Time had flown by as Arabella remained stuck in her home. The years had been kind to her, with little to bother the young Duchess Angelos as she had counted down the months, weeks, and hours until she would shift for the first time. Over the past few months, she had taken up with reading, and would often find herself lost within the pages of any book she could get her hands on. Her most recent obsession was a large leather-bound book, titled The History of the Weres, that her mother had gifted to her after the news of her proposal. She had taken to learning as much as she could about her future Kingdom, its history, and its people, wanting to support her husband in any way that she could.
The book had quickly piped her interests, each chapter uncovering something new for Arabella to learn about. From the moment she had first opened its worn covers, Arabella had lost herself in the stories of the Moon Goddess and her blessings upon her children. She had gasped at the tales of the Great Reckoning – the apocalyptic phenomenon that the Goddess had saved her kind from some thousands of years ago. The tale of the origins of her kind was fascinating, and Arabella’s naïve mind had been obsessed with learning more.
She had learnt about the bloody wars that had escalated after their saviour left them to return to the Heavens, brother turning against brother on one brutal quest to become the ultimate ruler: the King of the Moon Kingdom. One had triumphed, and since then, there had only been one ruling family – the Vasilias. Currently ruling from the golden throne was the lion Were King Edmund, and his late wife Queen Aquila.
The pair had been graced with three children – two sons and a daughter. The oldest son, Prince Lorcan, had been away from the Kingdom for a long time. Arabella had heard rumours about him from the staff: they said that he had been too radical and unpredictable, eventually attacking his own Father at an advisory meeting. In response to his untameable behaviour, the King had renounced his son’s claim to the throne and had ordered him out West – into the Unknown lands where the Witches still lived.
Kylia had said that she had met him once, and he had been just as wild as the rumours had said.
Duchess Kylia of Stratiotis was a strong-willed young woman, focused entirely on war training and battle strategy to spare even a moment’s thought to court politics. Although Arabella thought she was a little headstrong at times, the young Duchess of Angelos knew that her friend would always support her with everything she had. In fact, the fierce Duchess had taught her closest friend as much as she knew about the Palace and its happenings, considering the Lady Arabella was still not allowed to leave her father’s estate thus could not learn them for herself. She, along with her twin brother Lord Killian, had become Arabella’s lifesavers through her shut-in. Arabella knew that she would have gone mad without them.
Having read the same sentence over and over again, Arabella sighed and put her book down. Her mind was much too unfocused to read more about the Great War of the Witches. So, standing up and cracking her sore back with a deep sigh of relief, she decided to call her ladies maid Delores for a bath.
As the water ran, Arabella nibbled nervously on her lip as she thought about the younger Prince: her betrothed. The crowned Prince Alaric had written to her a few times since the announcement, and they had found much in common with one another. They both loved to read, and would often quiz each other about their Kingdom’s past. He had even sent her some of the restricted books from the Palace library, ones that had been hidden away from the public eye as they were dated pre-Reckoning. Arabella had nearly married him there and then when she had first received them.
Then, there was the youngest child of the Royal Family – the Princess Serena – named similarly to the Moon Goddess because of the miracle she had been to her family. The Queen had been told by many that she was simply too sick to ever bare another child. However, the Queen had given birth to a daughter to the shock of many, and had named her after their sacred Goddess before unfortunately succumbing to her illness. The King had been inconsolable for weeks after her death, his only distraction being his young daughter who resembled her mother so much. The King favoured his daughter for this reason, and thus she was known to be a highly spoilt and rather pompous young child.
She was brought out of her thoughts by Delores, who returned to the bedroom to help the Lady out of her nightdress. As Arabella glided into the warm water, she let out a sigh of relief, muscles unclenching as she floated on the surface.
With little else to occupy her mind with, Arabella’s thoughts went to another topic that had been haunting her lately. The first shift was meant to be extremely painful, and no one had ever been able to paint it in a particularly good light. Arabella wondered what sort of Were she would become, which form she would likely take. Her mother took the form of a snowy owl, whilst her father turned into a wolf. If she were to become a true Queen, she would need to become a strong creature, one that could conjure respect at her time in court.
“Delores,” she mumbled.
“Yes my Lady?” Delores replied, turning back around to face the 17 year old Duchess just as she was about to leave the bathroom.
“Do you think I will make a strong Queen?”
“I… My Lady, I think you are a kind woman who would be able to offer our Crowned Prince much. Regardless of whatever thoughts you have in your head,” Delores stated, feeling a deep sense of love towards the young girl.
