Hihi, I'm finally back, or mostly back. I'm still stuck with writer's block so I dusted off and earlier fan fic, edited it and changed the names to protect the innocent and so forth and here are the first 10 chapters in one easy go. This was the first thing I ever wrote so it needed a lot of revision-also it was based on/ inspired by/ a fusion with the book Changeling Prince by V.V. Velde-I did come up with changes in the story line, original characters and so on so I think it's fair to post it here. I hope so anyway.

I should have more new fic soon, but fixing up this story is a nice way to ease into that.

The next ten chapters should be up by the weekend and so you won't get stuck waiting for the end long! Thanks for your patience with me and your support. Sandy

Changeling

Chapter 1

It was the cold that woke him more than the pain. He was lying naked in the snow, the taste of blood filling his mouth.
He could not dredge up any memory past lying down in front of the fire in Kolya's keep. Nothing but darkness and waking in pain.

He didn't think that he had angered the sorcerer enough to be punished but you could never really be sure with Kolya.

Of course, it might be a practical joke on the part of one of the others. Some of them would find it amusing but it would have been difficult to do. He wasn't sure of his exact age but he thought at least 18 and he had been with Kolya for almost all that time. The years had taught him to sleep lightly.

Among other things.

The pain was coming from his right leg and when he looked he wished he hadn't. A metal trap was biting into his ankle.
He had hoped the pain spoke of an injury that could account for the blood in his mouth but this wouldn't have caused it.

He managed to raise his head a little before vomiting. He brought up what he had expected, raw meat, hardly even chewed. A wolf's dinner.

He quickly looked away from the mess. Long ago he used to look, searching frantically for signs that what he had eaten hadn't been human. But he had been caught at it and Blaine had gloated and teased. He had told Lovel he had seen him kill and eat a child while in wolf form for several days. Lovel refused to believe him and they had fought. Kolya had finally stepped in and punished them both.

He continued to heave until he only brought up bile. The combination of the sickness and the cold brought tears to his eyes.
It certainly wasn't the pain of metal teeth grinding on bone or emotion of any sort. Even though Kolya wasn't here to enforce his will on Lovel, the training held.

Kolya found crying an annoyance and had beaten it out of Lovel by the time he was four. That had been when Kolya told him the pelt on his bed was his mother. He had cried then and Kolya had beaten him so savagely that he had been forced to waste magical healing on Lovel to keep him alive.

He had no memories of his mother, of what life had been like as a wolf cub. Neither did he remember being captured or the first human transformation Kolya had worked on him. He had spent most of his life in human form which might be why he was different than the others and preferred it to his natural form.

He racked his brain for any infraction serious enough to cause Kolya to change him from sleep. It was a dangerous trick for when he became a wolf he lost all awareness of being anything else. He would attack anything around him in the keep. He felt nausea well up in him again at the thought that what he had emptied from his stomach could have been one of his companions. He willed the sickness away; he would have a hard enough time surviving the night without any added weakness.

He curled up as best he could with his injured leg. It wouldn't do any good to struggle. Either Kolya knew what had happened and would get him when he was ready or Kolya didn't know. In the second case if he managed to get the trap loose he would probably die of cold and blood loss before he found shelter.

He knew Kolya was somewhere nearby at any rate .His magic only worked within a certain distance. If he had strayed too far he would have stayed a wolf.

Even if he suffered frostbite and lost fingers and toes, Kolya could heal him. He had before, although never without grumbling. So he might as well sleep if he could. As he drifted off, he couldn't help wondering if Kolya's healing could raise the dead. He hoped not, maybe someday the sorcerer would overestimate his endurance and he would be free.

Chapter 2

He awoke in his usual place by the fire. The pain was so unbearable that he was surprised he had regained consciousness. But then he registered Kolya's voice nearby and understood. He had healed him enough to restore awareness and was waiting for some acknowledgement.. He thought about feigning unconsciousness for a few more minutes but he was afraid he would be caught. Kolya was already angry, he didn't dare risk it.

He opened his eyes and tried to focus. Kolya knelt at his side and when he noticed Lovel's open eyes he smoothed back his hair gently and spoke.

"Brace yourself."

The pain flared white hot through him. He thought he remained quiet but it was difficult to be sure. Of course it was possible that Kolya actually wanted him to scream. He could never tell with any certainty which approach would please the man. He only knew he was expected to figure it out and woe to him when he failed.

This time it seemed he had guessed right and Kolya kissed him on the forehead before rising to go. The pain was, if anything, worse than before although Lovel could see that his injuries were healed. This was normal.

Kolya usually managed to heal injuries in a way that would leave the patient weak and pain ridden for days. It was his way of insuring his people weren't careless. It also expressed his displeasure at being forced to use healing on them at all. That he was often responsible for the injury was beside the point. No one had ever had the nerve to point it out to him in any case.

He must have passed out then. When he woke he realized he was cold. The others had dragged him from the choice spot nearest the fire while he was unconscious. They also became bold enough to kick him surreptitiously in passing although he kept his blanket and he was still being fed. Apparently Kolya didn't want his healing to go to waste. If he had indicated otherwise Lovel would be dead by now. Weakness was an invitation to murder here, there were always those waiting to move into a more dominant position. He had held his place at the top for some time now and had no intention of losing it. He would have to do something quickly or face a serious challenge.

He bided his time and when the next passer-by kicked him he grabbed the man's foot and pulled him down. He slammed the mans head twice against the stone floor before releasing him. He looked around and saw that everyone was averting their eyes and signalling 'no threat'. Except Blaine of course. He was next in line and pushed constantly. Lovel didn't feel up to a fight with him just yet. He ignored his mocking laughter and rose, keeping his face neutral.
He was surprised by Kolya's voice behind him.

"About time you stopped lazing around. I want to see you in my chambers."

He swept off leaving Lovel to catch up as best he could.

He found some clothes and dressed, trying to hide the effort it involved. It wouldn't do to show Blaine how weak he was, he didn't want to encourage an attack.

