Hala struggled up the mountain step by painful step, hunching her shoulders against the cold, but she would not give up. The Cursed Wisewoman’s advice was her last hope; if she could not find her, she might as well die here.
Sharp edges cut her fingers when she had to climb a steep outcrop.. Icy wind spooled her breath from her lungs - but the sight when she crested the obstacle took it away entirely. An old oak tree, more trunk than branches, huddled in the lee of a boulder. An old, lined face formed of craggy bark was too clearly visible to be a trick of the light.
When Hala approached the Wisewoman of legend, a creak announced the opening of her eyes. Yellow-brown and baleful they regarded the human woman.
Hala swallowed and took a few deep breaths, gathering thin air in her lungs. “Honoured Wisdom, I request your help.”
“Yeeeers, of course you do. And what do you have for me?”
“I…” This wasn’t how it was supposed to go. And the Wisewoman shouldn’t sound so petulant.
“Oh, girl, even a tree needs to live. I’m sure what you’re going to ask about is important, but I’m not gonna tell you a thing if you don’t bring me at least a bucket of dung.”
“And lug it up here?” Indignation was burning away Hala’s confusion.
“You have limbs that move, so stop complaining. Not a word.” The slash in the bark that was her mouth closed and fused, as did her eyes. Her entire face seemed to retract deeper into the tree, turning from a marvel to a bit of chance.
Going numb inside, Hala turned around. Dung. So much for legends.
Kondarans! Arrogant, lazy... Mirab was an example of the type, being put out at the thought of having to learn a new language - it had never crossed her mind anyone would not speak her own. Teaching it had fallen on Daaren, and he was not about to complain about it, given that he had been another one of the strays the local keep was in a habit of taking in. The girl’s attitude grated on his nerves, anyway.
Mirab’s companion, Firo, seemed an exception from the rule, modest and diligent, and trying to mediate between the girl wrapped up in herself and the real world. It was he who suggested they could translate a story, for them to offer as entertainment and as thanks for the hospitality. The idea even roused Mirab’s interest.
“Oh, yes! A tale about Sir Garob!”
The name seemed vaguely familiar to Daaren. “What is he known for?”
“He was a knight who travelled to barbarian places to teach people to defend themselves. To teach them courage and honour. Only he and his page. How brave he was.”
“Ah. I heard stories that came from Harred.”
“That sounds like the place where he fought a bloodthirsty griffin.” Mirab was blind with hero-worship for someone she never had met. Firo was more perceptive, judging from the nervous looks he gave me.
Daaren nodded. “In Harred I heard tell of him. A Kondaran noble too stupid to care for his own horse or gear, so he had to have a boy following him and do the work.”
“Or maybe lazy. Certainly, though, arrogant and stupid with that. He was set to killing a griffin that at the time hunted near the town. People tried to tell him it was a bad idea; there was a cyrnag with the griffin; they left the herds alone and occasionally traded with the people in Harred.”
The girl yelled something in Kondaran too slurred and rapid for Daaren to catch more than something about lies. He talked right over Firo trying to calm her down.
“I’m not making this up. I am telling the story as it was told to me. Do you want to hear the rest, or not?”
“Not.” She pouted, sulking like a girl half her age.
Firo tried to smooth things over. “Maybe we should try with the story of Saya and the good fairy. It is less long also.”
Mirab gave him a sour look. “You do it, I don’t care.”
“I’ve never heard of a good fairy.” The very idea raised Daaren’s hackles. But he did appreciate the boy’s efforts. “So tell me of those fairies you have down south.”
The Republic had decided the “werewolf” question. Reading the detailed account in the paper did not make me feel any less disgusted than the short version on the radio had.
How many of the people actually affected had the lawmakers listened to before signing their names to that bill? Three? Well, they had talked to three, but they obviously had not listened. Must have been hard to hear about the media clamour, granted. That rampage in Mearen apparently had been too good for sales to pass up.
Following a morbid impulse I looked up some websites of sensationalist papers. Yep, right there was the rant about the pressure from the League of Nations that had led to that ridiculous “compromise” of classifying werewolves and similar shapechangers as animals for two weeks a month. Only.
At least nobody in my town knew I was one of Them. That tiny taste of it-could-have-been-worse turned sour when I came across the “perfidy of monsters hiding among us, ready to strike”. The rag had been crass enough to use a scene-of-crime photo of one of the Mearen victims at the end of the column. A young girl, I didn’t look too closely. Even a publicity still from Blood Moon Hunters or a similar pre-emergence horror flick would have been in better taste, and consistent with their habits.
I feared meeting people I knew. Who would be overjoyed being within their rights to shoot someone like me dead on sight in the right half of the month? For a long moment I considered looking into emigrating, but for all I knew it was only better on paper elsewhere. And I had to get ready for work, anyway.
Based on the prompt "Laws governing lycanthropes (like in [node:4398,title="that story where they couldn't hunt her once the moon changed"]), particularly their origins" by Clare K. R. Miller
That little kerfuffle last summer? Yes, I had my part in that. I was a bit down on my luck and squatting in an old house down towards the river, and one night I wake up to yelling and banging - sounded like someone was trying to take down the door, which made no sense since it was not locked.
So I take the big flashlight and check, and find some girl leaning against the door from the inside, holding up the handle trying to keep folks outside from getting in. She looked at me, eyes wide like anything and glowing, close to a panic, and when a racket started up in one of the rooms, I didn’t blame her. Sounded like quite a few, so if half circled through a window…
“Move aside a bit.”
“They want me dead.”
“I noticed. Move aside, and get ready to follow me that way.” I pointed to the back of the house, and she nodded. I wedged one of my hair sticks under the door - it was the closest to a wedge I had on hand, see? It bought us a bit of a head-start.
She could have outrun little old me, no problem, but she followed me, poor little thing. That house was a really old one, with a root cellar with a heavy trapdoor, and it seemed like the safest place to me.
“There’s no way out!”
“Stay calm. We’ll just wait them out.” It wasn’t all that easy. We had to both hang from the ring on the trapdoor, but the weight of the three of us was too much. Folks from the mob gave us a break sometimes, when they needed it, but we had to pay attention.
“We’ll die here. We can’t wait them out forever.”
“Not from here, eh?”
To that she shook her head.
“We don’t have to.” Just then another attack on the door distracted us. I’m glad gravity was on our side, really.
After a long while we could not hear anything going on outside any more, but then, as I said, the door was thick and heavy.
“I’ve been running and hiding for days; they just won’t give up.”
“And what day is it now?”
“Tuesday.” No idea, the little pup.
“No, in moon-phase.”
“Waning, half moon.” After a moment she added, “Only just past.”
“Thought so. See, werewolf hunting season is only half of the month, half-moon to half-moon.” She didn’t look like she got my point, so I said, “Between waning half and waxing half, you are a person, even here.”
“But not yesterday? That’s crazy.”
“Yep. But useful, right now.”
We waited a bit longer, just to be sure. But we did get away without a problem. I just had to find a different place to stay.
Based on the prompt "Waning Moon" by Eliza Gebow, combined with the prompts "eccentric" and "deadline" from origfic_bingo