|The Transformation Story Archive||Horses and Doggies and Cats, Oh my...|
Kera and I rode through the early night. We hadn't quarreled with him, but the Council Wizard we'd met a couple of towns back would not leave any work free for an independent magician like me for several days' travel around. It was a bright, quarter-moonlit night, so we'd pushed on after supper. Another town would not be that far ahead.
Kera, though, was getting nervous as we rode on. I'd long since learned not to discount her swordswoman's training and instinct for a-building trouble, so I loosened my own sword and started preparing spells we might need if trouble came.
Before we could do any more, though, a weighted net dropped over me from the branches above the road. Before I could react, my horse reared, and I fell out of the saddle to the roadway. As I struggled in the net, I was hit in the head, and that's the last I recall.
My head felt like it was about to split open when I came to. The moon had set, though there was star-light to see by. I struggled out of the netting and tried to stand up, but all but fell down again. Kera's and my horses were grazing beside the road, though she was nowhere to be seen, nor was there sign of our attackers. I stood up cautiously, and walked slowly to my horse. All our gear was intact, and I dug the appropriate herb out of my healing supplies. I could barely concentrate against the pain to work the associated spell, and my head soon cleared.
Functional again, I looked over the site of the ambush. They'd disarmed her before they took Kera away, though she still had a couple of surprises left, if I knew my partner. They had made no apparent effort to cover their trail, so I picked up her weapons, tied them to her saddle, and led our horses after them, staying alert in case of further ambush. None came as I trailed them to a small building set into the side of a mountain range, with a cleared area in front of it. From the edge of the woods, I took stock. Guards flanked the door, above which was the head of a deer, or similar animal, with three-pronged antlers I'd never seen before. I tied our horses at the edge of the wood near the main path away from the place and tucked Kera's sword behind my belt. A bit of misdirection and distraction got me past the guards and into the building.
It was a temple, clearly, an open hall, with a large statue of a being, a man with the same head as was over the door, flanked by two antelope with the same antlers, at the far end. Kera was standing before the statues, tied to two posts by her wrists, and stripped except for a headdress shaped like the idol's head. There were maybe a score of men in robes, standing in ranks, facing the idol. They were gesturing and chanting, in an unintelligible language. The leader wore a headdress like that Kera did, but not quite as fancy. Kera was pointedly looking away from the idol. I didn't see any sort of ceremonial knife, so I wondered just how they intended to sacrifice her to their deer-god. I didn't intend to wait to see, though.
I prepared my spell as I sidled through the shadows along the edge of the hall. Once I was as close to Kera as I could manage, and figured the priests were all looking at the idol, I threw the spell to detonate in the idol's face. The room lit up, brighter than day, and several of the priests screamed. I broke from the shadows to dash to Kera, shouldering aside a priest who was wandering around, temporarily blinded. I had my knife out as I reached Kera, and made short work of the binding on her left hand.
"Thanks, love," she said, ripping the headdress off, and taking the knife to free her right wrist. I handed her her sword, and she paused, looking past the idol. I touched her shoulder, breaking her reverie, and we dashed for the door, dodging the wandering, blinded priests. The guards came rushing in, but didn't pull their weapons until they saw us. We crossed blades, but no harm was done to either side as we pushed them back out and broke away. We reached our horses, untied them, and vaulted into our saddles. We whipped and kicked our horses into a full gallop along the path from the temple. We kept the pace up for a good five kilometers along the road, then gave our mounts a rest, walking them, and listening for pursuit, which didn't come. I gave Kera my cloak, and she wrapped it around herself, gratefully.
"Thanks again, love," she said. "I was half afraid they'd killed you, and I'd never get away from them."
"What was going on there, or were you told?" I asked. "I didn't see any sort of knife for a blood sacrifice."
"They were offering me as Bride to Vanhakalinar, Lord of the Vannut," she replied, "Alive and unharmed."
"The god represented by the idol?" I asked. "Yes. I suggested that one of the animals beside Him might suit Him better.
" `Alas, the vannut are no more,' the priest who was cleaning me for the event said. `He has asked for one of our kind for His Bride, and He has honored you with His choice.'
" `If it's such an honor, why didn't you volunteer?' I asked. " `I am a man, and besides, too old for what He wants,' the priest answered.
" `He can take care of that,' I answered, and he was almost incoherent in his outrage."
"I can imagine," I replied, sharing her laughter. "What did you see back there?"
"Him," she replied, "Coming up a tunnel beside the idol." "Probably just a priest in a vannut mask," I replied. "Not that big," she answered, "And not with moving ears. He didn't walk like a man, either."
"Either a shape-shifted priest, or some monster they've deified," I said. "Anyway, we're away cleanly, and won't have to find out."
"Unless He takes a hand," she answered. "You seem awfully sure He won't, love. Why?"
"Well, He couldn't save His sacred animals, could he?" I replied. "That's what that priest said. I doubt He still exists, if He ever did, or that He has the power to catch us, now that we've shown His priests a clean set of heels. Besides, if He does exist with divine powers, we're caught already. There's no hole we'd want to dive into that would protect us from Him. I'm just not worrying about what I can't do anything about."
"I guess you're right, love," she answered.
Kera drew stares all the way through the town until we reached the inn. She bore up proudly, though. She was used to such treatment, her combat scars hadn't marred her beauty yet, but her being clad in only my cloak gave the gawkers even more to stare at. At the inn, we got a room for the night, as close to the front door as we could. Neither of us was especially hungry, and supper was long past, so I spell-locked the door behind us.
"You know, stud," she said, as she shed the cloak, "It might not have been such a bad thing to be Vanhakalinar's bride. He was hung like a bull, much more than I've been getting."
"You wouldn't know what to do with that much man, wench," I replied, starting to undress, with her help. "Besides, it's quality, not quantity, that counts."
"If you say so," she said. "Until we see Him again, we won't know, will we? Come on, make your case."
Our foreplay started as we undressed me, and continued, long and vigorous.
"You know, love," I said, over her shoulder, nestling against her back, "I never realized how sexy you look from this side. Mind if I try it from here?"
"As He might stud one of His vannut?" she asked. "Sure, stag, come ahead."
She rolled over onto her hands and knees, and I knelt behind her, to couple with her from behind. As I thrust, she grunted blissfully, and I closed my eyes in the ecstasy of the sensation. I discharged, and everything changed. Our cries of ecstasy at climax sounded more like the bugle of a deer, though I was too distracted to notice the first time. I was fully ready for another shot, and there was a scent in the air that compelled me to repeat. We bugled together again, and could not stop until we'd done it three more times that I can recall.
After the last time, that scent, though still inviting, had dispersed enough for me to notice other things. A whole range of scents now reached me, including a handful of different ones that seemed to mean "man" or "woman." I moved my head to try to track a scent, and it moved differently, its balance changed. I opened my eyes, and I could not easily see straight ahead. I was looking far off to both sides, and most of the colors seemed washed out of my vision. Shaking my head to clear it only confirmed that its balance was different. I reached up to try to feel what had changed and a hoof came into my field of view, rather than a hand. The hoof was cloven, and on the leg above it were black and white markings. Looking back along my body confirmed that the hoof was mine, and that my body was now an antelope's, my arms forelegs and my legs now hind, with a short, rope-like tail. That and its controls were sensations so different and indescribable that I'd not noticed them before I knew the appendage was there.
On the bed Kera and I had been using, I was lying coupled with a doe antelope, with black and white markings on all four legs and three-pronged antlers. From her familiar scent, that all but compelled me to continue, and the way she moved, I knew the doe to be Kera, turned to a vanha, as I had been, it was likely. I uncoupled, and we rolled off the bed, to stand on all fours. The bed creaked in relief, since I was now the size of a small horse and Kera wasn't that much smaller. There was no mirror in the room, but a relatively recently polished wash-basin showed enough to confirm that we were both vannut.
"Kera," I tried to say, and all that came out was a grunt. She grunted in response, testing her own voice, it seemed. She bugled, her tail flicking over, and I was half on her before I knew what I was doing. I dismounted, hastily, with a regretful shake of my head. She nodded, as ruefully. I pulled my mind off her, and called up my techniques for clandestine magic use. We did not show as magic, though the spell I'd put on the door was still there. Without hands or voice, it took me a lot of work to throw a shape-shifting spell to turn Kera to human, but nothing happened. The spell went off and my detect showed it on her, but she remained a vanha, so I dismissed the spell.
