Charlotte Joy Platt
Grandmother Sada knew many things. She knew the best recipes for jam. She knew the trick to sewing a button so it would last the winter. She knew old stories from home, of woods and bears and houses that walked on chicken legs.
She also knew when she was being lied to, and currently her grandson Nico was doing just that.
"It's only a night out with the boys grandmother," he huffed, peeling an apple skin into one long spiral as he leant by the stove.
"It's a night out when there are strangers," she chided him, stirring her pot and tugging her shawl about her shoulders. "You should be careful."
"I'm agonisingly careful grandma," he whined, throwing the peel out the window and handing her a slice. His voice had taken up the lilt of the village, a cheerful upturn to his words that her accent still made blunt.
"I know, you've very good," she soothed, sipping the broth and throwing a handful of herbs into it. "But you need to be more so when there are new people. This village has been good to us. It was good to me when I came over and it has raised you up with it."
"Some of them have," Nico sniffed, biting into his own slice.
"Some of them are idiots, true," Sada shrugged. "But most are good. You have to watch yourself until we get the measure of the new ones."
"All the other young ones are going," he grumbled.
"Next month, I have no problem. Until then, no. It's not safe Nico."
"They couldn't do me any harm."
"They might, they don't know you. I trust you, Nico, but I don't trust them."
"You are so suspicious grandmother," he sighed, setting the table for them.
"I am suspicious because it has kept us alive my boy," she reminded him, spooning the stew out.
"I know, I don't mean to sound ungrateful," Nico smiled, reaching out to stroke her wrinkled hand.
"You are a good boy Nico," she sighed, smiling back in turn, "And I have no doubt about you. But trust an old woman's bones."
"Okay grandmother," he conceded, tearing some bread off to dip into his meal. Sada didn't believe for a moment that this would be the end of it, but she was willing to let it sit so they could enjoy their meal. She knew village life was hard for her grandson: he was young and had wild blood. He wanted fun and exploration and adventure, not working as a crofter and helping the village smith. It would get him a good skill set though; allow him to make his way in the world once she was gone. She was still spry but she wouldn't last forever.
"I'll be helping William in the forge this afternoon," Nico said, interrupting her thoughts.
"That's good, is he busy?"
"A big order for the Estate apparently, preparing for the winter."
"A good job then, he'll be keen to have you on hand."
"He says I'm getting better at the tempering now, not so rushed." Nico beamed, pleased as punch.
"That's excellent, I'm very proud of you. If he needs you more for the order just say, I can tend the land for a while."
"You shouldn't have to," he grumbled, chewing on a lump of meat.
"I know that, I'm just saying I will do it if needs be. I know you love the fire more than the field. And you're only fourteen: you should get to do both."
"Thank you grandmother," he smiled, squeezing her hand again before wolfing down his meal. "I must get back though."
"I'll be down to the village this afternoon, do you need anything?"
"More eggs maybe?" he asked, slipping into his jacket. "And some more books if they have any, I'm running out."
"I'll see what they have. You have fun," she smiled, watching him trot out of the house. He was always in a rush, bubbling with the energy of the young. Sada had been the same once, always on to the next job and earning the next coin.
She liked her life here.
She missed her daughter, and the amazing man her daughter had married, but she had Nico and their little house and while she sometimes missed the wilderness of her old home, this was a good life. It was the one she had chosen, safe from the threats of the old country, the risk of violence that had taken her daughter and son in law.
She pushed the memories of forests and rivers and sweeping expanses of snow from her mind, drying her hands and readying to go into the village. She put on her silver cross, wrapping the long chain around her neck twice for safety, and bundled into her coat. The winds of autumn were already tripping through, whipping up along the mountains and rushing through the trees. She was older now, she felt the bite.
She set out from the house, watching the woods as she walked down. They were not the forests of home but they had their own stories. She had heard rumours in the village, tales of wolves that could talk and trees that walked like men. She knew of the witch of the woods, a stout woman Sada liked but did not visit too often. It was not wise to be in the debt of a witch.
The village was busy, the promise of autumn prompting the filing of larders. Sada made her usual visits, catching up on the gossip from the baker and wishing his wife well for her growing bump. She tarried in the fishmongers, sniffing out fresh news amongst the smokies and salmon.
"Lizzy, tell an old woman some news," she sighed as she packed her fish into her basket.
"Well, I don't reckon much of the new family that's moved in, those Rosie folks," Lizzy began, elbows on her stall and leaning in close. "The manny, David, he's a hunter you know. Rumour is he got run out of the last estate for poaching."
"A poacher here? Never!" Sada gasped, amused at the fisher wife's enthusiasm.
