Wolf Penned In
This story is set in White Wolf's Changeling: The Dreaming role-playing game universe. While the plot and many of the characters are mine, everything else is theirs.
Theme for this section: "Tusk" by Fleetwood Mac
Bill was surprised to find himself and the others in his informal motley back at the vampire's mansion the next evening. He was even more surprised that this had been ordered by His Grace, the Duke, personally. And that they'd been sworn to secrecy about anything they might find there, without being told what His Grace expected them to find there.
This was no mere scouting mission, either. They were equipped - in part by His Grace - for a long run of watch keeping. Even if only Leo seemed to know exactly what they were keeping watch for.
"Almost dusk," said Leo, staring at the sky.
"If we have to stay the night, I'm goin' wolf," muttered Bill, keenly unhappy with the whole mission.
"All we need," said Leo, quietly, "is one good look."
"Hence the binoculars," said Plucky, brightly.
"Night glasses," said Judy, absently. "And why those and just for you instead of state-of-the-art night vision scopes for all of us?"
"I know what we're looking for."
"Listen," said Theodora, reasonably, "is you tell us at least something about what we're supposed to be on the lookout for we can help. Otherwise, it's you looking and us along to keep you awake."
"And warm, if Bill goes wolf," Plucky teased. "Wolf snugglies!"
"Birds being too cold blooded," said Bill.
"Shush," said Leo, quietly, turning his gaze to the house. "Look, just listen for music, and watch for activity behind the third floor windows on the east end."
"That's where we saw that guy, isn't it?" said Bill, sitting up.
Leo said nothing, simply continued to stare at the vampire prince's domicile.
Judy started to say something, but stopped as Leo raised his hand. Thinly, through the gathering darkness, they heard music. Leo nodded.
"That's another piece from the same CD."
He didn't mention which CD, or that the Duchess had made certain he listened to her copy several times before coming here.
"What, did someone from the vampire's group steal something from the Duke for a change?" said Plucky.
A silhouette appeared on a drawn shade. The figured did something to one side for a moment, then began walking away, directly back into the room. Leo bared his teeth in frustration.
"If you're trying to get a look at that guy, I could throw a rock at the window with the shade up," said Theodora. "A pebble, I mean. Don't want to break it, just make a click."
Leo dithered. They'd never seen him so tense, so anxious. Finally he nodded. But, as Theodora rose, he grabbed her arm.
"Only if you can do it from well outside the fence."
"Hell, I could almost do it from here," she said, smirking.
The Satyr made rising and stretching more of a production than she needed to, and enjoyed the lustful male attention this brought her. She even appreciated the fact that Judy was giving her a look of envy. Then she sauntered off, still performing. As she searched for an appropriate pebble she noted the figure approach another shaded window, closer this time to the open one. Realizing that if she took too long she might miss her chance, she grabbed a pebble about the size of a marble, stepped into the open, wound up and threw. Her aim was perfect, and only the fact that she was conservative in her effort to avoid breaking the window kept the glass intact. She then quickly ducked back into hiding.
The silhouetted figure started, and moved to the open window. He was lit from the right rear, the room's light being in the center of the ceiling and the open window all the way to the end. This, plus the remaining glow of dusk, let them get a fair view of him.
Tall, broad-shouldered, with long, blond hair neatly coiffed, he appeared middle-aged and quite human. As well as achingly familiar.
"Yes!" hissed Leo, thrusting a fist upwards.
"That's High King David," said Theodora in a gasp, as she quickly rejoined them.
"No," said Judy, sadly. "That's David Ardry."
* * *
Theme for this section: "Along Came Jones" by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller
"He must have retrorsed," said Judy, watching in shock as the man frowned and turned away. "Lost his fae seeming."
"We have to rescue him!" said Bill, too loudly.
"Shush!!" said Leo, firmly. "Look, if that is David Ardry the worst thing we can do is charge in there! My orders are to confirm that someone who could be the lost High King is living in that mansion, and report to the Duke."
"That's why Seif Raushan is here," breathed Theodora, staring at the structure. "Staying at the Court, I mean."
