I'd heard whispers, we all had, that King Detry kept a guild of mages in the castle. Led by the man he only referred to as his warlord and Warlord's second, Hawk. A man also know for his vicious ruthlessness.
The commander of the mages.
But I was a she-wolf only now grown. My aunt had been careful to keep me locked away in the hut because she said I was beautiful enough to tempt the male wolves under the Mating Moon.
So she and my uncle did well masking my scent and hiding that I had been given to them when my mother and father, my uncle's brother, had been killed by the wolf plague that had torn through the land.
Decimating entire packs.
"What are we looking for, My Liege." Hawk tipped his head up to squint at the king.
"We're destroying these wolf pack's. I'm tired of them feeding on the sheep in my kingdom and building walls in the forests. But if you see anything of particular interest alert me. Occasionally there's something pretty amongst the mutts. And it's amazing what a shifter wolf's body can endure comparable to a human woman's..."
That sounded terrifying. I forced myself to remain utterly still.
"Found something." I heard a man near me shouting.
Too close! I turned in a crouch to see a knight standing far too close near the shrubbery. But he was tugging a woman out by her arm.
She looked disheveled and was sobbing.
"Can I have this one, My Lord?" The knight eyed her and her torn clothes. Paying particular attention to where the gown was open in a slit along her skirt and torn across her flat belly.
The King shrugged. "As you wish. Long as you put her down when you're finished. I'll have no pups in my household."
"Yes, My Lord." The man beamed. Catching her by her brown curls in a fist and marching her in-front of him as she struggled and fought.
Seeing the knight had moved back toward the militia with his prize I knew it was my opportunity to burrow through the shrubbery and deeper into the forest.
That had been too close. But as I turned in a crouch. I found myself looking at polished boots peering from beneath a black mage's cloak. My eyes followed up and stared at Warlord's blue eyes which peered down at me in interest.
"No." I whispered.
He was so close I had no prayer of lunging from his reach.
But I can't not try. I twisted and lunged over the shrubbery in a bound. My body twisting as I tried to take wolf form to flee faster.
But my body wouldn't obey my commands. It stayed in the shape of a woman and I yelped as I had to land in a roll to keep from getting hurt along the rocks.
I kept the momentum going and rolled onto my feet. Catching my skirt as I took off in a run. My feet barely hitting the ground.
But a hazy black mist swept before me. Blocking my path. As the movement stopped it congealed into the ominous figure of the mage again.
"Please let me go." I begged trying to veer around him.
He lifted a staying hand.
"Stop." He commanded. His voice seeming to echo from far away. Smooth and hypnotic and rarely used, I sensed.
My gut dropped as I fought to lift my legs but found they adamantly refused to cooperate.
"Don't take me. I won't cooperate." My brown eyes flashed in fury. Determined to be as difficult as I had to for them to 'put me down'.
Better than the alternative.
"I don't need you too." He caught my chin and turned my face to get a look at me. Voice still echoing and deep. Making my senses feel dizzied.
From the long study he was giving me I could tell that my mud and oversized tunic were not fooling him. I wondered if anything could fool him.
He's cruel. And dangerous.
"Kill me now." I ordered.
His lips turned in a half smile behind the outline of a black goatee. "Not nearly."