The moon rises over the rounded hills, painting patterns in silver across the small town nestled between them. It is a night past full, and gives light enough to cast clear, lucid shadows across the blackness. Dawn is still several hours away, yet the air holds warmth enough from the day before to give the promise of blistering heat yet to come. All is quiet in this peaceful, country town - all excepting one household. One house, on the edge of town, is anything but quiet.
"Eater of pigs' dung! Swimmer in cesspits! When I free myself from your petty clutches, I will use your bones for wind chimes!"
"However you wish, my dear! Make sure you get them in tune. I would hate my funeral dirge to be played out of key."
The speakers regard each other, one hostile, one dryly amused. The first speaker, a silver-haired woman of wild and furious aspect, is unclad but for a gold collar around her neck. She is sitting on and among a pile of shredded cloth that had previously been a woollen blanket and assorted pieces of clothing. She is at present delicately but violently ripping a piece of denim to pieces that may once have been the leg of a pair of jeans, and as she removes shreds of fibre from the cloth, she scatters them about the room.
The second speaker, a man of middling height, middling years and an air of competent assurance, is standing some five feet away from this apparition, arms akimbo. Near his feet is a large bucket, part-filled with water and containing several live trout. He looks at her again, shrugs and picks up the bucket.
"You realise, of course, that while you continue to display such charm and elegance you will also continue to be proud, free...and hungry?"
The glaistig's answer is simple. She spits at him and turns her head away.
"Such a model of wit, grace and beauty! Since I'm quite certain that you won't give me your true name in a month of Sundays, and since I have to address you as something, I think I shall call you Aglaia. One of the Three Graces, you know. Somehow, it seems so appropriate!"
She does not acknowledge him, keeping her face averted. As he regards her, his gaze softens for a moment, then reverts to it's normal expression of wry amusement when she meets his eyes a moment later. "I'll bring the fish back later. Maybe you'll be more hungry then. If you change your mind, call me. And if you need to address me as anything, you can call me Tiresias. No, it's not my real name - I'm not that silly. But once again, somehow it seems so appropriate, so we'll use it for now." He turns and walks out of the room, closing the door behind him. The binding spell that he has placed upon the glaistig prevents her disobeying any direct instruction he gives her, and he has told her that she may under no circumstances whatsoever leave the room without his express permission. So there she stays.
Once alone, the glaistig rises to her feet and starts pacing back and forth. Faster and faster she moves, and angrier her motions become, until she is breathless and exhausted. She drops into a squatting posture in the corner of the room and starts drumming her fists frustratedly on the walls and the floor. A throaty moan rises from her, quiet at first but rising into a howl, which breaks into bitter weeping.
Outside the door, the mage Tiresias listens. His fists are clenched and white-knuckled. He no longer appears amused, but grieved. His face wears the expression of someone who, seeing for the first time the outcome of a decision, regrets.
Some while after dawn, the door opens, and Tiresias slips the bucket of fish into the room quietly. The glaistig, huddled miserably in a corner, looks up abruptly at the sound, but the mage withdraws and closes the door without speaking. She glares at the bucket, then stares at her feet. A while later she glances at the fish again, still suspicious. She stands up and walks around the room, curious to see if the sound of movement will attract the mage. It does not. She stamps up and down, and sits down again, closer to the bucket. She watches the fish curiously, and dangles her finger in the water. She is ravenously hungry, and has been deprived of her preferred sustenance, but she can live on fish if she has to. However, the idea of accepting food from her captor holds little appeal to her. She contemplates them a moment longer, and then shuffles back to the corner of the room, where she resumes her study of her feet. This continues for some while, then she abruptly stands, walks over to the fish bucket, thrusts her hand in and withdraws a wriggling trout. With much vigour but little delicacy, she consumes the fish alive, eating every part of it. The process is repeated for a second fish, then a third. Her hunger sated, she wipes her bloodied hands on a wad of rags, then cleans her face in a similar way. She tosses the soiled rags aside and gathers the clean ones together in a heap, forming them into a nest-shape. She then curls in the middle of the pile, draws some over the top to cover her and goes to sleep.
