Rowan's Story Ch. 01byRedMonkeyButt©
The day was hot and humid and I was sweating as I jogged in small circles in the round pen, the horse trotting around and tossing his head. My only consolation was that he seemed to be as sweaty as I was. Finally, I clicked my tongue at him and he slowed to a walk as I sank to the sand. Thankfully, the round pen was covered so we weren't in the sun, but it was still hot as hell. The stallion stopped and snorted at someone walking up to the gate, thinking he might be able to escape the torture of having to run in circles.
I stood up and dusted the sand off my jeans, walking up and grabbing his halter before the horse could bolt as the man obliviously opened the gate and walked through it. "Ms. Jenner," he said, but I ignored him and held on to Sparks' halter as he tried his best to walk me out the gate. I saw Jenny walking out of the barn with a lead rope heading toward the pen and sighed when she came and walked Spark to the pasture. The man cleared his throat and said again, "Ms. Jenner."
"Yes, sir, how can I help you now that my horse is secure and not about to run me down trying to get out through the gate that you left open?" I turned to him as I said it, not caring if I sounded rude.
He had the decency to look ashamed, but it didn't last long. "Ms. Jenner, I need you to come with me to meet my boss."
"Yeah, that's not happening," I said, and turned to walk through the gate to the barn. Jenny was free to leave as soon as Spark was in the pasture, and I saw the flash of her taillights as she stopped at the end of the drive. I, however, had to get ready for a trail ride in the morning so the tack room was calling my name.
The man followed me, barely avoiding a pile of horse dung. He looked disgusted, and it made me feel a little bit better. "My boss will pay you well for your time."
"I don't even know what you want, and you're already offering me money," I said as I took a saddle down off the tree and pushed past the man. The trailer was right outside the second door of the tack room, so I set the saddle inside the little tack area and went back to get the bridle and all the other things that went with getting ready for a long ride. "Your boss could have come out here instead of wasting my time with you. I'm willing to bet he would have gotten to the point faster."
We kept all the trail ride supplies in a trunk which made it much easier to move everything to the trailer. I didn't have to worry about not having wraps or an extra bridle or bit or anything. Jenny was very good at making sure everything was kept stocked.
"He needs you to do a summoning for him," the man said. "He'll pay the going rate of a practicing summoner, but he wants you to do it."
I stopped and stared at the man. I didn't even have to ask what his boss wanted me to summon. The only things people ever wanted summoned were demons. It had been years since I'd done a summoning, and I didn't want to start again now. "I don't think your boss can afford what I would ask to do a summoning."
"You have no idea what my boss can afford," he said. "He needs a certain demon summoned, and he seems to believe you are the only one that can do it."
A certain demon. That could only mean one thing. This man's boss wanted me to summon Viné, who had made it clear that he would only come if I called him. Unlike a lot of other demons, Viné had the ability to ignore a call if he wanted to. I had been the last one to successfully summon him five years ago, and no matter how they tried, no one else could make him come into our realm. "I won't summon him. Tell your boss to go fuck himself. I trust you can let yourself out of my barn and find your way back to the city."
I waited through his feeble attempts to convince me to take the money and just do the summoning until he finally took the hint and left. It was a small consolation that his car bottomed out when he went over the cattle guard at the gate by the house. I finished loading everything into the trailer and then went to get Spark from the pasture and put him up in his stall. With everything finished I could finally go up to the house and take a shower. --- The spray was hot against my back and I had just rinsed my hair when I heard the doorbell ring in the distance. Figuring whoever it was could wait a few more minutes, I finished my shower quickly and threw on a thin pair of sweats, a sports bra, and a tank top. With a towel around my hair, I went to open the front door, and immediately closed it when I saw who was there.
"Son of a bitch, Rowan," the deep voice still made things twist low in my body. "Open the door."
I put my forehead against the cool wood of the door and sighed. He wouldn't go away. I straightened up and opened the door, "What do you want, Jason?"
"I want you to take the offer," he said simply. "Brian came back with his tail between his legs and a lot of dust on his shoes. The Master is pissed because he didn't get you to accept his money."
