Ava shows her irritation, which aids Athanasios’ success in the hunt.
I talk with the mother and daughter as the handless wolf is taken to the dungeon. I can hear and feel Athanasios and Alexandros’ frustration the more I’m told, thanks to Cora translating for me. It seems that as soon as the wolves knew Athanasios was awake, the food shortages began. I can only sense that this is a plot against him, but by whom? And why? I voice those questions to a select few; Anastasia, Aeolus, Athanasios and Cora.
`It is not clear yet why. I heard nothing of this when I called for reports,’ Anastasia confirms.
`Who did you ask?’ I enquire as I promise the woman and child they’ll be fed. First, we have to find the hidden pantries.
`Two women who I was going to ask to be part of your guard,’ Anastasia winces. Cora goes pale in response.
`I would not ask them until we can verify their loyalty,’ I counsel, seeing Cora breathe a sigh of relief. I’m sure there’s more going on here than what I was told. ‘I am keen to know where they’d hid the food.’ I look around; the weather is warm and it would have to be kept in cool, dark places. I voice that thought to my husband, Alexandros huffs in response but changes how he’s searching.
“Come to the mansion when we have found it. There is a celebration to be had, so I am told, for my arrival,” I beam to the mother, who cascades the information to the rest of the pack. I bend to talk with the small child. “And I’ll make sure there’s ice cream,” I wink as she smiles broadly, hugging her mother’s legs. Turning to Cora, I ask that food be found for them.
For the child to steal, she’s beyond hungry. I doubt she’s the only one. As Cora talks with people, it becomes clear quite quickly, that there are sub-factions between the wolves and other shifters. I have no idea how Athanasios wishes to play this, but I know I can find out how James and Emily dealt with this when they took over their pack. Knowing that Cora, Anastasia and three others are true friends, people Athanasios trusts to have my back, I connect with the rest of the pack here in the Courtyard, feeling out who is friend and foe.
Half an hour after Athanasios left, another wolf-shifter is dragged into the Courtyard by mansion guards. Aeolus is here, rather than searching on the hunt.
“Who are you?” Aeolus stands tall as I watch from the sidelines. His comment makes me think that this is another pack, out to infiltrate and disseminate. The hairs on the back of my neck itch in a warning, so I immediately place an arena bubble around Aeolus and this new wolf while I watch what’s going on around him. Everyone now knows who I am, so I have no need to hide my skills, my magic or the blades. In moments, I see why I was sent a warning. They’re the other side of the bubble; my side.
`You deal with him,’ I tell Aeolus as I head off to face this new threat. With the bubble erect, nothing will get in or out, so Aeolus won’t have a brawl on his hands. With just a thought, I freeze this new threat as he pulls out his dagger. He hasn’t spotted me yet: fool.
“You can’t do that,” I tell him. “You know that Alexandros is out, hunting for the food,” I explain. Only his eyes can move, so I unfreeze his head, allowing him to speak. I sense that Cora is nearby and she tells me she can’t hear what he’s communicating or with whom. She can understand what he’s saying, which reinforces my idea that this is an external pack; I convey that to Aeolus, noticing his change in stance and demeanour. The gloves are off. Alexandros is on the hunt for food and it seems this pack have a plan to hunt him.
“You’re pathetic,” he sneers. I rather think it’s the pot calling the kettle black.
“It is easy for a man who is frozen in a position to say that. What is it in it for you?” I ask, unsure where this is going, or even why, though I have ideas forming in my mind.
“The dragon has no business being alive,” he sneers. I shrug and cast another arena bubble, aware that I am now pushing the limits of my magical capabilities. I pray I can hold out long enough for Aeolus and I to fight.
“I’m sorry, who died and made you Lord of the Hunt?” I sneer back, withdrawing a blade.
“And you’re going to kill me, like this?” With a smirk, I release him from the hold and watch as he tries to run away. Each charge on the arena dome makes it shudder; I feel every strike he makes.
“You see, I thought you’d be man enough to face me,” I goad. “I can see yer not. So…” with a twist of my hand, I lift him, bringing him towards me. “Yer a coward,” I state as I deposit him before me.
My name-calling has the desired effect, he charges at me and I lower the arena shield to deflect his blow, wishing I knew who else was working with these two. My blade cuts him, laying into him some of the poison I know it carries and that I had charged it with when I set this bubble.
I don’t quite know what happened next, everything for me went bright and white, but when I come to, I’m on the floor, the blade still in my hand, the wolf dead beside me. Aeolus has defeated the other infiltrated wolf and there are several others around me who are injured but being guarded or dragged away.
“You’re amazing,” Cora says to me as she kneels before me. “These others, they’re a part of the pack those two wolves were with. What you did, affected them. That’s why we’ve been able to detain them,” she tells me as she helps me stand. Anastasia calls out my name and rushes to me, then smiles at Cora.
“Oh, thank goodness! What happened?”
“I think Ava followed their mind link and caused a reaction; none of the wolves being detained now are from our pack, but they appear to be as they’re wearing our colours,” Anastasia growls and helps me to a bench. The mother of the young girl brings me a drink of water, then a jug as I down most of the contents. I smile as the young girl offers me a little of the bread she’s been given. I shake my head, unwilling to take it from her.
Smiling, I sense Athanasios before I or the others see him. “Clear the courtyard,” I tell them. A few seconds later, they understand why and they prepare for Alexandros to land.
A Dragon’s Hoard
They say that a Dragon cannot be parted from his hoard. If it were food, everything in Alexandros’s claws would spoil. However, for the townspeople, there’s plenty of fresh food. Wrapped in one large tarp are cured legs of goat, lamb, whole chickens and other meats. Wrapped in the other, are sacks of grain, ground flour and salt.
Alexandros moves away and transforms as Aeolus and his men work out what everything is and how to get it to the mansion as others find carts and horses.
“Ava,” Athanasios exhales as he comes up to me. He’s not bothering to put on a shirt; it’s the best view this courtyard has offered to me all day. “What happened?” he asks and I nod to Cora.
“I did not see what I did, though I know what it achieved,” I smile, hiding the pain and exhaustion I now feel. Cora quickly shares what happened to both Aeolus’ fight and my own; how we found the traitors, which explains why some of Aeolus’ men haven’t been responding when they’ve called home.
“They might still be alive,” I volunteer. Athanasios nods, then scoops me up, bridal style.
“Ana, organise a feast at the mansion, using that to feed those that haven’t had food since we’ve been gone. Tonight, we celebrate.” She smiles at him, then he turns his attention to me. “Ómorfi, you are tired.” He leans his head to me, whispering. “Stay awake for me until we are in our room.” I nod as I try my best to comply. In moments, we’re at the doors of the mansion and I realise, he’s portalled us both to his home.