Dances with Wizards
by girl starfish and Aphrael
It's almost night.
I reach into the front of the plain tunic I put on at the start of my
journey and take out my medallion. It's cold to the touch - a result
of the chill winter breeze, no doubt. The hawk symbol on the front is
carved in thick bronze - marking me as a journeyman sorcerer.
This journey is the one that's going to get me promoted to the silver.
Of course, that doesn't mean I understand the point of this errand.
"Take this to the Wizards' Council in the eastern mountains," was
what our council told me. "It's very important that you get it there
as soon as you can."
And they handed me a wooden door handle.
I still don't understand. I take out the plain, unmagical thing,
holding it up next to my medallion. At the time, I'd almost believed
it was a joke, but they still sent me off without even so much as a
snicker. It doesn't make much sense to me.
But this is my journey, and I'll still complete it.
It's the middle of winter, and that makes a journey like mine a
little bit more difficult than it might have been during the spring,
summer, or even autumn. There's snow to deal with, for one thing, and
it's cold enough so that I have to dress and pack warmly. My tunic is
heavy, and I was given a warm cloak to wear. Still, in the early
morning and late at night, the cold air tends to bite.
It's time to stop for the night.
It doesn't take more than a few minutes for me to find a place where
I can set up camp. The woods I'm traveling through aren't too dense
to provide more than a few clearings that would suit me. I'm not
trying to hide and I'm not in a hurry, so I build a fire and lay out
I come from a wealthy family, so I'm not really used to camping out
on my own. But I've been in training as a sorcerer for seven years,
and survival is one of the first things they teach you. I learned how
to set up a decent camp, though I've never actually done it before
Perfect time to see if I've learned anything.
I light the fire and dig into my bag for the rations I brought along.
I've been traveling all day - and this isn't the first day. At the
base of the western mountains, the Council of Sorcerers keeps track
of everyone in the brotherhood. We all find ways to report back when
it's necessary, and there are times we have to return for one reason
or another. I lived in that place while I went through my training,
so it's become like home to me. This is the first time I've ever been
completely alone, but I'm finding that I don't mind it. There's a
sort of peaceful feeling in the crackling of the fire and the night
sounds made by various animals - mostly crunching noises, letting me
know that there are creatures walking through the snow.
I think I might want to make more journeys in the future. Especially
through the woods. I traveled through the bare flatlands between the
mountains and the woodlands earlier in my journey, and I didn't find
it nearly as interesting. I get the feeling it's more dangerous here,
But I'm prepared for that.
The food I was cooking suddenly falls off my makeshift tray and into
the fire with a loud hiss.
"Oh no!" I crouch beside where it fell, dismayed. There's no way I'm
going to be able to save any of that. Nice going, Quatre - there's
some of your rations down the drain.
I make a face, sigh, and reach for more food.
"Hello the camp!" a voice suddenly calls from the shadows surrounding
my clearing. "I'm looking for a place to stay for the night. I have
food and fresh water to offer in return."
Huh. Maybe I'm not so unlucky…
"Come on in," I reply quickly, before he decides to leave instead.
The mysterious stranger enters the clearing, setting down a heavy bag
at the opposite end of the fire from me. His eyes are dark and
slanted, and his hair is pulled back tightly. The expression on his
face is almost severe. "Thank you for your hospitality," he says,
I smile, liking the look of him despite that tense feeling he
radiates. "It's no trouble. The clearing isn't mine, after all, and I
won't lose any warmth by sharing the fire." My smile turns rueful. "I
just dropped my dinner in there, so I have to admit, your offer of
food was tempting."
As if on cue, my stomach growls.
He smiles - very, very slightly. "Very well." His fingers move to
unlace the ties on his bag. "I'm called Wufei," he offers.
I nod. "My name is Quatre." I notice the strange pouch hanging by his
waist. "Are you a wizard, by any chance?"
He hands me a generous portion of his dry rations. "Yes."
