I am taking a week off. The first posting of Luna Lore Part III will be on Friday, November 2.
Friday, October 19, 2018
Part II – 10
“I present to you, Princess Noreen!”
Servants open the double doors and I step into the ballroom where Father waits for me. He takes my hand and leads me to the banister to look down at the crowd. Everyone bows down, but not to Father. They’re bowing to me. I’m taken aback by their reverence, though I try not to show my astonishment. Father and I begin walking down the staircase. Aria said I would trip down the stairs, but I know I won’t. Everyone stares at me as I walk down. I’m not embarrassed by their staring, but I am surprised.
I know I’m not supposed to look preoccupied, but I take a quick glance around the room. I never imagined a place could hold so many chandeliers. The candlelight reflects off the gold-colored walls. I wonder if the walls truly are made of gold. Colorful banners hang on the sides of the room, and elegant drapes decorate the enormous windows.
There are so many people, yet no one is crowded since the room is so large. There is space enough for the many orchestra players. The guests are dressed so splendidly. No one has donned a mask yet. That will come later.
Father and I stop a few steps from the bottom. He gives a grand speech about my accomplishments in language, dance, musical instruments, and etiquette. He mentions my gentle, quiet disposition along with my virtue and beauty. Most of what he says is true. I am accomplished, and I am beautiful, but I don’t think I have the kind and sweet demeanor of which he boasts. I don’t know if he believes all that he says. Probably not. I think he’s just trying to marry me off to someone so he doesn’t have to deal with my curse. However, I can’t help but believe that Father believes some of it. He must have some good thoughts about me.
The guests applaud after Father’s speech and begin lining up to greet me and Father. Even Mother, Amelia, Declan, and Aria have to do this. I’m barraged with many compliments, not from my family of course, but from others. The women mostly compliment my poise and my beautiful purple dress. It’s easy to be poised when one can hardly move or breathe in this confined gown, but it is a beautiful dress. I’m glad I got to wear my favorite color.
Men, young and old, remark on my beauty. All of the older men except two eagerly introduce me to their sons. The duke does not, for he claims John is ill. The other man who doesn’t introduce me to a son is King Nicholas. His son, Prince Nicholas II, had been delayed on urgent business, but he assures me that if he had attended, the prince would have been enraptured by me the moment he laid eyes on me. Amelia had warned me of how tedious these remarks would become, but I find I can bear them remarkably well. Who knew a ball could be so delightful?
After everyone has officially greeted me, a servant hands me and Father our masks. Mine covers my entire face, just as I requested. Father leads me to the middle of the room. We bow to each other, and the musicians start playing. The waltz begins. The guests stand around and watch us. Father has to dance with me first before I’m permitted to have other partners. I’m not nervous about the actual dancing, but Father makes me feel uneasy. When he leads me, he makes our movements seem so stiff and regimented.
“One day, you will be proud of me, Father. I know you will,” I whisper.
He’s told me people shouldn’t talk as they dance, but he doesn’t scold me this time. He doesn’t send me any caring glances, but neither does he display any sign of censure. It’s a small thing, but it gives me hope nonetheless.
Now, everyone is allowed to dance, and I get to choose my next partner. As I look around at the masked faces before me, a young man in the crowd raises his head up high and touches his ear. He’s the one I choose. Everyone else finds their partner, and the music plays again.
“Your father is here,” I mutter as I dance.
“I see that,” John answers. “With his cane, he’s easy to notice.”
“I thought he would be with his men.”
“No doubt he will soon leave undetected. Who knows? Perhaps he’s even found a stand-in.”
“I trust you didn’t have any trouble sneaking in undetected.”
“No, that tunnel of yours is quite convenient.”
The music picks up a little bit, as does the dance. John misses a step and slams his foot down hard onto mine. I don’t cry out, for that would be improper, but I can’t help but gasp a little. John apologizes profusely and leads me off the dance floor. Several guests approach me, seemingly concerned. I inform them that my shoe has been dented. I shall put on new shoes and return swiftly. I accept John’s offer to take me to my attendants. I limp along slightly in a manner that reminds me of his father.
When we’re far enough away and no longer seen by the others, I punch John in his left arm.
“You didn’t have to actually step on me.”
“I’m sorry. We had to make it seem authentic,” he argues.
“You can do that without having to stomp my foot.”
“That’s not something you could have easily faked.”
“I’ve pretended well enough to be a normal human, one who is not cursed to transform into a beast of the night that attacks thieves and little woodland creatures. I think I could have pulled off a fake foot injury.”
John has no comment for that. He escorts me to my room where Cat and Lily wait at the door.
“Did you actually step on her?” Cat asks with concern.
“You all know that was part of the plan,” John defends himself.
Cat takes no heed to his defense and punches John in his left arm as well.
“Look, at least hit my other arm! Nona already hit that one.”
“Come, we don’t have much time,” Cat says, ignoring John.
Cat and Lily usher me into the room and shut the door. They assist me in undressing, and I help lace the gown on Cat.
“Thank you for doing this,” I say.
