Dead leaves shattered beneath her boots, and frost kissed the back of her neck. The forest was brown. The birds were too busy for singing. This was the season of migration; time for Morrigan to descend from her mountaintops to winter in the lowlands. She was still two day's walk from the small stone shanty she'd appropriated from a pair of lumberjacks.
A tiny red-headed girl bounded up behind the witch, panting from the effort of running downhill. Morrigan paid her daughter no mind. If she was lucky, her neglect would buy a few more seconds of peace. It was such a pity that Morrigan could not recall that Grey Warden's force field spell.
"Mum, come look!"
"But Mum, you have to."
"I most certainly do not. You misremember who is the adult here, Sorcha."
Morrigan stopped in her tracks, in order to give Sorcha a proper glowering. Sadly the child was quite immune. Whatever spark of divinity lay trapped Sorcha's six year-old breast had graced her with a worrying level of confidence.
"It will only take five seconds, and you can glare as much as you please -- but you shall not wish to glare, I give my word!" Sorcha said, tugging on Morrigan's skirt. "It is something great. Almost as great as the time you killed the man with the cheese cart."
Killing the man with the cheese cart had thus far been the highlight of Sorcha's young life, to Morrigan's great chagrin. She'd shown the girl cliffsides from which to view half of Ferelden, and carried her on spider-back through caves lined with glowing crystals. She'd electrocuted wayward templars, so pompous in their shining armor, and frozen a brace of Dalish before their arrows could take flight. Yet all that was evidently overshadowed by the murder of some fat, pathetic trader, and the taste of stale brie. Sorcha had sulked for a week at Morrigan's flat refusal to turn into a horse and drag the dead merchant's stores home with them.
When Morrigan chose to conceive, she had been so sure that that man's feeble blood would be of infinitesimal consequence to her progeny. Morrigan had dreamt of a god-child, ancient and glorious. Clearly she had underestimated the effects of heritable idiocy.
It would have been enough to drive a lesser woman into her cups.
"You are a small child, and as such, I can promise you that whatever you have done is thoroughly unremarkable," Morrigan said. She pinched the bridge of her nose, to ward against headache. "Kindly refrain from pestering me if you do not wish to spend the rest of the week in the form of a mouse. I recall that there are many owls in this area which would be happy to make quick work of an annoying young witch."
"Oh reeeally?" Sorcha shot Morrigan a sidelong look.
Not precisely. Her chubby little lizard-eyed child had yet to manage a transformation (voluntary or otherwise) that was free of draconic influence. Morrigan had no doubt that any mouse bearing Sorcha's soul would end up breathing fire or bearing a tail with razor barbs. The predator's work would not be so swift as she implied.
"You have never known me to make idle threats or forgo swift retribution."
Sorcha kicked at the dirt with the sole of her boot. Then the treacherous little beast turned upon her mother with a pleading look.
"But it's puppies, Mum!"
"Oh, very well." Morrigan sighed, batting Sorcha's hands away. Best to get this over with, so that they could make some semblance of progress before nightfall. She had to pick her battles. If they left there'd be no hearing the end of it.
Sorcha giggled, knowing she'd won this round, and grabbed her mother's hand, steering Morrigan back up the path from whence they'd came. They reached the barren skeleton of a willow, and turned left towards a smell like seared marrow.
"They were following us. I could feel their worship," Sorcha said. Her voice was steady with a certainty beyond her years. She left no quarter for questions, or for doubt. "They wanted the smell of this shape. They mourned for feel of its hands in their fur. If I'd have fed them a deer, they would have loved me until their hearts gave out."
The pair came upon a small clearing, and Morrigan was pleased to find, not a pack of mangy new pets, but a half-dozen charred Mabari corpses. Liquified organs spilled out from between their ribs, to nourish the frozen earth. Powerful claws stretched plaintively up into the air. There was no sign of struggle. These hounds had lain on their backs and begged for flame.
"I thought about letting them love me," Sorcha continued. "But they were wounded, and they were weak."
And Sorcha did love to be loved, Morrigan knew. Her smile said, I am the foolish child of an overgrown mongrel -- but sometimes, very rarely, she would bare her canines, and her grin said, stand in awe.
Morrigan was defenseless against the unexpected stab of pride in her belly. So she frowned, and wrinkled her nose.
"Those were survivors. I suppose you've done well enough, aside from the stench."
"I knew you'd like it!" Sorcha beamed. "You love me." She darted in to hug Morrigan's waist.
"I'm aware," Morrigan said.
It was the absolute worst part of motherhood, as far as she was concerned. Did she have no choice but to love this creature in spite of its flaws? Was this the curse of a god? Or was it merely her own maternal folly? Flemeth was surely laughing in her grave.
Morrigan gave Sorcha a quick pat on the head, before nudging the girl off to scavenge pretty bones.
"These puppies are so big!" Sorcha poked at a gaping Mabari jaw. "Mum, will you teach me how to turn into a big puppy?"