The sky hung like a heavy purple bruise over the desert. All the tribes had gathered to decide Hamoun’s fate.

The first to stand was the old Chief of the Kamabadi, The Lord Feri. “Brothers. Sisters. Houman broke here code and brought shame down on him and on us. When we walk upon the ground it must be with a soft step o’the foot. There a human now who has seen him in him true state. Me say we set him to an example.”

Selkia, of the Mountain Clan stood. “Lord Feri, you speak well and with a silvered tongue speak a truth but not an all of it. Yes, Houman was foolish to reveal himself. But he did so for love. Is there any among you who has not twisted himself upon loves arrow?”

Ba’ad of the Underforest stood, those around the campfire drew themselves back and tightened their hands upon their weapons. His voice was thick and deep like an echo at the bottom of a cavern. “I make no peace here. Feri stands and his words tumble like dead peasants. Princess Selkia would charm death out of a maggot but the law is the law.” Ba’ad grasps the hilt of his sword. “We will take his head.”

Awen of the North steps into the flickering firelight between Selkia and Ba’ad. “Lord, Princess. May I speak?” They both nod grudgingly. All know of the long feud between the  Mountain Clan and the peoples of the Underforest. “Thank you both. Houman was indeed foolish and may possible have caused a change in the mortal world. It is not without precedence.” As Awen circled the fire, he spoke directly to those gathered. “Lord Yem, you travelled into the mortal world after you realised a mortal woman had borne you a son? You, Lady Daser, when there was an outbreak of the Red Fever in Hung Yan village, you disguise yourself and travelled among them, healing those you could? Brother Tok. During their Second great war, how many did you save? We are things out of time. To them we seem as gods, as near to immortal as they could understand. Houman was indeed foolish, reckless even. As Selkia said, what he did, he did for love which is more intoxicating even than Brother Tok’s ale!” Many around the campfire laughed and somehow the tension lowered, even just for a while. Awen turned to the assembled Tribes. “Houman was indeed foolish. He shed his human form and became a wolf in front of a human. A human he loves. He put all of us in danger, our safety has always been our anonymity, we are the last of the Races. The last of the Great Tribes. Ask yourselves this. If you kill Houma, what does it achieve? Really? What will happen? Will he be unseen?” Those gathered start to murmur and look to those sat next to them. “I have a possible resolution.” Awen raises his hand to his young captain. A small, lean dark haired woman walks forward. Her hands are gripped so tightly together that her knuckles are white. She appears to be on the edge of a faint. Her eyes barely leave the floor for even a second.

Awen steps forward and places a soothing hand upon her shoulder. “This is Maria. Friends, be still. She is the human Houman is in love with.” The crowd gasp, Ba’ad is furious and moves as if to go for the woman but his brother, Goulded catches his arm and holds him back.  Awen raises his hands. “Forgive me, this is mine and mine alone.” He turns to her and gently raises her chin so they look each other in the eye. “Thank you Maria, it was brave of you to come here.” Awen turns away slightly to address the crowd. “I have a question Maria. Would you harm us?”

Maria looks confused. As far as she can see beyond the firelight there are men and woman, bigger, stronger then she. Most have weapons and a few look not quite human. Her eyes drop back to the floor. “No Sir.”

Awen takes her hand for he sense the fear in her. “When Houman changed in front of you what did you think?”

Maria can barely speak. Her mouth is so dry and she feels the need to pass water. This is for Houman, she thinks. “I asked him to Sir. We were in a bar you see and my ex’s brother was there. I wanted to leave so we walked out the back door. But they were already in the carpark. I got knocked over and I thought they were going to kill him. Jim, my ex, well his whole family are racists. I thought with Houman being Black and everything but I hit my head and everything was blurry and then there was screaming and people flying everywhere and Houman was fine and he picked me up and… well we were back at my house and he was cleaning the cut on my head and that’s when he said like. What he was. Wolven. I thought he was drunk or mad so i said ‘Show me’. So he did.”