“I’m only helping you because this may be my only chance to go to a ball. I don’t want to miss this opportunity,” Cat remarks.
She still hasn’t quite forgiven me for withholding my secret from her.
“I’ve told Father that someone will be replacing me. He thinks it will be a good cover. Well, he didn’t say it was a good idea, but he didn’t say it wasn’t either, and he’s allowing it to take place. No one else must find out about this.”
“No one will know,” Cat answers.
Lily helps Cat put on the wig while I change into simpler clothes. When I glance at my reflection in the mirror, I spy Cat pinning something to her dress. It’s a flattened pink rose. Cat shouldn’t add anything to the gown. People will notice the difference and perhaps look for other differences as well. Besides, it doesn’t go with the dress at all. Cat has better fashion sense than that. I start to correct her but stop myself as I realize what she’s truly pinning to the dress. That isn’t any ordinary rose. That’s the same rose that John left for us five years ago. We had it pressed into a book. I wonder how long Cat has had it. It’s best I leave her be.
I open the door for Cat, and she strolls out. Lily waits behind in my room. John steps forward, ready to escort Cat.
“Good luck,” I tell her.
Cat turns around and embraces me.
“Be careful, Nona.”
Maybe she has forgiven me after all. I hug her tightly. We separate, and she walks toward John as I step back to the door.
“Nona, wait,” John says. He walks past Cat and steps toward me. “I may not come out of this alive.”
“Don’t say that,” I protest.
“I have to let you know,” he continues, “that your curse, the fact that you become a cat each night, it doesn’t matter, not to me.”
Oh no. I see where this is leading.
“That’s great,” I declare. “Now, you really have to get back to the ballroom. Hurry along.”
“Wait, I have one thing more to say.”
“No, no, why don’t you wait until after the ball. Save it as a nice surprise.”
“No, it must be declared now.”
“No, I really don’t think –”
“Please, hear me. I have to tell you. Though I am now aware of your curse, it has not changed my feelings for you. They may even be stronger now that I know of your suffering, and of your bravery. Allow me to express, just once more before I leave, how much I love you.”
He reaches for my hand and bends down to kiss it.
“I hope I shall see you soon,” John says.
He turns back to Cat and offers her his arm. She takes it unenthusiastically. Before I go back to my room, I see her unpin the rose and toss it out an open window.
“Everything is so complicated when you get older,” Lily comments.
I haven’t time to think about the unfolding drama. Lily wishes me luck, and I enter the tunnel. I run to the end. When I run, I don’t have to think about anything else. I realize my foot doesn’t hurt so badly now. I suppose John didn’t step on me as hard as I thought. I may owe him an apology for hitting him.
When I reach the end, I unlock the door and step out. I pace back and forth, waiting to transform. When the time comes, I hurry and catch a fat pigeon for my dinner. I wanted to hunt my food to feel more prepared for what’s to come. John has probably left the ball by now. He’ll be going to the villages, gathering the peasants together to tell them of the duke’s illicit business. I may need to help them if they decide to fight. I run to the edge of the woods, climb a tree, and wait.
After ten minutes, I spy John leading the men into the woods. He’ll show them Sir Eagan’s hideout. The men all look angry and determined to get their things back. Of course, once they see all of the stolen goods in the cave, the peddlers may start laying claim to things not rightfully theirs. Then, they’ll start fighting amongst themselves. I don’t know if there’s any way for John or me to prevent this.
They march below me. I follow along behind them. Once John’s group reaches the cave in Father’s woods, it becomes apparent that their efforts to reclaim the stolen goods will need to be great. The duke is there, waiting for them, along with his thieves and his knights. Someone must have heard John’s denouncements and warned the duke. The full moon shines down, making the duke’s shadow loom even larger and more ominously.
As John’s group approaches, their tread becomes less certain. They look around at the duke’s men and then look anxiously at one another. There may be more peddlers and villagers, but the duke has the advantage of his trained knights. The confidence in John’s men wanes. It’s time to even the score. I leap softly across the trees to get above the duke’s men. If I cannot encourage John’s men, I can at least strike fear into the duke’s company. Let everyone be equally distressed.
I jump down, landing on top of five standing knights. As they fall, their armor clangs against the ground. Swinging my paw to strike others that stand nearby, I bear my teeth and roar. I pounce on another knight before he can unsheathe his sword. Some of the duke’s men begin running away. John’s men begin running too, but he rallies some of them to fight the duke’s army. Other villagers see their bravery and join in to fight the thieves and knights while I contend with the few knights who stay to fight me.
A knight swings wildly at my head. I duck and then charge into him. I ram his leg, knocking him over. I kick the men who come up behind me and scratch at a few more. I feel my heart beating faster in this excitement. I take a moment to breathe deeply to try and slow it down. There is so much noise, so much movement. I have to focus. As a knight runs toward me, I move swiftly and avoid his lunge. Grabbing his legs, I sink my teeth into him and throw him aside. I hear someone running behind me. I quickly turn to face the attacker. On seeing me, he loses his courage and runs off.