He would have to deal with Blaine eventually but wanted to put it off as long as he could. It wasn't that he was particularly fond of Blaine but he would rather not kill him. For one thing, Kolya tended to favour Blaine and might take it badly. Also, it would take some effort. Blaine was a bear in his natural form and incredibly strong.

And too, he was at least a familiar presence if not a friend. He thought this might be a human feeling and wondered about it. Kolya would probably take it as more evidence that he was a failed experiment. After Lovel he only took full grown animals for his band. He claimed Lovel had been a total waste of time, not fierce or cunning enough for a wolf and a most unsatisfactory human.

When he finally made it to Kolya's rooms he heard voices within. After a second he realized it was Kin. He paused a bit, debating the wisdom of interrupting the two. But, he had been summoned and finally got up his nerve to knock.

He was told to enter and went in to see Kin going over what seemed to be an inventory list of weapons and food supplies with Kolya. He wondered why this was necessary, while it was true that Kin, as weapons master would know what weapons were on hand he certainly couldn't see him bothering with the kitchen supplies.

While the lists were read out and commented on he took the leisure to ponder on Kin. He had been there as long as Lovel could remember. He trained the band and led them when there were travellers nearby to rob. Although it was never called robbery, Kolya preferred the term " road toll". It came to the same thing. Either the travellers paid what was asked or they were robbed and usually killed. And the payment due depended on Kin's whim that day.

Lovel had never seen him in any form but human so perhaps he was like Kolya. He never seemed to age and he was stronger and quicker than any of the others. Lovel had never seen Kolya attempt to punish him in any way either. Sometimes it almost seemed as is Kolya was a little afraid of him. But that must be nonsense. What Kolya feared, he destroyed.

Lovel noticed Roslin standing on the balcony, flute in hand. He looked frailer than ever today. His bones stood out from his pale skin and his eyes were shadowed. Lovel didn't think he would last much longer. The bespelled birds never did. Kolya would capture them for their beauty and music and they would starve, or die of cold in the winter. Then he would capture and bespell another. He had taken to calling them all by the same name to save himself trouble.

Lovel looked away. He hated the sorrow that hung over the bird people; he had tried to think of some way to make things easier for them but had no idea how. He had tried to keep the last one warm in the winter rains, given him stolen cloaks and blankets but it just seemed to draw his dying out longer.

He suddenly realized the voices had grown silent. He drew his attention back to Kolya in time to avoid his lapse being noticed. At least he hoped so. Kolya gave him a thin lipped smile.

"Questions?"

He thought frantically, inventory, the rooms in slight disarray, his summons...

"You are going on a trip?"

Kolya gestured him closer and when he came, reached out and stroked his face.

"And?"

Lovel tried to guess what he meant, this was nerve wracking.

"You are taking some of us?"

It was worth a try, if he didn't and he went very far they would all revert and tear each other to bits.

"Very good. Why did I let you change back to wolf?"

Would this never be done? He had no idea, this might be one of the times he was supposed to beg forgiveness for no apparent reason but he was too tired and sick to care much.

"My Lord?'

Kolya rolled his eyes.

"I tire of this wilderness. It is too small a stage. I have decided a town would be a nice change. Those who accompany me will have to act as human as you pretend to be. Gentlemen are not attended by beasts. So, I had to let you revert to true form to remind you of your place, to make sure you behaved. Understand?"

He nodded. In other words, he had been punished for the principle of the thing.

"Are you sure?"

Kolya put his hand on Lovel's head and the pain began. He felt the room falling around him, his vision went grey and he began to lose sense of his surrounding. All he was conscious of was hunger and the scent of prey nearby. He heard a small scream and saw Roslin trying to put more space between them. Then it was over.

He lay panting, hugging himself as if he could protect his humanity that way. Roslin was trembling by the balcony rail and he wished he could reassure him. He drew himself upright slowly, still dizzy from the rapid change. Kin was standing behind him and he could feel blood running down the back of his neck where he must have grabbed him. Kin's spiked bracers had dug into him but he knew enough not to acknowledge the wound. It was miner enough anyway.

Kolya spoke again.

"You will behave properly with people while we are in town. If asked, you will tell people you are from ...from the Holy Land. Understood?"

Lovel wanted to point out he had never dealt with people except to rob or kill them and had no idea what proper behaviour was but that would have been suicidal. He nodded, trying to look as though he had some clue as to what a holy land was.

Kin spoke up. "The Holy Land is far to the East. There has been war there for a very long time."

Lovel was grateful. It didn't help much but it was an unexpected kindness.

Kolya continued:
"So when you do something totally stupid people will attribute it to being from foreign parts. Now, stop wasting my time and go make yourself useful."

He rose gratefully and began to back out of the room.

"Lovel?"

"Yes Lord?"

"Get me another songbird before we leave."

He glanced at Roslin and nodded sadly.

Chapter 3

A week later the band was gathered in the courtyard and waiting for the word to move out. The wagons were loaded, horses were saddled and ready to go. The only thing left to do was decide who went and who stayed.

Kin had returned from making arrangements in town that morning and was helping Kolya with this task. There were thirteen horses ready to go and twice that number of men in the company. Lovel tried to seem unworried. He had done a good job organizing the move and hoped that he hadn't offended Kolya in some unknown way that would get him left here.

The only thing he could think of that might anger him was a short scuffle with Blaine a few days back. He had just left the new songbird off in Kolya's room when Blaine had attacked him out of the blue. Neither of them had been hurt badly and the fight was over almost before it began. Roslin had happened upon them in the hallway and Blaine had backed off immediately.

The incident puzzled him. He couldn't see any reason either for the attack or the ending of it. Blaine had said little to him since and seemed less inclined to joke around than usual. He had even been fairly cooperative in getting the move set up.

He was lost in his thoughts when he caught a movement from the corner of his eye. It was Kin and he had grabbed him by the shoulder before he could get away.

Kin gave him a shake.
"Those who do not stay alert tend to die"

He remained silent.

Kin turned to Kolya.

"Are you sure about this one? I think he has outlived his usefulness. Perhaps you should leave him with me."

Kolya thought for a moment and then shook his head.