Kera walked over to the hearth, took a stick in her mouth, and wrote in the ashes, "VANHAKALINAR?"
I nodded. There was no other answer. We had to go back to his temple. I didn't know of another god that might help us, and we'd be vannut again as soon as we were out of the other's protection. I went to the door, and ended my spell on it. Then, I couldn't open the door latch with my mouth. I lined up to kick the door down, but Kera blocked me. She led me to the window, and tapped it with her antlers. We were on the ground floor, so going out that way would attract less attention than trying the hall, especially since we would have to break our way out. We had even less luck with the window latch than with the door. Butting and kicking with our forelegs soon made an opening large enough for Kera, and then me, to jump through. We trotted into the night, headed directly for Vanhakalinar's temple.
I would not have known how before, but Kera and I followed something directly from the town to the temple of Vanhakalinar. The sentries, on seeing us approach, started, then fell on their faces. We trotted past them, without breaking stride, and through the temple itself. The priests kneeled to us as we passed, bowing their faces to the floor and chanting a prayer to their god. We ignored them, and continued into the tunnel Kera had noticed, into the mountain. Deep within the mountain, the tunnel opened up into a large, torchlit room. There, seated on a rough-hewn stone throne, was a being, a large, vanha-headed man. We stopped facing him, side by side.
"Welcome back, Kera, Molpar," he greeted us, in no tongue I'd ever known. I understood him perfectly, though, as I had the priests as we'd returned to the temple, on reflection.
"What do you want of us, Lord Vanhakalinar?" I thought, letting my anger out, and he laughed, a curious sound from his non-human throat.
"You have courage," he said. "I like that. You will found a fine vanha race."
He arose, and walked around us, inspecting us. I returned the favor as he did. He was big, nearly three meters tall, without his half-meter rack of three-pronged antlers that put mine to shame, and heavily-built, and not nearly human. He looked like a vanha stag that had decided to stand on his hind legs. He stood stably, though, on human-like feet, though his cloven hooves replaced human toes and his legs were less human. His arms and hands were thoroughly human, though articulated to vanha shoulders and chest. His neck was long and stocky, capped with a vanha head barely modified enough for forward vision. He was nude, except for his sleek vanha pelt over his entire body but the palms of his hands and the soles of his feet. He had his own distinctive black and white markings around his wrists and ankles. His mane reached from between his eyes, over the top of his head and down his neck to his shoulders. His short tail twitched as he looked us over. His male member, tucked into its sheath against his belly, seemed even larger than mine, which was well in proportion to my new body.
"For violating my temple," he began, stopping before us. "You will wear those forms as long as is my pleasure. However, Kera, you were promised to me, and if you will accept that, and be my consort, I will make you as I am, and you will live in my love, forever.
"You are as beautiful to vanha eyes as you were to human. You will make the perfect mother to the race I wish to found, sharing vanha and human heritage. Vannut are herd animals, and I have been so alone since the last one died, millennia ago, and I could not save them. Will you come, and live with me, as long as I do?"
Kera glanced at me, and I shook my head. If the vannut were gone, if I lost her, I'd have no does at all, beyond that I didn't want to lose her for herself. She cocked her head to one side, as she'd always done when she was thinking, and then gave an uncertain nod.
"Your former stag will live as long as you do, I promise, since you still care for him," the god said.
Kera nodded, resignedly, the god gestured, and she stood up. Her hind legs bent at the hocks, as her cannon bones flattened and arched into feet, and the rest of her legs changed, though subtly. Her forehooves turned to hands, and her forelegs to arms. As her body adjusted to rise above her hips, her head rotated to face forward on her neck, and her eyes rotated to face forward. Her udders turned into breasts, in the proper position and large enough for her. She stood better than two and a half meters tall, and her antlers added another third of a meter. As the god surveyed his handiwork, an unmistakable look of concern crossed his non-human features.
"You're in fawn," he said, "By him. None but my own get and theirs will be in my new race, but I will not slay his. His herd will need all the members it can get, so his fawn will join his herd, when it is weaned. Do not fret for it, for it is a vanha, like its sire, and will never be more than one. If we keep it, it will be little more than a pet for our own fawns. Now, come, my love."
He gestured Kera over to him, but I moved to block her way. "I'm sorry, love," she said, in the same language the god had used, "But I've made my choice. I'll try to persuade him to relent, and return you to human eventually. Good-bye, my love, and good grazing."
I bugled, and her tail went over. Then Kalinar bugled, and I had no choice but to back off and turn and run. He was one stag I dared not challenge. I ran back up the tunnel we'd come in and turned up a side passage I'd not noticed, not knowing why I did. I burst through a screen of brush into the open, and scrambled to a halt, panting heavily, my panic gone. I had no idea where I was.
Hey, doe! Come on! You want me, I can smell it. Get out of here, buck! I said "Go!" That doe is mine! All right, take that! And that! And that! And don't come back! Okay, doe, he's gone. You're mine, now. What do you mean, not interested? You're so far in heat I can smell you across the valley. Oh, hell, you're not a vanha. Damn Vanhakalinar! Go ahead, doe, find a buck of your own kind.
So it went, all fall, the first year after Vanhakalinar made me a vanha, and sent me to a closed-in mountain valley. The does of the other deer and antelope herds in the valley wouldn't have me, though they were close enough to vannut that I had trouble resisting the scent of their heat when I went into rut.
I eventually made it back to where I'd come into the valley, which I'd avoided all year, and found myself drawn back to the entrance. I trotted into the tunnel, and out, through the temple. I thought I should try not to be spotted, lest I be hunted and slain for the meat I carried. I could probably mind-speak, but I might not be able to make contact fast enough to save my life. I headed for the town we'd made for the previous year, to see if I could make contact with the local magician. He probably couldn't really help me, but it was worth a try. I stopped in a glade just outside the town, and tried to shape-shift myself to human. It worked, strangely enough, clothes and all. I noticed a small pouch in the crotch of a tree, and found it contained a few gold pieces, bearing a vanha face, as did the pouch. Even if it was Vanhakalinar's idea, I still could try to break away from him.
At the inn, I took a room, hearing myself ask for one on the ground floor without intending to. As luck would have it, it was the same room we'd had the previous year. The innkeeper did not know me, which surprised me until I had a look at the stranger's face I'd given myself. There were no other magicians in the inn that night, and the town's resident magician wasn't expected that day of the week, so I decided to wait until morning.
While I was eating, one of the local women gave me the eye. I returned the look, still feeling fairly in rut. She came over, made a pass, I made an offer, and she came with me to my room. I felt like mounting her from the rear, but kept to normal positions. When I climaxed, I bugled, and so did she. That shocked me enough that I stopped, despite the urge from her musk, withdrew, and we untangled our legs to roll off the bed, a vanha stag and doe. As Kera and I had been, we were stuck that way. As I checked that out, the doe watched me curiously, though without the spark of intelligence Kera had shown. She made no attempt to communicate, nor did any of mine work. I cast a mind-speak, and there was nothing there. No intellect, merely an animal, a doe with her stag. I trotted to the window, and she followed me slavishly, it opened of itself, and we leapt through.
She followed me to the temple, and to Vanhakalinar's audience chamber. He was waiting there for me, with Kera beside him, a vanha doe fawn, barely weaned, at her hooves.
"What happened to her?" I thought, gesturing to the doe. "She will be happier this way," the god answered. "She has no more mind now than her new life requires, nor memory of her old one. You need a herd, a harem, and this is how I will provide it. As I told her dam, your daughter here is no more than a vanha, as will all your sons and daughters be, and you will mount her when she comes of age in two years, and sire her fawns."
At a gesture from him, the fawn walked away from Kera to the doe I'd just brought in. He seemed calm and collected, but his eyes flicked from the doe to me nervously. From his scent, and his tenseness, I realized that he was as much in rut as I was. Only the strictest of intellectual self-control kept us from butting heads over the doe, or rather does, since Kera was also in heat. I kept my own instincts in check, as well. Besides the hopelessness of any challenge, I figured he would leave me in the herd forever if I so demonstrated I belonged there. I told the god precisely what I thought about him and what he'd done to us.