What an opportunity! To actually meet one of the others, and on my
first journey… My smile widens. "I'm a sorcerer, actually."
Wufei glances up, but doesn't reply.
I suppose that's not an uncommon reaction. Wizards and sorcerers
haven't always gotten along well together. From what I've studied of
our history, neither side was very gracious about it. And both had
held those who practiced different types of magic in contempt for the
most part. The differences were really superficial from what I could
see. Wizards used incantations to summon up spirits that would do
their bidding. Sorcerers used power within themselves to work magic.
The end results were very similar.
Still, I'd always been interested in different types of magic. "You
could have lit a fire yourself with magic, couldn't you?" I ask him,
hoping to spark up a conversation.
"Of course. " Wufei sniffs, as if disdainful of the idea that he
might not have been able to. "But I prefer not to waste my energy.
Besides, you had a fire already going. I figured if you were willing
to share, it would be more practical to just have one."
"That makes sense," I agree. "I didn't use magic to light this one
anyway. Same reasoning."
He seems to approve of that. "If we were to be attacked, we might
need all the strength we could muster."
"Exactly." I beamed, pleased that I'd gotten him to open up.
There's a moment of companionable silence after that.
I've never been a fan of silence, though. "Where are you headed?"
"Back to the council." He shrugs slightly. "I was on a journey. They
needed me to pick up a message from some village in the west. I'm on
my way back with it."
"That's where I'm going, too." I jump to the next logical
conclusion. "Why don't we travel together?"
Wufei looks at me for a moment. "It's practical," he concedes. "If
you're trained as a sorcerer, I'm going to assume you won't be a
I decide to take that as a compliment. "Thanks."
He grunts and focuses on cooking the food. At least he doesn't get
distracted as easily as I do. I think it would have put a definite
irritating feel to the evening if I lost more food to t he fire.
In a moment, I'm busy with what actually turns out to be surprisingly
tasty food. "This is really good," I say honestly, amazed that he
managed to make such a meal with just dry rations to work
with. "You're a pretty good cook."
He frowns. "Thank you. But cooking isn't a skill that's valued high
where I come from."
"Really?" That's interesting. "Don't you care about what you're
"If it's healthy, then it's best to eat it. If not, then it's not."
Wufei shrugged. "I was taught to cook during my training, as I'm sure
you were as well."
I nod. "Yes I was. But I'm not exactly the greatest cook. I can force
down the food I make, but I'd hate to push it on someone else."
Another hint of a smile. "Well, we won't starve then."
"I think we'll get by."
Another moment o f silence and then, surprisingly enough, he offers
more talk. "You're traveling to the Wizards' Council. What exactly is
your business there?"
"I'm on a journey, like you." I fold my sleeping roll into a square
and sit on it to keep it warm. "I was asked to deliver something to
Wufei raises an eyebrow. "If it's not too impolite, can I ask what?"
I'd been hoping he wouldn't, but I take out the door handle and show
it to him.
He glances at it, then up at me. "Are you serious?"
"I don't know any more than you do." I put it away. "They told me it
was very important, so I guess it must be. I didn't ask for an
"Of course not." Wufei seems almost incredulous at the very
idea. "It's not your place to question your betters. What they ask of
you is their business."
I nod. "I didn't want to seem rude, so I didn't say anything."
He seems satisfied. "It's not so strange. They do strange things
sometimes. I'm waiting for the day when I'll achieve that state of
I grin ruefully. Understanding? Right… "I think," I tell him, still
grinning, "that I personally have a long way to go."
The snow is thick but so fresh we sink into it as we walk, our steps
a soft whisper among the quiet woods. Thick pine scents the wood, the
air is fresh and chill. It's a beautiful winter's day, and with luck,
a good day to hunt.
We walk in near-silence, Solo stopping every few moments to test the
air with his nose. With luck we might surprise a deer as they scratch
for the grass hidden under the snow, preferably a hunger weary-stag--
If not the rabbits are always plentiful.
