Adrasos sighed, and scooted over to hug her. “Where we come from, there’s more magic, all the time. The king is very powerful. So it wasn’t quite as much of a shock. I was a desert wolf a couple of times, a horse, and stranger things. But the children who’ve been born since are mostly normal, no reason not to marry.”
She blushed, then pulled off her scarf. Her hair was cut short, mixed browns, a blonde streak ran from her left temple back through the curly mass. It framed her face and shifted the elegant clean bones into the realm of extraordinary beauty.
Adrasos touched it reverently. “Your hair is beautiful.”
“No, no, no! It’s awful. It’s a sign that I’m not Pure.”
“The height of the Grand Overlap it was world-wide. No one is truly pure, any more.” Adrasos stood, and pulled her to her feet. “Let’s move the horses.” The cattle had moved upstream and closer to home on their own.
They moved the pegs back toward the farms and settled down again.
“You said there was magic, in Greece? Real magic? That little girl I merged with thought magic was real.”
Adrasos nodded. “Real magic. Is that also bad, here?”
She squirmed. “A few people have . . . talents. They know when someone is lying, or what the weather will be next week. It makes people uncomfortable.”
“I guess I won’t mention it again, then. I can’t afford to be kicked out of here, we’ve sort of run out of options.”
She nodded, and with a guilty glance toward the farms rewrapped her scarf over that glorious hair.
That night he stared at the gibbous moon, “Two days. It’s starting.”
Yainni nodded. He put his hand to his head, above his ear. Nothing showing yet, but no doubt beneath his hair the big man could feel the bump of fast growing horns.
Adrasos could feel the tug of the wolf, and subdued it. At home he had experimented with it several times, it made metamorphosis easy, a natural, now genetic, talent rather than a complex spell, prone to complications. All the things, creatures strange or common, that he had merged with were now easily available to him.
Especially the wolf. The wolves he had merged with had been natural werewolves, common in that world, part human even before the Grand Overlap. The ability had jumped to him, stayed with him when the worlds split again.
But he controlled it.
Yainni had only been lightly touched, when the Overlap went world-wide. He’d spent most of it as bison or perhaps cattle, possibly a man. And the shape changing desert wolves. It had changed him a bit. He grew horns at the full moon. But to balance the scale, he had gained hearing and could speak, when he needed to. He’d never developed the habit of talking; he often went weeks without uttering a word. He had no control over his monthly change. The family didn’t mind.
But over the next day, the people of Red Cliff started eyeing him askance as the points of gleaming ivory and black streaked horns started showing through his tightly curled black hair.
He clung despondently to Adrasos’ heels.
“They know bandits are bad because they steal and kill. A lot of them don’t seem to realize that if they hadn’t driven out the horned ones, they wouldn’t have bands of them roaming the hills and attacking the more normal people.” Adrasos thumped him on the shoulder and sent him off to relieve Chol.
Cinnamon had tried hard to not notice Twilla disappearing with that pretty man, the blonde Gennadios who was already married. Surely just a few kisses, she wouldn’t have actually . . . especially not with a married man.
Now though, as they milked the cows, she apparently set her sights on another. “They say they also have male parts like a bull.”
“Twilla! Honestly. I don’t think Yainni’s as slow as everyone treats him. He just doesn’t talk much. But that doesn’t make . . . flirting with him a good idea.”
Twilla snickered. “You are such a prude! Haven’t you ever watched when Derrick Mackutch brings his bull around? Umm, umm. Now here’s a nice tame bullman, and you expect me to not find out what he’s got?”
“Twilla!” She finished first, and carried two pails into the kitchen.
Adrasteia was helping, and looking a bit snappish. I would be snappish too, if I’d found my husband kissing that little trollop!
The Greeks’ chickens were champion egg layers. With the milk, they had plenty for what her mother called a yorkish pudding, which had just enough flour in it to be more bready than desertish. Adrasos had gotten three hares last night, while on guard. Not much meat for over thirty people, but they’d make do. They’d be able to put off another day getting into the corned beef, or slaughtering the young roosters.
Twilla brought in the other two pails, and quickly slunk away as Adrasteia’s gaze fell on her.
Aunt Vivi looked a little disturbed. “Your son Adrasos, he’s never married?”
Adrasteia sniffed. “He went to Akademi. Then Guards. Big hero, he save the God king from knife. All the rich girls sigh at him, and he never look back.”
“A hero? I think he likes my Twilla.”
Cinnamon straightened indignantly. Mine. Twilla better stick to her married men and bulls! She stepped out of the kitchen and stomped into the barn. Froze at the laughter. Twilla and a deep voice she didn’t know.
“Oh, my, it’s huge!” Twilla, sounding gleeful.
Cinnamon edged up and took a look around the corner. A tall man with his back to her, Twilla mostly invisible beyond him. A head of curly black hair, horns, getting quite long, pants down around his ankles. She slunk back out, and shut the door quietly. None of my business.
Twilla was quite late, coming in for dinner. And looking quite smug.
Cinnamon sat where she could see Adrasos, and tried not to mentally undress him. Sometimes I wish I had Twilla’s nerve.
The light of the flickering fires augmented the full moon; it was clear they were outnumbered, and still the Fancy man sought to reduce the odds. By focusing on Yainni.
“You are one of us, join us, and be free!”
Yainni looked at the man in bafflement, looked down at his sword. The point drooped and he shambled forward. Swung the point up and lunged.
The fancy man threw himself backwards, a splash of blood followed the arc of the sword point. Adrasos whipped forward to intercept the demon on the left as he chopped at Yainni. It all dissolved into a chaotic mess. He reacted instinctively, as he’d been trained. The push spell, like a punch, could knock a man over, or even out. Slice, as if his sword was a foot longer. Fireball took too much energy, not safe when they were being mobbed. Back to back, Adrasos and Yainni held them off.
The bandits broke. Stumbling away, leaving three bodies behind.
Adrasos whispered the words of a shield spell, and heard the Fancy Man’s snarl of recognition. No arrows came out of the dark. Eventually horse shoes clinked on gravel, and the demons were gone.
Yainni hung his head. “I was tempted.”
“And you decided.” Adrasos squeezed his shoulder. “You’re a good man, you’d never attack and kill innocent people like these farmers here. That is what is important.”
Preston eased up, peering into the dark. “Damn, three dead, and I’ll bet twice that are injured. I’ve never seen sword work like that.”
Adrasos nodded. “I’ve been drilled since I was five. And Yainni with me.”
Yainni nodded. “No one beats Adrasos. No one.”
“They weren’t very well trained, else we’d both be dead.” Adrasos checked himself, quickly, then Yainni. Plenty of cuts and bruises on both of them. They staggered back through the barriers and let the women fuss over them. After a bit he felt energetic enough to add a bit of magical healing. Then he crawled into bed and slept most of the day.
When he emerged, the pond was overflowing.
Miles Preston was grinning. “I snuck up and broke their dam, found where they’d plugged the pipe. Their campground was empty. I think they’ve left.”
They saddled up and spiraled out, hunting the bandits, now. They found only a trail leading northeast into the foothills.
After a peaceful night, they started packing the wagon and carriage.
Adrasos sought out Cinnamon, and found her hovering.
“We’ll be back. Miles keeps mentioning your fourth square, here, and there’s plenty of potential farm and grazing land around. So . . . we’ll be back.” He felt so lame. “If you don’t mind.”
“No. No, I don’t mind. I’d like to see you again. I mean, all of you. I mean . . . you.” Her words came fast and a bit breathless.
He knew so little about their customs, about what would be proper. He leaned down and kissed her, anyway.