FIRI KANAPHAR. Born 327 RWQ (Reign of the Witch Queens of Doornwold).
TRANSCRIPT of Oral History 74
This interview was recorded using the Enchanter’s Bell cantrip, in the month of Goldenseal, on the 21st day, in the year 382 (RWQ), for the Wolfcasters Oral History Program. The interviewers are Mar Riallakin (biographer, Regalia Award-winning author of Plague Siege: The Darkest Days of Doornwold, witch of the Woodlanders) and Wraith Anaiason (sorcerer of Doornwold). The interview was transcribed by Icanthus Val (model, composer, sorcerer of Doornwold).
ABSTRACT: In this excerpt from her oral memoirs, Ambassador to the Outer Woodlanders Alliance Firi Kanaphar discusses her college years, the loss of her pelt, and the result of that loss: the first recorded magical confederacy between witch and wolfcaster communities in the “peltpatch spell.” She describes that spell (enacted on the evening of the 16th of Cinquefoil, in the year 347, at the Museum of Eerie Skins’ gala opening for the exhibit “Historical Perceptions of Wolfcasters: Past and Present”) and the application thereof upon a human person in the first recorded criminal justice sentence carried out by consensus of both wolfcaster and witch communities upon a human criminal. This led to greater regulations of witch and wolfcaster laws, their integration with existing human laws, and the appointment of Firi Kanaphar as ambassador between magical and non-magical communities.
Key Words: Firi Kanaphar, the University of Doornwold, the Museum of Eerie Skins (M.o.E.S.), wolfcasters, witchcraft, the “pelt laws”, extra-human vendetta, Warlocks Against Wolfcasters, the Wolfcaster Anti-Defamation League, Outer Woodlanders Alliance
NOTE: The interviewers’ questions have been edited out of the transcript at their request as, in Riallakin’s words, “they were mostly grunts of encouragement anyway.” Transcript was later augmented by memorabilia materials for Firi Kanaphar’s published memoir.
I packed away my pelt when I went to college. You hear stories about college, you know, in newspapers and stuff. My social life was governed by three rules: 1) don’t swig any dram you don’t pour yourself, 2) don’t leave your pelt lying around for anyone to steal, and 3) have fun, fear not, harm none.
Of course, my pelt needed a hidey-hole to keep it safe while I was gone. Mama—though a darling—has a tendency towards wanderlust: a need, as she says, “to sink her fingers/paws in the loam of every continent on our great planet.” Often, she’ll just pick up her pelt, shroud herself in its shadows, its silvery protections, its mouth of tusk-like fangs, its claws of blackest adamant, and scamper off on some adventure that usually ends with her volunteering manual labor in a witch’s garden in exchange for bed and board, or as mucker-outer for animal familiar welfare and rescue sites. That’s how she met the Witch of the Almond Grove, Mar Riallakin, who later became one of my best friends. We worked together in Doornwold during the plague years, but that was a good decade and a half after I graduated from college.
Mama’s a fine gardener; she derives immense satisfaction from pulling weeds and rooting out invasive species. She’s friends with witches from all walks of life, from all around the world. She’s not a witch herself, of course—wolfcasters can’t perform magic; we exchange that ability for our pelts, which are, in essence, the concentration of all the magic we might ever have performed, gloombright or hopedark, for the rest of our lives.
Most of us consider it well worth the price. I certainly did, so I wasn’t about to bring my precious pelt into a cheap apartment share in Doornwold. But leaving it back at Mama’s den, which she might rent out to any frog-licking, mushroom-sucking, weed-puffing, backwoods tree worshipper (not that there’s anything wrong with that) needing cheap shelter during one of her spontaneous sabbaticals, was out of the question. Her renters might burn the whole den to the ground in one of their hallucinogenic orgies, and my pelt with it—and then where would I be?
So I buried it.
There was this tree I adored and trusted, so I wrapped up my pelt in finest silk, nestled it in a box of mothballs, and set it deep among the roots.
Okay, so yeah, I occasionally worshipped trees too, what are you gonna do, call me a yokel and yodel at me? Thanks very much, I got plenty of that in college. People in the great city of Doornwold tend to view anyone from the outer woodlands with contemptuous suspicion. Ha! When they’re the ones wearing wards against us! Twists of iron on salt-soaked ribbons. Chance-found coins carried at the bottoms of pockets—the reliefs rubbed to planchet-blankness from all that touch-for-luck nonsense.
