I was born in the shadows of ancient oaks on a bed of amber leaves somewhere in this forest. My mother brought me into this world alone and wept silently. “I will not let them find you,” she had whispered the first words I would ever hear, a warning about the coven. “I’ll protect you, always.”
I was never wanted, not by the coven. I am a blight - living proof that one of them has fallen. No ritual spawned me, nor any blessed union with their warlock allies. I must have come from a mere mortal man. This was the accusation that had driven my mother to run and placed Thayna in power over the coven. To them, my mother’s actions were the ultimate disgrace, and she was considered pathetic, no better than a human woman, foolish enough to allow a man’s child to grow in her belly and stupid and feeble enough to defend it, love it, and want it. All this my mother had done in defiance of their laws, weakening the coven and shaming them all.
We are hunted every Wolf Moon after ice has formed on rivers and white snow spreads over the cold, hard ground. If they ever find me, they will sacrifice me to regain their strength.
My mother is not going to let this happen, but instead of fighting, we are moving like we always do – just days before the Wolf Moon hovers in the cold, night sky.
“I don’t understand why we can’t stay and fight them,” I say, helping to pack what few belongings we possess. “I’m tired of moving. Every year, we lose what home we’ve managed to make together. Every year, we flee in fear of the coven.”
My mother is in no mood for her patience to be tested. “We must be gone before the Wolf Moon rises. If we leave tomorrow, the coming snowfall will cover our tracks. By the time they come close to finding us, the moon will have faded, and Thayna will be too weak to lead them.”
“You mean she will be too weak to fight you. The others only follow her out of fear. They have missed you. You know this is true. You told me yourself.”
“I have said many things over the years, especially when you were very young. I felt alone, frightened, and angry. I never intended for you to remember everything I have ever said.”
“But I do remember,” I say.
“It’s been so long since I’ve been with the coven; I doubt anyone still holds any allegiance to me,” my mother says. “And they came too close to our camp last winter. They almost found us. I don’t want that to happen again, so we are going to do as we always do. We will leave, and by the time Thayna tracks us again, the Wolf Moon will have faded, and she’ll be forced to turn back.”
She’s growing agitated with me; I can hear it in her tone. She’s explaining what she feels I should already understand.
“Perfect,” I feel a surge of power bristle beneath my skin. “We should leave long enough to evade them, and then return to fight them before they have a chance to retreat to their lair.”
“I’m not going to argue with you again, Violet. We will do no such thing.” Her voice is stern, a warning that I’m pushing her too far.
“But I’m eighteen now. I’m ready to face them, and I’m tired of running.” I know that I’m making her unhappy, but I am insistent. I can’t stand it when she’s dismissive. I want her to listen, to hear the determination in my voice.
“Quiet! I’ll hear no more of this,” she scolds. “You will do as I say. When you are twenty and ready to control your powers, we will discuss other options. Until then, we leave. Keep packing and remember to take only what we need.”
I pout. I know it’s childish, but I can’t help myself. I have never known anyone but my mother, and even though I love her, I am ready to venture out on my own. I just want to be certain that she will be safe, but that isn’t going to happen as long as Thayna still lives and the coven follows her.
It’s just that I’m tired of waiting. I want my life to change, and I’m ready to fight for it.
“Go for a walk,” my mother commands. “You need to get some fresh air and gain control of yourself.”
It’s only then that I realize one of our few blankets is ablaze and floating in front of me, dripping flames and ashes over a small stack of books. My temper has gotten the best of me again. I guess she’s right; I still have some things to learn about my powers.
What is left of the blanket drifts to the floor, and as my mother hurries to sweep it away from the books and straw, I leave to get some air as she suggested.
The blast of icy wind feels especially harsh on my face, still warm from the burning fire inside the cave we have called home for almost a year. We had been lucky to find it. Building a shelter is arduous work. I’m not looking forward to doing that again, as I doubt that we will be so fortunate as to find another cave like this one. It’s deep in the woods and well hidden, with a large stone standing just outside the opening, shielding the inside from strong winds and any possible direct invasion. A mountain rises behind it, so tall and jagged no one would dare to climb up, or more importantly, down. It’s a fortress, of sorts, and of all the places we have lived, I have liked it here the most.
In the bare branches overhead, fat tan birds with red chests chirp happily, but my frustration is still brewing, so I kick what looks like a stone. It causes my big toe to throb under my boot, which doesn’t help my mood. I curse the stone as I bend to inspect it and find that it’s not a stone, but the peak of a large rock hidden beneath the snow.
My anger rises again. I find a stick and throw it as far as I can, and because I can’t resist, I burn it to ashes before it hits the ground. My powers are growing, and despite what my mother says, I think I’m good at controlling them. Why should I have to wait until I’m twenty years of age to start practicing with her? It seems unfair, just another reason for her to keep running from the coven. I’m worried she is afraid to fight them. I don’t want her to be afraid. I can protect her. I know it.
