Friday, July 20, 2018

Luna Lore I - 8


Part I – 8
                What could go wrong? No one will see me, so it’s not bad if I go back. If I want to participate in social activities, I should. Aria gets to. Now I can have double good luck: I don’t have to perform in front of the duke, and I’ll get to listen to John. I’m curious to hear how people from Ogsford play. My tutor told me that people in our kingdom are better musicians, better than anyone in the world. Well, now I’ll find out if that’s true.
                I ride through the tunnel by myself. Father has at last trusted me with this task. He has the horse and the fresh kill waiting for me each night. Tonight I‘ll eat it since I’m in a rush. I don’t have time to hunt.
                I tie the horse’s reins to a post near the door. There’s a trough there full of hay for it. I pick up the key that I placed beside the trough. Grabbing the dead goat, I go outside and lock the door. Why am I locking it? I’m only going to go back in. No, I should lock it since I told Father I would. I can probably still manage to get in, though Father doesn’t think so. He thinks I become crazy after I transform. I don’t like that he thinks that, but I don’t know how to show him that he’s wrong. I don’t want him thinking of me as some wild animal.
                Tapping my foot impatiently, I wait for the sun to set. I move to stand right next to the goat. I have to eat it quickly and hurry back. I don’t want to miss hearing him play. Fortunately, Aria is playing the piano first. She likes to show off, so it may take a while for her to finish and allow someone else to have a turn.
                I feel myself grower larger as it gets darker. When the sun is gone, I devour the meat and go to unlock the door. It is difficult. I pick up the key in my mouth and try to poke it through the lock. I keep getting it at the wrong angle. I start drooling a bit, so I swallow.
                I’ve swallowed the key! It’s stuck at the back of my throat, choking me. I gag and cough. I manage to cough it out. I pick it back up, but I’m more careful when I hold it. I try jamming it in, but it won’t go. Ugh. I keep missing and ramming it into the door. I might end up knocking the door down before I unlock it. At last, it goes in. I turn it slightly. Wrong way. I turn the other way. This time, it unlocks.
                The horse stomps nervously when he sees me. I try not to startle it as I walk past. I walk a bit more and then break out into a run. I reach the end of the tunnel in no time and leap up the steps. I push open the hidden door and step into my room.
                Owen is there. I quickly step back. He’s looking around. Slowly, I start to close the door.
                “Nona?” he calls.
                He turns around. I freeze. He could see me if he looks closely enough. He could certainly notice the opening in the wall, but he turns away. When his back is to me, I shut the door completely.
                “Nona? Where are you?” he asks in a sing-song sort of way.
                I hear someone else enter the room.
                “Prince Owen, why aren’t you in your room?”
                It sounds like one of the maids, but I don’t know which one.
                “Where is Nona?” he questions.
                “She’s probably downstairs with the rest of your family.”
                “No, she was coming up here. She’s supposed to be in her room.”
                “Why don’t you go back to bed, and I’ll find her?”
                Owen must have agreed. He follows her out of the room. Should I even bother to go out now? It will be alright, I’m sure. Owen will be in his room, so he won’t see me. I go into my room. Scratching at the handle, I’m able to turn it and open the door.
                I go to the main staircase and leap up to the rafters. I can hear the music. That must be John playing because I don’t recognize the song. He does play well, but I’m not paying close attention. I’m too worried now about being spotted, which is ridiculous. No one will look for me up here. I feel guilty for coming. Maybe I shouldn’t be taking such unnecessary risks.
                Nevertheless, I wait until he’s done playing before I leave. I jump down, but before I can get back to my room, I hear someone going up the steps. I jump back up to the rafters. Mother and Aria are coming. They go up the steps and walk right under me. My tail droops down. I quickly pull it back up.
                I can’t go back yet. It sounds like everyone is going up to bed. I see the rest of my siblings walk by, then John, then his father. There’s still my father. I wait for him to come up. He doesn’t for a while. Each time I’m about to give up and jump down, I think I hear him coming. After waiting uncomfortably for over an hour, he walks up and goes to his room. I hope that’s it. I stay and wait for several more minutes. No one else seems to be moving about. I jump down.
                A door swings open. I leap back up. Who is it now? I peer down to see the Duke of Ogsford exit. He’s wearing a green cape. He pulls the hood over his head, so now I can’t see his face. He creeps down the steps. Maybe he’s going for a night stroll. Is that what people in Ogsford do? I can’t risk finding out.
                This time when I jump down, no one else walks up the steps or out their door. I sneak to my room and go back through the tunnel. It wasn’t worth sneaking back there. I’m not going to do that again.
                I guess I’ll go back to the path. I haven’t been there in a while because if I see someone being attacked, I’ll have to help them. I don’t want to do that because then the people might attack me. It’s a cowardly thought to have. It’s time to put my fears to rest and return.
                There’s no one there now. I climb a tree and rest on one of the branches. As I relax and start to fall asleep, I hear some people talking, but I don’t see them. Their voices are coming from farther down the path. I leap from branch to branch, staying up in the trees while I approach. A group of men stand in the woods beside the path. Five of the men are strangers to me. The sixth man has his face hidden by a green hood. I get closer until I can hear.
