From the author: What's a woman to do when her grandson doesn't trust her instinct?
Grandmother Sada knew many things. She knew the best recipes for jam. She knew the trick to sewing a button so it would last the winter. She knew old stories from home: woods and bears and houses that walked on chicken legs.
She also knew when she was being lied to, and her grandson Nico was doing just that.
"It's only a night out with the boys," he huffed, peeling an apple. His pale hair was tufted with the wind of the hills, dark eyes imploring.
"You should be careful," she chided, stirring her pot and tugging her shawl about her shoulders.
"I'm agonisingly careful grandma," he whined, throwing the peel out the window and handing her a slice. His voice had taken up the lilt of the village, a cheerful upturn to his words that her accent still made blunt.
"I know, you've very good," she soothed, sipping the broth and throwing a pinch of herbs in. "But you need to be more so when there are new people. This village has been good to us. It was good to me when I came over and it has raised you up with it."
"Some of them have," Nico sniffed, biting into his own slice.
"Some of them are idiots, true," Sada shrugged. "You have to watch yourself until we get the measure of the new ones."
"All the others are going," he grumbled.
"Next month, yes. Until then, no. It's not safe Nico."
"They couldn't do me any harm."
"They might. I trust you, Nico, but I don't trust them."
"You're so suspicious," he sighed, setting the table.
"It has kept us alive," she reminded him. "You are a good boy Nico. But trust an old woman's bones."
"Ok grandmother," he conceded, tearing some bread to dip. Sada didn't believe for a moment that this would be the end of it, but she was willing to let it sit so they could enjoy their meal.
Sada knew village life was hard for him: he was young and had wild blood. He wanted adventure, not working a croft and helping the village smith. It would get him a good skill set though; let him make his way in the world once she was gone. She was still spry but she wouldn't last forever.
"I'll be helping William in the forge this afternoon," Nico said, interrupting her thoughts.
"A big order for the Estate: preparing for the winter."
"A good job. He'll be keen to have you."
"He says I'm getting better at the tempering now." Nico beamed.
"That's excellent: I'm proud of you. If he needs you more just say. I can tend the land."
"You shouldn't have to," he grumbled, chewing on a lump of meat.
"I know, but I can. You love the fire more than the field. And you're only fourteen: you should get to do both."
"Thank you." He smiled, squeezing her hand before wolfing down his meal. "I must get back."
"I'll visit village this afternoon, do you need anything?"
"Some more books if they have any, I'm running out."
"I'll see. You have fun," she said, watching him trot out of the house. He was always in a rush, bubbling with the energy of the young. Sada had been the same once, always on to the next job and earning the next coin.
She liked her life here.
She missed her daughter, and the wonderful man her daughter had married, but she had Nico. She sometimes missed the wilderness of her old home, but this was a good life. It was the one she had chosen, safe from the threats of the old country, the violence that had taken her daughter and son in law. She pushed the memories from her mind.
She put on her silver cross, wrapping the chain around her neck twice for safety, and bundled into her coat. The winds of autumn were already tripping through, whipping up along the mountains. She was older now, she felt the bite.
Sada set out from the house, watching the woods as she went. They were not the forests of home but they had their own stories. She had heard rumours in the village, tales of wolves that could talk and trees that walked like men. She knew the witch of the woods, a stout woman Sada liked but didn't visit too often. It was not wise to be in debt to a witch.
The village was busy, the promise of autumn prompting the filing of larders. Sada caught up on the gossip from the baker and wished his wife well for her growing bump. She tarried in the fishmongers, sniffing out fresh news amongst the smokies and salmon.
"Lizzy, tell an old woman some news."
"I don't reckon much of the new family that's moved in, those Rosies," Lizzy began, elbows on her stall and leaning close. "The manny, David, he's a hunter. Rumour is he got run out of the last estate for poaching."
"A poacher, here? Never!" Sada gasped, amused at the fisherwife's enthusiasm.
