Darkness and light, part 1 of 2

by laurel

Notes: Based on the movie Ladyhawke, recast with Walter and Alex. Mulder and Scully also appear, among some other familiar characters.

I did some research to make the people, customs and atmosphere as authentic as I could so any errors in this respect are mine.

Spoilers: Totally AU but Alex does lose his arm.

Archive: Okay to DitB, WWOMB, Full house slash, anyone else just ask first.

The peasants toiled hard in their short lives. They were lives of misery, cut short by disease and accident. Lives of hard labor, strife and few happy moments. While the men had a better chance, the women were doomed by their biology. More often than not they died in childbirth. The children who survived were few.

These people died knowing their reward lay beyond this dismal earth.

The bishop twisted his heavy gold ring and tapped his foot, shod in an ostentatious slipper, impatiently. He strode up and down his well-appointed apartment.

He grew hard at the thought of his visitor's arrival. He took a piece of snuff from an ornately decorated box on his heavy oak desk and chewed on it thoughtfully.

When one of his priests announced the visitor he spat out the tobacco and smoothed his graying hair back from his forehead. The bishop's smile spread evilly across his wrinkled face.

"Alexander, do come in."

The rogue soldier stalked into the room like a dangerous forest animal. The bishop shivered with delight. He would like to cage Alex like the animals in his magnificent zoo. He would be exotic compared to the vicious striped tigers that could tear a man's throat open with one swipe and the now ferocious bears that once been taught to dance to amuse stupid villagers who would shell out several coins to watch the silliness in a traveling circus.

"Why have you summoned me?" he asked coldly. He wrapped his arms around a hard chest honed by enthusiastic exercise and battle.

"Would you care for a bite?" The bishop spread his hands expansively, indicating the sumptuous feast spread out before them.

"No," was the curt reply. "Dinner awaits me at home."

The bishop studied the young man. His eyes were a deep green spaced widely apart. High cheekbones led to small intricately folded ears. His hair was dark, a long sweep of its chestnut length covered one eye. His rosy lips were pursed and his nose stabbed the air with its short length as though he smelled something rotten.

It was rumored his people had come from the east. Somewhere along the way he had acquired a faint English accent and although he had a perfectly good English name, no one could find out what his former surname had been. Or if he even had one. Most of the peasants did not have a last name. They were identified in relation to a physical trait, a relation. Many never left their isolated villages. If they did, they probably could not make their way back as they had no map to retrace their steps towards home.

It was also rumored that he was a mixture of noble and peasant blood but carried himself proudly. He cared not one bit what anyone thought of him. Save for one man.

"My proposition still stands. Have you thought more of it?"

Alexander regarded the corrupt bishop with squinted eyes.

"After all I am a man of God. The closer you are to me, the closer you are to him."

Alexander snorted contemptuously. "You are no more a man of God than I am."

The bishop was one of the most corrupt he'd ever had the displeasure to meet. The peasants had more fear of God's wrath than he. The wife of his best friend Mulder, Lady Dana, had more grace in one small finger than he possessed in his whole body. The innocent awe of one child put the bishop's pride to shame.

"I have already told you my decision," Alex said coldly. "I would never lie with you, Spender."

Alex turned and walked out with no word of leaving and slammed the door behind him.

Spender smiled without humor. "I will have you any way I can dear Alex. And if I can't have you, your lover will never again touch you either."

His rheumy eyes were cold. Anyone witnessing his dark anger would surely shrink away from him in terror.

He had no stomach left for the meal his cook had been preparing since dawn. He called for his servant to clear the table and to summon Mulder.

"I tell you I cannot," Mulder insisted.

"Your head will turn."

"I do not have need for much money and I would never use the black arts against another living being, much less my best friend. I am indebted to Alex for my entire life after he saved me from drowning. I will bring him no harm."

"It would be a shame if anything were to happen to your lovely wife." The man's tone was deadly as a snake's strike and oozed a horrible mixture of concern and malevolence.

Mulder stood stock still, his heart racing and his white skin turning a sickly pale shade at the veiled threat.

"That servant girl you took in as your daughter. She's rather pretty isn't she? That beautiful golden brown hair that she twists around her fingers when she's nervous is so luxurious. It would also make it so easy to capture and hold her. A double-edged sword, dearest Fox, if you will.

"And those eyes, so beguiling, so blue, nearly as amazing as your wife's. It was so generous of you to adopt her as your own. She's so innocent and sweet still at her age. T'would be a shame if her virtue were taken from her with nary a thought."

The man's voice was like oil insinuating itself into Mulder's very skin.