"Maybe," said Leo, quickly packing the equipment they'd brought for what could have been a very long night. "Come on; we need to get back to the Court."
"Nope," said Bill, settling himself with apparent casualness against the bole of a maple, hands behind his head. "Not going anywhere until you tell us what's going on. And even if you could get my keys good luck driving the Fairlaine. It's a one-man car."
Leo glared at him, but saw that not only was the Pooka not yielding, the others were supporting him. The young Sidhe sighed and relented.
"Look... that probably is David Ardry. But Seif and maybe the Duke and Duchess are the only ones who can confirm that. If that is the High King - if - then the Duke thinks he can convince Prince Exsanguine to give him up. That the vampire probably has only a vague idea of who and what his prisoner is. That even if he knew, he would turn David over, rather than cause trouble with us."
"Well..." said Judy, chewing her bottom lip. "If the Duke thinks he can retrieve the High King peaceably, okay. But I don't like it."
"Lord Exsanguine knows of Changelings," said the Duke, when the same concerns were voiced to him in person. "Though he must be enchanted to see the chimerical aspect of existence, he is less affected by the Mists than most humans or even other vampires. Possibly because Malkavians - his type of vampire - are generally considered mad. He also has a fascination with puzzles, and considers us in that context. I doubt he would deliberately harm the High King, even if he knew who and what he was. And he is knowledgeable enough about our kind that unintentional harm is equally unlikely."
They were in the privy council chamber, and most of the Duke's staff were there, as well as his wife. Only the Duke and the youngsters were speaking.
"So you're saying he's in no immediate danger," said Leo, pointedly, turning to give Bill an "I told you so" glance.
"Indeed. I will arrange an appointment with Lord Exsanguine and have Sir Seif with me. He can confirm if the High King is in the same house, even if not in the same room, using Caliburn. Seif has assured me before that the sword can detect the presence of the High King, even if lost to banality, from that close."
"And I suppose this vampire prince will just let you walk in his home carrying a magic sword," said Plucky, airily.
"Yes. The pretense will be to have Sir Seif show Caliburn to the Prince and ask if he has ever seen anything like it before. Knowing Lord Exsanguine's passions for collecting and for solving puzzles that should definitely appeal to him. If that is the High King, we approach the matter of his retrieval as the situation guides us."
"Your Grace..." said Theodora, hesitantly. "Forgive me, but it seems you know a great deal about vampires in general and this one in particular."
"Lord Exsanguine has been Prince of this city for over a century," said the Duke. "My family has never had close ties with him, but in that amount of time we have learned a great deal about him. Additionally, as I believe some of you know, Lady Fang has him convinced she is also a vampire, and helps keep track of his doings, as well as those of other vampires in the area."
His looked around at them, leaning forward a bit for emphasis, going eye to eye with each, daring them to claim his knowledge was inappropriate. Satisfied, he nodded, and the tension in the room eased slightly.
"Now, there is one more matter I wish to bring up with you this evening," said His Grace, leaning back in his chair. "Something else which counsels caution. Shortly before the disappearance of High King David, one of the greatest Eshu seers living had a vision which foretold the event. He tried to warn the court, but was unable to make contact through any means available to him, including ordinary telephone. Some mystic force was definitely interfering. Part of his vision involved a large, menacing, dark wolf, holding the Moon in its jaws, bounding across the Earth, leaving ruin and Winter in its wake. This vision is something not widely known; one of those who do know it is, of course, Sir Seif. And one of the symbols of the kingship itself on the Earth is the Moon."
"What are you thinking?" asked Leo, of the Duke but looking worriedly at Bill, who was obviously embarrassed.
"That maybe people have misinterpreted the vision. Maybe the wolf wasn't kidnaping High King David, causing the onset of Winter. Maybe the wolf was rescuing him, saving him from Winter, fleeing ahead of it..."
"You're pretty dark in your wolf form," said Judy, looking at Bill, not certain she believed any of this.
