Word Count: 2686 | Estimated Reading Time: 13 minutes
In Chapter Five after Xanthe starts a fire and tells Kit she never wants to see him again, she asks Horus for some help to find the house from the Book of Words. She finds the portal, a bridge, but before she gets to the end she receives a snake bit. Meanwhile Kit is at home nursing his burns and Melanie is trying to cause trouble.
The pain was no worse than a bee sting. Xanthe rubbed at her punctured skin before moving through the foliage at a quickened pace. Soon she slowed down, her vision blurry and a rising nausea in her throat. The snake couldn’t have been poisonous, could it? Was she going to die here on some hidden bridge? She turned her head to glance at where she'd come from. The foliage had all grown over again. There was no way back. She had to keep moving. Try to find help from somewhere.
Xanthe crawled on her hands and knees, pulling herself along the hard base of the bridge. She paused a while to catch her breath and tried to focus on the foreground. She could make out a figure at the end of the bridge. It wasn’t human. It had four legs, and wings… and a fluffy tail? She dragged herself and the Book of Words a couple more times before the sky turned black and she could move no more.
The animal mewled, like a high-pitched baby cry, and Xanthe fluttered her eyelashes. It sounded like it was in pain. But what did she care? The animal cried again.
“The bridge is fading. You need to move quickly!”
Xanthe squinted and focused ahead of her. The bridge shimmered and quivered as if it was disappearing. She scrambled forward and looked to one side. Way beneath the bridge raged a raging river, white water spewing over enormous boulders and stones. The whooshing sound filled her head, and she gripped the edge of the bridge with her fingers. A death drop, that was for sure. She glanced behind her to where the foliage had regrown. There was no way back, either. She had to go forward. The bridge shook again. Or fall. She got to her knees and pulled herself up.
“Jump!” shouted the animal. She was sure it was a cat. But a cat with wings.
Xanthe braced herself, dipped down and then threw herself to towards the end of the fading bridge. She landed with a thump, which knocked the wind out of her lungs, and she lay there, unable to move.
But that lasted only a few seconds. She felt something sucking at her leg, and she screamed and kicked out.
“Get offa me!”
A loud cry rang out. “There is no need to take it out on me. I’m trying to help you!” The creature strode up to her and sat by her head.
She squinted. It looked like a cat. It sounded like a cat. But this cat had wings? She focused on its generous mouth, framed by long whiskers and a pair of piercing blue eyes. He was more round than sleek and the tiny feathery appendages didn’t look strong enough to lift him from the ground. He looked quite ridiculous.
“I can leave the poison if you like. It will take…” the cat, the winged cat, lifted a paw and felt her pulse. He had dirty cream coat with black trails of colour emanating from the centre. “A few minutes at least, and then it will all be over. The bite from a Narwhal snake is deadly.” The cat stood, turned and flicked its tail in her face. It felt like cobwebs.
“Ugh!” Xanthe rubbed at her face. “No, I mean, please don’t go.” She caught a sob in her throat and the animal turned and peered at her.
“We don’t have time for tears, I’m afraid. Now do you want me to help or not?”
Xanthe nodded and lay her head back on the ground. She didn’t care any more, she just wanted everything to stop. A wolf howled again in the distance. “Malik,” she whispered as the cat sucked at the puncture marks and she fell back into oblivion.
She woke with a start and sat bolt upright. She wasn’t on the ground. In fact, she wasn’t outside at all. She was in an enormous bed draped with folds of soft white linen which billowed in the breeze that drifted in through the open window. Was she dead and in heaven? Not that she believed in heaven. But if not, where the hell was she?. She pulled down the covers. She was still fully dressed, and she examined the leg where the snake had bitten her, half believing that she had dreamt it. Two tiny pink dots provided her with enough evidence. And the cat. Had she dreamt that?
A weight on her lap proved again that she hadn’t, in fact, been dreaming. The large, rather rotund cat climbed onto her shoulders, purring like a motor. Two tiny wings on his back lay inert, like pieces of gossamer.
“Dead? No,” said the cat, crawling down her front to sit in front of her again. He was quite handsome despite the round shape and his eyes were different colours, one blue and one black. “I’m Cobweb.” He proffered a paw, and she took it gingerly in her hand. His claws stroked her palm with the softest of touches.
“I know who you are, Princess Ayla. And my mistress will be so pleased that you made it here. She’s been preparing for many moons.”
