Who am I?

Oh you’ll know who I am when I’m done.

Ionas Pachin, later Grand Warlock

 

It hadn’t escaped Ionas’ attention that he was the one arm deep in a thorny bush, hunting for berries not even the birds thought worth getting to until it was really winter. The thorns brushed against his coat and pricked his chest through his shirt, whilst Sarea stood back with her trusty woven basket. No magic, she said. No magic! With a wave of his hand he could have shaken every berry loose and –

Promptly lost them all under the bush, he thought, wincing as he reached past a particularly vicious thorn for a perfect black berry. Damn gravity. He plucked the berry and extracted himself with care. He turned to deposit his load in the basket. Never let her become a judge, he promised himself. She’d be wonderfully evil about her sentences.

“It’s getting late,” he said. “We should get back.”

She focussed on him. “Yes,” she said. She turned on her toe, her load shifting, and walked.

Ionas trailed her, inspecting the back of his hands. He had scratches all over, but these inspired the most worry. Nothing a surreptitious cleaning spell couldn’t deal with, even the ones that had bled, thin lines of red staining his fingers.

No, these were visible. Sarea hadn’t even noticed. She’d been the same since they left the cottage. Black faced, mind elsewhere, her beautiful light dulled.

He’d lied about who the hounds were after just so she wouldn’t chase him away. Now he regretted lying at all.

Just his luck to get a medic this time. All healing instinct, no common sense. Another – cursed with the name of Lornestin, poor man – used to give himself up for ransom or insist on walking in the way of danger every time it existed.

Ionas sighed, sticking his hands in his pockets. If he told the truth to Sarea, she’d have sent him packing and that was that. There were human enemies that could so easily kill her whilst she was still looking over her shoulder for fangs and claws. People weren’t so quick to be fooled by a gift of ribbons and beads, bound up by magic.

And he doubted she’d stay still long enough for the dozen-or-so rites that could protect her from them, even for a short while.

But how was he going to fix this mess? She said she’d go, and he got so damn angry he turned down exactly what he wanted –

The cottage came into sight, and with it a horse and cart. A hooded figure rushed toward them.

“Mistress Junker?” Sarea said. She lengthened her stride and and met the older woman halfway there, the light of her magic sparking brightly. Ionas breathed out the weight on his shoulders, straightening. He didn’t have to fix it. He could’ve just walked her up to see Ann Junker.

“You have to come,” Mistress Junker said. “They’ve caught one!”

“One what?” Sarea said. Ionas paused beside her, catching the way her hand tightened around the basket handle, knuckles white.

“The harvest festival involves hunting?” he said lightly.

“No, no.” Mistress Junker caught his arm. “There’s been things hunting the livestock. Wolves. Jimny and his sons used their old cow to bait a pit trap, and they caught one! It’s a wolf! A wolf, here!”

Ionas nodded. “Poor cow,” he said solemnly.

Sarea huffed and covered her mouth. He nudged her with his elbow. “I suppose we should go see this impossible wolf,” he said. She nodded.

He helped Mistress Junker into the back of the cart, ignoring the sharp look of the man holding the reins, and pulled Sarea up, basket and all. Whilst Mistress Junker turned to the man, insisting that he hurry, Ionas said to Sarea, “It might be a real wolf.”

“When pigs fly and cows produce cream,” she said, voice low.

He snorted.

“They can be caught,” she said.

“Never the same way twice,” he said, and took a handful of berries from the basket. If one got itself caught, there was worse to come. The hounds came in packs for a reason. Trying to fight them was difficult work.

Not that Sarea needed to know that, just yet.

 

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