"You're probably right," he answered, "But I rule here. Good-bye." I wheeled and led the doe and fawn to my valley. As we cleared the entrance, I heard bugling far behind. Not a challenge, but a stag, Kalinar, with his doe, Kera. I wanted that doe, badly, but could not turn back into the tunnel. I had a doe, in heat, with me, so I mounted her, again and again until she wasn't in heat any longer and my rut passed. Our bugling echoed off the valley walls. We stayed in that part of the valley all autumn, though we all kept away from the entrance, dropping down to the valley floor for the winter. Up into the foothills for the spring, when the doe dropped her fawn, another doe. We found our favorite food on the higher pastures, and spent the summer there.
Then, back to the entrance area for the autumn rut. Kera's daughter had a year yet to grow, and the one adult doe didn't nearly satisfy my rut, when I felt drawn to the entrance again. I tried to refuse, but the pressure got too great, so I went out again. The rest of my herd stopped well short of the entrance, and watched me leave forlornly. I headed for another town, resolving not to give into the god's pressure to destroy another woman.
At the inn, a young woman made eye contact with me, and the interest was clearly there. I gave her a violent shake of the head, I was not interested, but she didn't seem ready to take no for an answer. She kept walking by me, brushing against me suggestively. I kept to my resolve, and tried to not encourage her, even when she all but sat on my lap. A couple of times that evening, I saw her arguing with a sharp-faced local man of about her own age.
Suddenly, my codpiece swelled so hard it would have burst were it not as magical as the rest of my clothes. I'd scented a vanha doe in heat. The musk was coming from the young woman, and I swore to myself. Still, I held to my resolve, and eventually retired to my room, spell-locking the door behind me.
Not too long later, though, as I lay on the bed trying to sleep, the door opened and the young woman walked in.
"Does my stag want me?" she asked, as the door closed behind her. "No, lass," I replied, sitting up. "Not tonight. Please, go away." "But, but, my stag," she protested, coming towards me, "If it is a matter of money, I can wait until you get the gold. Please, let me do your pleasure."
"It is not that, lass," I said. "To be honest, if I do bed you tonight, we will both turn into deer, and I will not be able to turn either of us back. What you are, your personality, will disappear. You will be no more than a doe for my herd, for your life. Please, lass, go back to your young man here. I can bear with this until I can talk to a priest to set me free from this curse."
"We need not lie together," she said, close enough to reach out and touch my bulging codpiece. It and my clothes disappeared, as my manhood leaped into her hands. "Let me give you release."
"No, lass, do not," I protested, as she began to stroke me. "If I do, I may turn into a stag, and will not be able to turn back."
"If you do, I will speak for you," she said. She sat down before me, stroking my penis, first with her hands, then with her mouth.
"No, lass, please, go away," I said. "Ah, ah, no, ah, stop, ah, no, AAAAAHHHH!"
I bugled as I orgasmed, and I turned back into a stag. I fell onto my side and lay there, panting. When I got my breath back, I looked below my belly and saw the girl still sitting there, stroking my member as it retracted into its sheath. She licked my semen off her stubby muzzle with a broad, herbivore's tongue. I verified that I couldn't magic myself back to human, then cast a mind-speaking spell to her.
"Lass, can you hear me?" I sent.
"Yes, my stag," she answered, mind-to-mind, but grunted aloud. "Can you speak?"
She grunted again, a few times, then bugled quietly, which brought my member out again.
"All right, lass," I said, resignedly, noting the antlers starting to grow from her brow and the pelt developing over the rest of her body. "You cannot speak now, and you will be a doe before morning, I fear. Come, let me take you to my herd, from which you will never leave."
"Do not be sad, my stag," she returned. "It is my happy fate to be a doe under my strong and virile stag's guard. Since my fate is now set, will you now cover me?"
She rolled onto all fours, feet and hands mostly hooves now, and turned her rear to me, her stubby tail swinging aside under her tunic, as she gave an inviting bugle.
"Not right now, lass," I answered, controlling myself with an effort. "If we mate here, our bugling may bring your townspeople here down on us. I have no defenses now, save that which turned you into a doe, and I do not wish to call that down on any others. Let me see if I can turn you fully into a doe, so you can travel easily."
I worked the spell, and her change completed. I'd thought I'd included her tunic in the spell, but it fell apart as she changed within it. She was then clear of magic, and I sighed.
"My stag?" she asked, walking over to nuzzle me. "What's wrong?" "Nothing, lass," I said. "Come, let's go." I rolled off the bed, and trotted to the window. It opened, and we leaped through, as I heard pounding on the door. As we trotted through the woods, I suddenly scented something following us. Wolf, my instincts said, but with an overlay of human. The doe sidled closer to my flank, though we didn't slacken or hasten our pace. We had a long enough trot ahead of us that we couldn't run any significant part of the distance. The wolf caught up to us, though he did not attack, pulled ahead, and stopped short, facing us.
"Stag!" the wolf said, in a guttural, distorted human voice, as I and the doe pulled to a halt facing him. "What have you done to Leisa?"
"You know him, Leisa?" I sent to the doe. "Yes, my stag," she returned. "I thought I was in love with that pup until I met you."
"What is his name?"
"Adlin, my stag."
I extended the mind-speaking spell to include the wolf. "Adlin," I sent, and the wolf perked up his ears. "This is Molpar, the stag facing you. I am sorry about what has happened to her, through me, but it was not my doing. The same force that made me a stag has made her a doe, beyond my or any mage's ability to change us. If you care for your own humanity, please, let us pass, go home, and mourn her."
"No, stag," the wolf replied. "Let's have it out here and now, werewolf against were-stag. She comes back with me. When you're dead, what you've done will end."
"No!" Leisa put in. "Kill him, and I will gore you with my horns and trample you under my hooves."
"But, Leisa," he returned, "You don't know what you're saying." "She thinks she does," I put in. "The god that has changed her body changed her mind first. If I thought it would return her to human, I would offer you my throat. Anyway, I expect it will be hopeless for you to attack me. I'm strong as any stag, intelligent as a man, and have a god behind me.
"There may be a chance for you to get her back. Before she triggered our changes, I was hoping to talk to a priest of a different god to get me out from under this geas. Leisa offered to speak for me, but her changes destroyed her voice first. I fear you would risk sharing her fate, but if you are willing to take the risk, would you escort us back to the town, and speak for us to a priest? If we can get back to human, I will leave, and she can stay with you."
"I'm going with you, wherever, my stag," Leisa put in. "That's the god speaking through you," I returned, gently. "You were not meant for me. Well, lad?"
"All right," the wolf answered, "Follow me." As he trotted by us and we pivoted to follow, without conscious thought, I bugled. The wolf's scent changed, as it stopped short, its tail swinging over. It cried out, a coarse, guttural bugle, in return, then sent, over the mind-speak, "What was that about, stag?"
"That was not of my will, lad," I replied. "I am sorry, but I fear you have been caught like Leisa. Try to revert to human."
The wolf suddenly shimmered into a vanha doe, in heat. Leisa started, then went over to offer a sympathetic nuzzle.
"By Vanhakalinar's balls," I swore. "Well, you have Leisa now, as a harem-mate rather than a lover."
"I should rip your throat out for this, stag," Adlin said, "But there's no way I can do that now. Now what do we do?"
"There's nothing else for it, but follow me," I returned. "I'll take you to my herd, from which you will never leave again."
"My stag," Leisa put in, with a quiet bugle of her own. "We are far from people here, and our bugling will not draw attention. Could you cover us now, and relieve your rut and our heat?"
"Let us wait until we get to my herd," I said, restraining myself with an effort. "I have been a stag for most of the last two years, and am starved for human companionship. When I cover you, your minds and memories will be destroyed. Please, bear with me, and grant me that."
"All right, our stag," Adlin answered, and Leisa nodded. Adlin suddenly shimmered back into a she-wolf, tawny colored with black anklets. "I will help guard us on our way."
I led the wolf and the doe back to the temple, and into the tunnel towards the god's chamber. At the turn off, Adlin stopped, staring down the other way, her nostrils flaring.
"There's quite a stag down there," she sent. "Better than you, even." "That's the god who made us vannut," I returned. "He'd deserve it if you went down and ripped his throat out, but you'd never get that close. If you do think you want him, either of you, go ahead."
