Disoriented, I awoke to find myself astride the Captain’s bed. The sound of heavy breathing alerted me to someone’s presence within the room. Rolling onto my left side, a wave of vertigo hit me as I swung my legs off of the bed and tried to stand. I fell back as the room spun around before me.
“There’s no use in gettin’ up, laddie,” Erendir replied as he picked up a bowl sitting on a nearby table and strode in my direction. “The gash across the side of yer face needs fixin’.”
I blinked and nodded carefully. “Ya should have told me ya were keeping someone confined within your quarters. It would have saved me the guesswork, as well as this blasted injury.”
He set the bowl on the night stand and went to fetch a small stool to sit on. “I couldnae, ye know ‘at. Were too many eyes and ears to become privy to mah secrets, I’d be hung for treason.”
“Who is she?” I asked as he sat down, watching as he pulled a piece of tattered cloth from the murky solution inside the bowl.
He wrung the excess water and gently pressed it against the wound. I hissed as a slight burn began to spread as the solution seeped into my skin. “Relax, laddie. Somers, himself, prepared this for ye. It’s supposed tah allow the wound tah heal quickly.”
“The man has the ability to heal another. Why doesn’t he do so?”
He snorted and dropped the bloodied cloth into the water. “Consider this a trophy of war.”
“A trophy of war?” I balked, bolting into an upright position. My eyesight swam as the vertigo insisted on continuing its deadly assault upon my senses. Groaning, I fell back yet again, ignoring the tight feel of the skin slowly healing across my temple.
“Aye, boy – a trophy of war. Had ye listened, ye would nae be in this situation in the first place.”
Ignoring the pain, I replied, “Had I listened!? Forgive me, Captain, but ya didn’t mention anything about what was waiting for me here. My condition is by no fault of mine, but rather yours.”
He picked up a small glass container that sat near the bowl and popped its lid free. Grabbing a clean cloth, he slathered the foul-smelling poultice across the jagged edge of the cut and slapped it hard against my skin. Holding it there tightly, he carefully considered his next words. “I couldnae. I thought I told ye ‘at.”
I grimaced as he wound a strip of cloth about my head and secured it into place with several metal clips. “Ya could have done so discreetly, sir. It would have prevented this.”
“No, I couldnae. Nae then, anyway. There’s a traitor in our midst. I couldnae risk it.”
“I’m nae sure yet. It’s why I must be careful.”
Staring at the ceiling, I counted the minute cracks spattered across the plaster as I thought about everything that had happened ever since I’d discovered Quigley’s defection. Could all of this be tied together? I wondered. If so, how does this unknown woman tie into it?
Feeling a tad better, I rose carefully and swung my legs off the bed. Erendir helped me to sit up completely, holding a small bottle of smelling salts beneath my nose. I thanked him for the gesture and pushed the container away.
“Who is she?”
He looked away, unable to meet my eyes. A dull flush of color erupted across his cheeks. “Princess Daeanyara,” he admitted.
“She’s the daughter of Masquell Eridanus, leader of the wolf clan, Foroberos. They hail from deep within the Golsamin Mountains.”
“Who, or what, are they?”
He stared at me as if I’d lost my head. “Shape-shifters . . . people who transform intah other forms or identities at will. In this case, Daeanyara and her people are able tah change intah wolves. This is the very ability ‘at lies dormant within ye.”
“Th – That’s impossible!”
“Nay, laddie. It’s truly possible. Our world is full of many thin’s we doona understand. This is one of them.”
“But how?” I sputtered. “How can I be a shape-shifter when I’ve never been anything other than what I am now?”
Shifting uncomfortably within his chair, Erendir took a breath and said, “Yer a shape-shifter, Marius, blessed with the powers of the wolf. Once yer dormant powers have been unlocked yoo’ll be able to change at will whenever ye want.”
“I – I . . . no, that can’t be!”
He held up a hand and continued the impromptu history lesson. “Please, let mah finish. I understand all of this must come as a shock to ye, but it’s imperative ‘at I tell ye. It’ll help you tah understand what’s required of ye.”
