Today's story is another from the Forty Isles, and follows the guardians of the Grand Duke and Duchess who are the heirs to the throne of the Forty Isles. The Guardian of the Grand Duchess is Isolde merc Gwion.
The day had ended on a sour note - made worse only by the unquenchable stench of pickling cabbage. Two travelers sat under the shade of a lone tree and watched people passing. The strawberry-blonde woman had her legs pulled up close to her chest. She wore the simplest of clothes - a pair of trousers, boots and a sleeveless tunic. She rose, her long legs stretching upward as she reached her arms above her head to bend, giving the impression of an orchid bending in a breeze.
The man, dark-haired and skinned, remained seated, though he glanced up to follow the line of her movement. "Some would compare you to a tree when you do that."
"Bows are made from trees, so I think the comparison is appropriate."
"Most people don't think of bows when they see you."
"More to their folly, isn't it?" She stretched her arms out behind her back and bent forward. "Why are we here again, anyway? Surely it wasn't because you loved their pickled cabbage, was it?"
"If you know what's good for you, you won't continue that thought, Isolde."
Isolde smirked and looked up. "What just what are you going to do, Bleddyn?" She lowered her arms and straightened up.
Bleddyn ignored the taunt, and looked back down onto the town below them. "I'll consider it."
Isolde merc Gwion, granddaughter of a former head of the Gwion Tapestry Guild, shielded her eyes from the setting sun. "You think they're down there?"
"There are four sentries at the very least."
"Is that all?"
"You make that sound as though it would be of little consequence for you to waltz in there."
"And you sound as if you don't believe me."
Isolde smirked. "Aren't you ever going to come out and ask me? Surely the dogs of the king want to know all the secrets of the Gwion."
"We know most of them."
"You think you do."
"We do; we've been around for almost a thousand years. That's plenty long enough."
Isolde reached down to pet Bleddyn's scruffy black hair. "And we've been keeping secrets for twice that age, little doggy."
"You don't look that old."
"I'm older than you are."
"By two hours."
"Oh ho! You know that much about me?"
Bleddyn shoved aside Isolde's hand and pointed to the town. "They're looking for trouble. Can't you sense that with all your Gwion abilities?"
Lifting a finger towards the town, Isolde traced a symbol on the wind and blew it towards the town. The sounds of the people talking grew louder as the nearly invisible symbol reached the buildings. With a shift of her finger, the symbol followed the same course until it stopped beside a building.
"We're going to have to do something," a male growled.
"Anything's better than this life we've been giving," a woman agreed. Her voice was lilting, like that of a beautiful song one remembered from a faint memory.
"That would be the fae," Bleddyn said.
"I know what the fae sounds like."
"Don't know what the other one is."
Isolde snorted. "Dae."
"They don't exist anymore."
"There's a whole kingdom of them on the Isle of Pencaer. I thought the Graeme would know that, but that's not who we need to destroy."
"You make it sound so simple."
"It is. We're the guardians of the Grand Duke and Duchess. Of course it's that simple."
The fact that the Grand Duke and Duchess were the heirs to the High King and Queen of the Forty Isles made their position strong, but not as strong as that of the Captains of the King and Queen. Those positions, their immediate officers, were held by two wizened individuals who had served the royal family for over thirty years each.
The current assignment was meant to build the camaraderie of Isolde and Bleddyn who would work as the captains upon the ascent of their current wards. The couple were hiding nearby to celebrate their first-year anniversary.
Isolde twisted her hand around and brought the symbol back. "We know they're in that room. What else would you like to know?"
"The best way inside without being seen."
"Says that man who's sitting on a hill outside the city obviously watching them."
"What the?! I thought you put wards around us."
Isolde slapped her thigh and bent over laughing. "Oh, ho! I love your face!" She pointed to her own and mirrored his expression.
"Are you certain you're not a dog?"
"I'm not the one who turns into a big fuzzy wolf." She took a deep breath and released it. "I'll go down and take a look to double check on everything."
"It would be better if I went," Bleddyn argued, beginning to rise.
"Nope. In this case, it will be me. I can hide behind the wings."
Bleddyn stared at her. "Wings? They exist?"
Isolde wrapped herself up into a shape of a raven. "Of course they do," she answered before flying off to the building she had marked.
Their mission had been simple enough - find a female fae, known for her bright citron hair, and capture her. She was a known criminal bent on world domination. Why, as one of the fae, she hadn't simply sent waves crashing, rocks tumbling or any other number of things happening remained to be unknown. She was a known criminal, and that was enough.
It was the growling voice which had spoken first that concerned Isolde. Each race, each kingdom had their own sound. Humans of Caergwlân, her home kingdom among the Forty Isles did not sound like humans on Eguzki, the desert kingdom. No one sounded like those from the Mageless Isle. The fae had their odd musical quality; the dae, few as they were, had a similar sound though darker. One was airy, the other earthy. One was fire, and the other water. Even if a dae and fae sounded similar, upon meeting they would take opposites.
Perhaps it was in their blood to oppose one another?
The dae was not a dae, though. No. Worse, or better depending how one looked at it. With extensive families such as the Gwion, it wasn't uncommon for someone born to not know of Gwion ancestry - the Heritage Gwion as they were known. Those like Isolde who were born to the Gwion were known as Blood Gwion.
The Graeme family, like Bleddyn, had a similar groups. The Graemes inherited a family name so Bleddyn was Bleddyn Graeme, unlike the Gwion who remained children, merc for daughter, ap for son. For some, though, they did not know about their heritage, and transforming into a wolf came easily, especially for the young.
