For those in northern climates, snow isn’t a big deal. However, I’ve spent my entire life in the southern United States, so seeing the Christmas tree and snow at the same time is something that’s never happened. Until now.
This morning we have several inches of snow on the ground, the tree is lit, the fireplace is going, and cinnamon buns are in the oven. It’s a perfect day to sit back with something warm and write and craft.
My current work in progress is a Grevared version of A Christmas Carol. I meant to get on it earlier in the year, but life has a way of taking its own path sometimes. So instead of it being ready this year, I’m hoping to have it out in time for the season next year. Below is the first few pages, unedited, but there are spoilers for those who haven’t read Wolf in the Shadow.
Flight Through the Forest
Wind in face.
Nose to ground.
Eleanor ran through the forest of E’ma Thalas on all fours, a grin on her canine face. Her padded feet made almost no sound as she darted through underbrush and across fallen leaves. She leapt over fallen logs and nipped playfully at small creatures. Her vision, sharp and full of color when human, had faded somewhat, but her nose brought her the scents of the forest in a heady potpourri that made her run all the faster. Asing, carnivorous plant/animal hybrids, growled nearby, and nonyana’e droppings littered the ground. Eleanor paused for a moment and looked upward to see the giant birds soaring overhead. Other creatures, spitmollers and ghighets, scurried for cover as she approached, though even in ly’kita form she would not dream of harming them. And covering it all, the scent of falling snow—cold, fresh, and heralding Yuletide.
Eleanor slid to a stop and shook the snow from her coat. She shivered in the cold and stood panting while her heart pounded. Yuletide. Another one. Alone in the forest. Eleanor sat down on her haunches and wished her ly’kita form could cry tears.
“Your control is good, much better than eight years ago.”
Eleanor looked up to see a woman. At over six feet, she towered over Eleanor’s Lycan form. The scent of alpha female seared Eleanor’s nose and mixed with the odor of human sweat and food. She could smell the herbal soap, a mixture of lavender and honey, the woman used, and the scent of her leather coat caused Eleanor to sneeze. She bared her teeth for a moment in response to the alpha female scent, one she had never liked, before settling down with her head cocked to the side.
“Cool it, little girl. I’ve been doing this longer than you’ve been alive, and I’ll kick your ass no matter what form you’re in.” The woman held out trousers, a shirt, and a cloak. “Now, how ‘bout you get dressed.”
Eleanor sneezed again and considered licking the woman in the face just to annoy her, but after eight years in Abilene’s company she had learned better. Instead, she willed herself back to human form, and, after a moment of dizziness, took the clothes Abilene held out to her.
The wind bit into her bare skin, and Eleanor found herself looking around for Worichiom, the spirit of winter. She slid into the clothes with a shiver and ran her fingers through cinnamon hair. She glanced down at her bare feet and wondered if Abilene had remembered to bring boots.
“You were looking for me,” Eleanor said once she had dressed. She winced as she walked across the detritus on the forest floor.
“Yeah,” Abilene replied. She brushed a strand of mint green hair behind her ear and stared at Eleanor with golden eyes. She pointed at the ground beside her, and Eleanor reached down for the pair of boots sitting there. “Oberon and Titania have invited us for Yuletide. Jorge and Bria are planning to join us. The pack. Family.”
Eleanor turned away as she donned the boots, her attention on the falling snow. A lump formed in her throat, and she shivered with a sudden chill. A weight settled across her shoulders, and her heart paused before racing on. “You have fun,” she said at last. “I’ve already made plans.”
Abilene stood with her hands on her hips, snow dusting her black coat, and glared at Eleanor. “What plans? The same as last year? And the year before?” She made a disgusted noise and shook her head. “Girl, you gotta let it go. The past is the past, and there ain’t nothing you can do about it. Move on.”
“Let it go, Ab. I’m used to being alone, and I prefer it that way.”
