After tearing down many of the stone houses within the city's walls, the Confederacy began setting up catapults within range of the palace walls. The sporadic pounding did very little damage but made guard duty just a little more harrowing.
Jason barely noticed. He convinced Philip to let Logan, Geoff, and himself venture through the back tunnels and spend some time at the fort there. During that time, Jason was able to forget the war. He would practice his staff with Geoff in the morning while learning the properties of wood and metal with Logan later in the day. While it would have concerned Philip, many nights Jason would fly into the forests with both men and make love in the woods… only pine needles for a bed.
Then, one night, in particular, Jason could not sleep, and not from Logan's snoring beside him. Geoff too seemed on edge. His head darted from side to side as he stood guard.
Jason separated himself from Logan's tight hold and walked toward Geoff, the cool night air tickling his bare skin. "Is there something out there?"
"I don't know… but it feels as if something is watching us."
"Let me check…" Jason offered as he spread out his wings to fly.
"No, Jason," Geoff said as he grabbed the young man's hand to keep him from lifting off.
"But" Jason tried to protest.
"Look…" Geoff pointed. In the middle of the woods was a pair of green glowing eyes, looking at them from the darkness.
"What is it…?" Jason asked, fear growing in his heart.
"I do not know… but I think you should go wake Logan up and leave."
"What about you?"
Geoff replied with guilt, trembling in his voice. "Me…?"
"You are not going to fight it?" Jason asked, seeing Geoff's right hand gripping a sword.
Just at that moment, a cloud covered the moon, sending the forest into darkness, and the green eyes disappeared, replaced by a dark shadow that darted right for the two men. Before Geoff had a chance to raise his sword, Jason was knocked over, falling back onto the forest ground.
"Jason!" Geoff screamed.
Geoff watched in horror as Jason wrestled with the shadow, rolling over and over again until Jason was pinned to the ground.
Running over to his king, Geoff made ready to strike, his sword over his head, when suddenly he realized that Jason was laughing.
"Jason?" Geoff asked in confusion.
"Hahahahahahaha… stop licking my face," Jason laughed.
As the moon reappeared, Geoff was able to see the shape of a wolf… a giant gray wolf on top of Jason, its tongue giving Jason a bath.
"Jason? You know this creature?" Geoff asked while in the background, Logan could be heard stirring.
The king hugged the wolf close to him. "It's Jacob… I thought I had lost him." Jason went on to explain how he had found the wolf as a pup in the forests outside the Academy.
"I am sure Philip will be thrilled," Geoff laughed after Jason explained the jealous rivalry the two had.
"What I want to know… is how a wolf pup traveled hundreds of miles to find you here Jason." Logan yawned as he stretched out.
"Well, Jacob?" Jason asked the half-grown wolf with a raised eyebrow.
Jacob jumped off Jason and made his way back into the woods. Right before disappearing from view, the wolf let out a long howl.
"I think he wants us to follow him." Jason grinned as he began slipping on his clothes.
"I think you're right," Geoff agreed.
"You have to be joking... it is a wolf. How can you know what it wants?" Logan moaned.
"Come on, Logan… think of it as an adventure."
"Jason, sex is an adventure, searching for treasure is an adventure… HUNTING is an adventure. Following some stray animal is not an adventure… it is…" Logan never got to say what following Jacob was, for he suddenly found himself alone, Jason and Geoff already heading deeper into the woods.
The party traveled for quite a distance, the wolf's howls and Logan's grumbling the only sound. Eventually, they arrived in a clearing in the forest… one that they found to be occupied.
There stood a man… dressed in strange clothing. He wore a pair of black trousers, a black coat, a brilliantly white shirt, and tied around his neck a piece of cloth that ended in a triangular point near where the man's belly button should be. What terrified Jason the most, however, was the man's bright red hair.
"Hello, Jason… it is good that we finally meet," the redheaded man said with a toothy grin.
"Who are you?" Jason demanded, afraid he already knew the answer.
"I am a Grau… I think you know what that means."
"It means you have come for me?"
"Not yet… my boy. Right now all I am doing is returning something that belongs to you," the Grau said, pointing to the wolf.
"Yes… Jacob… Your son."
"Don't tell me you have not always felt a bond existed between you and your wolf."
"But how is that possible… I have never slept with… with a woman before."
"Simple… blood, my blood, your blood and the power of the Dominus. Through them, we created a new life… this Dalf, Jacob.
On hearing his name from the Grau's voice, Jacob growled.
"It seems my son does not like you very much?" Jason said, as he drew his father's gold knife.
"Your whelp sent me on a merry chase indeed. But blood calls out to blood, not to mention our own little gift." The man laughed.
Jason felt his grip on the knife weaken until it slipped from his fingers. It was only then that Jason remembered that Grau were masters of mind control.
"If it is not to take me back to the Dominus, then what do you want from me?"
"Samples… blood, hair, semen, we need to learn how far you've progressed, to see if you are really what the Dominus are looking for."
"And what is that?" Jason asked.