Horse hooves pound against the ground to my right. Two knights on horseback charge towards me. I wait for them to get closer. Their swords are aimed at my heart. Before they can reach me, I take a mighty leap over top of them. I don’t jump as high as I wanted to, and my back foot hits a knight’s head.
I run after the other one as he tries to flee. I swat him off of his horse. He staggers to his feet but is struck by an arrow. I turn around and see the knights pull back their bows. That arrow had been meant for me. I leap up into the trees as their arrows fly by, missing their mark. I jump across the branches overhead as they continue shooting up at me. They try to run and redraw their bows, but I pounce on top of them, striking them before they take aim at me again.
I look around and see that John’s men have the victory, though John is nowhere in sight. The duke and his remaining men flee under pursuit. Several peddlers advance with their weapons drawn. My fight is not with them. I disappear back into the trees and make my escape. They don’t seem interested in pursuing me.
I return to the tunnel’s entrance. Grabbing my clothes, I go to the door and step into the safety of the tunnel. Setting down my garments, I manage to shut and lock the door. Now I’ve only to wait until morning to hear any news.
Though I try to sleep, I’m too restless to do so. After the sun rises, ending my sleepless night, I put on my clothes and run back toward my room. Lily meets me halfway there.
“What happened? Do you know?” I ask. “Is Cat alright? What about John?”
“Cat is fine,” she assures me. “No one suspected the switch, and she seemed to enjoy herself last night. She’s still sleeping. I think she’s worn out from all the dancing. She was telling me about how much food –”
“Lily, what about John? What happened to him?”
Lily hesitates before asking, “Don’t you know? You were with him.”
“No, I lost sight of him after the battle began. What’s happened to him, Lily? Tell me.”
“Well . . . I’m not sure. No one has found him yet. That’s a good thing, though. It means he’s escaped and gone into hiding.”
“Or he’s been captured.”
“No, I don’t think he’s captured. The peddlers and villagers were able to defeat most of the duke’s men. Only a few escaped. The duke didn’t survive. He was killed”
“I am sorry for that, for John’s sake.”
“But his father disinherited him. He tried to manipulate him into committing criminal activities and then threw John out when he refused.”
I shake my head.
“You don’t understand. I know you love your father. Of course, your father is very loving in return, but sons . . . and daughters, they can sometimes love even the most undeserving parents. I imagine that the hurt they feel when they’ve disappointed them can be difficult to endure, even when they know how foolish it is to care.”
I tread down the tunnel. Lily walks alongside me.
“I do have some good news,” she tells me. “The villagers know you exist now, and they’ve given you a name.”
“They’re calling you ‘Luna Belua.’”
“So that’s what I am,” I murmur.
“Yes, it’s French, isn’t it?”
“They call you Luna because it means ‘moon.’ They think that you only come out when the moon is out,” Lily laughs, “and Belua means ‘cat,’ so you’re their moon cat.”
“Belua doesn’t mean ‘cat.’”
“Well what does it mean?”
I hesitate. I don’t want to disappoint her, but she will find out on her own if I don’t tell her. At last, I answer.
“It means ‘monster.’”
Lily doesn’t say anything except “Oh.” I don’t break the silence as we continue our slow trek. I am the people’s monster. They’re all afraid of me. They think I’ll hunt and kill them. Lily may be discouraged by this, but I’m not. I will change their perception of me. There is still much work to be done. Sir Eagan is gone, but Adolpho remains. I didn’t rid everyone of Sir Eagan just so Adolpho would have less competition. I will protect the people against Adolpho and his men. I’ll put an end to any highway robberies, and Adolpho will threaten the villages no more. I’ll be there to stop him. The people will understand that I can be kind as well as ferocious. They will see that I’m their protector, even perhaps their friend. They’re my allies, not my prey. They will realize I want to help them.
One day, they will know.
Friday, October 12, 2018
Part II – 9
Something will be happening soon, and I’m worried I’ll miss it. I’m not worried about my ball since that’s almost a whole week away. Besides, it’s only a ball. I don't think people care about that sort of thing. They only attend because they feel obligated to go. I have to focus on more important mattes. I need to find out when the thieves are planning to move their stolen goods from the cave, and I have to figure out how to get in there and steal it back.
I walk into the cave and shake the rain off my fur. After weeks of sunny weather, the rain clouds have returned. At least tonight it’s only drizzling. As I take a step forward, my front left paw squishes into the ground. I pull it out of the mud. The floor of the cave is only damp in one spot, the spot underneath the hole I had made several days ago. I rub my paw against the rocks, scraping off the mud. I don’t know why I do this. I’ll have to get it muddy again. I put my paw back in the mud and begin wiping away my paw print. I don’t want to leave any tracks.
Yes, the thieves could track me, but couldn’t I also track them? Maybe this is the way to do it. I rush outside and jump on top of the cave. I claw at the hole, trying to make it bigger, trying to let the rain fall inside. The stones begin slowly crumbling away. It needs to be bigger. I use all my weight to slam against it. My paw accidentally slips into the hole. I stumble slightly as I fall, and then I yank it free. The opening is big enough to fit my paw inside, but much of the cave floor is still dry. I keep digging.
