ll kill your ass before you can even take a step, my friends, so I would suggest you don’t move an inch.” No one moved. “Good. Now, let us through, or I get pissed and decide my bloodlust need a little refreshment.” I snarled, and they parted; just enough to let us through one by one. “Good.” I said, and took a step into the line.
They converged, and I growled in an easy manner as I cracked ones neck. “Oh…” I purred, and they froze with shock written on their faces. “Any more?” I asked in a chocolaty sweet voice, and they widened to allow Lion and Jerne to stand beside me. “You cowards! Kill it! Kill it!” The leader yelled, spitting and turning red. I turned almost lazily to regard him. “As if they could.” I said, bored. They charged at that; the insult was too much to bear. After three more deaths they backed off again. I followed them this time, and they ran for the woods that they came from. I allowed them to run, shouting curses and promises of revenge. I snorted. As if they had a chance.
“Shall we?” I asked, and was surprised to find I had a knife jammed through my hand as I waved it in front of me. “Whoops!” I said cheerfully, and ripped it out. I tossed it into the grass, and Jerne stared at me with open mouthed surprise. Lion just walked past me. “You’ve really got to start expecting me to take pain in stride. This is nothing; I had worse than this little nick when I was eight. Got a sword jammed through my thigh on my birthday; still won though.” I added proudly, and he walked off with a new point of view. I took the rear to defend our backs. I hadn’t expected them to come from the front.
I leapt over Jerne when I hear Lion cry out; someone had him at the throat. I froze. “Let. Him. Free.” I commanded, and the leader from before wheezed a laugh. “Found your soft spot, I did. Watched you, saw how you looked at him. He’s your woman; make him wear a dress, you freak creature?” He would have gone on if he hadn’t had a claw through his esophagus. He tried to kill Lion, but I had a hold of his hand. I crushed it as he gurgled. “Don’t you dare insult him. Me, the other. I don’t care. But not him.” I snarled, and then I raised my voice. “Let that be lesson to the rest of you; I know you’re hiding here somewhere.” I growled, and I could hear the rustle of running feet. I harrumphed as I threw the body into a tree. I heard bones break in the carcass; served the bastard right. I hoped he had to take it with him into the afterlife, and said as much. “Such disrespect to the dead! I told you he wouldn’t do, Elder!” I whipped around so fast that Lionel put a hand to my chest. “Calm yourself, Lover. It is merely a youngster and a few of my tribe.” He explained, and I stood and bowed. They seemed surprised my formality, and hurried to reciprocate. “The one in the center is the Elder of the tribe; he makes all the decisions. It would be best to get on his good side.” He murmured in my ear, and I gave a nod in the Elder’s direction. It was answer enough for both of them. I wouldn’t grovel at his feet; I wouldn’t give to his judgment. But I’d follow his rules and his verdict if he was fair.
“If we are to fight a creature that brings death and destruction, we need a warrior who does also.” He said, and I grinned, eyes sparking and flashing with actual flame. “Oh, goody. I’ve been hoping for a challenge; just tell me where and how many.” I said, and he shook his head distractedly. “Later. Now you must rest. I know you have traveled a fair bit for one day.” He said, and I felt the glow in my eyes dim slightly. I knew he was right, however; if this was as bad as I was expecting, I would need every advantage I could get. And being fresh for a fight was never a bad thing, either. “I bend to your will.” I said, and he snorted in disbelief. “I have trouble believing you. But no matter; I will not insult you when you are trying to help us.” He said, waving a hand as if to shoo the thoughts from his head. “Why do you think you can help us, death bringer?” One little youngster snarled, and I crouched to get level with him. “Because I can fight just as well as whatever you’re pitting me against.” I answered, and let an ear to ear grin show off my teeth. They were still bloody from the fight with the brigands. He squealed and hid behind his mother, and I stood back up to my full height, chuckling darkly but not showing my teeth again. “How dare you!” The mother screamed, coming up as if to slap me like a naughty child. I grabbed her wrist, and she paled. “Next time you try that, mistress, I break something.” I threatened in a cool voice, and threw her arm back to her. She harrumphed and dragged her child back to the camp.