He hung his head. There was naught he could do to protect his precious family forever from this madman. He turned his head so that the gloating bishop could not see his tears.

The bright rays of late afternoon sun struck Alex's face, making the pale visage light up with an angelic glow that was at odds with his very deadly soldier skills. It caught the russet tones in his hair, which was tied back with a simple leather string. The same sort of string that tethered the eagle's claws.

He smiled at the beautiful bird. Its sharp brown eyes looked right through him to his very soul. He caressed the feathers on his head. The beak opened as if pleased with the attention and snapped shut again.

"He's so strong, so beautiful."

"Yes. It's the ideal animal for him," Dana replied.

She patted the small mound of her stomach. She was beginning to show. Her dress was a trifle tight. She would have to have Agatha mend her garments. She didn't care much for fashion, her gowns were modest but beautiful and she didn't want to buy new clothes. Her first pregnancy had ended prematurely and the new clothes she'd had made to fit over her burgeoning stomach had been burned in a fit of bitter sadness.

Mulder came in and shook off his heavy cloak. "There's a chill in the air. Luckily our babe will be born in the spring time."

He stopped short when he saw Alex at the window. The eagle gave a chirrup of recognition or greeting and fled through the open door.

He hesitated. He hadn't been prepared to see Alex so soon. He gave Dana a quick kiss and petted her shining red hair.

"Hello Alex."

"Have you found out how to break the spell?"

"No, I haven't," he said quietly.

"You went to find the book. You said the priest at Cottam had a copy of this book of spells. Did you not find it?"

"Yes, but too late."

A feeling of dread came over Alex. The same feeling that warned him an enemy was near when in times of war.

"I discovered what was left of the book. Spender had the priest burn it straight away. There was nothing left but ashes. I'm sorry." Despair was etched across his face.

"Ashes?" Alex repeated.

"When you spurned him after the spell was cast he ordered the parish priest to burn the copy even though I sent a messenger ahead to prevent it."

"It can't be! There must be some way to fix this. Mulder you are a practitioner of the white arts, of healing, you must know how to reverse such an evil spell."

Mulder hung his head. "Alex I am a healer, a doctor, a secret practitioner of witchcraft, but I'm no master of the black arts. I don' t know how to fix this. But I promise I will try everything in my power to help you." He lifted his head, his hazel eyes now gray with sadness. "Spender gave me the spells to cast on you and Walter," he stammered. "I don't have anything in my library to reverse it. I had to study it correctly to make sure it worked right in the first place. Otherwise, it may have resulted in a worse curse than this," he finished quietly.

Tears stung Alex's eyes so that Mulder was a blur. A blur made up of mournful gray eyes and the dark blue tunic that hung to his thighs.

"Please tell me we won't be thus cursed forever."

"I'm so sorry. I don't know how to undo the damage at this point. But please take heart, this man must possess a copy of his spells. A man with such power will be boastful of his dastardly spells. We will find him, no matter the cost. If there had been a reversal spell in that same book I would have memorized it. Hell, I would have eaten the damn page, but another book must exist in order to reverse the damage."

Alex's vision cleared as the tears rolled down his face and traced the curves of his cheekbones. Mulder turned away from his weeping friend. He handed him a delicate lace handkerchief and Dana squeezed his hand reassuringly. The bird swooped in through the door. They all looked at him guiltily.

Mulder wiped at his own face as Alex blotted his tears. Dana bustled in the kitchen, Emily jumping up to help make tea.

The eagle ruffled its feathers and settled again.

"I must go now. I can't bear it."

"Please Alex." He took hold of Alex's sleeve and pulled at it. "Don't give up. Something can be done. I'm sure of it."

"I will never give up," he replied fiercely. "Never."

Dana gathered up the skirts of her dress and joined them. She held Alex's hand in hers, warming it between her small hands. She smiled at him, imploring with her eyes. "Please stay for dinner with us. We'll set a course of action."

She would brook no argument, he realized. He nodded and washed up outside, cooling his swollen eyes with a cupful of water from the well.

The eagle rounded the simple house and banked sharply, spreading his wings to the fullest. Alex held out his arm and looked skyward. The great bird soared high above him. The sun flinted off his white head making his crown a blinding spot of white light. The bird crowed in appreciation of the ability of flight.

His wing tips spread further, a dark unfurled blanket against the blue sky. He dove down and landed gracefully on Alex's arm. He tucked in his wings and preened his feathers.

"Let's go in."

The bird settled himself on a chair back while lady Dana, Mulder and Alex ate dinner. Emily exhibited her shy streak and stayed in the kitchen to sup.

