The three suns of Eldorra were setting in the South when I rose from my slumber atop my down mattress. The cold had crept into the loft that was my bedroom and chilled my bones. Careful not to wake my sweet sister Lua, I dressed in my warmest jumper and fluffy woolen socks and I crept down the ladder to the main room of our little house on the edge of Mesic, our village near the harvest fields. Tonight we prepared for harvest and acte d’elecció, when I would become a dona, a wife. My name is Lycia Monglave, I am fourteen cycles old and I am the caçador, hunter, of our family.
Papa was in the kitchen, frying fat sausages over the fire, mulled cider was already warmed and waiting for me on the table. The small living space of our cúpula was nice and toasty, taking the chill from my bones. Beside his chair were the soft white leather boots Papa had cobbled for me and the delicate embroidery of my choosing night gown. It was soft ivory with delicate lace snowflakes in the colors of Eldorran moons, pale blues, lavenders, and silver .Of all of the men in the village, Papa was the best sastre; all of his embroidery and stitching were beautiful. He was also a very good cook, creating the most delicious meals for us. As I came across the room, Papa looked at me with those shining bright eyes and smiled.
“Good Dayfall, Lycia.” He said in his cheerful chipper voice. Today, Papa was Papa again. It was hard to tell which Papa I would awake to each dayfall. Since the beasties had taken Mama he was moody and unpredictable. Some nights, I would awake to find him sitting near the hearth, his silver eyes filled with tears as he mooned over Mama. Some nights, he would not even bother getting out of bed at all, ignoring Lua and little Wilkie and keeping me from going out hunting.
Other nights, he would be like this, my Papa with his smiling eyes. On nights like this I would return from the outlands to find him with the other men of the village weaving baskets or doing the wash on the banks of the lavender spring that rushed past the village. Nights like this were becoming more frequent as the pain of his losing Mama was becoming more bearable, not just for him but for us all.
“Good day fall, Papa.” I said and sat to drink my cider. It was warm and rich and tasted of fresh hehku berries. As we sat in silence, the smells of sausage and cider filling our home. Outside the moons were rising and off in the distance we could hear the faint cries of the beasties, those who hadn’t returned to their warrens before the glow of the moons caught them. I watched the pained expression on Papa’s face and realize he looked older than his years. His silver white hair had dulled, the sheen of his skin had begun to ashen, only slightly and the sparkle in his brilliant eyes was fading. I watched as his handsome face tensed then relaxed.
“Papa,” I mumbled and he looked at me as if he had just realized I was sitting with him.
“I am sorry. That was near the village, they are already coming closer. You will not stay out long, will you Lycia? “I gave his hand a pat of reassurance. The beasties always ventured closer to the village at the times of the Soltaia. I understood his fear, I did not share it. I could not, I would not be able to go out into the night to hunt for food and hides so that we could survive.
“I am just going to prepare the traps and I will be back before the moons are high. And I will mark them.” I began to eat my sausages and drinking my cider before they cooled. He gave me a tight smile and I knew what he was thinking. We lost Mama during the Soltaia harvest a full cycle ago. The snows had come early making it difficult to see the traps that she had set in the outlands. She had stepped on one and was waiting for help to arrive when the beasties found her. I understood that Papa was worried, but Soltaia was the only time the mererabits transverse from the north lands to the lands beyond the lavender lake. To have those pelts is what kept us leysi and made it possible for me to not have to go out as often as the others.
Soltaia was also the time when the suns and moons rose and set at the same time. It was the time when we lost the most villagers because the beasties would be out both night and day. There was no day fall to protect us, the rays from the seven moons would be dulled allowing them more movement, more freedom in our fields. We lost many during the Soltaia and not just hunters. Sometimes those pink skinned devils would make their way into a cúpula. Once they had gotten into the cúpula of a family who’s Dona had gone out to hunt. It had taken all of the children and the marit before she returned and killed it.
That had been the saddest harvest the village had ever seen and that was why the cúpulas now circled the square and all entrance doors faced the square. The cúpulas had no windows that faced away from the village and were built close enough that the possibility of a beastie sneaking between them was impossible. We had not had another beastie in the village since this had been done.
Since Mama had been lost, I was the only hunter we had until Lua was of age, and that was many cycles from now. Hunters were trained starting their ninth cycle but marits trained from three. Soon , Papa would begin teaching Wilkie his duties as a future marit. Any Dona would be lucky to have a marit like Wilkie if he was half at skilled and as beautiful as Papa was. Even though it had only been one cycle, there had been talk in the village by many of the Dona to take Papa as a marit, once he was over his sorrow of losing Mama. And since I was at the age of choosing my own marit, Papa would be alone soon with two little ones to care for. He needed a new Dona to hunt and protect him and the wee ones.