“So you do not hurt everything that threatens you; it’s a good thing to know.” Jerne sneered, and I rolled my eyes lazily his way. “I don’t hurt things that can’t fight back. It’s completely pointless and doesn’t do a damn thing for my bloodlust. Although I’m sorely tempted to make an exception, Jerne.” I said, and he shut his mouth before I shut it for him. “Good, now that’s settled, tell me where I’m headed, who I’m fighting, and where I’m sleeping.” I ordered, and the elder motioned toward the camp. “Follow me.”
“This enemy is like nothing you’ve ever faced before; it is pure magic made to inhabit metal soldiers. It’s not a machine, as I thought at first. It is magic used to animate metal. We don’t know how to fight it; we can’t fight it. We knew of you, and that if Lion asked you, you might come. So we sent Jerne.” He explained, and I yawned. “That all? Well, my claws had gone through metal like a sword through flesh and my mage-power should help me release the magic once it has an opening to escape out of. What we need to do is find the mage who is making them and kill him. And I have a fair idea who it is; if I’m right, it’s a good thing you haven’t gone after him. I’m not even sure I can beat his ass; he was always a fair match…” I trailed off thoughtfully, and Lion touched my shoulder. It was enough to rouse me from my musings. “Who is it?” He asked in a dread-filled voice. “My brother, Nidomen.” I muttered, and the Elder jerked back in his seat with shock. “Are you telling me that you could do this?” He yelped, and I nodded faintly. “If I had a mind to, yes. But I have never approved of such.” I turned to look into his frightened eyes. “I will not kill my own brother. But I will persuade him to move on.” I clarified, and he swallowed convulsively but nodded. “I…understand. Even warriors cannot kill someone as close as a sibling.” He muttered, and I got up and moved out of the tent in a dreamlike state. Lion followed me, but I put a hand to his chest and my nose to the air. “Nidomen!” I yelled, and a wind sprung up. “What?” It snapped, and I arched one eyebrow and put a hand on my hip. “Uh-oh.” He said, suddenly childish. “You’re fucked, little brother. Really, they can’t even fight back!” I scolded, and the wind slowed a hair. “Well…They could! How did you get here?”He asked, and I shook my head. “Get your ass here, Nido, or I’m coming to you.” I threatened, and the wind blew hard enough to knock me off my feet if I hadn’t been expecting it.
Nido was arriving by air. He landed cat-like on the ground at my feet, his dancers gait deceiving of his ferocity in battle. He bowed in a liquid movement, and I clicked my tongue. “Oh, get up, you great idiot.” I said, and he cracked a grin, leaping to his feet. I whisked him up and hugged him, and he laughed fully. I hit him over the back of the head. “What in the nine hells do you think you’re doing, with all this? They’re peaceful, and I know I taught you better n’ that.” He shrugged. “I got bored, and I got tired of waiting for a war to start with our tribe and someone else’s.” I rolled my eyes. “There’s a war right now, you peacock! I’m fighting in it, and if I’ve heard of it so have you. You wanted something easy.” I scoffed, and he turned red. “Well…yeah, that too.” He muttered, and I snorted. “Did nothing I say ever work its way into your head? Do I need to pound it in? That’s what they brought me here for.” I said, and his eyes grew wide with fright. “I listened, really! I’ll come fight in your war, Nio, I will!” He groveled, and I rolled my eyes. “What is it about me that reduces you to a fluffy pet? Stop begging and challenge my ass!” I ordered, and he shut up. He stood straighter, almost as tall as I did, although he was shorter. “Nio, I am done here anyway. I will come to your war, but only because I’ve had my fun here.” He said hotly, and I thumped him on the back. “Good boy; maybe someday you can be a real warrior.” I teased, and he hit me in the chest offhandedly.
He caught sight of my arms, then. “A war hero! And mated! Goddess of war, it’s been too long since I’ve seen you. So tell me, was I right? Is she some soft-skinned dame from a tribe in a far off place?” I snorted. “She is a he, and he is from this tribe you’re standing in. Do you really think I’d leave my company on a mercy call for some people I don’t care about?” I said, and he whipped around to look into my face. “A male! You’re fucking with me, aren’t you?” He said, and I smiled. “Lion, come here for a moment.” I called, and as he took measured strides to draw up next to me. I put an arm around him, and he smiled up into my eyes. “A healer!” Nido breathed, and I tapped his mouth closed gently. He shut his mouth with a click. Suddenly he punched my full on in the face; I would have been surprised, except I knew how he felt about mated pairs.