Alex fed the bird pieces of his dinner, preferring not to see his lover, thus transformed, tearing lethal claws into the body of a plump bird he caught.

They ate the pigeon with a few slices of hard cheese and the crusty bread that Alex liked so much. In his native home, dark bread was his favorite, even though the nobility ate white. He cared more for his own personal taste than what was fashionable or expected. He could certainly afford the bread of the nobles. He laid claim to a minor title though no one knew of it except for his closest friends and Walter.

Walter came from a family of Irish and English nobles and was certainly not impoverished yet they lived modestly and treasured those few luxuries they afforded themselves.

He sopped up pea soup with the rest of the bread and topped the last slices with thick slabs of ham. The bird ate the little chunks daintily and carefully as Alex hand fed him, always cautious in sparing his hand from the sharp beak.

He smiled at his companion, pleased with its carefulness, loving the sharp brown eyes that even in its current form were bright and intelligent but gentle when they looked at Alex.

They all ate slowly, savoring the many courses of the supper meal. The table was soon half-empty, all that remained were crumbs and a small amount of leftovers. Dana served a selection of pies and fruit. Mulder and Alex patted their stomachs. The bird chirped and attacked an apple, slicing its sharp beak into the pale flesh of the fruit until the core could be seen.

The sun was setting over the rough-hewn table. Alex glanced up and looked worriedly at Dana and Mulder. Mulder understood his silent message and ushered Dana out of the room. She was no innocent of course he knew. Frankly Dana had chased her shy Mulder into marriage with a belly bursting with a child that she later lost. It was not an uncommon practice to beget a child to lead a woman to the altar. A woman had only two choices open to her when she came of age: either she married or if she was too old, she was sent to the nunnery. Dana was a religious woman but not that devoted.

"Come," Alex called softly. The eagle abandoned its devastated apple and hopped onto Alex's arm.

Mulder led Alex to the spare bedroom where Alex undressed. He could feel the stirring in his skin signaling the change was about to take place.

The eagle was perched on the desk, spreading its wings anxiously. Alex carefully folded his clothes and Mulder left the two of them alone together, shutting the door to preserve their privacy.

He joined Dana in the kitchen and helped his wife and Emily clear the supper dishes. He fed the remnants of their meal to some passing beggars. Although he was a doctor in a small city and was often called upon to minister to the nobles who paid him handsomely, he never turned away from those poor and infirm or just hungry people that passed his door.

He relied on Dana for her abilities as a mid-wife and together they were quite successful in healing. Their unique abilities along with Mulder's belief in spiritual and emotional healing as well as their shared refusal to engage in anything that seemed like quackery, made them a most envied couple of healers.

Along with the medical knowledge that Fox had soaked up like a sea sponge in school and his careful observation of his teachers and mentors, he had a natural affinity for healing that included a warm and generous personality, his penchant for laughter which mended the spirit and spiritual faith in the divine and mysterious. His knowledge of herbs and curiosity led to experiments that often led to miraculous recoveries.

The use of herbs was widespread and they were mixed with ale, vinegar and honey, among other substances, to create potions and ointments that relieved ailments or were used as charms against disease. He had even mixed a concoction that others had boasted as a cure for baldness. He'd given a pot to Walter, on Walter's desperate insistence, even though he didn't think it would work. Walter didn't regain his hair, but Alex declared that his scalp tasted sweet as he swiped his tongue across the balding pate, much to Walter's embarrassment and Fox's amusement.

Of course most of the potions and teas he mixed were potent and helpful. Even when treating the most minor and common ailments Fox was intent on complete success.

Alex lay on the cool floor naked. He could actually feel his skin and bones stretching and realigning themselves. His teeth grew and curved into sharp canines. While he underwent this change he watched as the bird grew and expanded, the sharp beak becoming the softly rounded nose of his lover, the full length of his muscular body making the desk beneath him groan.

For an instant they regarded each other for a few seconds before the change took place and became complete. Naked flushed skin was human with bulging muscles, battle scars, fine hair covering their skin, the matt of graying hair on Walter's chest, arched feet, then in an instant, Alex changed into animal form and Walter into human again.

Walter greeted his friends after dressing and took a long solitary walk to stretch his legs. After a time, Alex followed him. He prowled with the ingrained stealth of the wolf he now was. The animal sniffed at the territories marked by stray dogs, pawed at the ground when he smelled a rodent nest until Walter pushed him with his leg to keep moving and trotted with obvious good humor, his long tongue hanging out of his mouth as he stayed close to his lover.