                I can’t make out all of their words, but I’m not getting any closer. I don’t want to be seen. For some reason, these men seem to be dangerous. I’ve never seen good men meet secretly in the woods. I lean forward to catch as much of their whispers as I can. They talk about deliveries. They have to change their routes due to thieves. I hear Father’s name mentioned. This worries me, but they don’t sound as though they’re plotting to kill him. They’re too concerned about thieves, deliveries, and payments.
They also want to remove a potential threat. At first, I think they’re talking about Father, but then they mention me. They don’t say my name, but they say “beast” and “monster.” They say the matter may already be resolved since they haven’t seen the beast lately.
They must think I’m the threat. They don’t realize that I want to help people, not attack them. The man in the green cloak, who must be the duke, mounts his horse and heads back to the castle. The men stay in the woods. They spread out a little, so now I’m stuck up here in the tree. I don’t want them to see me if they think I’m dangerous. I can’t move until they leave.
I see three peddlers traveling down the road. Doesn’t anyone sleep at night anymore? I rest my head on my paws and close my eyes. The sound of the rumbling cart is lulling. I’d better not fall asleep. There’s movement below me. The sound of the cart stops. I open my eyes. The men from the woods have stopped the peddlers. The five men have their swords drawn.
Okay, so my first impression of them was correct: they’re thieves. That means the duke is working with the thieves. Before they can steal anything, I spring out of the tree. I land on the road and emit a low growl. One of the thieves approaches me, but I don’t back down. He swings his sword. I swat his hand, causing him to drop his weapon. As he runs away, two other thieves come at me. I jump over top of them. I turn around and smack them. Some of my claws dig into one of their backs. I wince a little. I hadn’t meant to do that, but he’ll be fine.
The thieves run off into the forest. The peddlers tremble but don’t move toward me. I look at them and give a slight bow, as if to show that I’m on their side. I’d curtsy, but that would look silly. I climb back up into the trees. The peddlers keep moving, and the rest of the night passes by without any more incidents.
I return to my room and get dressed. I think about the duke and what I know or don’t know. It doesn’t make much sense. The duke and his son were the ones who were attacked. Why would he be working with his attackers? Does he not know they attacked him, or has he recently decided to put aside their past encounter and work with them? Are they even the same thieves as before? I can’t tell. They all kind of look alike to me.
After breakfast, Aria and I are obliged to stroll in the garden with John. Father and Mother say we’re happy to do so. The three of us wander around until Aria declares that she is cold. I don’t know how she can be. It’s warm out, and I can clearly see her flushed face. John must notice it too, but he’s too nice to point it out. He offers to return inside.
“Oh, no, don’t bother on my account. I’ll get a wrap.”
I can’t believe she’s really planning to leave me with him. Actually, I can.
“Ask one of the servants to fetch it,” I tell her.
“They don’t know which one I want.”
She rushes off before I can argue further. I thought she said princesses weren’t supposed to run. Now I’m stuck with John. We stand, saying nothing. We weren’t talking before, but it had seemed less awkward when there were three of us.
“How are you?” he politely inquires.
I’m not attempting small talk. Let’s get to the point.
“I’m not getting married. I’m sure you’re nice. I don’t hold any grudge or bias against you, but I’m not marrying anyone.”
He pauses and then replies, “Okay.”
Perhaps that was too much. I should have eased into it.
“I don’t want to marry, either. We could be friends,” he suggests.
“Yes, let’s do that.”
We sit down at a bench.
“Since we’re friends, we can talk about things,” he says.
“Yes.”
I don’t know where he’s going with this, but he’s definitely going somewhere.
“What do you know about the beast in the forest?”
He gets right to the point too.
“Father says there is no beast.”
“I know, but there must be rumors.”
“What rumors have you heard?” I inquire.
“Not many. You must have heard some.”
“Hmm, I don’t think so.”
“How dangerous is the beast?”
“If he exists, he’s probably not very dangerous at all. Otherwise, we would have heard a report about an attack.”
“I heard there was an attack.”
“Really? Who was attacked?”
He hesitates before answering, “I don’t know.”
His father must have told him not to mention their incident in the woods.
“Now that I think about it, I did hear something,” I hedge.
“What did you hear?”
“I heard about a big cat who only attacks bad people because he’s trying to help.”
“Cats don’t attack only bad people.”
“This one does, so if you’re not doing anything wrong, you don’t have to worry.”
“Or maybe the cat is working with the bad people.”
“No, you can’t control a cat like that.”
“It’s an animal. You can train animals. Do you know if your father has seen the cat?”
“Why do you ask about my father?” I question.
Again, he hesitates. There is something noteworthy in the way he thinks before he talks. I should try that sometime.
“I’ll tell you a secret, but you can’t tell on me. You can’t tell your father.”
At last, he’ll admit he was in the woods.
“I won’t.”
“You see, my father says that your father, the king, is able to control the cat.”
“What?”
“Yes, he says the king uses the cat to attack his enemies.”
“No, that’s not possible. That’s crazy.”
