Nadia found Duurun sitting on a sunny boulder at the edge of the stream. His hair was wet and he looked tired even from the back, but he was fully clothed this time. Clara was wading and flicking water playfully at him.
“Morning, Nadia,” Clara called as she saw her friend come up behind the shifter.
“Morning,” Nadia sang back. She came up and sat down beside Duurun on the boulder. “How are you this morning?”
“Better,” Duurun answered. He sat quietly studying his hand. “Thank you.”
“I don’t deserve thanks,” Nadia countered. “I never should have left you. I had no idea Warren was torturing you like that.”
Clara waded up out of the stream. “I’m going to head up stream and find a sheltered place for a bath. You two good here?”
“Fine,” Nadia replied. “Thanks for keeping Duurun company.”
“Anytime.” Clara reached out and touched Duurun’s hand. “You know Dragon’s have exceptional hearing. If Warren comes after you again just call out and we’ll come.”
“Thank you,” Duurun said with a smile.
Clara squeezed his hand. She looked up to Nadia and nodded. She had watched over him, but it was Nadia’s task to get him past this incident and on with his life as a captive in the circus. None of them thought it was right, but there were a lot of things that weren’t right in The Realms that you couldn’t fix, no matter how much you wanted to. You just made the best of them and lived to see another day.
The sun made the boulder warm and inviting. Nadia lay back with her hands behind her head.
“Where do you come from, Duurun?” Nadia asked.
Duurun kept studying his hands. “I don’t know.”
“I’ve always heard the Turlows were from the Akkealan Region. That’s so far away. I’ve never met anyone from there.” Nadia raised her head off her arms to look at him. “Did your parents travel a lot?”
“I don’t remember my parents,” Duurrn said quietly.
Nadia rolled over and propped her head up on one arm in order to look at the young shifter. “Who raised you?”
Duurun shrugged his shoulders. “Different masters. I’ve always been someone’s property.”
Nadia sat up and put her arm around the boy. “I’m sorry.” She couldn’t imagine what it was like to be owned.
“It is, what it is,” Duurun said philosophically.
“Were there ever any who were good to you?” Nadia was hoping to find something nice to talk about, to take his mind off of last night, but instead she had stepped into mud up to her hips.
Duurun shook his head. “No, the first place I remember was in a manor on Vlaarc Isle. I must have been purchased as a whipping boy for the son of the lord because I was being caned. I remember thinking it was unfair, because I hadn’t done anything.” Duurun smiled. “He was surprised when he found out I was a shifter. He was dunking me in a barrel for some reason. I remember I couldn’t breathe, and then I could. I had turned into a fish. Surprised the hell out of both of us. I didn’t know I was a shifter either. It was just an automatic reaction to save myself.”
“What did he do?” Nadia asked with interest.
“He forced me to change over and over again until I passed out. Then he arranged to sell me to the highest bidder.” The skin on Duurun’s palm rippled. He rubbed it with the thumb of his other hand to smooth it out. “After that I was passed from one to another. I worked as a thief for a time, but mostly I was entertainment.”
Another day of travel and they would be at their next event location. Warren made the decision they should rest and practice here by the stream for a day before making their way into Westray.
Duurun and Nadia found a small open meadow in the forest on the other side of the stream where they could practice in peace and quiet.
Nadia sat down on the grass. “We can just talk about what we are going to do. Angel said last night you should rest for a day.”
Duurun eased himself down beside her. He ached all over and if he didn’t concentrate parts of him would start to shift on their own. It was weird not being in control. All the times he had been beaten, prodded and poked, no one had ever driven him to the extremes the werewolf had. He really didn’t want to talk about an act, but if they didn’t have something to show Warren by tomorrow there was no telling what the wolf would put him through.
“Do you think you can carry me in your winged lion form?” Nadia asked him. “I think it would be impressive if we made our entrance with me riding you, you land and then roar really loud.”
“Sure, that sounds good.” Duurun answered. He picked a piece of grass and started to chew on it absent mindedly. “Then what?”
“Maybe we could make a little story out of it,” she went on, brainstorming as she lay in the sun, her arm over her eyes. “At that point they would just think you were a Shedu. Impressive, but it’s not like they don’t know they exist.” She uncovered her eyes and rolled onto her side so she could look at him. “How many shifts can you do comfortably in the act if we do it twice a day?”
“How long am I going to hold them?” he countered.
“Let’s say as little as a couple of minutes, and as long as maybe fifteen.”
“Six, maybe as many as ten shifts,” Duurun answered.
“Okay, so how about we get Ruloth to play with us?” Nadia said, warming to her subject. “He comes rushing in like he is going to steal me away. You know… the maiden in distress. You change into a knight in shining armor, but Ruloth will look all big and threatening. Maybe he could melt your sword.” She giggled. “Then, then…” she sat up excitedly, “you turn into a dragon. We stage a mock battle between you two.” She pulled her knees up under her chin and wrapped her arms around her legs. “Then when Ruloth seems to be getting the best of you again, maybe even manages to grab me, you turn into a gryphon and dive bomb him until he lets me go.” She looked over at Duurun. “Do you think you could catch me if Ruloth dropped me from maybe fifteen feet?”
“Why catch you?” Duurun asked. “Why not let you fall and at the last minute I land and turn into a trampoline and you bounce off me to safety?”
“Could you really do that?” Nadia knew Turlows were supposed to be able to turn into inanimate objects, but she didn’t really think that was true.
“Sure,” Duurun answered. “Then I turn into a centaur, you mount, I rear up and we run away with Ruloth chancing after us.” He grinned at her. This might actually be fun.
“What happens to your heart and everything when you turn into the trampoline?” Nadia asked with concern.
“It’s still there. Everything just slows down a lot.”
“Doesn’t it hurt?”
“It’s a little uncomfortable,” Duurun admitted.
“Then let’s think of something else,” Nadia said. “If you are going to do it twice a day, I want you to be comfortable.”
Duurun smiled at her. No one had ever thought of his comfort before. It was always what they wanted. He was growing very fond of Nadia. Heck, he had never felt love, but he thought he might for her.