windows tight, Raffa. Til night is through.
Raffa, with her
wrinkled and age-spotted hand already on the lock, glared at her
husband, Gellar. Did he think he was the only one to have lived
through this before? She snapped the lock closed then pushed
the treated iron bar in place--the bar her neighbors laughed at when
she paid dearly to have it installed. But theyd never
lived through a full moon night as she had, long and long ago.
They laughed with the confidence of the young. And foolish.
Did you gather
the sheep from the north pasture?
Raffa gritted her
teeth. Shed brought the herd in hours ago, and Gellar had
even seen her close up the barn. But she nodded without giving him
the lashing he deserved. This time, she could give him more rein.
The sweat trickling from his forehead spoke so loudly of his fear
that she did not even need his scent to confirm it. But the
stench of nervousness rolled off him like a cloud of vapor, giving
her small comfort that she was right. Usually, nothing
Did you tell
Lissa? You know how she--
I told her,
Raffa snapped. And we both told her tales to raise her
hair all through her childhood, despite the prattling of those light
cursed druids. She knows to stay inside. And we are
Gellar swiped the
sweat from his brow, holding her gaze. His eyes, at least, as
stone gray and steady as the day they wed, betrayed nothing.
Just as well. Gellars panic scared Raffa, but his eyes
The lads down
the tavern laughed, Raf. Gellars hands trembled as
he drew the silvered bolt across the wooden door. Would it
hold? Was that why his hands shook so? His hands were
always steady, whether holding one of their grandchildren aloft or
adjusting a mules pack, stroking her cheek, or whittling one of
his famous carved figurines.
The sky, streaked pink
and red, was visible through the last open shutter. Raffa
closed it off and slid the final bolt into place then brushed the
front of her apron, giving her hands something to do. She
avoided Gellars eyes. How else to keep him from naming
The well women
did, too, she said. And as for Petris . . .
Raffa had seen Petris corner him, screaming curses for what he
considered heresy. The druids! the miller had
yelled. The druids will protect us!
Foolishness, of course, as she and Gellar knew.
Gellar tried talking
the younger man down, but Petris would have none of it. Oh,
Petris admitted a full moon night would be possible, but he denied
the chaos and disaster that it spelled. Light help him,
Petriss mother was a babe in cradle during the last one, lucky
to have survived at all.
Naught to do but
wait it out now, my light. Gellar glanced at the three
barrels of water that filled a quarter of their cottage. Raffa
had asked him to fill another. She hoped he did not now regret
his earlier assurance that they had plenty. Three sacks--two of
meal, one of dried beans--a long stack of cut wood, and, of course,
the ewe, fresh-killed and drained, and hanging from the rafters,
completed their stores, but for Raffas tins of hoarded spice.
Would it last the whole night? The average night lasted
forty-five eventides, forty-five sleeps, and days were as long.
Having naught but darkness for so long had never bothered Raffa
before, with thin slivers of moon lighting what little it could, but
this time, the moon was due to be full and they had to keep it out,
keep the beauty of that light from touching them. . . .
Gellar took her hand
and drew her to the table. Well be fine, light of
my heart. Ill not let anything hurt you.
Raffa tried to smile.
But she remembered too vividly the last such night. That time,
shed only just become a woman, but now gray streaked most of
her hair. Lucky, the towns lone surviving
elder called her when he pulled her from the wreckage of her familys
home once light returned with the sun. Lucky enough to
face another, she muttered under her breath now.
studied their dirt floor, a picture of worry, though his scent did
not prickle her nose anymore. Maybe he truly believed what he said.
strayed to the door, waiting for night to begin.
An hour after sunset,
Raffa felt the pull of the moon deep inside her. Through the
walls and the bolted shutters, from above the rafters, it pulled,
though she could not see it. Like sweet fire and exquisite
Darkness came as it
always did, with ringing bells from the local temple, answered by the
gong from the druids grove. Soon the bells fell silent.
A death pall hung over the cottage, thicker than porridge.
clasping the ends of her shawl tight in one fist. But it
provided little warmth and less security. She stoked the fire in the
hearth, coaxing the flame to life with kindness and a bit of tinder.
She wanted to light a candle, but those they would use sparingly.
They had only five--candles were dear; these had cost her more than
she should have spent--and they had to last til next sunrise.
The hearth fire warmed enough to stop her shivering, but made less
impact on her sight.
Raf. Gellars voice was soft, soothing. Make
us up some pottage.
itched for something to do, so she measured out three ladles of meal,
a dozen of water and two fists of beans into a pot swinging over the
fire. A pinch each of two spices, and the pottages
fragrant smell carried into the room as it popped and hissed, boiling
out the water.
By the time it
thickened, more sounds erupted outside. Some village youths ran past,
banging clubs together. Though the children often took to the streets
when night began, Raffa doubted that anyone would sleep this first
The pottage tasted
bitter on her tongue, but Gellar gobbled his down. Perhaps she
would slice strips of the ewe for the next batch. She eyed the
great beast dangling above her and licked her lips. Shed
have to use it up soon; it would molder before the full moon was
Raffa cleared their
bowls away, setting them on a water barrel. When the pottage
dried, crusting on the bowls, she would scrape them out. She
would waste no water on rinsing them.
She watched Gellar,
his slender face and sharp nose accented by the flickering light from
the hearth. So calm he was, now that night had fallen.
She hoped they would survive it.
Raffa woke from sleep
at the end of the third eventide, and listened to the now familiar
screams outside. She reached for Gellar, needing his warm arms
around her, but her hand touched bare mattress instead. Gellar
never slept long, and these eventides less than others. She sat
up, scanning the dusky cottage until she saw him, a dark shadow by
their front window.