"No, my stag," Leisa said, and Adlin echoed her. We headed up the tunnel to the valley, and my other doe and the two fawns eyed the wolf warily, but curiously. She reverted to a doe, and the others relaxed. Then, I covered Leisa and Adlin, feeling their minds die in turn as we bugled together. Afterward, the mind-link still in place, I managed to coax Adlin to skin-turn into a wolf. She'd not change either way voluntarily, but only when I cued her. Having a tame wolf of our own helped our herd fend off other wolf packs in the valley, and I often left her to guard the others while I went out to recruit another doe. None of her fawns, though, apparently inherited her lycanthropy.
The following autumn, Kera's daughter came into heat. The incest involved revolted me, but my body, like hers, had other ideas. Besides, I only sired my first son that same season, and there was no other stag for her. I let my reflexes take over, thinking to ignore the urge to head for the outside, but, when there were no other does to cover, I realized I was following yet another doe's scent to the tunnel out.
Eventually, I gave up fighting Vanhakalinar, and generally grabbed the first woman who showed interest. One year, I encountered a female sorceress travelling alone along the road. I transformed myself to human, but she wouldn't be seduced, despite her obvious interest, clearly supplemented by the god. I acceded to her will, in the faint hope that I could stay human long enough to find some way to break the god's hold on me. We were still between towns when night fell, so we made camp. We laid our beds a good three meters apart, across the fire, and stood watches. In the midst of my watch, I suddenly nodded off, and dreamed of my herd during my rut. My bugling and hers woke both of us, and I was a stag, and she a doe. She retained her intellect until I got her home and covered her. Besides the sorceress, the mare she'd ridden was very interested in me, and, despite the height difference, I managed to hump her into a doe as well.
The following years went much like the first, and my harem grew rapidly. I sired a fawn, four does for each buck, on each adult doe each year, and added a doe, also in fawn, from outside each year. I found myself drifting off, letting my stag's reflexes and instincts run my life. Several times, I only came back to human awareness as a human, outside a town, on another recruiting mission for my herd.
When my sons reached maturity at three years, a year after their sisters, they acknowledged me as lead stag. None of them quite matched my size, speed and strength, so what challenges came were little problem. I tried to keep conflict to a minimum, keeping away when they were mounting the does, but once I scented a doe in heat, she was mine.
Often, after the herd grew large enough, while I was busy with one doe, I'd hear one of my sons and one of the other does bugle, out of my sight. I'd finish, even more intent than before, and could not refuse to track them down. If the doe was still in heat, I'd bugle a challenge to the buck. If he didn't turn and run, we'd butt heads until he did, and I'd take care of her heat myself.
"Good evening, colleague," the sorceress said, as she walked over to my table. "May I join you?"
"If you wish, colleague," I replied, thinking `Forgive me, my lady, for what is to come.' She was young-ish, with long brown hair, and good-looking, with an unusual cast to her features, and we'd been eying one another since I'd walked into the common room of the inn. She had much the same idea I had, in my rut, without the mercenary air a whore usually showed. She showed no badge nor were her robes any livery, so it should attract a minimum of attention if she disappeared into my herd.
"Call me Channi," she said, taking a seat facing me. "I am Molpar," I answered. I hadn't used my true name near there for a number of years, so no one near there should connect it with the disappearances I'd caused. We made small talk through dinner, with her fishing for news and gossip. It was out of character for me not to, myself, but I didn't know enough to ask the right questions nor tell convincing lies in response.
"Pardon me," I said finally, as I noticed her suspicions nearing the danger level, "I have been rather out of touch for quite some time. I'd rather not explain in public, but if you come to my room after, I will. Why don't you just tell me the latest news?"
"All right," she replied, but much of what she said was a mystery to me. I'd been too long out of touch, and didn't even know enough to ask helpful questions. I just let her talk.
"Now for that private talk?" she suggested, when we were through eating.
"Yes, colleague," I replied. "Come with me." She took my elbow as I led her to the room I'd reserved. Ground-floor, to allow my normal hasty departure. I spell-locked the door behind us, and she nodded approval. We didn't want to be disturbed, and either of us would be able to open it again, under normal circumstances.
"Actually, my lady," I said, stepping up to kiss her on the cheek, "I was looking for some intimate company, if you're willing."
"Was that all an act?" she asked. "Just trying to get into my pants? It couldn't be. I'd swear no-one could be as unaware of events as you truly were."
"It was no act, my lady," I replied. "I have been kept out of circulation for many years now. I had no idea what you were talking about much of the time."
"And now you need a woman," she said, with a gentle smile. "I should charge you double the going rate, but, as a colleague in magic, I'll settle for the story, in full, after. Your codpiece is going to burst if we don't do something about it soon. Deal?"
"Deal, my lady," I said, giving her a passionate kiss. As she stripped, I willed my magic-created clothes away, and we started our love-play. She was willing, down-right eager, and as good a lover as any I'd had, rivalling Kera.
"My lady, may I come from here?" I asked, nestling against her back. She looked over her shoulder at me, shrugged, and said, rolling onto her hands and knees, "If you want, stallion."
I mounted her, and thrust until I bugled. She cried out, in human voice, when I did, and there was no doe's musk to impel me to continue. I stopped, in surprise, realizing that, though her scent had changed, it had not become a doe's. There was a mare's body beneath me, with Channi's torso, head and arms, in place of the head and neck. She was looking back at me in surprise, as I withdrew, dismounted, and headed to the window, which opened to allow me to leap through and trot into the night.
Vanhakalinar was waiting for me when I reached his audience chamber. As he examined me, I reviewed the events of that night. He shook his head, and I noticed that there was something more human about his body than I'd noted before.
"Nothing's changed, she should have joined your herd," he concluded. "It must be something in her that kept my will from working as I would. Oh, it seems she has followed you of her own accord. Go back out and bring her to me."
I turned and trotted back through the temple. Sniffing around the area before the portico, I located the scent I'd winded that night, and traced it until I met Channi, looking as she had when we first met, and a fast detect showed her to be a strong spell-center.
"Hello, Buck," she said, when she noticed me. I worked a shape-change, to match my appearance when we'd first met. She looked me over, appraisingly, with a gleam in her eye. I glanced down, and realized I'd not created any clothes for myself in the spell.
"Hello, Channi," I returned, feeling my cheeks grow hot in embarrassment. A magician, like her in no livery, and an older kinsman of hers by appearance, came out of the woods behind me.
"This is my partner, Kemper," she said, indicating the new arrival. "My pleasure," I said, bowing.
"As is mine," the man answered, with a nod, ignoring my state of undress.
"You owe me a story, buck," she said, "The more so for the trouble you put us through to track you down. For starters, who and what are you?"
"After what happened the last time we met, I might ask you the same," I replied. "My name is Molpar Holdarson, and I have been a vanha for maybe two thousand years, though I long since lost track."
I told them my story, briefly, and my errand in the town where we'd met, concluding, "And, if you'd have tried to stop us, Kemper, you'd have suffered the same fate. But, Channi, since the curse on my lovers went so awry with you, He's asked me to bring you to Him. I know not what He intends, but He may return you to human, and allow you to leave. I would hope He would not take you into my herd, for that is a fate I would not wish on anyone, but it may be better than to live as the half-human, half-animal monster the curse somehow made of you."
"Why would you say that?" she asked, and I looked at her in puzzlement. With a gesture of dismissal, she was the half-horse she'd been after I covered her. The equine half of her was covered with a sleek brown pelt that matched her head hair, and was small for a horse, maybe eleven hands at the shoulders, the height of a doe vanha, though somewhat longer. She "sat" down gracefully, folding her four legs under her equine body to rest it on the ground, as she continued, "Horses are noble beasts, and this form has all their strengths, with the strengths of humans as well. As for being a monster in others' eyes, we can manage, as we have the past few days."
"And the months since we last left your herd, and all the years since we decided to work under the masquerade," Kemper said, and I looked from one to the other in growing amazement.
"She was foaled like that, Molpar," he continued. "Nothing happened to her when you mounted her, except that the spell she wore went away when yours did. Your range is far from theirs, but you should have heard something about it when her herd went public fifty years back. It was in the fall of the year."
"You may have gone into rut before the war," Channi commented. "But yes, this is my real form. I was foaled into a centaur herd, and no, I have no reason to want a god to make me permanently human.
