Crescent & Rose – Diplomacy

I was the first

Sun shone in through the large windows of the palace, giving it a bright and airy quality. The open gardens were still full of visitors, but inside was insulated from all that. Overall, it was far less crowded than he was used to, outside of what he assumed were the usual people going about their business. He certainly felt a bit odd being here while the sun was still shining.

Two pairs of footsteps echoed down one of the corridors, moving briskly. Crescent was following his escort, one of the many guards, through parts of the palace he’d never before been. He’d visited plenty of times, of course, but always during social events where there wasn’t much time to wander around. He was used to the palace at night, full of people and sound. During the day it was strangely quiet in places.

Even more than that, though, was the fact that the Queen herself had called for him, saying only she wished to speak with him about some business. He’d hardly been his usual composed self for a few moments after the message had arrived, not able to fathom what she could want with someone like him.

He’d spoken with the Queen before; he’d met her all the way back when she’d been a princess, but it was only ever short interactions at social functions, when he was often the only one bold enough to break the ice and ask her for her first dance. He’d been even more flabbergasted when the guard had told him they were going to the royal rooms.

He couldn’t help but wonder what the nobles would think, if they knew he was meeting the Queen in her personal quarters. Suppressing a grin he also couldn’t help but wonder if she enjoyed gently provoking them and their endless gossip.

The guard showed him into the Queen’s rooms, where she was waiting, and he gave a graceful bow. She was dressed regally, as always, but her clothing was far simpler than the stuff she sported at balls and state functions. It only made sense, but he couldn’t help but smile to see her like that. She was a beautiful woman, he didn’t mind admitting it.

“It’s wonderful to see you again, Crescent.”

“I can very happily say the same, Your Majesty. It feels like it’s been far too long since I last saw you.”

“Since last years Winter’s Ball, I think. It’s rather a shame, it’s always a joy to dance with you. You haven’t been spending as much time in the capital of late, have you?”

“Not quiet, no.” He didn’t wonder how she knew that, when someone like him should have hardly been on her radar, but he kept it to himself. “There have been quite a few opportunities for me elsewhere, recently.”

“I see,” she said, something in her eyes sparkling. “And here I thought it was because Domerin Lorcasf was living out of the city now.”

“Your Majesty?” He blinked at her, taken by surprise. There weren’t many people who could catch him up like that, but the Queen had always proven his equal when it came to quick wits.

The Queen laughed softly, though it was not a mocking sound. “I tease. I know you’re friends, and that I often see you with him during parties, even when you’re escorting someone else.”

“Well, you do have me there.” He admitted. “I enjoy parties well enough, but Domerin finds a way to make them special. My clients never seem to mind me visiting with friends.” He wondered at her words, though, having been thrown for a bit of a loop. Despite her insisting she’d been teasing he couldn’t quite help but think he’d seen something more in her eyes.

There had indeed been lucrative work outside the city lately, but for quite a long time he’d never felt the need to look outside when there was plenty here for him. He’d been feeling that itch for quite some time, feeling like the capital was lacking something. With her words he seemed to realize that maybe one of those things was Domerin.

“I dare say they do not, with such a charming companion. But, I do hope to see you at another event soon, Crescent. Who else will make the entire room jealous when he’s the first to ask me to dance?”

Crescent managed a rather dazzling smile to that, more at ease by the familiar topic.

“I just like to think you prefer starting out the night without having your toes trod on.” He’d never felt remorse for his boldness. Why start now? “I’ll see what I can do, Majesty. Can’t let the nobles get too lazy, now can I?” He couldn’t help but think of Domerin then, and all the long nights they’d spent having fun while everyone else took themselves far too seriously.

“That’s very thoughtful of you,” she shot back with a laugh.

She must have sensed his slight distraction, and shifted topic. She swept her hand in front of her and led him across the room to a sunny sitting area, with plush couches. She took a seat on one, and he sat to face her.

“Help yourself,” she said, indicating a table in the center covered in a spread of tea, cold drinks, and some light refreshments.

Thanking her, he poured himself a cup of tea and prepared one for her as well.

Once they were both settled she looked to him.

“I can imagine you’re wondering why I called you here.”

“I’ll admit my curiosity. I can’t imagine it was just to tease me about dancing.”

Most would not have dared to speak to her like that, but the edges of the Queen’s lips curled upward, indicating mirth.

“Would that were the truth, but no. I called you here because I’d like to hire you for a job.”

His brows shot up, not bothering to hide his surprise.

“You’d like to hire me?”

Again a hint of mirth crossed her face, but she focused on the business for now.

“It wouldn’t be like your usual jobs. Not quite, anyway.” She sobered, and continued. “There’s a visiting diplomat, who’s going to be staying in the capital for some time. I have reason to believe, however, that he’s also here for less than honest means. Our relationship with Ematria, his homeland, are of the utmost important, so if he has some other motives, it would help us greatly to know what they are. As you are not of the court or the nobility, you are an unknown to him, which makes you perfect for what I have in mind.”

“You want me to seduce him?” He couldn’t help but arch a brow, mind jumping to that since it seemed the most obvious.

“Not as such. I do want you to befriend him, gain his trust, be his guide through the social circles here in the capital. And, of course, find out what his plans are. Think of yourself as a sort of… cultural ambassador, if you will, with a twist that uniquely suits your skills. You won’t be required to do anything you’re uncomfortable with.”

