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Author's note: I was reading a magazine about how a young girl never really felt she belonged where she was, and it inspired me to right about how this person would feel. I hope people will understand that life isn't always as simple as it appears
The blood red sun started to rise over the evergreen moors as I watched the silent figure slip away. Mist crept off the deep green coniferous trees, and the normally murky waters of the lake lay clear and crisp in the still air of a September morning. A chill had already set itself within my very bones. These old bones would not serve their purpose much longer, and I knew that the end was nigh. My mission not yet over, He had allowed me to walk this earth for a little longer. Long enough to twist the fate of a young child. A child that would either save, or destroy the cruel intensity of the world yet unknown to her. A world full of danger, a world full of bleakness and hatred. A world that to be worth saving, needed a new leader. A world that needed her.
Aziza Jocasta was a simple child. Born of a rich family, she never wanted much as a child, and although given many an opportunity in life, she never became a spoilt brat. She was a quiet, clever girl with delicate complexions and long, thick brown hair that fell in waves to her midriff. Her eyes were smoky grey and her lips the colour of a perfect red rose. Her face was as pale as the moon, and radiated beauty. She was shy, and was not given to talking to many people, as she had presumed that people did not want to talk to her. Given half the chance to get to know her, Aziza was the nicest person you could hope to imagine. Her perfection was out of this world, and her beauty seemed to have been crafted by the hands of Aphrodite herself. Her eyes missed nothing, and her brain was as sharp and clever as Athena in her glory. From the age of four, not a harsh word was uttered from Aziza's lips. She had the patience and courtesy of Artemis and the ability to heal like Apollo.
All her mannerisms were strange, for her father and mother were the most violent, horrid and ugly people you could ever have met. Her father ran a slaughter house, and her mother a boxing club. Lord and Lady Jocasta, the most unlikely people to be in a place of power. Lady Jocasta was small, fat and had fists the size of sledgehammers. Lord Jocasta had a greasy beard and a bald head. He was tall and foreboding, with a short temper and a lisp that landed you in spit whenever you spoke with him. In other words, Aziza was a misfit. The people around her feared her beauty, and her father's legendary temper. If any were to talk to Aziza, a slow painful death at the slaughterhouse awaited any animal you owned, as well as a hefty fine that would leave you in debt to the Jocastas. Many a man had been put out of his home by the Lord and his wife. Whether or not you had a sick wife, or a poor crippled child, hungry due to lack of money to buy food with, you never got to stay.
All these facts meant that Aziza was an incredibly lonely child. She was never given the chance to make any friends, and her people skills suffered because of this. Yet Aziza had a strange ability. She was able to converse with the animals that seemed drawn to her. This made her even sadder as a child, as she could hear the screams of the animals that went into the slaughter house and never came out. She longed to help, to shut down the evil that was her father's trade. But she couldn't do anything. So she conversed with the badgers, and rabbits and wolves that sat outside her window at night. They taught her to value the world and not allow anyone to take advantage of her.