"That description bears no resemblance to a jaggling of the Garou Wolf totem which attended my Chrysalis," said Bill, feeling his fur stand on end. "And I didn't hear this prophesy shortly after joining Changeling society. It's as narrowly known as His Grace said."
"Listen, I know this is far from an ideal situation, but it is the situation we have. I am convinced the man in Lord Exsanguine's home is not in danger. Additionally, by dealing peacefully with the Prince we may be able to learn - assuming this is the lost High King - just what happened to him. Gaining that knowledge may be as important as recovering the High King. Do you understand?"
They nodded, some reluctantly.
"Good. We must move cautiously. If nothing else, because we have no idea how that vision might have applied or could still apply. Our young Pooka may yet have a role to play, but what that is we may not know until after the fact. So for this and other reasons you keep all this information to yourselves. Only discuss it with myself, my wife, Seif Raushan, and my highest staff."
"I just don't get this!" Bill raged, once they were safely outside the Duke's home. "The High King, held hostage, and we're doing nothing!"
"You're exaggerating," said Theodora. "From what we saw he's more guest than prisoner."
"But... but... we're immediately charging to the rescue!" said Bill, in his exasperation reverting to his simplest Pooka speech mannerisms.
"Look, I don't like leaving him there, either," said Leo, emphatically and pointedly, "but the Duke knows more about this stuff than we do!"
"Yeah," said Bill, muttering. "Like Theo hinted, maybe too much..."
"Don't call me Theo," said the Satyr, tiredly.
* * *
Theme for this section: "Strangers in the Night" by Bert Kaempfert
After the youngsters left the Duke made a phone call to the Prince. He definitely had no fear of awakening Lord Exsanguine at this time of night. To his surprise, the vampire saw through his pretense with ease.
"I have actually been considering contacting you on the matter of my guest," said the vampire. "Especially after noting that your children had discovered his presence. Something far less upsetting of my household routine than their trophy seeking incursions, I must admit. However, I do not wish to unsettle him by having Changelings here. Perhaps you can suggest a location acceptable to both of us?"
After some discussion, they agreed on Lady Fang's home, if she would let them meet there. A quick conference call was established, and Lady Fang agreed to let her Glen of Eternal Repose be the scene of the gathering. In fact, she just happened to have an opening the next evening...
Following the next nightfall a strange assortment of creatures assembled at the boneyard. Though all three parties were allowed to have up to ten associates present in the boneyard, for the discussion itself the Duke and the Prince - with Lady Fang as mediator - went into the last's crypt and sealed the door behind them. This left those outside uneasily eyeing each other.
"Adam, if you would begin," said Lady Fang.
The Duke nodded to her, and turned to Lord Exsanguine.
"A few nights ago a member of my court heard what he believed to be fae music coming from your mansion. As he looked towards the source he saw someone. I would like to know who that man is and his status in your house."
The vampire pursed his lips in thought for a moment, then nodded.
"Several months back I noticed that minions of an old antagonist were undertaking a rather bizarre task. They were holding someone prisoner. That, in itself, would not be so unusual, but the particulars of the situation were. He was being held for a long period of time, primarily in an iron cage. And they were armed with iron clubs. They were instructed to hold him, but not kill him or cause him permanent injury."
The Prince paused with a slight smile as he let the significance of this soak into his audience.
"Now, I am old enough to have learned a few things about Changelings. Among them that iron - specifically, cold iron - is anathema to them. I admit to having a curiosity about your kind, but my primary motive for intervening in this peculiar situation was to spite Dominic G. Fellows, the vampire I mentioned. So I arranged for this prisoner to be liberated without any of his guards made the wiser.
"He was brought here for me to investigate. At first he didn't even recall his own name. After several days of good treatment - and I emphasize this; let no-one say I am a poor host - he recalled that he was David. A few days more and he recalled that his last name was Ardry. Fascinated, I carefully charted the course of his recovery, noting what factors encouraged it. He has been supplied with fine food, good music, elegant art and intelligent conversation. He currently seems completely recovered, except that he still recalls nothing of his past. He also seems oddly unmotivated and unquestioning, though lately that has also shown signs of change."