"Why… mating stock of course… and may I say you already look like a fine specimen," the redhead snickered.
"Then why don't you use your mind control and take me now?" Jason said, his temper rising.
"I could try but I doubt that I alone could take you. Not with two of your bodyguards standing by. In truth, I have to admit that I find controlling all three of you quite taxing. Therefore, I think I will take this chance to leave." He said this as he drew out a gun. "We will meet again."
Before Jason or the others were able to respond, there was a blinding flash. By the time their eyes readjusted to the darkness of the night, there was no sign of the Grau.
Grabbing Jason by the hand, Geoff began moving Jason out of the clearing. "Come your majesty… you are not safe here… regardless of what that man said.
"Thomas… his name is Thomas," Jason replied, still stunned.
"How do you know that?" Logan asked.
"I don't know… I just do. I guess when he was in my mind I was able to read a part of his, just like I am able to do with Varrus."
"Stranger and stranger…" Logan said.
"Well, nothing is going to be solved this night, we better get going," Geoff said as he began leading the group back to the fort, Jacob following.
Philip was glad that Jason had not been at the Keep when the enemy's new troops had arrived. They were not regular Confederacy troops. In fact, they did not come from any kingdom in the east. Only Varrus, having served in a campaign on the southern continent recognized what they faced... Qopo mercenaries with their formidable elephant cavalry.
How the Confederacy had been able to get the giant beasts to board their ships and travel the week-long journey across the Southern Sea was beyond Philip's understanding. He did know that it threw his defense plans into chaos.
Varrus for his part was beginning to regret that he had rebuilt Qul Tos with open broad streets and wooded parks. It gave the animals an easy road to the palace and space to camp within the city walls. From one of the palace wall towers, Varrus and Philip could see the heavy armor that the elephants wore, making them immune to any attack by arrows unless an archer got a lucky shot at the eyes. As they watched the animals practice their charging attacks they knew the giant beasts were not slow on their feet.
"In the worst, they can do, two elephants will charge the gate while men carrying a battering ram march between them, making it hard for our archers to get to them," Varrus grunted. Down below that was exactly what the elephants were practicing. "It takes highly skilled and courageous men to be willing to run between those charging beasts."
"Brave or foolhardy," Philip agreed.
"That is what they are paid to do. And trust me, they are paid handsomely."
"Can we bribe them?"
"And ruin their reputation… no, once bought they stay bought until the money runs out or winter comes, that is."
"Winter? What does winter have to do with it?"
"If you have not noticed we are on top of a mountain… it gets pretty cold around here during the winter months. The Qopo with their jungles and deserts hate the cold."
Philip looked up at the warm summer sun. "Well, it is a long time until winter. I think we better prepare for the worst."
"Do you have a plan?" Varrus laughed.
"I do… but there is a problem," Philip said as he spread out his wings and flew down to the palace below.
Varrus landed only moments after Philip in the palace garden to the sound of chopping of axes. "What is going on here?"
"I have ordered the trees to be cut down," Philip said sullenly.
"Whatever for… Jason loves these trees."
"I know… that is why I am glad he is not here. He would have stopped me otherwise."
"But why?" Varrus asked again.
"As I see it… our arrows and spears are pretty much useless against the beasts outside our gate. Fire, however, is another matter. Once these trees are cut down they are going to be coated with oil and thrown over the wall, in front of the gate. Then we will see how brave the Qopo's elephants really are." Philip explained as the chopping continued.
"Philip… you might be right. It could work but would it really give us the time we need? There are only a dozen or so trees here large enough. Is it worth destroying them and angering Jason?"
Suddenly Philip, became enraged and jumped on top of Varrus, knocking him down onto the ground. "I have to do something, damn it!"
"I… I understand, Philip. I would feel the same way if Jason prevented me from doing what I felt was necessary to protect him," Varrus said as he stroked Philip's face almost lovingly.
"Stop that…" Philip growled softly.
"Shhhhh… It is ok, Philip… I am here for you," Varrus cooed.
They did not say more, but made passionate love in the midst of the wreckage of the royal garden. Philip… needing a way to expel his frustrations, was rougher than normal but Varrus was willing to accept that if it helped ease Philip's pain. Once done, Philip kissed each scratch and bruise, watching them heal as fast as they had come.
"I'm sorry…" Philip sighed, his voice the calmest it had been in days.
Varrus pressed Philip's head against his chest, letting the Demon's hot tears run down his body. "No need to be, my love."
"Is that what we are now…?" Philip murmured.
"It is what we have been ever since a certain person entered our lives."
"Jason… will he ever forgive me?" Philip wept as his eyes fell on the giant stumps where trees had once stood.
"He will. Jason understands that you are trying to protect him."
Now as limp as a rag doll, Philip wished he had Jason by his side this very moment so he could show him how much he did love him. Varrus sensed this as well, but knowing now was not the time for such a reunion, Varrus rolled Philip over onto his back and made love to him in the gentlest way possible… The sex was long, it was sweet, and ever so healing.