Tekoni looked a lot better after her nap, which was a good thing, since she couldn’t have looked much worse before it. Nevy’s spell had done its job, even by long distance and at second hand. I had seen how she took the Power around her and used it, and it was easy enough once I saw the way it worked. No gunpowder was necessary, nor even any mumbo jumbo; that was just to focus the mind, which did all the work. Nevy was starting to get beyond that, though she wasn’t there quite yet.
I had gone back to being a sparrow again. If you ever learn how to do it yourself, I highly recommend spending your off time as a sparrow. It’s kind of enjoyable, flying here and there as you please, and worms really aren’t all that bad once you get used to them. I’d had two while Tekoni slept. When she sat up I changed back to myself. “You’re feeling better?” I asked her in Latin.
“Much better,” she said, touching her tummy cautiously. “I guess sleeping helped. I thought I would be ill again when I woke up?”
“I cured you while you slept. You need to make sure you drink a lot of water though. You’re very dehydrated now. When you eat again, eat very lightly.”
“I will,” she promised. “You’re a warlock?”
“Something like that.”
I saw her shudder. She was looking for escape routes again.
“Settle down,” I told her, trying to sound comforting. “You don’t have anything to be afraid of, except maybe Palégos and starvation. I’m just a man. How did you come to be a bear?”
She had shuddered at the sound of the Wizard’s name and she made a very Latin-looking sign against the Evil Eye. “I was kidnapped by slave raiders,” she replied, not at all surprising me.
“Where was that?”
“I lived in a town called Flavilia,” she told me. “The town was Mohican and Onondaga and Latin. Flying creatures came and carried many of us off.”
“The Flying Monkeys?” I asked.
“Monkey faces, yes. Faces like we were given, yes. The Wizard’s creatures. They put us in cages. There were maybe a hundred people over five days, from different tribes and towns in the north.”
“You were held up there, on the mountain?” I pointed toward the Wizard’s mansion.
“No. Someone told me it was Castra Taurorum (the Camp of the Bulls). They auctioned us as slaves. There were several bidders, maybe ten. The Wizard bought about one in three of us. Another wizard bought some too.”
“Palégos wasn’t the one behind the raids?” I asked, surprised. Flying monkeys definitely implied warlockery.
“We speak not his name!” she warned me. “It is cursed!”
“Huh. You oughta try my name!”
She looked doubtful, like no one’s name could be as scary as Palégos. “I don’t know if… the Wizard was behind the raids,” she continued, having no idea what I was talking about, always assuming I did. “It seems likely. It was said that the profits of the sales went to Lord… the governor himself.” I guessed Rægan’s name was cursed too, or maybe it just burned her tongue to say it.
“And the Legate isn’t a wizard?” I mused.
“Not that I know. But the Wizard is Lord… the Legate’s man. They say he keeps the Wizard’s withered heart in a box.”
I almost told her that wasn’t possible. Turning myself into a sparrow wasn’t possible either. Flying Monkeys weren’t possible. I wasn’t even sure they were airworthy. Monkey-faced bears aren’t possible. Long distance healing spells weren’t possible.
Aged, aged couples turning themselves into teenagers and humping in church wasn’t possible either. The list just kept on growing. I kept my mouth shut. “The Wizard turned you all into bears?” I asked instead of arguing and making a fool of myself to myself.
That wasn’t possible either, was it? “What about the rest of the slaves?”
“The prettiest went to His Excellency’s harem, I think. There are hundreds of women and girls there, so they say. Most of the men went to the mines, I heard.”
A harem of hundreds – every man’s dream, every man’s nightmare. There are valid reasons for monogamy. “Were you all women and girls that the wizard bought? Or was there a mix?”
“My group was women and girls,” she told me. “Some of his bears are men. They were there when we arrived. Most were sick and some have died since we arrived.”
“Probably because you eat a monkey diet in a bear’s body,” I mused. “Or a bear’s diet with a monkey metabolism.”
“I have been sick since I’ve been here,” she told me listlessly. “I don’t think we are expected to live very long.”
“We’ll see if we can fix that. How did Mister Wizard control you?”
“He can cause us pain merely by pointing at us,” she told me.
“But how can he control you when you’re out of his sight?”
“He’s aware of where all his slaves are. He can also... I don’t know. Become us. Take us over.”
“I’ve seen that happen,” I acknowledged. “Do you think he can see you now?”
She wrinkled her brow in thought. “I don’t think so,” she said at length. “I’m not sure why, but I can’t feel his presence.”
“Keep not believing,” I advised. “Let me know right away if you hear from him. Or feel him.” I was pretty sure I had us blanketed now. I was actually getting this magic thing under control.