"He may still come in handy, if nothing else he might do for the luck sacrifice when we arrive."

Kin let him go and Kolya laughed.

"Don't pout Kin, there will be plenty left for you here. Lovel, mount up, we're going."

He tried to appear calm as he climbed into the saddle. He discreetly looked around and saw that Blaine had also been picked to go. He in turn was studying the group and Lovel could see him flash a fleeting smile in Roslin's direction. The new songbird had been caged and travelled in Kolya's wagon and Roslin was left to ride with the company.

Lovel had been surprised that Roslin was still with them, he assumed that Kolya was saving him for a handy sacrifice.

The temperature had dropped and Lovel noted that Roslin had a number of warm cloaks wrapped about him. As Lovel hadn't gotten them for him and Kolya wouldn't have bothered, he suspected that Blaine was responsible. He didn't know why he would do something like that; it was strange and inexplicable behaviour from him.

He was still thinking about it as they rode out.

Chapter 4

With the miseries of travelling in the damp cold, Kolya's temper was worse than usual. Everyone tried to stay as far from him as possible. By the third day, Lovel was relieved when Kolya curtly informed him that he would go ahead with a small group and leave Lovel and some of the others to follow with the wagons. This would save Kolya from spending another night out in the cold and the wagons would be able to get in the next morning.

After Kolya left with half the company, Lovel was stuck trying to impose some kind of order on the rest of the group. This went better than he had hoped, mainly because Blaine didn't attempt to cause trouble.

He and Roslin had been in the group that stayed with the wagons and they both seemed pre-occupied. They almost seemed to be avoiding each other. While that would have been normal a month ago now it seemed strange. Perhaps things were getting back to normal. Lovel was surprised at feeling a bit of sadness over this. It had been nice somehow to think that Blaine had befriended the songbird.

They set up camp for their last night on the road and Lovel set watches. The night passed quietly and when they rose in the morning all seemed well. They were breaking camp by the time Lovel noticed that Roslin was missing.

He began to question the others, hoping to hear that someone had seen him that morning. Unfortunately, no one remembered seeing him since the night before. Lovel was livid. If he arrived without Roslin there would be hell to pay. If he took the time to search for him they would be late and, again, there would be hell to pay. Kolya would blame him in either case and he had a point. No one should have been able to just wander away without the watch noting it. At least he would have had some idea of where to begin searching if everyone had been doing their job. As it was, he couldn't trust the others to look for him, it had been his responsibility and he was stuck with trying to fix the problem. He told the others to wait for his return and set off, circling the camp, searching for tracks.

He cast twice around camp before finding a possible trail. He followed grimly, hoping the others were not ignoring his orders and planning to arrive at town without him, making him look worse than usual. He had to find Roslin in a hurry! He managed to close in on him about mid day; he had taken refuge in a tree at the edge of the woods. He approached warily but Roslin must have been too tired to make a run for it. He let Lovel get to the base of the tree without moving.

He looked up and found his anger slipping away. Roslin looked bedraggled and blue with cold. He was huddled in his nest of cloaks and seemed to be about to doze off. His eyes widened when he noticed Lovel but other than that he gave no sign. Lovel called up to him.

"Come down right now!"

He shook his head silently, lank red hair sliding over his shoulders with the motion.

"Don't be ridiculous! You have no choice! You'll die here!"

"I'll die anyway."

His voice was quiet and matter of fact. Lovel couldn't think of any good reply to this, it was simple truth.

"If you keep going you'll change back. You'll be stuck in the cold with no shelter. At least in town you have a chance."

"If I stay close enough to town I may be able to stay as I am, perhaps Kolya won't bother to remove the spell if he thinks I'm dead or gone beyond reach."

"I have to take you back. You know that!"

"Lie. Say you couldn't find me."

"He'll know! He'll kill me, quickly if I'm lucky!"

Roslin seemed unmoved. He closed his eyes.

"You will have to climb up here to get me. And if you try it I'll jump. You'll end up with a dead bird to present to Kolya and I doubt he'll be pleased."

Lovel ran his hands nervously through his already wild hair. He couldn't see any way to force Roslin back without killing him.

"Who let you sneak off?"

That got a response. Roslin sat up, looking alarmed.

"No one. I just left quietly, no one noticed."

"I don't think so. I think you had help. Should I return without you and share that thought with Kolya?"

Roslin looked pained.
"He would still blame you, it wouldn't make any difference."

"Maybe. Or maybe he would just kill Blaine. You never know."

Lovel fought down rising guilt. He had every right to save himself however he could. It was Roslin who was in the wrong here!

Roslin looked down at him for a long moment and then said slowly:

"Would you really do that?"

"Roslin, think! Whether I do or not, the most likely end is you changing back and freezing or starving to death! You won't even know why! You'll forget him!"

"No."
He spoke quietly and with finality.

Lovel took a deep breath. He felt lost, he knew what he should do and he couldn't. Kolya was right. He was a total failure.

"I'll say I couldn't find you."

He turned away and left without looking back.

Chapter 5

He got back to camp and got everyone moving again. He answered no questions and when one of the others tried to press him on it, he hit him. Once he had done that the matter was dropped. Lovel thought Blaine was looking at him in a quizzical way but he ignored it. He had made his decision and that was that.

They arrived at the town gates before dark. There were guards posted but they didn't seem particularly alarmed or even interested in a band of strangers arriving out of the wilderness. Lovel went before the others and explained their business.

"We are of the household of the Lord Kolya. He should have arrived here yesterday."

One of the guards gave a laconic nod.

"We do not know where he is staying."

The guards both looked up at that. One of them shrugged but the other said:
"I think he's at the manor house by the cathedral."

Lovel looked about himself as though he had some clue as to what a cathedral looked like. The guard who had spoken frowned and pointed in the direction of a tall spire topped with a cross.

"That way."

Lovel nodded and motioned the others to follow him. He felt edgy inside the walls. There were too many people here, and too little room to avoid them. He tried to keep an eye on the others to forestall trouble. If they felt as ill at ease as he did they might get out of hand and attack someone simply for crowding them.