"That's what I heard –went in the woods at night. He best not try that here; the fairies will take him."
"I don't think the woods at night will be good for anyone, fairies or not. A lot of wolves, I hear them sometimes."
"Well there's the big one, the one that guards the forest," Lizzy whispered. "But he never stays around for long."
"You've seen him?" Sada asked.
"I was late home one night, when I was little. Walked home through the forest in the dark. Met a woman dressed fine as a royal and this wolf. I'd told her to turn back and I'd take my chances, fool that I was. She said he was her friend, Alasdair, and stone me if he didn't talk. He's seen around Ms Redmayne too. "
"A very friendly wolf," Sada laughed.
"He was, but I wasn't no threat to his forest."
"I only go through it during the day, as I've been told since I arrived."
"Best way." Lizzy nodded, winking. "You've always been such a part of the village anyway, and with your spinning they'd say you're born and bred here."
"My accent would disagree," Sada smirked.
"Have you heard some of those islanders that come in? You sound more like you're of here than they do!"
"You are very kind, Lizzy Campbell," Sada smiled. "I must be off; I want to get some spinning done before Nico is back from the smithy."
"William's fairly busy now."
"It's good to see, it brings coin in," Sada laughed, heading home.
Sada liked the autumn in Inverleach. The colours were bright and the river rushed with rains from the mountains. It wasn't quite here yet, but the moss gave off the scent of decay, the promise of snow coming. She savoured her anticipation.
She passed the afternoon in a mix of spinning and cooking, planning how they would stock up for the snow. She didn't need a lot, but Nico was growing.
He arrived as the sun was dipping, face smudged with soot and a large grin.
"I'm getting to help with the weapons!" he announced, bouncing with the thrill of it.
"Weapons now?" she asked, looking at him from the stove. "What does the Big House need with weapons?"
"I don't ask, and William doesn't either. They have a lot of special things there, maybe it is just for show?" he shrugged, plopping into his seat. "What's for supper?"
"Salmon, I got some nice pieces off Lizzy. She's always good to us."
"I reckon she knows." He said it quietly but her head whipped round.
"Do you now?"
"She knows about Alasdair and the fairies." He shrugged.
"A lot of talk goes on in the village."
"It wouldn't be bad if she did. Maybe she has friends."
"We don't need new friends when there's a hunter in the village. A poacher."
"That is a problem," Nico agreed, tearing into the bannock she had left for him. "The forest will take him."
"It may, but you be careful. I won't lose another of my blood to some idiot with a gun."
"I will be, grandmother," he smiled, chewing more of the bread.
She served up their meal and sat, listening to his tales of the forge.
They passed the evening companionably, Nico reading while Sada spun. She retired before him, his head in a book as she went to bed.
She was woken in the darkness by howling. She stood, moving to her window. The forest was illuminated by a full moon, almost blue in its clarity, the howls echoing off the trees.
She moved down the corridor to see if Nico had been woken and found his bed empty, his window open.
That ungrateful little toe-rag.
She grabbed his coat and slipped into her own, sliding her good walking boots on.
She was going to kill him.
She left the house, moonlight her guide. She wasn't far away from the howling, their house was deep in the woods, and when she reached them there was going to be hell to pay.
Sada tramped through the trees, muttering curses in her mother tongue and some she had learned off the local fishermen. How could he be so stupid?
She heard the first shot bark out and slammed into a tree, anger roiling together with fear. It was not aimed at her but it was close enough that she felt the reverberation.
She set off running, clinging onto Nico's coat as panic prickled her skin. She made it over the hill and saw the clearing ahead, dark shapes of men running between the trees and shooting as wolves wheeled about. She could see the black stain of blood glistening in the moonlight and muttered a prayer, looking between the wolves.
She spotted one, fur pale gold in the moonlight, limping. She saw the silhouette of a man stand across the clearing and let out a sharp whistle. The wolf bolted forward into the trees and the shot went wide. Sada kissed her cross.