She had long since learned to hide her gift from her greedy, manipulative parents. She was only young but she knew that that would not protect her from the evil thoughts and deeds of the Lord and Lady. Sometimes she asked herself if she were a changeling, if she were really the true daughter of these monsters. She knew she didn't belong in this sick and twisted family, where the nice were made to suffer. In her mind, no evil should prosper when there were worthier out there that deserved much more than they ever got. But she was a nothing, as her parents reminded her every day. The Jocastas considered Aziza a failure. They had wanted a son and heir. And all they got was an annoying little girl. But as time rolled by, they realized they could use Aziza to their advantage. They would marry her off to the highest bidder, and make the most out of the unfortunate spawn that they hadn't wanted in the first place. The auction was to be held in secret, and Aziza was to have no knowledge, lest she try and run away. A surprise marriage would leave her with no plans, no plans that would allow it to go awry. The day after the auction, and four bags filled with gold later, poor Aziza became destined to marry a bastard child of Lord Pumpis, a lovely man whom had just passed away, leaving all his belongings to his bastard child of who, at the age of eighty five, had never married, and had never taken after his father either. And this is where our story begins
"Oh Betty, what am I to do? I don't want to marry that... that... frumpy old man!" I was pacing backwards and forwards in my plainly decorated bedroom. My poor maid Betty was the one to bear the brunt of my deep hurt and annoyance that my parents had sold me off to an ugly, impolite bastard just because he would pay the most for me. "Well miss, 'e 'as got a lotta money miss. Pardon me for saying miss." I looked at Betty in despair. "How can you say that Betty!? I heard that he has his own bear pit, and some evil dogs that bait and bite the bear until one finally rips it's throat out! How could I live with that? I love animals and you know it!" Betty looked at me. She looked deep into my eyes and studied my desperate face. "Well miss, Cook said you wouldn't want to marry 'im miss, so she sent a letter to 'er mate miss, a nice old lady who lives in a cottage by a lake miss. The lady said yous could live with her miss. If yous was wanting to miss." Betty's face stayed impassive as I gaped at her in shock. I was at a complete and utter loss for words. Betty's face broke into a giant grin as she said; "Didn't think we'd let you marry a bastard did you miss?" I pulled Betty into my arms and gave her a big hug. She and Cook were my only friends in the people world whom I could trust, and they knew all my secrets. "We'd best go see Cook miss; she said there ain’t no time to lose miss. They's want to marry yous tomorrow miss."
Betty and I walked quietly down the maidservant’s passage and snuck into the kitchen. Cook was there waiting for us. Cook is a beefy woman with big arms and a kind face. When she was younger, she had an accident that means she finds it very hard to talk, and Betty became her interpreter. Cook may not be able to talk well, but she was the one who raised me and we know each other inside out. She gathered me into her arms and I thought I saw a small tear roll out of Cook's green eyes as she looked over my shoulder out the window. "It's time for you to go now miss. You need to call a horse 'ere to take you on your way" Betty said, as she unfolded me from Cook's arms and led me towards the back door of our foreboding mansion. "Go on miss. Call ups a horse for you to ride." I looked down at Betty, oh dear Betty. I shall probably never see her again. She had been with me all my life, and I couldn’t imagine being without her. She was putting her job and indeed life on the line for me and I could give her nothing in return. "What of my belongings?" I ask her. "You won't need them where yous going miss," She hugged me as we stepped outside and gave me a small piece of paper with an address written on it. "I hope I don't see you again, for if I do it won't be for long as you’ll have to marry a lumpy old bastard. Now go on and call a horse." She left me then and went back inside, and I could see was her comforting Cook through the window. I stepped into the cold, damp September morning and silently ran to the outlaying forest, tears streaming from my eyes at the loss of my two best friends, the only people to have shown compassion in my upbringing. Once deep in the woods, I sat on a tree stump, and waited for the animals to come.
Hello Aziza. I was greeted by a chorus of voices as I petted the heads of my favored animals. The wolves were by my side, and the rabbits sat nervously a little way back, having lost a few to the wolves a couple of nights back, just as the wolves had lost a few to the hunger and the hunter. Nature is at one with itself, and all must be balanced for it to work. "I am fine thank you. But I am afraid I need to leave you all" More tears poured down my face, as I would not be able to take theses loyal animals with me. One of the younger wolves started whining to its mother. Why do you need to leave? Asked one of the rabbits. "I need to leave for I will be forced to mate with someone I myself have not chosen if I stay with you." There was a general hubub of anger and resentment towards this comment. The animals knew of my predicament, of how my parents disliked me, and how manipulative and horrid they are. "I need the help of a horse to carry me to my destination. Do any of you know where I can ask one for help?"
