Disclaimer: I do not own either Mercedes Lackey's characters, nor do I own Howl's Moving Castle.

Chapter 1:

One foggy morning near the city of Haven, capital of Valdemar, a shepherd guiding his flock out for the days grazing was scared witless by a sudden grinding noise. Looking around, he and his sheep let out cries of alarm at the appearance of a large moving castle moving around in the haze. In mere moments the smoke bellowing castle was once again lost in the fog, but there was no one there to witness it - the flock and its master had scattered towards the nearby forest.

As the sun began to rise higher in the sky and the fog burn off, the sounds of the city coming to life again permeated the air. Deep inside the city, in a modest hat shop, one young man was already hard at work. Long blonde hair was tied back in a tight braid to keep out of his eyes as his slim fingers tied on a variety of adornments onto his latest project - a pretty little mauve sunhat that many a young lady would enjoy. His hazel eyes squinted as he made a final knot before cutting the string. Turning the hat a few times to see it from all angles he gave a satisfied sigh, placing it on top of a pile of hats that he had already finished.

As the clatter of the first wagons came by under his window, the first sounds of life in the shop began downstairs. The ladies who worked in the shop chattered gaily about everything under the sun as they laughingly began to collect the finished hats from the day before and take them back downstairs to the actual shop. Sharing waves and faint smiles with some of the older ladies, the young man stood up and stretched before brushing bits of sparkles and glue off his apron.

"Morning 'Lendel." the plump, straight-backed woman who was his boss wandered into the room that was his personal workshop and began to peruse his works.

"Good morning madame." he murmured back, sitting back down and flipping through a pile of hats he hadn't worked on yet.

"How long have you been up young man?" the older lady scolded, knowing Tylendel's work habits.

"Just a couple hours. I wanted to get a few extra done today since Sovvan is coming soon and..."

"Never mind that, boy. Have you even eaten yet?" she demanded, picking up a hat that caught her eye. In response, 'Lendel's stomach gave a timely growl. Chuckling at the blush on the young mans face, the older lady made a shooing motion with her hands.

"That would mean yes, its time for breakfast. Why don't you go pick up something for all the ladies and something extra for yourself from the bakery?" Seeing the rather mutinous look on her charges face, she frowned at him. "You've already done so much work this morning. Go on, take a break and visit your friend. I'm sure he's been missing you since you've holed up here so much."

With a final attempt at protesting thwarted, Tylendel ended up down in the shop waving good-bye to all the ladies as he closed the front door. Giving himself a quick once-over to make sure he was presentable, he jumped off the steps and headed further into town. His long legs ate up the back street he was on, but he was forced to stop once he hit the main street. Even for the early morning commute of merchants it was packed.

"What's going on?" he asked an older man standing beside him trying to look over the crowd.

"The first troops back from the fight with Karse just got back. The King's gonna be holding a celebration for their return."

With a quick calculation in his head, Tylendel figured it would be faster if he went through the back alley's than face the crowd, he gave a quick thanks to the man before turning for the first alley. Anyone not born and raised in the city of Haven would never be able to make it through the back alley maze of the city, and for once Lendel was glad that he knew the city so well. A quick burst of cheers caught his attention at one of the intersections with the main spiral road. From where he stood he could see Valdemar's troops marching proudly back to the palace and the many happy citizens waving makeshift banners and hats.

Turning his attention back to where he was going, he barely missed running into a rather tall man who leaned casually against the wall in front of him.

"Oh, damn. Sorry about that." he apologized while stepping to the right to go around. He frowned as the man followed his steps and grinned.

"Ain't no problem, kitty." the man rasped, voice lost to what was clearly too much smoking by the cigarette dangling from the side of his mouth. From behind him stepped another man, rounder at the waist than the first but with the same grin pasted on his face. "We should be the ones to apologize. How bout somethin t'drink?" the first man laughed, elbowing the other in the gut.

"No thanks. I've got to get going. My... sister is waiting for me." Lendel, feeling worried back up a step or two, considering running out onto the main street and cutting around.

"A sister eh? We could take the both of you out. C'mon, kitty, it'll be fun." the first man leaned forward, placing a dirty hand on Tylendel's shoulder. In a flash, the blonde boy smacked the hand away and backed up further.

"No, seriously. Leave me alone." he hissed at them defensively.

"Lookit that. Kitty's got fangs." the fatter one laughed, stepping forward with a crude club appearing from behind him. Tylendel swore internally as his back hit a wall.

"There you are, ke'chara. I've been looking everywhere for you." A voice appeared from beside them. All three men turned, startled, as the speaker had managed to step up beside them with no one noticing. He was shorter than Lendel by at least a head, with straight shoulder length blonde hair and green eyes, and wearing a flamboyant coat of blue and red patchwork across his shoulders. A white cotton tunic was visible underneath, and a green gem matching the boy's eyes rested above his breast on a silver chain.

Lendel's attackers seemed to take immediate offense, as the pudgy one with the club hefted it to attack. But the short man smiled calmly up at the two dirty men and made a complicated gesture with his hand. The two froze, before their bodies seemed to move on their own, straightening up, turning away at the same time and marching off down the street.

Amazed, Tylendel stared at them until they were out of sight before turning to the younger man, who was giving him a sunny smile.

"I do hope you don't mind me interrupting, but it seemed as if you were in need of assistance." his saviour spoke clearly with a faint accent able to be discerned.

"Oh, no, thank you." Lendel stuttered momentarily, stepping away from the wall and brushing himself off. To his dismay, there was a greasy stain on his shirt where the man had touched him.

