“I don’t work with shape shifters. I work with dragons.” Nadia stood with her hands on her hips.
“And I say you do work with shape shifters,” Warren, the circus manager, ordered. “If you don’t work with the Turlow then you don’t work at all.”
Nadia glared at him. “You would leave Clara in charge of the dragons?”
“In the blink of an eye,” the werewolf snarled. “She has been working with them for almost as long as you and they respect her.”
“Then let her work with the boy,” Nadia snarled. “The dragon act is mine.”
“Not any longer. You work with the shape shifter or you don’t work at all.”
Warren spied the set of Nadia’s jaw and decided he couldn’t really afford to lose her. She was an attraction in her own right. That was the reason he had picked her to help train the Turlow. She was a beautiful elfin/human mix that left her as large as a human, but with the exotic overtones of her elf heritage. Her hair was raven black, her eyes almond shaped, lime green with gold speckles and lashes that practically covered her cheeks when she closed her eyes. Today she was wearing leather leggings with a tunic of green that matched her eyes and thigh high boots.
“This is going to be a great act, Nadia. You could make a name for yourself with this Turlow.
Everyone has seen a dragon, and as much as you have them growl and spit fire, the public knows you have them wrapped around you little finger.”
Warren wrapped his arm around her and turned her toward the warded cage the Turlow was confined in.
“Think of it,” he said in his best salesman pitch, “he can turn into anything… anything at all. Troll, dragon, gryphon, Hellabray, Chupacabra, Jersey Devil… anything.” He motioned with his hand in the air as if trying to get her to envision the headlines. “Beauty and the beast!” he said.
Warren could feel her relax under his arm. She was taking the bait.
“You work up this act and start pulling in some bigger crowds and I might even think about giving you a little bigger cut of the gate,” the werewolf tempted.
Nadia came out from under his arm and turned on their leader. “I will hold you to that,” she said pinning him with a stern gaze.
Warren waved toward Yaltzee in the cage. “The cage is warded to keep the Turlow confined or he could change to anything and escape.” He held out the little black ball in his palm. “This controls the collar. When you let him out, be sure to have this handy.”
He lifted his hand with the ball and pointed toward the boy. He squeezed. Yaltzee, who had been sitting and watching them as they discussed his future, drew his knees up tighter under his chin and whimpered. Warren squeezed the ball harder. Yaltzee cried out in pain and fell over wrapping his body into a fetal position.
Nadia grabbed the ball away from Warren.
“Enough!” she shouted.
Warren chuckled. “You have two weeks to work up a new act before we hit Skystead. Make it something that will entertain the humans and the gryphon.” He tossed Nadia the key to the cage. “I want to see your progress by the end of the week.”
Nadia watched the werewolf stomp off toward the mess tent. “Bastard!” she snarled under her breath.
She turned toward the boy in the cage. “Yaltzee?” she said softly. She reached tentatively in and touched his foot. He drew his foot away and curled into a tighter ball as he squeezed his eyes closed.
Nadia stretched her arm in further and laid her hand open a few inches from his foot. “I won’t hurt you if you don’t hurt me,” she said softly.
Yaltzee cracked his eyes open to see her bending over so her head was down to his level. She smiled and her green eyes sparkled.
“We could be friends,” she said softly. “Would you like that?” She wiggled her fingers enticingly at him. “Come on, you can trust me,” she encouraged. “I don’t want to hurt you, honest.”
No one had ever talked so softly or sweetly to Yaltzee before. Always in the past they only demanded and scolded. Not performing as requested resulted in being beaten or worst since Xellist had acquired the control collar. It sent such pain through his body that he could hardly keep from soiling himself.
He would give anything to keep them from using it again. He took a chance and extended his foot a little toward Nadia’s hand. She took it for what it was, an invitation. She stroked his foot gently.
It was the first time in a long time Yaltzee had been touch affectionately. He had heard the woman say she liked working with dragons. He saw the dragons earlier when he and Xellist first arrived at the circus. There was a softness to her voice when she spoke about them.
Nadia smiled as the foot under her hand turned into a small blue paw covered in scales. Yaltzee had turned into a miniature replication of her dragon, Caydranth.