The beach party had been on the calendar for weeks, so when Mikhail came home the night before and announced he had to take a rain check Kat wasn’t too pleased with him. She snarled and he shrugged his big shoulders.
And that was unarguable, so Kat just shoved her disappointment into a drawer marked ‘stuff that goes with being married to Mikhail’ and got on with making the best of things.
As it turned out things might not be as bad as she first feared because Mik got another message saying that the meeting he was required at shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours.
“You go ahead Kat,” he said. “I’ll come along on the trike as soon as I can make it.”
Kat snorted. “You do love to make an entrance don’t you.”
He laughed and picked her up in his strong arms swinging her around until they were both dizzy.
So it was that Kat drove herself in her snazzy little jeep down the long track to the white sands of Varg Bay. She had many friends in the group and apart from the slight annoyance of pushy teenagers trying it on with a lone female she had a pleasant time. Mik messaged at noon to say he should be able to get away pretty soon, but that he had been unable to avoid bringing Gandalf and Vix with him. Kat relayed that information to the big, quiet man who was hosting the party. Trey replied with a white-toothed smile.
“What’s that old bastard doing around these parts?”
Kat shrugged. “Big meeting, that’s why Mik isn’t here.”
“There was me thinking it was because he doesn’t like sand up his arse crack.”
“There’s that too.”
They laughed together and Kat went back to her book in the shade.
It was quite some while later, after she had clipped one particularly annoying adolescent firmly across the back of his head, that her old friend, and mate to Trey, Freja came and sat down beside her blowing out her cheeks in frustration.
“What’s up Frej?”
“Teenagers. Proddy bloody teenagers. Somebody is going to have to do something and it’s too nice a day.”
Kat was about to reply when the sound of big, hairy motorcycle engines could be heard.
“Who?” Freja asked tautly.
Kat listened. “Two engines. One is Mik so I’m guessing the other is Gandalf – and Vix.”
Freja swore with some feeling.
“We really need them two here with the adolescents so stirred up right now.”
“I know. But nobody questions Dalf; and she’s worse.”
“She is,” the other woman said glumly, “she so is.”
Kat got up and pulled Freja to her feet.
“Come on Frej. Let’s not give her any excuse.”
So it was that when the two big trikes trickled gently down the sandy track there was a small reception committee awaiting them. As soon as Mik stopped his engine Kat could see there was something badly wrong, so she stepped to his side. He pulled her into a half hug but said nothing. It was the rider of the second trike who spoke. He was a tall cadaverously thin gent with long grey curls and an even longer beard. For all his thinness he was an oddly impressive figure, and his voice was deep and commanding.
“Who hunts in your valleys, pack master?”
The host spoke firmly, but with more than a little surprise evident in his tone.
“None with permission. All of mine are here.”
A small, lithe figure with curling scarlet hair, and talons to match, uncurled herself from the seat behind Gandalf.
“Well then, pack master,” her voice was thick with sarcasm, “perhaps you would care to explain the training pack that came at us as soon as we turned off the main road.”
The big, quiet man snarled, and Kat spoke up before things could deteriorate any further.
“Manners Vix. Trey is our host and it behoves you to be polite. If he says they were none of his…”
The redhead opened her mouth, but the look on Kat’s face made her change her mind.
“Any casualties?” Trey looked at Mik.
“No. A few lumps and bumps, but nothing serious. We don’t make war on cubs.”
By this time all the beach party attendees had crowded around, and an older man held up his hand.
“If it was indeed the young in training, then there are two families who might see themselves as having permission to hunt across our land.”
Trey sighed. “Indeed they might. And a lesson in manners was no more than deserved.”
Gandalf combed his skeletal fingers through his beard.
“Truth. But their teacher must be a fool to go up against us.”
One of the heavier set young men threw back his head and laughed derisively.
“Why should such as we fear to go against a skinny old man, a whore, and some guy who lets his woman party without him.”
Trey sighed again. “You might want to reconsider that comment.” The brash young man pushed out his chest, and made as if to spit at the pack master’s feet. There could have been bloodshed had not Vix laughed high and clear.
“Young fool,” she said.
At that, the attention of the whole group of young males became concentrated on the quartet by the trikes. The air thickened with menace, and the scent of musk and pheromones filled the nostrils.
Gandalf laughed, but it was a sound without mirth.
“You permit pack master?”
Trey stood back and spread his hands as if to say he had no further interest in the proceedings.
The grey one spoke a single word and it was as if a disguise fell from him and he sat astride his machine naked except for the tattoos that covered his whole body. His face changed, becoming both older and younger at the same time. He held a yew wood bow in one hand and a quiver-full of blood red arrows rode high over his left shoulder. At his side the redhead made her own change seamlessly and a fox the size of a small horse wrinkled her nose in a snarl.
A good half of the adolescent males moved away. This was a shaman and his familiar. And nobody with any sense goes up against such as they.
But not everyone has any sense. Six young fools made their own changes and stood shoulder to shoulder as grey wolves.
“We will see about you and yours,” one growled, “and then I shall challenge the weak fool who calls himself our pack master.”
Mik stepped off the trike and looked each young hothead in the eye. None flinched, so he growled deep in his barrel of a chest.
“On your own heads be it.”
He and Kat made the change simultaneously flowing into their true forms as smoothly as a knife flows into its scabbard.
The male lion shook his mane before he roared.
Six young wolves lit out across the sand dunes as if the devil himself was in their wake.
Mik laughed and changed back.
“Did anybody save me a beer?”
Trey passed him a bottle.