Crescent was thoughtful. He’d never done anything like that before, and it sounded important. He couldn’t deny that it intrigued him, a challenge that was right up his alley.

“And you would be all right with me doing this? I’m not really anyone important.”

The Queen smiled at him, and he almost instantly felt put at ease by it.

“I trust you, Crescent. Domerin speaks well of you, and if he trusts you then I know I can too. To a wise and honest ruler, trust and loyalty are more valuable than gold or jewels. Take time to think over it, if you need to, but I will need an answer within the week.”

Crescent took a few moments, but shook his head.

“I don’t need that long, Majesty. I’ll take the job. It does sound like something that will suit my skills.”

“That’s wonderful,” she said, and her smile was genuine, and lovely to see. “I will have all the information you need sent to you. The less you are seen here, the better. If you do well, I can present you with evidence, and there could be more work for you in the future.”

Crescent nodded, understanding. The thought had an attractiveness to it, and it was certainly something new. He couldn’t believe he was going to do work for the Queen herself. Did Domerin feel this giddy when serving her?

A rather mischievous thought crossed through his mind, and he looked back at her, a grin curling his lips.

“So, was I the first person you thought of for this job?”

The queen smiled knowingly and, he thought, just a little bit playful.

“Sorry to disappoint you Crescent, but I’m afraid not. Rest assured, though, you weren’t on the bottom of my list either.”

At her words he couldn’t quite help but laugh, caught again by her quick wit.

“No? I’ll have to try harder next time, then.”

The Queen gave a laugh of her own.

“I hope you do, Crescent. The capital is far less lively without you here. I’d like it if you stayed.”

Crescent saw that sparkle in her eyes again as she went back to her tea, getting the feeling there was again more to her words, but if she knew something more she certainly wasn’t telling. The Queen was as good as a cat at keeping her own council, when she wanted to be.

Episode 52 – Clipshow

FADE IN:

EXT. KING’S CASTLE – NIGHT

In the center of the kingdom stands the castle, where King Dormal rules with a fair hand. The castle and the land around is covered in a blanket of snow, bathing the land in a quiet softness. It is the last winter holiday before the new year.

DISSOLVE TO:

INT. KING’S CASTLE – THE KING’S CHAMBERS – NIGHT

The royal family is gathered in the main room, settled on various couches and chairs. They are dressed in casual attire, no need for formality around each other. A fire burns in the hearth. Bottles of wine and mulled cider are laid out on a table nearby. A clock on the wall reads 10:30 P.M.

CRESCENT, blonde and mischievous, partner to Domerin, sits on the couch. He rests against Domerin, and he speaks animatedly.

CRESCENT

“…and I told him he wasn’t allowed to leave bodies in the kitchen anymore.”

Crescent pauses dramatically, drawing laughs from the rest.

VALERIAN, Crescent’s son, young and tanned, looking happy and full of life, holds a half-empty wine glass.

VALERIAN

(laughing)

“I don’t care how many times you tell that story, Crescent, it never stops being funny. I wish you’d tell us more about when you worked as a mercenary. There’s so much we don’t know.”

CRESCENT

“A lot of what I did back then wasn’t exactly family friendly.”

VALERIAN

“Oh come on, dad. We’re all adults now.”

CRESCENT

(grinning)

“Maybe someday, but it probably isn’t all that appropriate tonight, of all nights.”

ROSE, former Queen, still regal of bearing, has her own wine glass. Her eyes sparkle with mirth.

ROSE

“I hardly thought we’d be talking about dead bodies during the holiday.”

CRESCENT

“I’m sorry. That story is probably better in very different company.”

ROSE

(laughing)

“Oh, I know the sort of people. I’m sure they tend to have several pints in them by that point too.”

SILVERBELL, princess and only daughter of Rose. Her face is framed with curls, and she is outgoing and vivacious. She stands nearby, looking out the window.

SILVERBELL

(glancing over)

“Given how many people are drinking tonight, maybe we should have broadcast your story on the news.”

DORMAL, young king, and son of Rose and Domerin. He sits near his brother, glass of wine in hand. He has a strong, kind face, and a welcoming smile.

DORMAL

(laughing)

“And send people running out of their houses into the snow?”

SILVERBELL

“I suppose your right. And we don’t exactly want drunk people running around in the snow. It’s not coming down, but it’s pretty deep out there.”

CRESCENT

“Reminds me of that time we found that elemental. You remember, Domerin? In the middle of winter. I thought our fingers were going to fall off from frostbite.”

DOMERIN, strong elven warrior, father to Dormal, and partner to Crescent. He is relaxed and open in his family’s company, and has his arm around Crescent.

DOMERIN

“I remember that one well. It wasn’t quite frostbite levels, but it was pretty bad.”

DORMAL

“I don’t think I’ve heard that one before, father.”

DOMERIN

 “Oh, well, this was a long time ago now, back before Crescent even worked in the capital. He was still working as a mercenary and we’d contracted him to work with us on a job because he had some knowledge of the location.

DISSOLVE TO:

EXT. VILLAGE OF ASTIL – DAY

The village stands at the foot of a grand mountain range. A thick layer of snow covers the ground, bathing the dark wooden buildings in a crusting of white.

DOMERIN (V.O.)

“We had gone to this little town called Astil, near the Ramtops. They made an appeal for help, and we went in hearing stories of strange things happening in the area.”