Even with the strain of losing Mama and caring for the family on his own, Papa was still a young man of only thirty two cycles. He still garnered giggles and whispers from the donas in the village square whenever he went out. Papa was not a tall man, but he was a lovely man, with skin the color or stardust and eyes like the western lavender moons. The most wondrous thing about Papa was his smile, blinding and bright. When he smiled at you, it was if the heavens opened just for you. Yes, Papa was a lovely man and he world make any dona a very good marit. Mama had been the envy of many when she and Papa had chosen each other during their first acte d’elecció. They had been a striking duo, well matched and so in love.
I had been gifted with Papa’s silver eyes and silken silver white hair, but I was taller than the girls my age, with Mama’s curves. I had developed strong legs and arms from many hours spent hunting in the outlands. I was also going to have my pick of the young men in the village; I had seen the looks when I went to fetch water from the well. They would puff up their chests and smile and wave. They would whisper and chuckle as I passed in the square. I must admit, there were many handsome men of my age, but only one held my heart.
My beautiful Kurt.
He was so delicate with soft blue eyes and pale yellow hair that shone golden in the moonlight, his skin was silken beneath my fingertips and he had the softest lips to ever touch mine. He would wait for me when I returned from my hunts, sitting on the steps to my cúpula with a cup of hot mulled cider and he would rub my feet. Kurt would often come to care for the little ones in the fest nights after Mama was taken, cooking meals and preparing my bath from those first nights I would go out alone. I would come home covered in blood and filth with those paltry weaslets, Kurt was always there to help me peel the heavy furs from my shivering frame and wash my hair until it glowed. He had been sent from the heavens on those first nights. That’s why he was already my chosen one.
Up in the loft, I could hear Wilkie crying as he woke. A fussy boy, he never ventured from the comfort of the loft alone. Sighing, Papa rose to go fetch him and Lua for their meal of sausages, steamed milk and warm porridge. He would take them into the small koupelna for their baths afterward, then they would go out into the village square with the other fathers and children. They would be guarded by the soldiers who stood watch from the high towers that looked over the entire village. Before that, I went in to clean up and prepare for the night ahead. If I were to keep my word to Papa I had to get moving.
As usually, I pulled the heavy red mererabit fur over my jumper, and plaited my silver white mane to keep it out of my eyes. I washed my face and brushed my teeth to remove the smell of the sausages and cider before returning to the outer space of our living area.
Papa, Lua and Wilkie were at the table now. Papa was trying to feed Wilkie who sat in a beautifully carved highchair Mama had made when she was heavy with me. It had been mine, then Lau’s now it was Wilkie’s. The beautiful white Birchwood was delicately decorated but still fit the girls of the family well. Wilkie, being Wilkie, had more porridge on his face and jumper than he ever actually ate.
“Come now, eat little pup.” Papa coaxed, but Wilkie preferred playing in his food to eating it.
Beside him, Lua sat with her brow furrowed and her sharp pale blue eyes focused as she concentrated on getting the heaping spoonful of porridge into her mouth instead of her lap. At five cycles old, she had another four cycles to wait before she could be trained as a caçador, but she was already eager and becoming skilled with a knife. Suddenly, I was overwhelmed with sadness as I watched them. Soon, I would have a cúpula of my own with my own marit and pups. The thought made my heart hurt.
I left them to their ritual, pulling my boots on before leaving the warmth of the cúpula. My traps had been cleaned and oiled and hung besides the front door and waited for me now. I stared up into the dull dusky sky at the seven moons as they rose over the western hills, then to the south where the suns were slowly fading but still hung in the sky like great orange balls. One of the suns was three times the size of the largest of the moons, making their rays that much deadlier. It had already begun; tomorrow they would remain high matching the moons, each cancelling the effects of the other. I would make fast work of checking my traps and returning to my cúpula and the warmth of the hearth. Thankfully, Papa had done the wash the night before; he would have no reason to leave the safety of the village square.
I looked around the square and saw that other caçadors were leaving their cúpula’s as well. Some looked at me and waved greetings, some did not. Some had ill feelings toward me because of my love of Kurt and his for me; Kurt was mine, body and soul, and I his. I shook my head, clearing my thoughts as I tucked a blade into my boot, another into the back of my jumper beneath my heavy fur, but accessible if needed. One thing Mama had always taught me was to be prepared for anything.
We gathered our things and filed past the sentries that guarded the only entrance and exit to the village. During the sunlight, the sentries were replaced by a gate carved from the same moonstone as the cupulas.