After a few false starts he managed to get the group to what he hoped was the correct manor. There was a man at the gate that he didn't recognize. Lovel thought he must be a true human. He walked out to greet him and informed him that the Lord Kolya had told him to show them where to unload the wagons and then lead Lovel to his lordships rooms as soon as that was done.

Lovel tried to hide his fear. He methodically helped unload the wagons and then followed the servant to Kolya's rooms. Kolya ushered him in with a look that boded no good.

"About time! What the hell happened?"

"Roslin ran off. I delayed the group while I tried to find him."
He waited for doom to fall but Kolya seemed no angrier than before.

"I've had a job waiting for you all day! Come along."

Lovel couldn't believe his luck. Kolya seemed pre-occupied with other matters. At least for the moment he was out of danger.

He followed Kolya to a room in the lower levels. He slowed as they approached, even through the wooden door he could smell the blood.

(This must be his spell room. He's wasting no time.)

Kolya unlocked the door and strode into the room. Lovel followed more slowly. In the middle of the room there was a large table. On it lay the body of a bear. Blood had pooled and clotted around it. Lovel thought he must have been killed in human form, he would have fought in this form and there was no sign of that.

"You had better get someone to help you get rid of the body."

Lovel hid his surprise. He wondered if Kolya had neglected to note this drawback of living among people. You could hardly just leave the bodies of large animals in the yard or something. He hoped Kolya had some further instructions, he doubted that he could sneak the body outside the town gates and had no other ideas.

Kolya must have sensed his confusion for he sighed and snapped:

"Sneak the body to the river and tip it in. No one will be the wiser."

Lovel hoped he was right.

He went to get Blaine.

A short time later they were trying to carry the large beast down the dark and empty streets as fast as they could. Blaine had known the bear better than Lovel and was unduly silent about the work. Sacrifices were a fact of day to day life with Kolya and most times went unmentioned. Better to leave it in silence than attract attention, you could always be next.

They managed to make it to the river bank and roll the body in. It must have been the splash that gave them away. Several men ran toward them, yelling as they came.

Blaine and Lovel ran. Lovel assumed that they could out run the towns people and was mainly concerned not to lead anyone back to the manor. Blaine seemed to have plans of his own and took off down a side street before Lovel could stop him. He could only hope he was thinking the same thing. He turned down an alley, running full out while trying to listen for pursuit. His reward for dividing his attention was a collision. A man, crouching near a doorway, seen too late. He fell, taking the man with him. They flailed around wildly for a moment and got to their feet as the first of the mob came into view yelling, "Ware! Hold him! Thief! Murderer!"

Lovel froze. He could probably kill the man and fight his way free of the mob but what then? He was supposed to be avoiding attention. Perhaps surrender was the best option? He couldn't think it would make things any worse and might buy him some time.

The man he had run down was looking at him in a puzzled way, hovering near his shoulder.

When the first of the men in the crowd came forward and grabbed Lovel he backed away. The men were not gentle and kicked and shoved him around for the general principal of it. Lovel let himself go limp, trying to avoid injury. After a few minutes of abuse he heard a quiet voice.

"What has the child done to deserve being beaten to death in an alley?"

The beating let up and Lovel was grateful for the respite. He felt a tinge of anger at being called a child but it had happened before. Some tended to confuse size with age and maybe it would work in his favour this time. He stayed still, trying to look harmless.

One of the men replied:
"This one and another murdered some poor soul and threw him in the river! The watch is recovering the body now! And who are you to ask?"

"My name is Chase, my older brother lives here. I am visiting for a time."

Lovel heard some murmurs about" the Baron" and the men quieted down a bit..

"Sorry. I meant no disrespect."

The man bowed gracefully. "None taken. But this boy hardly looks dangerous. Does he have any weapons?"

A few of the men quickly searched Lovel and came up with nothing. They admitted this a bit ashamedly.

"But what of the body?" said one.

Chase shrugged. "Perhaps we should take him to the scene of the crime and examine the body?"

There seemed to be no argument with this and they dragged Lovel back to the riverbank.

There were a few men standing around a dark mass on the bank and when the crowd arrived Chase seemed to naturally slide into the roll of spokesperson.

"Well?"

"Well, um, it seems to be a bear."

There were murmurs of astonishment.

Chase called for a torch and knelt down by the body. He looked up at Lovel for a moment as though expecting an explanation and then stood up.

"Any laws on the books about ursine murder?"

There were some scattered throat clearings and scuffling of feet.

Then one man spoke up.

"Well, how did a bear get in to a walled city and how the hell did he kill it?"

Chase rolled his eyes.
"As to the first, I have no idea. As to the second, do you really think a weapon less boy somehow killed this bear?"

Another voice offered. "There were two of them."

Chase shrugged. "Even so, there is probably a prosaic explanation behind this."

He looked Lovel meaningfully and Lovel mutely stared back.

"This boy and his...brother?"

Lovel considered. This seemed safe. He repeated it. "Brother."

"Yes, quite. This boy and his brother probably found the animal dead and pushed it in just to see what would happen."

Again Chase caught his eye and seemed to be waiting for something. Lovel settled for nodding. The audience still seemed unconvinced. Chase sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose like a man at the start of a severe headache.

"Boys do things like that, especially those who are a bit..." Here he tapped his forehead significantly. There were more mutterings. "You know, God touched."

Lovel had heard this term applied to a boy in one of the caravans that camped by the keep once. He had been fascinated and followed the boy about to see what happened if gods touched you. It didn't seem like anything good and he had decided to avoid gods at all costs. He tried to let his face fall into the slack blankness he remembered from that time and waited.

The crowd seemed a bit more content with this piece of information. There was a general consensus that the excitement was over and the crowd began melting away.

Chase spoke quietly to Lovel.
"Perhaps you should go home now. Unless you care to enlighten me?"

Lovel shrugged and began to walk away. Chase caught up with him.

"Thanks would not be inappropriate."