“My own brother, mated. How could you chain yourself so thoroughly?” He teased, and I laughed through my bloody nose. “Well, it’s not my fault!” I said, and he pursed his lips. “If I know you, you did the active seducing. Don’t even try to deny it; you were a scourge amongst the tribe women.” He sniffed, and I punched him in the gut. He doubled over, groaning. “In front of my mate! You are incorrigible.” I said, and he coughed out a chuckle. “Are your meetings always this violent?” Lion asked, and I nodded. “You should see the tribe gatherings; if you walk out of there without bleeding buckets you’re lucky as hell.” I giggled, a very unnatural sound when done through blood. He winced. “It’s not so bad, Lion.” I said gently, and he nodded. He’d take my word for it.
“Love, would you like to stay, or would you like to come back with me and Nido? I can always come back to get you when this war is over.” I breathed into his ear, and he looked at me with shock. “I have to go back; they need me to heal them!” He yelped, and I laughed and shushed him. “Fine, fine. I was only offering the option, lover.” I pressed my lips to his forehead, and he shrank into me at the approach of his elder. “Well…In light of recent events, we believe that perhaps it is time we lifted your spurn order.” He said, and though he was slightly pale, I accepted it for what it was; a peace offering. “We will return someday; perhaps soon, perhaps not.” I bowed deeply, and then I started to walk toward the stables; I didn’t care who had a problem with it, I was taking a damn horse this time. It’s farther than it seems, from here to the base-camp. “Take the young black ones!” I heard the Elder shout after me, and I held up a hand to show I’d heard. Apparently no one had an issue with it; good, that would save time, and I needed another fight. The burn hadn’t started in my hands and feet yet, but it was only a matter of time. It was an addiction we were born with.
I took the young black ones, as I had been told to do, and continued to saddle them. Nido came in to help, and I smiled my gratitude; we didn’t thank one another in the Korani, though we had no problem thanking not in the clan. The Korani believed that to thank another of the tribe meant that you owed them something. If anything, he had a debt due me, and he knew it. “So inform me of your war, brother. I’m not sure what it’s about.” I sighed. Leave it to Nido to sour my mood. “Well, the Vardik Empire started invading just nigh of a year ago; taking whole towns at once, forcing their religion on the people, and killing any who resisted. Few got away, but when they did they went to the king. He then declared war, which means the army is drawn together and formed of any and all breeds of fighter. They haven’t started drafting yet, but I fear they will. I’m the war-mage for our company, and Lion is the healer. You’ll be a welcome addition. Shenn is our leader. You’ll like her; she’s got enough spirit in her to please all our elders, and still have plenty to spare.” I laughed quietly with him as we led the horses outside.
“Mount up, Lion. I’ve got to keep this youngster entertained, and for that we’ll need a war.” I joked, and I saw many of the clan folk wince at my humor. “They’ve all got a bug shoved up their-“ I shushed him sternly. He quieted, but not without a rebellious glare. “Thank you for your hospitality, Lord Nevari. I am certain we will meet again.” We nodded to each other, and then I led the way. Nido took the rear, with Lion riding between us. It was standard protection formation. If we had two others, we could have put them on either side, but we didn’t. So we chose our places according to rank.
“So why did the Nevari want us to take the black ones?” I asked Lion after we were out of hearing range. “They’re smarter than the others; bred for being nearly as smart as their rider.” He said this as if it were the most normal thing he’d ever heard of. I nearly choked. “You mean I’m riding a horse that can understand what I’m saying?!” I was unaware my voice could reach that pitch. “Well, yes.” Lion seemed surprised at my reaction. “Well, I shouldn’t be riding him then!” I had chosen a gorgeous stallion, unaware of his mental capacity. “Nio, really. He’s used to it. Ask him yourself.” He gestured to the beast. “It talks?” My voice went up yet another impossible octave. “I didn’t want to startle you, master, but yes.” It had a melodic voice, but it was still a deep baritone. It didn’t sound horse-ish at all, to my discomfort. “I greatly apologize for this, then.” I intoned to him politely, and he snorted. “I expect to be ridden, and you are not so heavy as the training masters. It is a great honor to carry you, Niolas.” He sounded so sincere that I believed him. “Still; you are a being of equal intelligence-“ He snorted again. “But I am also a horse. I am a battle-stallion; I expect to be ridden into battle!” He was annoyed with me, I suppose, but he got his point across. I sighed. “Very well, then.” He shook his head and flicked his tail. “Would you care to name me, Mater Niolas?” He asked, and I was once again taken at a shock.
