A brief background story for my NaNoWriMo project, Shapeshifter's Moon
|She heard a harried banging on the front door of her little cottage. Rising from where she sat, the old woman moved with the ease of a woman half of her age. The banging became harder, more pronounced on the wooden door. The old woman reached for the handle, her grip tightening on her elegantly twisted walking stick.
"Mother! Please it's Clarissa. Open the door. Patrice!" she heard her daughter's voice raised in panic from the other side.
She yanked the door open, sensing her daughter's urgency for aid. Once the door was ajar, Clarissa hurried inside. She clutched a bundle to her chest, panting and sweating with fear.
"What is the matter?" Patrice reached a cautious hand to the bundle her daughter held so dear.
Clarissa moved into the sturdy wooden table in the kitchen and gently placed her bundle upon it. "This," she said softly, pulling back the folds of the thick fabric.
Patrice moved to her side and watched as a young panther cub emerged from the soft cloth. The cat looked up at her with bright yellow-green eyes and blinked slowly in the fading light of the day. She held a hand out to the cub and it licked her affectionately.
"Rowan?" Patrice asked her daughter.
"Yes," Clarissa choked out as she burst into tears held back for far too long. "When Rowan first shifted, Brain became furious, shouting that no daughter of his was going to be a Changeling. He tossed her in a sack and took her the Sacellum in Limorall, where . . . Where . . . Where he . ." Clarissa broke off, her sobs wracking her body. She fell into a chair, dropping her face into her arms on the ancient-grey table.
Rowan mewed softly and placed a paw on her mother's head.
"The mages performed the Binding." Patrice finished for her daughter. "All is not lost, child. You brought her to me quickly enough that I may yet be able to help her. Clear the table and set the cauldron on the fire to boil water. I need to gather some supplies from my storeroom." The old woman turned at looked into Rowan's bright eyes. "You must stay here, little one, do you understand?"
Rowan stared back into her grandmother's emerald eyes. She adjusted her seat on the tabletop, curling her long tail around her feet.
"Good girl," she rubbed Rowan's ear. "I shall return momentarily with the items I need. Put more wood in the fireplace." Patrice pointed to the stone fireplace dominating the kitchen, as Clarissa swung the large iron cauldron over the fire.
She returned from her hidden storeroom under the house a few moments later, her arms laden with herbs and various other powders. Patrice set everything on the table and began to sort the items out. Curious, Rowan peered at one of the shining glass bottles, reaching out a paw and tipping it over.
"Rowan, no!" her mother cried as she pulled the cub away from the bottles and vials. "Nana needs these to help you, silly girl." Clarissa held Rowan in her arms even though the cat wriggled and attempted to get free.
Patrice quickly got to work, tossing plants and potions into the boiling water. She stirred the mixture with a large wooden spoon, using two hands to set the water swirling. Grabbing a vial of silver powder from the table, she pulled the cork stopper free and sprinkled the contents into her palm. Slowly, she let the powder fall free from her fingers sending a stream of sparkles into the churning mixture. Wisps of silver vapour rose from the pot, dancing in the currents of air from Patrice's movements. She began to chant, low and deep in her throat, her hands constantly moving above the simmering cauldron. The silver vapour seemed to take on a life of its own, like spirit hands of the dead returning to claim what they had lost.
Rowan sensed the change of mood in the room and dug her claws into the bodicce of her mother's dress.
"It's okay Rowan," Clarissa cooed. "Nana knows the ancient magic and she is asking the spirits to help you. When she was a little girl, she had been taken in by one of elven elders and they taught her their old ways."
That seemed to placate the cat and she relaxed in her mother's arms.
When Patrice was finished with her incantation, she ladled the liquid into a wooden bowl and set it on the table. "She needs to drink this. Put her down." the old woman said very matter-of-factly, pulling a stone amulet from her pocket.
Rowan balked at first when her mother set her down in front of the bowl. She sniffed the concoction, her nose wrinkling, then took a step back, baring her teeth in a silent hiss. Clarissa coaxed the cat forward, assuring her that it wasn't as bad as it smelled. Rowan looked up at her mother with her big yellow-green eyes. She was unconvinced. With a huff, Rowan lowered her nose to the bowl once more and took a tentative taste. One lap led to another and another, until finally the bowl was empty. The cub sat on the table licking her paws as her grandmother approached the table and sat down. The elder woman held up an amethyst attached to a thick silver chain. She placed the amulet over Rowan's head, the cat's little ears flicking as the chain passed overhead. The cub began to chew on the stone in an attempt to remove it from her person.
"No, no little one," Patrice soothed, "you need to keep this on. It is a Memory Stone, and it will help you remember who you are."
"What is going on? Why hasn't she become a child again?" Clarissa's voice rose with concern for her daughter.
"The magic takes time, dear." She motioned to Rowan, the cat's eyes beginning to close. "See it is starting to work. Let's put her into bed so she can recover more comfortably."
Rowan's mother picked the cub up and carried her down the short hallway and into Patrice's bedroom. The woman laid her sleeping form on the bed and returned to the kitchen.
Rowan awoke to the sound of wood shattering from the front of the quaint house. She laid still in fear, clutching the blanket beneath her. She listened intently to the sound of shouting and the sharp sing of swords being drawn from scabbards. Her mother cried Rowan's name, but her voice was choked out before she could finish. She heard the sound of wood cracking on metal, followed by shouts and the thump of booted feet on the wooden floor. Rowan pulled the blanket to her face, listening intently. The rest of the cottage had become deathly silent. Working up her courage, Rowan slipped silently from the bed and crept into the hallway. The sight before her stopped her in her tracks.
Clarissa was laying on the floor, glistening red blood pooling around her still form. An armored man held her grandmother by the back of the head, forcing the woman to remain on her knees. A man stood facing Patrice and Rowan did not immediately recognize him.
"Rowan - run!" Patrice yelled from where she kneeled. "Save yourself!"
The man turned to face her.
Rowan's eyes grew wide in fear and disbelief. Her father had killed her mother.
"End her," he said coldly to the man holding Patrice, "I'll take care of this little beast." He began to saunter down the hall as the armored man drew his blade along her grandmother's neck.
Rowan saw the woman fall forward, blood drenching the front of her simple dress. Her yellow-green eyes refocused on her father, quickly approaching her. She turned on her heel and bolted for the bedroom. She could hear her father cursing her name and giving chase.
A little girl ran to the window, but a black panther cub leapt through it.