Leof sat, feeling many things. Cold, hungry, weary, scared. . .his mind had not wholly removed itself from the forest where the wolf had attacked Frore and Lady Corblin. In his mind he saw the man changing, his body contorting, the crack of Frore's staff on the wolf's jaw, and the eyes. The eyes that were actually two pair of eyes, one layering the other.
They had entered into a massive domed tent. It was almost entirely empty inside with the exception of a small smoldering campfire in the center. A hole at the top let the smoke out. Cynd had some men retrieve some dry wood and, after a bit of coaxing, Cynd had a bit of a fire burning. Leof got as close as he dared, very cold from tumbling in the snow and running in the wind.
Cynd did not speak while his guests warmed. Leof closed his eyes, shivered, and half-dozed. He opened his eyes when a blanket was draped around his shoulders.
"Looks as if you might have a touch of the chill, young one," Cynd said, standing over him. "Why, look at those lips. Blue, I would say."
Leof cracked half a smile. "I am just cold, is all. I will warm up in a minute."
"I daresay you will," he said. "I will not be having a sick boy in my camp." He sat back down and used a half charred stick to prod at the fire.
"Thank you, Leof," Lady Corblin said a few feet away. She had a blanket of her own. "You may have saved Frore's life by what you did."
"Hardly saved," Leof mumbled. "His life is as good as over."
The Lady looked sad. "Leof-"
"I see this one knows little of us and our ways," Cynd said, his voice amused, not disapproving.
"He is still learning," Lady Corblin said. "He has been through a lot the last few days."
"'Course he has. Speaking of which," he tossed the stick into the center of the flames and brushed his hands off. "Let us here the full story of the wolf in the forest."
Lady Corblin gave him a brief recounting of the wolf and the attack.
"You said that you saw that he was lost," Cynd said it in a prompting voice.
"Yes," the Lady said. "You could see it in his eyes."
"You speak as though he was articulate, though," Cynd said, musing.
"Very. He spoke clearly and well."
"An old wolf then," Cynd said. "Strange to come across one who has bothered to learn speech. That is dangerous, indeed." He looked to think for a moment. "And the city?"
Lady Corblin's face fell. "Bad. Worse than I have ever seen it. More wolves come every night. Most of them are moonsick. They demolish buildings. Most of the livestock is dead or eaten. They pound on the Service mercilessly. Some are so crazed that they eat one another."
Cynd looked pained, his eyebrows meeting in a sad frown. "And the people?"
"The survivors are not much better off. They fight. They steal. So many of them had loved ones who were lost on the first day." She sounded weary and sad. "We cannot go on like this. There is talk of seeking refuge in Tre'bon, but we both know the truth of that."
"They would never make it," Leof said, speaking up for the first time. "There are hundreds of people still alive. They could get halfway through the forest even if they traveled all day. Night would fall and the wolves would go through the people like mad through a hatter."
"The boy speaks truth," Cynd said. "Though an escape may soon be the only option left."
"I hope it will not come to that," Lady Corblin said.
Cynd looked like he might cry. "But it might. It might."
He eventually went on to ask about supplies, barricades, rescue attempts, the castle. . .almost anything that his own men had not been able to glean from a distance.
"How did they get in?" he asked.
"A hole," Leof answered. He was feeling a bit warmer now. "One long tunnel. They started digging on the southeast side of the wall and dug until they came up on the other side.
"But why not simply attack from the east?. Digging a hole under the granite. . .that must have taken months-no, years! Not only would they need to tunnel almost a mile straight in, but there is depth to reckon with. Those boulders go at least a few hundred feet into the ground. They could have easily slipped through the trees."
"Not easily," Lady Corblin said. "There are trenches and barbed fences to deal with. Guards at every major entry point and guards in tree stands. It is not so unguarded as some seem to believe."
"And it is obvious, of course," Cynd said.
"I got one of your messengers about the hole. Did he return here?"
"He did. He informed me of your suspicious, but I cringe to admit that I did not pay them much heed. At the time it seemed absurd."
"Did he tell you about Baron Quincy's servant? The scout that was the first to break through?"
"He did. Though I was sure it must have been common gossip."
"You are wiser than this Cynd," she said, almost chidingly.
He shrugged. "Perhaps. Perhaps not. No such thing has happened in all my days or the days of those before me. I found the whole tale a hard one to swallow."
The two exchanged a bit of other information before Cynd declared that it was time to eat. He showed Lady Corblin and Leof to tents and let them unload their bags. He then made sure that they were fed and, though it wasn't much, Leof was grateful for something warm.
Cynd departed from them then saying that he had business to attend to and that he would see them in the morning.