“The one who names the horse holds the horse’s loyalty, Nio. Just name him.” Lion called to me, and I floundered, trying to think of a name. “Well, I’ve always been rather fond of Mirage. Would that suit you?” The newly named Mirage pranced a little in happiness. “Very much so.” He agreed. He seemed to take on a new sheen with the name, and I saw his mane and tail grow longer before my eyes. He was becoming an adult stallion before my very eyes. He grew taller, to accommodate my long legs, and I could suddenly feel the strand of a mind-connection in the back of my mind. Like what I had with Lion when he was very upset, only stronger. I tested it, just slightly. :We are horse and rider, now, Master Niolas.: He informed clearly through the connection, and I just barely restrained my jump. :Then call me Master no longer. Just call me Nio.: I offered, and he snuffed in agreement, the link fading to the back of my brain. “What about yours, Lion? What’s up with her?” Nido asked. Lionel had specifically told me to get the mare with the red eagle-feather. “Oh, she’s been mine since I was very young. We were separated when the spurn order came down, and they cut off my mental connection with her. She’s one of the few mares, so they didn’t dare kill her, but if she were a stallion they would have.” He shuddered. “What is her name?” I asked, and he smiled. “Lyre. Very pretty sort of name, and one to befit such a beautiful lady.” Lyre preened under his praise. “Nido, name your horse, yes?” I prompted, and he nodded. “Um…How about…Gujan?” I knew what that word meant in Nevari- it was one of the forty or so words for war. His horse grew very little, seeing as Nido was short, but his mane grew and his coat took on a shiny glow. I absently stroked Mirage, looking about me. Suddenly something wasn’t right. It was too quiet. No birds chirped, no squirrels squabbled. The only sound was the crunch of the horses’ hooves. I stopped Mirage, and gestured to them to stop as well. They did. “You hear that?” I asked, and Lion looked at me. “I don’t hear anything.” I nodded. “Exactly.”
“Who follows?” I called, demanding, and there was no response. Suddenly a whiz of an arrow shot at me, and I caught it in my teeth. I spat it out and kicked Mirage in the appropriate direction. “Nido, get Lion out of here!” I ordered, and he led Lion out of the forest as fast as the horses could go.
I found what I wanted almost immediately- an archer. They were in the trees, and without a thought I jumped to accompany them. I killed three before they could blink, and ten before they could draw their arrows on the strings. “Halt!” The call halted me as well, but more importantly it halted them. I didn’t fancy getting shot today. I jumped to the ground, checking on Mirage absently. He was enraged but unharmed. “How dare you attack my men?” The female elf stood confidently before me. “How dare your men shoot at me?” I shot back, and she opened and shut her mouth. “Devon!” She snapped, and one green-clad male stepped forward. “Is it true?”
“I’m afraid so, Mistress.”
“Who was it?”
The female shook her head and sighed. “Alec!” She snapped. No one came forward. “He’s dead, ma’am. The first to die at his hand. It appears he followed the arrow back to it’s source, and then…” I looked solidly at the male named Devon. “And then I destroyed it. I take out threats, lady brigand. You were threats to me, my brother, and my mate. If you blame me for that you truly aren’t worth my time.” I said idly, and she sniffed. “Do you have a choice in making time for me, stranger?” I laughed. “Of course. I could kill you all, instead of just ten or twelve. I diminished half your present number. I think this adequate.” I reasoned, and she growled. “Get out of my forest, wretch!” She commanded, and I backhanded her. Bows were drawn back all around- I ignored them. “Watch your tongue, girl. I take no lip from you, lady Brigand.” I sauntered back to my horse and sat astride him as we walked past her again, this time with a violent red handprint on her face.
