I remember my mother only in dreams; dreams of moonlight and of running barefoot across the forest's earthen floor. She is a wild woman there, a wood nymph, a nighttime goddess - as different from the demure portraits my father keeps of her as fire is from water. She is powerful. She is brave. She is absolutely lovely.
Tonight, she is afraid. She throws frantic glances over her shoulder as we run, tugging my hand so hard I fear she will pull me from my feet. The taste of panic is thick in the air, sharp and sour. It numbs my tongue and burns down into my lungs.
"Run, Selene! You must run!" There is a dreadful howling all around us, filling the air.
Tears are streaming down her face now, mixing with blood from a gash on her cheekbone I never noticed was there. She isn't looking at me. Instead, she continues to search behind us for the terror that follows.
I obey her command without thought or question.
The forest suddenly falls away, revealing a clearing we have visited so many times before. In its center stands an old church, a ruin whose every splinter and stone are as familiar to me as my own skin. It now stands in flames. Smoke pours from the windows and instead of a campfire's merry crackle, I hear a deafening roar. Beneath it, I can still hear the howling of wolves.
I open my mouth to cry out, but it is my mother's scream I hear.
They descend on her before my eyes, all blood-matted fur and glowing yellow eyes. I am paralyzed in that instant, shaking with fear. I try to force myself to act, but I cannot move. I cannot think.
I cannot save her.
A hundred hungry mouths open wide, threatening to swallow the both of us whole. I have lost my mother within the blackness of their gaping maws. This time it is my own scream that rings in my ears.
"Selene. Selene! Wake up!" I did not have to recognize the rough hands that shook me awake to know that it was my elder sister, Daena, who was to blame. She sounded particularly agitated this morning, a fact my thick coverlet and I had no trouble ignoring. Pulling said coverlet tight around my ears, I prepared to return to my sleep.
Daena, unfortunately, was not having that.
"Get up, lazy bones!" The covers were torn from my protesting fingers with more violence than I would have thought my willowy sister could manage, leaving me curled up in my night shift, shivering.
Mustering the best glower my bleary eyes could manage, I sat up and leveled her with a glare. "What do you want? In case you haven't noticed, I'm still sleeping."
"Father's home!" Her impatience was replaced by excitement; my annoyance, with dread. "And he's brought Ari with him!"
Ariadne. Our eldest sister. The perfect sister. The sister who had married well, who was already raising twin boys. Certainly the most beautiful sister. Daena worshiped her. I loathed her. It was not often she visited us from her big house in the city, though it was hardly more than a day's journey to the south of our country manor. She was embarrassed of her rural relations now that she was a member of port town society. She would never say so aloud, of course. She was too much of a lady to say so. The fact that she was visiting us now meant that today was a day of some importance. All the more reason for me to dread getting out of my warm bed. Daena's pinching fingers and a haunting flicker of memory from my nightmares chased me out nonetheless.
I would be amongst wolves in my waking hours, as well. For, ever since she had moved to the city, each of Ari's visits brought with them a suitor – whether for Daena or myself, I was never quite certain. The fact of the matter was that neither of us was yet married. We were unbetrothed and without prospects, and it drove our sister quite mad.
"I hope she's brought that handsome James fellow with her again, don't you?"
I ignored the question and shuffled across the icy floor of my bedroom, sidestepping my cluttered writing desk to reach the old oaken wardrobe that stood in the corner. Throwing open the door with a sigh, I chose a dress at random; I did not care how I was clothed, so long as I was warm. (This winter was a cold one indeed, and it showed little sign of abating in the near future.) Daena, as with all things I did, protested.
"Oh, not that one again!"
I glanced at the dress in question. It happened to be a particular favorite of mine: green muslin trimmed in black, warm and worn and soft. I loved it. "What's wrong with it?"
Daena made a face. "It's so… dull." She shook her head, pointed to another. "Try that one."
Her selection was a hand-me-down of Ariadne's, a pink mess of frills and lace. I hugged my green dress close, picking sullenly at a loose thread.
"I'd rather not."
She made another face, but did not argue further. Instead, she moved on to the state of my hair and face, neither of which was up to par – at least, not according to her standards. I sighed, tugged on my shabby dress, and prepared for the worst.
