This is set AFTER Shades of Hate and BEFORE Royal Pawn.
“So… What do you want to do today?” I asked as Subira took me outside. We didn’t just leave the family quarters. We left the entire house and started walking down a long path that led into the town below. It was a large island, but it didn’t host tourism and there was a small population, only two towns, one on each side of the island. Only about three thousand people called it this tropical paradise home and they all knew who Hasan was. Kind of. I figured they all knew the wealthy man on the mountain with the horses. Some days, it felt like he employed half of them.
“We’re just going to walk and see what interests us,” she answered. “The town sounds nice. I believed starting there might be nice.”
“You…” I knew this was a day to talk to her, get to know her because I never really had the chance. “You don’t live with other people. Is this the only time you head into town?”
She laughed, shaking her head. “I spend lots of time with the more isolated communities in my territory. Not that I have much of a territory. Hasan says it’s too big, but it’s my home. It’s where I was born, where my people called home. Where my mother taught me magic, and I raised my children.”
“So… Your mother was a witch, too.” I didn’t know that.
“My mother…” Subira gave me an odd expression and it betrayed the years she had walked the earth. I saw all of those thousand years in her expression. “My mother wasn’t as powerful as me.” She paused for a second, and I waited as she studied me. “What has Hasan told you of the first werecat?”
“That he Changed Hasan,” I answered. “That’s all I know because that’s all he’s told me.”
Subira nodded slowly. “Then I will tell you what everyone in the family knows. The first werecat was a warmonger who believed having a witch to do his bidding was a good idea. He already knew that Changing someone could be fatal, so he found a witch he could control. He took her as his own, for she wasn’t powerful enough to stop him, and I was born. My mother, however, died during her second pregnancy when I was…” Subira frowned. “I wasn’t quite what the world would consider a woman today. I had been bleeding for a few seasons, though. Old enough to have children, if he’d found a husband for me.”
“I’m pretty sure you mean you were a teenager. Or a preteen,” I said softly. Luckily the walk to the town was a long one, because if someone didn’t know Subira was immortal before, they would probably figure her out quickly.
“You may be correct. Now, I was his blood daughter, but he needed a witch. He needed a witch that wouldn’t die on him… But if I was going to die, sooner rather than later was better for him. That way, he could go find another witch if he needed to without wasting precious time. There was no love between him and I. He was a brutal man who used his hands to teach lessons. Lessons my mother and I were forced to tolerate for my entire life. She was too weak to defeat him, and I was still growing into power.” Subira sighed. “So he Changed me against my will. I was the first woman of our kind, the first who was both witch and werecat as well. He introduced me to the handful of sons he had collected… That was where I met Hasan. One of his Changed men, adopted sons who would fight and die for him against our greatest enemy.”
“Werewolves…” I said softly. “We were at war, even back then…”
“Yes.” She smiled. “He made Hasan protect me as I learned my power and used it for him. Now, my wonderful mate had never really liked magic. In fact, he hates it to this day, even though he sees the use in it. He didn’t like me at the beginning. But we fell in love and for me, he put his hate for magic aside. Together, we had children and… well, you see what we have built.”
“What happened to the first werecat? What happened to your…” mother’s rapist, “father?”
“A story for another time,” she whispered. “These are old stories, but you should know how your parents met.”
I opened and closed my mouth. I couldn’t voice my thought. It was part of my paranoia about having this new maternal figure in my life. Subira wouldn’t be okay with it. I knew she wouldn’t be. I fought to keep silent, the question hovering on the tip of my tongue.
“Ask,” she ordered.
“Why do you consider me your daughter? I mean… I get—”
“Because you are,” she snapped, her eyes warning me not to say any more as she stopped on the path to glare at me.
“I know but—”
“Your father and I made a promise. My mother died during her second pregnancy. I would never have a second. He teases about it, but it will never happen. Instead, he fills our lives with joy by bringing home children who need parents, and acceptance, and love. They are all of our children. Mischa is as much my daughter as Zuri is. You are as much my daughter as either of them.” She touched my cheek. “You are the first time he’s ever been late. Normally, we have found our children young. Niko was the oldest we’ve found before you. He was ten years old.”
“You make it sound like you knew I existed before I’d even met Hasan,” I said, frowning deeply.
“I didn’t, but that doesn’t change anything. If he had met you as a child, seeing how those… people damaged you…” Subira hissed indignantly. She hated my human family and I didn’t mind all that much. “I have seen things in the waters of your past. The way they resented your honest ways, your moral guides. Your ideas of loyalty and trust. They resented until they broke you. Now I must pick up the pieces. That is okay. You are not the first of broken children I have raised.”
“I’m an adult. Let’s make that clear.”
She laughed and started walking again. “Certainly. Ask me more questions. I will tell you what I can.”
“Can you see the future?” I asked softly.
“No. I can see pieces of the past if I know where to look,” Subira said with a look over her shoulder. It was asking me why I wasn’t following her again. “The better understanding of the past I have, the better I can prepare for the future.”
“Why do you live so far away from everyone?”
“Because I don’t like technology. I have magic and I like to use it. I can’t do that living so close to modern man. Now, come. We have much to do today.”