Walter read the brief note Alex had left before they turned in for the night. His script was small and careful. It detailed Alex's plans for finding the spell book and inside the folded letter was a map. The letter ended, as always, with "all my love, Alex." Walter smiled and caressed the slightly smudged ink.

He bade Mulder and Dana good night and settled into bed with no night clothes on. The wolf whined at the smells and sounds of wild animals coming from the open window. Walter patted the bed and the wolf jumped up and curled itself at Walter's side.

They set off in the early morning, when the sun had barely risen in the sky. The fog curled around the thick tree trunks and wild grasses, licking them with a damp tongue. The lacy leaves of the ferns were covered with a slick film of dew that reflected the sun's gentle rays like gems.

The town's people were stirring already, the men and women setting up in the market stalls, where fresh fruit and vegetables cut the odor of fish so freshly caught they nearly wriggled; the merchants displayed their wares to best advantage, all competing for customers; the bakers had been up for hours kneading dough; the monks earlier still for prayers.

Alex surveyed the town as they passed by, with Mulder at his side to accompany him to the boundary and the ever present eagle following behind them, hundreds of feet high in the air.

They passed the market, the square, thatched houses with their sleepy inhabitants stirring within, the communal well, women carrying baskets to carry their goods bought at the market, fellow early morning travelers, the beggars who hoped to find a few crumbs of spoiled food in the marketplace.

Mulder bid him goodbye at the edge of town. He hugged his friend and stroked the flank of Walter's prize horse. The horse whinnied and thrust his head up. He waved at Walter.

Their journey began quietly and they rode far, stopping for short breaks on the way. They were still in the country when evening came. Alex had reluctantly stopped to make camp.

He made sure the horse drank its fill at a small brook nearby before tying him to a tree for the night. He brushed the horse's rich black coat and hung a blanket over him.

He would need to make something for supper. Some stale bread and fresh water from the brook was a start. He had salted meat as well and hard cheese. Whatever else they needed they could catch or fish or pick as there was good hunting in the area with rabbits in the bush, game birds, fish in the brook and plentiful fruit trees in this area.

As though he could read Alex's mind the bird took off silently into the air. Alex frowned. It was nearly dusk. Now was not the time for Walter to be in the air. In moments he was diving down to earth. Alex's mouth opened on a scream. The eagle let out a cry as he captured his prize, a soft plump brown rabbit that twitched in its grasp for mere seconds before it ceased to struggle.

Alex let out a harsh breath. "Don't scare me like that."

The eagle dropped the rabbit at his feet and chirped indignantly.

"You scared me. I'm sorry. Thank you."

Alex roasted the rabbit over the fire he had built.

The sunset pierced the trees as he ate making the silvery leaves glimmer with a demonic light. He fed the bird small pieces of the rabbit. He'd leave some bread and water out for Walter when he changed form. He left a good bit of the rabbit as well but ate his fill, burning his fingers on the hot roasted flesh. He chewed on a few slices of dried apple while the bird preened its feathers nearby.

Alex could feel the change beginning. He shed his clothes and piled them neatly on the ground. The last rays of the sun burnt down to a crisp orange before the sky turned a deeper blue fading to light purple.

For brief seconds they were able to observe each other as they once were. Walter's feathers dissolved to form flesh, his body elongated, the razor sharp claws became feet.

Alex sprouted a thick pelt of fur, dark as the hair on his human head. His teeth grew into sharp fangs. His fingers curled into paws and sharp nails emerged.

For mere breaths they saw each other as men, as human, naked pink flesh that had received loving caresses from each other's hands.

Walter stood naked, blood spattered on his body. He looked down and saw the remains of the rabbit and realized he must have killed it.

Alex was now in wolf form, his thick black coat shining in the light of the fire. His eyes glowed in the dark.

Walter washed himself in the babbling brook as the wolf looked on. He found clean dry clothes in the sack that held their possessions. He ate the rest of the food Alex had left and gave the wolf a few bites. Alex ate out of his hand gently, licking his palm with a rasping tongue.

He checked on the horse before settling down to sleep. Alex's clothes were placed in the sack. The fire was low now, stoked by a few more pieces of wood to keep it going through most of the night. He bedded down on a soft patch of grass, snug within the wool blanket he and Dana had packed the night before.

The wolf lay beside him providing comfort and company as well as protection. The fire would keep animals away, provide Walter with some light now that the sky was dark with only a few stars peeking through the copse of trees.

They weren't in the deep woods yet, still in the country though they were leaving the farmland behind them, yet it was not safe. There was still the danger of wild animals and bandits roaming the countryside. Alex's animal instincts were finely tuned and he wasn't worried. As a soldier his lover was brave and alert to danger but in animal form he was even more wary of people or animals approaching. The wolf's senses were much greater than the most celebrated warrior.