“But you won’t tell the king I said that. You mustn’t”
“I won’t, but it’s not true. Besides, I heard a rumor about your father.”
“What rumor is that?”
“You won’t tell on me either, will you?”
“Never.”
“I heard that your father has been in league with thieves.”
He leans back in his seat.
“I don’t know if that’s true. I know my father is into some activities that may not be lawful.”
“What activities?”
“Smuggling mostly. I don’t know what else he does. My father and yours might be more similar than either of us would like. My father says that the king is involved with thieves, and that he might be using them as well as the cat.”
“But the thieves mainly attack people in the forest, and Father forbids people from going into the forest.”
“So there are people in the forest?”
“No, they’re not allowed.”
“But you just said that the thieves are in the forest.”
Oops. I shouldn’t have admitted to that, but he already knew that anyway.
“There have been some rumors about it.”
“Despite my father’s cordiality, he dislikes your father. I think the feeling is mutual. I believe that they are working against each other.”
“Then why arrange a marriage alliance?”
“I don’t know.”
There’s not much either of us know, and if we do know something, we’re not willing to make any further admission. I suggest to John that we play a game. He confesses that he doesn’t know many games for only two people. That’s alright. I know where I can find some people to join us. Not Aria. I don’t think she’ll be coming back any time soon. I don’t want to play with her anyway. We find Cat and Lily.
At first, they’re hesitant, and they don’t put in as much effort as they could. As we run around a bit more, they become more relaxed. There’s nothing more relaxing or freeing than running outside in the sun.


               

Friday, July 13, 2018

Luna Lore I - 7


Part I – 7
                Today, I’ll be meeting my future husband.
                Mother thinks so anyway. It’s what she’s been telling me for the past several days. I hope it’s not true. Mother’s been saying the same thing to Aria, so she shares my suffering. The Duke of Ogsford is coming today, and he’s bringing his only son John, the future duke and heir. He’s twelve, and Aria’s twelve. I’m only eleven, so I secretly hope he’ll be more interested in Aria than in me.
                That’s kind of mean though because Aria’s dreading this as much as I am. The reason I know this is because she’s been giving me all sorts of compliments lately. She’s been telling me how I’d be much more suitable for the duke’s son. She’s been praising me in front of Mother too. I can’t give out fake compliments, so I’ve been doing the only thing I know to try to deflect attention: I’ve been acting like a disgusting, unruly dimwit. I don’t know if it actually will work. I’ve been getting reprimands from my tutors, especially Genevieve, but Mother hasn’t reprimanded me. She only smiles and encourages me to do better. I don’t know if she’s onto my scheme or if she’s just too nervous about the situation to confront me about my behavior.
                What really frustrates me is the fact that I’m only a child. Everyone still treats me like a child. The other day, I asked Amelia where Ogsford is. Shouldn’t I know where it is if I might marry someone from there? Amelia said it wasn’t in our kingdom, but that it’s in a neighboring allied kingdom. I asked her which one, and she said that it didn’t matter and I’ll figure it out when I’m older.
                Though, it is possible that she didn’t know the answer. She could have been too embarrassed to admit it. She tries to hide it, but she’s not good at geography or at reading maps.
                “You look very pretty in that dress, Noreen,” Aria croons. “You look so grown up.”
                I know I do, but I don’t need her pointing that out.
                “Stop it,” I mutter under my breath. I can’t say it loudly or Father will hear me.
                Father and Declan are standing in front of us in the throne room. All the rest of us kids are off to the side, lined up beside Mother. There’s Mother, Amelia, Aria, me, and Owen, all in order of height, or age. Well, not exactly by age because the youngest one still isn’t born yet. Mother’s stomach is getting bigger, so it will be soon. She told me that the baby will be born next month, but I don’t know how she can get any bigger. I didn’t know babies needed that much room.
                It’s hard not to fidget as we all stand there waiting. I know it’s not a cloudy day, but I feel like scratching my arms anyway, out of nervous habit or boredom. I look at Mother, but she keeps staring straight ahead. Aria beams politely at me. I stick out my tongue, glance at Father to make sure he didn’t see, and go back to staring at a loose stone in the wall. I wonder how hard I’d have to kick it before it crumbled completely.
                Trumpets are playing, announcing their arrival. I’m glad they’re finally here so I don’t have to keep standing here, but I wish they weren’t here at all. I stand up straight as the duke and his son enter. The son’s hair is not as dark as mine. Mine is black, and his is a dark brown. That’s too bad. I was hoping he would have blonde hair. If he did, he’d probably want to marry someone who had blonde hair too. Hopefully he still will.
                Father and the duke do the boring chit-chat while the rest of us wait. We have to stare at them while they talk. It’s rude to look disinterested. Then Father introduces Declan, then Mother. The duke congratulates my parents on their future child. The duke’s son politely echoes the sentiments. Then Father introduces us. Amelia curtsies. Aria curtsies. I curtsy. Owen curtsies.
                “No, bow,” I whisper.
                Owen quickly changes to the correct stance. The duke laughs and jokes about Owen needing more instruction. Father smiles, but I can tell he’s not happy with my brother.