Lovel considered this for a moment.
"Thanks"

He walked on, turning up streets at random. Chase shook his head and walked off in the opposite direction. Lovel walked quietly, and after a few blocks heard what he had expected. Either he had picked up another pursuer or Chase had doubled back to follow him. Lovel considered walking him around in circles until he got bored but it hardly seemed worth the effort. He sat down against the side of a building and waited.

There were a few minutes of silence and then Chase strolled up, totally unconcerned.

"You taking up residence here?"

Lovel ignored the question.

Chase sat down beside him.
"I don't believe I caught your name?"

"Lovel"

"Lovel, I just wanted to thank you for not mentioning to that mob what I was doing when we...met."

Lovel thought back. It hadn't really struck him at the time to wonder but now...
(A man kneeling in a pitch black alley at a doorway? Something had glinted slightly in his hands...a thief?)

Lovel looked at Chase more closely. He had seemed well spoken; at least he spoke like the rich gentlemen who travelled with the caravans. He looked well dressed too, although his clothes seemed a bit worn and frayed here and there. He just didn't seem like a criminal.

"You are a thief?"
Lovel tried to make the question sound neutral.

Chase laughed.
"I would try to phrase it more politely, but I suppose the word fits well enough."

Lovel couldn't understand why Chase would give him such information freely. He seemed glib enough to lie if he chose.

Chase smiled.
"Now, I have been honest with you, be honest with me. What do you do, aside from murdering innocent wildlife?"

"We found the bears body. You said yourself, how could I have killed it without weapons anyway?"

Chase shook his head.
"I didn't want to mention the fact that they missed the dagger in your boot when they searched you. It would have been held against you."

"Why the hell would you care?"
The words came out harshly and he saw Chase wince slightly.

"I don't particularly. I was just curious."

Lovel closed his eyes. He was tired, bound to be in trouble with Kolya and he was trapped here with this strange man. He felt entirely out of his depth. After a few seconds of silence he heard Chase rise.

"Well, I suppose I will remain curious then. I will let you make your way home alone. Perhaps we will meet again."

Lovel heard him walk away and waited another minute before standing up and heading home.

Chapter 6

Kolya was pacing in the main hall when Lovel finally arrived. He approached Lovel with anger in his eyes

"How nice of you to grace us with your presence."

Lovel bit his lip and didn't reply.

"Where the hell have you been?"

"We were seen at the river and pursued."

"You and Blaine?"

"Yes."

"Who managed to get back here hours ago?"

"We were separated."

Kolya ground his teeth and Lovel hurried on.

"I was caught and it took time to convince the watch that I had done no harm."

"And?"

"And then they let me go."

It sounded fairly thin even to Lovel but to go into details wouldn't make it any better. Besides, he found he had an aversion to mentioning Chase's involvement in the evening. It would just give Kolya one more thing to be angry about and he might decide that Chase had to be "dealt with" in some unpleasant way. Better to stay quiet about him.

"You have been here less than a day and you have already disappointed me badly. Were you followed here?"

"No."

"You're certain?"

"Yes."

Kolya seemed to consider this answer for a few seconds, watching him with narrowed eyes. Lovel kept his face empty of expression and waited.

"What are you hiding from me?"

"Nothing."

Kolya stepped forward and grabbed him by the hair and pulled him closer. He spoke in a voice full of venom.

"Don't think you'll get away with anything, little wolf. You belong to me. Without me you are nothing but a beast, it is best you remember that. You wear this form at my whim."

Lovel said nothing. He knew Kolya expected no answer, anything he said or did now would just infuriate him more. He smiled cruelly at Lovel and he felt pain beginning to spread through his body. His knees buckled and the only thing that kept him from hitting the floor was the grip on his hair.

"What are you hiding?"

Lovel managed to choke out the word "Nothing" before Kolya released his grip and let him drop to the floor, huddled into a ball against the agony. The pain gradually ebbed a bit and he heard Kolya sigh.

"I suppose it is too much to expect a beast to understand the concept of gratitude."

Lovel lay still and eventually Kolya walked away. He knew he had to rise, had to hide his weakness from the others. He took a few deep breaths to steady himself and tried to stand. Every muscle screamed in protest. He felt someone move up next to him and turned with a snarl.

It was Blaine. He snarled back but didn't offer any further violence. He moved even closer, bracing Lovel up with his body. Lovel didn't know how to react. He looked up, letting the snarling mask drop and Blaine looked away. He seemed embarrassed by his subtle effort to help but he didn't move away. Lovel nodded and relaxed a little, leaning against him. They walked to the fire together.

The next thing Lovel knew he was waking in bright daylight. He couldn't tell how long he had been asleep but it felt like a few days at least. He felt stiff, sore and very hungry. He sensed a presence nearby and forced himself to sit up.

"Ah, you're awake!"

A young man stood in the doorway, he seemed very happy to see Lovel although he couldn't understand why this would be.
He glared at the stranger who hesitated a moment, caught in the stare but then grinned even wider and approached Lovel's sleeping place with arms outstretched as though he was going to embrace him. As he sank casually down next to Lovel he tried to give him a hug but Lovel showed his teeth and the boy thought better of it.

"I'm from next door, some of the servants mentioned that one of Lord Kolya's men at arms was poorly and so I came to see how you were."

"Next door? The cathedral?"

"Yes, sorry, I should have introduced myself, Brother Lanyon."

Lovel gave his name and this seemed to be all the encouragement Brother Lanyon needed to settle in as though he intended to stay forever. He seemed incapable of either sitting still for more than a second at a time or staying quiet for half that stretch. Lovel was swiftly lost in a swirling cloud of words about people he didn't know, various religious festivals he was warmly invited to attend and constant references to "The Bishop", a man Brother Lanyon obviously held in great awe.

He let most of the words flow past him unheeded while he examined the stranger. He was indeed young, with warm brown eyes and a kindly smile. His dark hair was in an untidy but shining mop, he shook the loose bangs out of his eyes impatiently from time to time.

Lovel did gather some information from his monologue. It turned out that Brother Lanyon was not actually a priest but an "acolyte", which seemed to be like a priest but much bouncier. He spent much of his time "ministering" to the sick through out the town which Lovel could only assume gave those in the cathedral some much needed peace and quiet.

