The following are the first two chapters of my YA novel, Rosewolf, about a twelve year old girl, Rose Tamlin, who is gradually transformed into a werewolf. Her fate is sealed when she voluntarily opens the gate to Winterslewe, a strange mansion in the Forest of Wonders where Grandma invites her in for tea…
Nether End, England 1931
Rose had not seen herself for the last four years.
The last memory she had of her face was in August on her thirteenth birthday. She traced her loss of reflection to the previous Christmas when she woke very early in the morning to find a large box at the end of her bed tied with a wide silk ribbon. The box looked old and was made of crinkled golden paper. When she undid the ribbon and opened the box, the dark, musty smell of old roses rose up out of it like a messenger. Underneath the delicate ivory tissue she found a coat of blood red velvet.
She lifted the coat out of its box. It was as fine as silk and very wide and much too long for her. It had a deep, soft hood lined with fur. When she put the coat on, it floated around her, swinging in a wide circle as she spun around, and falling gracefully to her sides when she stopped.
There was something in one of the pockets. Rose felt around and pulled out a heavy parchment letter with a red seal. The seal was stamped the image of a woman in a long cloak. Rose opened it carefully, for it was very old; the writing faded to pale sepia and the parchment had grown soft and crumbly.
My dearest Childe, (the letter began…)
This coat is a gift for the time of your first blood moon. It is your inheritance. As time goes on, you will learn why it has come to you. Wear it on the night of the full moon. Keep it in a secret place. Away from the others.
I love you, all blessings Childe,
Rose did not understand what was meant by first blood moon, but she did understand that she had to hide the coat. But until when? And from whom? Her parents, she imagined. Rose felt around in the other pocket and her hand fell upon a small book-like object. It was covered in fine black leather crossed with a silver hinge and clasp. Inside were the portraits of two women. The images were very old, for both were wearing gowns with high Elizabethan neck ruffs. Jewels glinted in their elaborate hairstyles.
One of the Ladies had high, pale hair and hard eyes. She was beautiful, but looked very haughty to Rose with her aquiline nose and long neck. In the background was a wall of white roses. The woman was pointing at something with her long, jeweled finger. The forefinger was longer than it should be. Her red lips smiled enigmatically.
The other Lady wore a red bodice with a white, jeweled ruff that framed her rosy face. Her auburn hair was coiled in an intricate style with rubies and pearls woven in. Rose’s impression of this Lady was of fiery brilliance. Golden symbols floated in the air around her. She looked wise and playful holding a branch of red roses against her face. Her hand was long-fingered like the other one’s, the one with the hard eyes.
Rose also found in the same pocket, a large black key.
She lay the key and portraits on her bed with a sigh. Outside, snow was falling, the dawn light making it sparkle like motes of iridescence swirling at the casement windows. Rose looked again at the pictures of the Ladies and shivered. What did they want? Who were they? Daddy must know. He knows about all the ghosts and things.
Rose stood gazing at her reflection in a the tall, gilt framed mirror that filled a niche in the wall above her dressing table. The sun shone in at the window, rays streaming over the horizon and scattering prisms on the walls. The cat came in, curled around her legs, looking at her in the glass. This was her cue to quickly take off the coat, wrap in back into the box, and hide it. She put in the drawer under her bed and covered it with her nightgowns for now.
When she went downstairs, the Christmas tree was gleaming brightly in the half light. Her father was sitting beside the tree, an animated expression on his face. Her mother was in the kitchen making tea. They were excited about her new presents that they still pretended were brought by fairies in the night.
She could tell they had no idea about her other present…
The night of the full moon came after a storm. The wind had blown some branches down and piled snow drifts against the outside walls of the garden. Rose looked out on the garden from the window seat in her bedroom at the top of the tower. The white roses she had planted beside the wall refused to fade, rather they bloomed more brightly against the snow, like fairy lights.
Rose rummaged in the drawer under her bed for the box with the coat inside and pulled it out. As the musty aroma struck her face, she flushed with anticipation. She put the coat on and twirled around in front of the mirror, trying the hood that framed her face with brownish fur. She was startled to see herself looking so wild! She thought her eyes looked different somehow, greener, more slanted, brighter than before. She laughed.
Moonlight spilled into over the garden wall and through the window where it reflected in the mirror above Rose’s head. It was time to go! She pulled her boots on and drew the crimson hood over her dark hair, pushing the straggling tendrils inside and fastening the clasp at her throat. She closed her door quietly and tiptoed down the spiral stair to the landing. The house was dark and very quiet. She hoped her parents had gone to bed. The house was so large, they could be anywhere and she must not be seen in Grandma’s coat! There was a line of light beneath their closed bedroom door. She heard them talking. Holding her breath, Rose hurried down the stairs to the bottom floor, into the entryway, and pushed open the door. A gust of cold air hit her face with the smell of snow. The ground sparkled darkly in the moonlight. Suddenly the cat dashed in, almost knocking into her. It was crying and cold, arching its back when it saw her.
“What’s wrong, Shadow? Be quiet now! Shhhh!” she admonished.