Solo stops suddenly. I, musing on these thoughts, am caught unaware
and blunder into him.
Clumsy! He chides me with a stern look.
My tail sinks between my legs and I do my best to look contrite. My
lack of attention has cost us more than one meal.
Solo turns from me to sniff the air again. He pauses in his task and
I am emboldened to turn my nose to the breeze.
What could be the matter? Prey? Another pack? That could be good or
It has been two moons now since we left our pack. It was time. The
three females had mates and there was no chance of the two us winning
one. We were unsatisfied with the share given us of the kills so
moved on to find better prospects. Since then we've been run out of
three different packs territories, twice by wolves, once by humans.
I'm content to just explore but Solo is weary of this. I think he
wants a mate.
There has to be a bitch somewhere that will have him. He's a bit
scrawny as wolves go, but he's got more spirit then many a male wolf
with twice his size. He's good in a hunt and--
Solo bunts me with his head, recalling me sharply to the moment. If
you don't pay attention, he threatens …
Then what? I demand with cocked ear. What have you smelled?
If you would pay better attention you might know, Solo tells me,
nipping me. It's meant as a reprimand, and I don't tug away. In our
small pack of two, he is in charge. I'm not aggressive enough to take
the challenge, besides I'm rather fond of him. He is a wiser hunter
than I am, and it does me no harm to follow another's lead.
Follow me. Solo lopes off.
I hasten after him, determined not to be left behind. As we climb to
the top of the ridge, Solo pauses, sniffing the air, before plunging
down into the valley.
I pause a moment on the ridge.
At last I can smell what Solo detected. Smoke, very faint, mixed with
something not smoke. Something--
I bound ahead and ambush Solo. What is that?
Reckless! He snaps at me.
I am undeterred. What? What is it?
Now is not the time for this, he growls low in his throat so the
sound won't carry. It's then I realise.
You don't know what it is?
Come on, he turns to the trail. We'd best get out of here.
Incredulous, I bound up to him then away again. We're not going to
leave without finding out what it is?
It is fire, Solo snaps. Nothing good comes with fire.
So that is men I smelled? I return to the ridge top where the scent
is smelt more clearly. It is man and it is something different …
Something that is part of me…
What are you doing? Solo plants himself in front of me as I start
down the hill. You foolish cub! You are not thinking of following the
I laugh at him and dance around him. Silly Solo, doesn't he know that
I have nothing to fear from a scent such as that? I am meant to
He tries to pull me back but I elude him. I am faster than him, for
all he's taller, and I outdistance him easily, happily chasing the
I slow once I am closer, threading through the tall pine trees with
care. Although confident, I do not want to be careless. I test the
air frequently, creeping ever nearer my target.
This is madness, Solo tells me, his posture indicating his unease.
This is not good.
Then go, I tell him. If this upsets you flee. I will not esteem you
the worse for it.
Idiot. He playfully wrestles me into the soft snow. I would not leave
you. You are my hunt-brother, are you not?
I escape from him and shake the snow from my fur. Then follow, I
command with a flick of my tail.
It is not so long now, and the crackle of flame is clearly heard.
Solo is right, two humans sit around the fire. Their talk is carried
to us, the soft sound they make having no meaning. I sit and cock my
head at the campfire. What is so odd about that?
Well? Solo demands with an impatient nudge. Are you satisfied?
The fire crackles away, and one of the humans stirs something over
the fire. A delicious aroma is carried to me--
Stew-- I love a good stew. I remember when Sister Helen took me to a
country inn. She told me I could eat as much as I liked. The stew was
so good I managed three bowls-- I sigh happily at the memory.
But--to be in the Inn I walked among humans--I was a human--I am a
Solo stares as I bound away suddenly, tearing away from the campfire
and its occupants.
Silly cub-- you frightened me! He scolds once he catches up. What do
you mean by acting so unpredictably?