Lovel became more interested when Brother Lanyon began recounting signs that the "bishop" was becoming a "saint". This seemed to involve transforming one thing into another and Lovel forced a word in.

"He does magic?"

Brother Lanyon looked shocked.

"Of course not! The bishop would never deal with the black arts!"

"But if he can turn water into wine ..."

"That is a miracle, not magic!"

Lovel was trying to grasp the difference and wondering if perhaps this Bishop could work a "miracle" for him when Kolya swept into the room.

"Visitors. How charming."

Brother Lanyon leapt to his feet and bowed.

"Lord Kolya! I had been so hoping to meet you. We are so glad to have one of the family back in their ancestral home! I have seen a painting of your father and you are very like him. He was such a handsome man."

Kolya seemed charmed at the compliment and took Brother Lanyon's hand while Lovel made a quick introduction. He seemed unwilling to give up the hand which made Brother Lanyon turn interesting colours and develop a slight stammer. He gamely kept talking.

"We, um, were very sorry when your grandfather passed away and the manor was empty for so long."

Kolya smiled warmly.

"I thank you. I would have been here sooner but I was on pilgrimage in the Holy Land and it was long before a message reached me."

Brother Lanyon's eyes lit up.

"You have been to the Holy Land?"

He asked the question in a tone of wonder and fixed his shining gaze on Kolya's face.

Kolya smiled down at the boy in a way that struck Lovel as rather predatory, at times Kolya seemed to have more teeth than was comfortable. Brother Lanyon, however, seemed oblivious to this and simply beamed up at the man.

"Yes, I spent much time travelling in the area. Most of my men at arms were hired there. I hope this ones outlandish ways were not unnerving to you. They are unused to the ways of this country."

"No, not at all! I didn't realize actually. I would love to hear more of the Holy Land and I know the Bishop will be thrilled that there is someone who has made the journey in our midst."

Kolya gave a low laugh.

"I would be pleased to speak to the Bishop of my travels when he has time. Perhaps dinner some evening?"

"I'm sure he would be honoured!"

"You are invited also of course."

"Oh, that is so kind of you! I look forward to it so much!"

Kolya released Brother Lanyon's hand and this seemed his cue to race off in high spirits to spread the good news. Once he was gone Kolya turned to Lovel.

"It seems that you are not a total idiot after all, although it wouldn't have taken much to fool that one. Still, perhaps it would be a good thing for the townsfolk to get used to you. I can't have the bunch of you under foot all day every day. After weapons practice you will split the men up into small groups and go out into the town. Make sure to stay out of trouble."

Lovel nodded and rose to go join the others at practice. He was torn between happiness at getting away from Kolya for some time each day and fear of trying to mingle with true humans.

He informed the others of the latest orders after practice ended and distributed the coins that Kolya had given him. They began to head out immediately and Lovel watched them go, hoping this was not a serious misjudgement on Kolya's part. He was trying to decide where he should go when Blaine approached him.

Blaine had no problem deciding where they should go and within a short time was practically rushing the smaller man through the streets in search of a tavern.

Chapter 7

Blain found what he had been looking for and paused for a moment outside the door to look Lovel over. He spent a few futile minutes trying to smooth the smaller man's hair into some semblance of order and finally settled for straightening his collar. Lovel endured this stoically. He was unsure what Blaine was attempting to do but it seemed fairly harmless. When Blaine ceased his ministrations he looked at Lovel in a pleased way.

"Not bad, really."

"Not bad what?"

"Never mind, just forget it. Hey, do I look ok?"

The question took Lovel by surprise. He had never thought about how any of them looked aside from visual cues to impending hostility. He knew Kolya valued looks and had seen him reject some of his band for no other reason.
He supposed the fact that Kolya kept them meant their looks were acceptable by human standards. He stepped back to look at Blaine from this new perspective.

"You're too tall."

Blaine rolled his eyes.
"That's because I'm standing next to you. In most company, I'm fine."

As Blaine turned to the door Lovel gathered his nerve and touched his arm. Blaine looked at him in surprise and Lovel spoke quickly.

"Be careful ok? If you get carried away you know Kolya will be furious and I can't carry you all the way home."

Blaine snorted. "Just because I got a little drunk once is no reason to worry. I'm more used to drink now."

Lovel nodded but he looked doubtful. None of them had much experience with drinking. Sometimes Kolya would allow them alcohol that had been taken from travellers but only on the rarest of occasions. Lovel didn't like the stuff himself but some of the others seemed to enjoy it all too much. Lovel had terrible visions of Blaine forgetting which shape he was in and trying to bite someone or something equally awful.

Blaine squared his shoulders, put a look on his face that dared anyone to question his right to be there and swaggered inside, Lovel ghosting behind him like a small shadow.

The tavern was more crowded than he had expected. And darker. He headed for a table in the most deserted corner he could find while Blaine went to the bar to place their order. Lovel let his eyes adjust to the gloom and looked around with interest. There seemed to be people of many types here, and in many states of sobriety or lack of same. One table in particular seemed crowded with men who were pretty obviously drunk. They were shouting in a jovial manner and slurring their sentences to the extent that he was at first unsure of which language they were speaking. The strange thing was that one of the voices seemed familiar.

Blaine arrived with the drinks and set Lovel's down in front of him.

"Were you planning on lurking here? I thought the plan was to mingle?"

"You go ahead. I'll be along in a bit."

Blaine shrugged and headed to a group of men playing some kind of game by the bar. It seemed to involve throwing darts at a target. He watched as Blaine was quickly shown the rules and accepted into the group. He was pleased to see that he seemed to fit in fairly well and was soon laughing with the others.

Lovel turned his attention to the table where he had heard Chase's voice. The men there seemed to be playing a different game. He had seen dice being played among the travellers when they camped for the night. This seemed to be a similar game and Chase was in the thick of it.. He threw the dice most often and when money was changing hands he seemed to end up with more of it than the others. Lovel noticed that while he sounded as drunk as the others his movements were not those of a man the worse for drink.