As if coins or ribbons or iron could stop a wolfcaster when she’s out for blood.
Not that we wolfcasters have some cyclical “out for blood” agenda that we regularly lose our sentience to. That prevailing myth about the negative influence of the full moon upon our folk is very harmful, and I joined the Wolfcasters Anti-Defamation League first thing my Induction year at U of DW. I still pay annual fees as an alumna to this day, even after what happened. HOWL FOR JUSTICE! as we WADLs liked to say!
Anyway, speeding up, short story, so:
My work with WADL really brought out some shoot-first, ask-no-questions later types. You know the kind. The sort of person who uses their weak-sauce urban legend conspiracy theories about wolfcasters as an excuse to decimate the local predator population. Which (as anyone with half the brains of a brain-eating amoeba knows) leads to all sorts of problems: overpopulation among grazers, the rise of mesopredators, and, like, the collapse of whole ecosystems, etc.
But never mind my soapbox.
The point is—killing wolf-wolves has no effect on wolfcasters except to make us angry. We’re nearly impossible to kill while we’re wearing our pelts—because they protect us. When we’re not wearing our pelts, we are actually impossible to kill because our pelt possesses our life force. The only way to take us down is to ferret out our pelts whenever we’re not wearing them and destroy them utterly, thereby rendering us magic-less and mortal. That way, you can kill us as easily as any other wounded animal with her back to a wall, little to lose, and teeth enough for the task no matter that they’re not as sharp now as they once were. As far as she’s concerned, buddy, it’s full moon every night, and there ain’t enough silver bullets in all the wide world to keep her from your throat.
I know. I talk a big game. Possibly I should have gone to see one of those couch-counsel witches, the kind who sit behind a clipboard, wear horn-rimmed glasses, and keep an animal familiar around for you to pet while they ask you questions, so you can come to understand yourself better, and leave their cottage knowing you can face the world with equanimity again.
(CC-certified witches are almost as good as trees. My best friend Mar swears by them, so I gave one a try once, and after that, I just kept going. But again, I was older by then and a little less on my dignity. Worth it! Highly recommend!)
You’ve probably guessed the gory bits of my story by now. But I’ll dish out the deets, why not? Maybe they’ll help you someday. Knowledge is the surest path through the woods.
(Funny: books are made out of knowledge and trees! Cut down enough trees to pack a book full of knowledge, and you have a literal path through the woods as well as a metaphorical. Not that I’m telling you to cut down trees. Don’t do that. I love trees. I may have mentioned.)
So. What happened was this.
Some dipshit from Warlocks Against Wolfcasters fixated on me after a rally where I apparently looked at him the wrong way across the picket line. He spent I don’t know how many months and how much money (his daddy had cellars full of gold) (not kidding about the cellars part) (or the gold part) (not that it helped him in the end) to find out everything about me that could be observed, suborned, researched, scried, or, like, rifled through after breaking into my apartment and going through all my drawers and also letting my cat out.
Don’t worry, animal lovers; the cat was fine. She went over to my neighbor’s apartment and scratched to be let in. My neighbor is a softy with a load of salmon sticks in her ice box for just such occasions. Eventually my cat decided to adopt her—and who was I to interfere with true love and fish treats? Besides, having a pet around invariably improves my mood, and at that time in my life I was in the mood to be angry and stay angry for the foreseeable future.
Yeah, that’s right. This WAW-dude found out, somehow, about the tree. About my pelt. And, you guessed it, he destroyed both. The tree, out of spite. Just sheer meanness.
But the pelt… the pelt he took his time with.
Look, I’d plunged three whole years of my life and buckets of money I didn’t have into the University of Doornwold’s Library and Information Science Masters program, even going the extra mile (and the extra migraine during finals) to achieve my National Chronicle Keeper’s certification—all for the chance to one day be Chief of Archives in charge of Records Management at the Historical Museum of Eerie Skins.