Like the light of the moons, moonstone was intolerable to the beasties. There were no tools that they possessed that could as much as scratch the stone. It had been a perfect solution to the sunlight raids of the beasties, but that was long before I was born.
As usual, they checked out faces and names as we filed into the outlands, each moving in different directions. Most of those in white moved south to the already snowy hills beneath the silver moons, where the foxens were plentiful. Those in brown went east beneath the blue moons, hunters of the felcks and bison, the yellow clad went north to the shores of the lavender waters of the sea that was home to the sliver and tumtum fish. The yellow of their cloaks blended into the high thistle weed that lines the shores. I pulled my heavy fur lined hood over my head to travel west, through the barrens and the forests that housed the warrens of the beasties, but they were the most fertile grounds of the mererabits. I hunted alone.
As I trekked through the crisp frozen grass setting my traps, I thought of Kurt. He had not been in the square that night, which was not unexpected. He had gone on and on the night before about his suit for the acte d’elecció. He and Papa had worked so hard on the colors matching and the snowflake pattern that Papa had created for my gown. He was going to braid his hair to match mine and he had prepared already a special garland of pink and yellow flowers to present to me when he was chosen. Pink and yellow were my favorite colors and he said they made the silver in my eyes glow. Kurt was a full cycle older than I and this was his second acte d’elecció. He had been chosen last cycle, by four different donas. He had not chosen any of them in return, instead he waited for me. My soon to be marit, my beautiful delicate Kurt. Hopefully Papa would be chosen by a new dona tomorrow night as well. He did not know that I had seen him many nights with Susi, the butcher. She was a beautiful dona with bright red hair and she always made sure Papa had extra cuts of meat. They would steal glances at each other in the village square when they thought no eyes were upon them. She would be a great dona for my Papa and a good provider for the little ones.
I climbed my way up the ridge toward the higher ground following the path the mererabits would follow across the harvest fields and through the woods, pausing to look down over the village. From where I stood, the cúpulas looked like a circle of perfectly sculpted balls of snow, two dozen side by side linked by tiny underground walkways. At the back of the circle was the largest cúpula, the meeting hall that was being prepared for the choosing ceremony. I could see the marits decorating the façade with the bright pink caleda flowers, the spicy fragrance would fill the square my dayfall tomorrow. Though pretty to look at, the flowers were also used to deter the beasties. Something about the smell dissuaded them. Behind every few yards there were watch towers where sentries stood watch. The soft lights from the towers would sweep the harvest plains beyond the village, watching for beasties in search of entry. By next dayfall, those sentries would be on high alert, watching and waiting.
I wandered beyond the ridge to the low country, the valley in the forest where the beasties had their warrens. As quietly as possible I began setting the traps, moving smoothly and on silent feet as I dug into the icy earth. I needed to spike the traps down so that they would not dislodge once it was sprung. The first cycle of hunting, I had lost more traps than captured mererabits because I’d failed to spike them properly.
I was lost in thought as I clipped a bright red strip of leather to mark my trap’s location, when I hear it. It was the soft pattering of footsteps. At first, I thought it to be a mererabit, but these steps were made by a solitary creature. Mererabits were average sized creatures, larger than the foxen but much smaller than the bison and felcks. I could carry only two at a time, which is why I set traps. I set traps throughout the forest and world return the next night with a sleigh to bring the carcasses back to the village where they would be rendered and skinned. The pelts and meat would be traded with the other families, as was our way. We traded with the farmers for fruits and vegs, the other hunters for meat and fish, the weavers, the lumberers. It was our way and it has worked from hundreds of cycles.
The creature making those noises was much, much larger. I pulled my hood back so that I could better hear, the lining of the fur muting the footfalls on the frozen ground. Three or four tree lengths away, I saw it moving slowly, but coming closer. It was taller than any man I had ever seen, it was lean and moved as a predator does, its nose high in the air as it sniffed. It wore dark, heavy furs, protecting its delicate pink skin from the low hanging moon, its dark piercing eyes locking with mine and I froze.
My heart thudded against my ribs, loud enough for me to hear. I wondered if he could hear it as well. It must have, because it moved closer, and took a step back right onto the trap I had just set. I covered my mouth with my hand as pain cut through me like a knife and down I went, hitting the frozen ground with a bones rattling thud. The snap of the closing trap was tiny but the beasties have acute hearing and he was moving toward me, lopping with long easy strides between the trees coming closer.