                “You have very lovely daughters,” the duke compliments my Father. “The youngest two are very charming, aren’t they, John?”
                John nods and replies, “Very charming, indeed.”
                I’ll have to prove that I’m not charming, but do it without getting into trouble with Father. I look at John to see if he’s looking more at Aria or me. He’s staring at his father. I study him a bit more closely. I think he’s been to visit us before. It must have been a long time ago because I don’t remember hearing his name or hearing of Ogsford, but his face does look familiar. He has a nice face, but I’m not marrying him.
                The duke and John are shown to their rooms, so Aria and I are safe until dinner. I’m free to do other things, but I am limited. I can’t go outside because the wind will supposedly mess up my hair. I can’t lie or sit on the floor of my room because that apparently wrinkles my dress. There’s really not much I can do. I certainly can’t play, but I try to find Cat and Lily anyway.
                I see them outside walking past the garden. I open the window and wave them over.
                “Hi, how is it?” Cat asks. She rests her arms on the outside window sill.
                “Well, part of it’s over with, but they’ll be staying here for a while.”
                “How long?”
                “I don’t know. They didn’t bother to tell me. I’m too young and unimportant to know these things, but I’m old enough for them to start planning a wedding.”
                “I like weddings,” Lily chimes in.
                “Then you can invite me to yours,” I banter back.
                “At least you don’t have to do any lessons while they’re here,” Cat says.
                “That’s true. My only task it seems,” I lower my voice, “is to woo him.”
                Cat and Lily laugh. I grin, unashamed of my clever little joke.
                “Will you charm him?” Cat giggles.
                “He will be dazzled by my charm.”
                “And you’ll be proper?” Cat continues.
                “He’ll be brought to tears by my perfect propriety.”
                “And you’ll show off your beauty?”
                “Never before will he have gazed upon such beauty as mine. When he happens to glance my way, I shall offer him a demure smile, but then ever so slightly turn my wrist.” I demonstrate. “Like this, coyly displaying its slimness and the unblemished complexion of my skin.”
                Lily falls on the ground but continues laughing.
                “But just as quickly as you show him,” Cat remarks, “you must hasten to conceal it.”
                “Exactly so, for I would not dream of being so forward.”
                “And you must blush, so that a slight pink kisses your cheeks, but you must not blush so much as to detract from the color of your dazzling blue eyes.”
                “Which will be staring wistfully into his handsome brown ones.”
                “Stop!” Lily begs.
                At her plea, I can’t contain myself anymore. I start laughing so hard that I snort, which only makes the two sisters laugh even more.
                I see Amelia strolling down the hall. I tell them that I have to go. I wave and close the window.
                “Who were you talking to?” Amelia asks.
                “No one.” I shrug.
                She peers out the window.
                “You know, you shouldn’t be cavorting with servants.”
                “Then who shall I cavort with?” I pertinently ask. I start walking away.
                “Noreen.”
                “My name is Nona,” I remind her.
                “Your name is Noreen.”
                “I like being called Nona.”
                “Noreen, stop.” She steps in front of me. “Lately, you’ve been acting very immature.”
                “That’s only because I don’t want to get married,” I confess.
                “It doesn’t matter. You need to start trying to behave.”
                “But it’s not fair. You’re fourteen, and they’re not making you meet boys.”
                “You think they haven’t talked to me about marriage? It’s true I haven’t been introduced to anyone yet, but I know Father has made plans for me. He has a few people in mind.”
                “Who?”
                “That’s none of your business.”
                “I’m . . . I’m sorry. I didn’t know you were going through this too.”
                “Don’t be sorry for me. It’s something we all have to do. You have to start being more responsible. You’re a princess, Noreen. It’s time for you to act according to your position . . . and your age.”
                She struts away. I don’t agree with her. I’m not getting married. Mother might have a baby boy, and then I’ll still have the curse. If I do, the right and noble thing for me to do is to not get married, not have children, and not pass on the curse.
                What Amelia said does sting though. I feel embarrassed. I really should be acting more grown up. I just wish I didn’t have to act that way in front of the duke. I don’t’ want him seeing me as a grown up.
                I go to my room and stare into the mirror. I try to copy some of Mother’s and Amelia’s mannerisms. They move very gracefully. They keep their heads up and level, but they have their eyes lowered sometimes. I think I got the basics of it. It’s easy once I try. I leave my room and enter Owen’s. I read to him until it’s time for dinner.
                We’re all eating together. We rarely do that. It’s only done when we have important guests. When I’m a grown up, I would still rather eat with kids. The adults make everything stuffy. I’m nervous about messing up. I know I just practiced how to behave, but I realize now that it’s a lot easier to do in front of a mirror. I regret not practicing more. It’s too late now.
                I take a seat at the end of a table. John is told to sit between me and Aria. This annoys me. I know it’s not his fault, but I was hoping to sit by Owen. Now he’s stuck with Declan. Declan’s fine, but he’s been acting more like an adult lately and not in a good way.
                Father and the duke start talking. Children are allowed to talk to each other as long as we’re quiet and don’t disturb the adults.
                “How do you find your accommodations?” Aria whispers to John.
                “I find them to be very suitable. Thank you,” he whispers back.