There was a great thundering of hooves. I looked up and to see the most magnificent horse I had ever met. His midnight coat shined like obsidian, and his bluey black mane flowed in waves behind him, like the sea on a stormy night. His nose had a large white strip running down from forehead to nostrils and I was lost in his intelligent, jet-black eyes. Hello Aziza, speaker to animals. The deep melodic sound of this stallion's voice enveloped my mind, and I knew that there would be no other horse that could take the place of this. I hear you need a ride. I will serve you as long as you need me, for you are a friend. I ask only one thing. That you name me, so we can be equal. I looked into the mysterious black pools of his eyes, "Obsidian." No other name would have fitted this jewel. Very well. Climb on my back and we shall begin our journey. I gathered up the skirts of my dress, a simple grey skirt and bodice that was quite becoming on me, and climbed up to stand on the stump so I could mount this sixteen foot giant. Goodbye Aziza. Good luck on your journey. I left to a chorus of goodbyes from friends I would never meet again.
A light mist enveloped us as we set off; away from the dark past that was Jocasta Hall. The grim mansion faded from my mind as I looked around at the wondrous beauty of nature. A starling flew across the blue sky, racing the slow, fluffy white clouds. I could hear its voice as we trotted through a meadow filled with buttercups and daisies. Worms for the children, worms for the wife, worms for husband, worms for life the starling trilled as I slid off Obsidians back. He stepped away and began to graze as I considered my predicament, and what I was to do with myself now. If this old lady were Cook’s friend, then she was sure to know all about me. How I liked my food and what clothes I liked. As Betty had told me I wouldn’t need any, I presumed my new guardian would provide for me. I hoped this woman needed naught in return, as I had left with nothing. The thought that I was now a penniless child clouded my mind, as a falcon shot from the sky and killed the starling. A thundercloud appeared from nowhere as I mounted Obsidian to continue upon my quest to find my new home.
The rain had been falling for over two days before I finally sighted the lake Betty had told me about. I was soaked through, and wanted a nice warm bath, and some new clothes. My dress was sodden, and weighed twice as much as before. I feared for Obsidian, as I did not want to harm him by becoming too heavy. I am fine Aziza. It will take more than a little water to sicken me. His voice instantly calmed me, it seemed to have that calming and need not worry quality about it. Obsidian whinnied loudly, and all of a sudden the sun came out, heating me, and drying out my clothes. It was as if the sun were trying to make up for the horrid conditions we had had to ride through. Obsidian broke into a canter, and the lake got closer and closer, until we came upon a beach, and a figure dressed all in black.
Obsidian's hooves clattered over the stony beach as we drew nearer it became evident that the figure was an elderly woman. I hope she was polite. I just cannot abide rude strangers. I also hoped that my manners would enable me to come across as nice. I don't feel comfortable talking to people. I prefer to talk to animals. The woman turned and looked at me astride my gargantuan beast. "Good morning. You must be Aziza. Come on into my cottage. It's right over there." She pointed one bony finger towards the middle of the trees. I was suspicious of this old woman. How did she know my name? Obsidian also seemed unsure. His ears pricked backwards and forwards as he sniffed the cool air. Obsidian nickered softly and followed the finger. If he trusted her, then so must I. I could see no cottage, but Obsidian seemed to know where he was going. Suddenly, we came across a small clearing. A cottage stood in the middle, and flowers grew in pockets, somehow surviving the harsh weather conditions. A light frost lay on the grass, and a small spring ran through the side of the clearing. It settled in a little pool in front of the cottage. There was a stable built next to the cottage, so I dismounted and led Obsidian inside the stable, and he settled right in. There was fresh hay and recently made food in the manger. It was bran mash, and it was still hot. How did she know we were going to be here now?
The cottage itself was small, four lower rooms and two bedrooms. Wandering round the cottage, I noticed just how much ivy there was creeping up the walls. The amount indicated that the cottage was ancient; at a guess, I would say it was about two hundred years old. "Did your horse settle in nicely?" I spun around. I hadn't heard her approach. "Yes he did thank you." I replied. An awkward silence descended over us. "Your house is very old." I blurted out before I could stop myself. My cheeks started burning. I looked at the woman, as if for the first time. She had long, shimmering white hair. It lay perfectly straight down her back. Her body was rigid, yet she seemed frail, as if she could drop down dead any minute. She had piercing blue eyes, and painted cherry lips. Her eyes seemed to bore into me as the silence stretched on after my comment. "Yes it is. I've been here since it was built. Come on in." She walked into the cottage.
