It took Tank a moment to recognize Zoe with her hair turned to shades of firelight reflected off wood, but her Peace burst over him at almost the same instant, joy and relief and a happiness that damn near had him knock-kneed before her.
She bounded to him, her speed far greater than she had shown before, and the scent of her, while still Zoe, now carried the musk of a vradin that had recently shifted. That was wrong, though. There were no sorcerers among the vradin. The routes of Nimala’s blessings were established, fixed. She could not be Peaceful and vradin, but she was.
He held her tight to him until he felt like he could breath again, and then, knowing that they weren’t out of the frying pan yet, he eased his hold on her, allowing her body to slide down his own.
“Why in the seven hells are you and Carl nekkid?” she asked by way of greeting, and Tank laughed.
Carl answered her with a question. “You know what vradin are now, yeah?”
Zoe stepped back, her eyes hooding and her Peace taking on a cautious tone. “I’m still learning.”
Tank said, “We could run faster on four legs than on two, and the men who grabbed you had enough of a head start that we didn’t waste time on things that would detract from getting you back.”
He stepped up to her, planting a kiss on the crown of her head and catching a reptilian undertone to her scent. “We have to make nice with the Montang yet. Please just follow my lead.”
Zoe looked up at him, wariness in her expression, but she said, “There’s a fella named Vyk around here some where who speaks English, and another person, a lady.”
“Lyrgrul, I’ll bet. She’s Kyle’s mother,” Tank said, seeing the confirmation in the small, probably unconscious nod Zoe gave him. He pulled her in close to his body and started them moving again toward the dais.
Tank bowed his head before the Montang, as did Carl and Davy and William, but none of them made signs of obeisance.
The Montang took a moment to greet them, a tactic that Granfer, their ulftang, often used, and to which Tank had long since grown accustomed. “Speak your names that you be made known in the halls of the vradin,” their eldest and most honored leader said.
“I am Tank born Tanak, son of Letha, daughter of the ulfshine Maurian, ulfgart of the Gray Tooth stag pack. My second is Brawn, my third is Will, and my fourth is Daavid. My mate is Zoe Elan of the human clan of Fergusson, and we are here to reclaim her, and deal justice to the two Night Kind that stole her from us.” Tank met the gaze of the Montang head on, not quite a challenge, but more an assertion that he would be more than ready to challenge anyone who attempted to deny him his mate.
The Montang looked away from Tank, his gaze apparently upon the dancing fey bugs. “If there were only two Night Kind, then they are both dead. The first was too close to Enragement, and the other was executed for the wounds inflicted upon the Luna vradin Zoe, born of clan Fergusson. Tell me, ulfgart, when did you learn your Zoe Elan was vradin?”
Tank hugged Zoe closer to his side, and said, “Within this hall. I knew she brought Peace to my soul and the souls of my pack, and feared you had already slaughtered her for it.”
That brought the Montang’s gaze back to Tank’s. The Montang uncurled himself from his seat and stalked down the steps to stand in front of Tank, looking down at him, his eyes already starting to glow. Tank had shifted Zoe behind him as soon as the Montang started to move from his chair. The Montang made a show of breathing deeply of Tank’s scent, but though Tank’s blood was up with the need to defend his Zoe he held his calm, watching the larger man’s body for signs of imminent action.
They both heard Zoe say to Brawn, “What are they saying?” though Tank didn’t know if the Montang understood her words. Brawn murmured a translation, leaving out the part where Tank claimed her for his mate.
The Montang waited for Brawn to fall silent, then said, “I will accept that you speak truth, ulfgart, and will not slay you for violating the Luna vradain Zoe’s innocence before her first change. That, by the nonce, occurred this morning. However, no mating is possible between vradin before that first change, by the laws of our people, and she is not wolf, to trail behind you. She is, in fact, vradin drake. I expect to hear demands from the quitangs within a day or two to turn her over to their clans’ care. The Gray Tooth clan has been absent from the affairs of Nimala for many a century so I do not expect you are aware, but the Long Talons especially have suffered losses amongst their daughters, and are having difficulty finding new mates.”
Tank managed to swallow back a growl, but with great difficulty, and he knew his eyes had lit with Rage at the thought of another male trying to lay claim to his Zoe. Perhaps he had been among the civilized humans too long, but he had come to the conclusion along the run that it was more likely his wolfish instincts. He wasn’t as concerned about who Zoe chose to have sex with, but she was damned well coming home with him.
Brawn began translating, choosing to explain that the Montang was denying Tank’s right to take Zoe home on the grounds of “legal mumbo jumbo”. After Brawn finished the part about the drake clans, Zoe, her Peace starting to taste of anger, said, “Well you just tell Aiden that I will personally fry the balls of any man, vradin or not, who tries to coerce me into marriage! I am not some fricken toy!”
Vyk entered the receiving hall in time to hear Zoe’s comment, and dutifully repeated what she had said, nearly as verbatim as could be translated. Tank was still absorbing that she had called the Montang by his born name, and saw a glimmer of a smile twitch at the corners of the vradins’ liege’s lips.
Vyk carried in a tray with light refreshments, mostly various preserved meats and some veggies. He was followed by a man in service carrying a small table. The Montang waved a hand at them in a carry on gesture, and the one in service set the table down beside the receiving chair, where Zoe had been sitting upon their entrance, after which Vyk set the tray down upon it.
Speaking to Zoe, Vyk said, “There is food here for you. The first change can be draining, and you should take every opportunity to replenish yourself.” Vyk switched to the vradin tongue, and came to stand to the side of the Montang. “I have informed the Luna of the purpose for the food.”
“Good. You will translate our words for her, and hers for us,” he ordained. Looking into Zoe’s fierce glare, the Montang said, “No vradin may be mated without their consent. The bonds will not take. As I am the guardian of all the vradin of Nimala, you need not cook the testicles of such a fell man for I will have already gutted and hanged him by his intestines. That does not mean that you will not have suitors, or that the quitangs will not seek to claim the right to count you among their clans. Vradin women are not as numerous as vradin men to start with, and you are the first Luna born since the Rage slew all that were not Sol.”
Zoe paled as the Vyk translated the blunt statement of punishment. Looking to Tank, she asked, “He really means that about hanging someone with their own intestines, doesn’t he?”
Both Vyk and Tank nodded, Vyk explaining the interchange to the Montang at the same time. Zoe leaned into Tank’s back, wrapping an arm around his waist. “When can we go home?”
Tank patted her hand and said, “That’s what we’re negotiating right now. Vyk, what does the Montang mean about Luna and Sol?”
Vyk translated the exchange for the Montang, who said, “Luna were never as numerous as Sol vradin for when they committed to battle, they were as self sacrificing in the defeat of our foes as they were in the care of our people. Those who survived the initial bite of the Rage died from grieving the harms they did while Enraged, even as those who lingered the longest began to overcome it, reminding we Sol in the process of what true Peace must always be. You have already tasted what it is like to be within the aura of a Luna’s Serenity.”
Tank saw clearly then that the Montang had no intention of letting Zoe leave, and he felt a cold dread knot his stomach.