                I overhear the duke ask, “How old did you say your two youngest daughters were?”
                Father answers, “Princess Aria is twelve. Princess Noreen is eleven.”
                Good. Now the duke knows that Aria and John are the same age. He might pick Aria instead. Do I really want to wish that on her? I glance at her. She grins at me in a polite but definitely smug way.
                Maybe I do.
                “Noreen was hoping you would be comfortable here,” Aria tells him.
                “I was – “ I was going to say “not,” but that would be rude. That would be immature.
                “ – only sharing Aria’s sentiments,” I finish. Two can play this game, Aria.
                “Yes, the room is very nice,” he answers.
                “What do you think of the gardens?”
                “Aria, maybe we should let him eat first. He’s been traveling all day and all afternoon.”
                “Of course, Noreen, you are right. You are always so considerate. Isn’t she considerate?”
                “Yes, very much so.”
                Ugh. It’s as though I played right into her hand. I couldn’t stop myself since John seems so uneasy. He looks at us when we talk or when he has to talk. Otherwise, he looks down at his plate or at his father. He might be as uncomfortable as I am. I hadn’t thought of his feelings before. I was too busy worrying about my own discomfort.
                As the three of us cut our meat, John’s hand slips. The knife bangs against the plate and rakes across it, emitting a loud scratching noise. He freezes and holds his breath. Everyone turns their head in our direction. It was a minor mistake on John’s part, but he appears horrified. I can understand that. I know how fathers can be. Well, I know how my father can be. John keeps his head down. I feel sorry for him. I at least have my siblings here. He’s alone and out of place. I clear my throat.
                “Please excuse me,” I apologize.
                Father frowns. Mother sends me a worried look. Amelia shakes her head at me. Aria just looks confused. She must know that it was John who made that loud sound. Everyone resumes their meal, however, and I go back to mine. As much as I dislike being the center of the adult’s attention, it’s possible that my supposed mishap will give the duke the idea that I lack the decorum to be his son’s wife.
                John is still frozen in place. I gently nudge him with my elbow. He blinks out of his haze and cuts the meat, more carefully this time.
                “I have heard about your magnificent grounds and forest,” the duke proclaims. “Do you have trouble with poachers?”
                “Not at all. No one is permitted to enter my forest.”
                Except people do. Father either doesn’t know or won’t admit it. I’m not sure which one.
                “The village people can be quite amusing at times,” says the duke. “The ones in our kingdom conjure wild stories about dragons living in the mountains.”
                “Idle minds create useless prattle.”
                “Indeed they do. It seems that this useless prattle has unfortunately infected your kingdom as well.”
                “I think not.”
                “There are rumors of a beast that dwells in your forest. The beast is half-cat, half-demon, and only comes out at night when the moon is full. Such wild tales, indeed!”
                Not all he says is true, but it’s close enough to the truth to be dangerous. I can’t take my eyes off of the duke as he talks.
                “Villagers think up such nonsense,” Father dismisses the claims.
                The duke nods but seems dissatisfied with that answer. He bends his head and continues cutting his food. I look at Mother to see how she’s taking this.
                Wait. What was that? I look back at the duke’s hand. He’s wearing several rings, but one in particular has my attention. It’s big and red and has some sort of unusual crest. I’ve seen that ring before. I study the duke’s face. I’ve seen him before. Yes, I saw him in the woods! I remember! I know why John seemed so familiar. They were the ones who were traveling through the woods so many months ago. They were attacked, and then they tried to fight me.
                They’ve seen me. They’ve seen me as the cat. Do they know? Is that why they’re here? They’ve come to find me.
                “Still the rumors can be unsettling,” the duke remarks.
                He raises his head. He looks at me and smiles .He knows. He knows it was me.
                “They are only unsettling if one believes them. Do you believe such foolish tales? You haven’t perchance stumbled across such a beast, have you?” Father asks.
                The duke laughs. He’s going to expose me. I glance at Mother. What do I do? She’s staring down. She needs to tell me what to do.
                “Certainly not. I would never believe anything so absurd.”
                What? He’s not going to say it’s me? Is he trying to help me? No, that doesn’t make sense. He would have no reason to help me. In fact, he has no reason to suspect me at all. It’s all in my head. I hope.
                I’m surprised I didn’t recognize the duke earlier. I guess he looks different in finer clothes. I have to look up at him as well. When I was a cat, we were almost at eye level. I’m definitely a lot taller and bigger as a cat than as a girl.
                I wonder why he doesn’t say that he saw the cat. It could be that he’s afraid no one would believe him. He also said that the rumors were about a cat that lived in Father’s forest. If he admitted to seeing me, he would be admitting that he was trespassing. What was he doing there anyway? It’s all very suspicious.
                John leans over and whispers, “Thank you for helping.”
                “Helping? I – what do you mean?”
                He points to his knife.
                “You took the blame for my blunder.”
                “Oh, that. It was nothing. We all make mistakes.”
                “I wish I could make mistakes only when no one was around to see them.”
                “Amelia, my sister, says that we can’t choose when we make mistakes, only how we learn from them.”