Travelling back roads had its problems. Brigands were one of them. I was not surprised in the slightest to have found one the way and one on the return; I was surprised there weren’t more. I caught up to Lion and Nido, trotting out of the forest to where they waited. “What was it?” Lion was worried, as always. “Just some thieves after an easy mark. After I convinced them I wasn’t one I left.” I was already past the confrontation, set on getting back to camp. I had a bad feeling, and I knew that it had to do with Shenn. We were on the road for another two weeks, until we entered the last ten-mile stretch to home.
“Oye, Nide; Let’s pick up the pace. Triple comrade.” I ordered the formation I wanted, and together we worked like a well-oiled machine, me going back and him forward, to flank Lion. “Lyre, keep pace with us, all right?” She snorted in agreement. “Nio, what are you two planning?” Lionel asked, and I just smiled, nudging Mirage the same instant that Nido nudged Gujan. Lyre sprang forward with us, and Lionel just hung on for dear life as we rocketed across the countryside.
“Nio!” I looked at Nidomen as he shouted to me over the thunder of hooves. “Gujan can’t hold this pace much longer! We’re not all as resilient as you two!” I nodded. “All right; take it down to a fast walk!” I ordered, and we did without a second thought. Lyre was only a moment behind us, and Lion was still clinging to her like he was going to fall off and die. “Are you two insane? That was way too fast!” He scolded, and we shared a grin before we went over a hill and saw the camp.
It was sprawled across the small indentation in the earth, all red and brown, the colors of the king’s crest. I gave a sharp whistle, and a figure came out of a tent; Shenn. She waved, but the way she did it made me nervous. “I’ll meet you two down there.” I said, my worry showing in my voice. “Nio, what’s wrong?” I shook my head in annoyance. “I don’t know yet. I’ve got a feeling.” I thundered off.
As I pulled alongside Shenn, I jumped off Mirage and walked the rest of the way to her. I knew he wouldn’t wander off. “Shenn, what’s wrong?” I demanded, and her eyes widened. “How did you know?” I shook my head in frustration. “It’s not important. What’s going on?” I asked, and she blushed deeply and vividly. “It’s nothing to do with the war. Come inside.” I did. She sat me down with a cup of tea, and sat down with one herself. “It’s me. Soon I won’t be fit to lead the company. It’s rather embarrassing; I’m not hurt or anything. But…I’m carrying.” My eyebrows rose up in shock. “You? A child?” She nodded, blushing an even deeper red. “My god; this is whole new batch of problems, isn’t it. Does anyone else know?” She shook her head. “Just you. But soon I’ll start to show, and there’ll be no stopping the talk. I’ll be called back and then honorably discharged.” She said it like it was shameful. “Shenn…Wouldn’t that be better? At least for you and the child.” I amended. “Probably. But I’m a fighter, not a mother.” She growled. “Why can’t you be both?” She laughed. “The king won’t allow it!” I shook my head. “There is the other option.” She shook her head obstinately. “I’m going to carry it to term, then give it to someone. I’ll give it a chance at life, at least.” I sighed. “If it would really please you more, I could cast a glamour.” I don’t know what made me offer. She should take herself and her unborn child away from here. Far, far away. “Oh, would you, Niolas? Just until it’s born! Please.” She seemed to become feverish with relief. “Yes, I’ll do it once you start showing. Don’t tell Lionel, unless you start having problems. He’ll for sure force you home. I’ll take care of it until you’re to term, and then I’ll help you with the birthing.” She hugged me, throwing herself into my arms. “Thank you, so much.” I hugged her back for a moment, and then sat her back down. “But there’s one last thing. Who will you give the child to?” She was taken aback for a moment. “I… Don’t know.” I knew I was going to regret this last part. “I’ll take it. I’ll say it was a foundling; at least then you know it’ll be taken care of.” She gasped. “You, Niolas? You didn’t strike me as the type that would want a child.” She seemed to look at me in a new light. “I’m strangely attracted to the idea, and I know Lionel wants a child to raise.” It was true; the more I thought about it, the more I could see it unfolding in my mind. Me and Lionel, raising the human child. “Who is the father?” I asked, and she darted her look downward. “Jerne.” I gave a coughing, rasping noise of surprise. “Jerne?! My mate’s brother, Jerne?” I demanded, and she nodded. “The very same.” I spluttered for a moment. “He’s an elf!” I got out. “I know. I had a little too much brandy with him, all right?” She snarled. “But- how is that possible? I didn’t think elves and humans could have children!”
