Shifting Shadows: Stories from the World of Mercy Thompson

 
9780425265017: Shifting Shadows: Stories from the World of Mercy Thompson
Extrait :

SILVER

Herein is the ill-fated romance between Ariana and Samuel, the first half of the story that continues in Silver Borne. This is also an origin story of sorts, because how he met Ariana is also tied up with the story of the witch, his grandmother, who held Samuel and his father for such a long time. I have to say that if it had not been for the constant requests for this story, I, usually a teller of happier tales, would have left this one alone.

As a historical note—and for those who need to know how old Samuel and Bran are—Christianity came to Wales very early, perhaps as early as the first or second century with the Romans. When exactly the events of this novella took place, neither Samuel nor Bran could tell me. Bran just smiled like a boy without cares—so I knew it hurt him to remember—and said, “We didn’t pay attention to time that way. Not then.” Samuel told me, “When you get just so old, those first days blur together.” I am not a werewolf, but I can, after all this time, tell when Samuel is lying to me.

I do know that the events in this story happen a long, long time before Moon Called.

ONE

Three weeks to the day after I buried my youngest child, and several days after I buried my oldest—a young woman who would never become older—someone knocked at my door.

I rolled off my sleeping mat to my feet but made no move to answer the knock. It was pitch-dark outside, and the only reason anyone knocked at my door in the middle of the night was because someone was ill. All of my knowledge of herb lore and healing had not been able to save my wife or my children. If someone was ill, they were better off without me.

“I can hear you,” said my da’s voice gruffly. “Let me in.”

Another day, before the death of my family, I would have been surprised. It had been a long time since I’d heard my father’s voice. But my da, he’d always known when I was in trouble. That insight had outlasted my childhood.

I was beyond caring about anything, expected or unexpected. Being used to doing what he asked, I opened the door and stepped back.

The man standing outside entered quickly, careful not to lose the heat of the evening’s fire. The hearth in the center of my home was banked and covered for the night, and I wouldn’t fuel it again until the morning. With the door shut, the room was too dark to see because the window openings were also covered against the cold night air.

I did not see how he did it because there was no sound of striking flint, but he lit the tallow candle. He had always kept a candle on the ledge, just inside the door, where one of the rocks that formed the walls of the house stuck out. After he had gone and left the hut to me, I found it practical to leave one there as well.

In that dim but useful light, he pulled down the hood of his tattered cloak, and I saw his lined face, which looked older and more weather-beaten than when I’d last seen him, a dozen or more seasons ago.

His hair was threaded through with hoary gray, and his beard was an unfamiliar snow-white. He moved with a limp that he hadn’t had the last time I’d seen him, but other than that he looked good for an old man. He set down the big pack he carried on his back and the leather bag that held his pipes. He shrugged off his outerwear and hung it up beside the door where my da had always hung such things.

“The crows told me that you needed me,” he said to my silence.

He seldom spoke of uncanny things, my da, and only to the family—which was down to just me, as my younger brother had died four years ago of a wasting sickness. But Da was better at predicting things and knowing things than the hedge witch who held sway in our village. He also had an easier time lighting fires or candles than any other person I knew, wet wood, poor tinder, or untrimmed wick—it didn’t matter to him.

“I don’t know how you can help,” I told him, my voice harsh from lack of use. “They are all dead. My wife, my children.”

He looked down, and I knew that it wasn’t news to him, that the crows—or whatever magic had spoken to him—had told him about their deaths.

“Well, then,” he said, “it was time for me to come.” He looked up and met my eyes, and I could see the worry in his face. “Though I thought that I ran ahead of trouble, not behind.”

The words should have sent a chill down my spine, but I foolishly believed that the worst thing that could happen to me already had.

“How long are you staying?” I asked.

He tilted his head as if he heard something that I did not. “For the winter,” he told me at last, and I tried not to feel relief that I would not be alone. I tried not to feel anything but grief. My family deserved my grief—and I, who had failed to save them, did not deserve to feel relief.

• • •

It was a harsh winter, as if nature herself mourned with me. My da, he didn’t get in the way of my grieving, but he did make sure I got up every morning and did the things that were needful to get through the day. He didn’t push, just watched me until I did the right thing. A man worked, and he tended those things that needed tending—I knew those lessons from my childhood. He wasn’t a man people gainsaid, and that was as true of me as it was the rest of the village.