                “That’s very good advice.”
                “It’s good advice only if you remember to do it. I’m often too forgetful.”
                I don’t know if I’m admitting this to make him feel more comfortable or because I’m trying to give him a bad impression of me.
                “You can try to remember for next time,” he says.
                “But how can I remember to try to remember if I keep forgetting?”
                “I know how.”
                “How?”
                “I’d tell you,” he smiles, “but you’d only forget.”
                He’s got me there. I finish my meal. John might not be such a bad kid after all.
                After the meal, Father directs us all to the music room. He explains to the duke that all of his daughters can play the piano. Yes, I’m ready for this. This is something I know I can do. I’ve been practicing a lot. However, Mother intervenes and reminds Father that it is almost time for me and Owen to go to bed. I’m disappointed, but I’m glad she remembered to watch the time.
                “That’s too bad,” the duke replies. “Tomorrow then, Princess Noreen?”
                “She’ll play tomorrow,” Father answers for me.
                “My son can play the piano as well. Since Princess Aria can stay up later, would she like to hear him perform? After we hear her play, of course.”
                “I would be delighted,” Aria says.
                Father doesn’t’ seem cross that she spoke up. Why is she able to answer and not me? Just because I become a cat at night doesn’t mean I can’t act properly during the day.
                Now I’m doubly disappointed. I want to hear John play. I have a feeling we could be friends. I want to stay to listen to him because that’s what a friend would do, but I can’t. I have to go out into the woods. I have to transform.
                But what if afterwards, I sneak back?
               
               

Friday, July 6, 2018

Luna Lore I - 6


Part I – 6

                “You’re going to have a baby girl?”
                Mother smiles. I jump off the bed and stare at her.
                “You’re going to have a baby girl?”
                “Yes,” she laughs.
                No, this can’t be happening. I switched the seeds. She didn’t eat the magic ones. I start pacing frantically. I don’t know what to say to her. I can’t ask her any questions without revealing that I know about the witch.
                “Aren’t you happy, Noreen? Won’t this be exciting?”
                I’m not happy. I went through a lot of trouble to make sure this wouldn’t happen. I don’t want to pass on the curse. It wouldn’t be right. I can’t do that to Jane. Poor little Jane.
                “It’s a lot to take in, isn’t it?” she remarks.
                Mother still smiles at me. She smiles as if she doesn’t know the full consequences of this, but she does know. How could she do this? What kind of mother would want to pass on the curse to her baby? I’m so angry with her. I turn away to hide my face. I don’t want to look at her. Tears are beginning to form in my eyes, so I blink them away. I can’t believe all of my effort was for nothing.
                I hear Mother stand up and walk toward me. She touches my arm, but I jerk it away.
                “What’s the matter? Aren’t you happy?”
                “No,” I cry. “I don’t want a little sister.”
                “I know.”
                No, she doesn’t.
                “It will be alright, though,” she soothes. “You’ll get used to it. You already are a big sister to Owen.”
                She doesn’t understand. She doesn’t realize that I know all about the secret. I know what a terrible mother she is. I still can’t believe it. Switching the seeds didn’t stop Mother from having a child. It only stopped the guarantee that the child would be a girl.
                Wait a minute. I lift my head up. That’s true. There’s no guarantee that the baby will be a girl. The baby could be a boy. I turn around.
                “How do you know you’ll have a girl?”
                She sits back down and holds her hand on her stomach again.
                “I know she’ll be a girl. Sometimes, mothers can tell.”
                That’s not true. Well, I’m pretty sure it’s not. She only thinks that because of the magic seeds. She doesn’t know I switched them. Does she? Oh, I remember now that I had woken her up that night. She had looked right at me, but then she had lain back down and went back to sleep. My fur blended into the night background. It was too dark – except there was a full moon. Now that I think about it, it wasn’t very dark at all, but she couldn’t have seen me. She would have said something. I would have gotten in trouble for sure.
                She would have gotten more seeds if she realized I had switched them. I wish there was a way to find out if she ate the ordinary poppy seeds or if she went back to the witch and got more magic ones. Maybe I need to find a way to talk to the witch.
                “I know you’ll be excited once she’s born.”
                She stands up and gives me a little hug. I don’t try to move away this time. There’s still hope for my sibling.
                “I’ll send Lucy in to help you get dressed. It’s sunny out. You’ll be able to join the parade. I know you didn’t go the last several years, so it will be good for you to go this time. We don’t want people forgetting who you are.”
                “Will I be riding in the carriage with you?”
                If she says yes, I’ll come up with an excuse to stay here. I don’t want to sit next to her. I’m still very mad at her.
                “No, I won’t be joining you. I’ll be staying in the castle more often now that I’m expecting a child. I have to be very careful. You’ll ride with Amelia and Aria.”
                “What about Declan and Owen?”
                “Declan will be on a horse. He’ll be near the front with your father. Owen can’t come today. He’s sick.”
                “What’s wrong with him?”
                “He’s not feeling well.”
                “Why didn’t you get a physician?”
                “The physician has already seen him.”
                “What did he say?”
                “The physician says that he’s fine. It’s nothing to worry about.”
