My response to today’s Daily Post prompt
Grandmother Ida shook out the ‘Telling Coat’, shooed away a couple of sneaky moths and wondered. The white peacock feathers forming the cloak still shimmered and shifted under their coating of silver fairy dust, but Ida’s sharp eyes spotted a couple of bald patches. She might have to visit Pavo Glade before next Telling season; a long, wearisome trek, but traditions had to be upheld. For the present, Ida gave the cloak a final shake, swirled it over her shoulders and let it drape to the floor. She turned up the hood, feeling the familiar irritation as feather tips tickled at her cheeks, and headed for the door.
The path to her cottage was lined with children, fae and mortal side-by-side. Hidden horns blared discordantly at Ida’s approach and she tried not to wince, suppressing a sneeze as hundreds of pollen-laden flower petals clouded the air, thrown with overly enthusiastic zeal by the children. As she walked the path toward Telling Stump their piping voices took up the chant:
“Time to Tell. Time to Tell.”
Ida couldn’t help but find their eagerness infectious, her step slowing, giving grandeur to her parade, feeling a thrill creep up her spine as the children fell in behind her, walking in step, the chant taking on a sing-song lilt. Ida could feel the magic in the air, building and intensifying, a cone of power forming to encircle them all in its still eye, falling over the clipped grass circle surrounding the Telling Stump. The stump had once been the centre of Green Lake village. Age had made it unsafe, but the town had chosen to make it a memorial, a skilled gnome carving the stump into a great seat, and the institution of the Telling had begun.
On the first full moon of Deep Dark, all the local children gathered with the current wise woman at the Telling Stump to hear a traditional tale. The powerful magic created by the night of story-telling and the willingness of the children to listen and learn strengthened the silent, stilled heart of Green Lake village, soaking through its varnished frame and into the earth to sustain it for another year. Ida sat now, allowed the hood to fall lower over her face and dropped her voice, forcing the encircling children to lean in, to really listen.
“On this night of Telling, when the moon swims through the mists, blessing us with glimpses of her beauty…”
As if on cue, the moon, full and luminous, drifted free of the low clouds and lit the Stump in rippling silver streams. The children caught a collective gasp of wonder and Ida smothered a smile, continuing;
“… we shall speak of the wolf and the rabbit. Do we wish to listen?”
The roar of approbation was probably heard by the moon, and Ida had to raise her hand, palm out, for a moment to restore calm. The children, pixie in the lap of mortal, gnome hand in hand with troll, fairy perched on the shoulder of boggis, shuffled, settled and waited. Satisfied, Ida began.
‘When the moon was still slender, and the sun still chased his new bride across the skies, there lived a white rabbit. She belonged to a witch named Rosalin, and she was much beloved for pure white rabbits were known to be magical beings and much prized by those who lived by magical arts. Rosalin called the rabbit Georgiana, much to the amusement of the local people.
“That’s too grand a name for a rabbit!” they scoffed, but Rosalin simply smiled, petted Georgiana and went on her way.
For many years, Rosalin was the wise woman to a village by a serene green lake. She…’
There was a minor scuffle in the back of the listening group, a very young elf being silenced by the hand of his big sister, who hissed at him to be quiet, but Ida was in a good mood and beckoned the elf child forward, allowing him to climb into her lap and sit ensconced in the cloud of white feathers, much to mingled awe and envy. She smiled at him and then surveyed the listening ones.
“It is never wrong to ask questions, my little ones, but you must also be ready to hear answers”, she winked at the elfling, “and they may not always be the ones you want to hear. Did Rosalin live in Green Lake village? Perhaps, but then again, it was long ago, and who can really know?”
She decided to keep the child close, scooping up a mortal child of similar age for balance, and then returned to her tale.
‘After a decade had passed, questions began to creep around the village. Georgiana, a rabbit for all her grand name, lived and lived and showed no sign of age. Rosalin would answer no questions, saying only that she was a magical being and such creatures obeyed no law of mortal time. There lived at the same time a young girl called Lisa. Lisa loved Georgiana and was possessed of a child’s natural curiosity, wanting to know all about her favourite animal. Rosalin would say no more to the child than she did to the adults, but clever Lisa was the daughter of a warlock, and she knew things children are seldom told.
One night, after overhearing her father talking to his familiar about the ability of magical creatures to mimic mortal speech at full moon, Lisa determined to talk with Georgiana at the very next full moon. She only had to wait a week, and then she crept to Rosalin’s garden where Georgiana lived in a fenced off area, sleeping in a miniature cottage Rosalin had asked a local wizard to create. Lisa hopped the fence, slipped up to the cottage and carefully opened the front door.