Alex's eyes blinked at him sleepily as Walter's hand rubbed the soft fur around his neck. The animal panted happily at the attention and poked his nose at Walter as Walter's hand stilled. Walter startled, shaken from a doze. He chuckled as the wolf crept closer to him on his belly and whimpered for attention. Walter lay on his back inviting Alex to lie alongside him. The wolf yawned, showing off his long pink tongue and sharp teeth.

"Such a beautiful creature," Walter whispered. He caressed the pelt reassuringly and the wolf placed his head on Walter's chest. Walter's hand stilled again on his fur as sleep overtook them both.

The next morning Alex woke from his sleep at dawn, disturbed by the change again taking place within him. His sleepy eyes took in Walter beside him, naked beneath the blanket. Walter slipped out of his covering and knelt on the ground. In moments they were transformed, Alex into man and Walter into eagle. The bird ruffled its feathers and lifted into the air with a cry. He found a resting place nearby in the tangle of trees.

The fire was dead now, ashes blowing between the stones circling the cold ground.

Alex sighed and crawled into the shelter of the blanket. He nestled within the warmth of the wool for a while longer, closing his tired eyes and snuggling into the warmth that had been created by Walter's body. He could smell his lover within the wool. His scent was comforting and wholly masculine, mixed with the smell of the clean water he had bathed in and his musky cologne used to smother the scent of stale sweat when he couldn't bathe properly.

Mixed in with these was the smell of Alex himself, an earthy musky smell, half human, half animal. The former scent from his own body the last time they had made love in the unwashed blanket and the latter from the fur that had covered his body last night.

The sun rose higher and reluctantly he left the comfort and security of the blanket and began to make breakfast. He built the fire up again to boil water for tea. He found some sweet rolls Lady Dana had packed and foraged for berries nearby that tempted him with their succulent ripe redness. They were sweet and fresh and he packed some for the journey ahead. He also found an apple tree not too far from where he had made camp and stole several of the fruit.

While he ate he watched as the eagle soared soundlessly above him. He only caught brief glimpses of him through the trees until he broke through a clearing in the canopy of green and landed in a branch. Gracefully he swooped down to the ground and successfully speared his own meal-two sparrows too slow to evade capture by the carnivorous bird. Alex shuddered at the sight of the bird ripping its curved beak into the warm flesh. He turned away from the blood, soft feathers floating in the wind like seed pods and the uncooked flesh. He had heard too many stories growing up of desperate people, starved to near death eating the flesh of dug up corpses. They had resorted to cannibalism out of desperation, in an effort to stay alive, whether out of famine when crops failed or disastrous weather had struck the land, wiping out their food supplies or preventing them from finding sustenance.

A mouse darted through the maze of flowers, tall grasses and fallen leaves. He hoped the bird hadn't seen it but it seemed he was busy eating. Alex sighed and shooed the mouse away. He had eaten such woodland creatures himself. They certainly weren't as tasty as a roasted chicken or suckling pig but the long journey from his homeland to England had necessitated it. He had heard of worse things to eat. People had resorted to eating bark, roots, grubs and other distasteful things before hunger forced them to eat the flesh of their own people. Disease, famine and pestilence had sent many to their graves before their time and unfortunately they served as a food source to some as well. He shuddered again and plucked a piece of grass to chew on while he thought of something better to occupy his mind.

He led the horse to the water to drink while he refreshed himself, washing away the sweat that had gathered during the long ride the day before. He felt much better when he was clean and dressed.

When he finished preparing for departure he whistled. The eagle came to him immediately and attached itself to his arm. The horse whinnied, chewing the last of its own meal. Alex led the horse into a slow trot, enjoying the early sun on his face.

They stopped less frequently to rest but kept their bellies full and their thirst sated as best as they could. They left the farmland and countryside behind them as they entered virgin forest.

The gloom startled Alex but it was not unexpected. The immense trees kept the forest in half darkness. The blue sky was visible only in tiny patches where the leaves didn't blot it out. Birds chirped high up in the tree tops but were invisible to his human eyes. Animals scurried through the brush and leaves that littered the ground. The eagle was perched on Alex's shoulders as Alex rode the horse at a brisk pace that kept the animal moving but wouldn't tire him out.

The heavy sack was securely packed but swayed lightly as the horse cantered through the dense wood. The steady thump of the pack and the horse's hooves lulled his nerves to steadiness without the quiver of anxiety that had first plagued Alex when they entered the forest. He was ready to meet anyone else on his journey. His sword was newly sharpened and ready to be wielded. A short dagger was hidden in his boot and Walter's trusted sword was also at his disposal.