I paw at the snow at the base of the tree. I remember an oak tree, I
tell him. An oak tree-- I marked it.
You think you can pick up a scent under this amount of snow? And when
have you been in this part of the woods anyway? Our former territory
is west of here.
I was not always as you know me, I tell him.
Is that so, silly cubling? He pounces me to the ground. We wrestle
for a bit and I manage to get a few good nips in. Solo rolls us over
against the tree and in the resulting tussle our tails dislodge quite
a bit of snow.
Mean. I whine, as I discover I have come off the worst in our
contest. Solo has my neck.
But he isn't paying attention.
I pull myself loose and discover him staring at the base of the tree.
It is indeed marked-- a symbol implanted into the trunk. It is my mark.
How did you know of that? Solo's tail is down, he does not like these
developments. He wishes us away on the other side of the ridge, the
scent never followed.
I put it there, I tell Solo. In order to help me find my things.
My human things. Solo, I am not a wolf.
My hunt brother looks at me. Another of your pranks?
Oh? Solo laughs. If you are a human, pray tell me why you appear as
my hunt-brother and not as one of the tailless ones.
I close my eyes.
It's a little like trying to remember the tune of a song. At first
nothing comes up but a blank but then you get a bit of it, and then
another bit comes and--
I smile as I feel the familiar touch of my hair against my
face. "Man, does it feel good to be able to stretch!" I do so
vigorously, noting that I am now taller than Solo-- considerably so.
My wolf-friend stares at me, watching with wide eyes these
developments. I smirk at him.
"If this is one of my pranks, you must admit it's one of my better
A sudden gust of wind shakes the trees then and I am struck that
there are more intelligent things I could do then stand naked in a
snow filled wood.
"Why did I have to remember I was a human in the middle of winter?
Why couldn't I have picked a nice summer afternoon, or even a day
with less wind?" I moaned as I dislodged my carefully hidden pack
from the oak's branches.
Not understanding the human words but guessing my discomfort Solo
snickered. I was pleased to note that even as a human I could still
read his body-language. The scent nuances were beyond my human-nose,
but I could still get the basic meaning of what he said. And what he
was saying now was that having a built in fur coat was pretty handy.
"Careful," I warned him as I gratefully pulled on my tunic. "I might
decide to borrow yours and then where would you be?"
The idea of a hairless wolf seemed to amuse him. He was still
snuffling when I leaped out of the tree.
"Let's see-- I know it's here somewhere-- ah hah!" I pulled out my
hairbrush triumphantly. "Almost ready for decent society!"
Solo snorts. A wayward cub like you? He seems to say. As if.
I grin as I discover that my hair is not horrendously knotted--hardly
even tangled at all. I suppose all the grooming I did as a wolf had
some effect. Plaiting it is a little more tricky, as I've lost the
knack of it. Won't take me too long to relearn it, I suppose as I tie
Solo watches me gravely. You will go to the fire, won't you?
I nod and kneel to him. I run my hand along his jaw, and resting it
against his ear. What I have to say is important and there must be no
//Being a wolf was great// I tell him, mind to mind. //But I am on a
journey to learn many things. Now I have learned about wolves it is
time to turn my mind to other things.//
//I will miss you, pack-brother// he tells me gravely. //We shared
//I will never forget you, never// I tell him. //I will always
consider you my hunt-brother.//
//Always// I promise.
//You do not wish to become as the humans and hunt the pack?//
//Never// I reply firmly. //My ways are not those of most humans.//
Solo raised a shaggy eyebrow. //Then I will accompany you, hunt-
brother, on your walks.//
I am touched. And no, not in the head, thank-you very much. I wipe
away a tear, and smile at Solo. //I am honored but I cannot accept.
Men are tricky, I cannot promise you safety.// With a sigh I break
the contact. "Farewell," I tell him. "I hope you find a good pack and
a nice bitch."
And I turn my footsteps towards the fire.