I hear the thieves coming. I was hoping they would go to the cave today, but it’s sooner than I wished. I’m not ready yet. I continue clawing the top of the cave, alternating between looking down at my work and glancing up at the approaching men. When I begin to see their shadows between the trees, I know I can stay out in the open no longer. I run behind the boulder on top of the cave, hoping I’ve done enough.
The thieves reach the cave. It sounds like there are about six of them. The leader orders two men to remain outside to stand guard. The rest walk inside. I hear a wall moving as they walk through the secret entrance. After several minutes, they walk out of the cave. I lean my head out and watch them saunter away. There were six of them.
“Mary, where’s your sword?”
“My name’s Marron,” whines the shortest one.
The others chuckle at the name. The leader halts and glances at the young man’s belt.
“Where is your sword?”
“I musta left it in the cave.”
“Hurry up and get it.”
Marron races back. I put my head back behind the boulder.
“Aw, it’s all muddy now.”
“Quit moanin’ and go and get it,” orders the leader. “T’is your fault for leaving it.”
I hear Marron open the door, go inside, and return to his companions.
“Next time, you’d better be more careful to keep your weapon. Don’t lose it again, Mary.”
“You’ll be ‘Mary’ if I says so.”
I peek out and watch them leave I study Marron closely. He’s trying to wipe off the mud that’s sticking to the back of his head. He has mud on his back as well. Why was he lying on the ground?
Hopping down, I peer into the cave. The footprints lead to the right side before they end abruptly, as though the men had disappeared into the wall. I see the spot where Marron had laid down. I walk over and crouch onto the ground. There’s a section of the stone wall near the bottom that sticks out a little. I press my paw on it, but nothing happens. I flip over onto my back and look up. I now see that the rock has an opening at the bottom. I lift up my paw to reach into it, but my paw is too big. I can’t get it to fit inside.
Discouraged, I cover my prints as best I can and leave. I go back to the castle tunnel to wait impatiently for morning. At last, the sun rises. I go to my room and get dressed by myself. Before I leave, I unlock my bedroom door. I don’t want to lock Cat and Lily out. I can always sneak into the castle another way and tell them I had gone for a walk. I go back to the woods. There are still rain clouds in the sky, though the rain has at least ceased for the time being.
As I trek towards the cave, someone on horseback cuts through the forest. I duck behind a tree. I don’t think it’s a thief, because thieves seldom travel alone. Why isn’t the trespasser staying on the path? The horse trots past, and I see its rider.
He looks back and sees me. He stops the horse and dismounts.
“I was hoping I’d find you out here,” he calls as he leads the horse over to me. “It rained last night, so I thought you may still be in the woods.”
I forgot. I still haven’t told him that I transform because of the night and not because of the rain.
“I have news,” he continues. “I discovered my father’s thieves are planning another attack.”
“It will be next week, during your ball. Many travelers and peddlers will be coming to the nearest villages to celebrate.”
“That’s true. Whenever we have a big ball, the peasants have their own celebration called festivals.”
“Precisely. It’s a prime opportunity for peddlers to sell their merchandise, and thus it’s a prime opportunity for thieves to steal the money they earn. They plan to attack the peddlers at one in the morning. The people will be so busy selling, buying, and celebrating, they won’t be ready for an attack. I must stop them.”
“I have news too. I think I found out how to get into their hideout.”
“Come. I’ll show you.”
We walk through the forest to the cave. I go inside and lay on my back.
“Nona, let me do it. You’ll ruin your dress.”
“Then I’ll just change into another one.”
My hand now fits into the opening. I reach up and feel some sort of latch. Grasping it, I pull it towards me. It makes a click. John helps me to my feet, and we push against the wall. It scrapes against the ground as we push it backwards, leading to a hidden section of the cave. John and I step inside.
A corner of the room contains weapons: swords, axes, shields, knives, and javelins. The rest of the room is filled with jewels, blankets, medicines, pottery, musical instruments, and money, lots and lots of money.
“These must be all of the stolen merchandise the thieves have acquired this past month,” John remarks. “They’re planning on sending it to my father after the ball, along with anything else they steal that night.”
“We’ll have to expose them before they take it away.”
We quickly leave the cave before we’re caught.
“John, I’m not sure you understand everything that could happen if the thieves are exposed,” I venture as we stroll back to Father’s castle. “We wouldn’t only be exposing the thieves. We’d be exposing Sir Eagan as well.”
“I am aware of this.”
“Well, don’t you know what could happen? Once the people find out what your father’s been doing, they’ll riot. They may even kill him. They’ll try to kill you too. You’ll be guilty by association. Aside from the innocent people, the thieves your father employs will want to kill you as well.”
“You’ll lose everything. Even if you escape, you won’t be able to return home. You’ll lose your inheritance and the right to your father’s lands.”
“I know all this, Nona, but I’m prepared for it. Far too long, I’ve stood idly by. I can no longer allow such atrocities to persist. I am reconciled to whatever consequences befall me.”