People came by to greet him. Some of the attention was because he’d been respected and liked, but more was because he could be coaxed to play for them. Music wasn’t uncommon in our village, most folk sang and played a little drum or pipe. But most folk didn’t sing like my da. When my mother died, no one had been surprised when he’d taken back to traveling, singing for his room and board, as he’d been doing when he first met her.

People brought him a little of whatever they had to pay for his music, and between that and the medicine I traded in barter, we had enough for winter stores even though I hadn’t put things back as I usually did. I hadn’t been worried about whether there was enough food to eat or enough wood to burn.

I hadn’t worried about myself because I’d have as soon joined my little family in their cold graves. With my da here, that route now smacked of cowardice—and if I forgot that sometimes, my da’s cool gaze reminded me.

It felt odd, though, not to have someone to take care of; for so long I had been the head of the family. I was not in the habit of worrying about my da: he wasn’t the kind of person who needed anyone to fuss over him. He’d survived his childhood—not that he’d spoken of it to me beyond that it had been rough. But my ma, she’d known whatever it had been, and it had sparked fierce pride tinged with sorrow and tenderness. I knew only that he’d left his home while still a stripling boy. He had traveled and thrived in a world hostile to strangers.

He was tough, and it gave him confidence that had backed down my ma’s folk when they objected to her marrying a man from outside the village. He was smart—and more than that, he was wise. When he spoke on village matters, which he didn’t do often, the villagers listened to him.

He’d survived traveling the world after my mother’s death—and he was still lit with the joy that made my home warmer than the logs on the hearth, though the chill left by the death of my little ones and their ma was deep.

My da, he could survive anything, and his example forced me to do the same. Even when I didn’t want to.

TWO

On the shortest night of the year, when the full moon hung in the sky, my grandmother came to us. I’d returned to my duties as village healer, so I didn’t even think of not answering a knock in the dead of night. Da had gotten used to the middle-of-the-night summonses that were the lot of a healer. He didn’t stir, though I was certain he was awake.

I opened the door to a stranger. She was a wild-looking young woman with hair that flowed in unkempt, tangled tresses all the way to the back of her knees. Her face was uncanny and so beautiful that I didn’t pay much heed to the beast that crouched beside her, huge though he was.

“The son,” she said to me. The magic flows strongly in you. Her voice echoed in my head.

“No,” said my da, who had exploded to his feet the moment I opened the door. He stepped between us. “You will not have him.”

“You shouldn’t have run away,” she told him. “But I forgive you because you brought a gift with you.”

“I will never willingly serve you, Mother,” my da said in a voice I’d never heard from him before. “I told you we are done.”

“You speak as though I would give you a choice,” she said. She glanced down, and the beast I had taken for a dog lunged at my da.

I grabbed the cudgel I kept beside the door, but the beast was faster than I was. It had time to bury its fangs in my da’s gut and jerk him between us. The only reason I didn’t brain Da was because I dropped the cudgel midswing. And after that, there was no chance to fight.

• • •

She turned us into monsters—werewolves—though I didn’t hear that term for many years. She bound us to her service with witchcraft and more cruelly through her ability to break into our minds—in this she had more trouble with Da than with the rest of her wolves. Though she looked like a young woman to all of my senses, I think she was centuries old when she came knocking on my door.

The first transformation from human to werewolf is harsh under the best of circumstances. I now know that most people attacked brutally enough to be Changed die. The witch had some way to interfere, to hold her victims to life until they became the beasts she desired. Even so, I would have died if my da had not anchored me. I heard his voice in my head, cool and demanding, and I had to obey him, had to live. That he was able to do this while undergoing a like fate to mine is a fair insight into the man my da is. That I lived was something that took me a very long time to forgive him for.

I do not know, nor do I wish to, how long I lived as a werewolf serving my grandmother. It could have been a decade or centuries, though I think it was closer to the latter than the former. It was long enough that I had time to forget my given name. I deliberately left it behind because I was no longer that person, but I had not thought to lose it altogether. My name was not the only memory I lost.

I no longer remembered my first wife’s face or the faces of my children. Though sometimes in dreams, even all these centuries later, I hear the cry of “Taid! Taid!” as a child calls for his father. The voice, I believe, is that of my firstborn son. In the dream, he is lost, and I cannot find him no matter where I look.