They were making good time and he was getting tired so Alex stopped for a little while. He stopped only long enough to stretch his legs, let Walter fly a bit in the immediate area, let the horse rest and drink at the same bubbling brook that followed a path in the woods and he made a quick meal of cheese and bread to satisfy his stomach. The bird found another woodland creature that was no match for his cunning and quickness. He fed on the plump bird quickly tearing it up.

Alex climbed back on the horse and tried to gauge the time of day through the tiny bits of sky he could see. He thought it was probably late afternoon but couldn't be entirely sure. He was tired and they had ridden for hours. He would have to find another place to camp for the night. Hopefully they could find a clearing and the fresh water would follow them. He needed to rest and eat a proper meal as well as giving the horse time to renew its energy.

He was worried they wouldn't find anything suitable before nightfall. His tired eyes searched ahead as he rode the horse at a steady but gentle pace. The bird was perched on his shoulder, digging its sharp claws into his heavy cape.

"Don't worry Walter, we'll find somewhere to camp even if we must build a tree house."

The bird chirped in response.

You could go months tramping through the woods without seeing sunlight, never mind another human being. Alex unlike most of the people in the towns and villages, many of whom had never left their own small village, liked to discover the unknown, whether it was the primeval forest or to traverse a new town he had never set foot in.

He had liked adventure since he was a child when his mother had gathered a few needed possessions, a sturdy horse and her lover and had undertaken the journey across the continent, hiking across the Carpathian mountains of their homeland and crossing the ocean until they reached England where Emma, the gentle but strong Englishwoman who had stolen his mother's heart and whom Alex addressed as aunt, was from.

His mother had not spoken one word of the strange new language but she and Emma did not need words to express their attraction to one another. Gestures and laughter and smiling eyes did that.

When they needed to, they both dressed as men and wore daggers which they were quite willing and able to use. When his father had died, his uncles had taught him the ways of the world, including fighting, but his mother and aunt taught him survival, subterfuge and perhaps most importantly, decency, compassion and love.

Alex's fond memories of those hard days when they traveled all day and sometimes through the night, entering the forest where not only wild animals prowled but all manner of monster, put a smile on his face.

There had been no monsters. No werewolves or vampires though he had been warned of them time and again. There were witches, surely but they practiced the black arts only against those wicked people who deserved to suffer. He and Walter were good soldiers, fair and just, and the only wickedness as far as he was concerned, was that of the Bishop.

Alex nodded his head, in silent agreement with himself. His ears were attuned to any sound. The forest was a frightening place, thick with trees that had stood for perhaps hundreds of years, blotting the blue sky. There were strange sounds coming from within the interior, birds squawking and rodents scurrying, perhaps wild pigs and foxes and even bears crashing through.

He gave himself a mental shake. //Get a grip on yourself, boy.// That's what Walter would say to him. There was nothing more frightening here than perhaps the threat of bandits lurking in the woods looking for unsuspecting travelers carrying a horde of money and dripping with jewels.

Alex laughed out loud and startled several birds roosting on a giant oak tree. He scratched the eagle's head gently and smiled at him. //Nothing to be afraid of. I found that out long ago.//

Although the people of the times worshipped at only one church, many of them were still illiterate, knew practically nothing of the bible and hung on to their superstitions like a rosary. The tales of goblins and werewolves, vampires ready to rise from the grave and suck out their life's blood, vengeful ghosts who haunted the living and incubi who would impregnate innocent maidens, were exactly that, stories, to him.

In the months that they had trudged through Wallachia, traversing the tiny villages that dotted the country, hearing the whispered horror stories of Vlad Tepes, who although monstrous and cruel, had saved his countrymen from the invading Turks, climbing the Carpathian mountains and Transylvanian alps, he had learned of the terrors that supposedly resided in the forest. The very meaning of Transylvania was "beyond the forest". True, he was taught to be wary of the real dangers of bandits and murderers and he was respectful of the ghostly specters and spirits of the dead yet he was not afraid of what he could not see although he had a healthy respect for those wandering spirits. He had learned of the mischievous sprites, fairies and elves from Fox. Those stores were much more entertaining, innocent and joyful.

Emma had brought with her a healthy respect of the Catholic religion but his mother always held to her folkloric beliefs, an interesting mixture of the Latin and Slavonic influences on the much conquered land, including the belief in the Striga, or witch.

Alex believed wholeheartedly in the supernatural and the spirit owing to his mother and to his best friend Mulder.