“Apparently, they can.”
“But…How…” I gave up on speaking, just shaking my head as I muddled through it. Throughout the years, even in ancient history, there was no record of such a child. Part elf, part human…There was no way to know what the results would be. “The night before you left, he came to my tent. He wanted to know more about human culture, and anatomy. We got very… In depth.” I shook my head in befuddlement. “I’ve never heard of this happening. There has never been a child such as this. There is no way to know what it will be able to do. This only strengthens my resolve. I’ll need to take it. If it can use magic, and there’s no way to know if it will or not, then no one but another magic-user could control it. I am very glad you’ve trusted me with this, Shenn. Thank you.” She was lost, and I could see it in her eyes. “So…You’ll help me carry to term, and then take the child?” She clarified. “Yes.” I said simply. “Oh, okay.” She was still lost. “Call to me if you need help of any sort. I have no idea if you’ll even be able to carry the child to term. Like I said, this has never happened before. But before we do anything, I think it’s best that I claim it. That will keep it from gaining too much magic while it’s within you; it’s an old ability that the father is able to perform, or in this case, foster-father.” She cocked her head. “What do I have to do?” I shrugged. “Sit still and be very quiet.” I informed her calmly, my mind already gone seeking.
I found the traces of the young mind; she was far enough along that it registered, but only just. Two months along. You are mine, little one. MINE. I ordered, forcing my will upon it, and its still-forming mind would build that fact into it’s very genetic makeup. I gave it a mental image of me, to know me when it was born, and then I left it to grow in peace. Before I was completely gone, I was shocked when it reached for me as I left. It wanted me; I was now father to the little one. It loved me already. And then I was back in my own head, smiling to myself. With that I broke, and I loved him too; he wasn’t yet a specific gender, and yet I felt wrong calling the child ‘it’. So male he would be, until I could tell if he was any different.
“It’s done, Shenn. Call me, not Lion, if you need anything. If it’s serious, I’ll call to him, but if it’s something I can fix, this is better between you and me.” As I’d mentioned earlier, but it couldn’t be said enough times. “I will, Niolas.” She placed a hand protectively over her stomach. Shenn for a maternal figure; definitely not what you’d expect. I exited to give her some privacy, muttering to myself. We had a battle in less than two weeks, and Shenn was causing major kinks in the system. Goody.
I wandered out to Mirage, petting him absently as I mulled. “I need a strong dose of wine.” I decided, and Mirage snorted his agreement rather than speak. “I’m going to just let you free; tell anyone who tries to do anything you don’t want to your mine.” I was tired, and it showed in my voice. “That’s kind of you. I’m rather tired of being kept in a stable.” He nibbled my hair to show his gratitude, which I understood, albeit not happily. I took off his tack and he trotted off in the direction of Lyre and Gujan, who were also roaming free. “No plotting nefarious plans, yes?” I called after him, and his tail twitched mischievously as he turned and, swear on my life, winked at me. I couldn’t muddle through everything right now. I just couldn’t take it. So I made one of the best decisions I’d made that day. I went back to my tent.
“Nio! What was wrong, did you find out?” He asked, and I smiled. “Nothing. False alarm; Shenn just had a cold. I took care of it with what little healing magic I know.” The lie sat like acid, eating away at my soul. “Oh, that’s good.” He accepted it without another thought. I thought of the double standard I’d just set. I had asked him never to lie to me, and yet here I was, doing what I specifically told him not to do. This day was just getting better by the minute. “Do we have any wine left from the last victory feast?” I asked, and he nodded, gesturing to a cupboard. As I poured myself a large glass, he looked at me oddly. “Are you sure everything’s okay?” I smiled again, needing all my willpower to tell this falsehood. “Of course! Why wouldn’t it be?”