Which was funny, because I was certain she had said we were just going to wander around and see what happened with the day.
“You confuse me,” I said as I started walking again.
“I hear that from all of my children. You are not the first. You will not be the last. I promise you, tomorrow with Nikolaus, he will say something similar.” She was smiling as we continued through the thick jungle of the mountain towards the town on the border of beach and the rest of the island.
“You like it,” I accused.
“Very much so,” she confirmed. “Now, what else do you wish to know about me? This is your chance unless you want to fly to my homeland and see me there.”
“Um…” Put on the spot, I was running out of questions quickly. “Do you wish you could sit on the Tribunal?”
“Yes,” she admitted. “I wish Zuri could as well. Such a neat little trick the werewolves played on us. There wasn’t much we could do about it.”
“What about Mischa?”
Subira laughed. “She would have us at war within the year. No, we never considered Mischa a fit for the position. She’s also never wanted it.” Subira gave me a bemused expression. “You might be a good choice one day. Not for centuries yet, but one day. You need time and experience, and I need a better measure of who you are before I can make a decision on it.”
“I have no interest in the Tribunal. Like Mischa.”
“It’s probably better that way,” Subira said, patting my shoulder. She said nothing more.
We entered the village side by side, earning glances from the locals who caught us coming in. Fishing boats were heading out still, we were so early. Subira laughed and talked to many of the humans as we passed. They knew her and she knew them. Possibly not as well as Hasan did, but there was a familiarity.
“And you, Jacqueline? Would you like something this morning?”
I was startled that the cook remembered my name. “Oh… Um… No thank you.”
“Give her a smoothie. Something fruity and refreshing for the bright morning ahead of us,” Subira said, giving me a smile. “And you’ll finish it.”
“Yesterday, you had me make Davor a chocolate smoothie. Today, it’s fruit.” The cook chuckled and headed back inside.
“You gave Davor chocolate?” I asked very softly.
“Davor is a bitter man,” she answered as if it explained anything. Then a hurt look flew over her face. “Though, I would also be bitter if I lost Hasan. He has been through too much, my Davor, for his few years. He was supposed to have eternity with her and…”
“I really wish I had met her.”
“I do as well, but the two of you would not have been good fits,” Subira said, shaking her head. She didn’t elaborate. Eventually, the smoothies were brought out and our walk continued.
We headed for the beach. I didn’t know who was leading, her or me, but we kicked off our shoes and walked in the sand together. We moved away from the humans and watched the waves roll in together.
“How do you feel being in this family?” Subira asked me suddenly.
“Good,” I answered honestly.
“You don’t find it stifling? All the hidden rules thanks to who we are?”
“Sometimes,” I admitted. “Somethings I just don’t understand. I mean… yeah, werewolves and werecats haven’t mixed well. They killed Liza, tried to kill me. There’s been at least one war and you just told me that we’ve been fighting since the first of our kinds… But I know a few good ones. Sometimes, I feel stifled because I can’t say that to everyone in our family.”
“This Heath and his children,” Subira whispered. “Zuri, at my request, has spoken at length about him. And his children, for the best judge of a person is their children, if they have them.”
“He thinks the same,” I said with a small smile then it faded. “He judges himself on every failure with them. Every mistake, every moment of their unhappiness… he carries it on his shoulders like a burden. I think it’s one of the reasons he’s done so well to evolve into the modern era. His children needed him to, so he does. He’s adaptable, I guess.” I was trying not to out Landon by saying it, but it was an argument that worked with Carey too. She was a young human girl, growing up in a world Heath hadn’t been born to.
“Parents will always make mistakes and children will always find a reason to be unhappy,” Subira said, nodding at my explanation of Heath. “And his children? They’re happy more often than not, right?”
“I hope so. I’m practically helping him raise one of them. I swore a lifetime commitment to Carey. If she’s not happy, it’s not just Heath’s fault. Some of that falls on my shoulders too.” It was so much responsibility, but Carey was one of the best people to ever stumble into my life.
Subira laughed. “Yes, indeed. You took up the mantle, and you can’t pass it off to anyone else now. You decided to try to be something like a mother to the girl.”
“More like a loving aunt,” I countered, correcting her. “I will never try to be Carey’s mom. She… she deserves a real mother, someone who is there with her every day. I can’t be that for her.”
“Because…” I frowned and stopped walking, considering my answer carefully. Subira stopped five paces ahead of me and turned back.
“Why not, Jacky?”
“Because I won’t give up my friendship with her father to Change her against his will. And other options just aren’t… valid to the situation.” They would never let Heath live long enough for me to marry him. He wouldn’t be crazy enough to ask. I…
“I see. So, the problems between our two species have left a human girl without someone she cares most about.”
“She’s not without me. We’re just careful about the boundaries of our relationship and what I can do in her life. I don’t do anything her father wouldn’t approve of. I can’t take those liberties because I’m not her mom, just her protector.”
“Careful. Of course.” Subira seemed very thoughtful about how I phrased it. “Come, let’s take a walk around the island. We’ll stay at the water’s edge and patrol for your father. That should pass the time nicely.”
I followed dutifully, wondering what was next.