Memories of the verdant forest overwhelmed him. The beautiful endless green trees, the bright wild flowers that sprouted in bunches, the slinking body of a weasel exploring a dead log, the wide-eyed deer that startled at the sight of a little boy then leaped away to safety, the snout of a fox intent on picking up the scent of his next meal, snuffling on the ground.

The winters had been brutal, the sky sending spirals of thick, white snow down to the ground where it blanketed and blotted out any sprig of green grass or bush. They had sat around smoking fires telling ghost stories and tales of Vlad and his heroism and ferocity. Alex especially liked those stories that detailed the forbidding castles and fortresses that kept enemies out and featured winding stairs, secret hiding places, sumptuous feasts and intricately woven blankets that kept one warm at night. He imagined himself living in such a place and commanding an army of soldiers and servants.

He remembered the days spent traveling and stopping at a small town for supplies, to rest and eat, the little games that Emma invented to save him from boredom, his quick mastery of the strange language Emma spoke, the songs his mother sang, the silky sheen of the horses as they cantered through dusty streets with the sun gleaming on their brushed coats, the sighs of his mother and Emma in their bedrolls at night that he knew not to question but which made him squirm and yet comforted him at the same time.

They made camp for the night in a small shelter made of a big boulder surrounded by several trees. There was a patch of soft grass here, the brook was close by, the big rock sheltered them from the wind which had risen and they could observe the path for fellow travelers. Dinner was a bit of meat, some bread and cheese and fresh fruit. Alex and Walter went to bed early. Because of the darkness of the forest, there was nothing left to do but roll up within the blanket.

They traveled thus for several days, foraging always for food and fresh water, keeping their eyes and ears open for travelers and gypsies, wild animals and thieves. They were lucky to find no one crossing their path.

Mulder was concerned now for his friends. His first instinct was to unhitch his horse and follow their trail. He had a copy of their map and a rough itinerary. It wouldn't be too difficult to find them. But he was worried about his patients and he certainly didn't want to leave Dana alone. She was carrying his child and although he had Emily to help look after her as well as servants, friends and family he could call on to watch over her, he didn't want to leave her behind.

He could possibly find someone to serve as a messenger, to give them the news of Roderick's whereabouts. He decided to give the matter more thought. He would speak to his wife and decide the best course of action.

That evening as they ate their supper meal, he told Dana of the new sighting of Roderick. She questioned him thoroughly, wondering if perhaps, like the devil, the rogue was seen everywhere and nowhere. Her husband chuckled at her dry wit and quick mind. It was just like Dana to be rational.

She was quite upset when he told her of his plan to join up with his friends.

"You don't know exactly where they may be now, how far they've traveled."

"I know this area like the back of my hand."

"William!" she cut him off, using his Christian name. "I won't allow it."

"But Dana if Roderick really is in London now, they must know. They are headed in the wrong direction and they will lose precious time besides."

"Then I shall ride with you," she said firmly.

"You are with child. We've already lost two. You know the risk involved. You can't travel. Please listen to me."

Dana relented. "All right. But you must take John with you."

"John is afraid of his own shadow," Fox complained.

"He is an excellent horseman and he will keep you company."

John was the stable hand, a quite capable horseman to be sure but he was a rather nervous sort.

Fox knew he couldn't argue with his wife. She was more stubborn than he. So he told John of his plans who readily agreed, gave Dana notes on the treatment of several of his patients and packed that evening for their journey.

It was a fortnight until they came to a small village and wearily found a room at the local inn. It was night time by now and so Walter was human again. He checked in and was shown his spacious and fairly clean room by the owner's wench of a daughter. Her hair was blonde but dirty and probably ridden with lice, her cheeks were pale and in the fire light Walter noted the scars from the pox on her face, and her remaining teeth were gray with discoloration. He supposed if a man closed his eyes she would be a treat in bed. Unless of course she had a social disease on top of that.

He unpacked their possessions, took the leash and collar off of Alex (he told everyone Alex was a mix of wolf and dog, both pet and body guard) and lay on the soft bed for a while.

He had supper brought up to him. Again the wench served him. Mary, as virtuous a name as the woman was wanton, displayed her wares when she bent over to place the tray on the scarred dresser. She smiled and blinked her lashes at Walter but he ignored her in favor of the steaming meat pies and potatoes on the plate. He practically pushed her out the door. They fed quickly, filling their empty stomachs with the good food and fresh water Walter insisted on having. There was time for ale later in the tavern.

