Wolf in the Wind
by Sharon Lee
“You caught the dog-catcher?”
Cael froze. He knew that voice. Avis Marcant, the councilwoman John had warned him about. But she was a woman of the Changing Land, all but blind to jikinap, as well as the wonders and horrors it produced. She ought not to have been able to see a willie wisp, much less make a pet of it. As to these burning bars that penned him–
“I do not know what a dog-catcher is.” That voice he did not know, and having heard it once, he discovered in himself a desire never to hear it again. “But I do know power, and this–entity–possesses a significant amount. It may be that it will do.”
Oh, power, was that it? Cael sighed and allowed the power to flow out of him, through the bottoms of his bare feet, into the Land, where it would be kept for him. It was unusual for someone to set such a trap in the Changing Land, where jikinap so often malfunctioned, or changed into something else under the influence of the Land’s special attributes.
In Sempeki, such hunts were common, the acquisition of jikinap being vital to survival. Sempeki was the homeland of his liege, and also of himself. But there was something . . . odd about the circle of power confining him.
It didn’t feel like Sempeki.
Cael stood patient, which was not easy. The trap was not large, and the bars were hot. Now that he was empty of all power, they were also interested, as jikinap is always interested, in filling empty vessels with itself.
“If you want him, take him,” said Avis Marcant. “He’s nothing but trouble; whole town’ll be better off if he’s someplace else.”
“What I want,” said the other in their jagged stony voice, “is the key to this place. What I have caught is not the key. The question I now ask is: Is this creature–valuable?”
“Valuable?” Avis Marcant repeated. “He’s worthless.”
“In that case, I do not want it.”
“I mean, not worthless!” Avis Marcant cried. “Not to you. He’s worthless to this town, like the old woman across the street. And you still owe me.”
Cael took a careful breath, tasting jikinap, and wished he could see through the blazing bars that confined him.
“Creature!” the other voice said sharply. “What is your name?”
Cael felt his lips pull back from his teeth in a snarl. Did she think him as untutored as that? And, yet, why not give her a name? It might play to his advantage.
“My name,” he said, “is Abraham Lincoln.”
“No!” Avis Marcant began. “That’s–”
“Be silent!” the rocky voice grated.
A gasp, and a brief silence, before more hard words.
“Abraham Lincoln, be bound where you stand.”
The flames died on an instant, and Cael considered his captors. He stared into Avis Marcant’s face for a long moment before turning to the other, who was–not of Sempeki, nor yet of the Changing Land. The face was vulpine, dark; the craggy body wrapt loosely in a long white shift, the eyes glittering white as quartz.
He was, Cael realized, looking at one of the Wise–never a good idea, and especially now, when the Gate between the Worlds had been closed–by order of the Wise–in order that the Changing Land might die, for the crime of having offended them.
Cael settled his feet firmly against the grass, felt the Land’s readiness.
“Abraham Lincoln, how did you dispatch the willie wisp?”
Cael moved his shoulders. “I got lucky.”
“Give yourself up to me.” The Wise One leaned forward, eyes glittering; the dark hand stretched out to him was veined with marble.
Cael dared not pulled the Land’s power into him. He was its protector, through his oath to his lady, and his own inclination. If the Wise One touched him while he was connected to the Land, she would touch–she would foul–Archers Beach. That he would not allow. Better to stand here, empty of all power, and take his chances with her temper.
“He lied to you,” Avis Marcant gasped, either released from the Wise One’s will or stronger than he believed her to be. “His name is Cael Wolfe, and he’s the worst dog-catcher this town has ever had.”
It was not his true-name, the one that he had been born to, in Sempeki, but it was his name in this Land, that defined who and what he was, here.
The milky quartz eyes sparked. Cael felt the draw of another power on his soul. There was nothing he could do to resist her, empty as he stood. So far as weapons went, he had only one that he might wield without calling on any power save that which resided in him alone.
He closed his eyes, and opened his secret heart.
* * *
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