He may be fine with this, but I’m worried the consequences of our actions could be greater than either of us realize. How does anyone prepare for this? Nevertheless, I feel John is right. The duke must be stopped. I ask John to meet me here again tomorrow. My plan may be ready by then. I’ll need more help though. It’s time to bring Cat and Lily into this.
Both girls jump up when I open the secret door and walk in from the tunnel. I’ll explain some things to them, whatever information is necessary, but nothing more.
“What is that? Where did you come from? And why are you all muddy? What happened?” Cat questions me.
“There’s a lot to explain. That,” I point, “is a secret passageway leading outside. I’ve been using it to sneak out, but I need your help sneaking out at my ball.”
“But how could I help?”
“I’m going to ask Father if he can make the ball a masquerade. I need you to switch places with me before it gets dark.”
“What? I can’t do that,” protests Cat.
“We’re nearly the same size. We’ll both be wearing a mask and a wig.”
“I don’t understand. Why do you need to sneak out?”
“The thieves of Sir Eagan are going to attack people. I have to go out and help stop them.”
“But what can you do?”
“I can do something, but I can’t tell you. You’ll have to trust me. I need to know if you’ll be able to help me.”
“Nona,” Lily at last speaks, “are you sure you’re being fair?”
“What do you mean?”
She stares at me then looks at Cat.
“May I please speak to Nona alone? I have to ask her something personal.”
Cat looks at me, then Lily, then me again, trying to determine what’s going on between us. Unfortunately, I’ve no idea either. Cat shrugs and steps out of the room, softly shutting the door.
“What is it, Lily?”
“Well, I just think that if you’re going to ask Cat and me to help you, you should at least tell her everything, not just about the plan, but about everything that’s ever happened.”
“Everything that’s ever happened?”
Lily fidgets with her hair.
“Can I explain with a story?”
“Um, sure,” I say.
“Alright, first of all, I have to start with yours and Cat’s personalities. Cat, you know, is more cautious than you are. Whenever we’ve played together, you were the one who would take more risks. About a month ago, that switched. John came, and he asked us if we wanted to go to the village to search for the witch. Then he said he’d be staying out all night in the woods. You were reluctant to do these things, but Cat wasn’t. I know why Cat acted so adventurous. She was trying to impress John.”
Lily strolls over to my bed and sits down.
“You didn’t want us to go because you were afraid they’d learn the truth.”
“And,” I pause, “what truth is that?”
“I saw how tense you became when they were talking about the cat. When they repeated a rumor about a human turning into the cat at night, you became so anxious to change the subject. Cat didn’t notice because she was too distracted by John, and he didn’t notice because he was too busy trying to impress you.”
“What are you saying?” I laugh. “Are you accusing me of turning into a beast?”
“I remember seeing you, years ago, at the parade. I never forgot it.”
I can’t put on a fake smile anymore and pretend to laugh. I tread over to the bed and sit down beside her.
“It was when you saved me. You ran on your legs and arms, and your arms were hairy. You moved so swiftly. You had large, sharp teeth. A horse tried to trample you. It stepped on you, but you didn’t feel any pain. Do you remember?”
“I remember,” I murmur.
Lily touches my hand.
“I’ve kept your secret, but I think it’s time you trust us. Cat has to know what’s going on. You don’t realize how much trouble she could be in if she’s caught impersonating a princess. If you’re asking her to take that risk, she should know the whole truth.”
“I didn’t think of that. I didn’t consider that she could get caught. I only assumed she wouldn’t.”
I sigh. Lily’s right. Maybe, like Lily, Cat won’t be repulsed by my secret.
I go to the door and let her back in.
“What’s going on?” Cat asks as she walks inside.
“I have to tell you something.” I shut the door. “I . . . I haven’t been honest with you, with you or Lily. I need to tell you the truth.”
I take a deep breath.
“I turn into a large cat creature each night.”
Cat looks at me incredulously and then laughs.
“It’s true. I’m large with black fur. I have a few grey stripes, and I have yellow eyes.”
I go through the tunnel and grab the book I had leaned against the wall. I flip it open to the front page and point to the sketch.
“I look like this, but less scary.” I turn the page over to the poem. “This was written by my great-great grandmother. The reason I turn into a cat is because of a family curse that’s been passed on to the youngest daughter. Amelia and Aria had it when they were younger, but they don’t remember. Now I’m the one who has it. Each night, I transform into a cat, and then I have to eat an animal, or I have to fight someone, I’m not entirely sure now how it works.”
“Nona, you can’t seriously expect me to believe you.”
“I was there the night you, Lily, and John hid in the woods. You and Lily fell asleep. I was up in the trees, which is why you didn’t see me. Even when I’m not a cat, I can still climb very well. You’ve seen me scale a wall. You must have thought that strange.”
“Well, yes, but to explain it with this?”
“On overcast days, I’m not myself either. I become a bit more like an animal. Lily saw me once on one of those days when it was raining.”
Cat glances at her.