Rose felt annoyed that her mother had not let the cat in earlier. The way it was purring, rubbing her legs, and clinging to her coat, it must have been very upset and cold. She detached the little claws carefully and put the cat in the lounge. Then she let herself out quickly into the night, shutting the door firmly behind her.
Once out in the frosty air, Rose headed for the forest. Flying over the snow, she was amazed at how warm the coat was; she hardly felt the chill. In the distance, the trees stood black and stark, fretting the pale, moon stricken clouds that floated above the horizon. When she arrived at the edge of the trees, a bright path lit up over the snow, leading into the forest where she was forbidden to go.
Rose moved away and went down a known path to the lake. It shone like a milky opal in its ring of bare trees and dark shrubberies. Her sister had been lost in the Forest of Wonders long ago. Remembering that, how could she disobey her worried parents and follow the bright path that she knew Grandma meant for her take into the Forest on this night of the full moon? She might never return again!
Rose gazed across the lake. It was frozen and riddled with snow drifts and black patches where water ran cold beneath the ice. Mist rose on the other side like veils before the moon. A dog howled far away and sad. Then everything fell silent and as still as the crystalline shimmer of ice among the trees.
Filled with a sense of strange desolation, Rose decided to go home. The forest loomed, the shadows gathered in the depths of the trees, and the bright path shone like a magic thread. It pulled on her somehow, seemed to wind her in.
“It can’t hurt to go into the woods. Not just this once,” she reasoned. “Grandma wouldn’t harm me. She gave me this coat, after all.”
Rose still stood very still, glancing around and listening. She heard bells ringing. She stepped on the path.
She walked for a long time before the woods opened up to a clearing. The path ended abruptly in front of a tall, black, wrought iron gate. Beyond the bars, a large manor house loomed, high and noble looking, with carved window frames, gables and turrets. The windows were dark. The house seemed to be sleeping, dreaming like a living thing. Suddenly, everything was turned about; the house, and the wood were skewed so that Rose looked down on herself from high above, standing small and lost in her red coat the color of blood on the snow.
As she gazed at the house, the front door opened, and a tall woman emerged shrouded in fur. She had a regal bearing. She stood on the walkway for a moment looking back at Rose. Her eyes were large and luminous in her delicate, heart shaped face; her scarlet lips turned up at the corners in a smile that did not reach her eyes. She wore her pale ivory hair piled high on her head, held in place with an elaborate tarnished comb like a claw. Rose thought she must be very old, but she did not look old. Her hair was glossy, her complexion was brilliant, clear ,and empty of lines. When she spoke her voice was sweet, but hollow, and sent shivers down Rose’s spine.
“At last you arrive at Winterslewe. welcome. I have waited a long time for you to come. Your name is Rose. Am I not mistaken, my little one?”
Rose gripped the bars of the gate. She wanted to run, but the gaze of the mysterious woman held her. Her struggle must been apparent to the Lady who smiled a trifle mockingly. Her teeth were long and yellow.
“Cat got your tongue?”? “Y-y-yes,” Rose cleared her throat. “Did you give me that letter? And this c-c-coat, Ma’am?”
“Yes, I did. Now you have come, it is up to you whether you let yourself in, Rose. Remember the key? It fits the lock to the gate you grip so tightly. Let yourself in, Rose, for I am not allowed beyond the gate. Use the key and come inside. We shall have tea. I have already prepared it.”
Rose felt around in the coat pocket and took out the key. It was heavy and carved the same as the gate and the tall railings of the fence. The lock was huge and groaned loudly as she turned the key and opened it. The gate suddenly swung wide as if caught by a strong wind. The way forward shone brightly. Rose felt a shock go through her as she got closer to the Lady who smelled like bark and fur as if she were a wild animal from the wood. Once Rose was over the threshold, the gate clanged shut behind her of its own accord…
“Yes, Rose. Now you enter my humble home of Winterslewe. It is named so because here it is always winter. Do you know who I am Rose?” The Lady walked slowly towards the house as she spoke. She seemed to drift above the ground, so smooth was her step.
“No, I don’t. Who are you, Ma’am?” Rose felt her throat tighten as if she was afraid to know the answer.
“I am your grandmother, Lianna, Rose. Have you not heard about me?”
“The Grandma who gave me this coat?”
Rose felt her skin prickle as Grandma opened the door and let her inside. She knew she should not go in, but she followed her grandmother in through the dark door anyway. Grandma seemed so kind, smiling at Rose, and bending graciously to help her find her way in the dimness of the long passageway. They passed under an arch and down a hallway that led to a formal drawing room. When Grandma pushed the door open, Rose gasped in astonishment.
The far end of the long room was taken up by an ornately carved fireplace the size of a small room. An inviting, warm fire raged in the grate. The furniture was very old and a bit tatty, the Persian carpets worn, the ceilings were lofty, and the walls! — the walls were buried under trellises of climbing white roses. They grew unchecked, twining around the windows, spreading across the ceiling, weaving round the chandelier, and sprouting shoots over the floor. Rose felt enveloped in a sweet, narcotic scent so heavy that she could hardly breathe. The cloying air, and the twilight blueness, lit only by the fire and a few flaring candles in tall, treelike stands, made her feel weak and light headed so that she longed to sit down.