Abilene threw up her hands and stomped away. She stopped and propped against a nearby tree with her arms crossed. “So, what are you gonna do? Head back to the Borderland Mountains and find a cave? That’s where you’ve been living, isn’t it?” Abilene pushed herself away from the tree. “You’re not an animal, Eleanor. None of us are. It’s been eight years, for the gods’ sake. Accept yourself.” She paused a moment. “And us. You’re pack, Eleanor. Family.”
“Accept what, Abilene? That I can never go back to the Xaggarene Empire? That my best friends rejected me because of what I am? That–.”
“That what? That Timothy has never responded to your letters? That he’s never forgiven you?” Abilene reached Eleanor in two strides and placed her hands on the smaller woman’s shoulders. “You have no way of knowing the letters ever reached him. You don’t know what he thinks or feels. And as to returning to the Empire…there’s no reason you can’t.”
“Pfft. Justin Harper is all talk. Surely, after years in his company, you realize that. Hell, girl, I smelled it on him before we even met. The woods were full of it, and so is he.”
“But what if he told others? If the entire guild knows what I am, what I did, then I’m dead the minute they find me. You know that.” Eleanor wrapped her arms around herself and shuddered. The Shadow Walker guild would hunt her down if they knew she was a Lycan, if they knew she had been the one…Cooley Cray… Her mind refused to voice her deepest regret, the shame that had shaped the last eight years of her life.
This time Abilene punctuated her words with a shake. “No, I don’t. And neither do you.”
Eleanor snatched away from her friend and mentor. Regardless of what Abilene said, Eleanor didn’t feel like pack. She didn’t feel accepted. “Whatever. I’m not going to Letallatos for Yuletide.” She shrugged. “It’ll just be a bunch of elves and fairies drinking and dancing, and you know how annoying pixies can be.”
“And you’re forgetting the feasts and the games and the comradery, and I’ve heard that he’s invited the wizards of Crowrest and Ragekeep as well. This is the biggest bash in a century, all to celebrate the little prince’s first Yuletide. You don’t want to miss it.”
“I don’t wanna go.” She shrugged again. “It just doesn’t sound like any fun.”
“Fine,” Abilene replied. “Do what you want. The gods know I’ve tried for years to get you to move on and accept yourself. It’s all on you, girlie. There’s nothing else I can do for you.”
Eleanor turned away as tears forced themselves into her eyes. Abilene had a point. She was now in control of her Lycan abilities and had no more need of the older woman. Eleanor wanted to say she enjoyed Abilene’s company, but that wasn’t the truth. Abilene was simply there, someone within her sphere that she needed. Eleanor was grateful for her tutelage, of course, but that wasn’t the same as considering her a friend. The same was true of Jorge and Bria, two other members of the pack. They were there, and she was grateful, but she wouldn’t miss them if they were gone.
“You don’t have to stay alone, Eleanor,” Abilene whispered. “There are people who care about you, who accept you for who you are. You just have to be willing to open yourself up to their friendship.”
Eleanor wanted to respond, but the lump in her throat forbade it. She swallowed hard and closed her eyes. She hugged herself, fists clenched, but she couldn’t face the other woman. Something squeezed her heart and pulled on her lungs, and she tightened her jaw to force herself to breathe. She wanted to turn to Abilene, to tell her that she needed that care, that friendship, but she didn’t dare. She knew where that led, and she wasn’t about to go through it again. Never again.
“Well, you know the way to Letallatos if you change your mind.” Abilene turned away then paused. “Not everyone is invited to the elf king’s court for the celebration. Don’t take that for granted.”
Eleanor kept her eyes closed as she listened to Abilene’s footfalls in the leaves. She turned her face upwards, and the falling snow mingled with the tears on her cheeks. A sob forced its way up from her gut and burst out in a scream that shook the trees. Birds squawked and left their perches, and small animals scurried for cover. The scream turned into a howl, and Eleanor found herself in ly’kita form, without meaning to, for the first time in eight years.