“It’s true,” says Lily. “I saw her start to become a cat. Nona is the fabled creature in the king’s woods, only it’s not a fable.”
Cat turns back to me, staring. She takes the book and reads the poem. She seems to read it several times. Then, she turns the page over to study the picture.
“It – I don’t look exactly like that.”
She doesn’t say anything at first. She closes the book and hands it over to me. She starts walking around the room.
“Is this why you have a tunnel?” she asks at last. “You have to go out each night and hunt for food?”
She stops pacing.
“Who else knows this?”
“You and Lily know. Mother and Father know. I didn’t tell my siblings, but Owen followed me one night and found out the truth. John saw me another time and guessed my secret.”
“All of these people know before me?”
“I didn’t mean to tell them. Owen and John found out on their own.”
“And that’s how I would have found out too. You weren’t ever going to tell me, were you? Lily had to convince you, didn’t she?”
“I would have told you, Cat.”
“I don’t think you would have. You would have kept this to yourself for as long as possible.”
“No, that’s not true. I would have told you. I would have said something sooner, but I was afraid you wouldn’t accept me if I told you the truth. I was afraid you’d be repulsed by me turning into a beast.”
“How could I be mad at something that you can’t control? Do you think I’m so unsympathetic?”
“It would have been understandable if you felt that way.”
“No, it wouldn’t have, and you shouldn’t have thought so poorly of me. How many years have we been friends? How many secrets have I told you over all these years? I trusted you, and yet you keep from me the most important secret you have. You’re only telling me this now because you have to, because you need my help. Don’t you see how selfish that is?”
Cat marches to the door.
“Some friend you are,” she mutters as she walks out.
Friday, October 5, 2018
Part II – 8
“Do you see them?” Owen whispers.
Yes, I see them ahead of us. A group of thieves are following the knights, sneaking along on foot on either side of the path. The thieves are hard to see because the trees are so dense, so I don’t know how many there are, but there may be at least fifty of them. They follow some distance behind the company of twenty-five knights. Even though Father’s knights are probably better trained and equipped, they will be vastly outnumbered. The knights will have my help, but my confidence is beginning to wane. I’ve fought ten people at most. Aside from the fifty thieves, I could also be fighting against the knights if they don’t realize I’m trying to save them.
I see the thieves abruptly rush ahead. It will be easy for them to overtake the knights, who are traveling cautiously with their gold-filled carriage. The thieves will attack as soon as they surround them. I stop walking. I lift up my front paws, standing slightly on the back ones. Owen knows this signal to mean he has to hold on tightly. He leans down and tightens his hold on my back. I leap into a tree and climb to the top. Owen still keeps his grip. I recline on a branch to allow Owen to climb off of me.
“What are we looking for?” he asks as he looks around.
Before Owen can get back on, I jump over to another tree and climb down to the ground.
“Nona, don’t leave me up here,” he says in a hushed voice.
Ignoring him, I move toward the thieves. My eyes focus on the movement of two of the men in the back. They are to the right of the road, the same as I. I creep closer to them. They look ahead and around but not behind. I spring onto their backs, knocking them on to their faces. As they try to get up, I whack their heads with my paw. It only takes two hits to knock them unconscious.
I move on to the next grouping of three men. I overtake the one in the back and glance ahead. His two companions are focused on the foliage in front. I leap towards the man, grabbing the back of his clothes and throwing him against a tree. Immediately, I jump up into the branches. The two men turn around, but they don’t see me. They stop to investigate. When they get close me, I land on top of them. They slam into the ground and don’t get back up.
Five more thieves are clustered in front. As I push two to the ground, one man turns around and notices me. I leap forward and tackle him and a fourth man as well. The fifth one quickly draws his sword. I jump backwards as he swings and then pounce on top of him. I smack him in the head. I hear one of the men moving behind me. I kick him in the chest with my back leg, sending him flying backwards. That makes ten down.
The other thieves are unaware of my presence. They are beginning to surround the knights. I’d better reveal their plan. Rushing forward, I find two more thieves walking near the tree line. I shove one out onto the path. I bite into the other one and throw him onto the path as well. The knights turn around. They’re aware of the danger. Now that their surprise is ruined, the thieves decide to attack, regardless of whether or not they are in position.
The thieves run out from the forest. I manage to catch one and pin him against the tree. I lean into his face and bare my teeth. He yells, and I let him run away. A thief runs at me from behind. He charges before I can get away. I block his sword with my paw. With my other paw, I roughly push him against a tree. He hits his head and sinks to the ground.
Some of the thieves remain in the forest. They’ve begun climbing trees, planning to shoot the knights with their bows and arrows. I pull three of them off the tree trunks before they reach the top and toss them aside. One momentarily contemplates fighting me before he joins the other two in a hurried retreat. Three others have made it to the top to shoot. I quickly ascend as well. I go from tree to tree, pushing them off the branches.
