Alick stared at a large map hanging over the fireplace in the library. It had been drawn by Martyn à Carrock, Dylan’s grandfather. A strange breed, the Lords of Carrock, he mused silently. No one knew where they’d come from and they had always been just, all fifteen of them, until old Colyn took a second woman, just as the wizard had planned it. He chuckled and rubbed his hands together. Then it was an easy thing to enchant Dylan, who did not know of his power, but that still didn’t solve the mystery of the Lords of Carrock. He knew that they also had some power, minimal, but enough to be impressive. It was theirs to command by birth, as if the Word himself had given them the power — just like the Scholars, those strange men, so much like wizards, and yet not using their powers for anything but the good of others, and then rarely.
“Zeus, how I hate them!” he growled, turning from the map. He’d tried vainly to find Savoy, the greatest of the Scholars, but the proverb had proven true, “A Scholar is harder to find by a malicious heart, than a sea is emptied with a spoon.” The wizard spat in the fire, looking back at the map. There was Carrock, now his lands, but the firm grip he’d established was shaking, he knew it. The Wolf was back and the Gray Pack with him. There were traitors among the people, who would much rather be ruled by Dylan than by the great wizard. What were two years of power, two years of lordship anyway? Just a mere trifle in contrast to the hundreds of years that the Lords of Carrock had ruled. It was nothing.
“I’ve labored so long for this,” he whispered. Now the priceless gem he’d imagined was crumbling in his grasp like a clump of dry earth. The strings were coming loose. New ones must be tied, tighter than the old. The first one must be the elimination of the girl. She was the main threat now, the base of Dylan’s power. Alick grinned to himself. Yes, this would be fun, and maybe, just maybe Onri would get his way out of it, too.
A sharp rapping on the huge doors made him turn.
“Come!” he called and waved his hand. The doors swung open by themselves. Onri and two guards were there, holding a disheveled fourth man. They marched him to the middle of the room and stopped, bowing slightly.
“What is it?” the wizard wanted to know. The men straightened.
“Sir, we have finally found Tennek,” Onri announced. Ah, our little discussion has knocked some sense into that fool, Alick grinned to himself. Now it was “sir” again and the shrill tenor was smoother, more military-like.
“Well, what does he say?”
“Nothing, sir. He can’t speak.” The wizard walked forward and lifted the traitor’s chin with his hands.
“Where have you been, Tennek? It’s been five days since the meeting.”
“Maarh gnah roohr,” was all the man answered.
“Can’t you speak?” The man shook his head. Alick let go of his chin.
“Dylan!” The word exploded like a curse and was followed by a long line of obscenities, dealing mainly with the canine origins of the young lord’s mother.
“He still has the power!” the wizard shrieked. He turned to the white-faced men. “Get out, all of you.” They turned and scampered out of the room.
“Onri!” The beau stopped and came in, bowing and muttering to himself. Alick grabbed his bow tie and pulled him up so close that his reeking breath poured over the flashy young man’s face.
“Get the best men you have. We will be taking what Dylan treasures most and perhaps you may get your pleasure after all. Hurry up, because I’m going with you.” He shoved Onri back, making him fall flat on his behind. He jumped up and ran out of the room, followed by the insane ravings of the wizard.
The day was cloudy and a chill wind washed over the land, even though summer had already begun. The crows were out. Some of the more superstitious folk were talking about evil omens. The Gray Pack stopped the mating, huddling down among the ferns and trees of the wood. The Wolf was absent again and none knew where he was.
Slowly, the gates of the castle opened and a line of seasoned gunmen rode out, headed by a figure in blackish-blue robes with a golden crown on his head. He was directly followed by a stiff Onri, for once not dressed in those gaudy red colors, but in the same gray-brown as the other soldiers. A chill passed over all those who watched. Dogs barked madly and the cats ran from the streets, screaming. The only birds in the air were the crows. This truly was an evil day.
Tabea had already finished her work in the garden and with the animals in the morning and was now going about making her famous butter. She looked away from the pleasant fire to the window. The clouds were dark, foreboding. Her hand left the stick of the butter churn and felt for the pistol lying close at hand. She picked it up for the ump-teenth time and checked to see if it was loaded. She just couldn’t shake that feeling. The instant she put the gun down, her hand flew to her neck, where the small whistle hung. She knew she’d feel safer if Dylan were here, if she could snuggle into that thick, smelly fur and let him watch the farm for her. But, no, she would stand her ground, she knew it. After all, she’d done it more than once, even when Onri had come with several friends. This would be no different, right? And yet, it was different. The foreboding she felt would not go away, no matter how hard she rammed the stick up and down in the butter churn. She looked in to see how the progress was doing, but she’d only just started. Slowly she started to chant, the stick moving up and down rhythmically.
“The Word holds the world in his hand. He helps all the weak of this land. He breaks the power of the evil lords. They flee at the thunder of his words.” At the word “thunder” the front door suddenly caved in, as if it had been struck by a great rock. The girl leaped to her feet, fingers curling around the hilt of her gun. She was shaking so hard, she could hardly hold it steady at the black-robed figure in the doorway.
“Alick!” she whispered and then continued in a louder voice. “What do you want?” She couldn’t keep the trembling out.
“Put the gun down, now!” came the command. She complied instantly, her other hand fumbling for the whistle.
“I have come to take you to where you belong, Tabea,” he continued, his voice like a shard of glass.
“I belong here, waiting,” she tried to answer bravely. The wizard advanced a step, his brown eyes menacing.
“You don’t. You belong where I say you belong. You are coming with me!” Her fingers finally closed around the small device. She could almost feel the assurance of Dylan’s presence. In a swift move she put it to her mouth and blew. No sound was heard from it, but a good ways away, the Wolf cocked his head, turned, and charged off the through the wood.
Alick reached forward and yanked the whistle out of her mouth in the same move ripping the chain away from her throat. A deep red welt began to burn its way to the surface of her neck.
“So, you will resist, will you?” he cried, menace in his voice. Suddenly something in the girl snapped and she leaped forward, face contorted in rage, fingers clawing at the face of the wizard. He shoved her back, not letting go of her dress, but making a huge tear in the front of it. She tore away from him, leaving part of the fabric in his hand and then attacked again. In the same instant his hand shot out, striking her across the side of her face. She fell to the ground, dazed and dizzy. Suddenly it was as if she’d had her limbs torn off and replaced again in the wrong places. She jumped to her feet, but on all fours. A sharp hissing came from between her teeth, rounded black ears laid back, blue eyes burning with anger and hate. She leaped up and one huge black paw shot forward, amber claws extended. It caught the wizard on the shoulder, hurling him to the ground. She continued on her momentum, flying out the door and through the group of men, who vainly tried to catch her, out into the woods.