It was well into evening
when they finally halted for the night. Mira actually felt somewhat better than she had earlier.
Although she was far from mastering the old shaman’s technique, she had managed
to help herself—enough so she didn’t feel as though she would drop dead of
old shaman built a small fire and laid out dried meat, and nuts mixed with
berries. The dried meat had a mixture of berries pounded into it as well. They
ate, then turned in for the night, using the woolen blankets from the packs
that Old Wolf had handed to them when they had first set out. Now she knew why
his pack had been so much larger: he had known Lucius would join them. She eyed
his pack. She had a feeling Lucius was not the only one who would join them.
she lay down and slept.
wasn’t yet dawn when Old Wolf woke them again. He took them to a clearing where
they set up a medicine wheel using stones for the north, south, east and west,
then Old Wolf carefully chose a Mother Earth stone. Afterward, they did the
ceremony for the greeting of the dawn.
they returned to camp, they ate more dried meat and nuts mixed with fruit and
set out upon the trail once more. There was dew on the ground and the leaves.
The mist in the air left their clothes damp, and brushing up against the plants
along the trail left them wet and chilled.
three hours of hard trekking, straight into the heart of the mountains, the
shaman indicated they were stop here for the rest of the day. He had them set
up another medicine wheel, and they spent the rest of the day building a sweat
lodge. At this point, Mira was becoming excited. She was going to get to take
part in another ceremony.
she could not have predicted what the old shaman had in mind for her. They had
only just finished the sweat lodge ceremony when he had taken her into the
woods. He’d had her set up another small medicine wheel, and had her lie down
comfortably within it, far down the path, next to a beautiful pond of water.
Birds sang. The smell of sap ran deep in the pine trees.
took out a hand-held drum and began to give her a guided meditation, until she
slipped deep into a trance. He guided her deeper, taking her down a round,
spiral stairway, then deeper, down, down...down. He guided her past a room full
of masks. Her attention was snagged by their beauty as she followed him down
the marble hallway. She felt as if she were floating and, as she walked, her
gown—a beautiful, sheer fabric—floated down around her feet with her motion.
led her into a beautiful garden and had her lie down next to a pond, similar to
the one she was lying next to now. There he guided her deeper into the heart of
the jaguar. As he spoke, she felt herself sit up to face her jaguar. Mira
touched foreheads with her as she had before. The jaguar turned all the way
around. Mira knew that was a sign of a power animal, but she was still puzzled
as to what this journey was about: and she knew it was not a good idea to go
into a journey, any journey, without a clear sense of purpose.
jaguar approached her. She placed her arms around the great cat, breathing in
the scent of her. The jaguar pushed her head close to Mira’s face, breathing in
her scent as well. Mira got a clear whiff of the jaguar’s breath, and the next
thing she knew she had merged with the great cat, and they were one.
was too amazed to feel shock; then the sense of amazement left her as primitive
sensations took over.
could smell the blood of the old shaman, and she growled deep inside her
throat. Then the scent of a smaller animal caught her attention, and she took
off after it—an uncanny sense telling her exactly where the small animal hid
and somehow knowing the animal was a rabbit. She, or the great cat that was
she, ran through the garden and out into the jungle. She felt the power of her
muscles bunching beneath her, running faster, then faster still. She had never
felt so powerful, so primal. She ran until she was heady with desire; the
desire to chase her prey tearing through her senses.
lost her prey, unskilled in her hunting practices as she was, and knew a great
defeat, but she still had the desire to run and so run she did, for several
she felt the shift in the drumming she turned and returned to the garden. She
knew exactly where she was going. She took a cool drink from the pond and
flopped down, stretching out, contented to lie there and just be. And as
quickly as she had left, she woke, finding herself lying on the ground with the
old man drumming.
sat up, looking at the old shaman with a shock she couldn’t begin to put into
words. “You did that on purpose,” she accused him.
grinned at her.
you crotchety old....” she sputtered. She would have gone on, but Lucius had
shown up in time to hear her tirade and was looking at her as if she’d grown
old shaman continued to grin at her, unabashed.
looked up at Lucius expectantly, like he should do something. When he didn’t,
she glared at him
he asked stoically.
turned me into a jaguar,” she screeched, throwing her hands into the air with
frustration. “Do something about it!”
actually grinned at her.
sputtered at the sight of it, for once completely speechless.
Mira,” Lucius took her into his arms. “He didn’t turn you into a jaguar.” He
sound of it did nothing to sooth her quickly fraying temper. “Yes, he did,” she
said, then pointed out, “I damn near killed a rabbit.” She was completely
appalled now at the memory of it—her tearing through the jungle, each lunge
bringing her closer to her prey—a blood thirst tearing through her veins. She
away from Lucius, she turned on the old shaman. “Why if I had caught that
rabbit, I would...I would...” She stopped as another thought occurred to her. “Do
you realize I could smell your blood—what
if I hadn’t been able to control my hunger?” she sputtered at him. “I could have killed you!Do you realize that?”
old shaman’s grin widened.
was maddening. She turned on Lucius, about to launch her tirade at him—when his
next words stopped her cold.
didn’t turn you into a jaguar, Mira, you did.” He watched her. Something in the
intensity of his gaze made her wary—throwing her off balance.
his words slowly began to sink in. “Wha-at?” she sputtered. “What do you—mean?”
