Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Familiar Shadows

Familiar Shadows

Once upon a time, in a gilded age long ago, there was a very sad girl.

She was a girl on the cusp of becoming a woman, but she had no one to tell her what that was supposed to mean.

Her mother was a terrible witch with thick raven hair and a wicked temper. She used her powers to ensorcell men, whose coffers she would then drain of all gold before feeding them poison and moving on to her next victim.

To escape the lessons and the poison of the witch, the girl ran away from home and took up with a spoiled prince and his band of travelling minstrels. They lived their lives for fun and music and art, and had very little understanding of the larger world. They took the girl in and taught her what magics they knew, which were paltry cantrips made of smoke and song, colors and words.

The very sad girl had no money and few skills, but she worked hard at a local tavern, serving ale and cleaning up spills. The owner of the tavern was an aged barbarian, once powerful and renown, but grown feeble and bespectacled in his dotage. She worked hard for the tavern owner, swiping her rag over the wooden tables where students from the arcanum came to drink.

While it was summer and even into the fall, the sad girl kept a brave face. She worked hard, while the spoiled prince and his minstrels played, while the students of the arcanum drank, while the kindly barbarian got older, while the witch ensnared a new wealthy soldier.

By the deepest part of winter, the sad girl could no longer face the world. She felt she had nothing in her future to be excited about. She was ready to become something different, but had no guidance and few true friends.

One night after cleaning up and closing down the tavern, while the spoiled prince and his merry band were away, she decided to take her own life. She bungled the job, or perhaps had no real will to succeed. And so she lived.

A week later, sensing that the girl was troubled beyond the ability of their paltry magics to cure, the prince and his merry band pooled their energies and summoned forth a familiar. This creature, made from smoke and fur and shadow was tiny. It too, knew little of the world, but it understood deeply how to work spells of binding and compassion.

The ritual naming of familiars is too difficult a matter for revelation here. But the creature took the name of Shadowcat. It revealed itself to the sad girl by springing forth from a stocking, hung above a burning yule log on the eve of Mid-winter's festival. The tiny dark creature bound itself to the sad girl, dedicated to a simple, singular goal: To remind her every day that she had at least one true friend, and one reason to remain among the living.

The sad girl was overjoyed, and had many adventures with her familiar, the Shadowcat. They traveled far, studying many things both wonderful and terrible. In time, she outgrew the antics of the spoiled prince and the minstrels, and ventured far to the frozen North Country, where the winds hit heavy upon the borders of the world.

There she met a woodsman, simple, but kind. They were wed and she gave him strong sons, three in all. These sons grew past the ailments and trials of infancy. The girl remembered, summoned each of them familiars of their own.

The Shadowcat watched them grow, and taught their familiars the secrets she knew - secrets of love and binding and compassion.

Then, one evening, as midwinter approached and the sun was again distant and pale, and the smell of a yule log hung in the air the Shadowcat looked around. She saw happy sons with familiars of their own. And she saw that the sad girl wore a smile most of the time, despite the usual travails of life. She had become a woman under the familiar's guidance, and had none of the witch's poison left in her. It was then that the Shadowcat knew her purpose had been fulfilled. She stretched and yawned, and drifted away in a puff of smoke and fur, leaving behind just a shadow and a smile hanging in the winter air.

RIP Shadowcat, Christmas 1995 - Christmas 2013


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