When that kid stalked and stole my pelt—when he cut it up into a hundred pieces—he stole that from me, too. Not just my power, my joy, and my family legacy, but my future. One of the reasons I wanted to work at the Museum of Eerie Skins so badly was because they only hire wolfcasters—on principal! Because so many institutions are so benighted that they immediately chuck you out of the hiring pool the moment they get a whiff of pelt. But the M.o.E.S. is wolfcaster-owned-and-run, and I’ve been wanting to sink dust-deep in their stacks ever since I was old enough to turn my shadow inside out and wear it.
(Okay, not “dust-deep.” Any museum archive worth its weight in paperwork—and certainly this goes for the archive at the M.o.E.S.—is spic and span as my Auntie Lupa’s pantry. Dust encourages mold.)
Because of this kid, my life was ruined.
Or not “kid” exactly. I don’t know why I keep calling him that. He was on the cusp, for sure: that age where, if he shaved, he was more likely to pop a pimple than scrape off his peach fuzz. But that doesn’t excuse him. I was his age when I moved out of Mama’s den and into Doornwold, got a job, started working my way through college. Even green as a sapling, I knew better than to stalk folks and steal and cut up their pelts and send the pieces to my victims day after day, week after week, parcel after parcel, always with a mocking postcard full of the foulest ward-alls and the most puerile slang.
At first I went to the authorities, both municipal and the university’s. The police were nicer than I expected. They took a few of the postcards (for handwriting comparisons), wrote down all my information, and promised to look into it. But they never contacted me. Well, not directly. The Chief of Police helped later, but sort of sly-like. The laws weren’t in place for handling this sort of thing officially. That all came later.
The university was even more disappointing. Remember, U of DW didn’t yet have an Office of Access and Equity. The first thing I tried after my pelt was destroyed was making an appointment with the Dean of the School of Oracles and Divination. That’s the school where my bogroll of a pelt-hacking foe was farting around with his fratdudes and other WAWboys like him, making no real attempt at a degree.
But, surprise! All the Dean could tell me was that the kid’s—young man’s—daddy was a big donor, old money, famous family of scryers, been attending U of DW for generations, and what I was accusing him of was just not possible, such a nice clean youth, very decent, yada yada. He immediately followed this up by telling me that, since I was a recent graduate, I really ought to be taking my concerns to the Office of Alumnae and not bothering him; he was much too busy.
So I went to the Office of Alumnae, and though they believed me—they were very sympathetic, kept apologizing profusely—they said they just didn’t have the infrastructure to address this kind of complaint, and had I gone to the police yet, and would I like to sign up for their next fundraiser? In other words, a wash.
Eventually, my mail stopped bringing me surprise bits of fur and filthy postcards. I spent all that winter trying to piece my pelt back together, but I was no seamstress. And even if stitching it could’ve worked, that suppurating WAWboy bubo had kept the very last piece of my pelt for his trophy. I could feel the hole in my pelt’s magic—like a window with its pane knocked out. A cold current whistled through the remnants; I feared I would never be warm again.
I brooded. I worked days at a local plant nursery, selling green things to gardeners and witches who reminded me of Mama and her friends. I worked nights at a tiny historical society owned by the Rat Folk of Doornwold, sorting donations. Tedious work, and disgusting, but fascinating. I was still an archivist, after all, even if the M.o.E.S. never hired me. And, well, a resumé is a resumé. Plus, I’m just gonna say it… Murine skinslippers? Especially the “ratcademics”? They’re the nicest, weirdest people!
Thus began my long slog toward paying down my school debts. I visited my neighbor and petted my ex-cat as often as my flagging spirits allowed. But I grew low and lower—until one evening, over tea, while I was drooping over my cup, Mabelinda (that was my neighbor’s name) said briskly, “Sit tight—this got delivered to my door by accident,” and trotted over to a little basket in the front hall overflowing with incoming mail, and plucked a flyer from the top of the pile.
It was addressed to me, from the head curator at the Museum of Eerie Skins. She was also one of the founders of WADL. Though not a university alum, she’d been invited as a guest speaker to several of my classes, and I’d done a fantastic summer internship with her a year earlier, right before this whole got-my-pelt-stolen-by-a-parasitic-tongue-eating-louse-disguised-as-an-Inductee-student thing went down.
The flyer was a call for submissions to a new exhibit at the M.o.E.S.
