“I’m going to go take a bath in the stream, Yaltzee,” Nadia explained, as the boy clung to her in the form of a Tenaga-jin, a long armed yokai from Japanese folklore. “I can’t take you with me. You have to stay here. I won’t be gone long,” she promised as she pet his head.
Yaltzee wrapped his arms tighter around her. She maneuvered one arm down to the pouch at her waist and pulled out the key to unlock the cage door. Yaltzee shifted into a serpentine dragon and proceeded to coil himself around her.
“Yaltzee,” she pleaded. “Let go.”
The dragon shifted into a small Kraken and wrapped her in its eight tentacles.
She raised her voice. “Yaltzee, stop it!”
The tentacles dropped from around her body and the boy shifted into a kitten in her arms. The kitty mewed and nudged at her chin with its head. She wasn’t going to be swayed. They had been on the road three days and she could feel the dirt in every pore.
Nadia leaned over and placed him in the cage. He immediately shifted into his human form. He rushed to the bars as she closed the door. She looked into his sad golden eyes.
“I’m sorry,” she said softly. “I know you don’t like the cage, but I can’t watch you and take a bath too.” She gently stroked his cheek through the bars. “I’ll fix us some dinner and bring it back in just a little while.”
A tear slid down the boy’s face.
“Don’t cry. I’ll only be gone a little while, I promise.”
The boy turned and flopped down with his back to her against the bars.
She reached out and stroked his hair. “Don’t be like that, Yaltzee.”
“Duurun,” the boy said softly.
Nadia was so surprised she almost gasped. She thought he was mute. He had not said a single word to anyone as far as she knew. His only sounds were those of the creatures he shifted into.
“What did you say?” she asked.
“My name is Duurun. I don’t like Yaltzee. That’s what the goblin called me.”
When she absently stroked his head again, he pulled away from her hand and went to sit in the opposite corner of the cage.
“You said if I was good, you wouldn’t put me back in here,” Duurun said with a scowl. “Yet, every night you do.”
The boy saw this as punishment. He just didn’t understand. Nadia leaned up against the bars.
“I’m not doing this because I think you misbehaved. I just don’t want Warren to hurt you again and if he sees you unattended with me in the stream I have no doubt he would go through my clothes, find the ball and squeeze until your ears bled.”
Duurun pulled his knees up under his chin and buried his face in his crossed arms.
Nadia circled the cage to come up behind him. She reached through and touched his back.
“I’ll hurry and when I get done I will come back here and get you and we can cook dinner together,” she offered hopefully. “You’d like that, right?”
“I’m not hungry.” With his face buried in his arms, his voice was muffled. He shrugged off her hand and moved away to sit in the other corner.
“Well, I bet you will be by the time I get back.”
Nadia hated locking him up almost as much as he hated being locked up. He was a human, or at least close enough to a human to count, but if he were to escape she had no doubt Warren would toss her off the circus wagon. Until she could be really sure he would not run, she had to take precautions. It was for his welfare as well as hers. Warren could be really ugly sometimes. She had seen him more than once when his werewolf took over during an argument. She actually intervened once when he was kicking the little goblin that had been hanging around for the last few months.
“I’ll be back soon.” She took off at a trot, headed for the wagon she shared with Clara to pick up some fresh clothes and a towel.
Duurun watched her go and dreaded the moment she would be out of sight, when Warren would descend on him as he had the past four nights when Nadia left him unattended. The werewolf seemed to take joy in making his life miserable. If it were not for the wolf his life in the circus would be better than tolerable. Maybe the best he had experienced in his life thus far.
After that first day, when he was startled by Warren and punished, Nadia kept the control to his collar hidden away in her pouch. She trusted him enough to let him fly overhead as she rode. In fact, they even flew together for a time playing tag. Duurun smiled at how slow the hippogriff Nadia rode, named Rift, was compared to him in his owl form. He wing slapped him twice to his single tag.
Nadia carried food all the time in her saddlebags. She told him she got used to being prepared as a dragon handler. It took a lot of food to keep a dragon happy. She had apples, bread, sausage, cheese and sweets. All he had to do was peck or paw at the bag and she opened it to pull out some delightful treat. He had never, in his whole life, been so well fed.
Nadia seem to like him best in his winged lion form. She told him how masterful he looked and stroked his fur, sinking her fingers deep in his mane. He often shifted into it and padded along beside Rift as they traveled. He liked his lion form, Shedu, too. In the villages and hamlets they passed it always got him a lot of attention. At first the inhabitants would be shy, but as soon as Nadia dismounted and started walking around with him and petting him, they all came round and wanted to pet too. It was a new experience for Duurun to have someone stroke him with a gentle hand.
Nadia made no demands. He shifted when he wanted and into what he wanted. He always preferred any form other than his human form. He loved the exhilaration of any form that could fly. With Nadia he enjoyed the lesser animal forms because she seemed to really love cuddling him. Puppies and kittens were her favorite.
When he was with Xellist, and former masters, he was always ordered to shift and told what he had to be - never given a choice. Some of their demands were tiring and even hurtful. To shift to an inanimate object was difficult for even a Turlow who was well trained. Duurun had never been trained at all. Everything he learned, he taught himself through trial and error - sometimes very painful error. If he stayed in one form too long, other than his human form, he could almost become stuck.