"That's what I heard –got a reputation for going in the woods at night. He best not be trying that here, the fairies will take him."
"I don't think the woods at night will be good for anyone, fairies or not. A lot of wolves, I hear them some nights."
"Well there's the big one, the one that guards the forest," Lizzy whispered. "But you'll be quick to see him, he never stays around for long."
"You have met him?" Sada asked.
"Just the once: I was late home one night, when I was little. Walked home through the forest with a woman dressed fine as a royal, and this lumping great wolf. Well I told her to turn back and I'd take my chances, fool that I was. She said he was her friend, Alasdair, and stone me if he didn't talk. He's seen around Ms Redmayne too. "
"A very friendly wolf," Sada laughed, shaking her head.
"He was to me, but I wasn't no threat to his Lady nor to his forest."
"I only go through it during the day, as I've been told since I got here."
"Best way, Sada," Lizzy nodded, winking. "You've always been such a part of the village anyway, and with your spinning they'd say you're born and bred here."
"My accent would disagree," Sada smirked.
"Have you heard some of those islanders that come in? You sound more like you're of here than they are!"
"You are very kind, Lizzy Campbell," Sada smiled. "I must be off though; I want to get some spinning done before Nico is back from the smithy."
"William's fairly busy now, getting ready for winter."
"It's good to see, it all brings coin in," Sada laughed, fastening her basket and leaving the stall.
Sada liked the autumn in Inverleach. The colours were bright and beautiful and the river rushed with the rains from the mountains. They weren't quite there yet, but the moss had started to give off the scent of decay, the promise of the snow that would come. She settled into her anticipation of it.
She passed the afternoon in a mix of spinning and cooking, planning how they would stock themselves for the winter. She did not need a lot, but Nico was still growing.
He bustled in as the sun was dipping low, face smudged with soot and a large grin.
"I'm getting to help with the weapons as well as the house things grandmother!" he announced, bouncing with the thrill of it.
"Weapons now?" she asked, looking at him from the stove. "What does the Big House need with weapons?"
"I don't ask, and I don't think William does either. But they have a lot of special things there, maybe it is just for show?" he shrugged, plopping into his seat. "What is for supper?"
"Salmon, I got some very nice pieces of Lizzy. She's always good to us."
"I reckon she knows." He said it quietly but her head whipped round to him again, eyebrows high.
"Do you now?"
"She knows about Alasdair and the fairies," he shrugged.
"A lot of talk goes on in the village."
"It wouldn't be bad if she did, she's got that fairy trinket. Maybe she has friends."
"We don't need any new friends when there's a new hunter in the village. One that rumours say is a poacher."
"That is more problematic," Nico agreed, tearing into the bannock she had left out for him.
"He will come sniffing around the forge if he is, looking for traps."
"The forest will take him," Nico shrugged.
"It may but you be careful around him. I won't lose another of my blood to some idiot with a gun."
"I will be grandmother," he smiled, chewing more of the bread.
She served up their meal and sat down to listen to his tales of the day.
They passed the evening companionably, Nico reading while Sada spun. She had made decent money with her skills, enough to help them through winters and keep Nico from having to go away to the city. She retired before him, his head in a book as she went to bed.
She was woken in the darkness by howling. She stood, going to her window. The forest was illuminated by a full moon, almost blue in its clarity, the howls echoing off the trees.
She moved down the corridor to see if Nico had been woken by it and found his bed empty, his window open.
That ungrateful, little toe-rag.
She grabbed his coat and slipped into her own, sliding her good walking boots on.
She was going to kill him.
She left the house, moving into the forest by the moonlight. She wasn't too far away from the howling, their house was deep enough in the woods that she would find the source quickly, and when she did there was going to be hell to pay.
Sada tramped through the trees, muttering curses in her mother tongue and well as some she had learned off the fishermen when she had helped with their catches. How could he be so stupid?
She heard the first shot bark out in the darkness up ahead and slammed herself into a tree, anger roiling together with fear. It had not been for her but it was close enough that she felt the reverberation through the trees.
She set off in a run, clinging onto Nico's coat as panic prickled her skin. She made it over the hill and saw the clearing ahead of her, dark shapes of men running between the trees and shooting as wolves wheeled from the attack. She could see the black stain of blood glistening in the moonlight and muttered a prayer, looking between the wolves.
She spotted one, fur pale gold in the moonlight, limping away from the clearing. She saw a the silhouette of a man stand at the other side of the clearing and let out a sharp whistle, as she would for bringing round the sheep. The wolf bolted forward into the trees and the shot went wide, Sada whispering thanks and kissing her cross.