I did some serious pondering. I had a resource there, but she was weak and sick and undernourished. She would probably be more a hindrance than a help if I relied on her very heavily. I wondered if there was a spell that would cure her condition, put some meat on her scrawny bones. I suspected not. She’d simply burned up her body’s resources. The cure was food and rest and time.
I heard her tummy rumble again, not a gurgle of food poisoning, but from hunger. I suspected she wasn’t fond of worms. I wished I had Nannakussi with me. Sometimes I missed him almost as much as I missed Nevy, though not for the same reasons.
I didn’t have to wave my hand to put Tekoni asleep again, like the archbishop’s wife had me. It was what I wanted, so she lay down and emitted a cute little snore. I changed myself into something between a wolf and a big dog, since I wasn’t sure what the differences were between the two. I marked my spot, since my bladder was full, and set off in search of something suitable for a girl to eat.
The woods were teeming with game. It was seldom hunted, and when it was it was maybe for enough meat to feed a family or a small party. Lots of of the game came to the river to drink. I sniffed around until I caught what I thought might be deer, and I followed it. I found pellets – deer poop – that confirmed my opinion. The trail was crossed with opossom, skunk, groundhog... if the deer didn’t work out, the last was an option, if a bit on the gamy side.
I stopped, sniffing the air. There was another smell. It was man. People don’t realize how much odor their feet carry. It was old, not fresh at all. I circled a couple times, sniffing for it, finally finding it. By then it was easy enough to follow, multiple trips by multiple feet, until I finally came to an old camp. There was a mostly collapsed longhouse, and I could see and smell where there had been cooking fires.
I sniffed closely at the ground and began digging with my forepaws. About eight inches down, I found flat stones covering a straw basket lined with clay. I didn’t need to move the rocks; my nose told me it contained corn meal. I covered it back up and sniffed until I found another one that contained dried beans. I had no way to get it back to where Tekoni was since I didn’t have hands, but after she’d fed up a little she’d be able to come to it.
I lifted a hind leg and marked the spot, then tucked the location into the edge of my human mind and trotted off after the deer. I felt guilty about letting myself get distracted because Tekoni needed an infusion of protein for strength, followed by lots of carbohydrates for energy. I knew where both were, but so far had neither.
My prey was a young doe, barely out of the faun stage. She’d be nice and tender. I could see where she had passed now. There were three of them together, one a year or so older than the other two. I could tell that from where they had stopped to pee. The human part of my mind was impressed by how much a wolf-dog could tell just from the assortment of smells.
I almost dropped the chase after the deer when I hit pretty fresh hog spawn. The thought of a tasty roast suckling came from the human side of my brain. The wolf-dog side found the idea interesting, but the deer were closer, less dangerous than a sow, and their blood was going to be nice and tasty. Skulking came naturally to me; I could feel such wind as there was just by lifting my nose a little. I could hear almost as much better as I could sort the smells on the breeze.
I leapt, growling in joy, and caught the hindmost hind by the throat. It was as though I’d done it many times before. I caught her by the neck and sank my teeth, pulling down and turning my head, ripping with my fangs. The blood that spurted had a smoky taste in my mouth, pure heaven! She fell and her hind legs kicked weakly a couple times by reflex, but she was dead as she could be. She hadn’t even suffered; cutting the artery caused a sudden drop in blood pressure and blood to the brain. Everything had simply gone black for her. Her companions ran for their lives, expecting a pack to follow.
I dropped to my forepaws, feeding on the doe’s open neck. As I did so, I was looking around, occasionally snarling, expecting something to come out of the trees drawn by the smell of blood. That was the wolf instinct. The neck was a snack, my reward to myself for a clean kill. After a little while, the joy wore down as I was licking the last of the arterial blood from the wound. With a cautious look around, I changed back into a man.
I found some dry leaves and wiped most of the blood out of my beard. I still wanted to get rid of the damned thing. I’d been thinking Nevy knew a spell to get rid of it. Now I realized how trivial it was to “shave” using the Power around me. I scratched at the facial fur absently and the hairs fell out under my fingers. I kept at it until my face was smooth and cool. Beards in the summer time are a lousy idea.
The doe looked pretty horrible with her pretty throat ripped out, but I recalled the pleasure I’d felt in taking her down. Being a carnivore had more rewards than just a full belly. I picked her up, guessing she weighed fifty or sixty pounds. I wanted to gut her, but I didn’t carry a knife. I started trudging back the way I’d trotted to get where I was.
Despite his threats to put us ashore for this or that offense all the way there, our captain took us all the way to Graviscae. He was probably afraid we were going to leave him ashore or worse. Chulëntët spent the entire trip playing, exploring her newfound powers and distracting the crew. I can’t even recall her sleeping.