Villagers stand outside in the snow, in front of a large wooden building, dressed in thick winter clothing. Many shift, looking nervous. The mayor addresses Domerin, Crescent, Rilan, Valia, and other members of their team.

CRESCENT (V.O.)

“They told us people had started going missing in the snow. These were people used to the area, mind. They would hear voices on the wind. Laughter rumbling down from the mountain.It was eerie.The locals said they thought had to do with this old ritual site outside town, though it hadn’t been used for centuries.”

CUT TO:

EXT. OUTSIDE VILLAGE OF ASTIL – DAY

Domerin and his group make their way up into the foothills, riding snowmobiles borrowed from the village. The landscape is breathtakingly beautiful, despite the chill, but the group keeps a sharp lookout for danger. They arrive in a circle of trees, and approach something dark.

DOMERIN (V.O.)

“When we went to investigate we found this mound of stones, just under the snow, not even up to my knees. It was covered in frozen flowers. The villagers told us they put them there every year. Some sort of a tradition from long ago. The place reeked of magic. We hardly probed when all hell broke loose.”

Valia kneels in front of the mound, magic light pulsing in her hands.Everything goes still, then there is a rumble, and a shake. Air and snow begin to rush down the mountain, and swirl madly at the group. It forms into a large ice elemental.

DOMERIN (V.O.)

“Valia told us later the creature had been stirring, pulling people into the snow. She felt awful for waking it up, but everyone knew it wasn’t her fault. At the moment all we could do was fight it. We couldn’t let it run rampant. It was one hell of a fight, though. Everything was blurry with the snow, and you could smell the storm in the air.”

The elemental attacks, and the group fights back with weapon and spell. The battle is fierce, and at one point Rilan is injured. Eventually, after a long and grueling fight, the elemental dissolves into snow.

FADE IN:

INT. KING’S CASTLE – THE KING’S CHAMBERS – NIGHT

DOMERIN

“That thing was a nightmare to take down. One of the hardest elementals I think I’ve ever fought. We’re lucky we didn’t lose anyone.”

CRESCENT

“It was lucky, though poor Rilan was sick for weeks after that. He got hit pretty bad by that thing. We all took turns going to help take care of him.”

DOMERIN

“He did, but the work got done. I haven’t heard any trouble from there since then.”

DORMAL

(leaning forward in his chair, wine forgotten)

“Sounds like it was terrifying. Part of me wishes I could have been there to see it, but I’m grateful to be where it’s nice and warm.”

VALERIAN

“Maybe I could steal you away this coming year and we could go visit.”

DORMAL

(smiling)

“That would be nice, but maybe we could aim for summertime”

VALERIAN

(grinning)

“Don’t have to tell me twice. You really should try to take some time away this year, Dormal. You deserve it.”

ROSE

(lifts her glass, eyes sparkling)

“Maybe you could even come and visit me.”

VALERIAN

(perks up)

“You should! It’s warm there, and peaceful. I could fall asleep in front of Mother’s fireplace. The nights are dark and it’s so quiet. You wake up, birds are singing. No traffic, or people pounding on your door all the time.”

ROSE

“Not usually anyway. I get callers, sometimes. I like my privacy, but I don’t mind seeing a friendly face every now and again.”

DORMAL

(wistful)

“It sounds wonderful. Maybe I will plan to come visit you later this year. It would be nice to get away from the castle for awhile, and all the things that are hard to escape. I’d love to take a walk in the woods around there.”

VALERIAN

“It’s not a crime to take a break, Dormal. Let me know when, I’ll meet you there. I can show you all around. It’s really lovely. (pauses, grinning) Well, as long as you stay away from the caves.”

DORMAL

(arching an eyebrow)

“What’s wrong with the caves?”

ROSE

“Your brother’s just winding you up, dear. There’s nothing wrong with the caves. (grins playfully) Not anymore, anyway.”

DORMAL

“You too, Mother?! Now I’ve got to know! You never told me about this one, Val.”

VAL

(laughing, holding his hands up in defeat)

“Sorry, sorry! One of the times I visited I decided to explore a bit through the woods, and  found a cave opening some ways away from her place. You know me and caves, I just can’t resist going inside.”

SILVERBELL

(tilts her wine glass toward Valerian’s face)

“Given that, and all the other things you’ve told us I would have thought you’d have had your fill of caves. Am I going to have to put a leash on you, brother?”

VALERIAN

(lightly rubs a hand over his one covered eye, though he laughs)

“As if that would work on me, Belle. Caves are a bit of an obsession of mine. Like climbing the highest tree for you. I can’t resist. Besides, I didn’t go far in alone.”

CUT TO:

EXT. OVERGROWN FOREST – CAVE MOUTH – DAY

Valerian stands just inside the mouth of a cave, daylight streaming in behind. The cave walls are covered in white chalk markings of all sorts.

VALERIAN (V.O.)

“The cave had been used for something, but I couldn’t tell what. So, for once, I did the smart thing and went to get mother.

CUT TO:

EXT. OVERGROWN FOREST – CAVE MOUTH – DAY

Rose and Valerian stand at the mouth of a cave. The light outside is brighter, indicating the time has changed. They examine the markings, Rose interested and pensive. They speak, and head deeper into the cave.

ROSE (V.O.)

“We went quite deep. I had explored the area when I chose to settle there, of course, but this I must have missed. It didn’t give off any sort of magical aura, and I didn’t get an ill feeling, so I thought there was no harm.”