She ran to the wolf, throwing the coat over its back and looming over it with a glower.
"Nico Popov do you have any idea how angry I am with you right now?" she hissed, blocking his changing body with her own as he writhed into the skin of a boy.
"I'm so sorry grandmother," he sniffed, wrapping the coat about him. "Michael was caught in a trap, iron in this forest!"
"Where is he?" she growled, eyeing the dark men in the trees. They were clever but there were only three of them that she could see, the one who had shot at her grandson heavier, his breath huffing.
"It was hidden but we got him free. They came out with the guns as we did."
"The howling. I knew you weren't quite that stupid."
"I'm sorry," he said again, standing by her and watching the shadows. "I think the others have managed to run. Sarah was taking Michael to see Ms Redmayne, see if she could heal him."
"You shouldn't owe a witch, but she will help," Sada nodded, relief briefly extinguishing her anger. The snapping of a branch to their right rekindled it, hot fury flooding her blood. She reached up to her necklace and unclasped it, kissing the cross before slipping it into the pocket of Nico's jacket. "You hold on to this, I will be a few minutes."
She slipped out of her coat and boots, letting her nightdress fall to the pine needled floor and she felt the change flow through her. Sada had not embraced her change for many moons, had not wanted to run and chase and yearn for the old times. But these men thought they could come into her world, into the forest that had guarded her family, and she would remind them why hunters feared the full moon.
Stretching herself out, her white fur silver in the moonlight, she reared up and let loose a summoning howl.
Then she ran.
She went for the man closest to them first, barrelling into his chest and snapping at his face. Not enough to kill, but enough to shred young skin, leave him a reminder and a warning. She left him clawing at the damage to his jaw and bounded onwards, catching the other young one from behind and knocking him forward. She sank her teeth into his thigh, tearing a chunk from the meat there and howling as the blood wet down her muzzle. He screamed as she tore at the wound before biting hard into other calf.
She heard the last one running and cursed him. What sort of coward left his sons behind?
She was after him in an instant, easily outpacing him as he fled with his gun still in hand. She circled around him, leaping to catch his wrist in her jaws as they drew level. They tumbled, his weight throwing her off balance as he topped but she bit harder, satisfied when she heard the dull snap, sated when she felt the rending of the muscle she still had in her mouth. She rolled and stood, the hand still gripped in her teeth as the man screamed, panicked face ashen in the moonlight and heavy chest heaving.
"What an unfortunate set of circumstances we find ourselves in." The voice rang out clear between them and Sada turned, eyes widening at the giant wolf stood in the shadows.
"You talk?" howled the man, Rosie she could see now.
"Amongst other things. I must say I'm not very impressed. I had been warned about you, but I see you're blundering around with no idea."
Sada whined, lowering her head in deference to the fae creature before her.
"No need for formalities my lovely lass," Alasdair grinned, tongue lolling out. "You take your pup and be off, we'll deal with these ones."
"One of the pups was hurt," she replied, dropping the hand.
"I know, my charge will see to that."
"You talk too?" the man gasped.
"And more," she growled, hackles up.
"Our hunt, not yours, mistress," Alasdair reminder her and she huffed. "We will either eat him or send him out of the village. Both solve all of our problems."
Sada stretched low again, showing her agreement, before picking up the hand again and trotting away from the gasping man.
She saw the other two had managed to crawl to each other, a trail of warm blood marking their progress. They were huddle together and Sada trotted up to them, dropping the mangled hand at their feet. They managed a choked cry of fear before the one she had snapped at went out in a dead faint.
She left them and went back to Nico who looked pale. She released her hold on the wolf if her soul, slipping back from fur and claw to her white hair and solid shoulders. She dressed quickly, plucking the necklace from his coat and wrapping it round her neck again. She never hunted while she wore it and she kissed the cross again, settling it under her night gown.
"We are going to go home now Nico, and you are going to be in so much trouble in the morning," she said, wrapping his arm around her so he could lean against her for walking.
"Yes grandmother. What will happen with the hunters?"
"An old friend is going to take care of them. Either they will leave, or the forest will take them. Either way solves our problems," she smiled, tucking her coat around her and leading him back home.
Charlotte Joy Platt is a young professional who writes mainly horror and urban fantasy in her free time. She has been writing since her early teens and won the Marjory Linklater Award Second Place Prize in 2006 and was the Highly Recommended story for the 2007 competition. She spent her teens on the Orkney Islands and studied for her profession in Glasgow before moving up to Caithness for her current job. Outside of writing she enjoys music, dark comedy and pugs.