"I'm not doing it, Jason," I sighed and moved away from the door to let him in. It was pointless to make him stand in the heat when I knew he wouldn't go away. "You know I can't do it."
"And you know I can't go back to my master with a 'no'," he shot back. Looking around, he finally sat on one of the bar stools off to the side. "You're the only one that can summon Viné, Rowan, and Viné is the only demon my master will seek for this kind of help. I'm begging you, don't make me go back with a negative answer."
I knew who he was talking about the moment he said 'master.' Jason was an enforcer for the local werelion pride, and his master was one mean lion. I shook my head and walked into the laundry room off the entry and rubbed my hair with the towel before leaving it in the hamper. "I can't do it, Jason," I said when I came back out. "He already has three marks on me, one more and I'm his. Forever."
"You won't have to take this mark," he said softly. "Luka will take the mark, all you have to do is call him and take the money."
"It doesn't work like that!" I yelled at him. "The moment I call Viné he's going to come for me. He's not going to listen to Luka or anybody else until he knows he has me. You of all people should have known I couldn't do this!"
"Jesus," he muttered and stood, moving to take me into his arms. I stayed stiff until he let me go, but he had felt good against me in that brief moment. "He's already tried three other summoners. Everyone says the same thing - Viné will only come for you. Luka has even tried to entice Viné over with the promise that you will be there if he comes. Nothing has worked and Luka is just getting angrier and more desperate."
"Why does he need Viné so bad?" I asked, curiosity getting the better of me.
"Because Viné has power over the lions," he said. "Viné is the only one that can give Luka the power he thinks he needs to take over another pride in the area."
"I didn't know there was another pride in the area. I thought y'all were the only ones," werelions weren't common. Having two prides in one area was unusual.
"They've just come up in the last year," he said. "Since we stopped seeing each other."
"And Luka can't get them to join with him?" I knew I shouldn't have asked, the goings on of the pride were no longer any of my concern.
"They don't want to join us," he looked at me. "Their master thinks he should be the king here, not Luka. You can imagine how that meeting went."
"So Luka wants Viné to teach him how to beat the other lions into submission?" I shook my head. "Even for Luka, I can't do it. I'm not going to risk my soul because he's too high and mighty to know when he's beat and needs to bow to someone else for a change."
"That's just it," he shook his head this time. "The other master isn't that strong, but Luka can't beat him in a test of wills. This new guy would have us all go back to the old pride ways, with slaves and whatnot." He looked at me then, a new meaning coming through his features. "You were the last female I had, Rowan. He would want you with us. Not as a lion, but as a summoner. Prides that can summon demons are stronger and more feared than the prides who can't. When you were with me, Luka was able to lie and make everyone believe we had a summoner. If they take over, you would have more than your soul to worry about. There are worse demons to be marked by than Viné, and you know it."
I stared at him. I knew Luka had used my influence as a summoner to keep other prides and lone lions at bay, but I had never known the true extent of what my reputation had given to the pride. "Then tell him to keep lying. If he can do that, then I don't have to summon Viné."
"He tried that, but when you were no longer seen with me in public..." the sentence trailed off, but I knew what he meant. No one had seen me with Jason, so no one believed the lies anymore. "It has to be you that calls Viné. Luka will deal with him once you've called him, but since he'll only answer to you..." again, he trailed off.
"I can't, Jason. It's too big a risk," I said, rubbing my arm where the marks were. He watched my hand and I stopped. "Tell Luka I'm sorry, but he'll have to find another way."
Jason nodded and took a few steps toward the door before he turned, "You know he'll come himself after this. I can't help you with him now." He left after that, the rumble of his truck fading as he drove off. ---- The next day, Luka showed up as I was loading Newt into the trailer. Spark was already out in the pasture, happily trotting around, and Jenny was in the barn with the new two year old gelding we had bought a week ago.
Newt snorted at Luka, but the horses were used to the lions coming around. I heard a whinny from the barn, though, and knew the new horse had scented the newcomer. He didn't say anything at first, just stood at the back of the trailer while I made sure Newt was comfortable.