Rose and Valerian walk the hallways of the cave, with a magic light to illuminate. Rose stops every now and then to leave a magical marking of light on the wall, to help guide them back out. The cave is beautiful.

ROSE (V.O.)

“We found more markings, though I couldn’t find any special meaning in them. I didn’t really expect to find much more than that. But, there was this massive underground lake. It was beautiful, perfectly placid. Like some sort of a forgotten shore.”

They stand looking at the lake. It extends away into the darkness.

VALERIAN (V.O.)

“The lake was; the shore wasn’t. There were these bones all over the ground, all old and brittle. They made the worst crunching, snapping noise you could imagine when we stepped on them. They were everywhere. I thought someone had been using the place to summon up ghosts with old tomes, or something of the like.”

Rose kneels down at the edge of the water, letting her hand hover over it, but not touching. Her face is reflected in the water, and she studies it, as if looking into a mirror. The water remains still and Rose stands smiling.

FADE TO:

INT. KING’S CASTLE – THE KING’S CHAMBERS – NIGHT

ROSE

“It used to be a place where people took the dead. I didn’t feel any ill presence, but performed a cleansing spell just to be safe. Still, I think that was the last time I’ll ever enter there.”

VALERIAN

“Same here, though I sometimes still see it in my dreams.”

A comfortable silence rests for a time. The family is relaxed with each other, having their shared lives in common.

DORMAL

“I suppose I shouldn’t pretend that Silverbell and I had a particularly eventful year. Dealing with nobles and ambassadors isn’t exactly the most exciting of things. They all think an overheard remark is cause for a gossip party.”

SILVERBELL

(waves her hand)

“It wasn’t all that bad. Actually… (she grins playfully) we did have one particularly memorable day.”

DORMAL

(thinks, then his brows raise in understanding)

“I don’t want to tell anyone about that. There’s hardly any time left before midnight. You really went to spend the rest of it embarrassing me?”

SILVERBELL

“Oh come on, Dormal. You’re only human.”

DORMAL

(draws a shallow breath)

“Fine. But when Mother demands her throne back, don’t blame it on me.”

ROSE

(laughs, looking curious)

“I don’t think you need to worry about that, darling, but this I have to hear.”

DORMAL

“It was one of those days where I didn’t have court and I was aching to get out of the palace for a bit. I told Silverbell, and she decided to do something about it. She couldn’t take me to distant lands, but she does know all the best ways to sneak out of the castle.”

SILVERBELL

“I thought an afternoon wouldn’t hurt.”

CUT TO:

INT. KING’S CASTLE – SERVANT’S HALLWAYS – DAY

Dormal and Silverbell are dressed somewhat down from their usual attire. They wait near an exit that will take them out into the city. Dormal casts a spell over the both of them that will disguise their appearance. Despite this, they must be careful, and wait many tense moments, before they can go. They head into the city.

DORMAL (V.O)

“I told the guards I was not to be bothered for the day, unless I called. I used that disguise magic that Valerian taught me, so no one would know who we were, and we just went out with no real plan.”

FADE TO:

The royal siblings walking the streets. They laugh, talk, and take in the sights, not in any rush. It’s a nice day, and Dormal looks relaxed as the walk, and aren’t bothered by anyone. They make their way to a store with a simple, unobtrusive exterior.

SILVERBELL (V.O.)

“Everything was fine, until I thought we should stop in this little store I’d heard some of the guards talking about, that sold this amazing tea. They sold all sorts of weird little things. I actually think you’d like that store a lot Valerian. It also turns out it’s a tea shop, of sorts.”

INT. ODD SHOP – DAY

The inside of the store sells all sorts of things, knick-knacks, historical items, things from different lands. It’s full of tables, shelves, and displays full of items. Despite the strange air, and the cluttering, it doesn’t appear menacing. Along with the clutter, there is also a section devoted to all sorts of teas and tinctures the woman happily shows some.

DORMAL (V.O.)

“Let’s just say we decided to try some of the tea. It was… an experience. “

Dormal and Silverbell buy a cup each, and take a seat in the shop to drink it.As the minutes go on they start to stare around the shop with wide eyes, and every now and again they would break into giggles.

SILVERBELL (V.O.)

“Let’s just say I think the guards were trying this tea on on their days off. You’d think it was our first time drinking, or something. I think we were giggling by the time we left the store.”

CUT TO:

INT. KING’S CASTLE – THE KING’S CHAMBERS – NIGHT

DOMERIN

(arching a brow)

“Wait, so this store was selling drugged tea?”

DORMAL

“Yes? Though I don’t think it was anything dangerous. Imagine someone wrapping you up in a fluffy rainbow and pushing you out the door. I could hear music in my head, and there were so many colors in front of my eyes. It was actually quite relaxing, in a way.”

Domerin looks torn between displeasure and amusement. Next to him Crescent’s shoulders shake with laughter, and even Rose has a twinkle in her eyes.

ROSE

“I sneaked out of the palace plenty of times, but I can’t say I ever got myself in a situation like that. You’re lucky you didn’t get yourself hurt. How did you get home?”

CUT TO:

EXT. CITY PARK – CENTRAL LAKE – DAY

Dormal and Silverbell, still disguised by magic, sit on a park bench near a small lake. There are people all around having fun, playing, reading, riding paddleboats in the lake. The royal siblings giggle and point out different things to each other. Dormal becomes concerned and hurries over to talk to some people near a group of ducks, waving his arms a bit.