“Thank you Delores. I- I'm just worried. I wish I could just get my shift over and done with... It's worse not knowing what I will become.”
"I understand, my Lady. My boy shifted only last year, and I remember him being in such a frenzy, he almost broke my favourite crockery pot!" Delores joked with a kind smile and reassuring eyes, resting lightly on the doorframe of the bathroom.
Arabella laughed, grateful for the older woman trying to bring her out of her slump, "That just doesn't do, does it?" She retorted.
"No, my Lady. Now, if you'll excuse me, I shall go and help to prepare your breakfast."
Arabella nodded, dismissing her maid and, once alone, sank deeper into the water until her face was covered. She adored hearing the stories that Delores would share with her, it was nice to have some sense of normality in her life. Sometimes, she wished that she lived a life like that - one that was less structured where she would be free to do whatever she pleased. But, she knew that she was extremely lucky to have the family and position in society she did, even if it came with more restrictions.
The topic of her shifting had been the only thing that anyone in the estate had been speaking about lately. Even the gardeners had their fair share of gossip – she’d overheard them placing bets on what form of Were she would take. Although she was happy that she could offer them some form of entertainment, she was so sick of it being the only thing that they talked about.
When the water began to grow cold, she pulled herself out of the bath and dried herself quickly, shivering in the cool breeze that entered through her open window. Opening her wardrobe, she decided to wear a lovely floral pink dress, one that was light enough that she would not get too warm if she took a stroll through the gardens.
At breakfast time, the Lady left her chambers and walked towards the dining hall, passing a few servants along the way whom she smiled politely to. Stepping inside the room, she immediately saw her parents sitting close together at the large table. Smiling, the young Duchess took a seat next to her father. “Hello Father, Mother,” she chirped, her spirits lifted from her early morning bath.
“Hello, my sweet daughter,” her mother crooned and smiled back, “How did you sleep?”
“Very well thank you, although I’m still thinking about my shift. I don’t think I shall stop worrying until it is over,” Arabella sighed.
“That is only to be expected, my dear,” the Duke said, patting his daughter on the hand. “Soon you’ll be a fully-fledged Were and we can plan for your debutante ball.”
“That sounds excellent Father! Will I be able to invite my friends? I would love to see Lady Kylia again, it has been a while since I have seen her.” Arabella hurriedly replied, she had so much gossiping to do with her fellow Duchess – she could just imagine all the rumours she had missed out on recently!
“Yes, I can imagine so, it is your ball after all, you can have whoever you want. The Royals will be in attendance, so you will be meeting your fiancée for the very first time.” Her father indicated.
“Oh Goddess!” Arabella exclaimed, “I shall need a new dress for the occasion, Mother. Would you be able to send for the seamstress?” the young Lady asked, turning to face her mother.
Her mother nodded, sending a quick smile towards her daughter as the food was brought out from the kitchens. The remainder of breakfast was over quickly, with some small talk to pass the time. After the plates were cleared away, Arabella excused herself to go for a stroll in the garden – her favourite place within the whole estate.
As the young Duchess walked, she admired the simple variety of flowers that could withstand the harsh environment. The Sertifera Desert was once the place of a thriving metropolis before the Great Reckoning, yet now all it contained were sand dunes, dried up rivers, and the city of Epineio.
It was known that the ancestors of her people had once been unable to shift, and had not even heard of the concept except in fairy tales. After her ancestors had destroyed their world, had polluted its atmosphere until the air itself grew too hot to breathe, the people called out for a saviour, for anything that could possibly save them from their own mistakes. Luckily, the Moon Goddess Selene heard their cries – and granted them all their new identities, and thus the Were people were created in the era known as the Great Reckoning.
Of course, the Weres were not the only beings in existence, yet most species tended to stay far away and lived in their own communities. The Witches, Kylia told her, had always been trying their luck. These Witches had always been trying to take over the city, and the land itself. It was a worthy prize – providing the Weres with everything they needed in the harsh conditions of the desert. The Witches had always been jealous of this, and had organized countless attacks over the years to try and take over the land.
A sudden breeze swept through the garden, drawing Arabella out of her thoughts. Stopping at her favourite bench, she settled upon its cooling surface as she allowed the Sun to caress her face. Breathing in deeply to clear her mind, she focused her attention to trying some of the meditation techniques her books had taught her about.
It was at that moment, she felt it. A pain. Starting from deep within her heart, and slowly spreading outwards. She startled, knowing exactly what it was. Her transition was about to begin.