© 2012 Marvin E. Fuller
"Changy" reclined on the bed, looking nothing like the celestial being she was reputed to be.
"Oh, my Phoenix," whispered the rabbit to Baksrit in alarm. "I reckon she's gotten fatter since this morning."
Baksrit glanced at the young rabbit male standing beside her then back at the older rabbit doe who claimed to be "Chang'e", the mythical rabbit maiden of the Moon. The ermine doubted the rabbit had been a maiden in a long time. Baksrit could tell from her slightly sagging bosom to her half-swollen abdomen the rabbit had long since traded the fair blush of youth for the worries and cares of motherhood. Baksrit guessed the rabbit to be somewhere around nine to ten years her senior and, from the way she brushed her fur methodically, working from the dirt brown fur that covered most of her body to the very light tan unevenly splashed across her front, appeared to be in the habit of taking good care of herself.
"Changy", as Baksrit couldn't help but think of the rabbit, left nothing to the imagination, only a worn blanket covering her lower body. Occasionally, the rabbit reached over to a wooden bowl set on a table beside her straw bed and snagged a piece of fruit or a vegetable which she would greedily gobble down. She looked nothing like the shining, gracefully long-legged, jade-clothed rabbit the painters enjoyed depicting in their art.
"She wants me to be her hubby," whimpered the young rabbit beside Baksrit. "I don't wanna be her hubby."
"You're old enough, aren't you?" Baksrit cast another glance at him. He looked to be not much older than her sixteen years. Many youngsters found themselves hitched to prospective mates around this time of their lives, assuming they hadn't already fled home to see the world or learn a trade.
"The boy's old 'nough," said a voice behind them. The young rabbit's weather-worn father peered over Baksrit's shoulder. "Gotta admit, I expected him to get a gal a mite closer to his age."
At the sound of the rabbit father's voice, Changy looked up and spied the trio standing in the doorway to her small bedroom. For a moment, Baksrit could see a dull look on the pregnant rabbit's face, as of someone trapped in a stupor, but Changy's face cleared immediately upon seeing the teenaged rabbit. A dignified smile brightened her slightly lop-sided face as she raised a paw towards him.
"Mah dear beloved," Changy spoke in a voice thicker with the accent of mortal peasants than that of the heavens. "Attend me."
The teenaged rabbit wavered uncertainly until his father prodded him forward.
"Don't be shy, boy," said the father, not without sympathy. "Go visit your wife-to-be."
The teenaged rabbit approached Changy and diffidently took her paw. After a moment's hesitation, he leaned over to give it a respectful kiss, but Changy took the opportunity to tug him towards her with a giggle and plant a passionate smooch on his shocked muzzle. She wrapped her arms around the teenager's neck and pulled him onto the bed on top of her. Judging by the embarrassed flattening of the young rabbit's ears, Baksrit guessed he felt more than just a little awkward. The ermine grimaced in sympathy.
His father watched for a moment, then sighed and reluctantly drew Baksrit away from the doorway. His wife glared disapprovingly at him, her long foot tapping impatiently. He shrugged apologetically at her, then as she turned away, impishly reached out and grabbed her rear. The rabbit matron gave a loud whoop! and jumped at least a foot in the air. She threw a dirty look at her husband as he leered back at her then stalked off into Changy's bedroom.
"Ahem," Baksrit cleared her throat with a touch of impatience, just enough to remind the old rabbit that she didn't have all day to wait, but not enough to be annoying. She hadn't donned her good riding dress and traveled two hours' ride from her home in Hedgewood just to see a family of rabbits goof around.
Late that morning, Baksrit had been busy directing an animated mop golem in cleaning the kitchen floor when Donny and his friend, a raccoon girl who owned the skoit they rode, showed up at the door seeking Solomon. As her magister had left on business earlier that morning, she had been reluctant to listen to their cries for urgency, but had caved in when she heard how strange the case appeared to be. When she contacted Solomon through the small crystal ball he had left for her for just such an occasion, he told her to go ahead and take care of it herself as she could use the practice working with clients. Furthermore, considering the circumstances, he figured Changy would probably be more comfortable with a female mage examining her.
"Ah, yes," coughed the rabbit, eyeing her. She knew what he would see, an adolescent weasel jill slightly taller than average and with her fur locked in unseasonably white ermine colors, the result of a spellcasting accident in her childhood. "I reckon I didn't catch your name earlier, Miss–?"
"Baksrit of Albes," the ermine replied. "I'm Magister Solomon's apprentice. He had some very important business to attend to today, and since your son said this was urgent, he sent me in his stead."