It was nigh unto an hour later before we made our way down to the main hall, where our father waited to receive us. The room was a perfect tableau of chaos. Servants and dogs scurried about, getting underfoot of one another; the latter joyous, the former frantic. No one had been expecting father for at least a week – the entire house was in disarray. Everyone was scrambling to ready his rooms, to ready rooms for Ariadne's excessive retinue. A retinue which, thankfully, did not seem to include any prospective suitors. Daena seemed crushed, but I couldn't have been more pleased. It was the only reason I was able to greet my father with any sort of enthusiasm.
I did not hate my father, by any means, but he was not the man I remembered from my childhood. The man I remembered was kind and gentle, loved to laugh, would sit me on his knee and regale me with outrageous fairy stories… Ever since my mother's death, he had become a man changed. Now he was hard and cold, always on obsessive quests, the nature of which he never confided in any of us. These quests often took him away from home for days – even weeks – at a time, as did his business as a shipping merchant. What little time he was present at home was spent half-drowned in drink. It was his only solace. Now his stories were dark and haunted; stories of beasts, half-man and half other that lurked in the surrounding wood. We dismissed them as the ramblings of a drunkard and refused to speak of them otherwise. The loss of our mother had broken something in him and it pained all of us to see it.
Today, he smiled. It seemed more like the smile I cherished in memories. We did not embrace as we might have then, however. Instead, I dropped into a neat curtsy. He nodded.
"Here you are, finally. How is my little Selena?" He had not used that pet name for me in years. I had to keep myself from starting at the sound.
He certainly was in a fine mood. But why?
"I'm well, Father," seeing him in his fine merchant's clothes made me regret having not heeded Daena's wishes and donned one of my better dresses. "And you?"
"I am well. Trade is prospering, the weather continues to hold fine, and," here he smiled again, that old, sly twinkle in his eye. "I have brought presents for all of you."
For Ari and Daena, he had brought bolts of fine fabric, Dhallian silk and rich damask. They exclaimed and sighed over the quality and texture, retreating off to a corner to discuss the fabulous frocks they would have crafted from its lengths. For me…
"From the look of it, a new dress would not have gone amiss for you either," he grinned at my embarrassed flush. "But this seemed more appropriate."
From his cloak pocket, he pulled a small package, wrapped neatly in brown paper. I tore it open with trembling fingers and gasped when I saw the contents. Wrapped in a square of plain blue cloth was a moonstone pendant, the loveliest I had ever laid eyes on. The stone itself was the size of a wren's egg, and it shone with opalescent light. The setting that held it was a pattern of vines and leaves, worked intricately in silver. I had never owned anything so beautiful.
I could feel tears pricking at my eyelids, but I blinked them back. "Oh, Father… it's absolutely lovely." I could not express my gratitude enough.
"Your mother had one just like it." His smile turned sad now and I watched him begin to fiddle absently with the flask at his hip. "She was wearing it when she…" He shook his head, as though trying to dislodge a fly. "You are the most like her, you know. You have her same spirit."
For a moment, he seemed about to say something more, but then thought better of it. Instead, he took a swig from his ever-present flask, and the moment between us was shattered. I suppressed a resigned sigh and turned back to the moonstone.
My mother had worn one just like it. My mother, who had named me for the moon, as she was named herself. Dianna. My lovely mother. Her death was still shrouded in mystery; a secret of the moonlight, the midnight and the dark forest.
It happened in the autumn of my seventh year, under what superstitious villagers refer to as "the hunter's moon." My mother loved to wander the forest under that moon, a habit my father thought strange, but never questioned. As it turned out, this habit was the death of her.
Wolves, they had said. She would not have had a chance to escape. A horrible death, they said. A pity; she was so young and beautiful. I was not permitted to see the body; they had brought her home wrapped in bloodstained linens. She no longer resembled my mother, they had said. They did not want me to suffer nightmares. It did not matter. I suffered them nonetheless. I suffered them still.
Run, Selene! You must run!
Shaking off the nagging memory, I clasped the moonstone pendant around my neck and dropped my father another grateful curtsy. He was no longer paying attention, lost in thoughts of his own. Now was my chance to escape…
"Where do you think you're going, little sister?"