The corners of his mouth tilted upwards as he smiled briefly. “The wolf clan ye belong tah is called the Kandenkine. They are tied tah the wolves of the forest, specifically the ones residin’ within the Tolsian Mountains just off of the borders of Denmarden.”
“Aye. We’ll get to ‘at history lesson anotha day, though. It’s too long a story.”
“Yer the rightful heir of this clan; the Prince, if ye will. They’re yer people, Marius.”
“But . . .”
The look upon his face was deadly as he glared back at me. “Don’t interrupt mah.”
“I’m warnin’ ye!”
Sighing with dejection, I let him proceed. “Fine.”
“Yer mother died when ye were but two-years-old. She was caught in a trap deep within the Golsamin Mountains, one left behind by one of the Scholl. They were tryin’ to harness the powers found deep within yer people’s blood. Hell, they still are.
“Yer father thought it prudent to send ye intah the King’s hands. In his mind, ye were better off here within his employ instead of out there in the wild. This was his way of ensurin’ yer safety. Yer true nature was kept from ye coz he felt ye weren’t ready to know about it yet. With war loomin’ on the horizon, we can’t wait any longer for ye tah make the needed transformation naturally. I’m afraid yer dormant abilities must be induced so ‘at ye can take yer rightful place amongst yer people.”
My mind refused to grasp what he was telling me. It just wasn’t possible. Me, a shape-shifter? And a wolf, at that? No, I thought, it can’t be. “That’s nonsense, Erendir. I’m human,” I replied, as I frowned at the thought of it. The gesture was enough to break open the wound. A strangled moan slipped past my lips as pain flared anew and blood began to flow, coursing down the side of my face in the process.
Gasping with exasperation, he pushed me back down onto the bed. “Ye, fool! Stop resistin’ the effects of the solution. Ye should have healed by now!”
“What have ya given me?” I demanded.
“We need ye tah understand, laddie. Ye must allow the transformation to take place.”
My heart hammered within my chest as panic set in. Oh, God. What is he doing to me?
“This transformation ya speak of will never take place. I’m not what ya say I am. I swear it!” I gulped, unable to catch my breath. I was hyperventilating and there was nothing I could do to stop it.
Rising, Erendir walked over to the table standing to the left of the fire place and rummaged through a medical kit perched upon its glossy surface. He pulled out a tiny bottle full of a clear liquid and a very sharp needle. The items were clearly not of our realm.
While I had never seen them before, part of me instinctively knew what they were and where they’d come from — Earth. There was only one person I knew of who could have brought them here; the beautiful and unobtainable, Lianna Moriarti, or as she was known here within our world, Princess Tyale Erania Poshpot.
Sliding the tip of the needle into the bottle’s neck, he drew the plunger back carefully as he measured the solution. Pressing the piston momentarily, a stream of liquid shot out as he removed the air bubbles. “Daeanyara’s presence would have made all of this quicker and so much easier,” he murmured as he whirled about and strode back over to me.
Ignoring the throbbing inside of my head, I shrunk away from him. I refused to allow him to inject me with the unknown liquid. “Don’t ya dare!”
“It won’t kill ye, boy. It’s just a painkiller.”
“I don’t believe ya.”
“Ye need tah relax, Marius. This will help ye tah achieve it. Had ye proceeded with caution upon opening the damned door, this entire mess could have been avoided,” he scolded as he grabbed my arm and yanked me towards him.
My instincts took over. The throbbing pain was forgotten as I lashed out at him with every ounce of my remaining strength. Nor did I care that I was now bleeding profusely. We struggled for what seemed to be hours, but in fact, only minutes sped by. Somehow, the Captain found the opportunity he’d been looking for and the tip of the needle slid into my skin.
Pressing his thumb against the plunger, he forced the solution into my veins. He let go of me and I collapsed onto the bed with a sharp, strangled cry. My veins felt as if liquid fire were coursing through them. Whatever he had given me, it was clearly not a painkiller.
Thrashing back and forth, I moaned incoherently as spots of color danced before my eyes. I fought the effects as much as possible, even if my efforts were futile. As sweet oblivion claimed me, I sunk into the strangest dream ever.