SHAPESHIFTER 

by Holly Bennett

Published:   April 2010

Publisher:    Orca Book Publishers
Cover Art:    Juliana Kolesova

 

The Inside Story

 

Oh deer!Is there any animal on earth easier to imagine as a shape-shifting woman than our beautiful North American white-tailed deer (photo on right)? I can’t think of one, and when I started writing about Sive that’s exactly what I was picturing. Just look at those big, soulful eyes and expressive ears. It wasn’t long, though, until I realized that the red deer, the species native to Ireland, looks quite different (photo on left). It was a bit of a disappointment, quite honestly; not that red deer are ugly, but they seem so much less graceful and more, well, goatlike. So imagine what you like – there’s no harm in a little creative license!

 

My information about how deer see colours came mostly from hunting websites. It makes sense, I guess; hunters are concerned with both camouflage and safety, so they have a keen interest in what their gear will actually look like to a deer. Still it felt weird to be cruising sites dedicated to killing my heroine’s animal double!

Photo: The Forbidden Corner

Photo:  c. iStockphoto.com/ Raymond Truelove

Read an Excerpt from Shapeshifter
 

WHEN SHE  FIRST SAW Far Doirche, it was not the handsome green-eyed sorcerer 
who caught her attention, but the ragged boy who trailed at his heel.

Sive had never before seen a person starved for food. Among her people, whom 
mortals called the People of the Sidhe, there was plenty for the taking. To be sure 
there were those who were powerful and high, and others who served, but since 
there was no end of food and warmth and fine things, there was no need for any to 
be without. Or so she thought.

This boy, though. He was only a little younger than Sive herself, on the edge of his 
change to manhood, though still smooth-cheeked and slight. Skinny, rather, with 
bony shoulders hunched under a tunic so worn and patched she could not fathom 
how his master would allow such a thing to appear at a grand gathering. He glanced 
at the nearest food table, the longing plain on his face. Such a gaunt, pale face it 
was, with dark hollows under his eyes, as if he had not slept for days. Then his 
master moved on, and the boy jerked his gaze away and scrambled after.

Sive looked then to the man he served. His dress was impeccable, all bright silks 
and fine linen. Glossy honey brown hair hung smooth down his back. He made his 
way through the crowd, exchanging greetings and cordial talk, and the eyes of his 
acquaintances never strayed to the boy at his heel. It was as though he did not exist.

The sweetness of her victory vanished in a gust of hot anger. It was shameful, a 
guest to be treated so. No one would go hungry, not at her sidhe.

She grabbed a bowl and, passing over the delicate sweets and morsels, ladled in a 
generous serving of stew. She floated a couple of biscuits on top, took a goblet of 
mead in her other hand and went straight to the boy.

Startled dark eyes lifted to meet hers when she spoke.

“Sir, I see you have not yet eaten. Will you not enjoy the hospitality of the king of Sidhe 
Ochta Cleitigh? Or perhaps our food does not please you?” She held out the bowl. “I 
am Sive, daughter of Derg, who is counselor to King Fiachna.”

He eyed the stew, then glanced quickly up at his master. Far Doirche was deep in 
conversation with two other men. Thin fingers crept slowly toward the bowl.

“My thanks to you,” he whispered.

Sive could not help but stare as he spooned it in. She had never seen a person eat 
like that, furtive and hurried at the same time. Like a hound at a sheep carcass, she 
thought.

He had almost finished when Far Doirche spoke his name.

“Oran.”

His voice was low and musical, pleasant to hear. Yet Oran flinched as though he had 
been struck. He thrust the bowl into Sive’s hands and wheeled to bow his head to 
Far.

“Please forgive me, master.” The words were barely audible.

She could not leave it alone. There was something so wrong here. For the first time, 
she spoke directly to Far Doirche.

“Surely there is no need for a servant to apologize for eating from the common table? 
The food is here for all to enjoy. I offered it, so if there is any wrong done, it is mine.”

He did not look angry. His face, like his voice, was pleasant. A bystander would have 
said his stare was simply curious, or perhaps admiring. But those green eyes 
weighed on Sive, drilled into her, and she was suddenly, unreasonably, afraid.

“You are the singer,” he observed, his manner courtly and gentle. “A wonderful voice.”

“Thank you, sir,” she managed. A cold breath flowed over her ankles--surely just a 
draft of winter air dancing through the hall after the heavy doors had been opened, 
but it seemed to come from him. His eyes had not shifted from her face.

“Oran’s job is to attend me. He will have a time to eat.” He smiled gently. “Of course, 
to refuse a lovely girl’s generosity would be impolite.”

Far’s gaze finally shifted away to rest on the boy. “Have you finished with the stew?”

Oran’s nod was almost imperceptible. “Yes, master.”

“Good. Then why don’t you take the mead with you, and we’ll continue.”

They left her then and made their way down the crowded hall. But she noticed that 
Oran left his mead goblet on the first table they passed.


Oran Remembers


How is it that people did not shudder at first sight of him, go cold with gooseflesh or 
faint with premonition? But I have seen it so often -- it is only to those who know what 
he is that the evil is so plainly in view.

And what of it, if she did not understand the risk she took with her kindness to me? It 
was long since anyone had paid me any mind at all. Sive placed herself between me 
and the Dark Man’s displeasure. I will never forget that.

But I will always regret it. For he marked her that day, marked her as surely as he 
turned the mead in my goblet to mud. Every person on his path he sorts into one of 
two categories: those who are of no use to him, and those he may turn to his own 
ends. Sive had unwittingly caught his eye. And now he bent his mind upon her, and I 
could only pray that he would find no hold there for his dark dreams.

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