He stood arrow-stiff,
pressing his hand to the shutter. Hearing her rise, he turned his
head. Theyre dying out there, he said, his
I hear them.
Raffa approached him, but something in his gray eyes troubled her.
They shone with a dark ache.
here. Gellar made it sound like a question.
She held out a hand to him. Come sit, my light. Let
my pottage lie easy on your tongue.
want no damn pottage! he shouted. They are dying
out there, Raffa!
They had a
choice. They could have listened and taken precautions.
Its not your fault they act so. Raffa held his
gaze. Nor is it mine. The sun will rise again, no
matter what they do.
Gellar let out his
breath and took her hand. Forgive me, my light. I
am troubled, but it is not your doing.
Raffa stilled her own
anxiety and led him to the table. She made her pottage, slicing great
chunks of ewe into it. But the screams outside sounded more like
howls than she cared to admit, and she repressed a shudder.
breathing came more labored. Occasionally, he forced himself to
stillness, but most often he paced the length of the cottage.
Five paces up. Five paces back.
Raffa watched with
cool detachment as he curled his fingers and ran them through his
unkempt hair. Every few rounds, he held his hands to his ears,
as if he could block out the cacophony of a world in the midst of a
Shrieks, howls and
screams were drowned now by the sounds of the mob, armed with swords
and knives, that roved through the village and countryside. Men
whod once held gentle crafts were bent to killing now, crazed
by the light of the moon, letting the madness of its cool reflection
Raffa wished she could
block out the noise as Gellar tried to, but even if she plugged her
ears with candle drippings, she would hear them. She heard them
in her sleep.
Only fifteen eventides
done, each one marked by the bells from the temple. The gong
from the druids grove had gone silent. Another thirty to go, if
this night lasted as long as usual. And no evidence spoke of an
Once she heard clear
voices from beyond the latched windows. Kerrik, a forester who
lived nearby, shouted that his wife had murdered their children then
come for him. But Kerrik also screamed that his well gave forth
naught but blood now, so Raffa wondered who it was, truly, who had
wielded the axe.
stripped bones cluttered a corner of the cottage. The last of
its flesh had gone, and the bones had flavored their last dinner.
How would Gellar take its absence in the next? Not well.
Raffa would wager her life on it.
Gellar pounded on the
shutters with his fists, startling Raffa from uneasy sleep in her
chair by the hearth. Shut up! he yelled. The
shrieking and howling outdoors--were they human voices
anymore?--continued without pause. And Gellar kept pounding on
the shutter as if he could stop the madness from in here.
Raffa rose to go to
him, just as the shutter cracked beneath his fists. A shattered
board clattered to the dirt floor, and the pale light of the full
moon shone into the cottage. It was beautiful. And
Gellar turned, his
eyes alight, and Raffa backed away. Ill not leave my herd
where theyll be slaughtered, he told her, his voice
uneven. Ill kill them myself first.
go out yet. Raffa tried to keep her voice calm, but the
hairs on her neck rose in warning. Nights bare half
over. Youll be caught up in that. She
gestured toward the open window. As if to prove her claim, a
scream rose from just on the other side. One of their friends?
I wont . .
. I cant . . . Gellar buried his face in his
hands. How can you be so cold?
Raffas smile was
thin, the barest touch. I lived through the full moon
before. As did you. So I ask you, how is it you are so
Gellar leaped towards
her, snarling, his lips drawn back from his teeth. What
do you know of it, bitch? He reached Raffa in two strides
and grabbed her throat. You feed me naught but meal and
beans when I desire meat. You mock my need for untainted air
and open sky. You stare at me as if at an unweaned dog with
your cold eyes. Your cold eyes. . . .
Gellar squeezed her
throat. Her eyes bulged, and she gasped for breath. She
clawed at his face with her nails, leaving long, thin strips of pale
skin hanging from his cheeks. A low rumble started in her belly
and surged upwards, exploding in her throat. She slammed her
knee into his groin and shoved the heel of her hand into his chin,
snapping his head back.
He grunted, releasing
her, and fell to the floor.
Raffa turned from him
and moved to stand in the light of the moon which drew her,
implacable, irresistible, like the cry of a child. She bathed
in its cool, crisp beauty, tears streaming down her face. How
could she have hidden from such wonder?
Changes took her.
She shuddered with their suddenness and basked in the newness of her
body, larger now, and strong, so strong. Coarse fur covered her
arms and legs, her limbs grew longer, bulging with muscle, and ending
with razor-sharp claws.
Something moved at her
feet. A scream pierced her sensitive ears. She swiftly
silenced the sound, and a thrum of pleasure ran through her; she
tingled from head to feet. Licking blood from her claws, she stared
at the moon, full and round as a ripened womb.
Lucky, they told
me, she whispered to what remained of the man on the ground,
her voice a rough growl. As if I could die this night.
Raffa wrenched the
remains of the shutter from the window and leapt through.
Loping into the darkness, she added her howl to the song of the
Dawn came, as it
always did, even after a full moon night, and the first gleaming
touches of sunlight touched Raffa huddled on the doorstep of the
smoldering shell of her home. Her clothes were torn to shreds
and long gouges, from claws or knives or both, rent her arms, chest
and back, as if she had battled with a hundred beasts during the long
The survivors, few as
they were, staggered from what was left of their homes looking dazed
and battered. They would have to rebuild, of course, as they
had done before, gather those who were left and try to keep their
memories of this night alive. But so many were gone.
Gellar, dear sweet
Gellar! Ripped apart and burned with their house, holy light,
who had killed him? How could she have survived when he was
Stifling a sob and
wiping tears from her cheeks, Raffa drew the tatters of her shawl
closer, though it gave her no warmth now. She comforted herself
the only way she could, with the knowledge that she would never have
to live through another such night below the moon.