"I'm not doing it, Luka," I said as I shut the door on the trailer. "Jason must have told you why by now, though you should have already known."
"He also must have told you that I will take the mark if Viné wants to give one," his voice was low, as though it shouldn't fit in his body. He had spent way too much time in lion form and his vocal cords never quite came all the way back.
I stopped with a hand up on the tailgate of the truck and looked at him. He had dark circles under his eyes and his hair was a mess. He looked tired. "You know it doesn't work that way, Luka. He'll want me to take the mark, not you. You don't have as much to lose."
"They want Maddie," he whispered. "One of the conditions of the takeover was that they want Maddie. I can't give her to them, Rowan. I need Viné's help."
"What do you mean 'they want Maddie?'" I asked. "They can't make you divorce her."
He shook his head. "They can claim her, though. I couldn't beat them in the test of wills, Rowan. The next time we meet it will be a full-on battle. You know how it works. It won't end well if we can't beat them in a conference room where we just stare and throw power at each other."
"I told you that telling the others you had a summoner would not end in anything good for your pride, Luka," I said, moving to the driver's side door of the truck. "You made this mess on your own, you should be able to get out of it the same way." I climbed into the truck and started it, the sound of the diesel engine drowning his voice out for a moment.
"They will come after you, too, Rowan," he said after moving closer to the door to be heard.
"I can handle myself, Luka. You need to handle your own issues," I shut the door and put the truck in gear. My knuckles were white as I gripped the steering wheel, and I hoped I could calm down enough to ride later. I would not put my soul on the line for Luka's stupidity. Maddie could handle herself. She was a lioness and knew better how the prides worked than even Luka did. Even their marriage was a way for them to seem united in all ways at the head of the pride.
I pulled over at a rest stop ten miles from my house and pulled out my phone. Sighing, I dialed the number and listened as it rang three times. Maddie's voice was quiet on the other end, "Hello?"
"How bad is it, Maddie?" I asked.
"Worse than he probably told you," she said. I heard something moving in the background and then a door shut. "The other pride is strong, Rowan. Stronger than any I've known. They came to challenge his summoner, and if you lost they would take the whole pride. Luka has never been in a war between prides like this. They will kill him and any who try to defend him. Our women will be taken as slaves, and the weaker lions will be broken before they are allowed to move outside the pride. We will be made to tithe. Luka's never asked for a tithe from the pride, even though some of the older ones have offered. It makes him look weak, and it's attracted one big mess into our backyard."
"What about the others? Will they help you?" I should have shot Luka when he was in front of me and saved Maddie the trouble later.
"The wolves have offered, but only if it looks like the new pride will try to take them over as well. We're the strongest animals in the area, so it's likely that once we fall the others will, too," she sounded worried, and I could understand it.
"Is there no other demon that can help? Does it have to be Viné?" I all but whispered into the phone, but I knew she'd heard me.
"I told him not to ask you to do this," there was a muffled voice in the background and Maddie told someone to be quiet. "He doesn't understand what it could cost you. He wasn't there for any of the other marks. I'm sorry, Rowan."
I slumped against the seats and clicked my phone shut. Luka's sports car flew by on the highway and I pulled the truck back out onto the road home. I would have to send a message to the head of the trail ride to let them know I wouldn't be there when I got back to the house. Jenny was just walking out of the barn when I pulled back up.
"Did you forget something?" She asked when I got out and moved to take Newt out.
I shook my head, "No. Something came up and I can't go." Thinking about it, I turned to her from the back of the trailer, "You can go if you want - take it easy for the day. Everything is already loaded."
She smiled, "That would be great, but Spark is getting a bath today."
"Go, I can take care of him," I tossed her the truck keys to make the point. "Have fun, Newt hasn't been out in a while so he should keep things interesting."
I heard a faint, "Gee, thanks," as she started the truck up and pulled away from the barn. I went to the fence where Spark's halter and lead were hanging and whistled for him. He looked up from the other end of the pasture and then started trotting up. He'd always known when it was bath time, and didn't really care who it was doing the bathing. The white halter stood out against his dun coat, but it was starting to show it's dirt, as well.