Historical Perceptions of Wolfcasters: Past and Present
16 Cinquefoil, Reign of the Witch Queens 347
Museum of Eerie Skins
For nearly three and a half centuries, Doornwold, Queen’s City, has been marked as much by war, famine, persecution, and political upheaval as by peace, prosperity, innovation, and artistic renaissance. Since the cornerstone of the city was laid, wolfcasters have been citizens here, alongside humans and witches—yet they are still treated as outsiders, animals, the meritless unkempt.
Now the M.o.E.S. is putting out a call for your stories, wolfcasters. We are asking for the loan of your artifacts, your heirlooms, your artwork, and your photographs, for an interactive exhibit premiering this fall, featuring live performance, sculpture, a series of lectures, music concerts, and a gallery of all-wolfcaster art.
Interested? Make an appointment with Yannai Baramintha, Senior Deputy Director of Exhibitions and Collections, during museum hours.
There was a note, written in peacock-green ink at the bottom of the flyer that read:
“Firi, I heard what happened. I’m sorry. Come by the M.o.E.S. tomorrow. Bring your pelt. Best regards, Y. Baramintha.”
I took Mama with me when I went. She’d appeared at my bedroom window that night, slipping through the glass like smoke, to sit at the foot of my head. I wasn’t asleep; I was too busy crying, like most of my nights in those days.
“I could kill him,” my animal-rescuing, garden-loving, vegetarian mother offered.
“And be hunted down by warlocks?” I sniffed up everything, and tried to wipe whatever I’d missed. To no avail. Mama got me a hankie.
“I could steal back your last piece of pelt. We’ll take it to this witch I know—best quilt-maker in Amandale—and she could stitch it up good as new, with a spell upon it that…”
I reached under my bed, drew out a box of postcards, and handed her the one at the top. Mama read it.
“That gleeking fart!” she exclaimed.
I laughed behind the hankie. Mama was the most darling, the most colorful cusser in the world. And then I shrugged helplessly. “I hadn’t heard from him in so long—I thought it was all over. And then this.” I gestured at the postcard. “Anyway, you see what he said. He burned the last piece and drank the ashes with wine. There’s no getting it back.”
“We could patch your pelt with a slice of his heart,” Mama suggested, with just the glint of moonlight on her curving fangs (she hadn’t bothered to take off her pelt to chat) (which was fine, because she was soft and warm, and sat at my feet exuding a big-cat-like purr). “Weirder things have worked.”
“No,” I said. “Then you’d have to touch him. I don’t want you anywhere near him. I don’t want any of us anywhere near him.”
“Firi,” said Mama, “he seeks us out.”
She had a point, but I also knew she wasn’t about to hunt him down with me hanging onto her ankles begging her not to. She did agree to go to the M.o.E.S. with me though; Mama always liked meeting new wolfcasters, and had heard me sing Yannai Baramintha’s praises during my internship.
Yannai had a whole tea service set up for us in her office. She seemed to have anticipated Mama, in that way wolfcasters have. But the service was set for four, and there were only three of us. Yannai smiled when I raised my eyebrows at her, and then the door to her office opened again, and my unasked question was answered.
A witch walked in—Mar Riallakin, though I didn’t know her name then; she wasn’t as famous as she became after the plague years. You can always tell a witch, somehow, when they enter a room. First you get a full body tingle—“the pricking,” they call it—and then your mouth starts to water, like you’re tasting something quite spicy or sour, but also delicious, and your hair stands on end a little, and you sneeze.
Mama started laughing, and exclaimed, “Mar! My favorite almond witch! How’s the grove? How’s Wraith? What are you doing so far out of the woodlands?”
“Oh,” said Mar with a fast upward fling of her hands. “I’m an alumna of U of DW too, you know. I’ve spent some time in the city. Yannai and I are old friends. She told me what happened.” She jerked her chin at me. A small square dimple flashed high in her cheek, though her bootblack eyes were far more sympathetic than amused. “That Dean of Oracles and Divination!” she exclaimed. “He’s basically the result of a jar of aspic and a moray eel getting it on and having a fish-eyed baby in the shape of a man, isn’t he?”
“I did have to take a shower after talking to him,” I confessed.
