Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Hunter

            I smell the human before I see him. The familiar scent brushes by my nostrils on a breath of wind, causing me to tense for a moment. I cannot forget it, nor do I wish to. I turn and take off through the forest undergrowth, following the scent to its source. I am supposed to be hunting for food for my village, but this prey is far more important.
            I remember the words of my friend, Jaylen, as I was leaving this morning.

            “Be careful, Kuri. They say there’s a human on the loose.”
            I stopped short, turning to stare at him. Within my heart, the first fierce sparks of angry anticipation were beginning to light. “A human?”
            Jaylen nodded, his face solemn. “Yes. The hunters yesterday think they smelled one. They couldn’t tell it if it was the murderer or not. Be on your guard.”
            A growl rumbled through my body. “Don’t worry. I will. And if it’s the murderer, he’d better stay on his guard as well.” Then I bounded off into the forest.

            I know now that it is the murderer I chase. I am close enough to hear his footsteps as he runs through the forest. I know he is trying to escape me, but he will not. No mere human can outrun a Tiger Clan shifter on a hunt for justice, no matter how hard they try. And I will see that this murderer gets what he deserves, just as I vowed one long year ago.

            Metal scraped over wood as I drew my knife. With barely a glance, I slid the edge of the blade across my palm, opening a shallow cut. I pressed my hand against the Justice Tree, leaving a fresh handprint among the many bloody ones. “I will avenge her. I swear it. It is my right. I was her guardian, and so her murder will not go unpaid.”
            The old man who’d been my teacher for much of my life shook his head. “You are better than this, Kuri. Do not let anger rule. The man did not mean to do it. He said as much, and I believe him. I know he has caused you immeasurable pain, but if you seek revenge, you prepare death not only for him but also for yourself.”
            I lifted my chin defiantly. “I seek justice, no more. You know the laws, not only of the Shifters but of the humans as well. Blood for blood, a life for a life. Death is the just punishment for murder.”
            My teacher shook his head, sadness reflecting in his gaze. “No, Kuri. You say that vengeance is your right, and that death is justice, but there is room for forgiveness as well. That, too, is in your rights, even now. Let go of your anger. It will only lead you down a dark path to destruction.”
            “You are wrong,” I snarled. My body tingled as my anger threatened to trigger the change from young woman to tigress. “You are wrong. I seek justice and I will see it done.”
            I am close now, so close! Soon, I will be within springing distance of the murderer. I put on one last burst of speed and then launch myself towards him. He falls beneath my weight, and I pin him to the ground. “You cannot escape any longer, murderer.”
            He struggles to squirm away. “I am no murderer. It was an accident. I would not have even considered the shot if I had known. I have told you as much before.”
            I snarl again. “You lie. I was there. I know what happened.” I doubt I’ll ever forget.

            “Please, Kuri? Please?”
            I stretched, shifting to a more comfortable position on my tree branch. “I told you already, Kali, no. I hunted yesterday; there’s no need to go again today. Why don’t you ask Jaylen?”
            My little sister, Kali, paced around the base of my tree. “I did, and he said no. Please, Kuri? You know I’m not allowed to go by myself.”
            “Yes, I am quite aware of that.” My eyelids drifted to a half-shut position. “And it makes no difference. If you want to come with me, be ready to go on my hunting days and stop bothering me.” I shut my eyes completely, signaling that the conversation was over. Kali let out a long sigh and continued pacing.
            A breeze brushed past me, ruffling my fur and tickling my nose with a hundred scents. I my eyes opened again as I recognized the smell of a human. I sat up and scanned the forest. I spotted the young hunter just as he released the arrow. Seconds later, I heard Kali fall. I let out a wordless cry and leapt down to the ground. I landed beside her, now in my human form, and pulled her into my lap. She had turned to human form as well, so small and so vulnerable. “Kali, no. Don’t go. Don’t die. Just hold on.” I knew that my pleading would do no good. The arrow had been expertly shot; she would be dead within minutes. Tears gathered in my eyes, and I blinked them back. “I’m sorry,” I whispered. “I’m sorry, Kali. I love you.”
            I don’t know if she heard me or not. Seconds later, I knew she was gone. I raised my head and for a moment, I saw the horrified expression on the hunter’s face as he saw what he’d done. Then he turned and fled, leaving me to bear my sister’s body back to the village.