"We'd lived in hiding for centuries, under the protection of our herd leader, a member of the Council of Wizards, and his coven. Fifty years ago, our herd was attacked, and we could not both fend it off and keep our race secret. When we survived, the Councils of Barons and Wizards both decreed that we had the same rights as any dweller in Marland. Have you not heard of Cheiron and the centaurs? Or of the kingship war between Brevanen of Arvan and Maraken of Markan?"
"No, I hadn't," I replied. "Before Vanhakalinar took me, I had no more to do with Council Wizards than I could help. I was trying to put space between me and one of them when this all began, in fact. Over centuries, rumors of wars tend to blend together, and I could never have kept track. I was usually in such a hurry to find a woman to recruit into my herd that I barely paid attention to the gossip and news. If you say your herd is no longer in hiding, why do you conceal your race, my lady?"
"I've enemies to make that I would not be the herd's," Channi replied. "Nor do I wish to rely on Cheiron's strength for protection, since we've not joined his coven. Besides, he would not approve of some things we're planning. Most people presume that a civilized centaur is of his coven, or another friendly to him, whatever colors the centaur wears."
"If you will excuse us," Kemper said, "I'd like a private word with my partner."
I nodded, and they walked off a little ways. I gave them their privacy, lost in my own thoughts.
"Cheiron might be interested in you," Kemper said, when they regained their positions. "He might be able to undo part of what that god did to you, and might help you break fully away from Him. Cheiron's also sufficiently good-hearted not to take too much out of your hide in return, when he sees how you hate the god for what he's done to you and made you do. Are you willing to try?"
"Yes, I think so," I replied, slowly, "If you are willing to take the risk that everyone who tries to help me, or that I even talk to, might end up in my harem if Vanhakalinar wants them there, to cover his secrets. It is a tall order, even for one of the Council."
"We'll run the risk," Channi said. "We'll keep it to ourselves until we talk to Cheiron, to put as few people as possible at risk. You can take my horse until we get close to a town, where we'll buy you one."
"Where do we head to?" I asked. "He might be anywhere within Marland." "True, but his coven's base, in Stallion Valley in Markan, will know how to find him, when he isn't there," Kemper answered. "It's a couple of weeks' ride off. Will your god let you wander that far?"
"I'll come," I answered, though Vanhakalinar was trying to drag me back by the balls. If he wanted me back badly enough, I'd be a stag with two new does for my harem. "Doesn't the Council forbid its members from setting up permanent bases, so they don't get too involved in local politics?"
"They did, until a couple, three hundred years after you disappeared," Kemper said. "Neither of us remember it, but when Cheiron settled the herd in Stallion Valley, he got Council permission to do so. He had little real choice, and a strong reputation for keeping out of secular politics. Most Council members have established territories by now, either by claim or by default, and many unfortunately meddle in politics. One of them goaded Brevanen into starting the King's war, fifty years ago, and attacked Stallion Valley to put Cheiron out of the way."
"Enough talk, here's a tunic," Channi said. "Let's get moving before He realizes what you're trying."
I slid into the garment, and she helped me into the saddle. As Kemper and I started to ride, with Channi matching our horses' paces, two temple guards dashed out of the woods to block our way. Channi ran one of the guards over, as Kemper dashed past the other, and I kicked my horse into a gallop. Suddenly, my body changed, and I was a vanha stag again. My horse, now a vanha doe, collapsed under me, and I rolled onto my hooves. I ignored the new doe to leap, bugling, to chase the fleeing centauress. I nearly caught her, when she stopped, planting her forehooves, and lashed out with her hind ones. They caught me full in the chest, knocking the wind out of me, and I went sprawling. By the time I had my breath back, she was so far gone that my fastest sprint had no chance to catch her. I bugled after her, though my heart leapt, hoping that she had escaped Kalinar's trap in me. I turned back to the new doe, and led her back to my herd. She came into heat as we reached the valley, and, when I dismounted, my rut had passed. For one season, at least, no woman would join my herd.
"Hello, Molpar," Channi greeted me, when I met the centauress as I left the grounds of the temple. My conscious mind started, though I bugled a greeting that flipped her tail over.
"Come near me while you're in rut, buck, and I'll kick your balls off," she said, facing me squarely. I nodded, then shape-changed myself to human, with clothes, as she'd known me the year before.
"Hello, Channi," I replied. "What brings you back here? You know Vanhakalinar wants you in my herd, so you'd best leave the area before He realizes you're here."
"We're here to try to get you free," she replied. "Cheiron thinks he might be able to talk your god into letting you go. Come and talk with him, before you continue on your mission for Him."
"All right, Channi, I hope you know what you're doing," I answered. I followed her into the woods. Suddenly, we met a wolf, who snarled at us, then, his tail wagging, he walked up to Channi, who bent down to pet him.
"Hi, Martin," she said. "This is Molpar." He looked me over intelligently, then allowed me to scratch behind his ears. I followed Channi past the wolf, who resumed his prowling. She led me first to a tether line, where half a dozen vanha does were grazing. They looked up at me, with some interest. Even as a human, I could tell they were in heat, or close enough that my bugling would set them off.
"These are for your herd, buck, if we can't get you free," Channi explained. "I'll be well away before we let you near them, I promise. We'll see that you need never again take a woman into your herd."
"If He will be satisfied with them," I said. "You didn't come out again, last year, did you, once He made a doe of my horse?"
"I was still coming after you, until you kicked me, even with her around. He ended my rut after I took care of her heat, I think more out of frustration and to minimize any attention I might draw than because my errand was done. Did you stay in the area afterwards? You should have been halfway to Markan before you stopped running, lest He get wind of you and take you into my herd."
"You are a danger, buck, so long as you're in His power. So, to reduce that danger, yes, we waited until winter for you to make another attempt."
"You have guts, my lady," I returned. "I thought the vanha had died out. He said so."
"We have our ways to revive the race, which He should have used Himself," she said. "Come on."
She then led me to a camp fire, with Kemper and half a dozen centaurs gathered around. The other centaurs all wore black, trimmed with ermine, one in magician's robes, the others in surcoats over their armor, and caparisons over their barding. Channi led me to the one in robes, whose pelt was the same colors, black on the forequarters, legs, and tail, with a black-spotted white patch peeking around the leather barding on his hindquarters.
"I found him," she announced. "Molpar Holdarson, Cheiron Kronosson, Wizard of Stallion Valley, and his bodyguard: my father, Kendor Malconson, and Valkar Balmonson, who also heads his army."
The sable and ermine, a brown centaur stallion in light armor, Channi's colors and showing kinship to her and to Kemper, and a tall roan in mail, respectively, "sitting" with Kemper nodded acknowledgment of her introduction. The eyes in Cheiron's broad, craggy face were deep, with the experience of years far beyond the prime of his apparent age. I recognized in him a peer, of a sort. Not in magic, he could take me apart without breathing hard, but as lead stud of his herd as I was of mine. He was the leader of the centaur herd, and the conclusion seemed obvious. The sable-and- ermine livery his coven wore matched his own pelt.
"Well, Holdarson," Cheiron began, "What do you want of us, and what does that spell you're wearing hide?"
"First of all, my Lord," I began, "I must warn you that I am under the control of a god, and whoever attempts to help me in what I would try must risk His wrath, as I am. He may turn you all into animals, does for my harem. In the face of that, I will not blame you if you turn me away."
Neither Cheiron nor Kendor replied, so I continued, "To answer your last question first, I am truly not even so close to human as you and your herdsmen are, but am a stag of a breed of antelope, that no others know exists again, called a vanha, and have been for some thousands of years, by the will of the patron god of the breed. If you wish, I will show you, but I know not if I can return to human if I did. I wish to be free of Him, and human again, but know not who can help me."
"Let's hear your story," Cheiron said.
"If you will excuse me," Channi said, "I have some personal business to see to."
As she left for their tent, I began my story, sitting cross-legged on the ground. I tried to keep it short, but Cheiron's probing questions drew details out of me I'd not consciously noticed before. I often couldn't answer him, or, even when I could, the point of the question escaped me. When Channi returned, she settled down beside me, with a friendly pat on my shoulder.
"Interesting," Cheiron said, when I finished. "Is there anything else you want from Him, besides your freedom, if you can get it?"
"At first, I wanted to rip his guts out and stomp his balls into dust, to get Kera back," I answered. "But I long since realized that I'd need another god to back me up."