“Anyway!” Mar clapped her hands and sat, even before Yannai asked her. “I’m here representing a few of my friends. The trees have been distressed ever since that criminal destroyed one of their own to get at your pelt. A few of us woodlanders started talking to each other, Firi. We’ve started keeping an eye on you, keeping our crystals tuned to your developments. Nothing invasive, just aware. We’ve all been bending our brains trying to come up with a solution to this tragedy. A just sentence, if you will, appropriate to his crime—”
“I’ve had it told to me officially,” Yannai put in flatly, “that Doornwold’s current municipal system has no laws in place to govern this kind of hate crime. The Chief of Police was heavy-hearted about it, but says the city council chokes all petitions to address offenses against wolfcasters before they reach the ears of the queens.”
“—so we witches came up with something,” Mar continued as if she’d never been interrupted. “A workaround for your pelt. Sort of. But,” she warned me, “there’s a catch.”
Again, I was drawn to the gravity and sympathy in her eyes. I leaned forward in my seat, ignoring my tea. “Tell me. Will it stop him from doing the same to someone else?”
And though Mar spoke no word of assent, nor even nodded back at me, I felt a pact form in the air between us. All I had to do was accept it. I wouldn’t even have to say the word, just think it.
But of course, we were all civilized here, not meeting amongst the trees, and there was much to be actually discussed. Out loud.
“Please, Jaca, Firi,” Yannai gestured Mama and me toward the chairs. “Mar and I have a proposition to make.”
So there I was, at the gala opening for the wolfcaster exhibit, sitting beneath a tree. Not a real tree, though parts of it were real, scavenged from the tree he destroyed when he went after my pelt. Parts of the tree were wire, parts papier-mâché, and the leaves were all cut-outs from the nasty postcards he’d sent me. That last postcard, the one where he told me he’d burned the last piece of my pelt to ash and drank it down with wine, was pinned to the trunk like the bull’s eye of a target. The tree was “growing” out of the middle of the gallery floor of the Contemporary Art wing at the M.o.E.S.
All around me were the silver-spooniest, cream of the creamiest, dressed in their dreamiest, cash-cowiest strutters of Doornwold’s elite, hobnobbing with each other and trying to ignore me. But it was not easy.
For I was naked, draped in my tattered, patched, badly stitched-up pelt.
At my feet sat Mama, panting with a scarlet tongue, wearing her wolfcaster form. And surrounding the tree like a pack at rest was every other wolfcaster who’d contributed to tonight’s exhibit, all of them also in their pelts, pools of shadow and quicksilver and razor-sharp ivory. I was the lonely island in their midst. From the one ragged hole in my pelt, my skin shone like a dark star, and a cold wind poured through me, through my pelt, so that, no matter how many bodies filled the large gallery, it never grew warm. Even those dressed in their best velvets shivered.
Oh, and, yeah. The criminal was in attendance that evening. He and his daddy, too, both in suits of velvet. His daddy must’ve gotten wind of our unveiling. It was in all the artsy newspapers: how his disgrace of a son had stripped a wolfcaster of her pelt, not only shortening her lifespan by several centuries—or millennia—and rendering her mortal, but also destroying a witchwood tree in the process. How that crime had inspired the living sculpture at the center of tonight’s show, shame, shame, shame. So daddy’d come along, paid his big ticket price and then some, fronting strong, big and insouciant, showing off his gold ring and his gold-haired son. He wanted to show that no matter what crimes his boy’d committed, his family still had the sway to walk where they would without shame, and publicly snigger about it with everyone looking on.
But that’s what they didn’t count on, daddy and son. They didn’t count on they themselves—with their velvet suits, their sniggering and smirking and strutting superiority—being a part of our exhibit too.
And when the criminal, looking cocky and delighted, picked his way through the sea of wolfcasters to me—when he stood over me and my tree and my pelt, hands in his velvet pockets, grinning down—I took my chance.
The wolfcasters all around me turned on each other—not in anger, but in solidarity—and grasped at each other with their teeth: locking onto throats, tails, flanks, whatever they could catch and hold. Two dozen shadows flowed into a single pelt, continuous, gorgeous, a dark wind, encircling us, closing us in—and off from the onlookers.
