Changing Fate [Fate series]
Click on image to enlarge.
by Elisabeth Waters
Description: Akila uses her wits and her shape-changing abilities to save her brother Briam when their home is besieged. But that leaves them both on the run, with Akila trying to keep them safe, while Briam finds more trouble to get into. When he is chosen as year-king in the city of Diadem, Akila struggles to save his life, finding help in the most unexpected places.
eBook Publisher: Marion Zimmer Bradley Literary Works Trust, 1994
eBookwise Release Date: June 2012
1 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [319 KB]
Reading time: 209-293 min.
"Will attract fans of Anne McCaffrey and Andre Norton... A sparkling addition to any fantasy collection. Four stars!" --Mercedes Lackey
As far as Akila was concerned, the puppies were absolutely perfect and adorable. She loved to curl up by the other female and help look after them, even though she couldn't nurse them. Sometimes she wistfully wished she could--and then she sternly reminded herself that she only felt that way because she had the strong maternal instincts of a wolf. When she changed back to human, they'd be merely cute.
Time passed, and the puppies grew. All too soon they were crawling around the cave, and then beginning to venture outside. Fortunately, as Akila had anticipated, this coincided with the end of the rainy season. The sunshine made everyone feel better. Game became more plentiful as more animals came out of their burrows, and hunting no longer took all available time. Akila and the other wolves looked after the puppies in shifts; one adult to chase after and round up the babies and three to lie in the sun on the warm rocks and watch.
Forage for the horses was much easier to find as well, but Briam still ranged far with them, usually in the downstream direction. He told Akila that he wanted to explore as much of the area as possible. She and the rest of the pack went with him sometimes, now that the horses and wolves were getting used to each other.
It was late afternoon and they were all far downstream. The puppies were running about, sniffing at everything--they'd never been in this area before. They'd had a good day's hunting, and several extra rabbits hung from Briam's saddle. Akila took a good drink from the river, then flopped limply on the bank, next to the smaller male wolf.
"Akila!" Briam called. "It's late and we should be heading home. Round up the rest of the pack, will you?"
Akila turned her head and looked at him, then stretched into a more comfortable position. She felt no desire to move; the sun was warm, the air was fresh, and she was perfectly happy where she was.
Briam dismounted and come over to touch her so he could carry on the argument. Come on; we won't get back before dark if we don't hurry.
So take the horses and go ahead. There's plenty of moon these nights for the rest of us--and besides, it's warm enough to sleep out.
Akila? Briam suddenly seemed to find her behavior strange. What are you thinking of? We can't sleep out here.
Why not? There's nothing dangerous around here.
Suddenly, as if to prove her a liar, they could hear screams off in the direction where the puppies and the larger male wolf had disappeared. From the sound of it, the screamer was human and female, not that either Akila or Briam stopped to analyze the sound. Akila took off toward it at her top speed, flanked by the other two wolves. Behind her she could hear the thudding hooves of Briam's horse. She hoped he wouldn't be thrown riding breakneck over uneven ground, but there wasn't much she could do to stop him.
The noise was coming from a girl, about their own age, standing with her back flattened against a tree, while the puppies sniffed at this strange new creature and the male growled. Her screams were subsiding to terrified whimpers until she caught sight of three more wolves, at which point they went back to full volume.
Akila stood and contemplated her dispassionately. She'd probably be quite pretty if she'd stop screaming and close her mouth. Of course, she'd need to be cleaned up a bit. Her long pale hair had come half undone from its braids and was liberally festooned with leaves and twigs, and her eyes were swollen from the tears that were making tracks in the grime on her face. The hem of her dress was in tatters, and the sleeves were almost as ragged. They had fallen back to her elbows when she clasped her hands at her breast, revealing an assortment of scratches and insect bites on both forearms.
A crashing noise behind her announced the arrival of Briam's horse--hopefully still accompanied by Briam. "Get back!" Briam dismounted and pushed between her and the larger male wolf. "Get those puppies away from her!" He reached to grab the nearest one, and the mother sprang on him, knocking him over. The girl screamed even louder, though Akila would have sworn that was impossible. In defense of her own ears, she sprang forward and shoved the female off Briam, who scrambled hastily to his feet and moved to defend the girl. Akila started chasing the puppies back. The puppies thought this was a great game. The other wolves moved to help, and soon the wolves were gathered together several yards from the girl, who was now sobbing hysterically in Briam's arms.
Akila stalked over and leaned against Briam's leg. Quiet her down, will you, she thought impatiently.
What do you expect? Briam thought back indignantly. She's frightened!
And I'm getting a splitting headache! Shut her up, or I'll really give her something to scream about!
Don't be such a bitch! I really think you've been a wolf too long! Briam stepped away from her, drawing the girl with him.
Akila stared at him in disbelief. What does he mean 'bitch'? I'm his sister--and all my life I've taken care of him! And he's always loved me and listened to me. What is the matter with him? Granted, she's pretty enough, but anybody stupid enough to scream like that at the sight of a few wolves--there'd be some sense in it if screaming were likely to scare us away, but as it is her behavior is idiotic! What does he see in her?