Selkia steps forward smiling. “What did you see Child?”

Maria seems to relax and her smile is genuine. “It was beautiful. He stood and took off his shirt and then he closed his eyes. It sort of all happened at once. It was still Houman but it was a like a big wolf but standing on its back legs. His eyes. They shone. She smiles again, then notices the watching crowd and her eyes once again look down to the floor.

Selkia smiles and wipes the single tear from Maria’s cheek. “You love him very much.”

Maria raises her face to look Selkia in the eye, she can’t help but notice there is something slightly off about Selkias’ features. Ears that have odd points to them and eyes slightly oddly coloured, more purple than blue, yet it is a face she feels she can trust. “”Yes miss. Oh so very much.”

Slightly beyond the edge of the shadows of the fire, just at the corner of the eye, there has been sat a hooded figure through all these proceedings. It now stands and draws back it’s hood.

Although Maria does not fully understand the late night conversations she has had with Houman, about his world, it’s people. How it is next to our own and free of time and place, she does know one thing more than any other. In their world, as in ours. There is an order, a structure to society. They have Royals and dignitaries but they also have Gods. Actual Gods that live and exist among their people. This may explain why when the old woman stood up and took off her hood everyone around that fire dropped to their knees with their head against the ground.

The Old Woman with the long grey hair walks forward until she is standing in front of Maria, those in the way simply crawl as fast as they can until they are no longer in the way.

“Maria? I am Haphakias. Awen, stand. Ba’ad, if your hand even touches that hilt you will cease.Awen send your handsome young Captain to bring Houman here. Unbound. Take my arm child.” Maria reaches out and places her hand on the wrist of this woman, they walk off slightly into the night. Hephapkias has the kindest, oldest smile that Maria has ever seen. “Are you cold?” Maria shakes her head. “Walk with me a little. I am very old, yes oh so old and have few occasions to speak to humans anymore. You are very much in love with Houman aren’t you child? Don’t worry you don’t need to answer. Love is a strong magic. I’m concerned if it is strong enough. There was a time when my people and yours lived together. Then men came with books and rules and they tortured and exterminated us where ever they could find us. It took all of us, the Old ones to keep us safe. Safe. Such a small word. Still the safety of my people has to be my first concern. The Inquisition, the witch trials. Even now the Brotherhood of Rome still plans our end. Given the choice his own kind would kill Houman for showing you his true self. I doubt that would achieve what they intend. If you had meant us harm you would already have done so by now and that would be beyond even my abilities. We had such hopes for the Nazarene but even he could not escape the brutality of man.” Hephakias seemed to wake from a memory. “Now. Do you want to walk in your own world again?”

Maria paused. “Are you a God?”

Hephakias runs her hand through Maria’s hair. “Yes. One of the last.”

“If I leave and never say anything, will you let him live?”

“What you decide, will be the outcome of you both.”

Maria drops to her knees clutching at the old womans hand. “Please spare him, don’t let them hurt his! I swear I will never say anything!”

Hephakias lifts her from the floor. “Walk with me back to the fire.”

The moment she sees Houman, Maria runs into his arms. Covering his face and neck in kisses.

As Hephakias approaches all assembled drop to the floor. Houman pulls maria down beside him.

Hephakias raises her hand and everyone tilts back onto their knees.

“Tribes of the Old Ones. We are at a crossroads. I am not the Founder Badouim.” A thousand voices echo the name. “But my word is Law. No one shall move against Houman or Maria. They are free to choose a world to live in. be it this or the Human realm. Any mark or working against them shall be treated as a mark against me. There was a time, long before any of you could remember when we Tribes lived beside the Tribe of Man. Perhaps this is the beginning to a path back to those times. We have spoken.”

And she was gone.

Awen steps forward throwing an arm around Houman and Maria. Hiis grin is like a wolfs snarl. “What say we toast this with Tok’s Ale?”

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