There was a slight pause as the shorter man watched him. To Lendel, this was where someone would normally introduce oneself, but the other seemed to be thinking of something.

"Just on chance that those men come back, would you like an escort to wherever you are going?" the green eyes watched him from under a fringe of blonde bangs as the man held out a crooked arm gallantly.

"Err... no, I'm just going to the bakery. I should be -" he was interrupted as the other man grabbed his arm and started to drag him along. Tylendel was about to protest when the shorter man looked up at him.

"I'm sorry, but I was being followed and now that I've spoken to you, you're in danger. I'll get you where your going safely, I promise."

Looking over his shoulder, Lendel gasped as he saw oily monsters coming out of the stonework near where they were standing and start to give chase. Turning back around, he swore softly as more were coming out of the stones a few meters ahead of them. And both sides were closing fast. Turning a quick corner, the two narrowly escaped the monsters, but to Lendel's horror, they were once again coming out of the walls ahead of them.

"Hold on." the younger man warned, wrapping an arm around Tylendels waist. With a slight crouch, he pushed off as if he were just jumping. But Lendel felt... magic around him and faster than he could blink the two of them were soaring over top of the buildings of Haven. Shocked into stillness, he couldn't help but stare at the many tiny figures of people under his feet as they cheered and danced.

"Now, straighten your legs and walk." his rescuer's voice snapped him out of his daze, and doing as he was told began to walk on air. Between the two of them, they started to move forward. In moments, the upstairs balcony of the bakery was in front of them and with a gentle swing, the strange wizard landed Lendel on the balcony while he stood on the parapet.

"I'll draw them off. You stay here for a bit until the coast is clear." the wizard smiled down at him as Lendel nodded a speechless assent. "Goodbye, ke'chara." he bowed before turning and leaping off into the crowd below. A quick glance over the side from where he stood, the stranger was already gone from sight.

Lendel stood there, still shocked by his encounter. Unbidden, the sight of the others leather clad posterior came to his mind and his face flushed.

Oh shit. Was all that came to mind.

Long minutes later he was snapped out of his daze by the sound of feet rushing up the stairs. The door beside him banged open and Mardic, one of his closest friends, who also worked at the bakery came hustling out.

"Lendel! Is it true what the guys downstairs are saying? That you floated down from the sky with some guy?" The burly young man demanded. Just looking at Lendel and the dazed look on his face told him his answer.

"Tylendel." he scolded. "You're so lucky. If that were the wizard Vanyel, he would have eaten your heart. You have to be more careful."

"Mardic, that wouldn't happen. Vanyel only eats the hearts of beautiful people. And besides, whoever that wizard was was very kind, because he rescued me." Tylendel defended.

"Lendel, you know I love you and everything, but sometimes, you're just so... stupid. Promise me you won't go falling in love with this one. I mean, you had such a hard time with Nevis and all, but a wizard is a much worse choice."

Lendel cringed at the reminder. "You don't have to worry Mardy. I promised myself I wouldn't fall for anyone again." He firmed his belief on that and no matter how handsome his rescuer was, he refused to allow himself the belief that someone as beautiful as that had any other intentions for him other than just being kind. After all, in his mind, Tylendel was rather plain.

Mardic sighed. "That's not what I meant, Lendel..."

But Tylendel just smiled and patted his friend on the back. "Come one. I came to buy breakfast for the hatters. What've you got for me this morning?"

________________

Much later that day, as the sun set and the last of the customers had left, Lendel locked the door with a relieved sigh. As he'd predicted, with Sovvan coming, the shop was much busier than normal and many of the hats were gone. He stretched, heading upstairs to make a few more hats before morning came.

He'd just put on his apron and sat down when a jingle from downstairs caught his attention. Descending the steps two at a time, he looked in on the shop to see a tall man standing in the centre of the room. From what Lendel could see in the dark, the man wore black clothes to match black hair with pale skin and perfect features. The other thing wrong with the man was his eyes. The black eyes were so horribly cold.

Feeling uneasy, Tylendel stepped into the shop. "I'm sorry, but we're closed. I was so certain I locked that door..."

The man, instead of leaving, stepped closer, letting his gloved hands - also black- reach out and touch one of the hats on a stand. But the entire time, the cold eyes rested on Lendel's face.

"What a plain little shop." the man's voice was cultured, but also cold. "With such plain little hats." he stepped in close, and the hand that was touching the hat came forward to lightly grasp Lendel's face. "And you, youngling, are the plainest thing in here. I don't see what he sees in you."

Confused but angry, Tylendel stepped out of the mans grasp and past him to the door. "I apologize if we don't meet your exacting standards. Here's the door. Please leave." and he opened the door, glaring at the rude man.

"My, daring aren't you, speaking to the Wizard of Darkness like that." a calculating smile appeared on the taller man's face. Lendel felt like he had been doused in ice water. He'd heard of the Wizard before - one of the most dangerous men alive, even more so than Vanyel. The man had a penchant for torturous spells that left people maimed for life, and yet unable to die.

The Wizard cleared the space of the shop in an instant, grasping Lendel's face in a tight grip. From under the gloves, Lendel thought he felt something sharp, like talons. Meeting the man's eyes, he was terrified, because of the satisfied pleasure staring back at him. With a whispered word from the older man's lips, Lendel was forced into a strong kiss. He struggled, but the grip was too strong. As his knees gave out from fear, the Wizard of Darkness let go and with a catty smile, pushed him onto his back with a boot.

Stepping over him and out the door, the black haired man purred, "Give my regards to Vanyel." before dissapearing from sight.

And that was when the pain hit Tylendel like a wave, and he was overcome by darkness.