“Mistress?” Xanthe glanced around the room. “There is someone here? A woman?” She swung off the bed and tried to stand, but her legs were like jelly, as if she’d been on a long bike ride, and she slumped back down.
“You need to take it easy. A bite from the Narwhal snake can be very dangerous even deathly. But you passed the test and so here you are.”
“Yes, I remember you telling me before. Test? What test?” A flutter of panic rose in Xanthe’s chest.
Cobweb punched the air with a paw. “It’s nothing really, but The Truth Weaver will set several more for you. Entry into the Seventh Coven is not a light affair. You will need to pass several more before they will acknowledge you as the true Moon Princess even though you were initiated on the Season of the New Moons and slayed the evil dryad, Toovah.”
Xanthe snapped to attention. “Toovah? What has she got to do with it?”
“Oh, my dear, so many questions to which I don’t have the answers to. I’m afraid you will just have to be patient. All will become clear.”
Xanthe took a deep breath in and counted to seven. The snake bit. She must be delusional. A cat with wings and a… what did he say? A Truth Weaver. And what was the Seventh Coven? Sounded witchy to her. She gasped. Witch.
She took another series of seven breaths, trying to calm the rising panic in the pit of her stomach. The troll beads on her wrist were a deathly grey and she glanced around for the Book. There was a small table by the bed with a glass of liquid on it, but no other furniture or item in the room. She observed the walls. There were a series of symbols repeated in regular lines. The first was the moon symbol she had on her neck, the second was a kind of wheel, sectioned off into twelve pieces and the entwined wolf.
Cobweb shrugged his shoulders and jumped down from the bed, landing on all fours, and stretched each one of his legs independently. “Like I say, I don’t have any of the answers. But you will soon. Now rest. I’ve been given strict orders that you don’t overdo things until she is ready to see you.”
He paused in the doorway, and Xanthe was sure that he smiled.
“But when will that be?” Xanthe asked in a small voice.
“Tonight, at full moon, of course.” said the cat and strode out as the door swung shut with a loud clunk and then a click. Xanthe ran over to the door and pulled. It was locked.
Xanthe had tried to get out of the small window that was open, but she was too big to get through. She had cleared the table and ran with it at the glass, but it wouldn’t breathe. Then, in a moment of anger, she had tried to perform the fire spell. But nothing. It was as if they had stripped her of everything. She ripped the troll beads from her wrist and threw them against the wall, where they fell and lay on the floor. She dropped to her knees at the low windowsill and looked up at the rising moon as dusk fell. In the obsidian sky, she counted the stars but gave up after twenty-one, becoming cross-eyed. She did not know where she was or who this Truth Weaver was, but she had to be positive. She had a roof over her head and there was some plan involving her.
Xanthe paced the room. What had she done? Why had she come here? Suddenly, she doubted everything. But Horus wouldn’t have led her to danger, would he? He was the Guardian of her legacy. A legacy she had shunned and pushed away so far. She leant against the door and listened. It could be anyone living here. She didn’t know where she was or who she was with, apart from a fat winged cat. And that could have been a hallucination brought on by the snakebite. The Truth Weaver. Sounded weird, but then everything about her life had been weird since she found out she was the daughter of a witch.
Kit, the only person in her life who she could trust, believed in her, and she had left him in the middle of a fire. A fire that she had created in anger. Her heart banged in her chest as she struggle to take a breath. She stood up straight, leant against the wall and counted slowly to seven. She just needed to keep her nerve. Xanthe pulled the cuff of her sleeves, stretching them over her knuckles and stiffened at a noise coming from outside the room. It was a tapping noise. Not foot steps, too irregular for that, but it was getting nearer. She backed away from the door as she watched the door handle turn.
The door creaked open wide and Cobweb strode in with his tail high and proud. Behind him walked a woman, not much taller than Xanthe, about Kit’s height, she reckoned. She wore a long silk cloak of bright burnt orange, like the sun, and at the neck was a clasp. A wheel, like the image on the wall. In her left hand, she held a long wooden staff with a skull at the top. It was a skull of an animal with antlers. The bone shone in the moonbeams which streamed through the window.
Xanthe stood up and straightened her clothes. She wiped her eyes with the back of her sleeve and stood as tall as she could. She had to look the part, even if she didn’t know what that part was.
The woman lowered the hood of the cloak, revealing a head of thick hair the colour of moonlight. Her skin was swarthy, a chestnut brown as if baked by the sun. It was her eyes that drew Xanthe in. They were, well, glassy. Wispy like storm clouds that seemed to swirl as Xanthe stared. She suddenly realised she hadn’t said a word and that the woman couldn’t see her. She was blind.
