There was a sudden shifting in the air, something both Mathias and Tagan recognised. It was like an inward rush of a breeze, or of water in a sudden eddy in the stream, and with it came the metallic scent of magic. Where the stocky man had stood was a second dog; also a wolfhound, but that same bright shade of copper that his hair and beard had been.
‘Mathias!’ Tagan was staring. There had been no gradual transformation. No extending of limbs, or changing of the face. No sprouting of fur and a tail. There had been a man, then there was a dog. There had been, in fact, a shifting of shapes. Tagan had never seen such powerful magic. Unable to hold back the reaction, she clapped her hands together, delightedly, like a little girl.
The two dogs romped around in circles for a few moments until the female finally stopped and sat on her haunches, her tongue lolling and her mouth open as she stared at Mathias in the most unnervingly human laugh he had ever seen from an animal.
Another rush of air, another inexplicable sense of the world bending inwards, and the red dog was gone.
‘I am Warin, called the Red.’ He made this pronouncement as though daring them to dispute it. ‘Welcome to my home.’ He stamped a little way away from them, then stopped and turned around. ‘Well? Come? Stay? Makes little difference to me.’ He continued striding away, the wolfhound trotting along beside him. Warin rested a hand on the dog’s neck and scratched affectionately as he walked. He didn’t cast a single backwards glance to see if he was being followed.
Tagan and Mathias exchanged glances and followed him. It didn’t seem as if they had a lot of choice in the matter. Their fingers interlocking once more, they moved deeper into the woods, to the very depths of the forest where a true silence reigned supreme. Here and there, bright flowers tried to force their way through the needles; hardy little things that grasped weakly at the wan light.
After a while, the tantalisingly familiar scent of wood smoke joined the mingled scents of earth and pine. Warin walked a little further, pushing aside branches with effortless ease. He didn’t once stop to ensure that his companions were following, and several times Mathias had to duck as tree limbs sprang back in his wake. The great dog loped along at Warin’s side, occasionally dropping back behind the two stragglers, herding them along. Once, Mathias attempted to engage the stout man in conversation. It was not particularly productive.
‘Where are we going?’
‘Where are we?’
‘You are in my land now. The lands of the Teuton.’
That, it seemed, was that. Mathias pressed on, his thoughts churning with the impossibilities of the past few hours. Days. Months… It had occurred to him that he had no idea just how long it had taken for him and Tagan to get wherever they were now. One thing seemed right, though. Warin was the one they had come here to find. That was without doubt. The Shapeshifter, Wyn had said, and they had witnessed Warin’s magic. Exactly what his intentions were remained to be seen.