"Hush, now," Briam murmured soothingly to the girl. "It's all right; they won't hurt you. Most of them are just babies."
"But they're so big! And one of them knocked you down!"
"That's the mother," Briam explained. "She didn't want me to hurt them. It's all right, really. They're just pets."
Pets! Akila thought in outrage. He'd have starved without us! And he dares call us 'pets'! Briam couldn't hear her, of course, since he was several feet away, but her internal voice replied.
And 'pet' is hardly a proper thing to call one's sister. It had the gall to sound amused.
I can think of a few things I'd like to call him!
Oh come now, he's always had a romantic streak, and here's the perfect damsel in distress.
Probably due to her own stupidity. Akila sniffed. I wonder what he thinks he's going to do with her.
The girl was making a valiant, if rather obvious, effort to control herself. She did manage to get her sobbing under control, but she still clung to Briam as if he was the only thing that could save her from a Horrible Fate. "I'm sorry, truly I am--I know it's silly of me, but I just can't stand wolves. You see, there was this horrible creature--" she shuddered and leaned against Briam's shoulder. "Have you ever heard of were-wolves?"
Briam shook his head. "Try not to be scared," he said comfortingly. "Truly, they won't hurt you. What is your name, my lady?"
The girl dried her eyes on what remained of her left sleeve and looked up at him, her eyelashes fluttering very slightly. "Druscilla."
"Druscilla." Briam gallantly kissed her grubby hand. "I'm called Briam."
Druscilla blushed and pulled her hand away. "Thank you for saving me from the wolves." She looked nervously at the pack, who were sprawled about looking at her.
Briam followed her gaze. "Really, it's all right." He turned to Akila, and held out a hand. "Here, come say hello to Druscilla."
Akila stalked over, eyeing them warily. Druscilla shrank back, then gulped, reached out and patted her tentatively on the head. "Nice wolf," she said in a quivering voice.
Akila endured it stiffly for a moment and then leaned on Briam. Tell her not to try that with the others--wolf instinct says to flinch and snap when someone reaches for the top of your head like that. She should put her hand out low and palm up and let them smell her.
Can't you tell them to behave? he thought back.
Not the way you can tell her. Come, brother, there are eleven of them and one of her--and I hope she's more intelligent than they are!
Briam reached out and took Druscilla's hand, turning it as Akila had directed. "Here, my lady, like this."
Akila sniffed the outstretched hand reluctantly. She stinks!
If you think perfume smells worse than damp wolf, you've certainly been a wolf too long! Briam shot back.
And if you'd rather be with a ninny who can't even take care of herself than the wolf-pack that's been keeping you fed, fine! Go ahead! But you can do your own hunting from now on! Akila turned and fled blindly into the hills. The rest of the pack followed her.
She ran until she was ready to drop, then she burrowed into the underbrush and curled up in a miserable, whimpering ball of fur.
How could he? I've taken care of him all my life, and he just brushes me off as if I were nothing--as if I were just a 'pet' wolf. No, that's not true, he takes better care of his horses; at least for them he feels some responsibility. I'm just in the way all the sudden--coming between him and his lady-love. 'Be nice to her, Akila; make the rest of the pack be nice to her'--as if I could control the behavior of eleven wolves without even trying!
If she were in human form, she'd be crying. As it was, she was frightening the wolves; all eleven of them were crowded around her trying to comfort her. And I can't even talk to them! She threw back her head and howled in despair. It didn't make her feel any better.
I might just as well go back home and marry Lord Ranulf--he seems to be the only person alive who might still want me, now that Briam thinks I'm a bitch and doesn't love me anymore. She lay there and thought about home, about sleeping in a bed instead of on rocks and dirt, having the people she'd known all her life around her instead of being out in the woods with no one to talk to, having servants to bring food to the table without her having to turn into a wolf and go catch it herself. At the moment the idea was almost unbearably attractive. She contemplated it for a long time before the sense of duty her father had carefully trained into her ("take good care of your brother, Akila") finally triumphed.
No, she told herself firmly, I swore I'd take care of Briam, and I shall--even if he does suddenly think I'm a monster. Besides, Lord Ranulf doesn't really want me; what he wants is the land, and he already has that! She dragged herself to her feet and headed back to the cave, with the rest of the pack trailing behind her.
It was very late when they got there, and the cave was dark. Apparently Briam had remembered to bank the fire for the night--if he was even there. Akila halted at the cave entrance and sniffed the air. Yes, Briam was there, and so were the horses and--Akila's nose wrinkled at the scent of perfume--so was Druscilla. Oh, well, maybe things would look better in the morning. She and the wolves crowded into the corner behind the saddlebags and went to sleep. But something had changed now in her soul; she felt restless in wolf form, and the Earth Mother was calling her back to the altar again which the Maiden threw lightning behind her as if to herd her home. It was the old dream, which had stopped after she had been a wolf for a while. Why is it back now?