A ghostly version of dominus Asmodeus awaited us at Graviscae. He was almost solid this time, which I thought was reassuring. When Palégos had appeared to me before he had always been solid. He had always been clothed, while our lord was naked still. He had gotten rid of his beard, and I thought he looked younger for it.
He gave our lady a chaste kiss on each cheek. “Pay the nice man, if you please, Nannakussi,” he told me in English.
I looked into my money pouch, to find it full again. I thought I recognized the wampum. If coins didn’t look so much alike, I’d probably have recognized a few of them as well. We Lenape have been described as honest to a fault; our domini were a little less so. I handed the money over with a straight face, keeping the wampum for myself this time. We may be honest, but we do have a sense of humor.
Such baggage as we had was off-loaded. Sabina grabbed more than she should have, trying to make up for thumping our lord. I set about distributing it more equitably. Our lady would have taken some, but her mother watched out for her dignity and vetoed it. I agreed. Sometimes our lady was as bad as our lord over such things. Life’s not a democracy. I split it all – blankets, our cook pots, spare garments and the like – into piles, one for me, one for Kogwahee, one for Sabina, and one for Winke.
“None for you or Kogwahee,” my lord ordered, interrupting me when I was almost done. “You need your bow and your hatchets. Give some to Little Bird as well. She needs something to do or she’ll float away.”
“Aye, lord,” I grumbled, starting over and rearranging all. When I handed the bundles out to the others I nearly threw them. That wasn’t intentional. They weighed only a few ounces apiece, and I was expecting pounds. Our lord was gaining in magical confidence even more quickly than his lady.
“Where are you now?” our lady asked him in English.
“Near my bend in the river. I’m carrying a deer back for Tekoni.”
“Your starved Mohican maiden?”
“Her. Her name’s about as complicated as Winky’s. You can get a boat to go upstream? Or can you go overland?”
“Which is faster?”
“Overland, if there are roads. The river twists and turns all over the place. It will take you the better part of a week to get here, I think. Overland direct would be two, maybe three days travel if you’re able. It’s mountainous country, but you probably noticed that.” He paused, yet another idea popping into his busy head. “If you can float like Little Bird, you can make it in a few hours if the wind is right.”
“I don’t think we can all float like she can,” Lady Nevianne said thoughtfully as we walked through Graviscae. It was a pretty small town, only a couple hundred people at the outside, and the road we were following was dirt. I didn’t think we were going to be able to take carts this time, not with roads as bad as this. There weren’t many horses to be seen, so it was doubtful we’d be able to rent some for riding.
“You’re not all going to fit on a single blanket, are you?” our lord asked.
“I don’t think so,” our lady replied.
“Two blankets? Sitting close?”
“Maybe three. Why?”
“Lay them out next to each other and join them at the long edges. You have an enchantment for that?”
“I do,” said Grandmother Leofgif. I think she was miffed at being left out of the conversation, being oldest and in theory the wisest.
“Good,” he said, ignoring her tone, as he usually did. “Lay them out and all sit in the middle… No, no! Wait until you’re well out of town! We don’t want to scare people; it might get back to the Wizard. Don’t sit near the edges. We don’t want anyone falling overboard. I’ll be back in about fifteen minutes. Is that enough time to get everything ready?”
“I think so,” Lady Nevianne’s mother replied.
He was gone as we were walking out the gates.
Graviscae was surrounded on its west and south sides by cornfields, with beans twining up the corn stalks and squash between the rows, sheltering the ground against weeds with their leaves. We walked to the edge of the nearest field, the road leading up one of the many hills we would have to cross. I loved these little country hamlets. Even the sophisticated Latin-speaking town-dwellers among our tribe would sometimes leave for a summer, maybe even a year or so, to spend time with the spirits of the woods. It was relaxing for the soul.
We found a clearing by the edge of the woods, none having an idea of what our lord would do. We laid out the blankets, long edge to long edge, and Grandmother Leofgif worked her magic, the weave of one joining undetectably to the other. We arranged ourselves comfortably, sitting in the middle, and waited for our lord’s return.
Then he was there, standing next to the single large multi-hued blanket on the ground. He was much more transparent than last time. “I think I’ve got this all worked out now,” he told the three ladies. “I know where Tekoni is, and I’ll be there by the time you are. You can help by keeping the sides up like this…” The sides of our over-sized blanket folded up almost to waist height as we sat. Sabina rolled her eyes, but she didn’t faint. Chulëntët looked excited at a new adventure. “Sabina, don’t pee yourself,” he ordered sternly.
The blanket rose into the air with all of us on it. Chulëntët scooted around so she could see over the side. Winke absently grabbed her by the waist of her skirt, just to make sure. Sabina’s teeth chattered.
Our lord hadn’t told Lady Blæda not to pee herself. I’d remind him next time.