Glancing at the knights, I see they are still struggling. Perhaps these thieves are better trained than I thought. There are several men in the trees on the other side of the path that are shooting arrows. I run ahead a little ways before dashing across the road, hoping everyone is too preoccupied to notice me. Again, I jump into the trees. I knock down five archers. Those who remain conscious after their fall hobble away.
With the absence of these archers, the knights begin overcoming the thieves. I go back to the other side and hide in a tree. I’ll only reveal myself if it is necessary. The thieves, whose loyalties are cheaply bought and easily swayed, decide that the rewards are no longer worth the risk. Sensing defeat, they retreat into the forest and scatter, running away like wild horses in a lightning storm.
I return to where I left Owen. He’s made it down from the tree. He is disappointed that he could not partake in the action, but he did get to view it from his high vantage point. He says he was excited to see me fighting all those men. He asks that next time I allow him to help, but I can’t agree to that.
He gets on my back and we continue following the knights, just to make sure the thieves don’t return. Owen falls asleep on the way, but I remain as alert as ever. Before morning, I wake him up. He gives me my clothes, and I go behind a large tree until I become a girl again. I reluctantly put on my clothes, for they do indeed reek of dead pig. The two of us follow the knights on foot. We walk on until we see them reach a large castle, presumably Lord Danby’s. Certain our task is complete, we turn around and begin the long walk back.
He pulls out his sword to admire it in the sunlight.
“Aren’t you tired from walking all night?” he asks.
“I don’t’ have to sleep at night. Sometimes I sleep, but only when I’m bored.”
“I don’t think I could ever get bored.”
“It can be dull, night after night. There’s little to do besides hunt.”
“And fight! I’d be hunting and fighting all the time if I was a cat!”
“Would you please stop swinging that when you talk? You’re going to cut your face.”
“You’ve cut yourself, Nona.”
I look down at my left hand. There is a scratch. Thankfully, the wound isn’t deep.
“I know last night’s fight is a secret,” says Owen, “but if we’re ever able to tell people about this, will you let me tell Lily? I think she’d be impressed I was here even if I didn’t fight.”
“Why would you care if Lily’s impressed?”
“I’m going to marry her. That’s why.”
I laugh at his little joke.
“What’s so funny?”
“You’re too young to be thinking about marriage. Besides, Lily’s a few years older than you.”
“Well, how old do I have to be before I start thinking about it?”
It seems as though he’s serious. I can’t have this happening anytime soon. I need to think of a number that’s big but still convincing.
“Twenty? That’s old.”
“You can’t start thinking about marriage until you’re twenty. That’s the rule for boys.”
“That can’t be. I thought it was fourteen.”
“No, it’s twenty.”
“Huh. Well then, I’ll split the difference. I’ll wait until I’m seventeen. That’s close enough.”
Why didn’t I say thirty? Or at least twenty-five?
We walk on without stopping for several hours, for neither of us had the sense to bring along food or money. We’re not on the road, but we stay near it. I can see it to the right of us. Whenever people travel by, we hide behind trees until they pass. It’s very fortunate for us that Father’s kingdom has a lot of forests.
I hear footsteps on our left. I turn to look. Three dark-haired men are coming towards us. I had been so preoccupied with thoughts of my empty stomach that I hadn’t noticed them before. They’re still far away, for now. I nudge Owen’s arm, urging him to go faster. We walk at a brisk pace. I look back. The men have definitely seen us, for they have increased their pace and continue to follow. No one is on the road. There is no one around to help us if these men prove to be dangerous.
“Don’t go so fast!” one man yells.
Owen and I start sprinting.
“Come tarry with us,” says another.
By now, all five of us are running. Because Owen cannot run as fast, the men are gaining on us. I could climb up a tree, but Owen is not a good climber. Maybe I can help him. I pull him over to a tree and heft him up. He stretches out his hand to reach the low-hanging branch. The men still rush towards us. If he can just reach it, he can climb up. I strain to lift him up higher. His fingers brush against it. He grasps it. I let go and begin climbing.
Suddenly, a tall man with bright red hair bursts out from the direction of the path and into the forest. He grabs my waist and tosses me to the ground. Then he pulls Owen’s legs, sending him down as well. The three other men have reached us. Owen springs to his feet and draws his sword.
I remain frozen. I won’t leave him, even if there’s nothing I can do. One of the men with dark hair pulls out his sword and deftly disarms Owen. All four of them laugh maniacally as Owen is shoved to the ground.
“What is to be done with these?” asks a man.
“They’re odd, sure and certain,” the red-head remarks. He grabs my arm and lifts me up, undeterred by my kicking. “What odd clothes they have.”
He sets me down and rips off one of my sleeves to inspect the material.
“Leave her alone!” Owen orders.
He tries to help me, but he’s held back.
“Have a care, Tom. We’ve caught ourselves some rich man’s litter. T’wouldn’t do to harm the merchandise.”
“You’ve caught nothing, Hans. I was the one who’s pulled them down. These are mine.”
“They’re none of ours,” Hans answered. “You know the rule. Whatever is caught goes to the lot of us. We’ll bring the two of them to Sir Eagan.”
“Or we make do what we can without him being the wiser.”