                She wouldn’t say that if Owen was a girl. She only cares about having healthy girls. I need to look after Owen.
                “I’ll stay with him today.”
                “No, you’re going to the parade.”
                “I need to stay with Owen.”
                “Noreen, are you being difficult? Do I have to get your father to talk to you?”
                I shake my head. There’s no need to go that far. After she leaves my room, I stomp over to my bed. I pick up the pillow and slam it down on the floor.  I should have insisted I stayed with him. I should have said something, but I was too afraid of making Father angry. I can’t be afraid to do the right thing. I hope Mother’s isn’t lying about Owen.
                I leave my room and go into his. He’s still sleeping, and I don’t want to wake him. I step close and stare at him. He looks okay. I touch his forehead. He’s warm, but then again, he is under a lot of blankets. I push one of them off of him so he won’t be so hot. His breathing seems steady, and he’s not coughing. Perhaps this one time, Mother was telling me the truth.
                I go back to my room. Lucy helps me get ready. She tries to talk about little things. That’s really nice of her to try to cheer me up, but I’m too busy thinking about important stuff. If Mother has a girl, I’m going to help my sister. I’ll let her know about the curse. I can sneak out with her in the woods at night so she won’t have to be alone. Then, I can help her learn how to hunt and how to control herself after she transforms. If she gets into any embarrassing situations, I would cover for her and protect her secret.
                If the baby’s a boy, I don’t have to worry. I’ll still be a cat. I’m going to stay a cat too. I’m not going to be like my mother. I’m not giving the curse to my children. I won’t have any children. That’s fine by me. I don’t even want to get married. It’s good to know that I’ll be able to stop the curse from being passed on. Thinking about all of these responsible things I’ll be doing makes me feel like I’m an adult, but it’s a good feeling to be so grown up.
                I go down and wait at the door. The parade is about to start, so the carriage stops at the steps in the courtyard. It’s one of the pretty carriages with gold on the outside. I rush inside and sit down. I probably look like a proper princess. When people see me, they’ll know that I’m a kind and noble person. They’ll be proud to have me as their princess.
                “I want to sit by the window,” Aria complains to me.
                “You are by the window. There’s a window on each side,” I point out.
                “I need to be on that side. I was over there last year. You’ll be blocking my view.”
                “No, I was here first.”
                “That’s only because you ran to the carriage. Princesses aren’t supposed to run.”
                “Yes, they can.”
                “No, they can’t. Real princesses don’t run.”
                “Well, I’m a real princess, and I run.”
                “It’s not appropriate to run. That’s what Genevieve says.”
                “What would she know about being a princess? She’s not even a baroness.”
                “Give me that seat!”
                “Enough bickering,” Amelia scolds as she enters. She sits down opposite us.
                “She won’t give me that seat.”
                “Then you should have gotten there first,” says Amelia.
                “But she was running.”
                “Aria, I don’t care.”
                The carriage starts moving, so I stick my head out the window. I can’t help but smile as the air brushes against my face. It’s not as fun as riding a horse, but riding in a carriage is more regal.
                “Don’t stick your head out.”
                I ignore Aria.
                “Noreen, keep your head inside,” Amelia instructs me.
                I’ll listen to her. She’s a few years older than I am, so she knows how to behave properly.
                “I like to be called ‘Nona,’” I tell her.
                “That’s a silly name,” Aria mocks.
                “Don’t start,” Amelia warns her.
                “Noreen’s bothering me. Let me sit on your side.”
                “No, then you’ll be bothering me.”
                “I will not.”
                “If you sit on that side, you’ll be going backwards,” I remark. “Would it be proper for a princess to be traveling backwards?”
                Aria sulks, defeated. I glance at Amelia, and she smiles. I hear a crowd of people outside. I lean out the window before I remember my manners. I look at Amelia and sit back in my seat. As we drive by the people, I smile and wave enthusiastically.
                “No, like this, Noreen,” Amelia corrects me.
                I try to copy her more refined waving.
                “You’re still doing it wrong,” says Aria. “You have to do it like this.”
                Aria’s wave looks ridiculous and snobby. I’m copying Amelia.
                “I hope it doesn’t rain like it did last year,” Aria comments.
                Amelia assures her, “It won’t rain.”
                In spite of Aria’s constant critiques, I start to enjoy myself. It’s nice to get out of the castle, and I like seeing what commoners look like. I guess they don’t look very different from nobility aside from their clothing. They’re a little dirtier perhaps, but they definitely seem more relaxed than we are. I don’t know why.
                Above the noise of the crowd, I hear a dreadful sound: the sound of thunder. I ignore Amelia’s earlier admonition and stick my head out the window. I gaze up at the darkening sky. My arms itch, so they must be getting hairier. It’s funny I didn’t notice it before. I must have been too distracted to perceive any discomfort.
                “Are we turning back now?” I ask Amelia.
                “No, we can go on until it starts raining.”
                “Won’t everyone get wet?”
                “We have a roof, silly,” chides Aria.
                “I meant them.”
                “They can go inside their houses,” Amelia informs me. “A little water won’t hurt. They’ll be fine as long as there are no lightning strikes.”