The cottage was a lot smaller than the manor. It had stone flooring, and some tree stumps shaped like chairs in one room. There was an open fire for cooking and a fire in each of the two bedrooms. The temperature was perfect, and my bedroom had one set of draws and a wardrobe, filled with dresses and simple garments. I tried on everything in my wardrobe, and to my amazement, it all looked beautiful and fitted around my slim figure. There was a floor length mirror on the door of the wardrobe. Whilst I was admiring my new clothes, I noticed I had become curvy in places I had never been before. My hair had grown and now fell in long waves, whereas before it had been frizzy, and the colour of the clothes really made my eyes stand out, where I had thought they were dull and colourless, now they were the eyes of a young, beautiful woman. I had changed. And I liked it.
Wandering through the cottage, I realized I had never felt more at home. I could feel the animals in the woods, and the cottage seemed to be at one with the nature around it. The old woman had started to make some supper, whilst I was still exploring the cottage. "Aziza!" The old woman was calling. I really needed to learn her name. "Coming" I called back. I walked to the wooden seat. It was nettle soup for supper. I was suspicious of being stung. I took a sip and was surprised to find it had a pleasant taste. "It shan't be long now Aziza. It'll be the pains first, the dry ache in your gums and then the longing to be free. You must learn martial arts and how to survive in nature. I fear I am not long for this world now." At first I was shocked. I knew nothing of what she is describing. "Excuse me?" I ask, not knowing what the polite thing to say is, when confronted with a mad old woman, who thinks she is over two hundred years old. "I don't think I am over two hundred years old, I am over two hundred years old. And I am not mad. You need to orient yourself into the world that I live in. You were moved here for a reason. Accept that and think on it. Go to bed now, you’re going to need all the sleep you can get." I wordlessly got up and put myself to bed, unsure of how to respond to being rebuked by this woman. And I still didn't know her name. The next day I rose early and quietly walked down the stairs. She was up and waiting for me already. "Hurry, there's not much time." She briskly walked outside. Following her felt like admitting that I was as mad as she, but not following would be rude. I followed her. "Now, today, I shall teach you how to defend yourself."
I was put through my paces by this elderly woman. I collapsed into bed each night, shattered and bruised. This carried on in a similar manor until one day she simply said, "Good, you have learned well." And I had. My reflexes had become sharper, my body lithe and strong. I could carry twice my body weight and render an opponent useless using my height and body shape to my advantage. I could run faster, and for longer distances. My sight had improved, smell and touch as well. It was as if this place were enchanted; it was as if it were changing my very species. I still talked to the animals every day. We'd run, ride, lay together. I was becoming part of nature itself. I could no longer tell the difference between instinct and wants. I had no wants. I had what I needed, no more, no less.
Then I began to notice subtle changes in my diet. More meat, less vegetation. More wolves seemed to be attracted around me than any other animal. This suited me fine. Besides Obsidian, wolves were my favorite animals. They were silent, strong, held together by pack bonds. They have ultimate senses, and a rank, in a pack, a pack which is a family. I'd never had a proper family and I envied the wolves for this. Once a month, the old woman would leave. She would return eventually, but she always came back refreshed, looking healthier than before. On the evening of a full moon, when I had a particularly bad fever and gut pains, she said, "A couple of days my sweet. Then you'll be ready." I had learned to trust her, and whatever changes she had in store. Maybe she would take me with her? I had never dared to follow. My instincts had told me not to, so I hadn't. Two days later, as I had expected, she invited me to come. I followed where she led me. We walked to the lake. A bridge I had never noticed before appeared and we all wandered across it, without a care in the world.