Some while later, the mage Tiresias quietly looks into the room. He notices with satisfaction and some relief that not only has the glaistig consumed the fish he left, but that she is now asleep. He replaces the empty bucket with another one, full of water and small fish, then closes the door quietly behind him.
Several days pass. The mage leaves buckets of fish for her at irregular intervals and otherwise leaves his captive alone as much as possible. Initially she startles at every intrusion, but as time passes she becomes less nervous, and at last consents to eat the fish in his presence. She still hisses at him whenever he moves towards her and hurls insults and abuse at him when he speaks to her, but her remarks seem to contain less venom.
At last, when he deems the time to be right, Tiresias enters the room, closes the door behind him and sits on the floor, cross-legged.
"It's time you and I had a little chat," he says cheerfully.
She regards him with sullen eyes. "The only words I want to hear from you, O face-like-a-toad, are 'you are free'. Anything else is pointless."
"You have such a way with words, my dear," he replies with a grin. "But please do try to avoid jumping to conclusions. The point I was about to make was that I think that things have developed between us to the stage where..." He dodges as she spits at him, and continues. "As I was about to say, I think I can maybe let you return to your natural form. I'm sure you'd like that. But your charming demeanour has me doubting my judgement. What do you think? Can I trust you in your normal shape?"
"What do you think, mudsucker?" she counters, baring her teeth.
"I think it's probably worth the risk," he says thoughtfully. "But I want you to make me a promise. I want you to promise that if I allow you your own shape, that you will not deliberately try to escape. Now I know that I can tie you with bindings, but I really don't think that we're achieving much locked in this little room. And I think that if you give me your word, you'll keep it." He looks her up and down again. "What do you say, Aglaia? Do you agree?"
Now she looks thoughtful. It is clear that the double offer of her natural shape and removal from the dim room hold great appeal. It is also clear that she has no desire to make any kind of promise to her captor. She frowns, and glowers at him. A throaty growl rises in her throat, and she finally says "What do you want me to promise, carrion-eater?"
"I want you to promise that you will feed from nothing or no-one without my express permission, and that you will make no effort to dodge, twist or outwit my requests."
"Oh, it's no effort!" she quips back, the shadow of a laugh in her voice.
Tiresias sighs. "All right then, I want you to promise that you will at no time dodge, twist or outwit my requests," the mage amends, conceding the point.
"Very well," the glaistig concedes after a long pause.
"Nice try," says Tiresias. "But you've got to say it word for word. Do you want to say it after me?"
"That won't be necessary," she growls. "I give my word that I will feed from no-one without..."
"Come on, you can do better than that!" laughs the mage. "Word for word, remember?"
"As you will, toad-breath," she says grudgingly. "I give my word that I will feed from nothing or no-one without your express permission, and that I will at no time dodge, twist or outwit your requests."
"There, that wasn't so hard, was it?" grins Tiresias. "Now I shall keep my part of the bargain." He looks distracted for a moment, and Aglaia's form shimmers, blurs and returns to its original state: eyes become emerald-green and slit-pupilled, skin pales to an opalescent silver-white and legs become hairy and goatish. She smiles, baring her teeth, and it can now be seen that they are needle-sharp. She moves about the room, revelling in the feel of her body as it should be, and her hooves clatter against the wooden floor. She stretches, swings her body about and stamps on the floor.
"Ready for a small excursion?" asks the mage Tiresias. She looks at him quizzically. "It's not yet midnight. The night is yet young! We can kill two birds with one stone, so to speak." She frowns, and he continues. "You haven't fed in the way that you prefer for some while, and I've never watched you hunt close up. I think we can combine these two aims quite satisfactorily."
The glaistig looks surprised, and somewhat pleased. She is about to speak, but Tiresias speaks first.
"Your prey doesn't have to be human, does it? Other species are satisfactory as long as they are reasonably big or reasonably bright?"
"I suppose not," she says. "Why?"