The sun was getting close to fading when two wolves came into the clearing. The first was a colossal beast, both in height and in weight. Its coat was white, tinged only by a brownish grey color running down its spine. Its eyes were lightening blue, broken only by the deep black pupil at their center. It carried its tale and head high. The second wolf was much smaller, though no less impressive. It was predominantly black, though its muzzle, the tips of its ears, paws, tail, and belly faded a bit into grayish white.
Senrid and I stood when they came in. My heart was pounding. Were they going to try and kill us? Should we run? Should I change?
Senrid put a hand on my shoulder. "Easy does it, killer." I could tell by the slight amusement in his eye that he was not in the least worried. I relaxed. The wolves were friendly then.
The wolves trotted into our clearing. The white one disappeared into the cave with the chest and wood. There were some muffled noises for a minute or so. In that time I looked over the black one. He stared back with an eerie stillness. He did not move or waiver. He simply stared at me with yellow eyes. I shuffled nervously.
Finally, the black wolf disappeared into the cave and Cynd exited. He only had a pair of tattered breeches on, his thick muscles bulging on his scruffy chest. His black beard was thicker than I remembered and his curly black mop of hair was a mess. But he was smiling a huge smile.
"Dheul!" He clapped a bear hand once on my bare shoulder. "You look to have improved since last I saw you."
His smile was infectious and I smiled back. "I feel improved."
"How goes your training?"
I honestly had not even been aware that I had been undergoing training.
Luckily Senrid answered for me. "He advances in leaps and bounds. He made two voluntary changes today, in and out of the wolf."
"Has he now?" Cynd looked me over as if seeing me for the first time. "Tell me again how old you are."
"Almost two decades, sir."
"No. In days."
"Five, sir," Senrid answered for me again. Of course. Five days since I was bitten.
He shook his head. "Fascinating."
There were some grisly noises coming from the cave. The other wolf was changing.
"Blast, but if it is not cold," Cynd muttered, rubbing his shoulders with his hands to generate warmth. "When next we come we will bring a proper set of winter clothing for that chest. This is absurd."
At first I had no idea who he was talking to, but then Gleo emerged.
"Agreed, sir." The man was as unnerving as last I saw him, if not made moreso by the fact that, like the rest of us, he had not managed to find a shirt. Only a pair of pants that were too long so that his heel stepped on the hem as he walked. He was remarkably lean, but unlike my own stick figure, he was broad in the shoulders and muscled in a way that suggested that he was accustomed to physical strain. The cold air did not seem to trouble him. He showed absolutely no emotion. His face was so flat that I found myself studying it, hoping to find even a trace of thought or feeling. Soon, however, his eyes, so devoid of color, found mine and I dropped my gaze almost instantly, feeling greatly intimidated.
"What of camp, sir?" Senrid asked. "Is all well?"
Cynd confirmed the question with a nod. "Aye. All is well. Though we will be having human visitors for the next few days."
Senrid looked thoughtful. "I see. The messenger from the city?"
"Yes. The courtier."
"She came unannounced. What if one of the men had caught her scent?"
"Ah, Senrid. You know better. The city is under siege. She was lucky to find time to come discreetly at all."
"She?" I asked.
"Discreetly, sir?" Gleo asked. I sensed that he found something amusing, but as his voice held no inflection whatsoever and I could not be sure.
"As discreetly as she could," Cynd amended. "And, yes, she."
"How do you mean, sir?" Senrid asked.
Cynd waved nonchalantly. "A lost wolf found them in the forest. Attacked her bodyguard and almost got her little friend as well." He tapped his chin. "By the way, Dheul, I have just recently met your brother. The two of you look quite alike."
I could not believe what I was hearing. "Leof? This woman brought Leof?"
"Yes, she did. Proved to be a good decision. The boy managed to run back to camp and inform me and my men."
"Are you telling me," I started, a bit irritated. "That the intruder than ran into camp was my own brother?"
Cynd chuckled as if he had heard a funny joke. "The irony, eh?"
"I have to go back! I have to see him!" I said desperately
Cynd's expression grew dark. "No. You cannot see him."
"Why not? He is my brother! I would never-"
"Boy," Cynd said, his voice reverberating with command. "You have yet to smell human blood. You do not even have the smallest inkling of what it can do to your mind."
"Think on it, Dheul," Senrid told me more gently. "I am a well-controlled wolf of seven years and I went half mad when you came within half a mile of me. Look. It will be dark by the time you return. It is not safe."
On the inside I was a raging turmoil of anger, frustration, and hurt. But I knew what they said to be true. I could no longer trust myself. Not even around my own kin.
Cynd cleared his throat. "Right then. To business. We have come on an important matter. Dheul, you must be taught our ways. If you are not taught you can become a danger to yourself as well as those you love. Normally, a mentor is assigned to a changeling and the two remain a pair until the changeling has sufficient control to mentor his own student. I had thought to assign you to Senrid as the two of you seem to have developed a bit of a friendship in your time here and Senrid could do with the practice. Gleo, however, has informed me that he would like to volunteer his services and teach you himself."