A weird sensation came over me. It was like swimming in nettle soup, with the stingers still left in. It was like floating and it overcame my senses and it seemed like I could fly. Then I was brought back to the present by a hard slap round the face. It was the old woman. I really needed to learn her name! I was lying on the floor. I quickly got up and dusted myself off. The wolves were following me, as if I were the alpha. I looked around me. I was in a market town, but the people weren't selling normal things. They were selling cauldrons, herbs, and spices. The place smelled awful, but nice at the same time. It smelled like belonging, like I'd finally found the place where I belong. A merchant, at least I thought he was a merchant, approached me and handed me an apple. “A taster for the pretty lass.” He said with a slimy grin upon his face. I pushed the apple back in his hand. I did not want something he had touched. It looked as if he hadn’t washed in a week, and I was disgusted to see him selling any kind of food to people. It was so disgusting; to think that people were eating the dirty apples he sold them. Had they not heard of cleanliness? My thoughts were interrupted by a snide voice cutting through the air. “Well, well Evelyn. Bought yourself a new apprentice have you?” The voice belonged to a man, not a lot older than myself. His hair was slicked back with grease, and he had a wicked look in his eyes. “Leave it alone Rydian. She is nothing to do with you.” The old woman said. It dawned on me that she must be called Evelyn, as that was the name this man had addressed her by.
Rydian stepped closer. I could smell danger pouring off him. The wolves growled. He reached out to grab my hand, but I was too quick. I took him by the arm and used all the force in my body to throw him over my shoulders. The wolves leaped and pinned him down. Behind me, I heard Evelyn chuckle. “Most definitely time my pet.” The anger I felt towards this man, who thought he could touch me, and mock me grew and grew. It felt as if I were going to explode. My primal instinct was to act out, to kill this man before me. I looked into his face and saw pure terror. “That’s enough now, Aziza. You’ve made your point.” I look at Evelyn. She is certain that I can do this, I can step away. I nod at the wolves and they release Rydian. He scampers off in a hurry. Where he goes, I do not know. Evelyn indicates that I should return the way we came, and I do not hesitate this time. I step through and onto the bridge. Before I know it we’re back at the cottage. My head feels hot, mu gums are burning and I long to run, to hunt and kill. The wolves disperse into the woods and I feel empty, and I want them to return. I drop to my knees as the pain has become unbearable. My arms feel as though they are being broken into a million pieces, and my nails feel like they’re going to rip off my hands. My legs ache for the burn that comes after a run and my heart is beating as fast as a hummingbird. My breath comes in short, sharp rasps. Then, it all stops. My long, lustrous tail swishes from side to side as I tip my great head back and howl. My pack return and I run. We run, together side by side as we had done for gone on a year now. My senses have heightened, to more than they’ve ever been before. I was right. This place has changed my species.
We double back and return to the cottage. Evelyn is sat, looking at a tall, silent figure. She looks old and frightened. I howl and the figure turns. His eyes burn with the brightest red, his hair blacker than black and on his hands there is a skull ring. I know without knowing that I look into the eyes of Death. Evelyn stands then, and comes over to me. “It’s time for me to go now, pet. And it’s time for you to cross the bridge and stay there. Goodbye Aziza. Goodbye my daughter Remember me.” She turns then, and gives walks away hand in hand with Death. I know I will never see her again. As she fades away, the cottage does too. I think of the Evelyn, of how I never learned her name, not till today, and how she knew what I was. She understood who I was. The last words she said. Goodbye my daughter. Remember me. She was all that I had in the world now, all that I needed and now she was gone. I wanted to become human again because wolves can’t cry. I look down at myself and see that I am indeed; human again. I weep for hours, surrounded by my family, by the animals I love. Obsidian whinnies whilst the wolves howl, and the falcon screeches his majestic song. We have all lost today. I cross the bridge again, knowing I never truly did belong here. I belong there.
As soon as I come to my senses, I realize I am in danger. I am surrounded by armed men, all shouting at me and my wolves. One tries to attack with his spear, and I counteract by using the spear as a pole to fling myself out of the circle, wrenching the spear out of his hands in midair and stabbing him in the stomach as I turn. I hit the ground running on all fours, wolf again in the moment of fear. My pack is by my side as I try to find a way out of the market. People are running and screaming at the sight of me, and more and more armed men are arriving. I stop, knowing this is fruitless. We’ll have to fight our way out. Looking around the market, I see no women; just men. I think this is strange, where are they? Guards surround me and my pack, and we are herded into a wagon bearing some kind of crest. The wagon pulls away as the men in the market return to their stalls, thoroughly freaked but what had just happen. I turn to human again, and curl up with my wolves. Wherever we are going, I want to be well rested, in case I need to fight.
