|Written by Margaret L. Carter / Artwork by Marge Simon
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The luminous green of the guardian beasts’ eyes,
an eerie gleam unlike anything natural to ordinary
wolves, shone in the moonlit clearing in front of
the stone tower. Insects chirped in the underbrush,
and a light breeze cooled the summer night.
Crouched at the edge of the forest that
surrounded the building, Verlaine fingered the
spell-beads of the bracelet on her left wrist and
counted the animals once again. Having watched
them pace in front of the single door for at least a
quarter of an hour, she’d seen no more than five.
One sleep spell from the magic stored in a single
bead should disable all of them. That conclusion
pleased her, for she didn’t want to give Sir Arno
any excuse for unnecessary killing. Even if the
wolves were abnormally large and fierce predators
enhanced by magic, they were only following their
nature and obeying the will of the mage who had
She cast a sidelong glance at the lean,
chestnut-bearded knight, clad in leather armor,
who crouched at her left side. The spell that made
the two of them invisible to anyone else rendered
his form ghostly to her, just as she would appear
to him. He impressed her as the type of man
who’d gladly slaughter the animals for their pelts
and claim he’d been defending his life. Why had
Baron Garvan sent this man along? Didn’t he
trust Verlaine to rescue his sister, Lady Kora, on
her own? In her role as a freelance mage, Verlaine had performed enough missions for him in the past to
give him confidence in her ability. But, despite her insistence she didn’t need a bodyguard, much less a
man-at-arms to aid in the rescue, he’d ordered her to accept Sir Arno as a traveling companion. Well,
her contract didn’t require that she like its terms, only that she save the lady.
“What are you waiting for?” he whispered.
“Nothing.” She, too, kept her voice low. Although the spell made them inaudible as well as invisible to
others, within limits, she didn’t want to stress those limits. They’d left their horses tethered back in the
woods, far enough away the magic didn’t have to stretch to cover them, also. “We move now. As soon
as I’ve put the wolves to sleep, I’ll unbar the door, and we’ll head straight to the topmost floor.” The
scrying spell she’d performed a few hours earlier had revealed the layout of the tower, with Lady Kora’s
chamber on the third and highest level.
“Yes, I know. We’ve gone over the plan often enough.” He drew his short sword.
“Remember, don’t use that unless you have to. Attacking anyone will break the concealment spell.” Her
sleep spell didn’t count as an attack, since it did the target no actual harm. Once they reached their goal,
the Beast Lord would surely sense the intrusion, but there was no point in attracting attention before
they had to.
“You’ve told me that often enough, too. Get on with it.” He stood up.
She rose to her feet, too, touched the bead that stored the charm she needed, and murmured the
power word. Energy flowed along her arms and crackled in her fingertips. With a sweep of her hand, she
discharged the magic. It spread over the clearing like a shimmering mist and enveloped the wolves.
Instantly they collapsed, unconscious.
If only she could deal with the Beast Lord so quickly. She had little hope of such an easy victory.
Although rumor confined his powers to control over animals, he must surely have the strength to resist
a simple sleep charm. After all, he’d wielded power enough to steal Lady Kora from her own garden the
night before her planned marriage to one of Baron Garvan’s noble allies. From what Verlaine had heard
about the lady’s betrothed, though, returning her to him didn’t sound like a great favor. Still, that fate
had to be better than life as a half-human creature’s captive. And Verlaine had never reneged on a
She strode across the open ground, Sir Arno keeping pace with her. From one of the tallest trees, an
owl with the wingspan of a half-grown child’s height flew toward them and swooped over their heads.
She couldn’t help jumping at its cry and the spectral glow of its eyes. The knight muttered a curse and
brandished his sword.
“Calm down,” she said. “It can’t see or hear us.” Yet she cast a nervous glance at the narrow, pointed
windows of the tower. Suppose the Beast Lord lurked at one of them, wielding some kind of magic able
to neutralize hers?
Well, if that happened, she had no way of warding against it, so she shook off the worry. When they
reached the heavy, oaken door, she triggered another bead to unlock the bar. The door swung inward.