"Several, from what I hear," Cheiron commented. "What for Kera, now?" "I would want Him to give her her freedom," I answered. "I'd welcome her if she would come with me, but will not object if she chose to stay with Him.
"I still love her, but have found another that has filled part of the hole she left in my heart, and who has risked much for my sake, that I would repay. If I cannot bring Kera away with me, I might ask Him to make me a centaur, that I might join Channi in your herd, if you will permit it."
"If she and her partner will sponsor you, you would be welcome," the sable-and-ermine said.
"I have no objections," Kemper said. "I think you'd be a good partner for us."
Channi leaned over, kissed me passionately on the lips, so I had to work to keep my seat and not try to cover her, and said, "Does that answer your question, buck? We have ways to manage, even if your god leaves you human. Your Kera would be welcome too, and we'll work out how to share your services."
"Thank you, love. One last thing, for my own conscience's sake," I continued, "I would ask that He undo what he did through me to the surviving does that I'd brought into the herd. Return them to human, in mind and body, and let them rejoin human society. It has been for them, and to protect those I might be forced to do the same to, as much as for myself, that I have never stopped seeking a way free of Him."
"You were only a toy in His hands," Cheiron said. "Yet, we cannot pull you away unless He lets you go, and, even if we did, we could not remove His curse on you. He might do it willingly, though, if we asked Him in the right way. It's getting late, so we'll talk to Him in the morning.
"You've said you might want to join our herd if He'll allow. There's no need to join the herd physically to be part of our community, so long as magic lasts, as Channi said. Humans, like Kemper, have always been an integral part of the Valley society. Even mixed marriages are not uncommon. When you have a purpose for it, even as trivial a one as an interested potential partner of another race, you can be whatever you need to be, regardless of what you are at other times. Would you like a taste of the form, to decide whether you want to ask Him for it?"
"Yes, I think so," I replied. "It would give me some of the strength and speed I have as a stag, while allowing me to return to human society. Yet, you can't lay another spell over the one I'm wearing, and I'm not sure He'll allow either of us to change me again if I go back to my true form."
"Let me try it," he answered. "If you are willing, stand up." I shrugged, but complied. He worked the spell, with Kendor watching as intently, and it took. When the dizzying sensuality of the change had passed, I had a tail again. I looked down my body to see a horse's chest and forelegs, replacing all below my waist, and over my shoulder at the rest of my stallion's body, with a pelt as golden as my blond hair. Channi's musk, in my rut, had me five-legged, and it took an even stronger effort of will to keep me off her back. My magicked clothes had disappeared. Channi handed me a cloak against the night's chill.
"Why'd you change his face?" Kemper asked. Channi handed me a mirror, and I nearly didn't recognize myself. I hadn't seen my original face since before I'd met Vanhakalinar. My human half was also noticeably bigger and more muscular, though not overly so, than I'd ever been.
"I presume Vanhakalinar did," Cheiron answered, and I nodded, "To keep his recruiting a secret. Having to work over the spell he's still wearing didn't leave me enough mana to work with to try to specify the change to great detail. I would think he's wearing the face he was born with. Any complaints?"
"No, my lord," I replied, bowing awkwardly. "And I thank you." Channi reached over and gave my withers an affectionate, inviting pat. It was just a token for when I could mount her without changing.
The water that had been poured at my place had a slight taste to it, unfamiliar though not unpleasant. After a few swallows, I started a spell to turn it to something more palatable.
"Would you like some wine, Molpar?" Channi asked, breaking my concentration. That was what I had in mind, so I offered my tankard to be filled. The wine she poured must have been uncut, from its richness when diluted in the nearly full tankard of water. The fodder the centaurs ate was as tasty as if I were still a vanha, though they shared human tastes, and Kemper shared that much of our meal. I couldn't help but notice that Kendor seemed to be avoiding me as we talked into the night. He was polite, and almost apologetic, but he seemed to be trying to keep as much distance as he could between us.
"Don't worry about it," Channi answered my question about her father, as she led me to the stall in the tent they'd loaned me for the night, well away from the rest of the camp. "He likes you, trust me. He's just uncomfortable around you, over something that will be corrected by the time we get you back home, or soon after. Until then, you don't really need to know the details. Here you are. We can sleep lying down, though we prefer to stand up, and padded walls make it a bit more comfortable. Pleasant dreams."
My dreams that night were filled with thoughts of running beside Channi, as my stag, and happily covering her. I woke up bugling once, climaxing in my sleep. I couldn't scent any more does around, and I could tell I hadn't reverted to stag, so I rolled over to go back to sleep.
"Let me pass!" I barked, in the ceremonial tongue, as the temple guards, shaking in their boots and praying to their god, blocked my way with crossed spears. "Vanhakalinar Himself wishes to speak with me!"
A priest dashed out of the temple, looked at me in surprise, prayed to the god, then ordered the guards to clear my way. The spears dropped behind me, though, blocking my companions.
"They're with me!" I barked. "He may wish to see them too!" Kemper tied his horse's reins to the hitching rail as the priest gave the orders to let them pass, and we entered the temple. The higher-ranking priests kept their underlings from interfering as I headed for the tunnel. As I walked past the statues, a doe-headed woman for Kera had long since joined Vanhakalinar between the vannut, I heard Cheiron's voice in my mind.
"You go on in first," he sent. "I'll be listening. When He wants to see us, call."
"Yes, my Lord," I returned.
The god was waiting in his audience chamber, and, as he looked me over, I returned the favor. He looked much more human than he'd been when we met. His snout and neck were noticeably shorter, and his chest broader.
"Well, Molpar," he began, in the ceremonial language, "What brings you back so soon, and alone, and how do you wear that form?"
"Do you like it, my Lord?" I replied. "They call themselves centaurs, and there is a sizeable herd about two and a half weeks' ride from here. The woman I tried to bring into my herd last year, and failed to, is of their herd, but posing as human as I was, by use of magic. What you willed for her did not happen, but merely ended the magic she wore as it did my own. She has returned, and brought her herd's leader to speak to me. He made me thus to return to speak with you."
"You did bring her back, at last?" he asked. "Aye, my Lord."
"Have her come here, and go back to your real body. I'll end the other spell."
I sent the message for Cheiron to pass to Channi. Vanhakalinar glanced at me, then did a take. I started as well, when nothing seemed to happen. I began to glance down my body, and realized the balance of my head had changed. Reaching up, I found that what seemed to be antlers were growing from my temples. I couldn't be certain without a mirror, but they felt much like lighter versions of those I wore as a stag. I noticed that my wrists now bore a vanha's wristlet markings in darker skin and hair. My lower body pelt was a vanha's tawny, rather than the golden color it had been, with my own foreleg markings and cloven hooves. A glance over my shoulder confirmed that what had been equine about my centaur body was now vanha, somewhat more closely coupled and the same height at the shoulders, a perfect copy of my own stag's body.
"What in the world --?" the god began.
"I give your Divinity greetings," Cheiron's voice boomed, in the Common Tongue, from the end of the tunnel. I turned around from the waist, as the god turned to stare at Cheiron walking easily out of the tunnel, hands on his lower shoulders. He stopped and bowed deeply to the god.
"Who and what are you?" Vanhakalinar demanded, in his own language. "I could ask you the same, my Lord Vanhakalinar, I presume," the sable- and-ermine replied, cutting off my attempt to translate with a mind-spoken, "You know the language, so I can read the meaning through your mind."
"I am called Cheiron Kronosson," he continued. "As they affect this interview, I am a wizard, a mortal, who chooses to be a centaur. I also attempted to grant Molpar's desire to be a centaur instead of a vanha, because he wished to join my herd. It seems, though, that the stag you made of him came through anyway. It should matter little, though. We have others running with the herd who are of different breeds."
"How did you do that?" the god demanded. "Which of my brothers helped you?"
"I know not which one did," Cheiron replied, "For none did deliberately. Which god lay the trap, and for what reason, I know not, but I have learned to use it to work changes as you and your peers can."
"You should have claimed some patronage," Vanhakalinar said. "I know now that I can destroy you without risking my brothers' wrath."
"Such as that which made you as you are?" Cheiron asked. "I could not lie, my Lord. I would not be under any god's patronage, and could therefore not claim any, lest he demand it become true. But, if you destroy us who have tried to help Molpar, you will destroy a new race, cousin to the one you have founded, combining vanha and human heritage."