"Let's just say I'm squeamish. I don't want you hunting humans in my company, given that I'm human myself. Indulge me. I have something outside that you may find to your liking, however." At this he rises, opens the door and walks out of the room, gesturing for Aglaia to follow him. Before he opens the front door of the house, he says flatly "Okay, the ground rules for this expedition are as follows. One: immediately you have finished feeding on the prey I have prepared for you, you are to return to this house. Two: if you have not caught or finished feeding on this prey by sunup, you are to return here anyway. Three: if you wish to shapeshift to hunt, you will ask my permission first. Are all these quite clear?"
She hisses assent, and he opens the door onto the night. The air is warm and humid, and the sky is overcast, with neither stars nor moon to be seen. Tiresias leads Aglaia to the rear of the house, where he stops in front of a smallish shed.
"Now, it's obvious that I can't shapeshift and follow you physically as you hunt, so what will happen is that I will ride your mind as you do so. I will see through your eyes, so to speak, and if you need to shift to another form or you wish to ask me anything, I will be there in your mind to hear your question."
The glaistig looks distinctly unhappy at this proposal. "Will it be uncomfortable?"
"You'll hardly know I'm there," the mage assures her. "Oh, by the way, I permit you to shift to the form of your prey during the hunt."
"How very gracious of you," comments Aglaia sourly. Still, there is something of a light in her eye at the prospect of hunting again, even if not entirely freely.
"Are you ready?" asks Tiresias as he unlatches the door to the shed. She glares at him. He flings open the shed door, and a large owl flies into the night and away. The glaistig's form shimmers and shifts, and as she takes wing, the mage enters her mind.
As he enters her mind, his awareness expands and he finds his own sensory impressions overlaid by hers. He concentrates on the second set of input, and his own body fades from his consciousness. He feels the cool air whirl past his owlish face, rush across his silently beating wings, ripple along his back and past the feathers of his spread tail. A sense of exultation fills him as he is hurled through the air in company with the glaistig, and sharing her emotion, he feels the single minded, bloody obsession that motivates her towards her prey a few metres ahead. The ground falls away beneath them dizzyingly, and is disregarded as they reach forward.
The space between Aglaia and her prey narrows, and Tiresias feels her awareness reach across the space between as she tries to close the gap. The sense of hunger - of raw anticipation - fills every nerve, every blood vessel. The scent of the owl ahead fills his/her awareness, and he feels every sinew, every muscle stretched to breaking point and beyond. At the point where it seems that their heart should burst, the glaistig-owl embeds his/her talons into her prey, and a rush of pleasure surges through his/her awareness. In a flurry of feathers and screeches, predator and prey tumble through the air, Aglaia regaining control enough to ensure that ground impact is taken by the prey. She proceeds to tear the stunned owl apart with claw and beak, and as she consumes her meal, Tiresias feels the tingling, empowering sensation of the owl's life-energy flowing into Aglaia's body.
Tiresias withdraws his mind from the glaistig's, and discovers that his legs have folded beneath him and he is kneeling on the cold ground. Breathless and exhilarated, he looks about with the dimmed vision of human eyes and shakily rises to his feet. A part of his mind laments the loss of the wings and the freedom that seemed for a moment to be a part of him, and another part grieves at the passing of the temporary intimacy. As the adrenaline coursing through his system fades, he is filled by an overwhelming sense of sorrow at the return to his mundane and ordinary self, and as he momentarily catches the eye of the glaistig, he is surprised to see an echo of that same emotion in her.
"So now you know why I hunt as I do," she says quietly, her voice sounding strange in the weird night air. "And I suppose now you are going to lock me up in that musty dark box you call a house again." She looks away, glances briefly up into the black sky then back down to the house and shed. "Well, what are you waiting for? You might as well get it over with."
"No." The mage speaks with a hoarseness and unsteadiness to his voice that surprises him. So he speaks again, louder. "No. Go. You are free." A gesture of his hand, and the gold chain around the glaistig's neck shatters.
She looks at him blankly. "What?"
"Go now, before I change my mind. You are free. All the bindings I laid on you are undone. Go."
The look of incomprehension becomes one of delight. With a whoop of glee she leaps up, shifting into owl-form as she does so and vanishes into the blackness on silent wings. The mage Tiresias remains unmoving for a while, his eyes following after her, and then he turns and walks slowly to the house without looking back.