SILVERBELL (V.O.)

“We walked back, eventually. I’m not even sure how long we were gone. I think we even went to the park and just sat there starting at the ducks for an hour. It felt like the right thing to do.”

DORMAL (V.O.)

“I kept telling people not to pet them, over and over. I think they thought I was crazy. I remember smiling at them, thinking I now had a duck smile to add to my repertoire.”

CUT TO:

INT. KING’S CASTLE – THE KING’S CHAMBERS – NIGHT

DORMAL

(smiles, though he looks momentarily sad)

“Looking back it’s funny, but we’re really lucky my spell didn’t wear off before the tea did. It would have been a scandal if the king and princess were found walking the streets under the influence. I don’t think I should do it again.”

DOMERIN

“It was dangerous, and it probably shouldn’t have happened. But, I think a little extra caution would have been fine.”

Rose stands and crosses the space, sitting by her son. She lays a hand on his arm.

ROSE

“Your father is right, dear. You shouldn’t change who you are, or suppress those desires. You know how to handle yourself, just be a little more cautious next time. And, perhaps, don’t let your sister choose the tea.”

SILVERBELL

(laughing)

“Hey! Well, I guess that’s fair enough.”

DORMAL

(smiles)

“Thank you mother. I’m always grateful for your advice.”

The family settles back in, enjoying their wine, and chatting.

The clock strikes the hour, letting off a cheerful chime.

DOMERIN

(hugs Crescent close, and kisses him lightly)

“Happy new year everyone. I can’t think of anyone better to pass the night with.”

Everyone toasts to that, rising and exchanges hugs and kind words for the year to come. Silverbell moves to the window, peering out. The midnight air is dancing.

SILVERBELL

“It’s snowing! The first snowfall of the year.”

The rest of the family rises and joins her, and they watch the snow falling on the courtyard, as distant fireworks sound the arrival of the new year.

CRESCENT

“Let’s make it a good one.”

FADE TO BLACK

Crescent – The Warmth of Winter

A winter holiday

It was the dead of winter and snow had been falling steadily for the past few weeks. They’d been lucky to have no blizzards so far, and travel was still freely possible, if rather slower going. His Mistress still required supplies during the coldest months, and the townsfolk still had requests to make of her, so the ability to travel was a good thing for him. The deep snow hadn’t provided him with much of a barrier. His feline shape was light and fleet of foot, letting him move far faster than any mount could have. He had an added bonus in that his thicker winter coat protected him from a good portion of the cold.

Unfortunately, he wouldn’t have the luxury of that once he reached town. It was the time of the crescent moon, which allowed him to walk as a man, and he would need to be in a man’s shape to do his business. He wasn’t so stubborn that he couldn’t see the value in his human form. He could learn things he couldn’t as a cat, which had been quite the shock at the beginning. Cats liked to think they can find out anything and everything they pleased.

Luckily, his Mistress had given him a set of clothing just for this task. He kept a small cache of clothing the edge of the forest, carefully hidden so it wouldn’t be found, by man or animal. He had to shift first, to get the box out of it’s hiding place. The cold hit him hard, shivering as the snow drifted down on his furless form. How humans dealt with being so naked he would never know. He pulled the clothing on quickly, finishing off with a thick pair of boots, fingers accustomed to all the buttons and ties by now. It would take a few moments to warm up, but he felt distinctly better. He re-stashed the box when he was done and continued on his way; the Witch’s boy making his trek into town.

He’d hardly made it to the outskirts when the first blossoms of color greeted his eyes. All around him was white and grey, the land, the sky, the snow, broken only by the dark, straight outlines of the trees behind him. The path before him was a riot of color. Branches sported colorful bunting, each length carefully draped, decorated with bold fabric and felt that had been cut into various shapes. Striped stars, squares, triangles, even a few shaped like leaves, all crafted by skilled hands. There were individual strips of cloth too, that hung down in spirals, wafting gently in the wind. Cherry red, deep blue, vibrant green, even bright yellow festooned the dark trees, cutting through the grey.

A grin curled his lips at the welcoming sight. He always liked visiting around this time of year. Lean months always showed the true face of people. Simple kindness tended to disappear in the absence of warmth and sunlight. There were places he could have expected a quick kick in his direction, if he was found lurking around the back stoop. Surprisingly, even with the short, cold days the locals here were welcoming, and in good spirit. The decoration helped to show what he could expect, though it had more meaning than just to look pretty.

People moved in the streets as he entered the town proper, greeting him with waves and nods. He was a familiar sight, and word of his arrival would travel fast. His gaze was drawn to the houses. In each and every house, in every building, a candle burned in the front window. He’d seen these before, only in wintertime, as the deepest of the dark set in. The candles, too, were colored, specially made ones that marked the season. The locals had a way of dying the wax, but had gone a step further and found a way to color the wicks, so the flame glowed too. He liked the green ones the best.

The decorations were made with care. In this town winter wasn’t just a time for the locals to hide away in their homes, cursing the cold and dark. It was a month of celebration, of endings and new beginnings. It had all surprised him at first. Cats did not tend to celebrate the way humans did, and his Mistress kept the end of the year in her own way. There was ritual, and magic, but it was different to what the villagers did. He’d not seen a point to it, when he’d first heard of their celebrations, but the first time he’d come into town and seen the colorful banners he’d been somewhat enthralled. The town was filled with color, despite the snow.