We arrive just before dawn and I am separated from my wolves. I am shoved into a large room, a ball room by the look of it. Looking around at the grand design, the high, arching ceiling, and the murals painted on the walls, I know I am in a palace. A man wearing a long robe enters, with a crown upon his balding his head. He looks at me in disgust. Wearing that crown makes his head look too small, and his eyes look comical and piggy under his bushy eyebrows. Behind him follows a younger man. Curly blonde hair frames his sapphire blue eyes, and his tanned skin is smooth and clear. He is tall and skinny, but I get the impression he is strong. The sight of this man takes my breath away. “Who are you?” The older man asks. “How did you get here? Why did you attack Rydian?” I do not answer. I simply growl at him. “How dare you growl at me?! Who do you think you are?!” I speak then, in a clear, crisp tone, the voice I was brought up to use. “I am Aziza Jocasta, speaker to animals, daughter of Evelyn. I shift to the form of the wolf. I am not afraid of you.” The man’s piggy eyes seem to bulge out of his face. But I am not watching him. I am watching the younger man. His head had shot up when I said wolf. His eyes were fixed on me and I could see him calculating what I had just said. “Shift to the wolf you say? So a shape shifter. Hmm. The first female shape shifter in fifty years, and she is a savage! What a shame. You killed my guard, and attacked a citizen, all in one day. Two crimes, both punishable by death.” A tall man wearing black from head to foot strode in. He grabbed for my arms but I danced out the way. I sunk into a crouched position and prepared to defend myself. “Don’t try to resist it my girl, you’ll only hurt yourself in the process.” Advised the King, as if I would go down without a fight. I was wrong, I did not belong here, as it seemed an unjust system, where I not able to speak for myself in my defense. It reminded me of the dark days and Jocasta Hall. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the executioner grab a dagger from his belt and start slowly creeping towards me. I shifted my weight to attack, but he struck with lightning fast precision. We grappled, and it was clear he had trained similarly to me. I could not take him by surprise. He pinned me to the ground, and held the dagger against my throat, slowly running it across my neckline, I could feel the blade cutting into my flesh. “Wait!” The blade froze. The blonde man came forwards and grabbed my arm and hauled me to my feet. “Father. The first female shape shifter in fifty years and you’re going to kill her?” I looked into his face. Why was he speaking for me? The King considered this. “Please, allow her this mistake. Surely you want her to join the court? It would be beneficial, and she could act as a go between, between the humans and the shape shifters. Our species have not been at peace with one another for years, and she could be the person to unite us all.” He was arguing for my right to live and I couldn’t understand why. The King called forth a counselor, and spoke briefly with him. There were murmurs of agreement, and then the King announced, “You put forth a got point Prince Jon, and we shall pardon this young lass her crimes, as long as she allows herself to be tamed, and groomed for royal court. Maid!” A maid scurried into the room. She looked familiar. “Clean her up and dress her. I want you, Aziza Jocasta, to join us for dinner in the dining hall in one hour. Understand?” I nod, dumbfounded by my good luck. I look at the maid. She is crying. “What is the matter?” I ask her; once again unsure of what was happening. Was I that bad? Did I scare this maid so much that she needed to cry? “Aziza, it’s me. Betty. Don’t you remember me?” I look at her blankly. Betty? Who was Betty? “Aziza, remember? We got you away from your Mother and Father.” I look at her again. And I do remember. I rush over to her and lift her into my arms, glad to have found an old friend, and wondering how she came about here. The King looks on at us, as if we are some form of amusement. “Prince Jon, Would you please escort Aziza to her new chambers.” I realize now that I have wrongly made assumptions about the King. He is not mean and cruel; he was just looking out for his people. Then a thought occurred to me. “Excuse me my Lord, but where are all your women?” I think maybe I have been too rude, and blush scarlet as I await the reply. “We are holding a feast tonight, and all the young girls are invited. I have decided to marry the Prince and they all want to look their best, so I expect they are all inside getting ready. He will make a shortlist tonight and get to know the lucky few before picking his gal.” I look at him, my heart sinking. Why was I so upset? I had only just met this boy, and yet I felt as if he were meant for me.