"I see," the rabbit's ears drooped back as he frowned.
"Don't worry!" Baksrit hastened to assure him. "I've been trained by the best. Plus, my services are a lot cheaper than my Magister's. Furthermore, if I need his assistance, you won't be charged for it."
"Hm," the rabbit looked skeptical. "How much?"
"It depends on what the problem is and how long it takes," she said. "If you can't pay it all at once, we can discuss payment plans. I'm sure we can come up with something everyone is comfortable with."
"You sound like a merchant," the rabbit gave her a sharp look.
"Why, thank you, sir!" she gave him a bright grin. Her father headed House Albes, one of the city of Loma's merchant families, but the rabbit didn't need to know that.
"Call me Marty," the old rabbit heaved another sigh. "You met my youngest, Donny, and that's the little lady, Dilly." He nodded at the rabbit matron as she left the bedroom, carrying an empty bowl. "Damn, Changy gets right hungry."
"That's 'cause she's eatin' for two, you ear-twisted log-thumper," Dilly remarked as she passed by.
"You didn't eat so much with our kits," complained Marty.
"She's under a spell, you twit!" Dilly called back over her shoulder. "Tell the mage about the damn spell!" Marty grumbled something under his breath before turning to Baksrit.
"Look, Miss Baksrit, we wouldn'ta bothered you or your magister if we didn't think we had somethin' big," Marty shot worried glance at the bedroom door.
"Don't worry about it, Marty," Baksrit gave him a wide-eyed look to help ease his worry. "Just tell me everything you can remember."
"Right," he took a deep breath. "Three days ago, Donny comes home from the fields with this older gal taggin' along with him, wearin' nothin' but the fur she was born in. She said she was 'Changy', the moon rabbit, and had chosen Donny to be her husband, but me and the Missus think she's just loony. You didn't hear that from me, mind."
"Hear what from you?" Baksrit feigned confusion. The old rabbit seemed to accept that response.
"Now, we couldn't just toss her out on her ear, what with the kit and all," continued Marty. "And, well, with the markin's, maybe there was somethin' to her claim. I got Father Evan and heard his take on it, but he hadn't a clue neither. Said it was due to no malign influences he could detect. When Father Evan came back the next day, we found that she had somehow got herself even more pregnanter. I reckon it's very strange. Father Evan told us he can't help, but we ought to get ourselves a wizard, said Solomon was a good choice even if he was way across on the other side of Loma."
Marty's eyes flicked over Baksrit. She guessed he still had some disappointment over getting a mere apprentice. She didn't let it bother her. As Solomon had told her that morning before she left, the experience of taking care of a job would be good for her. Once she became a journeyman wizardess, she would need to be able to earn her own money.
"Can you show me what lead you to suspect she had a spell on her?" asked Baksrit. "You said something about markings?"
"Yeah, a very strange one on her belly," said Marty. "It's all aglow, like she smeared firefly guts over it. Dilly, girl, would you show the mage the markin's?"
"Certainly, you old fogey," Dilly sounded as if she thought this to be the first smart thing Marty had said all day. The rabbit matron peeked through the doorway to the bedroom, then beckoned Baksrit to join her inside.
"Why do ya disturb me an' mah beloved?" grumped Changy, glowering at Baksrit. Donny sat beside her, looking acutely embarrassed, as if having been caught swearing in church. To Baksrit's relief, he still had his clothes on, even if the arm Changy wrapped around his waist dipped suspiciously low.
"Good Chang'e," Baksrit said soothingly. One had to be careful around lunatics. "I have traveled from far away to see if you are indeed the one prophesied in the ancient texts."
"Prophesied?" Changy looked momentarily surprised, before an arrogant smile crossed her brown-furred face. "Ah know it."
"I am but a humble messenger," Baksrit ignored Donny and Dilly's incredulous stares. "In order to assure the safety of all concerned, my superiors have told me only what I need to know to perform my duties. To this end, they have told me to investigate to see if you have the sign we seek."
"And what sign is that?" Changy lifted her chin haughtily.
"Why, the one glowing upon your stomach, of course," Baksrit bulldozed on before someone thought to ask her to describe it before she had a chance to see it. "May this humble messenger see it so that I may take word back to my superiors?"
"Donny, I think her honor should see the markin'," Dilly addressed her son, having caught on to what Baksrit had in mind. "Can you convince Changy to show it to us mortals?"
"Um, sure," Donny looked as if he thought he was the only sane person in the room. "Um, Changy, beloved? The honored – um, messenger would like to see your belly."