                “You said it wouldn’t rain,” reminds Aria.
                “Well, it might.”
                “I was right, and you were wrong.”
                She’s so annoying.
                “Eww, you’re drooling.”
                Aria points at me. I wipe my hand over my chin.
                “Sorry.”
                “That’s disgusting, Noreen. Why are you drooling?”
                I don’t know why. It’s harder to close my mouth. I think my teeth have gotten bigger. I touch my lips to feel them. Fangs are starting to form. It’s going to be a bad storm. I lean all the way back in my seat. The only thing I can do is hide it until we return to the castle. Then I can wait out the storm in my room.
                “Nona! Nona!”
                I sit up and look back out the window. Cat and Lily are standing with Lucy, waving at me. I grin, but not wide enough to show any teeth, and wave back.
                A lightning bolt strikes near the carriage, and the horses start freaking out. The carriage jolts the three of us out of our seats. I hear yelling outside. I peer out. Some of the knights’ horses have started running through the crowds. The knights try to control them, but another bolt of lightning sends them panicking again.
                Heavy rain starts pouring down. Everyone’s going to get soaked. I look back at Cat and Lily. They’re not there anymore. Good, they’ve gone inside. Then I see Lily. Why isn’t she with her mother? Did she get lost in all the commotion? I try to find Cat and Lucy for her, but I don’t see them. I have to help her. She’s starting to seem frantic. She starts wandering away, but she’s headed toward one of the horses.
                “Lily, be careful!” I yell.
                She can’t hear me over the rain. The horse rears and throws the knight off. The horse kicks with his back legs, nearly hitting Lily. She screams and runs away. The scream startles the horse, and he gallops away from her. Another knight reaches out to grab the reins, but the horse turns around and head back towards Lily. He’s going at full speed. He can’t stop even if he wants to. She’s running, but he’ll soon catch up to her. He has to turn. He has to turn.
                I burst out of the carriage and run toward her. I don’t think I can get to her in time. The rain and the wind slow me down. I’m nearly to her, but so is the horse. I bend down and run on my arms and legs. I jump out and grab her, but it’s too late. The horse reaches us. I pull Lily down and lay on top of her. I hear the horse leap over us. He doesn’t make it all the way. His back hoof hits me in the middle of my back. It hardly feels like anything. I think being part cat-creature may have saved my life.
                I help Lily up and we run to the other side of the road, away from the horses.
                “Are you okay?” I ask.
                “Yes.” She stares at me strangely. “Are you?”
                “I’m fine, just a bit winded.”
                “Did the horse step on you? Oh! He did!”
                “How can you tell?”
                “There’s a muddy hoof print on your back. Doesn’t it hurt?”
                I don’t want to lie to her, but I also don’t want her to worry.
                “No, it doesn’t hurt. He didn’t step on me very hard.”
                “Maybe you’re in shock.”
                “Maybe. Are you really okay, Lily?”
                She nods her head. I get a glimpse of my exposed right arm. I quickly pull down the sleeve.
                “Do you know where my mother is? Or Cat?”
                “Don’t worry. I’ll help you find them.”
                I see a horse approaching us. It’s Father. He guides the horse calmly up to us.
                “Noreen, get back in the carriage.”
                I step forward but stop. I told Lily I would help her, and I can’t leave her alone.
                “Can she wait in the carriage with us?”
                “No.”
                “Then I – I have to help her find her mother first.”
                “Noreen, don’t make me say it again.”
                I shake my head.
                “I can’t. I told her I would help.”
                “You can go,” Lily whispers. She must know it would be bad if I disobeyed Father.
                Father gets off his horse. I back away.
                “Please, I just want to help her first. She’s lost.”
                He picks me up and hefts me under his arm.
                “But she’s lost!”
                I stare helplessly back at Lily. Father carries me to the carriage, opens the door, and places me inside. He slams the door shut and walks away without saying anything, but I know he’ll have much to say when we get back to the castle.
                “Noreen, you shouldn’t have run out,” Amelia scolds me.
                I have to check on Lily. I reach for the door, but Amelia holds it closed.
                “Don’t. You’re already in enough trouble. If you jump out again, Father will bring you back and then stay inside with us. Do you want that?”
                “No.”
                The carriage turns around and starts pulling away. I turn and put my knees on the seat to look out the back window. I see her now. She still alone, still lost.
                “Turn around. Amelia, tell her to turn around.”
                “Leave her be.”
                The carriage turns a corner. My view will be blocked by a house. I lean far out the window, causing Amelia some concern.
                “Noreen, be careful. You’ll fall out. Sit back in your seat.”
                There, I see Lucy. Cat’s with her, and they’re running towards Lily. They must have spotted her. I lean back inside the carriage.
                I’m nervous as we get closer to the castle. I defied Father today. I’m definitely going to get in trouble for that. It didn’t matter anyway. I still couldn’t help Lily. It was all for nothing, but it was still something. I think the point is that I tried. To me, that makes all the difference.

               
               

Luna Lore I - 8

Part I – 8                 What could go wrong? No one will see me, so it’s not bad if I go back. If I want to participate in social a...