            “I’m not lying, I swear.”
            I stare down at the hunter with fire in my gaze. He’s stopped struggling now, but he’s turned his head so he can see me out of one eye. He speaks again. “I told you what happened. I told you that it was an accident. I asked for forgiveness. You know that.”
            It’s true, he has. On the night of the funeral, he’d approached the village under a white flag of truce. Only that and the laws against killing on a funeral night had kept me from killing him then and there. He’d made his case on his knees, the picture of repentance. And much as I tried to forget, his final words were burned in my memory.

            “I know I have wronged you. I know I cannot begin to make it up to you. But please, can you forgive me?”

            I remember, too, what I snarled at him in reply. I repeat it now. “You do not deserve forgiveness.”
            “I know,” he replies, his voice almost a whisper. “I know. But who does?”
            My only answer is a snarl. I lift a paw for the killing blow, then pause, noticing something. “Your bow is gone.”
            “I burned it. I will not hunt again. Not after the mistake I have made.”
            I hesitate. A voice that sounds like my teacher seems to whisper to me, “What good will killing him do? Will this man’s death satisfy you?” I try to push it away. I have to do this. I have to see justice done.
            But is it truly justice? Or is it revenge? Why do I want to see this man die? Is it because he has broken the law? Or because I want him to suffer for my suffering? I know the laws of my village. There is no honor in killing someone simply out of a desire for revenge. And I can tell this man is no longer a threat to us. It is I who am the danger.

“If you seek revenge, you prepare death not only for him but also for yourself.”

My teacher was right. Another death will not fill the ache in my heart. It will only lead to more sorrow, more pain. And there is enough trouble in this world without me adding to it.
The hunter is silent beneath me, perhaps resigned to his fate. I shift to my human form and rise to my feet. “Go.”
He scrambles to stand, his eyes wide as if he can’t quite believe I didn’t kill him. I gesture in the direction he’d been running. “Go. Your death will not satisfy anything or anyone. You asked me to forgive you. And so I will.” With those words, I turn and walk away, feeling lighter than I have in a long, long time.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