"Ah heard, an' I grant her permission to see it," Changy flipped the blanket off her stomach, revealing a half circle glowing with silvery light covering the left side of her abdomen.
Baksrit's jaw went slack with shock. She had never heard of anything like this from Solomon or any of the other mages she occasionally spoke with. How the hell was she supposed to handle something like this?
"Has the honored messenger seen all she needs to?" Dilly's words jarred Baksrit out of her daze.
"No, no, not yet," Baksrit hurried to say. "I'm just – amazed. Yes, that's it. Amazed. I never thought I would see the like. In my lifetime, that is."
The ermine pinched the bridge of her muzzle as she rallied her thoughts. She needed more information before she could figure out what had happened and, more importantly, what would happen in the future, to the strange rabbit.
"I'm sorry," Baksrit gave an apologetic curtsey. "I am merely overwhelmed by the sight. May I examine it more closely?"
"Why? Are thee not convinced?" Changy's muzzle gave a haughty sneer.
"Oh, I am, most worthy Chang'e, but my superiors will demand I tell them more about it," Baksrit laid on the flattery. She affected a pained grimace. "They can be most thorough in their questioning. May I have the favor of examining you more closely?"
"Of course," Changy raised her chin proudly. "Ah grant thee attendance. Proceed, but be quick. Ah grow hungry again."
"Thank you, most beloved Chang'e," Baksrit curtseyed again and approached the bed.
The ermine examined the glowing half moon carefully. She reached out with her paws, but yanked them back when Changy gave a pained hiss and drew back.
"I'm sorry. Did I hurt you?" Baksrit asked in concern.
"Nah," the rabbit steeled herself. "Continue."
Baksrit gently placed her paws upon Changy's stomach, ignoring the rabbit's involuntary flinch as she investigated the glow. It seemed to come from Changy's skin, radiating through the fur as if it wasn't there. Baksrit rubbed at the glow, but nothing came off. Whatever it was, it was somehow in the skin, like a tattoo.
Hearing Changy's breathing quicken in a struggle not to panic, Baksrit pulled away. To her relief, the rabbit calmed down. Baksrit took a deep breath and defocused her eyes, letting her wizardly senses awake and scry the rabbit's aura. She was astonished to see another half circle glowing above the one on her physical body, only in three dimensions, as if a ball had been divided into fourths and one fourth had been placed over Changy's stomach.
Baksrit blinked back to the material world, utterly bewildered. She nearly said something when she belatedly remembered she should have checked the rest of Changy's aura. She took a moment to do that, but couldn't see anything else out of the ordinary besides a faint dim spot in the middle of the rabbit's belly.
Baksrit rubbed her eyes as she tried to make sense of what she had seen. A spell had been cast upon Changy, that much she could tell, but what was it? What did it mean? It reminded her of something, but what? She definitely had to consult with Solomon as she had no clue how else to proceed.
"Tell me, great Chang'e," Baksrit tried to figure out what more she could find out. "How did you come upon us? Why are you here?"
"That's simple," Changy disdainfully sniffed. "Eight nights ago, Ah came down to this world to seek a hubby for mah kit. This one is to be that one."
"But Donny's not the father," Baksrit didn't get it.
"Of course not. He's not ready, yet," if Changy's nose had gotten any higher, she would have drowned come the next rain. "I grow weary of this. Have thee enough, messenger?"
"I– yes, great Chang'e," Baksrit curtsied. In truth, she couldn't come up with anything else she could do. She needed time to think. "I give my thanks to your indulgence and appreciate your patience."
"I reckon you must consult your honored superiors?" prompted Dilly.
"What?" Baksrit gave the rabbit matron a blank look before she remembered her cover story. "Oh! Yes, yes. Perhaps I shall return should my superiors so bid me to."
Baksrit backed out of the room and nearly ran into Marty.
"Your honored superiors?" the rabbit father cocked a whiskery eyebrow.
"Yes, consult them I must," Baksrit managed to say. "Will you and your wife join me outdoors? I must discuss some things with you."
"Sure," Marty glanced at his wife. "Dilly?"
"Gimme a moment, kiddo," the rabbit matron said. "The right "honored" Changy's gonna need her pot changed soon."
"Right, we'll meet you there," Marty showed Baksrit out the door. Outside, Baksrit looked around for a skoit. She quickly saw the four-legged, nonsentient riding animal nibbling at summer grass by the road. A male weasel two years her elder and in proper summer sable coloring looked up from the book he read as he waited nearby. As Solomon kept no skoits or other riding animals, she had needed to borrow her brother's services for the afternoon.
