Chapter 23: The Last Shift

991 124 103
                                    

Morwain's head disappeared inside again.

The two of us lay sprawled on the ground. My breath was coming in quick pants. Jemima was trembling with terror. Suddenly a wild idea flashed across my mind. I scrambled to my feet, grabbed Jemima by both arms and heaved her up. I guided her round to the front of the wagon, supporting her as she hobbled.

"Quick, get up on the seat.' I lifted her a little way, she hoisted herself up and dragged herself onto the wagon's wooden seat. The horse's harness was hanging over the horizontal wooden shaft that stuck out at the front. I picked it up by the neck collar and examined the straps that go over the horse's head. There, caught in one of the buckles, I found what I was looking for. A single grey hair from the mane of one of the horses that had brought us into Jamain.

If I'd managed to transform into a bird from holding a feather, surely I could become a horse from a single mane hair. I slipped off the dressing gown, closed my eyes and quietened my mind.

It was then that it struck me. My eyes flew open and my stomach swooped like I was falling.

I'd just shifted back from being a greyhound. This would be my second shift in twenty-four hours. Once a horse I wouldn't have the strength to change back again. I'd have to remain a horse for the rest of my life. I hesitated, heart racing, the mane hair clasped to my chest. Loud footsteps on the tower's stairs. Jemima screamed. I had no choice.

I screwed my eyes shut and concentrated. The wave rippled over me. My shoulders rounded, my torso widened, my tailbone lengthened. My fingers fused together, my hands hardened into hooves and clattered down on the marble paving stones. My face grew longer, my eyes separated, my ears shifted to the top of my head.

When the transformation was complete, my head was spinning. I stayed very still for a breath, waiting for the vertigo to pass, listening to the air rush in through my nostrils and my tremendous heart beat in its cavernous chest. Then I shook my head from left to right, let out a snort and flicked my tail. I picked up my hooves and took a few steps backward, positioning my hind quarters right in front of the wagon seat.

Jemima didn't move. Shock had frozen her to the seat. There was no time to lose. I neighed and pawed the ground impatiently. The Princess snapped into action. I felt her crawl onto my back and grip my flanks with her knees. She was just taking hold of my mane when Morwain burst out of the tower. On the threshold, he paused briefly, his forehead creasing in surprise when he saw a girl and a horse where he'd expected to see two girls. Then he bared his teeth, his eyes flashing with rage and lunged towards us, roaring and cursing.

I threw my head back and leapt forward, galloping away from his reach. He caught me by the tail as he fell forward. I galloped faster, pounding the ground with my hooves until I felt his grip loosen, then release. There was a thump as he hit the ground. I heard him swear, then seconds later, the sound of running footsteps chasing after us.

But we were too fast. We sped across the courtyard, round the side of the palace and past the palace's pillared entrance. I pulled up sharply in front of the West Tower as Jemima shouted to the guard, "I need to see my father, the king, immediately." The guard's jaw dropped, his eyes bulged. He tore the door open and sprinted up the stairs. My flanks heaved as I caught my breath; Jemima reached down and patted my neck. Horses' ears were nearly as sharp as dogs' ears, it seemed. From inside the tower I heard,

"What is it, man?"

"Your Majesty . . ." the guard panted. "Princess Jemima . . . it's urgent!"

There were hurried footsteps and the king appeared at the bottom of the stairs, wrapped in a purple velvet robe, eyebrows furrowed in confusion.

PlaguesbaneWhere stories live. Discover now