Lovel focused intently on the action at the table and began to pick up the deft movements with which Chase was manipulating the outcome of the throws. He was sure no one at the table noticed and he didn't win consistently enough or in such large amounts as to draw anyone's suspicion. He just won a bit more often than chance would account for; the others seemed to chalk it up to luck.

Eventually the dice stopped moving and Chase made some laughing excuses and exchanged some drunken banter with the others and rose, drink in hand. And came straight over to Lovel's table.

Chapter 8

Lovel feigned disinterest as Chase approached but it didn't seem to faze him at all. He sat down across from Lovel and nodded pleasantly.

"Well, we meet again."

Lovel nodded.

"Have you been tackling more bears since we last met?"

Lovel shook his head.

"Wrestling dragons, scuffling with wolverines?"

Lovel frowned. Chase had a tone in his voice that reminded him of Blaine sometimes. He wasn't used to being teased and couldn't decide how to react. He decided that silence wouldn't get him into trouble at least.

Chase raised an eyebrow.

"Chatty fellow aren't you? You know, one could get the idea you weren't fond of my company. Or maybe you would prefer dice to conversation?"
He shook the dice in one hand and smiled.

"Not with you, you cheat."

It was Chase's turn to frown. The statement had been made in a soft tone that wouldn't carry beyond the two of them and it didn't seem that Lovel was going to set up any hue and cry over the matter. It had simply been a statement of fact.

"Observant of you to notice. I'm impressed. Would buying you a drink help to pry more words out of you?"

Lovel found the corners of his mouth twitching despite his best efforts. He nodded and Chase made a trip to the bar. When he returned and set two glasses on the table, Lovel reached for one, only to have it whisked out of his reach.

Chase shook his head sternly.

"Words were promised."

Lovel couldn't think of a thing to say. He set his lips in a stubborn line while he searched for a phrase that would sound natural.

"Come on Lovel, I pine for the sweet sound of your voice."

Here Chase fluttered his eyelashes in an exaggerated manner and leaned towards Lovel in an alarmingly Kolya-like manner. Lovel scooted back from the table a little and blurted out the first thing that sprang to mind.

"I'm from the Holy Land. And it isn't."

Chase smiled and pushed one drink over to Lovel.

"I've always rather suspected that but I wouldn't go saying it to everyone. Some one of religious bent might take it badly."

"No, not ...my voice isn't what you said."

Kolya had a number of uncomplimentary terms that he used to describe Lovel's voice and he couldn't remember sweet anywhere in the list.

"Actually, you have an interesting voice. So, you're from the Holy Land? Which part?"

Lovel hadn't been expecting the question. He thought about it for an excruciating minute.

"An isolated part."

Chase grinned slightly.
"I might have guessed. And what brings you so far from home?"

"My Lord wished to return to his home."

"And this Lord would be who and what do you do for him?"

"Kolya. I fight for him."

"Really? I've seen him about recently. What's he like?"

Lovel felt his little store of words dry up. He cast his gaze down at the table and said nothing.

Chase looked at him with concern. When it became obvious that no reply would be forthcoming he said:

"Fighters are in high demand in many places. You are not bound to stay with one employer for life, you know."

"I am."

Lovel couldn't believe he had said such a thing aloud. It had to be the alcohol making him careless. He rose abruptly.

"I have to get my brother and leave now."

He went without looking directly at Chase, afraid that if he met his eyes he would blurt out more damaging words. He walked quickly through the press of men and grabbed Blaine. Blaine protested a bit but allowed Lovel to lead him to the door. Before they left he dared one quick glance at Chase. He was watching Lovel and Blaine thoughtfully and Lovel rushed out the door and around a corner hoping Chase wouldn't follow. At least, he was pretty sure that was his hope. Being around humans was turning out to be more confusing than he had feared.

Chapter 9

Blaine finally refused to let Lovel drag him any further. He felt ill and tired and wanted to find a place to sit down. When he said as much Lovel began to steer them to the river bank.

"We can rest by the water for a bit and you can sober up."

"I'm not drunk."

"You sound drunk and you smell drunk."

Blaine muttered something he must have picked up from his new companions but didn't protest anymore.

When they arrived at the river they sat in silence for a while. The day was a little chill but sunny and Lovel enjoyed watching the sunlight on the water. It was certainly better than thinking of the mess he had made of his conversation with Chase.

Blaine curled up on his side with his back to Lovel. He thought Blaine must have drunk quite a lot to be that trusting or careless. It took awhile for Lovel to connect the strange whining noises he kept hearing to Blaine. He slowly placed the sounds and realized the larger man was crying. He couldn't remember ever seeing Blaine cry before and had no idea what to do. Maybe he should ignore him until he stopped. But that didn't feel right. When he had used to cry Kolya had beaten him and that idea held no appeal either. He settled for sliding a bit closer and placing a hesitant hand on Blaine's shoulder.

"Blaine, are you ill?"

He tried to speak but it came out as a quivering wail. Lovel drew back in alarm. There were several more of these before words emerged.

"I must be, I feel awful. Make it stop!"

Lovel tried patting his back. It didn't seem to have much effect one way or the other so he stopped. He tried to think of how he could explain.

"You are just crying. It will stop after a while. It happens sometimes when you're sad about something. Maybe you get sad when you drink?"

Blaine began to quiet down, just the quivery breaths continuing. He rolled over towards Lovel, his face tear stained.

"I saw you do it once, a long time ago. I didn't understand."

"It's a human thing. I guess when we spend too much time in human form we pick it up. Are you feeling better now?"

"Yes, a little. It just hurts inside, you know?"

Lovel gingerly ran a hand through Blaine's dishevelled hair.
"I know. I didn't think you knew."

"I didn't used to. It's just since...it's just that I miss him."

Lovel tried to place who he could be missing.
"The bear? I'm sorry I never really knew him, he was pretty new. I didn't ..."

"No, Roslin. I miss Roslin."

"He's back at the manor with Kolya. He hasn't gone anywhere."