I sprang up. I was wound so tight, I was practically a catapult. I cast my pelt from my shoulders to his. And then, before he could do anything but gape, I drew out the patch that Mar and her witch friends had made for me, with the help of Mama and the other wolfcasters—even Senior Deputy Director Yannai Baramintha. It was a small patch, made from bits of all their fur, and the magic of witches, and a drop of my blood, and I set the patch to the hole where the last scrap of my pelt would always be missing. And I sealed the pelt over him.
He didn’t deserve it. He didn’t deserve to be so beautiful.
But, A) it wouldn’t feel beautiful to him, and B) he wouldn’t know what to do with it—how to move, or speak, or eat, or even think, not without a mentor to guide him, and C) the pelt, reconstructed, could never be mine again—Mar had made that clear to me—so it might as well know some better use.
So there he was, the criminal, turning inside out before my eyes. He was becoming a thing of smoke and lightning, a night-pacer, a moon-swift. There he was, the wolfcaster I once had been—but with no way to return to his original form.
He howled, and so did my mama, and so did all the other wolfcasters. But they were howling for justice, and he was howling for terror. For terror, and because he loathed what he had become. What no one could unmake of him.
Soon his daddy was there, roaring, flashing his silver knife at my throat. But silver is an intrinsically dull metal. It will cut fruit, not flesh—not unless you’re a wolfcaster, whose shroud of shadows parts before the touch of it. But I was a mortal now, and angry. His little silver fruit knife didn’t even make me flinch.
Besides, Yannai Baramintha had made sure there was a police presence at the gallery opening that night. She was, in fact, dating the Chief of Police, who, even though she was wearing her finest gown and flowers in her hair, had a wicked right hook and wasn’t about to let even a merchant prince like Kassel Hlapendef (there, I named him) spill mortal or wolfcaster blood on her watch.
He staggered when she struck him, and roared when her officers restrained him. He managed to free himself for a heart-stopping moment. He lunged again with his silver knife—this time, at his son, who cringed away from him. But his son couldn’t do much more than cringe; he didn’t yet know how to move about in his new form.
Mama interposed herself between them. Her jaws snapped down upon Hlapendef Senior’s arm, shearing it off at the wrist. Both hand and knife fell. (Nothing permanent, damage-wise. They were able to reattach it later, at the jail.) She then, none too gently, picked up Hlapendef Junior by the tender scruff of his neck and dragged him off.
I never asked to where. Mama likely took him to meet his new mentor, who’d start by showing the new wolfcaster how to feed himself. That might take a few years, depending on his smarts and his willingness. When he got the basic mechanics down, they’d maybe start him on walking around. After years of reprogramming, Hlapendef Junior might even amount to something—at least among wolfcasters. Which didn’t mean much to the rest of the world.
As for me, I was done with him.
The week after that, Yannai hired me as a junior archivist for the M.o.E.S. Later that year, WADL appointed me to their Board of Directors, even though I was no longer a wolfcaster. I went on to do a few good things over the decades since. Life is so short now, you know, but I’ve done a few things. And however short it is, it’s also full and splendid, and terrible and magical. Even without magic. Even without my pelt.
FROM: The Firi Kanaphar Papers (yrs 347-348) | M.o.E.S. Archives
DESCRIPTION: Papers of Firi Kanaphar (b. 327 — d. 421), MSLS yr 347, include oral history, biographical items, correspondence, publications, manuscripts, memoranda, journals, and photographs relating to her student days at University of Doornwold (yrs 343-47); her membership in the Wolfcasters Anti-Defamation League (yrs 343-421); the Society of Ecological Thaumaturgists (yrs 345-350); the Outer Woodlanders Alliance (yrs 348-388); the Predator Conservation Service (yrs 350-62); the Witchwood Nature Conservancy (yrs 350-400); the Eerie Skins Union (yrs 360-80). Significant correspondents include Mabelinda the Megrimancer (witch), Princess Dora Rose of Lake Serenus (Swan Folk), Maurice of Amandale (Rat Folk), Nicolas Piper (Musician), Marline Riallakin (Witch), Wraith Anaiason (Warlock), and Icanthus Val (Warlock).
Access Restriction: None. Collection is open to the public.
(Editors’ Note: C.S.E. Cooney is interviewed by Caroline M. Yoachim in this issue.)
© 2021 C. S. E. Cooney