Wolf in the Wind Chapter Three

Wolf in the Wind
by Sharon Lee

Chapter Three

It was a nice night for a walk. I’d pulled on my denim jacket, and Borgan had rolled down his shirt sleeves. Cael hadn’t bothered with either long pants or a jacket, and was barefoot, too. Breccia rode on his left shoulder, erect as a warrior princess in her chariot, and Oscar ambled along at his right knee.

“Best laid plans,” I muttered to Borgan, who looked down with a half-smile on his face.

“Walk before’s supposed to give you an appetite,” he commented.

“That’s dinner,” I told him, sternly.

“Haven’t had dinner yet, have we?”

I didn’t dignify that with an answer, and anyway, here we were on Burdette Street, hard by a tidy little town cottage, in need of some cosmetics: a coat of paint, new shutters, maybe a new roof and she’d be good as could be.

There was a driveway on the right, mostly filled by an oldish Oldsmobile station wagon parked nose out. On the left of the house was a tiny square of land, entirely taken up by a large maple tree.

“Pretty Boots’ tree?” I asked the night, and Cael nodded, as Breccia flowed down him like a jaguar down a cliff, and walked up the three wooden steps to the front door.

Oscar at heel, Cael followed her, and pressed the bell.

Borgan and I stayed behind on the sidewalk, and I felt the kiss of a briny breeze against my cheek, which was Borgan suggesting to anybody who happened to be watching that we weren’t there.

A minute passed, dawdling. Then another. I felt Borgan shift beside him, like he was thinking about maybe stepping up and putting his hand on the knob–but just about then, the door did open and a tall spare lady with crystal white hair stood framed there, her attention fixed on Cael.

My attention was on Breccia, who casually strolled over the stoop and into the house like she owned the place. I might have twitched. Borgan put his arm around my waist, and I leaned into the solid warmth of him.

The lady hesitated a moment, glanced down, got a look at Oscar, and then looked back up.

“Why, Mr. Wolfe, what a surprise! Surely you don’t work this late!”

“I am off-duty now,” Cael told her. “I was thinking of you and of Pretty Boots and hoped that it would be all right if I came to ask after you.”

“That’s very kind. We’re both fine. Just had our dinners and settling down to watch a little television, you know. Now that you’re here, I have a chance to thank you for your patience and your skill in fetching Bootsy out of that tree. Honestly, I don’t know what’s gotten into her lately. Do you think I ought to take her to the vet?”

There was a little niggle in the back of my head, a suggestion that maybe I should look up, and over, where–

“Borgan,” I said softly. “There’s something in that tree.”

“Any special kinda something?”

“It’s . . . ” I reached to the land and asked a favor. Obligingly, it sharpened my vision, so that I could see into the branches, and the shadows near the bole, but by that time, I hardly needed the boost. Other senses were tingling, and I knew damn’ well what it was.

“Willie wisp,” I told Borgan.

There was a little silence, strongly seasoned with surprise. Up on the stoop, Cael and Mrs. Newton were running out of mutual admiration. She moved back a little, easing the door forward.

“Like to know what one of them’s doing here,” Borgan said finally, tipping his head back and staring up into the tree. “Being as the Wise cut us off.”

“They say,” I answered.

Cael gave Mrs. Newton a gallant little bow and a smile. He glanced down at Oscar, and the two of them turned.

Mrs. Newton smiled, nodded, and turned back into the house, the door swinging shut behind her.

Just before it closed, a multicolored streak slid between door and jamb, flowed down the steps and was waiting on the sidewalk when Cael and Oscar reached it.

Cael nodded, and joined us at the end of the driveway, where he went down on one knee, offering his shoulder to Breccia, who hesitated, then leapt, landing lightly, and sticking her nose in his ear.

He rose, a frown between his brows.

“My lady Breccia would have us know that the house-tree harbors a–pest normally below the notice of Pretty Boots. However, this pest is of a kind that is particularly dangerous to her servant, therefore Pretty Boots at first tried to drive it away. When it ran, but returned, she changed her tactic, and now seeks to kill it. Today, it stung her. She was in pain from this wound when I took her off her branch. She tried to bear me with patience, but found me too much for her temper.”

He paused, lips twitching.

“Pretty Boots offers an apology and hopes that my own wound does not hinder me in my duty.”

“Well,” I said. “Turns out Pretty Boots is right. There’s a willy wisp in that tree–” I raised my arm to point–and lowered it.