She ran to the wolf, throwing the coat over its back and glowering.
"Nico Popov do you have any idea how angry I am with you?" she hissed, blocking his changing body with her own as he writhed into the skin of a boy.
"I'm so sorry grandmother," he sniffed, wrapping the coat about him. "Michael was caught in a trap."
"Where is he?" she growled, eyeing the men in the trees. They were clever but there were only three of them that she could see. The one who had shot at Nico was heavier, his breath huffing.
"We got him free. They came at us as we did."
"The howling. I knew you weren't quite that stupid."
"I'm sorry," he said again, standing by her and grasping her arm. "I think the others have run. Sarah was taking Michael to see Ms Redmayne."
"You shouldn't owe a witch, but she will help," Sada nodded, relief briefly extinguishing her anger. The snapping of a branch to their right rekindled it. She reached up and unclasped her necklace, kissing the cross before slipping it into the pocket of Nico's jacket. "You hold on to this, I need a few minutes."
She shed her coat and boots, letting her nightdress fall to the pine needled floor and feeling the change flow through her. Sada had not embraced her change for many moons, had not wanted to run and chase and yearn for the old times. But these men thought they could come into her world, into the forest that had guarded her grandson, and she would remind them why hunters feared the full moon.
Stretching out, her white fur silver in the moonlight, she reared up and let loose a summoning howl.
Then she ran.
She targeted the closest man, barrelling into his chest and snapping at his face. Not enough to kill, but enough to shred young skin, leave him a reminder, a warning. She left him clawing at the damage to his jaw and bounded onwards, catching the other young one from behind and knocking him forward. She sank her teeth into his thigh, tearing a chunk from the muscle. She howled as the blood wet down her muzzle. He screamed as she worried the wound before biting hard into his calf.
She heard the last one running and cursed. Coward.
She was running, easily outpacing him as he fled with his gun still in hand. She circled wide, leaping to catch his wrist in her jaws. They tumbled, his weight throwing her off balance but she bit harder: satisfied when she heard the dull snap, sated when she felt the rending of the muscle. She rolled and stood, the hand still in her teeth as he screamed, panicked face ashen in the moonlight, heavy chest heaving.
"What an unfortunate set of circumstances we find ourselves in." The voice rang out clear between them and Sada turned to the giant wolf in the shadows.
"You talk?" yelled the man, Rosie.
"Amongst other things. I must say, I'm not very impressed. I'd been warned about you, but I see you're blundering around with no idea."
Sada whined, lowering her head in deference to the fae creature before her.
"No need for formalities my lovely lass." Alasdair grinned, tongue lolling out. "You take your pup and be off, we'll deal with these."
"One of the pups was hurt," she replied, dropping the hand.
"I know, the witch will see to that."
"You talk too?" the man gasped.
"And more," she growled, hackles up.
"Our hunt, mistress, not yours," Alasdair reminder her. "We will either eat him or send him out of the village. Either solve our problems."
Sada stretched low again, consenting, before biting the hand again and trotting away from the gasping man.
She found the other two together, a trail of warm blood marking their progress. Sada trotted up to them, dropping the mangled hand at their feet. They managed a choked cry of fear before the one she had snapped at collapsed in a dead faint.
She went back to Nico. She released her hold on the wolf if her soul, slipping back from fur and claw to her white hair and solid shoulders. She dressed quickly, plucking the necklace from his coat and wrapping it round her neck again. She never hunted while she wore it and she kissed the cross again, settling it under her night gown.
"We are going home now, and you are going to be in so much trouble in the morning," she promised, wrapping her arm around him.
"Yes grandmother. What will happen with the hunters?"
"An old friend is going to take care of them. Either they will leave, or the forest will take them. Either way solves our problems." She smiled, leading him back home.
This story originally appeared in Dissonance Magazine.