Glad it didn’t creak to alert the master of the house, she stepped inside. A homely sitting room with a
banked fire in the hearth met her gaze, and the aroma of smoldering wood tickled her nose. An archway
opened into a kitchen. Along the right side of the wall, a stairway led upward.
Sir Arno glanced around. “Doesn’t look like a magician’s lair.”
“What did you expect, a stuffed crocodile hanging from the ceiling and a mummy propped in the corner?”
He probably had, given most warriors’ suspicion of magic. She touched another bead and murmured an
incantation to conjure a globe of light about the size of an apple. She led the way up the steps with the
light floating ahead of her. The staircase had no railing on the side away from the wall. The muted glow
would be less likely to alert the enemy than the racket they’d make if they tumbled downstairs in the
On the second level they passed through a chamber lined with bookshelves. She slowed down as they
approached the top story. Here the stairs ended at a closed door. She paused to listen with her ear to
the panel and heard nothing. Grasping the latch, she found it unlocked. Irrationally holding her breath,
she pushed the door open.
When she slipped inside, Sir Arno close on her heels, she caught a brief glimpse of a spacious, circular
room with a wide bed under the window. The moonlight showed two figures lying there, a woman in a
translucent white gown and—something else.
The creature sprang up. The invasion of strange magic must have awakened him, Verlaine thought as
she activated the next bead on her bracelet. By the aura of her light globe, she saw a figure the size of a
tall man, nude except for the tawny fur that covered his body. He had clawed fingers and a leonine mane.
His roar of defiance displayed a mouthful of fangs. She flung a bolt of blue energy at him, thus
unavoidably canceling her concealment charm. He staggered backward but didn’t fall.
She gasped in dismay at the failure of her attack to stun him. His half-animal nature must grant him
physical stamina beyond an ordinary man’s. Just as she readied another bolt, Lady Kora leaped from the
bed with a scream. The captive wore no shackles, but perhaps the Beast Lord kept her prisoner with
magic or simple threats of violence. At least she looked physically unharmed, with no bruises or scars,
although she had been imprisoned here almost four months. It had taken the Baron’s senior wizard that
long to locate the tower with his farseeing sorcery. Her nightgown clung to her body, covering her from
breast to ankles but concealing little. Her belly curved with the slight bulge of early pregnancy.
Verlaine suppressed her shock at this revelation and shouted, “Run downstairs! We’ll hold the monster
Sir Arno lunged forward with sword outthrust. To her confusion, he charged at the Beast Lord and
shoved the creature toward her. “Kill it!”
Ducking, she barely avoided a blow from the monster’s talons. Diving onto the floor, she rolled to her
knees and groped for another bead.
“No!” Lady Kora cried. “Leave him alone!”
Another shock hit Verlaine when the knight made no move to defend her against the beast. Instead, his
blade slashed at the lady.
The creature whirled around and pushed Lady Kora out of the way. The sword’s point glanced off her
forearm, scoring a thin line of blood, and stabbed into the Beast Lord’s shoulder. His howl of pain and
rage rang in Verlaine’s ears.
The noise jolted her out of her paralysis. She stood up and fired her bolt. Not at the Beast Lord—at Sir
He toppled onto the floor on his back, stunned but still conscious. She kicked the sword away from his
She cast a wary glance at the Beast Lord. His glittering eyes watched her, but he made no move to
attack. Lady Kora snatched a pillow-slip from the bed, wadded it up, and pressed it to the creature’s
bleeding wound. She glared at Verlaine. “My brother sent you, didn’t he? Why can’t he leave us in peace?”
Verlaine stared down at the prostrate knight while fingering one of her last two spell-beads. One to
strike the decisive blow against the enemy, the other to cover their retreat with the lady. “Why? Who
bribed you to commit this treachery?”
“No one.” She had to strain to understand Sir Arno’s mumbled words. “Baron’s orders.”
“What? He commanded you to kill his sister?”
“She’s no use to him fouled by that monster’s lust. No man would pay a rich dowry or make an alliance
for her now. Better to get rid of her. Say the beast slew her rather than surrender his prize.” His voice
grew stronger. The stun effect was wearing off.