The first year he’d come, he’d learned one of the elders would be telling the stories to the children at the inn. Intrigued, and interested to learn about what was going on, he’d sat in and listened. Every year, around this time, the locals honored the goddess of winter, Eira, and celebrated the upcoming new year. Winter was a harsh time, but it was also a part of life. It was easy to curse winter, but the people here honored winter just as they did the other seasons. Just like her partner, Aya of spring, Eira was welcomed by the local people.

He made his way to the inn, ordering something warm to eat. People would come to him, bringing requests to be brought back to his Mistress.  Before the first, Jeless, the innkeepers daughter came over, setting a hot cider down in front of him, with a smile. She often came to speak with him during his visits, lingering longer than the others. He wasn’t ignorant of her interest, though he did find it a bit amusing, still not quite sure how he felt about humans in that respect.

“It’s wickedly cold out, and will be colder later. You should stay tonight, join us at the bonfire.” She was a keen girl, with an even keener look, who clearly knew what she wanted. There was invitation in her eyes, of the sort that wasn’t entirely wholesome. She wasn’t afraid of who he was. Sometimes he did linteg in town overnight, and he considered it, thinking it might be fun. He sent a silent question in his mind.

His Mistress was there in a moment, behind his eyes, like a gentle tickle in the back of the throat. Some might have been put off but he welcomed her presence, warm and comforting. Their link was a part of him, as natural as breathing. He could hear her smile in her voice. ~Stay, my darling. We will keep the night together when you return.~ He sent her a conformation, knowing she would watch the festivities through his eyes if she wanted to.

He grinned up at the young woman. “I’ll be there.” She returned the look with pleasure.

The rest of the afternoon was business. Part of it was spent warm and cozy in the main room of the inn. News of his presence traveled fast and he had many visitors, all with requests he would take back to his Mistress. He spoke softly with them in a corner, to give some privacy, though no one was so crass as to listen in on another’s business with the witch. After that he went from shop to shop, ordering what was needed, until he retired to the inn again for rest before the sun set.

The mood was festive, even as night rolled in. There was laughter and the innkeeper held a grand dinner in the main room for anyone without family to share with. Jeless made a point to sit next to him, gently bumping him now and again during the meal. The townsfolk shared stories of the past year, along with songs and laughter. After some rest everyone bundled up for the bonfire.

The air was cold as knives down the throat as they made their way to the center of town, where the logs had been carefully stacked. The colored candles lit the way and the silence was broken by the sound of so many boots crunching the snow underneath. Children danced and laughed, young couples hung on each others arms, old women had a knowing sparkle in their eyes.

The torch was brought with great pomp, and the fire set. The bonfire was carefully built to ensure it would burn high but pose no danger to the surrounding houses, and it would have guardians until it finally burnt out. Cheers went up as the fire took hold and consumed the logs. The heat roared, chasing away the immediate chill, though the cold lingered at his back. After a few words from one of the elders, the festivities began in earnest.

Firstly, there were gifts for the goddess. They honored her coming with humble offerings, the products of winter. Frozen grapes from the vine, glistering purple under their covering of ice. A fine stag, taken in the forest snow, fur dark as chestnut. A plait made of pine rushes, sweet and sour smelling, one of the few plants that still grew in the wintertime. Each were given with thought, and care. There was a moment of silence in the wake of it, even the children quieting. It was there, in the place between heat and cold, light and dark, past and future. The people offered, and remembered.

Eira, goddess of winter, did not lay her cloak over them to be cruel. She was the one who gave the earth a time to rest before spring. Not death and darkness, but sleep and dreams of blooming. She gave the people a time to reflect over the past year, in the quiet days muted by the snow. The cold brought them together to seek warmth, and the lean days brought neighbor to neighbor. It was a time of reflection, kindness, and joy. It was a reminder, and a time to be thankful, and the people did not forget that.

After the silence, and the offerings, a great cheer went up. Someone began to sing, and the voices around raised to join them. There was food, drink, dancing, plenty of song, and at some point later Jeless found his arm again. A warmth raised inside of Crescent, and a sense of connection, and for one night he was no different from any of the rest of them. It was a strange feeling for a cat, but not a bad one. He would return to his Mistress tomorrow with many tales to tell of his favorite yearly holiday.

Halloween Special: Crescent & Rose – Book of Ghosts

A book infested with ghosts

The days were growing short, and the air turning chill when the visitors came. Despite the remote location, guests weren’t unusual at the witch’s hut, deep in the wood, edging the swamp. Sometimes it was local people, in some desperate need. Most locals knew they could bring their non-urgent troubles to the witch’s boy, when he visited town every month, saving themselves the trip into the woods.

So it was, a good potion of their visitors were finely dressed travelers, from far further away, drawn by his mistresses’ reputation. They often wore cloaks to try and offer some semblance of obfuscation, but their well bred horses always gave them away. He liked to watch them as they picked their way through the woods, so out of place, letting his mistress watch through his eyes, if she so desired. It was easy to become lost, if you didn’t know the way, and so he, the small golden cat, the witch’s familiar, eventually appeared to lead the travelers to their destination.

It was a king this time. He was beautiful, for a human, with his meticulously trimmed beard and long face, though his eyes were sunken and dark. Haunted. He rode with a small party of guards, but there was more to his entourage than that. He had a second following, a mass of flickering, silvery shapes, pulled along in their wake, like a flag fluttering madly in a strong wind. He could see them without aid, though it was hard to pick out individuals. He knew what they were. Cats never needed assistance seeing the spirit world.