“Georgiana? Georgiana, will you come out and speak with me, please?”
There were sounds of scuffling, and then a soft pink nose surrounded by long white whiskers poked out of the door. Georgiana looked up at Lisa with huge brown eyes, eyes which always seemed misted with tears, scurried out into the open and then took Lisa by surprise. With a huge bound, Georgiana bounced into Lisa’s lap, toppling her back against the fence. The rabbit scampered up Lisa’s body and leapt over the fence, instantly heading out of the front gate which Lisa had left open.
As the rabbit disappeared toward the woods, Lisa stood frozen. She knew she would be in terrible trouble with Rosalin and her father for letting the rabbit get away, and that made the decision for her. She ran out of the gate, chasing Georgiana, hoping to catch and return her before anyone knew what had happened.
It was a long and tiring chase. Lisa had to walk because Georgiana made very little mark on her surroundings and only the occasional bent stalk or paw-print in the dust gave any sign of where she was going. The rabbit seemed to have a destination in mind, finally heading straight; toward Lupus Tor. Lisa hovered at the base of the steep hill, fearful. The village children were always told terrifying tales of wolves roaming the hill and, as Lisa put one foot onto the winding path to the top, a volley of howls reached her from the darkness. Lisa wasn’t a warlock’s daughter for nothing. She screwed up her courage and ran up the path, catching a glimpse of pure white bobtail as she entered the final stretch.
Atop the hill she had to weave her way through a grove of entangled rowans, and she came to a halt just before stumbling into a stone circle. Lying with her back against the belly of a great silver wolf, Georgiana held Lisa’s gaze, but it was the wolf who finally spoke:
“Mortal child, you have come where you should not, but for the sake of my love I will spare you. Go now, and do not return.”
The pair snuggled closer and Lisa noted that they both stole glances at the moon, watching its slow course across the night sky toward the dawn.
“Please, don’t send me away. Something is happening here. I love Georgiana and I want to help her!”
Both creatures considered the small child, some silent communication passing between them, and the wolf spoke once more.
“Georgiana was bewitched by a sorceress who wished to steal my magic. The sorceress thought to gain my aid by threatening my beloved, but Rosalin is sister to Georgiana and spirited her away. I ran to keep Georgiana safe from the sorceress, for if she could not find us she could not harm us. Rosalin finally found the cure, but she had no way to find me. I tried to come to the village but the sorceress had set up wards to alert her should I attempt contact. Her witch fire seared my throat and I should have died but for the aid of my brethren on Lupus Tor. What you did tonight has already aided us, for our spell can only be broken if we are together when the sun rises after the night of the full moon.”
He paused, ears pricked and then Lisa heard it too, voices shouting and the sound of headlong pursuit.
“They’re coming for us!”
His voice was a snarl, but Lisa shook her head.
“No! They are looking for me, and I can help you. Let me go to them. I will misdirect them until dawn, keep them far from you and the time you need.”
“Very well, mortal child. One day we will replay your kindness. A final favour; tell Rosalin what passed this night.”
Lisa bent, stroked Georgiana, kissed her velvet nose farewell and ran down the Tor. She encountered the villagers at the foot of the hill, quickly telling them she had been chasing the rabbit and imploring them to help her find it for it had run into the deep ravine beyond the hill. Relieved to have found Lisa, they were inclined to be indulgent.
The following morning, Lisa ran to Rosalin’s house, finding her saddened, kneeling beside the empty pen.
“I’m so sorry” Lisa apologised, and quickly explained what had happened. Rosalin smiled, hugging Lisa in thanks and then her eyes widened. She turned Lisa to face the high ridge running down from Lupus Tor. Two wolves stood in the first golden light of morning, one large and silver, the other slight and purest white. A dual howl floated down to the garden and the pair watched as the wolves slipped over the hill and out of sight.’
Grandmother Ida fell silent, the children slowly coming out from under the spell woven by the tale, shaking cramped limbs and already beginning to talk to each other, recounting their favourite parts. They turned en masse and bowed;
“We thank you for the Telling. We will remember.”
“The Telling Stump thanks you for your gift of sustaining magic and bids you to your homes until next year.”
The children began filing away and Ida set her two charges on the ground, the elfling holding her hand a moment longer.
“Did Rosalin ever see her sister again?”
“Remember what I told you about answers, young elf?”
He nodded, his expression torn between the need to know and the fear of knowing. Ida bent and whispered in his ear;
“She was a wolf too you know…”