Shadow was very angry. His ears flat against his head, claws out, fur standing on end, he bared his teeth at the mob and hissed.
The iron cage was small even for him .He was hungry and thirsty. Worst of all, he had had to sleep with one eye open for the last 5 days.
The wooden cart advanced slowly towards the town square, slowly so that every good citizen would have a chance to curse, spit and fling rubbish at them.
They howled like animals. They smelled like animals. Bloodthirsty.
Next to Shadow’s cage, She stood, trying not to flinch at the words, the rotten fruit, the hate thrown at her like hailstones.
She was bruised and dirty, her dress in tatters, matted hair , bare feet.
But not scared. Angry.
Shadow could feel her calm, white-hot fury irradiating in waves from her slim frame.
Not wasted, though. She was focusing her energies, channelling the anger into a purpose. Getting ready.
The cart stopped.
The pyre awaited. Dry wood to start the fire, green branches to slow its progress. A pole in the middle.
The simple mechanics of human cruelty.
Only a few days back, life had been easy. They should have left then, when they started to sense the suspicion and the fear. But there was a birth, and She wouldn’t abandon a woman in labour.
They came for her and used words and pain to turn her wisdom into something corrupt. She had inherited the wisdom, how to heal and calm and give comfort with her fingers and her words and the gifts of nature.
She never hurt anyone.
They knew this. They came to her door with pleading eyes and trembling voices and she never refused.
When the Men in black arrived, the Word took flight like a dirty butterfly, fluttering around people’s minds, tugging at their secret fears until the beasts awoke, sniffing blood, and the Word grew louder on everyone’s lips. Witch.
They put Shadow in a cage too. No food or water for 5 days. Every once in a while, they threw a bucket of cold water at him, to spook the devils out. Their superstition saved his life. Without that moisture, which he licked from his soaked fur, he would have died of thirst.
They made her scream and cry. They wouldn’t stop.
It was time for the Fire now.
They tied her to the pole, threw Shadow’s cage at her feet.
The smell of burning oil on dry wood filled their noses.
She was whispering. A plea, a prayer, a spell. Words to protect.
Now surrounded by a wall of flame, her foot approached the cage. She was opening the bolt with her toes. Her lips kept moving, faster.
So did the fire.
Black smoke engulfed them, eating up the air right out of their lungs. The heat was unbearable. Shadow could smell his own singed hair. Or maybe it was hers.
And then he was free. He ran, hardly touching the ground, smoking but not quite on fire.
No one noticed him. They were in a frenzy, these human beasts temporarily liberated from their everyday coat of civilization.
Shadow reached the forest, the swamps, and rolled in the mud. Cooled, he lay still while his heart slowed down and the fragrance of moss and rotten leaves cleansed his senses.
It seemed like a long time had passed. The moon was high when he heard her voice.
Hardly disturbing the green waters, She swam towards him and climbed on to a dead tree root. She was naked and perfect Gold-red hair down to her waist, the soft skin unblemished.
Smiling, She examined her new fingernails in the moonlight.
-Don’t be angry at me, Shadow-She ran her fingers through his muddy fur-It will grow back in a day. I promise.
She stood up, extended her arm and whistled. A broomstick came to meet her outstretched fingers.
The cat and the woman flew, riding the moonlight.***************