“Hello,” she said and bit at her lip before walking forward and outstretching her hand, which she then yanked back by her side. Cobweb regarded her with another imperious look. He would not help much.
“I believe you may be Princess Ayla,” the woman returned with a clipped, confident voice.
Her fingers, long and elegant, gripped the wooden staff, and Xanthe could make out tiny images etched into the skin above her knuckles.
“Well, that depends on who is asking,” she answered, rubbing her hands together.
“Has Cobweb not told you who I am?”
Cobweb miaowed loudly in protest.
“Oh, yes, yes, of course. Cob… I mean the cat did… told me you were The Truth Weaver? I just thought you might have another name. It sounds a little odd. That's all.” Xanthe trailed off, feeling a little stupid. She glanced down at the floor. Come on, Xanthe, she urged, step up to the mark.
“I saw the house. In the book of words.” She glanced around the room again, looking for the item. The woman reached into her gown with her other hand and produced the leather-bound book. At least she thought it was her book. Of words. But not. Just empty pages. The woman held it out to her.
“The Book of Words is genuine. From the Kingdom.”
Xanthe took it and held it close. “You know the Kingdom?”
“I know many things,” the woman responded lightly and not without a kind tone. “But it's you who needs the answers, is it not?”
Xanthe nodded her head and then shook it, before realising that the woman could not see her.
“Don’t worry, I can sense your hesitation. I may not see but I can feel.” The woman moved closer and rested the staff against the bed. “Please, can I feel your face?”
Xanthe nodded and then said “Yes, if you like.” She stepped forward into the arch of the woman’s hands. Her fingers ran over the contours of her head, her hair along her forehead and down her nose, hovering at the space between her eyebrows.
“Your third eye is active,” she said with some relief.
“Third eye?” Xanthe repeated.
“Sssh… you will understand. In time.”
The woman continued to examine her face bit by bit until, satisfied, she took a step back and retrieved her staff.
“Thank you,” she said and dipped her head a little. “Now, what are the truths you want to seek?”
Her formal words stumped Xanthe. She didn’t know what to say. All at once, she felt stupid. Dumb.
“I don’t know. Not really.”
“I think you know, but you have yet to accept these questions. Isn’t that right?”
Xanthe shrugged. “If you say so.” It wasn’t as if she had anywhere else to go.
“Have you ever heard of the Seventh Coven?”
“Nope,” Xanthe replied. “And neither had I heard of the Kingdom or Nokomi, or talking animals.” She glanced at Cobweb, who seemed to smile back at her again.
“But that was many moons ago. Why didn’t you want the answers then. Why now?”
So many questions.
“Look, I don’t know. Nokomi, the Moon Goddess, implied that my mother, or the woman who abandoned me at the centre, might be alive. That is all I know. But I don’t care.” Xanthe shoved her hands in her sleeves. She’d had enough of the grilling.
The Truth Weaver raised an eyebrow. “Really? You don’t care? So why are you here? Why did you come?”
Xanthe bit on her lip. “Because, because I have nowhere else to go and no one else who cares.” There she said it.
“The boy cares, though, does he not?”
“Kit has nothing to do with this. Leave him out of whatever you have planned. I don’t want him involved.”
“That is not within my gift, I’m afraid.” The woman smiled. A generous, friendly smile. She wasn’t the enemy, for heaven’s sake.
“Look, I’m sorry.” Xanthe ran her fingers through her fringe, exposing the tattoo. The woman raised her staff and tapped it with an antler.
“The entwined wolves. Do you understand what this image means?”
How on earth did she know it was there? Xanthe withdrew her wrist and shoved her arm back in her sleeve.
“No, I don’t. It only appeared the other night.”
The woman lowered her staff and considered for a while.
“I think we both want the same thing, but for different reasons. But I need to make sure that you are who you say you are. Are you willing to let me in?”
“Let you in where?” asked Xanthe, taking a step back.
“You’ll find out more tomorrow, but please don’t worry. I promise I’m of no threat to you. I’m here to help you find the truth. That is what you want. Isn’t it?”
Xanthe closed her eyes and conjured up the blurry image of her mother on the temple altar.
“Yes, yes, I do.”
The seventh episode of Thunder Moon will be posted next Friday at midnight. This first book in the the serialisation of The Luna Legends is free to all my subscribers and I would love to hear your thoughts. Thank you so much for your support.