Betty made up a bath for me, and scrubbed me clean. I then noticed that I did not actually have any clothes. I wrapped myself up in a rag and went to see if anyone knew where I could get any clothes. As I stepped out of my new quarters, I walked straight into the Prince. Clutching my rag closer around me, for it was quite short. Jon looked me up and down. I become conscious then of just how close together we were. The Prince had grabbed my waist to stop me falling over. Heat surged through me as I looked down at his arm, curled around my slight figure. He dropped his hand quickly and shoved the clothes at me, murmuring an apology. He turned on his heel and walked away. I was left standing there astonished by the encounter. Betty stuck her head out. “C’mon miss. Let’s make yous look pretty for your Prince Jon.” She said, batting her eyelashes innocently. I threw the clothes at her head.
Standing in front of the grand mirror, I look at my new self. It had been a long time since I’d worn something like this. When I was living in the cottage, I gave up on dresses and started to wear flannel trousers and a shirt. Now, I wish I had worn dresses more often, and met the Prince sooner. My breasts were even fuller than before and the corset of the dress enhanced my slender waist. My skin shone with health and my eyes had changed colour since all those months ago. They were still grey, but they now had flecks of emerald green shining in them, I wondered if this were an effect of my being a shape shifter. The dress I was wearing was forest green, with rubies and sapphires sewn on the bodice. It dropped down and split to reveal a golden underskirt. It was the most beautiful dress I had ever worn. My hair was pinned at the top, and fell down my back in waves. It had become a deep, glossy, mahogany colour, and Betty had trimmed it so it lay even at the bottom. My lips were full and red, the colour of a ripe holly berry. Betty, years ago, had pierced my ears, and now emerald earrings hung from them, that matched the elaborate necklace I was wearing. The sleeves of the dress framed my small wrists perfectly. Why they had this kind of dress already, amazed me. A knock on the door pulled me to my senses. “Good Evening Azi… Wow.” Prince Jon stood at the door. “Where did you get this dress?” I asked him, aware of his mouth gaping at me. “Um… Oh, it arrived this morning, in the post. From someone called Evelyn.” Evelyn! So she had known I would meet the Prince. I should have known I wouldn’t be in any danger. “Father says it is time for the feast, will you join us?” I nodded and we walked side by side to his feast.
Over the course of the next few days, I seemed to see a lot of Jon. We never seemed to meet in anything other than an awkward situation. Like when I was getting undressed, he came into my room, burned bright red and left. Or when I was running with my pack and tripped over and ripped the shirt I was wearing, he was there. In fact, he always seemed to hang around when I was with the wolves. So one day I invited him out with us. He was an extremely fast runner, and was stronger than I thought. He came out with us more often after the first run, and we would often grapple when out running. Then one day I realized he was not with us. I returned home, entering my room moments before he. Into my quarters he came and said he felt peculiar. He told me that he had swollen gums, and his arms were hurting. I sent him to bed and called the physician. But before the physician got there, I went to visit him. And much to my surprise, there was a beautiful wolf lying on his bed! I shifted into my wolf self, and went to investigate. The wolf lifted its head. It had beautiful sapphire eyes. Hello Aziza. I yelped in surprise. The wolf was Jon! He was like me! We ran then, for miles and miles. We finally collapsed on top of each other, in human form, giggling like hyenas. I rolled over and looked at him. He was watching me. “Keep still.” Reaching over my head, the Prince untangled a twig from my hair. I looked deep in his eyes, the heat generated by our bodies was immense, and an erotic scent filled the air. “Keep still.” He whispered and leaned in closer. Our lips touched and electricity coursed through me, my body was a live wire, a naked flame. His arms curled around my waist and my arms folded around his neck. The kiss deepened. I had never felt so alive before! He pulled away, his cheeks were flushed and his lips bruised. Our bodies were tangled together, and we slept that way until the moon replaced the sun, and the sun replaced the moon in a full cycle of a night.