"Good day, my Lord!" Channi called, as she walked out of the tunnel, behind Cheiron. "Pardon me for my delay in responding to your summons, but I was busy feeding my son."
She gestured back to a small centaur, of Cherion's sable-and-ermine colors, at her flank with his head tucked up into the angle between her hind legs and her belly.
"Do you like him, my Lord?" she continued. "He is Molpar's, from when we first met, a year ago."
I started, and looked the little centaur over, closely. The shape of his lower body was that of a buck vanha fawn, with rope-like tail and cloven hooves, despite his totally equine colors. The god also stared intently at her and at the little one, then he looked a question at me. I shrugged, though my hopes rose. So that was the leverage Cheiron had planned to use on Vanhakalinar to persuade him to let me go.
"He shall have as long, prosperous, and happy a life as I can provide for him," she went on, "As I do for all his brothers and sisters. That he shows his sire's kind should not keep him from finding companionship and mounts within our herd, and, if he finds a mate who is willing, perhaps a doe of his own kind someday.
"Yet, he will know nothing of his sire's kind, and what it means to be a vanha. We have recreated a herd of vannut in Stallion Valley, but many of their instincts are still those of the antelope they once were. Watching them is not the same as having a tutor who once was one. I would ask Molpar to come with me to help rear and train our son, and I ask your divinity to give him leave to do so. So that our son's teaching would not be interrupted, let his sire retain any form he chooses, and let those he loves retain their minds and bodies."
"He has a penance to serve," the god stated. "Surely two thousand years in an animal body is penance enough for an offense that was purely defensive, so far as he could tell," Cheiron replied. "My Lord can appreciate that he felt justified in trying to recover his mate, his friend, from an unknown fate. Besides, the full penance you set for him has brought him far more guilt and shame than merely being an animal could cause him. His conscience may never be clear of the responsibility he feels for those you destroyed through him in providing him a harem.
"He has created new responsibilities in founding the new breed of centaur, and does my Lord wish to have him scant those over an offense that is long past and should be forgivable?"
"He has duties to his own herd," Vanhakalinar said. "His sons and grandsons have already taken over much of his duty as stud," the sable-and-ermine replied. "A herd with but one stud is not healthy, no matter how perfect the stud is."
"They cannot bring new blood into the herd, as he has," the god returned.
"Is there that much need for new blood?" Cheiron asked. "After two thousand years of his recruiting, surely there is now enough variety in the herd that it can thrive without further additions. If it does need new blood, why does the blood have to be human? Why should your vanha herd be so important that it should be built by stealing their humanity from humans? Surely does of one of the kindred kinds in Molpar's valley can be turned to vanha if the need arises. We have brought half a dozen does for his herd from the herd Channi and her partner have begun to establish in Stallion Valley, and we will, each year, bring even more until we can establish a herd near here so that he need not take humans to replenish his herd."
"I need my privacy," the god stated, "And you will lay me bare if you leave here."
"If we part in courtesy, we swear to maintain my Lord's secret," the sable-and-ermine said, and Channi nodded assent. "But how long could you maintain the secret before one of your peers missed a follower that Molpar recruited?"
"Not that long," the god mused, "And if we do not part in courtesy, you or your followers will lay me bare, whether I bring you into Molpar's herd or not. So be it, then. Molpar Holdarson, my ire with you is long spent, and you have more than fulfilled what I meant you to do. You are free to leave, and you and your mounts shall no longer change by my will. I would ask that you help to rear your fawn by her, and be father to the breed he will sire. Do you wish to help him sire it, or shall I make of you a mate fit for his dam?"
I glanced over at Channi, who gave me a flirtacious wink and flick of her tail, then shrugged. I mulled it over in my mind, then said, bowing, "My Lord, I will be happy to retain the marks of the your favorite animal."
"And would she who bore the first of the new breed be a fit dam for it?" Vanhakalinar asked, looking to Channi.
Cheiron translated, and she curtsied to the god, saying, "My Lord would honor me to make me so."
Her pelt, under his gaze, turned more green and less red, to a vanha's tawny, and her personal markings appeared on her legs, as her hooves split. Her lower body shortened a bit, and changed in shape, from equine to vanha, as her flowing tail was replaced by a vanha's. A lightweight set of vanha doe's antlers grew from her temples. She felt them, and looked herself over. Satisfied it all worked, she pranced over to me, rubbing her body against mine, invitingly, her tail over. My rut had passed when the god had ended my penance, so I could pat her withers without having to consciously refuse to mount her. The fawn followed her, staying close by her flank. Then she curtsied again to the god.
"I thank my Lord for this favor," she said, and started when she realized she'd spoken in the god's language.
"You two will found a fine breed of vanha-centaurs," the god said. "My blessing will be on you and all your fawns and theirs. May you find the best of grazing.
"You have spoken often of the women Molpar has taken into his herd, wizard. I presume that you would have me return those who survive to their original forms and minds and return them to the outside world. That would destroy my privacy, and they would have trouble fitting into society again. For Molpar's sake, I will take them out of his herd, and into my own, once they have weaned his fawns that they carry. I will restore their intellects, and make them as my own fawns are. Would that address your concerns about them?"
"Aye, my Lord," Cheiron replied, bowing. "Again, we swear that your secrets shall be safe with us."
"Give the does you brought to my priests," Vanhakalinar continued, "And, to guard my secrets, do not establish a herd too near here. There is no need, now, as you said."
Cheiron nodded his assent.
"Before you leave," the god continued, "There is someone who should say farewell."
Kera walked into the room, out of a different entrance I'd never noticed before. Like the god, she'd regained a number of human traits since she'd gone up on two hooves. She was carrying and suckling a buck fawn, a miniature version of Vanhakalinar, as nude as the two of them. She didn't seem to notice us, as she walked up to nuzzle the god on the neck.
"Kera, my love," he said, "I've decided to let Molpar go. He's sired another sentient vanha race, and I've given him and the new race's dam the form of their offspring."
He pointed Channi and me out to her, and she turned, seeing us for the first time. She looked us over in surprise. She noticed Cheiron, and gave him a look, then nodded, noting the resemblance between him and what Channi and I were. She then walked up to me for a private talk. We were of a height, now, and were eye-to-eye.
"You're looking well," she said. "Bigger than I remember." "As are you, love," I replied. "If you could ask Him to let you leave with me, I'd welcome you. Channi says you would be welcome to live with us."
"Want a harem, stag?" she asked, her tail flicking over. "No, I'll stay with Him for now. He needs me, more than as a mount. Farewell, and the best for you, your new doe, and your fawn."
She nuzzled my neck, as I kissed her cheek, murmuring my own farewell, then she turned back to stand by the god.
"Farewell, and prosper," Vanhakalinar said. "The promise I made to my mate about you remains, and shall also cover your new mate."
He turned to Kera, and we four centaurs headed up the tunnel to the temple.
"Welcome to the herd, Molpar," Cheiron said, giving me a handclasp.
When we reached the temple, our other companions looked Channi and me over in surprise, as the priests fell to the ground as if they were worshiping us. Kemper and Valkar looked a question at Kendor, who gestured to the idol. He strode to me, with a generous, friendly embrace.
"Welcome to the family, Son," he said. "May you have a long and happy life together."
He gave Channi a fatherly embrace and kiss, with the same wish, as Valkar gave me a handclasp and the same welcome Cheiron had.
"Welcome to our coven, Brother," Kemper said, offering me a handclasp. "Unless you two want to strike off on your own, I'd be happy to work with you as I was with Channi."
"Why not, Kem?" Channi said, walking up to put her arm around my waist. "I expect he'll have me in fawn often enough that I won't be able to work under the masquerade much of the time. You two can probably support us, once you've adapted to our system, buck."
"No hard feelings that I've moved in between you and her?" I asked. "If I tried to object, I'd get kicked," Kemper returned. "She's been head over hooves for you since you met, and I'll respect that. Besides, there's nothing between us like there is between you. We're friends enough, and grew up together, but that's as far as it goes. My mother thinks we're half-brother and sister, and incest makes us nervous, even if we can all but ensure that nothing will come of it."
"You are truly human?" I asked, "Born one?" "Aye, and it's a long and rather personal story. We'd best wait until we have some privacy to talk about it."
"If we're to keep Vanhakalinar's secret," Cheiron said. "You two had best hide your antlers until we're back in Stallion Valley and can create some vanha to explain them. It's probably best to go back to the stallion and mare you were when you came in here."