"But sir-" Senrid interrupted.
"Peace, young one," Cynd said holding up a hand. "I knew, however, that this decision would cause you to feel slighted, Senrid, so I have come to a decision. I will allow Gleo to teach Dheul to the best and fullest of his ability. However, you, Senrid, are to have a say in Dheul's apprenticeship. You will help Dheul to practice and, because Gleo is not as comfortable with speech as you, you will still answer Dheul's questions and explain the subtleties of the werewolves lifestyle. Is this agreeable?"
"Yessir," Senrid answered, relaxing.
"And to you, Dheul? It is your training after all. Are you comfortable working with both of these men?"
I glanced at Senrid, with whom I felt most comfortable, and at Gleo who made me most uncomfortable of all. . .I decided that the two roughly cancelled one another out.
"Yessir. I would be most pleased to work with them both."
"It is decided then. Unfortunately, this puts me in a bit of bind. I have a potential threat lurking near my camp and my second-in-command five miles into the forest. At the same time, I do not feel comfortable leaving you alone in the forest for the next three days with Senrid alone for protection and guidance."
Senrid looked a bit put out at this. "I can handle my own, sir."
"I am well aware that you can," Cynd said. "All the same. You will be returning to with me this night and Gleo will remain here for the next three days and nights and, should all be well, you will return then."
I felt a stone settle at the bottom of my stomach at the thought of spending three days with Gleo alone in the forest, but I nodded my consent.
Arrangements were quickly made. A messenger would be sent every night with a simple update. Cynd informed us that a group of four men who were of our own tribe were two miles east of us and, should we need serious help, we could seek them out. They, like Senrid and I, had fled when Leof had turned up at camp.
I said a quick goodbye to Senrid, thanked him briefly, and we split with a bit of an awkward handshake, no longer sure if we should hug like we had before. Cynd bid me farewell and, with frightening speed, shifted into the massive shaggy white wolf, quickly followed by the slick silver form of Senrid.
And the silence of Cleofa Dofian Bealu resumed.
Gleo was worse than unnerving. He almost never spoke. It was disconcerting. For the remainder of the evening, he simply sat and stared at the campfire Senrid and I had built at the mouth of the cave. The sun disappeared in a parade of colors. Orange, gold, purple, blue, reflected off the white crystallizing snow, all blending and forming and fading and reappearing in a silent performance. It looked for the first night in two days that the moon and stars would be visible.
I was so startled by the noise that I jumped from my position in front of the fire. Gleo sat across from me, shadows playing on his cheeks and under his eyes from the fire and the fading sun.
"I am sorry. I did not hear," I said and wrapped my blanket tighter.
"Why? Breathe." The last word was a command, not a question.
I took a deep breath and let it out. I found myself holding my breath in his presence, having planted some irrational fear that he would be irritated by the sound if my breath came to loudly.
"You are scared," he stated. His grey eyes bored into me and his gaze did not even flicker.
"No," I said. "Not scared."
"You are scared," he repeated.
"Only nervous," I said.
"No," he insisted. "Scared. Good to be scared. Good for man to be scared of wolf." He paused. "Breathe," he commanded.
I was holding my breath again. I let it out. His eyes finally drifted back to the cave outside. My whole body relaxed.
We were quiet for a long time. The silence was beginning to hurt my head. I considered the possibility that holding my breath was the cause for that, but Gleo's eyes met mine and I suddenly felt like a trapped rabbit for two whole seconds before he turned away again, and decided that, no, it was neither. It was Gleo.
I had a dozen questions about the man that I wanted answers to, but I was petrified at the thought of a conversation with him. It meant he would look at me and I didn't want that at all.
"Others talk more," he said. Even though I had been watching him when he said it, it made me jump again. His voice was not especially deep or loud, but it held a power that made me want to squirm.
"Others have less respect for thinking," I said.
His eyebrows met in the barest of frowns. "Thinking?"
I nodded. "I am letting you think."
"But you desire questions. I can see your eyes," he said, stringing together the longest sentence that I had ever heard him utter.
"How did you become a werewolf?"
His eyes were persistently unmoving. "Same. Full moon. Wolf bite me. Stayed alive. Changed."
"But you. . .you were a wolf first, right?"
"Yes. Wolf first. Man second." He paused, staring me down. "Breathe, changling."
I forced myself to take continuous deep breathes.
I imagined what it must be like. Gleo was forced to remain a human because his wolf form, his natural form, had been cursed. And then when the full moon came. . .he got his only chance to be wholly what he truly was meant to be. I knew why he was in Cynd's tribe. Losing his mind during the change was not an option. Losing his mind meant losing himself entirely.
"You are a brave wolf," I said finally.
"Yes. Brave man also."