When we returned to the palace, we were greeted by a harried looking Betty. “Hurry, hurry, the King is looking for you.” We glanced at each other and hurried inside. “Where have you to been?” Boomed the King as we entered the ball room. I looked at Jon, and saw him give a slight shake of his head, whilst answering the King’s question. “We were out riding, when we came across a group of travellers, and we stayed with them the night.” The King looked at the Prince for a long time, considering this proposal. “Well, you must hurry and get ready, for today you must make your decision, in the court, of whom you are to marry.” He left the room then. “Aziza, what are we to do? My father cannot know I am like you, and he will not allow me to postpone the announcement. I don’t want to marry some stinking old human girl,” His voice was deepened to a growl. “I want to marry you.” At this, he stormed from the room. My knees gave way as I collapsed in a heap on the floor, in shock from all that had unraveled in the past twenty four hours, and unable to cope with the idea of not being with Jon. Betty rushed over, and helped me to my feet. I needed to get ready for the court too, even though to be there would break my very heart into shattered pieces of glass.
The huge dining room had been decorated with red and blue banners, and the room was packed with people. It seemed as if every Lord and Lady, man and woman had arrived to see this momentous event. To see the Prince pick his Princess, to see Jon pick someone that couldn’t be me. The Prince entered, and took his place at the table. He was avoiding catching my eye. We all stood as the King entered. “Welcome, one and all. Please, sit and enjoy the feast on this lovely occasion.” As everyone sat down, a foul stench filled my sensitive nostrils. “Aziza, how pleasant to meet you again, and in such wonderful circumstances.” The slick voice of Rydian wandered into my ear. I started in fright, but he grabbed my arm and sat in the somehow empty seat beside me. Jon’s head shot up, as he smelt my fear. He looked at me, as I pleaded with my eyes that he did not react, trying to tell him I could deal with this myself. Rydian’s snake like arm slithered around my shoulders, his grubby hand resting just above my breast. My terror rose, for I could smell the danger and resentment towards me pouring off his slight frame. My body was trembling, and I could not stop myself. I tried to lean away, to stand up and move into another seat, but his arm held me there. I could smell my own panic, and knew I was close to shifting in fear of my own safety.
Suddenly, one of the many goblets sitting on the table flew out of nowhere and struck Rydian on the hand. He drew back, cursing the pain that had sprung. He looked around the room, and saw Jon, his teeth gritted, fighting the urge to shift and protect his own. I shot out of my seat, but Rydian grinned at Jon, and pulled me down into his lap. This was the final straw. Jon leaped up, and howled at the top of his human voice, before shifting into wolf form. Rydian shoved me off his lap, and somersaulted out of his chair, also shifting into a wolf. I hadn’t known he was one of us, but the thought that he was scared me. Everyone was on their feet, as they watched the two wolves circle each other, preparing to fight over a female, as pure instinct told them too. The King was shouting at them to stop, but to no avail. Rydian leapt at Jon, and the two fought tooth and nail to gain one up on the other. Jon flung Rydian across the room, blood and saliva dripping from his muzzle. Rydian stood up, human form and ran across the room. Before anyone could stop him, he plunged a dagger into his victim. The King coughed and spluttered as he stared down at the dagger protruding from his chest. Jon took Rydian then, but the deed was already done. The King was dead.
King Jon watched as his two children Ellismera and Lucas played with the wolf cubs. The pure joy on their faces as they tumbled and grappled with each other brought a sense of contentment to his heart. Queen Aziza walked up behind him, as beautiful as ever, followed by their pack. They ruled the land fairly, and had made peace with all the shape shifters. Evelyn watched on as her daughter became what she had failed to become, a fully-fledged, successful woman, who could afford to keep her own children. Her pride shone through her as she watched on, and Aziza knew she would never be alone, that her mother would always be watching, and the animals she so dearly loved would always be there.