“Use your brain, Tom. He’d have our heads. ‘Sides, none of us know a wit about ransoms. We take them to Sir Eagan. He’ll know what’s to be done.”
“He’d better,” adds another, “after our horrible lot of luck last night. With that man-eating beast roaming about, how’s a man s’pposed to make a decent living around here?”
Tom pulls me forward onto the path. Another man drags Owen. There are four horses waiting. Tom must have brought them for him and his friends. Hans bends down and gets close to my face.
“I’ve not the patience for children,” Hans says, “so if either your or your little friend tries to escape, we’ll kill you. Understand? I said, ‘Do you understand?’”
I’m too proud to speak to him or even nod. Hans grunts. He puts his hand on my face and pushes me backwards. Tom laughs and yanks me up only to slap me hard across my cheek.
“Enough of that,” Hans orders.
“But you just did it.”
“Put her on the horse. Let’s go.”
They put me on the horse with Tom. The thieves tie Owen’s hands together and put him up with a man they call ‘Jack.’ They begin riding, taking us in the direction of Father’s castle. I think they’ll take us to the cave in Father’s woods. This would have been a good opportunity to see how they enter the hidden door if it weren’t for Sir Eagan. If the duke is there, he will surely recognize me and Owen. We can’t let him see us.
After some time, the men stop and pull their horses to the side of the road. We’re only a few miles from Father’s forest. Why have we stopped? They walk us over to an abandoned fire pit. They lounge around it and take out their food and drinks, not bothering to offer me or Owen anything. They eat their fill of food but continue to drink. Their speech becomes louder each time they drink from their cups. As I sit with Owen, I slowly start untying his hands. I keep the rope on but loosen the knot enough for him to be able to break free.
It will be night soon. If I transform, I can fight these men and escape. Perhaps I should have run when Owen told me to. I could have followed and then rescued him after I changed, but it’s too late to think about what I should have done.
Before it’s time for the sun to set, the thieves decide to continue their journey. They pull us back to the road. All four of them are at least a little unsteady, and Tom stumbles more than any of them. Should we try to escape now? If only darkness could come sooner. Once they take us to the cave, we may not be able to escape if all of the thieves are meeting there. I can’t fight all of them at once. We have to do this now.
I look at Owen.
“Mon cheval,” I say.
“What’s she say?” Tom slurs.
“Just get her on the horse.”
Tom sets me on the horse, nearly falling as he does it. As Tom struggles to mount, Owen runs forward. He pulls his hands free and pushes Tom out of the way. Tom falls over, and Owen jumps on to my horse, quickly positioning himself in front of me. We race away. The thieves yell out behind us.
Our horse gallops past the wooded area and to the clearing, still traveling towards Father’s forest. I hear three of the four thieves pursuing us. Before we reach the woods, two men on horseback ride out. The three men behind us yell for them to stop us. The two men ride towards us. They will be blocking our path. Owen is forced to steer the horse away from the woods. The men are far behind us, but we’re headed to the cliffs. We’ll be trapped.
But the sun is setting.
The horse whinnies and falls forward. Owen and I fall off. I look at the horse. It has been shot by an arrow. I grab Owen’s hand and we keep running. We run to some tall, wild hedge bushes nearby. I push Owen into them.
I run away as he tries to conceal himself. I get on all fours to run faster. I glance back. I thought I could outrun their horses, but all five of the thieves are going faster. They’re forcing me to the cliff, cutting off any escape routes. Why won’t the sun go down?
Before I reach the cliff, I try running alongside it, but the thieves have now surrounded me. They dismount but don’t walk towards me. I take a few steps back, but I can’t go back too far. The edge of the cliff is a mere ten feet away.
“What sort of freak is she?” asks one. “Who runs on their hands and legs?”
“Girl, where’s the lad?”
I shake my head.
“She’s not worth this trouble. I say, we kill her now.”
“Aye, I agree. No one would pay ransom for a freak the likes of her.”
One of the men puts an arrow in his bow and pulls back the string. I feel myself changing, but it won’t be soon enough. I turn around and run to the cliff. As I hear him release the string and the arrow whizzes through the air, I jump. The arrow flies past my face as I leap over the edge. As I’m falling, I grasp on to a rock with my hands. I start to lose my grip. My hands become paws. I dig into the cliff as I shake off my clothes. I sink my claws into the rocks and spring up over the edge, letting out a roar. The men yell out in horror. I pounce on them, clawing and biting each of them, flinging them about, fighting them until at last they make no sound.
The night is still. I return to the hedges and push back the shrubbery until I find Owen. He steps out.
“Where are they?” he asks.
I turn my head, motioning behind me. He runs past me, but I hastily block his path.
Owen wraps his arms around my neck and hugs me. I lean my head against him. He climbs up onto my back, and I start walking. There will be no need to hunt tonight. Though I haven’t eaten anything, it seems my fight with the thieves has satisfied my need for bloodshed.
The thought causes me to visibly shudder.
I am taking a week off. The first posting of Luna Lore Part III will be on Friday, November 2. Cheers
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