I pick up another stick, a larger one this time. I hurl it into the woods, high into the air. From seemingly nowhere, Flynn leaps past me in pursuit of it, but he’s too late. I release the heat from my hands, and the stick bursts into flames, leaving a ball of smoke behind in its wake.
He stops and whimpers, disappointed at being denied the opportunity to play catch. He is an odd little fox. His fur is red, his ears are black, and his tail ends in a white tip, but he behaves more like a dog.
I met a dog once when I was younger. We weren’t as deep into the forest then. My mother kept hoping to find a way out and leave the woods forever, but I can’t travel during the day. The light burns my eyes. It limits where we can go and how far we can run, and for that, I am sorry, for we always seem to be just within the coven’s grasp. My mother assures me it isn’t my fault. She has never trusted that we could find shelter in the villages anyway. She has always warned me about humans. They may seem harmless because they don’t have powers, but they can be dangerous – even deadly. I was taught to stay far away from them, but I’ve always found them fascinating. I can’t help but feel envious of them and wonder what it would be like to live with others of my own kind, to have a village or coven to which I could belong.
My fascination with humans once led me to seek them out. After I had grown brave enough to journey to the edge of the woods on my own and in defiance of my mother’s rules, I had seen men and their sons traveling near the woods with dogs. They were hunting for birds, I think. One young boy carried a large stick over his shoulder with dead birds hanging from the end. Dogs were moving ahead of them, sniffing through tall grass. I remember being able to almost hear the men talking to each other, their voices muffled by distance. Curiosity led me from behind one tree to the next trying to keep up with them until I stepped on a dead branch and the snapping of it seemed to echo throughout the forest. I had crouched down and froze, hoping I wouldn’t be discovered. That’s when a large brown dog with floppy ears and black eyes came up and nuzzled against me, licking my hand with his big pink tongue. He barked once, drawing the attention of the others. The men made their way in our direction but stopped where the tree line thickened into a border along the meadow. Men never come into these woods, and that time was no different. They simply shouted for the dog called Bazik to return to them, and he did so because dogs obey their humans.
When I came upon Flynn a few years later, I immediately felt a connection with him. He followed me everywhere, so I named him and tried to teach him to obey me like I had seen Bazik obey his men, but my mother wasn’t pleased.
“A wild thing should remain wild,” she had said. “It isn’t our place to own other living creatures. It should be enough that he offers you love and devotion. What he does and how he behaves should be his own doing, not because you have demanded it of him.”
But Flynn was quick to sense my emotions. If something he did pleased me, he seemed to enjoy doing it again and again. If I was frightened, he became protective, and whenever I was sad, he was there to comfort me. I think he sensed my loneliness, and perhaps he was lonely too. It wasn’t long before he started following us every time we moved. My mother discouraged it at first, but she soon realized that Flynn was my only friend. It wasn’t until she caught me feeding him that she made it clear there would be limits. He was free to follow, but I was not to encourage him in any way. No food. No shelter. Flynn was expected to fend for himself.
And he does. The bones of a rabbit nearby are proof enough of that. I’ve never needed to feed him for him to follow me. He is devoted. Everywhere I go, he is sure to show up sooner or later, and I’m glad. I can’t imagine life without him. He’s my only friend.
My toe still throbs from kicking the rock, so I rub it through the top of my boot. Flynn sniffs and licks my fingers then waits for me to pick up another stick and throw it. I let him catch it this time. When he returns it, I reward him with a good scratching, and he pushes his head against my leg to show his appreciation. The fur behind his large black ears is dense and coarse. I want to throw the stick for him again, but he runs off with it.
It’s tempting to chase him, but the sun persists despite the late hour. It hangs low, a luminous white glare through the trees and across the snow in the direction he ran. Its intensity stings my eyes. I turn away from it, but just as I do, a quick movement of two shadows nearby paralyzes me. Only then do I notice the woods have fallen silent, not even the winter birds are singing anymore. Something is out there. Someone is watching me. My heart is racing - pounding against my chest. My own fear is the only sound I hear now. All I can think about is what to do if it’s the coven, but they shouldn’t be here. It’s too early for the Wolf Moon, and without its power, no one in the coven should be able to find us, not even their self-declared leader, Thayna. My mother’s veiling spell is too strong.
Everything depends on the Wolf Moon, and my mother and I still have another full day to prepare for its coming. If we leave as planned, we will get a head start.
I notice something move again, just beyond the trees, but as I strain to see it, another shadow blurs past me, so close my hair whips across my face and my cloak lifts away from me.
Now, I’m even more afraid. I’m in the open and vulnerable. My mother is still in the cave. If they come for me now, it will be up to me to fight them on my own unless mother hears me summon her.
“Mother, I ask that you see me,” I speak quietly to myself. “Feel my fear. Know my danger.”