His Princess

His footsteps echo in the hall. I curl into a corner of my cell, pressing against the rough-hewn granite walls. I wish for a hiding place, but the bare stone room I am kept in provides no such luxury. I have my chains, the chains I have worn as long as I can remember, even before I was put in this place, and that is all.
            The cell door creaks open. I hide my face as the Prince enters. I have never looked him in the face. I dare not. I have found cruelty and rejection in the eyes of far too many, even those who claimed to offer kindness, to risk it again.
            The Prince kneels beside me. “My princess-”
            “I’m not a princess,” I whisper.
            “You are.”
            I do not respond. We have made the same exchange many times. I do not understand why he calls me a princess, much less his princess. I am a commoner, a servant, a prisoner.
            People say that the Prince can look at a man and know exactly who he really is, in addition to who that man thinks he is. So why is he so blind when I try to make him see that I truly am nothing?
            The Prince speaks again. “Let me free you, my princess. Let me remove your chains.” His soft voice wraps around me like a cloak, offering peace and comfort, even in this dark cell.
            I refuse to let my sorrow be taken from me, however, holding onto it like a small girl clutches a treasured, though tattered, doll. “You cannot,” I whisper. “No one can. My master put the chains on me; not even he can take them away.”
            “I am greater than your master.”
            I shake my head. “You cannot remove them.”
            “I can, if you will let me.”
            I shake my head again. Like the title the Prince gives me, I have heard this offer and refused it many times. I cannot fathom why he persists in making it each time he visits. Why does he even care? I am one of hundreds of prisoners, among thousands, or even millions, of slaves and servants. Surely someone else would be worthier of his attentions.
            All is silent for a time. Then the Prince speaks again. “I journeyed to my kingdom yesterday. It is spring there now. The flowers are blooming everywhere. Their colors nearly overtake the green of the new grass in the meadows, and in the forests, it is impossible to find a tree that does not have a cluster of daisies or violets or some other blossoms around its base. The birds are singing their finest songs for joy of winter’s death. At night, you can lie on your back and see hundreds of stars, like silver dust and gems on a backdrop of black velvet. It is not a dull black like what you are used to in this realm. It is a rich, shining black, and when the sun rises each morning, it rolls back to reveal first a blue so deep it nearly blends with the night, then brilliant pinks and golds to bath the new day in soft light. And when those fade away, you are left with the clearest blue you could wish to find.”
            I make no reply. I have never seen any of these things the Prince speaks of, but he has described them to me so well and so many times that I can almost picture the scenes in my mind’s eye. I wish I could see them for myself, but I am trapped in my master’s realm, and we never see the sun down here.
            “I would like to show you the wonders of my kingdom.” The Prince is sitting beside me now. I can feel his eyes upon me, watching me. “Will you not let me take you?”
            I shake my head. “I cannot. There is no exit from my master’s realm except for death, and death leads to nothingness and more torment, not to your kingdom.”
            “If you trust me and let me remove your chains, I can give you eternal life and take you from this dark realm.”
            I shake my head, squeezing my eyes shut to hold back the tears. “It is impossible. No one can live forever.”
            “Nothing is impossible for me, my princess. I have given my life for you; all you have to do is accept my gift.”
            I say nothing. This, too, the Prince has offered many times, but I cannot believe that even if my chains could be removed, that death could be defeated as well. And even if it could, death is all I deserve.
            We sit in silence for a while longer. Finally, the Prince rises to his feet. “I will be waiting for you, my princess. When you need me, call. I will come.”
            I cannot think what to say. How can he possibly come whenever I call? He has spoken of going to his kingdom often, but if he is there, how could he return here as soon as I need him? How could he even hear me?”
            The door creaks shut. The Prince’s footsteps recede down the hall. And I am alone.
            Three more days pass. The Prince visits me at least once a day. Our conversation runs much the same each time: I tell him I am not a princess and refuse his offer to let him remove my chains. He tells me of his kingdom and asks if I will let him take me there, and I refuse again. He sits with me for a time and tells me before he leaves that if I call for him, he will be there.
            On the third day, after the Prince leaves, a new pair of footsteps, heavy and foreboding, makes the trip to my cell. I peek up as the person shoves open the door with a clang. One of my master’s higher servants stands there, and he carries a whip. Without a word, the man walks over and grabs hold of my chains. He pulls me up, hooking the manacles on my arms to a hook on the wall so I am hanging there, my face to the wall and my back exposed. I do my best to struggle against him, but my feeble strength is not enough to bother him more than a fly buzzing by his ear would.
            The first whip stroke hits my back. I scream. I have been whipped many times, and each whipping is more terrible than the one before.  With every stroke comes a hiss, a whisper, that wraps itself around my heart and bites down with venom-filled fangs.
            You are alone.
            No one cares about you.
            You are worthless.
            You are dying.
            You deserve to die.
            You will die soon.
            No one will notice when you die. No one will care.
            You will die alone, unwanted, forgotten.
            Give up.
            What do you have to live for? Why do you cling to your miserable existence when you are nothing?
            The whipping goes on and on until I do barely have the strength even to whimper. My master’s servant throws me to the floor, and I lay there like a dirty rag. My back bleeds in a thousand places from the strokes of the whip. I cannot move; cannot do anything at all except lay on the ground and sob.
            It is late, perhaps midnight, when I realize I cannot take another day of this. I cannot go on living in this cell. I wonder if the voices are right. Should I simply give up? Die, as they say, alone, unwanted, forgotten?
            “My princess.”
            “Let me free you, my princess. Let me remove your chains.
            “If you trust me and let me remove your chains, I can give you eternal life and take you from this dark realm.”
            The memory of the Prince’s voice warms me, lessens the pain. Perhaps he could help. Perhaps I should’ve accepted his offer. But it is impossible for him to give what he says he can, is it not?
              “Nothing is impossible for me, my princess.”
            He has said nothing is impossible for him. He has offered me freedom. All he has asked of me in return is that I trust him. Never has he harmed me. Never has he shown me anything but love and respect. He is my only hope. But he is not here.
            “When you need me, call. I will come.”
            “Please,” I whisper. “Please, my Prince. Please come. Take away my chains. Set me free. You’re the only one who can.”
            There are no footsteps in the hall, no creak of the door as he enters. He is simply there, kneeling beside me. I somehow find the strength to look in his face for the first time, and I see love in his eyes. “Please,” I whisper. “Remove my chains. Take me to your kingdom.”
            He smiles. “Gladly, my princess.”
            Just as they always do, his words offer to cover me in a blanket of comfort. I do not refuse this time, and I feel my pain and fear fade to be replaced by peace.
            The Prince reaches towards my chains. For the first time, I see the marks of nails in his hands, the marks of one who my master has had killed in the worst possible way. I look up in confusion, but he simply smiles at me.
            “I have given my life for you; all you have to do is accept my gift.”
            As I remember his words, I feel my chains fall away. I gasp, finding myself to be free for the first time.
            The Prince gathers me into his arms, lifting me as easily as if I were a feather. “Are you ready to travel to my kingdom, my princess?”
            I nod, resting my head against his shoulder. “I am ready.” He carries me from my cell and through passage after passage. I close my eyes, resting in his secure embrace. I can feel his love all around me, as well as the promise that he will protect me, and I wonder why I protested for so long.
            After a time, I feel a breeze on my face rather than the stale air of my former master’s realm. I open my eyes to see that we are standing in a meadow before a great castle. It is night, but it is not dark. Not like I have known dark. The Prince smiles down at me. “Welcome to my kingdom, my princess.
            I smile back and whisper “Thank you for freeing me.” My gaze travels up, and I see the stars, glimmering silver dust and gems on shining black velvet, just as he described him. For the first time, I realize why the Prince called me his princess: he loves me, loves me enough to give his life for me, and so I am indeed his princess.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Knitting and NaNoWriMo

