Chapter one: Guests
It was late at night and the fire was bright and warm as Tiris sat and studied her spellbook. She’d been working out the easiest way to bring water to her herb gardens without having to rely upon her Puca companion Zadel. So far all she’d found was a way to summon a storm. It didn’t seem like such a good idea to her though. Most of her herbs were rather delicate.
Closing her book in frustration Tiris glanced over at her companion who was laying by the hearth.
His dark fur was still slightly damp from his excursion to the river for her earlier and his large rabbit like ears were still twitching off droplets of the liquid whenever it gathered. He was mostly asleep but she could see his eyes open every now and again to peek at her. She smiled fondly. The Puca was the closest thing to family she had. Tiris had been abandoned as a child by her Puca mother for her half blood. Zadel had practically raised her on his own. After all it had been his Kiten that had turned her back on her spawn and he felt responsible. He’d always been so kind to the half blood that she felt more a kinship with her Grandsire than any of the other Puca who dwelt within the woods.
It was because of this that Tiris had done her best to find work in the village by the river as a mystic. To repay his years of rearing.
People always needed one thing or another done that they couldn’t do by hand. So long as she kept Zadel from getting too close to the town they were more than happy to trade her the necessities that she couldn’t grow herself.
Which brought her back to her need for a spell. The locals were getting nervous and upset that the large shapeshifter was seen at the river even though he only ever went when shifted as a horse. They didn’t trust him like she did. Even if he was just a kind old Puca who wanted nothing more than to sleep away his days by the fire with his Granddaughter by his side. He wasn’t even the most dangerous of the Puca who dwelt in the wood. If anything he was the tamest.
“You should sleep,” A deep rumbling voice broke the silence. The large hare lifted it’s head from it’s paws and turned bright red eyes onto the young woman sitting at the small table they used for dining. “You can keep trying come dawn.”
Tiris shook her head and looked back at her Grandsire. With his head lifted she could see the scour across his chest where the farmer had attacked him as he’d gone for water earlier. It sent a pang of guilt into her very bones and made her want to cry.
“You can’t go back to the river Papa.” Tiris said with a sigh while rubbing her eyes with the back of her hand to stave off the tears. “I have to figure this out now. Else we’ll lose the herbs to the sun.”
“We’ll use the dew,” Not one for speaking when not necessary Zadel just laid his head back down once more, ending the conversation.
Seeing the stubborn old fairy wasn’t going to relent Tiris stood and put away her book and the reagents she’d been using to test some spells. The dew wouldn’t last for what they needed and they both knew it. If she didn’t figure something out soon they’d lose it all.
Their home was a small, single room cottage. It had a fire for cooking and warmth and a few scraps of furniture. The furniture being mainly for Tiris whose only telling Puca trait was her magic and penchant for pranks. Zadel was usually in his hare form and didn’t need a chair or bed. It was cozy and safe.
Tiris wanted to believe that at least. The locals had become far more aggressive lately towards them and it wouldn’t be long before they’d have to move again. They never were able to stay in one spot too long. Luckily the forest they dwelt within was large and they had many family and friends among the fey that lived nearby, that meant they could easily lose themselves without a trace if need be.
Knowing she’d only be scolded if she stayed up Tiris curled up into the cotton covers on her little cot. Nothing good would come about worrying till morning. Accepting this Tiris closed her eyes and tried to find rest.
It didn’t last long. Tiris was awakened by a harsh whimper from her Grandfather who had transformed into a smaller version of his hare form and hidden beneath her covers. Confused, Tiris didn’t know how to react at first. It wasn’t often that Zadel wanted to cuddle, usually when winter came and it grew cold, but it was early autumn still and not that bad yet.
It wasn’t until the barking grew louder that Tiris realized what was wrong.
The hounds had always upset Zadel with their baying. Be it a natural terror or a learned one Tiris didn’t know but whenever they started their raucous it meant bad things. The locals had a habit of running their hounds after a sighting of Zadel and since a farmer had even attacked him Tiris knew they were out for blood tonight.
“It’s okay,” Gently lifting the tiny twitching rabbit from her tangled covers Tiris held the Puca close, trying to calm him. “The Aegis will hold. They can’t find us.” Patting him gently Tiris fished out a bundle of her Amaranth and tossed it into the small fire in the hearth. “Invict” She whispered as a warmth swept out, reinforcing the invisibility spell she kept upon the house. Only those of her kin and blood could breach the outer barrier. She’d been forced to keep the hut be-spelled after a hunter nearly shot Zadel as he lounged on the stoop. A good idea it seemed.
The hounds grew louder and louder as the two huddled together in the corner by the fire. It was here that the invisibility spell was strongest. Just incase the outer barrier didn’t hold Tiris didn’t want to risk being seen. They’d both have to shift forms if it came to that. Fleeing out of a small mouse sized hole cut into the hut wall for just a reason.
The barking came to it’s closest just at the barrier’s edge. Tiris could feel the heat of the canines bodies against her magic. They were sniffing, moving around the outer rim. Trying to find something. Tiris knew better though, their noses were far too weak to find the trail once it passed into the field of magic.
“It’s okay,” Tiris whispered again as the hounds kept pace. “It’s okay.”
Thump! Something hard hit the door of the hut. Startled Tiris tightened her grip on Zadel and drew further into the shadowed corner. There was no way anything had gotten through without her knowing. She could still sense the hounds outside the barrier and the hunters that cheered them on. All were still well and far from them.
There was a soft rapping noise again. This time far weaker than the first thud. The feeble knock was followed by a sliding sound as if something heavy was slipping down the door.
A Puca’s curiosity won out over her other, more reasonable, half and Tiris sat a panicking Zadel on the ground before creeping towards the door.
“Be careful Kiten,” Zadel called after her. He too was curious about what had gotten past his blood’s shield.
Nodding to the small coney sized Puca Tiris reached up and took the small wooden handle of their door in a weak knuckled grip. Tilting it down Tiris braced herself for a dog, or perhaps the arrow of a hunter. What she didn’t expect was for the slumped body of a man to fall into her lap.
Knocked back from the unexpected weight Tiris was barely able to cushion her fall and stop the man’s head from hitting the ground.
Lost for words she just stared down at the unconscious being. He was handsome, with sharp features and narrow lips. His long white hair seemed a great contrast to the dusky skin as were the large black horns that curled from his brow. The robes that covered him were in tatters and Tiris could see injuries along his stomach and chest. They were larger, more serious, gouges than Zadel’s. They didn’t look to be from a farmers blade either, more likely from an axe of great size.
The hound’s cries brought Tiris back from her shock and she looked up to find the group of hunters frantically searching the area just outside her perimeter. There were a dozen or so men and at least twice as many dogs. The trail of blood that led into the shield was what they were most interested in. Probably from the man’s attempt to escape. If they weren’t distracted soon they’d breach the barrier.