There is nothing in return, no voice or sense of presence. Calling her has worked in the past, when I was lost and afraid in the woods as a child, having wandered too far for my own good, but I could feel her answer me then and knew she would find me. I do not feel her now. I am alone. I search for the power I have within me. My heartbeat grows stronger in my chest and pushes hot blood through my veins; a raging fire burns a bright labyrinth beneath my skin as it travels to my hands. I take my stance and prepare to fight. Arms up in defense. Fingers spread, ready to scorch anything in my sight. I scan the trees beyond the glistening white clearing and watch for moving shadows. If anyone is there, I will be ready for them.
My breathing quickens from the crackling of snow-laden branches. A quick movement over my shoulder sends me swirling around. Nothing but the silent woods surround me again. Whatever brushed by me is no longer there.
I hold my breath, hoping to hear what is stalking me. The bushes near my feet rustle, and I turn prepared to unleash my fire, but Flynn pounces out at me.
“Damn it, Flynn,” I say, more irritated by my own shaking hands than I could ever be with him.
He whimpers and circles in front of me before taking his place at my side. Maybe he senses that something is wrong as well, or maybe he just senses my fear. I can’t tell.
I try to summon my mother again, but just as before, the only sound is my heartbeat. It still pounds in my chest and echoes in my ears. I can’t hear anything else.
“Damn it, Flynn,” I say again under my breath, though I know it isn’t his fault that I’m frightened. I was scared before he startled me.
We stand still and wait, but there is nothing. No sound. No movement. I don’t see any more flashing shadows, but just when I begin to think I might be suffering from an overactive imagination, Flynn screams. Foxes do that when they are frightened, really frightened. It is a spine-tingling, shrill scream. It hasn’t been my imagination after all. Someone is nearby, and Flynn isn’t happy about it.
“Hush now. It’s alright.” I’m trying to sound calm and in control, but I am not. My entire body is shaking and the veins beneath my skin are radiant. I pat Flynn on the head, trying to contain the heat in my hands. “Everything is going to be fine.”
“Funny, you don’t seem so certain about that.”
A man’s voice all but stops my heart. He is leaning down and speaking into my ear, so close I can feel his lips move against my skin.
I never even heard him coming.
“Enough, Ronan. Leave the girl alone.”
Another man appears in front of me, and Ronan’s laughter fades as he backs away and sweeps the dark hair from his green eyes which never stop watching me.
“I don’t know who you are, but you’ve made a mistake in coming here.” I raise my hand to ignite just enough flame to intimidate, but the man grabs my arms and holds them by my side.
He doesn’t look angry, and I realize that his force isn’t intended to hurt me. He just wants me to remain still while he examines me.
“I can’t believe it.” His expression is both stunned and elated as he looks into my eyes. “It’s true. What I’ve heard is true.”
I want to summon my mother again in hopes that she’ll come to me and make sense of this, but I don’t. I am no longer afraid. There is something curious about him. He is no ordinary man, and the longer I look at him, the more I see that he is not human at all. His eyes are the same as mine, a light shade of violet – the reason for my name.
Flynn still isn’t convinced we are safe. He decides to take advantage of the distraction and bites into the man’s leg, just above his boot. I am swiftly released, and Flynn is suddenly hanging by his tail before I have a chance to blink. The man holding him looks angry, his violet eyes brighten and flicker in the fading light of the woods.
“Don’t hurt him!” I can hear the desperation in my voice, and I hate it. I should sound stronger, more threatening, but I can’t help myself. I begin to beg. “Please, release him. He won’t hurt you again, I promise.”
“You care for this creature?” The man’s eyes are calmer now. He isn’t angry anymore, but he still dangles Flynn from his grasp.
“Yes, he’s my friend.” I feel silly saying it aloud, but it’s true. He is my friend, and the sight of him being held upside down and in distress brings tears to my eyes.
The man looks dismayed, disgusted even. “You definitely get that from your mother.”
It seems a strange thing to say. How does this man know my mother? I’d like to find out, but first, I plead again for Flynn to be put down – gently and still alive.
“Come on, Silas. Don’t torture the poor creature,” Ronan rolls his eyes and kicks at the snow with his shiny black boots as he circles around looking rather bored by it all, his hands buried in the pockets of his long black coat.
“Since when do you care about animals?” the man called Silas asks his friend.
“I’m not talking about the fox. I’m talking about the girl. Look at her. She’s terrified for that thing.”
Tears are streaming down my face now. I can feel their warmth and taste their saltiness as they reach my lips. I’m mortified, but I can’t help it. Poor Flynn is crying and wriggling. He had only tried to protect me, and the thought of him being killed breaks my heart.
“How dare you?” My mother has finally come. She emerges from the shadows of the trees, marches up to Silas, and swoops Flynn safely into her arms. “If you have come to terrorize me, you need not bother. I have suffered enough because of you. And I will not have you upset my daughter.”
“Don’t you mean our daughter?” Silas is smug.