Grandma motioned to Rose to sit in an wing chair that faced the fire, and she sank into it with the last of her strength. On a delicate round table in front of her, a silver tea service was placed, its shiny surface glinting with firelight. Steam wafted from the teapot with a vapor as sweet smelling as the white roses. Grandma sat across from her pouring tea into china cups. Rose huddled deep into the chair, and the warmth of the ruby red coat. She felt drowsy, but alert. The room was hazy, seen through the vapor. Grandma looked like an image in a steamy mirror as she hand the teacup and saucer to Rose.
“Now you shall have my special tea and cakes. It is brewed from the very same flowers you see all around you, Rose. I brought them indoors as it so cold outside always. They make a wonderful tea. It is for this that I invited you here, and I want you to come every month on the full moon so we can enjoy tea together. Imagine! I have never met my own grandchild in all these years! How old are you, Rose?”
Grandma handed Rose a small cake in a porcelain plate.
Rose looked at her with wide eyes. “Twelve. Grandma? How come you never came to visit us? I am sure my dad misses you. You are Daddy’s mother aren’t you? He told me you were all witches…”
Grandma shook her head as if get cobwebs out. “Twelve! What and excellent age! An interesting time in a young girl’s life.” Grandma smiled, her eyes bright and piercing. “Wait for the first blood moon. That is the magic time. That is what I am preparing you for. Drink up! The tea will help you grow oh, so strong.”
Suddenly a laugh rang out from somewhere in the house.
Grandma rose from her chair and looked over Rose’s chair toward the drawing room door and shouted,”Isabella! Stop it now!”
Whoever it was giggled and came right behind Rose’ s chair. Rose jumped! Little fingers were creeping over the wing of the chair. Rose looked from the fingers to Grandma with alarm!
“What are you worried about Rose? It is only Isabella. Come, Isabella, meet Rose. Rose, this is my other granddaughter, Isabella.”
A little girl stood before Rose, grinning and giggling. She had pale crinkly hair that hung down to her ankles. She wore a small ivory satin gown that made her look like a doll. Rose smiled at the girl who smiled back. Her teeth were long and sharp looking, like Grandma’s.
“Would you like some tea, Isabella?” Grandma asked pouring her some as she settled into a brocade chair.
Isabella sipped her tea with a stiff smile.
“Why is she here, Lady Lianna?”
“I invited her, Isabella. She is my granddaughter and was born with a caul. That makes her one of us, darling.”
“What?” Rose asked, not sure of what she heard. Isabella was glaring at her.
Unnerved, Rose drank more tea, and munched the very sweet cake. Moonlight streamed in through one of the tall French windows that stood in a row along the eastern wall. Its eerie rays lit up the roses as it touched them so that the walls glowed with myriad orbs of white light. Outside, wolves were howling.
A shadow floated up behind Grandma. Grandma stood up and opened the casement window. The howling sounded much closer then. Rose wasn’t sure, but she thought she saw the wolves come into the room and swarm around her grandmother whose eyes lit up at the sight of them, glinting with cold fire. Rose blinked the vision away. It was only smoke from the hearth, after all, not wolves. Isabella was playing in the smoke. She and Grandma were laughing. Grandma tilted her head back and, when she laughed, and her mouth was wide.
Rose heard a snuffling sound beside her, below the wing of the chair. She squeezed her eyes shut, her heart pounding with fright. A hot breath brushed her face. When she opened her eyes, the face of a wolf was at her shoulder, looking at her intently.
“Ah!” she jumped and then froze.
It was staring at her over the arm of the chair, smiling, snarling, smiling. Rose squeezed her eyes shut again and shivered. A cold nose touching her neck. She screamed, but as in a nightmare, could make no sound. When Rose opened her eyes again, the wolf was slowly vanishing into a swirling mist.
Smiling, Grandma swayed toward Rose holding out a delicate china plate with a cake on it.
“Rose, here, eat this cake. It is time to go now.”
Rose obediently held her mouth open for the cake. As she chewed, the room began to clear and energy returned to her body. Suddenly, Grandma lifted her out up and escorted her to the door. She opened it, and Isabella pushed her out.
Rose stood shivering on the front step. The sky was gray with pre-dawn light. She wasn’t sure if she was awake or dreaming until she heard a voice behind her calling.
“Rose, when you leave, don’t forget to lock the gate. Thank you for visiting your old Grandma. Come again next month, when the moon is full. It has been a great pleasure to have you. Goodbye for now.”
Rose walked down the walkway, her feet crunching over the snow, and went out of the gate. When she turned to lock it, she saw Grandma and Isabella standing in the doorway, waving at her. It was uncanny how much alike they looked, one smaller than the other, but the same.
“Goodbye,” she said softly, still unsure whether she dreamed or not.
The heavy gate closed with a loud clang, almost catching her fingers so that she snapped awake. And indeed, Winterslewe, Grandma, and Isabella, were still there.
This is a work in progress. let me know what you think and if you want more. I might be able to serialize it, but it is a novel and therefore very long.
Please comment! I love to hear what you think.