Hello, everyone! Happy Day-After-St.Patrick's Day! It's nice to think about spring coming soon- though I'll admit I was none too pleased when I woke up this morning to see snow on the ground! Hopefully the weather will start getting more springy very, very soon, because I want to be able to read and write outside in the sun, go biking, and wear short sleeves.

Most of my free time lately has been spent in knitting and reading. In addition to the projects I've already told you about, I've made a second pair of wristers, which I'm wearing now, and a pair of yoga socks. Yoga socks, if you didn't know, are socks that don't have heels or toes, so they're basically the equivalent of fingerless gloves for your feet, except that I typically wear them over normal socks. Go figure. Right now I'm working on a shawl for my sister. It's going well, and I'm almost a fifth of the way done. There's one row in the pattern that drives me nuts until I start making strange noises of aggravation, but otherwise, it's quite easy.

Book-wise, I've recently been reading the rest of Jessica Day George's books. For those of you who didn't know, Jessica Day George is the author of several remade fairy tales, including Princess of the Midnight Ball, one of my three favorite books by her, and one of the books that inspired my Camp NaNoWriMo novel last year. I also read The Fairest Beauty, the latest book by Melanie Dickerson. I very much enjoyed it, though The Merchant's Daughter is still my favorite Dickerson book.

Speaking of Camp NaNoWriMo (we were talking about it, briefly at least), this year it's in two months: April and July. I plan to do it with the official site this year, which is exciting. I'm thinking that I'll go for my usual goal of 50,000 words in April, and that I'll write the sequel to last year's Camp NaNoWriMo novel (which I've named Danger in the Tower). This year's novel will be called Monster in the Castle, and it's going to be a remake of "Beauty and the Beast" combined with "East of the Sun; West of the Moon". Here's the summary I wrote for the Camp NaNoWriMo site (WARNING: contains spoilers for Danger in the Tower):
King du Karel is dead. The once-missing girls have been returned to their families, except for Poppy, who travels with Ivy and Jacob Serlend in search of Ivy's family. All should be well, especially for Pansy (last name undecided). After all, not only has she been reunited with her father, but she's also learned to control the voices she hears. But Pansy's sisters resent her, and her father is in deep debt because of the money he spent searching for her. When a beast offers Pansy's father riches if one of his daughters will come live in a castle with him (the beast), Pansy feels that she has no choice but to volunteer. But she will discover that all is not as it seems at the beast's grand castle, and the beast himself might not be a villain, but a victim of the same beings that once held her captive.
Sounds cool, no? I'm very much looking forward to writing it, especially since Pansy is one of my favorite characters from Danger in the Tower. I can hardly wait to write a book that's (almost) all about her!

As for the July session, I'm not sure if I'll do it or not. If I do, it'll be with a lower wordcount goal, since I have several other plans for July as well. These include the possibility of a summer writing class and helping a friend with something. (Details to come later.) Possibilities for July's novel include a rewrite of My Father's Daughter, which I started almost a year ago and have yet to finish, or another novel which I haven't named yet, but which will involve aliens, people stabbing bad guys with knitting needles (and actually accomplishing something other than making the bad guy mad), and possibly superheros. I will confess that this novel might've possibly come from my desire to write something in which someone gets stabbed with a knitting needle. (And that desire came mostly from Jessica Day George. Thank you very much, Mrs. George.)

I haven't been doing much current writing, however. I have written one or two short stories, and I wrote a poem yesterday, but that's about all. Procrastination, unfortunately, seems to have mostly beaten me when it comes to writing. I'll have to make sure to send him packing in time for NaNoWriMo, though.

Well, that's about all. Thanks for stopping by!
Calo anor na ven!*
- Sarah

*May the sun shine upon your road!