“You’d have murdered me, too, I’m sure.”
“Couldn’t leave witnesses,” he said with a sly grin. He inched sideways and stretched an arm in the
direction of the sword.
Her contract bound her to save the lady. Only one way to fulfill that promise. She murmured the word to
activate another energy bolt and hurled the spell at Sir Arno.
A streak of blue lightning struck his shoulder. His body convulsed for a few seconds, then went limp.
Verlaine knelt to check the pulse at his neck. It beat steadily. She had time to think, since he wouldn’t
regain consciousness for at least a couple of minutes. She could tie him up, but then what?
The Beast Lord seized her by the arm, jerked her to her feet, and curled the clawed fingers of his other
hand around her throat. “My wolves—what happened to them?” His hot breath, with an odor like molten
metal in a forge, scorched her face.
She stood rigid, hoping he couldn’t hear the frantic racing of her heart. “I put them to sleep. They’ll
recover in a few hours, unless something wakes them earlier.”
He sniffed her hair as if testing her honesty by scent. Lady Kora stepped closer and laid a hand on his
shoulder. “Don’t hurt her, love. I’m sure she won’t betray us.”
He relaxed his grip and shifted his claws from Verlaine’s neck to her shoulder.
“So you weren’t kidnapped by force at all,” she said.
The lady shook her head. “We’d been meeting secretly for months before I decided to run away
rather than marry the man of my brother’s choice and spend my life in misery.” She gazed directly into
Verlaine’s eyes. “What will you do?”
Verlaine gulped a deep breath. “I’ll send a message to the Baron telling him you’re dead. That you were
accidentally killed in the struggle between Sir Arno and your—captor.” That news should please Baron
Garvan. Still, knowing what she now did about him, she thought it best not to place herself within his
reach anytime soon.
The Beast Lord’s lips curled away from his fangs. “What about this?” He kicked the knight in the ribs.
“I can’t kill a defenseless man,” she said. Left alive, though, he would probably come after her or even try
again to murder Lady Kora.
“I admire your honor,” the beast said, “impractical though it is.” He stooped down and slung the
unconscious man over his shoulder. Verlaine stepped forward, raising the arm that wore the spell
bracelet. The creature warned her off with a low snarl. “Don’t interfere. I have no wish to harm you.” She
halted and watched him disappear through the doorway leading to the stairs.
Lady Kora sighed and slumped onto the bed. “If my brother believes your tale, I can stop worrying that
he’ll send another warrior to ‘rescue’ me. That will be a relief.”
Seconds later, the Beast Lord dashed up the stairs and into the chamber. He sat next to the lady and
wrapped his arms around her, with her head leaning on his chest.
Verlaine’s stomach clenched. “What did you do with Sir Arno?”
“Left him in front of my door and awakened the wolves.” He bared his fangs in a feral smile.
“That’s as good as slaughtering him yourself.” Through the window she heard the growling of the pack.
“Not quite. I left him his dagger. He has a chance to fight for his life.”
The growls rose to a crescendo. A man’s scream ended in abrupt silence. Then the wolves howled their
triumph in unison.
A trail of ice trickled down Verlaine’s spine. “It seems he lost that fight.” She shook her head to cast off
the chill. “I’ll have his body transported to the Baron with the message of Lady Kora’s death. The
wounds will lend support to my story.”
“Very well,” the Beast Lord said. “I’ll command the wolves not to attack you.”
“Won’t my brother wonder what happened to my body?” the lady said.
“I’ll claim Sir Arno still had life in him when we fled, and I had no way of carrying both.” With a wry smile,
Verlaine added, “After I’ve taken care of that business, I’ll head in the opposite direction as fast as a
horse will carry me. There’s always work for a freelance mage, and most of my employers don’t conspire
to murder their own kin.”
She bowed and turned to descend the stairs. Although she doubted the Baron would bother to send her
fee after her, she had no regrets. Freedom and honor meant more than gold and silver. Strangely, she
reflected, the lady whom everyone thought a monster’s captive had chosen her own kind of freedom.
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