"NO! Not the new one, the real one, the one who ran away."

Lovel thought this wasn't the time to point out that there was no real Roslin, not in human form, just as neither of them was real.

"The new one seems nice. Maybe you should make friends with him."

Blaine sat up and fixed him with an angry glare.

"It isn't like that, I thought you would understand. You can't just replace one with another, I don't want another. It isn't the same."

Lovel didn't understand and his confusion showed plainly on his face. Blaine searched for some way to make it clear.

"Mates. We are mates. You understand that right?"

Lovel gave him a wary glance.
"I understand the concept. I thought bears mated with bears. Generally, male bears with female bears. It's how you get little bears. I don't know what you get when you mate small birds to large bears, but one assumes the bird isn't going to enjoy it much."

Blaine gave a pale ghost of his usual wicked grin.
"Kolya hasn't ever sent for you at night has he?"

Lovel shook his head. He knew that when Kin was busy or elsewhere that Kolya would sometimes send for one of the others. He had some idea of why and had never felt the need to search for details. It wasn't any of his concern.

Blaine slid closer to him.

"I could teach you. It can be fun."

Lovel slid away, shaking his head as he did so.

Blaine laughed.

"Scared?"

Lovel knew better than to admit to fear, especially to Blaine.

"Kolya would be angry."

He was pretty sure this was true.

Blaine sobered.
"Maybe."

"Did he know about you and Roslin?"

Blaine looked uncomfortable.
"Yes, most of the times he knew. It was his idea."

Lovel watched as Blaine developed an intense fascination with his own bootlaces. He fiddled around with them while continuing.
"He thought it would be funny because Roslin was scared of me. He watched."

Blaine felt sick inside.

"I tried not to hurt or scare him too much but he hated it. Once when Kolya wasn't around he attacked me. Tried to kill me."

Lovel thought he heard something suspiciously close to pride Blaine's voice.

"Why do you sound like that about it? Weren't you mad?"

"No, it was so brave of him. He didn't know how to fight at all and I have been training forever. He didn't even have a weapon. I just tried to fend him off without hurting him. It took some doing but he finally believed me, that I didn't have any more choice than he did. After that it was different between us somehow. We snuck around to spend time together, we figured out how to make it seem like I was hurting him when I wasn't. We talked when we could. And after awhile Kolya got bored with it, nothing holds his interest long. And then we could be together alone sometimes. It was different that way, so good."

Blaine trailed off into silence.

Lovel dropped quiet words into that silence.

"He may be somewhere nearby. If he was lucky. It was his plan, you know."

Blaine nodded.

"I am afraid that if I find him I'll lead Kolya to him. I don't know what to do."

"We'll think of something. We just have to be careful. We'll be out in the town now every day, maybe someone has seen him."

"Thank you."

Lovel shrugged, "Forget it. We should get going now, if we stay out too long there will be questions."

Blaine rose and gave Lovel a hand up.

"Who was that guy you were sitting with?"

Lovel felt heat rise in his face.

"No one really."

Chapter10

Most of the band seemed to adapt fairly well to living with humans. Some better than others of course. For most of them, this was the closest they had ever come to a life of ease and they enjoyed it to the hilt. Kolya was spending most of his time socializing with the upper crust and would only take a few of them with him at a time so most had more time on their hands than they knew what to do with.

Lovel spent a good deal of time getting in extra training. Even Blaine viewed this as excessive. No one but Lovel seemed to question how long Kolya would bother to feed and house so many men at arms when they weren't really needed.

He also spent a good deal of time observing the human servants. There were quite a few of them in the house and he found that most were quick to talk given the chance. Some had been there for many years and liked to reminisce. He heard some interesting tid bits about Kolya's family history, although he had a feeling that those who told the stories didn't realize quite how interesting they were.

One grey haired old gentleman had served with the family since Kolya's grandfather's youth. He seemed eager to gossip and recounted the tale of Kolya's father at length. It seemed that it had been quite a scandal at the time.

The grandfather had been a stern and serious sort, the father the opposite. He had gotten into various scrapes, of increasing severity as he grew up. The last straw had been his involvement with a serving maid. The grandfather had disowned him and he and the maid had disappeared. Later, word was received of their death, leaving behind a son in distant parts.

Lovel was shown a miniature of the father and he looked eerily like Kolya. When he found out when this had taken place his suspicions were confirmed. Some where close to 18 years ago Kolya's father had vanished with his low born mistress. Everyone thought that the present lord had been born shortly thereafter. Lovel knew this was false, he could only assume that Kolya and his father were the same man. Unless sorcerers were born full grown that was the only explanation that made sense. He supposed it was a good plan actually, if you didn't age and didn't want to cause comment, to disappear for a generation and reappear as your own heir would be one way to avoid trouble.

He filed the information away to mull over later along with the other things he was learning. These things included some that were useful, some that weren't and some that he would have to judge when he had more understanding of people.

He found that the majority of his new knowledge fit into the third category.

He spent more time with Brother Lanyon and found himself growing rather protective of the young man. Kolya had hosted the promised dinner party and since that time had invited Lanyon over for tea. Lovel wanted to warn him about Kolya but he seemed totally oblivious to Kolya's overtures. Lanyon seemed to have such a sunny forthright disposition that he assumed everyone else to be just as honest and kind. Lovel's experience led him to doubt this but he found it hard to bring up any supporting evidence without giving away more than he should. Also, he found himself reluctant to hurt the boy by pointing out that things in the world were not quite as rosy as he thought. He settled for practicing conversational skills with Lanyon and trying to accustom himself to human ways in his company.

He found the practice helpful in dealing with everyone but Chase. Chase constantly puzzled and occasionally alarmed him but he found himself seeking him out anyway. He wasn't sure why this was and tried not to think about it too much.

They had fallen into a habit of meeting in one of the quieter taverns every few days. They would talk a little, Chase telling stories of his adventures and attempting to glean whatever details of his life that Lovel let slip.

Chase found the strange young man oddly compelling. He was saying as much to his companion at the bar, an old friend and occasional lover when the object of the conversation appeared.