She stopped, a shiver snaking its way up her spine. She had—turned into a jaguar.
She had done it, not the old shaman.
She had turned, oh my Goddess. She had turned. And she was never going to feel
safe again. She turned to Lucius as if in slow motion. She grabbed his arm to
steady herself, and he guided her down to sit in the grass, where he put his
arms around her. “I think I need to talk to Micah,” she told him, her face
nodded, and Old Wolf left them alone to go look for Micah.
was quick to gather her into her arms as soon as he had arrived and taken one
look at her face. He took her for a walk to give her some privacy. She was
crying by the time they were alone. “I almost tore a bunny to pieces,” she
sobbed. “Well, actually, I was a long way from catching it, but the point is I would have torn a bunny to pieces if I had
been able to get my teeth...” She stopped, suddenly realizing what she had
been about to say, and how it made her feel to say it.
The blood lust still ran through her
laughed gently, and pulled her into his embrace.
can I ever feel safe again?” she bawled into his shirt.
won’t hurt anyone, Mira, if that’s what you’re thinking. And it’s better for
you that your jaguar has come to you so soon.”
peered up at him; she didn’t understand what he’d meant by the second part of that—so
she went after the first. “How can you possibly know that?” She sniffed. “How
does anyone know that I won’t hurt anyone? You don’t know the power that the
smell of the old man’s blood had on me!” She stared up at him. He had gone
still. Wide-eyed, she finally realized. “You do know!”
Mira,” he said quietly—too quietly.
doesn’t go away,” she said in shock. She knew by the expression on his face it
is why our people used to stick to their own kind. Being with a human mate
could be maddening.”
keeps the big cats from attacking their owners when people are foolish enough
to raise them?”
chuckled. “It’s a little different. One, they’re raised by them and don’t see
their owners as prey. They’re used to their scent. And two, we have a lot
more—how shall I say—powerful emotions pulsing through us, because we are like
humans and cat, rolled into one. I don’t want to say cursed, because we’re not,
not by a long shot. It’s not a curse, but a power, an amazing, unbelievable power;
and in the wrong hands it could create the worst kind of monster—for humans.”
He shook his head at the look in her eyes. “But that rarely happens, Mira.”
swallowed, hard. “How do I know I can trust myself?” she whispered.
cuddled her close. “You will know—with time—what I already know. It is always
terrifying at first, wondering what you’re capable of, but the old shaman never
questioned, did he? He didn’t take us with him because he knew.” He cupped her
face in his hands. “And you know too, deep in your heart. You know you value
life, or you wouldn’t be this upset about that bunny.” He grinned.
playfully bopped him on the chest. “It’s not funny, Micah. I smelled the old
man’s blood. I don’t know what I would do if I had gone after him. Why didn’t
he warn me of what was about to happen? Why didn’t you?”
smiled. “I would have if I had any idea you would change. You were just
supposed to greet your jaguar a few more times—not change.”
She flushed. “Then, why did I...?”
shrugged. “You were ready.”
hugged him close to her. The thought of what she could have done terrified her.
Old Wolf had realized she might change and seemed unconcerned by it. She didn’t
know why he had such faith in her, but she decided to trust his instincts. If
he could stay with her, drum her to the jaguar and risk his own life to show
her the way—she could do no less. She would have at least that much faith in herself.
leaned back. “Did our people...”She searched for the right words. “Did they
always have this power, this ability to shape-shift? Or did they have to acquire
were only given the key to their power when the elders knew they were ready to
handle it. Otherwise, in the hands of wayward teens...” He let his meaning sink
nodded. She snuggled closer to him. After a time he made them a bed of leaves
on the ground and hugged her close to him. Her primal instincts were still
calling to her, and his answered in kind. They stayed in the woods like that
for a few more hours and made love. Their lovemaking was sweeter when combined
with the primitive powers of the jaguar that were so close to their blood.
they rejoined the group later that evening, the old shaman brought her a
necklace. It was a beautiful carving of a jaguar.
it,” he told her. “It will bring you the comfort and protection of your power
animal. Always call upon her in time of need.”
was touched by his gesture. She murmured prayers as he took some sage and
smudged her. It helped to calm the rapid, tattered tempo of her heart. He told
her it was time to put on the amulet, and she did as he directed. She pulled it
over her head and let it dangle between her breasts, beneath her shirt. She
would wear it near her heart. She felt a measure of peace and comfort wash over
her. She closed her eyes and saw her jaguar, and she knew that the power of the
jaguar lived in her blood.
was high noon the next day when they halted at a clearing. The morning sun had
dried their clothes, and Mira actually felt comfortable. But that didn’t mean
she wasn’t happy to see what stood in that clearing. There, in the center,
stood a full-sized, log home. There was smoke curling up from the chimney in a
warm and inviting way that had Mira hoping the old shaman intended them to go
inside. She had an overwhelming urge to go in and lie down on a bed, no matter
who was there.
three made their way to the door. It opened before they had reached it, and
there stood Roman.