It was over me in a split second, its hooded face hidden as it stood blocking out the moon. Slowly, it pushed the heavy hood off back, but not completely off of its head so that I could see his face. Not many villagers had ever really seen one in person, not many that had lived to tell about it. There were sightings of shadows and the sounds of them whispering as they moved on the outskirts of the village. Those soft hushed clicks and whistles they used when hunting. We heard the howls when one was caught out in the light of the moons unprotected.
I reached for the blade I had tucked into the back of my jumper with shaky hands as it knelt beside me. It wore a heavy leather hooded cloak over a dark pants heavy boots. His hands had been covered in thick black gloves that protected them from the rays of the moon that burned and blistered their skin. The face of the beastie was worse than I imagined. It was a male, I assumed but his features was harder than any male in my village. Not soft and delicate like my beautiful Kurt or Papa. It had a strong jaw, with sickening white teeth that were even and gave it’s already horrid face a more sinister look. Its eyes were of a black that I had never witnessed and its skin wasn’t pink at all, it was more the color of a tanned animal hide.
“Well,” it said in a voice much too deep and harsh to be a man’s. “Look like you’ve been caught in your own trap. Just like the last one. What am I to do with you little one?”
I swung my blade at some area beneath the hood and he easily avoided it, laughing a deep throaty sound that seemed to rumble from deep down in his belly. He gripped my wrist and pulled the blade from my fingers and stared at it in amusement. The blade fit into his hand as if it were a splinter, tiny and lost in his massive fist. He tossed it aside and stared at me for a long time, his eyes narrowing as he stared at me.
“You are a pretty little one aren’t you?” He ran his large thick fingers over my hair, holding it up to the light and I struggled to free myself from him. He only held me tighter, his thin lips tightening in frustration or excitement, I was not sure which.
“This mane will fetch a pretty price; you will feed me for a quarter cycle.” He said. “I suppose you never thought your night would end like this, did you, pretty little Mesic? Silent? No screams? No pleas for mercy? Let us see the rest of you then.” He said and I felt the knots in my stomach twist tighter. I slapped at his hands as he reached for the collar of my jumper, tugging at it. I clawed at his face until he had no chose but to fight back. He slapped me hard across the cheek and I could taste blood in my mouth, but I would not give up.
He fought with me, finally managing to rip the jumper and fur from my body. Tossing them aside, he exposed my bare flesh to the light of the moon. I had already flowered as a dona, my body ready to bear a child. He stared at me, before reaching to touch my exposed breast, and I slapped his hand away, scratching and growling as I fought off his disgusting touch. My body was not his to molest, my body was to only be touched by Kurt, my marit.
“I knew you had fight in you. I like that, I may just keep you as a pet for a while.” He said and stroked my arm. With my free leg, I kicked at him, hoping to hit his male parts, if he had any. I missed and he laughed in quiet amusement.
Shaking his head, he grabbed my neck, pushing on my throat until I could no longer breathe, with the other massive hand he released the trap and lifted me as if I were a sack of feathers. He held me at arm’s length, my feet dangling in midair as he held me in the moonlight, his monstrous face twisted in confusion.
“Still no cries? Do you not know that you will die soon, little one?” He asked, bringing my face close to his, but holding my arms tight to my sides. I was bare, cold and unable to reach the blade that was in my boot. “You are a brave one.” He looked down at my leg, the one he’d released from the trap and stared at the pristine white of my fur lined boot and intact skin. “Why isn’t your leg broken?” He asked, more to himself than to me.
The moons of Eldorra have different effects on the people of my village. The silvery moons in the south gave us an unparalleled strength. The sick and injured would travel to the south and lay naked in the moon’s glow to heal. The blue moons of the west were rejuvenating, soothing and promoted fertility. At the end of the Soltaia, the new couples would journey to the cottages of the west and spend their choosing night. It is the place donas go to ensure that they are full with child during the snows. The lavender moons did something different altogether that is why I am the only one to hunt these fields, it is the reason I wear such a heavy hooded fur and jumper.
I could feel the glow of the lavender moon on my skin and a smile began at the corners of my mouth. I tossed my head back as the transformation began, I could feel the muzzle pushing out, elongating my mouth and teeth. The silver white fur started on my belly and face as it always did, and I began to laugh a deep hallow laugh as I stared into widening eyes of the beastie.
“Because I am not the one who is to die.” I said. He released me and turned to run, but it was much, much too late. I landed on all fours, growling as I gave chase through the frozen waste lands of the barrens. This is why I wear a red fur in the stark barrens of the outlands a bright beacon in a colorless landscape.The rise of the moon isn’t the only reason the beasties hide at dayfall.
My name is Lycia Monglave, I am fourteen cycles old and I am a caçador.