The shaggy red dog sitting at the table had spoken. It wasn't one of the Wolves of Abernath who were part of the Talking Animals, but something else. The only other thing would be the Graeme. Based upon his size and general demeanor, his age would have been somewhere in the early teens -thirteen at the eldest.
How did someone lose a Graeme?
The fae female sat with her back against the wall watching the group. There were other fae, no dae, though; humans, a dwarf and a smattering of talking animals. Oh, and there was a centaur and a minotaur. Of course they would show up.
All totaled, it would be too much for the two of them to handle on their own even using storyteller magic.
"She's in there," Isolde said, upon her return to Bleddyn. "I think you should take her back to Graeme as soon as you can get close enough; I'll look for information and records."
"I'm going to cause a ruckus going in."
"You'll be fine. I'll cloak the place in darkness and you can sneak in that way."
Isolde snorted. "As if I would use storyteller magic. You do realize it's powerful magic which has been banned in this kingdom."
"I didn't think rules stopped the Gwion."
"Normally, they don't, but this isn't the time for storyteller magic. Simple word magic will suffice."
"You used it for the raven."
"Did I?" Isolde sprinted away before Bleddyn could answer. She returned to her spot, this time hiding under her cloak. As one of the Gwion, she would protected from any attack. She could walk through fire when she was fully clothed in her magic, but today, she was the diversion.
With darkness enveloped, Isolde left Bleddyn to his task and entered farther into the building. There was always someplace they kept important information. Chances were that the dog guarded the room.
Two guarded the room - one of dwarves sat with the dog until an unholy scream ripped through the building - that of the fae being dragged away to Graeme Isle. The dwarf sprinted away with an order for the dog to remain.
Isolde appeared and stepped forward.
The dog snarled. "Stay away."
"What do they call you?"
"I'm warning you."
"Have you always been a wolf?"
His eyes shifted. "How did you know?"
"I know a man who can become a wolf when he wants too." She touched her ear. "He has the same mark here that you do." It was known as the Mark of the Graeme. In wolf form, one ear remained pointed and wolf-like, while the other, though remaining upright, was rounded and notched. All Graeme had it from birth.
"As I am."
"You were a raven earlier."
"It's the same smell."
Isolde narrowed her gaze and took a step forward. "How could you smell anything?"
The dog transformed into a boy about eleven. "My nose is extra-smart," he explained. "Only bad people can turn into animals."
"Are you bad?"
The question threw him for a moment. He shifted his weight and looked past Isolde. "Are you a fae?"
"Do I look fae?"
He shook his head. "You don't look safe, though."
"I'm not." Isolde eased to the door. "May I go inside? There might be something in there to stop the fire."
"There isn't a fire."
The alarm shrilled.
The boy jumped and glanced down the hallways to either side. "We should put the fire out. Maelinicence said there's important stuff here."
Maelinicence - the fae.
"We should protect the things inside." He opened the door and grabbed a bag to start stuffing things in it. "Grab those two bags as well." He pointed to bags on the side. "We'll take them to her."
Isolde did as instructed and followed the boy outside. "They should be here," he said once outside, up by the tree where Isolde and Bleddyn had rested.
The bell had been in his ear only. They remained fighting ... If not dead, by now. That was storyteller magic's power. To make anyone see, hear, smell whatever the story demanded. It was what made people fear the Gwion. In her sphere, she controlled the story.
The boy clenched and unclenched his fist. "You're one of them, aren't you?"
"One of whom?"
"Those storytellers. The Gwion."
He stepped away, scrambling towards the tree. "You're going to kill me, aren't you? Maelinicence said the Gwion are evil." He narrowed his eyes. "You tricked me."
"Not entirely. I only aided your story."
He looked around them. "Now I die?"
"Nope." Isolde picked up the bag he had dropped. "Now we fly."
The boy snorted. "You can't fly?"
"Course I can."
"No you can't. Well, not with me and those bags."
"You want a bet?"
"Very well. If I can fly both of us and the bags, you'll have to promise to live with my friend for a year without complaint or trouble."
Isolde opened up the flat bag she had on her back, and dropped the three large bags inside.
The boy stared at her. "How did you do that?"
"Magic." Straightening, Isolde eyed the boy a moment. "You're going to need a name."
"Don't have one."
"Then I shall call you Flancuan."
"In one of the ancient tongues, it means Red Wolf."
"Indeed. Flancuan was a great warrior who helped people." Isolde wrapped her arms around the boy and sprouted wings on her back to fly.
"We're flying," Flancuan gasped.
"How. Are you fae?"
"No; I learned this trick from them, though." Beautiful wings, light and airy, nearly invisible in the light, but now glowing in dusk carried them away from the town towards the place where the royal couple hid.
"You are a storyteller."
"We can be," Isolde admitted. "Storytellers are the most dangerous breed in the world. We give life to your dreams. Words will always be the most powerful things in the world, Flancuan."
"Flancuan," he whispered, snuggling closer to Isolde. "I like its sound."
"Go to sleep then. Your nightmare is over."
"It wasn't so bad. They fed me and clothed me."
Isolde turned towards the mountains. Maelinicence was on Graeme awaiting her trial. Would one year suffice for Bleddyn to show Flancuan about the ways of the Graeme? He had so much potential, this child for good or evil.
Just like a storyteller.