"You could have learned more by contacting me," the Duke pointed out diplomatically.
"Ah, but where is the challenge of taking the easy path?" The Prince smiled, more broadly this time, revealing large, pointed canines. "Still, I believe I have learned as much as I can with my current methods, and David is growing restless."
"Then I have a suggestion," said the Duke, his manner outwardly calm but excitement growing beneath that placid exterior. "One way to wake a Changeling to his arcane nature is through exposure to such things as you have provided, but sometimes that is not enough. I believe you are aware of our Saturday evening performances at the Art Center. I will arrange a special presentation, something guaranteed to stir the soul of any Changeling. You bring David and I promise that we will do our best to waken his fey soul, and solve your mystery."
"Excellent!" said the Prince, excitedly rubbing his dry palms together with a raspy sound. "I have actually attended three of those events. I look forward to another. Even if this does not resolve the situation."
"Either way," said the Duke, raising a finger, and speaking firmly, "I expect him to be turned over to me afterwards. He is one of ours and I am honor bound to protect and, if possible, heal him."
"Quite acceptable," said the vampire, actually appearing happy. "As long as I am informed of how he came to be in such circumstances, should you learn that."
"Quite acceptable," said the Duke, appearing even happier.
They shook on it, the Duke barely managing to repress his reaction to the feel of cold, dry flesh pressed against his.
"He's mad, you know," said Plucky, after the vampire and his retinue had left and the Duke briefed those in the know on the results of the meeting. "That vampire, I mean. Out of his bat. Gourds in his belfry."
"You're just going to leave the High King with that... vampire!?" declared Seif, outraged.
"That's what I said," mumbled Bill.
"If Exsanguine is to be believed - and from long experience, including that of several of my predecessors, I feel he is - in this matter then David is currently in no danger. The Prince knows better than to feed on a Changeling, and wishes to remain on good terms with us, and David is protected there. Who would even think to look for the High King in a vampire's home?"
"A pack of Pookas," was Theodora's sour observation.
"While I am not in complete agreement with His Grace in regard to this plan, I confess to being unable to develop one with any greater chance of success," said Lady Fang. "Lord Exsanguine is treating David as a guest, rather than a prisoner, and is well situated to protect him and keep his presence unknown to any but those who already know of it."
"If I simply present him with Caliburn..." Seif began.
"That could waken him. But the Dream Dance is almost always traumatic, and such a sudden shock would amplify that. No, I think a more gradual, controlled attempt would be far better. Oh, don't worry; you will be present, with Caliburn. If necessary, you may present it to David as the climax of our efforts."
"As you say, Your Grace," said Seif, though he was obviously not happy.
"Yes," said the Duke, firmly. "As long as you are in my domain you will do as I say, unless I am overruled by Queen Maab, the High Queen or the High Queen Dowager herself! And that brings us to another, and very good, reason for delaying this to Saturday. I plan to inform all three of those ladies just mentioned, as well as Morewen, of the situation and invite them to also attend."
"That... would definitely help," said Seif, nodding. "His wife, his chosen heir and his sister. Yes. If anyone can awaken him, it would be the first of those, especially with the aid - if necessary - of the second and third. And having Queen Maab here will strengthen both the legitimacy and the security of the event."
"Which are my thoughts on the matter. Do not doubt me, Sir Seif; I wish to see the High King return and settle this nation's unease. And I intend to do everything I can to make certain this is done in the best way possible."
"You're looking pensive," said Theodora, leaning over to Bill, as the meeting broke.
"Just... what the Duke said about the Dream Dance, and why it's necessary to waken King David as gently as possible," said the wolf Pooka. "They are almost never easy or pleasant. I barely survived mine. Mark almost lost his. But, then, Leo's was almost casual, from what he and Judy say."
"So you think the Duke might just be right, after all?"
"Oh, sure. Leaving the Son of the Griffin with a demented vampire is clearly the best choice."
This document is Copyright 2010 Rodford Edmiston Smith. Those wishing to post or reprint this story may contact the author at: email@example.com