“Which isn’t there, now,” I finished.

“Which matches up with young Bootsy’s story,” Borgan said. “It ran away, and come back.”

I saw a flicker of white out of the corner of my eye, which might’ve been Mrs. Newton looking out her window at Cael and Oscar standing at the end of her drive, a circumstance that might be worrying to an elderly lady living alone.

“Let’s move on,” I said, turning back the way we’d come. Cael, Breccia on his shoulder and Oscar at his knee, strolled with us.

“It is true that I have not detected any spoor,” he said slowly. “And I swear to you, my lady, I have been up that tree many times.”

“Kate,” I said absently. “I believe you.”

Given that I did believe him, I, as the Archer of Archers Beach, or more specifically, the Guardian of the Land of Archers Beach, had a problem.

On the one hand, Pretty Boots had been right–willie wisps are vermin, powered by malice, and always hungry. While they aren’t smart, they are cunning, especially in the matter of feeding themselves, and that was where this got to be my problem. As Guardian, it was my duty to protect the land and those it nurtured. Angela Newton fell into that last category, and she was a willie wisp banquet.

See, willies . . . .are from Away. ‘way Away. They’re native to Sempeki, also known as the Land of the Flowers. What they eat there are the leftovers from spells and workings and the odd battle of wills–elemental fragments, call them. What they eat here in our very own Changing Land are–memories, the older, the better. A woman in her late sixties, early seventies, was likely to have a whole lot of memories.

“How’d it get here?” Borgan asked again.

“Maybe it got caught on the wrong side when the Gate closed,” I said, sounding cranky to myself. “Who counts willie wisps to make sure none’re missing?”


“Regardless of how it is here, it is hunting,” Cael said, practically. “It has seen a feast from which it must eat.” He stopped, and looked over his shoulder in the direction of Mrs. Newton’s house. “Pretty Boots is valiant, but valor alone is not enough for this. I will wait, and dispatch it when it returns.”

“Might’ve gotten scared off by all the attention,” Borgan said, but not like he believed it.

“Willie wisps aren’t clever,” I said. “If this one’s been here since the Gate closed, it’s hungry–well, they always are. But they don’t have any natural predators here, and Mrs. Newton’s got to be awfully tempting. I don’t like her chances, even with Pretty Boots to guard her.”

I looked at Breccia.

“How is Pretty Boots, by the way? A willie sting can go bad, if it’s not cleaned.”

The land brought me an image of Breccia licking the swollen white paw of a pudgy gray short-hair, and a flutter along nerves that I knew well. The Land had helped Breccia heal Pretty Boots. I sighed in relief.

“Pretty soon you won’t need me,” I said, “and I’ll retire to Florida.”

Breccia flicked her ears, and stared over my head.

“Right.” I looked at Cael.

“Are you taking this on?” I asked him. “What about work tomorrow?”

“I will go to work tomorrow,” he assured me. “The willie wisp will come again, tonight. It knows it wounded the house’s protector, and in the dark it has an advantage.”

I hesitated, but, hell, he was a grown man, and furthermore, he was familiar with the prey. In the Land of the Flowers, a child can dispatch a willie wisp with a single Word. It wasn’t like Cael was going to be shooting a gun, unsheathing a knife, or even bringing his staff into a play. One Word, and it would be over.

“Go for it,” I told him, like he needed my permission. “What about Oscar?”

He tipped his head, considering.

“Borgan,” he said gently. “Will you allow Lady Breccia to ride?”

“Sure thing,” said Borgan, and put a hand on Cael’s shoulder, so Breccia could walk across the bridge of his arm and settle on his shoulder.

Cael sank to one knee, and looked into Oscar’s eyes.

“You will guard Kate this evening, while I track this quarry. The terrain is unfriendly to you, else you would be at my side, as always you are. Our reunion on the morrow will gladden us both.”

Oscar didn’t like it. He whined, and put his paw on Cael’s thigh. In the end, though, he stood and came to my side.

“That’s all right, then,” I said, reaching down to fondle one floppy ear. “See you tomorrow, Cael.”

“Yes,” he said, and turned away, walking swiftly on bare, silent feet.

I turned to Borgan.

“Still up for dinner and dancing?”

He looked down at him, dark eyes beyond warm.

“Now, what happened to make you think I’d changed my mind?”


Chapter Four

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