Channi and I nodded our assent, and shape-shifted ourselves to the equine centaurs we'd been. Suddenly, Vanhakalinar's and Kera's bugling came out of the tunnel. It wasn't the challenge call, but the happy cry of a stag and doe. I was five-legged, though I was the only stallion to respond, and Channi's tail went over.
"Tonight, buck," she said, at my look, "Let's get out of here." "Should our son be changed, too?" I asked. "He wasn't to come here," Channi answered. "Until his antlers grow, he won't be taken for something different from the rest of the herd at a glance, with his sable and ermine colors."
"Where did his spots come from?" I asked. "The way Cheiron talked, it sounded like they couldn't be mine, and you don't show them."
"My mother does," Channi answered. "She's of Cheiron's colors, and is probably his granddaughter. The ermine skipped a generation in me, as I match my sire."
A vanha stag, the biggest and most bothersome of my sons, walked out of the tunnel. His ears were back at my scent, and he watched me warily all the time, as he walked through the temple and out.
When we walked out of the temple, the stag was courting one of the does, and looked up on winding me. I ignored him, as Kemper took to his horse, and we cantered off, joined by Cheiron's other guards. Channi reached down, picked up our son, and lay him across her lower back when he couldn't keep up our paces. Kendor gave me, Martin, and Channi a wide berth, now, and Martin and Channi helped ensure he could. Before we'd gotten too far, we heard the stag and doe bugle, and Channi and I shared an affectionate squeeze of our hands.
That night, Channi invited me into her stall in the stables of the inn we were stabling in, where Kemper took a room, asking Jaki, a black and white piebald centaur mare guard, to watch our fawn while we were busy.
"Come on, Buck," she said, "Let's see what these new bodies feel like. We shouldn't be disturbed."
She dropped her spell, and I did mine, and we made love. My stag humped her doe, as I leaned over her head so we could play with one another's forebody. When I climaxed, I cried out, and realized it was a more than passable vanha bugle. She bugled as well, and I froze, anxiously. Nothing had changed, fortunately, and I happily resumed, until we both bugled again. As we were winding down, a knock came on the doorpost to the stall.
"Channi? Molpar?" Jaki said. "If you're finished in there, the local magician wants to speak to all our magicians."
"We're well within your range, aren't we, Buck?" Channi asked, rhetorically. "We'll be out in a minute, Jaki."
We shape-shifted back to stallion and mare, and Channi didn't bother to dress, so neither did I. She pulled back the curtains, and our son trotted from Jaki's side to hers. Cheiron, Kendor, Valkar, Kemper, and a human magician in other colors met us in the central part of the stable.
"All your crew is accounted for?" the local asked, when the introductions were made, and Cheiron nodded. "In the inn, too. We'll have to check the town to see who is missing, then."
"What happened?" Channi asked.
"Did you hear a sound, like a couple of deer bugling, a short time ago?" the local asked. "It happened twice, a short time apart. As long as we've been able to trace, every year, about this time, somewhere near here, that sound has meant that a woman has disappeared, never to be seen again. She's usually been last seen talking with a stranger, and going off with him to his room, that cry is heard, and they're never seen to come out. The door's secure, but the room's empty, come morning. Very rarely, a strange pair of deer, stag and doe, are seen leaving the town that night. Those who try to track them down may never be seen again, either.
"Tonight, it came from the stables, and everyone staying here is accounted for. Did any of you see anyone else come into the stables tonight?"
"We were rather busy," I said, patting Channi's withers, "But I think that if anyone's missing from here tonight, it's for some other reason. In part, we're here about those disappearances, and we've managed to talk the individual responsible into agreeing to stop them, starting with this year. No details, we're sorry, but it's not solely our secret."
"Then where did that sound come from?" he asked. "That was us," Channi answered, ending her spell, as I did mine. "Like our kindred animals, we tend to get rather vocal when we're excited. We're traveling as stallion and mare rather than show our own breed to guard someone else's secret."
"You had a herd of does of your kindred with you when you came through a week or so back, didn't you?" the local asked. "And Molpar wasn't with you then, was he? If you know, what about the women who've disappeared? Can they come back?"
"No, the Person involved won't let them," I answered. "Those who are still alive will find a new life. No, they weren't taken to be killed, but not for immortality, either. It was going on so long that most of them have long since passed their normal lifespan."
"I knew a couple of them," he said. "Not too closely, though. It was long enough ago that they'd be dead by now, anyway. Congratulations on putting an end to it, colleagues, and pardon me for disturbing you. Have a good night."
He left, and Channi said, "We'd best stay as stallion and mare until we get home, Buck, at least until we're well clear of your range. The techniques aren't that different."
"I guess so," I returned. "At least, he didn't try to string me up for my part in the disappearances."
"If we're to be living together, I'm going to need to sleep with cotton in my ears, the way you two sound off," Kemper complained.
However, the next night, Channi and I bugled again as we made love, my stallion on her mare, and we had to explain to another local magician. After that, we put up a silence spell while we humped, until we reached Markan Barony. Just inside the Barony, while we were talking with several of Cheiron's people in the outpost where we were staying the night, Channi touched my withers, suggestively, invitingly.
"Not right now, love," I replied, turning to kiss her. I was engrossed in the conversation. "Hold that thought for when we go to bed."
"I will, buck," she said, returning my kiss. "See you later. Brace yourself."
She slipped out of my grasp and walked away. A few minutes later, I heard her bugle, and also a stranger stag. I jumped, straightening up, and pivoted around to stride straight towards the sound. I'd only gotten a couple of paces when Jaki stepped in front of me, barring my way.
"Molpar," she said, breaking into my reflex reaction, "Can I see you privately?"
Her tail was twitching, reinforcing what she seemed to have in mind. Since I was all ready, as well, from the sound of the bugling, I calmed down enough to say, "All right, Jaki. Where to?"
She led me to one of the stalls, where we met Channi and a local stallion coming out. I gave him a glare, which he met, indifferently, as Channi trotted up to me.
"Have fun, buck," she said, glancing to Jaki, then gave me a kiss. "I'll see you at bedtime."
"If you want some friendly advice," Jaki said, when we were alone, "Just relax, buck. I gather you were lead stag of your herd, but that doesn't matter here, and we won't like it if you beat up our other boyfriends. Channi's head over hooves for you, and has given you first refusal, but unless you are willing to hump her whenever she wants a buck, you can't really keep her away from others. She won't stand in your way, either, and you'd best be ready to look elsewhere when she's not in the mood.
"Enough serious talk. Come on, buck, show me what a buck shows his doe. You do have the spell, don't you?"
"Of course," I replied, and cast the spell to make her a vanha-centaur doe. I covered her, until we bugled together. Then, I dismissed the spell and we returned to our companions. Channi was excited, but willing to wait for later.
When we stayed in Cheiron's outposts, any female, mare or woman, connected with the coven seemed receptive to a suggestion, and was likely to make one herself. Those that weren't were quite clear about it. Even when a woman asked for human-style love, I'd still bugle. One couple, stallion and mare, met us at the entrance to one smithy/coven outpost and propositioned Channi and me on the spot. We had the time to get a quick one in before we dropped the change to equine centaur we'd been travelling under. I nearly fell off when she jumped at my bugling, and the stallion jumped when Channi sounded off.
Once we reached Stallion Valley, we dropped our spells for good, more or less. We found a side valley that seemed perfect, with a vanha or vanha- centaur's favorite food growing in abundance. Despite his complaints about our exuberant mating, Kemper joined us at our homestead in the side valley, and we tracked down a herd of antelope roaming nearby that were not too unlike vanha. We'd brought along a barrel of Cheiron's fixer potion, that was in my glass and had made me a centaur in truth that evening. We used it to turn a breed-ing population of the herd into vanha, starting with a stag and his harem, as Channi and Kemper had that first half-dozen does. Soon, the valley echoed each autumn with the cries of stag and doe.
We kept in touch with our neighbors and the rest of the Valley, as much as any homestead. As we'd planned, Kemper and I would go out into the world, me hiding my antlers and hooves, to build up our resources. When she didn't have a fawn to take care of, Channi would join us on our rambling. Our further adventures must await another telling, for now, this is
Vanha! copyright 1996 by Dr. John Filpus.
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