Bruten leaned over the side of the bank. “Good, it is still here. Quick, get in.” The boat was crude and tied up with some of Bruten’s primitive rope.
There was a struggle to get Boston into the boat, but two more punches to her face and a punch to her kidneys brought her to her knees, and then she was tossed in. Boston was sure her nose was broken, and probably a couple of ribs. She hurt everywhere, but felt better when she did not move at all. She thought instead how glad she was to have Thag’s hands off of her, even if it was only a temporary condition.
Bruten sat beside Boston in the middle and he held her rope tight to be sure she had no thoughts of jumping overboard. Grogor sat in the stern with one paddle. Thag took the paddle in the bow. It was not a canoe, but functioned like one, and it took no time to cast off and reach the middle of the softly flowing water.
Thag had a thought, now that he was unable to exercise his lust. “But we are at the big bend in the river. The current will take us closer to the high country and the mountain village before we turn toward the Great Blue River.
“Yes,” Bruten said with a wicked grin. “So even if they follow us to the river bank, they will think we crossed over and should waste hours trying to pick up our trail on the other side. They will never guess we moved downstream, especially since it will take us partly back the way we came.”
“They don’t know we have a boat,” Grogor understood.
“But tonight is the wolf moon,” Thag protested.
“Easy, Thag. We are not going to the High Country. We are not going anywhere near the wolves. We will keep to the river and go to the side away from the wolves when we come to the big bend.”
Thag shivered. He found an emotion to replace his lust for the moment. It was fear. Clearly, he wanted no part of the wolves.
“When we pull back to the shore, can I have her, father. I really like her. I want her really bad.” Grogor was obviously not as afraid.
They all heard the howl. It was answered several times over. “Here.” Koren came to a stop. “We will not have long to wait.”
“Decker. Keep your rifle on your shoulder no matter what, is that clear?” Lockhart was taking no chances.
“Understood,” The Captain responded, but he made sure his knife was handy all the same.
Lieutenant Harper talked because she could not stand the wait, and Alexis agreed with her. “So why is your village protected by such a wall. Are you at war?”
“No longer,” Koren said. “Years ago, some say for a hundred years the whole world was at war. The gods were at war, you see, and we fought for our gods.”
“The gods were at war?” Lincoln asked. He did not get that far in reading the database.
“The gods of the Vanir and the Aesgard fought because of the witch no one wanted, the witch they could not get rid of.”
“Which side were you on?” Captain Decker asked.
“We serve Queen Nerthus,” Koren answered. “Specifically her two grandchildren by Njord, god of the sea, Vry of light and fertility and Vrya of love and war.”
“Njord, Fry and Freja,” Lincoln clarified.
“So you fought for Aesgard? Weren’t they in Aesgard?” Lockhart guessed.
“Not originally,” Lieutenant Harper interjected before Koren could speak. “Originally, they were of the Vanir. They went to Aesgard with their father as ambassadors of the peace while Odin picked some pretty poor ambassadors to go to the Vanir.”
“Yes,” Koren confirmed. “It was the peace made by Faya, but once we were all at war. Once we lived in the north. Faya and I were both conceived there. We were losing so we ran to this place. Faya and I were both born here on the same day. We are birth twins, being born on the same day. That was forty-six years ago.”
“I would not have guessed you were that old,: Lockhart said. Koren smiled.
“My wife, Raini keeps me young.”
They heard the howls again. They were getting closer, but not on them yet.
“Tell me about Raini.” Alexis asked to keep the conversation going. She did not want to think too hard about what was coming. “How is it that she can run with the elves?” Elves could race at supernatural speed, like a fairy in flight. Alexis understood perfectly when Raini said Lockhart and Captain Decker could not keep up.
“My wife,” Koren said as he turned to Alexis with a broad grin on his face. “She is the daughter of Vrya, goddess of love and war. I am the most fortunate of men having her love to wife.”