When they arrived his mistress greeted them, and bade the king alone to come inside. It was always amusing to watch the finely garbed visitors shuffling and unsure, shifting in their chair while his mistress made them tea. Though she lived alone, aside from him, his mistress understood people. She knew what they wanted, how to soothe them, but never sugar coated what needed to be said.

There was something else that held his interest more than the king. He hopped up on the windowsill, one of his favorite perches, and looked outside. The men were uneasy, but arrayed around them, all through the front garden, were ghosts. He’d never seen so many in one place. They all stood stock still, staring at the house. He felt the fur on his back rise like a saw blade, his tail swishing back and forth. His mistress could sense his distress, and sent a touch of reassurance across their link. He wasn’t entirely sure how she was so calm given what was out there. Frankly, they gave him the creeps, and he saw plenty out in the swamp. Perhaps it was the way they stared, without blinking.

Calm yourself, my dear one.

Behind him the king was speaking. He hardly dared to remain in the window with those eyes upon him and so he hopped down and crossed the space, climbing up onto the table and curling up at the edge of it. The king had accepted the tea, and told his story over the steaming cup. There was a book, an item of state, a family heirloom, but he couldn’t keep it anymore. It was haunted, he said. He couldn’t sleep, and dark thoughts had taken up residence in his mind. He feared for his family, his mind, and his crown. He begged her to cleanse it, willing to pay any price she desired.

If he’d had such an item in his possession, he would have wanted done with it as quickly as possible.

His mistress agreed, after some small negotiation, and followed the king outside. He followed in their wake, fur still bristled in the presence of the ghosts, and the king handed the book over. It was wrapped tightly in black cloth. Even like that, he could feel an aura around it. His mistress charged him with leading the party safely out of the woods, as she took time to examine the book. He didn’t like to leave her there, but she could well take care of herself. He took one look back as the branches embraced him, the ring of ghosts still arrayed around the witch’s comfortable home.

They were still there when he got back. He paused at the edge of the wood, part of him not wanting to go through them. His mistresses’ voice rang in his mind, sounding a bit amused.  Afraid, Crescent?

If you must know, yes. They have a fell aura around them. He tried to sound dismissive, but was sure she saw right through it.

I believe some dark magic in the book imbues them with that feeling. Come inside, I have need of you.

He wouldn’t deny his mistress, and so he slunk his way toward the house, wary and alert, through the ring of ghosts. They never looked anywhere but forward.

There was an old man, just at the edge of the garden. Like all the others his form was silvery, slightly see through. A long beard ran down the front of his chest and even being a cat he could tell the clothes were ancient. He chanced a look back as he passed and he could see a dark ring around the man’s neck, as if he’d been strangled, or worse.

A young girl, in what looked to be a nightgown, stood in the center of the vegetable patch. She was soft looking, in that way human children were. Despite her silvery hue one could see her lips were stained a dark black, and puffy, her skin with a tint. Her dark hair fell loose around her, looking as if it were wet, and dripping. He felt sure the water had taken her.

Near the front, uncomfortably close to the door, was a woman in a long flowing gown, with three children clutching at her skirts. From the back they looked relatively normal but seeing their fronts all four were stained all over with what must have been blood. All the while they never moved, staring at the wooden door.

They were only a few among many, all looking as if they’d died in horrible ways. He half bolted the rest of the way to the door and, thankfully, it opened the moment he reached it. His mistress wouldn’t have been so cruel as to make him wait out there.

“It’s all right, my dearest,” she assured, picking him up and settling him in her lap, running a soft hand over his fur. He took comfort from her touch, as he always did, and he nuzzled her side with a cheek. She knew his very soul.

The book was across the room, still wrapped, but it was hard to relax with it in the house.

His ears swiveled back, flattening against his head. I don’t like it. It feels alive.

“Its is, in a way.” She frowned softly. “This book is not just haunted, it’s infested. I’ve never seen an object have so many spirits bound to it.”

What caused it? You said you thought there was something inside it.

“Yes”, she said, gently scratching behind her familiar’s ears. “It’s been cursed with something dark. There’s almost a presence there now. I doubt it was anything more than a curse at the beginning, meant to drive the owner mad. But the souls that have been bound to it over the years have given it power, made it in to something else. I doubt it will have influence over us, but we must be swift, and careful. The entity will not take kindly to us trying to strip it away.”

Can you cleanse it?

She looked down at him, an amused little smile on her lips. “You doubt me Crescent?” Her tone suggested she was mildly teasing him, and he lifted himself up, gently bumping her chin with the top of his head.

Of course not! I just want you to be careful is all!

She laughed softly, but it was not a cruel sound, and wrapped an arm around him. “That’s why you’ll be there too, to help me. Who better to assure I don’t do anything foolish?”

He was sure there were far better people, including herself, but despite his dislike of the book, he would never leave her alone to handle something like this.

The witch and her familiar had taken the rest of the day to ready things, setting wards, gathering impliments, and making sure everything was in its proper place. That night they met in the ritual space behind her hut. Despite the chill in the air, she would never have done this in the house. The wards were strong, the ground marked, and the scent of burning herbs floated in the air. The moon above shone strong, lending her its power. They had done all they could to assure their own safety.