His hooves clacked against the concrete floor of the wash stall, and I tossed the lead over his neck to get him to stand still. For a stallion he was very well tempered, only trying to escape when he had to do any work. I grabbed the sprayer and stretched the hose out after turning the water on, spraying the water over my hand until it cooled off. Then, I turned the spray onto Spark's chest and smiled when he tossed his head and whinnied.
I was soaking wet with soap running down my arms as I rinsed the horse's mane when I saw a car coming down the driveway. Ignoring it, I went on with rinsing Spark before I remembered that Jenny wasn't there to meet whoever it was. I went back to rinsing him off and waited for the person to find me.
It was two people, and I didn't recognize either of them. Spark made it clear he didn't like them by stamping his feet and pinning his ears back while I held on to his lead in an attempt to keep him from lashing out at them. He had no problem with the familiar lions coming around because he had gotten used to them, but these knew men were unfamiliar and they felt off even to me. "Whoa, baby," I said to him, using calming tones even though inside I was as worked up as he was. I turned him to face the open end of the wash stall and the two men standing there.
"Ms. Jenner," the one on the left said. He was wearing jeans, a button down t-shirt and dark sunglasses. "We need you to come with us."
"I'm sorry," I said. "I can't leave the ranch unattended, and I doubt either of you can take care of things here. Whatever you want, it will have to be done here, when I have time for it."
Hollywood-in-shades shook his head, "You need to come with us now, ma'am. Our master requests your presence."
I started walking toward them, leading a very unhappy Spark beside me. "Your master will have to set up an appointment at least two weeks ahead of time, or come out here himself. I can't leave the ranch unattended, and my help is out today."
The closer to the men we got, the more antsy Spark got. I gave him enough slack in the lead to really get off his front feet and let him move the men on his own. It beat the hell out of squaring off with them and I got no little amusement out of watching them back away from the stallion. I knew I wouldn't have the excuse of the horse acting up once I hooked him to the walker, but it didn't matter. Just as I looped the loose lead rope over my shoulder, I saw both Luka and Jason's vehicles turn into the drive.
"It looks like help has arrived," Hollywood said, eyeing the cars and moving to take my arm.
"They're not here to work on my ranch, Hollywood," I said, smirking at him. "That is my master and his enforcer."
The men watched the vehicles approach and I felt a small smile touch my lips when Jason stopped his truck on the cattle guard and walk from there as Luka parked his car. Unless they went through the fence or rammed Jason's heavy duty truck, the men were trapped here.
Luka's baritone voice carried through the still air as he addressed the men, "Your master is expecting you back, boys. He sounded very angry that you were out here at all, messing with my summoner."
"Your pet will have to move his car, then," Hollywood said, never looking away from Jason. Nice, if they fought on my property I would shoot them both and leave them for the wild hogs to dispose of.
Reaching into the tack room I was standing beside, I pulled out the shotgun I kept handy in case any wild animals showed up and pumped it for good measure. It got their attention just fine, "Jason, move your truck and let them leave." I swung the stock to my shoulder and pointed the gun in the general direction of the two enforcers in shades and added, "If either of you show up uninvited again, we'll find out how fast you can heal a shotgun wound to the face. I don't even have to aim this thing; just point and shoot."
Neither of them said anything, they just got back in their car and drove off when Jason moved off the cattle guard. I kept the gun in hand as both Jason and Luka moved closer to me. "Maddie told me you called," Luka said. "I figured you would call off your trail ride and come back, so I called Jason for some company."
"I don't need company, Luka," I said, pointing the shotgun at the ground. He had a familiar glint in his eye and I continued, "Don't look so happy, either. I'm not sure if I'll summon Viné or just show up to your meeting and hope they back down. Something is wrong with them. Spark has never acted like that around weres, even strange ones. They didn't feel right."
"We know," Jason said, looking at Luka. "They have help. The same kind of help we need from Viné, but this help isn't leonine." He moved up beside me and took the gun, manually taking the rounds out instead of just pumping them out as Luka would have done. Then he took my elbow and pulled me into the barn to the office, letting Luka follow at his own pace.