“And she is cousin to Faya?” Lockhart was piecing it together.
Koren nodded. “Faya’s father is Vry, god of light and fertility, and even at forty-six years she remains a beauty beyond compare among mortal women.”
“I don’t know,” Captain Decker said. “I have seen the Princess.”
“As have I,” Koren said. “She is certainly beautiful. But Faya is a beauty to rival the gods.”
“Think Innan in human form,” Mingus suggested as the wolves arrived.
There were seven in the pack, snarling and drooling at the group. They paused only when they saw Koren in the lead. Koren held up his hands to be sure he had their attention, and he spoke plainly. “These are friends of Faya, the Queen. Please, we must find her. One of her friends has been taken and is in need of rescue. Find Faya, please.”
One wolf barked and bounded into the woods. One wolf stayed where it was to block the forward progress of the group. Five wolves stepped forward to sniff the travelers. They walked around Koren and ignored the elf, but gave the humans the once over.
“They may smell the fairy weave in your clothes,” Mingus said. “That may stand in your favor.”
Lockhart, Captain Decker and Lieutenant Harper stood at attention and kept as still as they could. Alexis pulled her hands up to her chin, but otherwise practiced calming thoughts as the wolf butted its nose up to her thigh. Lincoln shut his eyes and gritted his teeth and tried hard to think of anything he could other than being surrounded by wolves. One growled at Captain Decker, but the Captain wisely made no response.
It was not a long wait before the wolf came back with five more wolves in tow. The big one was a red wolf instead of brown, gray or black. It was covered in red fur, but they did not get a good look because the minute it spied the strangers it transformed from wolf to woman. That transformation happened very fast, but it looked smooth and painless and was fascinating to watch.
“Lockhart.” The woman who was Faya recognized him right away. “What is the trouble?”
Lockhart could not answer. Faya had long, flaming red hair and indeed had a beauty and projected a desirability that was not the goddess Innan but made of the same stuff. She glowed much stronger than Raini, like she had swallowed a piece of the full moon and it was escaping through her every poor. She made some effort to tone things down, but by then Mingus stepped up to answer.
“We met three men when we came into this time and they kindly guided us to your mountain village. But when we arrived and became occupied at the gate, they grabbed Boston and went back into the wild. No one noticed for some time as we waited for your cousin Raini to arrive. By the time we realized Boston was missing, they had an hour or so head start. Raini and Roland have followed after them. Master Koren was kind enough to bring us here so we might find you.”
“Children, show yourselves.” Faya did not wait to hear anymore. She clapped her hands and the four wolves that came with her transformed into two beautiful young women and two fine looking young men. The eldest and youngest were the girls, the eldest being perhaps twenty two, or Boston’s age. She clearly took after her mother, red hair and all, though not so strong. They guessed the youngest, who was maybe fifteen took after her father.
“Children. You must go with Uncle Koren and escort our friends back to the village.” Faya turned to the travelers. “It is not safe for you on the plateau. The night is still young, but as the night wears on and the moon rises, the blood lust of the wolf will increase and anything that is not of the Were will not be safe.”
“Mother!” One of the boys, likely the elder wanted to protest.
“Go.” Mother was not going to argue.
“Scout.” She turned to the wolf who brought her. “Fly back to the tower and tell my beast we are seeking the one taken and pray we find her before it is too late. The rest of you, I ask you to forego the wolf on this one night. I need the eyes of the owl and the raven in the dark.” Everyone of the wolves present transformed directly from wolf to bird – and birds that were bigger than any bird ought to be. One took off for the tower, even as Faya herself became a red owl. Then her flock headed into the sky to be lost in the darkness as Faya’s eldest daughter spoke.
“This way,” she said and smiled a most attractive smile.
“Yes,” Koren said with a look around at the trees. “I have found it is best to listen to Faya.”
“Beast?” Alexis caught the word and wondered about it.
“Of course,” Lincoln nudged her. “Beauty always marries the beast.”