She unwrapped the book, and ran a pale hand over it. They could both feel how wrong it felt. It was warm, almost as if it were alive and breathing.

“Are you ready?” She asked, looking over at her golden cat, one dark brow arching in question.

As ready as I’ll ever be.

She opened the book, and the air quickly began to chill, shapes flickering and forming into a silvery circle around them. “Then let’s begin.”

Valerian & Rose – Sight and Meaning

Not everything has to mean something

It was past midnight, and Valerian padded quietly through the royal families’ private rooms. He’d been woken from his sleep by a vision, leaving his mind troubled. He almost always sought his mother out when that happened. It was far from the first time a vision had come in the middle of the night, and his mother had always told him he was welcome to come to her, if he felt he needed to. Luckily, he found his mother still awake; settled and reading in bed. She’d patted the bed by her side and he hopped up, settling close. Just being near her helped. He might not have been as small as he once was, but he always took comfort from being close.

He’d been young when he’d started having the visions. Neither of his siblings got them, and though they were both sympathetic, it was his mother’s council he always sought, for she’d always understood. She’d grown up having them too, likely from the same age he had.

“I had another vision, Mother.” Some of his tension eased as she slipped her arm around him.

“They seem to be happening often, of late. Tell me, what did you see?”

“C-couldn’t I just show you?” He blinked. His first instinct had been to share the vision through magic. The power ran strong in his blood, a gift from his mother, but she’d never it let it be his, or his siblings, only source of strength.

“Yes, but remember what I told you, dearest? There’s power in working through it out loud. Try to put it into words. Let it flow.” Her voice was gently encouraging, which helped to calm his mind.

Valerian went quiet for a few moments, shuffling back through the vision. Unlike dreams, they always seemed so clear, not fading with the day.

“I saw the palace and the throne room. The big curtains were all drawn back, to let in the light. Everything was bathed in this red light. Sort of like how it is when we open all the curtains in the evening. That bright, orange red that you get while the sun is going down. It made everything really eerie.

Dormal was standing in front of the throne, wearing all sorts of different clothing, like we do sometimes when we’d play pretend.” The twins were fond of playing by raiding drawers and throwing on all manner of mismatched clothing. It had taken a bit longer to rope their brother into that game. “He looked all serious though. Sort of like Domerin, but… grim.”

“Was anyone else there with him?” His mother looked as if she were thinking, but didn’t press or demand for information.

Silverbell, and I were there, but were in a corner, and we were in our cat forms. We were wearing clothes too. Like, little cat clothes. It would have been funny if everything hadn’t been so wrong feeling. We kept crying out, but no one was paying attention to us. You, Crescent, and Domerin weren’t there.”

“So the three of you were alone?”

Valieran shook his head. “No. Several of the magisters were there. Krenn, the big fat one,” he hesitated, knowing his mother didn’t overly like it when he referred to people that way, “was droning on and on, but I couldn’t understand what he was saying. He had your crown, and it started to twist in his hands, like it was made of snakes.” He shuddered a bit at the memory, and how surreal it had looked.

His mother gently squeezed his shoulders. “You’re doing well, my darling. What did he do with the crown?”

“He turned Dormal away from us and put it on his head, and it started to twist, until it became sort of a cage around his head. It looked painful, but Dormal didn’t make a sound. When it was done Dormal started to turn toward us then, but the vision ended before I could see his face properly. I just woke up feeling so sure I would see him smiling. It was terrible.”

He looked up at his mother, his gaze seeking. “Does my vision mean someone is going to try to hurt Dormal?” His brother was precious to him. Even at this age he knew there were people who might seek to harm him.

The queen reached up, gently smoothing her soft hand across his cheek. If she was afraid of what he’d Seen, she wasn’t letting it show. “I can’t say for sure. Visions are possibilities. A bit like looking through windows at potential worlds. They come for a reason, and some are clearer than others. Some are downright scary.

It’s here that you need to step back, and try to look at it calmly to understand it, even if you’re afraid, or shaken. Remember, my darling,” the queen said, her voice reassuring, “not everything has to mean something. If you try to assign a meaning to everything you’ll spend your whole life focused on it, or sometimes, make a rash action you can’t take back. Magister Krenn might have ill feelings towards your brother. It’s something to investigate, but nothing would be gained by rushing to confront him. Do you understand?”

Valerian thought he did, and gave a little nod. He wanted to protect Dormal, keep him safe from those who wanted to hurt him, but even at his age he understood that things were complicated. He’d heard his mother and father talking enough times about untangling webs and moving cautiously among the nobles and magisters. “I think so, mother. Take what I see and don’t be afraid to look at it from all angles. Think, and then act.”

His mother smiled, and it warmed his heart, dispelling the lingering ill feeling the vision had left behind. “The Sight can be frightening,” she said, “but it is a valuable guide. As you get older, you’ll understand more of what you see.”

He took comfort from that, and trusted his mother’s words. “I want to help Dormal however I can.” There was a determination in his eyes and voice. Despite being the youngest he sought to do all he could for the family.

“Your brother will one day take the throne, and he’ll need the support of all of us when that day comes. You have a unique ability, and I know it’ll come to help him along the way.”

Valerian finally smiled, deeply pleased with the idea. He didn’t think he needed to be afraid of it, if he could use it to help his family, and others.

The queen pulled him into her arms, giving him a tight hug, which he returned happily. “Do you feel better, my little Valerian?”

He nodded, whispering his thanks in her ear.