My da likes to say that sometimes forgetfulness is a gift. Perhaps had I remembered them clearly, remembered what I’d once had, I would not have survived my time serving the witch. I learned to live in the moment, and the wolf who shared my body and soul made it easy: a beast feels no remorse for the past nor hope for the future.

THREE

Once upon a time, there was a fair maiden of the faerie courts who rode away from a hunting party, chasing something she could glimpse just ahead of her. Eventually she came to a glade where a strange and handsome man awaited her with food and drink. She ate the food and drank his wine and stayed with the lord of the forest even when the rest of her people found her, sending them back to the court without her.

Time passed, and she gave birth to a girl child who grew up as talented as she was wise. In a human tale, this couple would have had a happily-ever-after ending. But the fae are not human, and they live a very, very long time. Happily-ever-after is seldom long enough for them, and that was true for these two lovers. But for a time they were as happy as any.

They called their daughter Ariana, which means silver, as she early on had an affinity for that metal. As she grew up, it became apparent that her power harked back to the height of fae glory. By the time she reached adulthood, her power outshone even the forest lord’s, and he was centuries old and steeped with the magic of the forest.

It is true that the high-court fae were notoriously fickle. It is also true that a forest lord has two aspects: the first is civilized and beautiful as any of the Tuatha Dé Danann, the second is wild as the forest he rules. The sidhe lady eventually grew bored, or perhaps her distaste for her lover’s wilder half became too strong. Whatever the reason, she left her grown daughter and her lover without a farewell or notice, to return to the court.

The forest lord mourned his lover only briefly, for his kind, too, are as light in their affections as they are terrible in their hatreds. For a while after she left, he still loved his daughter and took joy in her. But when her power eclipsed his own, he grew jealous and spiteful. When the other fae took notice of her gifts and came to her with gold and jewels to entice her to share her magic, his jealousy outgrew his love and made it as nothing.

FOUR

The pack customarily bedded down in the woods behind the witch’s cottage. It was mountainous there, but not particularly cold, though winter still held snow and autumn a fine frost. Our coats were thick, and the interior of the cottage was smoky, too warm, and reeked unpleasantly of rotting things both physical and spiritual.

I don’t know about my da or the others, but I was happy to be out of the witch’s way as much as possible. She kept us hidden from those who sought her services, both as unseen protection—because she dealt with powerful and dread beings—and as a precaution because she only mostly controlled us. My da she never let too near her unless she had some of the other, more obedient wolves nearby.

• • •

My father, curled up by himself, raised his head as I came back from hunting. He stood and gave me a look before turning and trotting off into the woods where the leaves were ruddy and gold. I hesitated, but even then, the obedience was a part of our relationship. Instead of settling down to sleep until morning as I had planned, I stretched twice, then ran in his trail until I caught up. Though I didn’t look behind me, I knew that the others followed—as they always did.

At first I thought the other wolves followed us to spy for the witch, but time had proven that wrong. There were six of us werewolves, seven really, though we all knew that Adda was dying—he had trouble stumbling down the trail into the hollow, and I would have to help him up it when we returned.

I had the impression that my father had known some of the wolves from his childhood, but he never confirmed or denied it. He never spoke to them or of them when we were in human form—and they never left their wolf shape.

Da had found a small sheltered hollow in the lee of a downed oak shortly after the witch had brought us here. It served to keep us hidden and offered some protection from the weather for our naked bodies. Even though my human skin didn’t get cold as it had before the wolf entered my soul, skin was not as good as fur. It wasn’t winter yet, but the leaves had begun to change to autumn’s colors, and there was a bite to the air.

Da began his change as soon as we were in the ...

Revue de presse :

“One of the best urban fantasy anthologies I’ve ever read.”— The BiblioSanctum

“These intriguing, suspenseful, and occasionally heartwarming stories will thrill and delight fans of Mercy and her friends.”— Publishers Weekly

Shifting Shadows is beautifully compiled, and all of the tales engaged me making this a total win for Briggs’ fans. I walked away with a smile and new books in my TBR pile.”— Caffeinated Book Reviewer

Shifting Shadows is everything fans of Patricia Briggs will like…there is no disputing that Ms. Briggs is a superb storyteller.”— Fiction Vixen Book Reviews

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