"Baks!" the weasel cried, clapping the book shut. He took off the spectacles he needed to read so he could see her more clearly. "Time to go already?"
"Sorry, Jaiken, not yet," Baksrit stepped up to the younger of her two older step-brothers. Since she lacked any means of rapid transport, either mundane or magical, she'd need to borrow her brother's help for the day so she didn't have to walk half a day to get to Donny's hometown of Holly Acres. "But it's a strange case."
"Knowing you, you'll figure it out," Jaiken assured her.
"I hope so," Baksrit glanced at Marty, but the rabbit waited for his wife near the door to his cottage. She quickly sketched out what she had seen on the rabbit. Although it would mean little to her brother, it helped her run down her scattered thoughts.
"A half moon shape?" Jaiken looked politely interested.
"Exactly. What?" a thought nagged at the back of her head.
"A half moon shape. You know like a quarter moon?" Jaiken pointed into the sky, towards the southeast. She followed his finger and saw the washed-out silver-gray shape of the First Quarter moon sitting about halfway in the sky between horizon and zenith. If one ignored the lack of markings on Changy's belly half moon, it matched the real moon perfectly.
Realization dawned upon Baksrit as the pieces fell together. Changy identifying herself specifically with the Moon Rabbit instead of some other mythical bunny. She had "come down to this world" eight days ago or about the time of the New Moon when Baksrit took a moment to figure it. Could that be the answer? She needed more information.
"Uh oh," leaving her brother behind, she ran over to Marty just as Dilly walked out of the cottage while drying her graying paws on her apron. "Quick! Can you tell me if Changy's shape changed any since you took her in?"
"Well, she's gotten bigger now," Marty rubbed the fur on the back of his neck.
"No, you noodle-eared trough-plow. She means the glowing markings, right?" Dilly glared at Baksrit as if daring her to contradict the rabbit.
"Yes, I do," Baksrit nodded her head impatiently. Dilly scratched her fuzzy chin thoughtfully.
"It was thinner, I reckon," the rabbit matron recalled. "Kind of like a fat crescent. That's what Father Evan thought made it a spell."
"Kind of like the moon?" Baksrit suggested.
"Yeah! I reckon it was exactly like—" Dilly's eyes widened as she came to the same conclusion Baksrit had. "You mean she really is the Moon Rabbit?"
"You're jokin', right?" Marty stared at them flabbergasted.
"I don't know," Baksrit waved her paws at them, as she struggled to work out the problem. "All I know is that there's a spell on her that I'm thinking is somehow related to the moon. She said she got pregnant about the time of the New Moon, right?"
"That's what she says," agreed Marty.
"And she's how far along now?" Baksrit asked Dilly.
"Hmm, halfway for a normal gal," the rabbit matron frowned thoughtfully. "You reckon she's goin' to give birth on the Full Moon?"
"I reckon so," Baksrit saw no reason to disagree.
"That's why she's eatin' so damn much!" Dilly realized. "I remember when I had my kits, a lot of the time I felt half-starved 'cause I was eatin' for two."
"Damn, we're goin' to be lucky if we make it through the month," Marty looked pained. "She's already packed away a lot already, and if she's going to get worse, Pax help us."
"We'll get through it, you long-eared honey of a hopper," Dilly gave her husband a hug. Baksrit wondered where she came up with all these epithets for her husband. "We have before."
"I need to get going, but I'll be back as soon as I find something," Baksrit said. "Maybe before then. I don't know. But I will get back to you."
"About that whole prophesy thing and needin' to report to your superiors," Marty remembered with a twitch of his ears. "All skoitfeathers?"
"Absolutely," Baksrit assured him. "But Changy won't mind seeing me in the future now."
"Right, and your fee?" Marty looked resigned. Baksrit had to think about that for a moment. She had forgotten about her fee.
"We'll work out something next time," Baksrit decided to give him some slack. "I need the time myself, anyway."
"I reckon so," Marty look only partly reassured.
Baksrit made her goodbyes to the rabbits, then returned to her brother. After he helped her onto the skoit's back, Jaiken climbed onto the saddle in front of her, took the reins, and nudged the skoit into motion. Wrapping her arms around her brother's waist and resting her cheek on the back of his shoulders, Baksrit found her head turned towards the rising moon.
"Why the hell would anyone want to put the moon on a rabbit's stomach?" Baksrit wondered out loud.
"Beats me," Jaiken answered. "I'll let you worry about that. Right now, I just want to get home before supper. All this traveling about makes me hungry."
Baksrit found she couldn't argue with that.