Walter went down to the tavern a bit later, after finishing every bite on his plate, washing the good food down and resting. He was served a big mug of ale and began to engage in conversation with the men at the table they shared.

The more the men drank the more anxious the wolf became. They were laughing boisterously, as single males do after a few pints of ale. The jokes became salacious and Walter's friend became freer with his hands to the dismay of several of the women who crossed too closely to him.

The female servants gathered their skirts closer to their legs. Their hands swatted at the men as they passed the tables. They were quite accustomed to dancing away from roving hands. In fact, every man in the place, save for the owner whose wife had eyes like a hawk, groped the serving wenches, except for the balding gentleman with the tame wolf. Most, if not all, were disappointed.

The wolf thrust his cold, wet nose into Walter's thigh. He nudged the man and growled lightly. Walter petted him and slid his thick fingers through his fur gently but firmly. The wolf growled in delight at the rough caress and jumped into Walter's lap with his paws braced on each thigh.

"He's a friendly sort isn't he?" George asked. He slurred his words and picked up his mug, downing the remaining contents in one audible swallow. He sucked at the foam and spit out the dregs. They landed on the floor with a little spat. The sawdust soaked it up quickly.

"Aye, you don't know how friendly he can be," Walter said with a leer.

His new friend George cocked his head at Walter. He wasn't quite sure he wanted to know what else the wolf hybrid was besides a protective companion. He shrugged his big shoulders. He'd heard of lonely shepherds and farm boys dallying with livestock but a docile wolf and dog mix?

Walter retired to his room with a spinning head and went to bed without undressing. Alex growled and finally settled down on the rug on the floor.

The next morning Alex woke a bit stiff from his bed on the hard floor but he did some stretches and a little exercise to crack his bones and warm up his muscles.

He gazed at Walter with exasperation and smugness as he scolded him for his carousing the night before. "If you have a headache and you can't fly right then you deserve it."

The eagle chirped indignantly as if he understood.

"I'll find us breakfast."

They rested and fed before moving on again. Alex had asked after the man they sought, the man with the book of spells who had been working in concert with Spender.

After some time spent charming and cajoling the townspeople and the innkeeper Alex found out the man's whereabouts. He was still traveling ahead of them.

"When I find him I will break every single bone in his body and then grind them to ashes until he undoes this cruel curse," Alex vowed.

Though he was reluctant to leave the village behind, they had to travel on. Alex just hoped he wasn't turning in circles. He had a bad feeling deep in his gut about their path.

At least they had the light still. The trees wouldn't hem them in with their shadows until later. Now he still had the brilliant sky above his head. The blue reminded him of the dazzling hue of Dana's eyes, with just that touch of gray sadness. He clucked at the horse to trot a bit faster.

Walter stayed high above, circling the air at times and making a mournful warning cry at any creatures that may come near them. They stopped several times, in order to eat, rest and feed the horse. Alex was grateful to the clear running stream he found. The teasing sound of the babbling brook was soothing to his ear and he gulped in great mouthfuls of the cool water.

When Alex mounted his steed again, he felt calmer and rested. The horse's steady trot lulled him into a hypnotic state. The cries of animals and birds that came from the forest startled him now and then. Walter flew down in a great squawk and settled on Alex's shoulder, carefully gripping Alex's heavy cloak with his sharp claws.

They were always in sync, right from the beginning, whether in bed, shaking the sturdy frame until it threatened to collapse, or on the battlefield.

Alex thought of their time together as soldiers. They moved as one unit, always looking out for the other. The battles waged during the wars of the Roses had sometimes been quite brutal but they were never afraid as long as they were together. Politics didn't matter to either man, survival and living were.

The moans of the dying soldiers in Alex's memories haunted him. After a battle was over they had gone through the sprawled and bloodied bodies looking for survivors, killing those men that were dying with a quick slice across the throat to end their agony and carrying the wounded to the medics in hope of saving them.

Even though the sun glittered on the once emerald green grass and the hills were burnished with the fierce light, still the scene was gloomy The battlefields were deadly quiet afterwards with only the sounds of disturbed crows flying up from the carrion that were once young men and then settling down again to peck at the cooling flesh of the dead. Their great black wings reminded him of angels of death visited upon the earth. Their raucous caws would echo through the site as they still did in his mind.

Alex nearly fell off the horse as he heard the sound of the bird behind him. "Give me a heart attack, why don't you?" he muttered and then righted himself.

It was as though, even in animal form, Walter could read his lover's morbid thoughts and wanted to extinguish the brutal scenes and frightful dark memories from his mind.

Alex rubbed his cheek against the bird's face and sighed. That was as close to comfort as he'd get right now.

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