We lived harmoniously for some years; the old woman, the stag and me. We took a small castle on the hill for our own. I say small when it was tiny really, with just one room on each of its four floors, but it was enough for us.
The old woman took the lower floor, beneath the receiving hall which was at ground level. Being underground, it was the most spacious of the rooms, so much so that it housed a swimming pool at the centre of beautiful chapel-like architecture. There were six pillars around the pool, and an altar facing east. It was always lit in such a way that it felt grandiose, yet soft and homely all at once. The old woman was wizened, and wore thick black robes and a veil that made her terrifying in appearance if she was in a bad mood. Her moods used to hang around the whole castle like a thick fog, and we had to open all the windows lest it might get onto our lungs. We could hardly blame her for it though, given all that she had seen. It was the dark side of her immense wisdom, which to her credit she most often used with the care and compassion of a loving grandparent.
The stag was a powerful magician. He used his space on the first floor primarily as an area for preparing and storing alchemical potions. There was a large circle painted in red on the polished hardwood floor which he used to contain his rituals, and there was a small curtained-off area for treating clients. He and the old woman were both healers of sorts; she with herbal remedies and he with elixirs and the power of touch. The stag had such a wonderful sense of humour that even the most sour-faced of folk found it hard to stay that way when in his presence. He would play elaborate tricks at times, tell convoluted jokes and act the fool, though we knew that beneath that exterior he was the epitome of sapience.
I considered myself most fortunate to have occupancy of the octagonal tower at the top of the house. I had a pool too, though a much smaller one than the old woman had. Mine wasn’t big enough to take a swim, but was heated and the perfect place to submerge myself for vision quests, or to simply view from the sumptuous sofa beside it. I kept a supply of the best of the magician’s potions to hand, as it aided the prophetic images in welling up to the surface if I poured a little in. There was a balcony at each of the four cardinal points, and in between there were books piled right up to the ceiling. The three of us spent many an evening in my room as it was by far the most intimate and settling. We would play cards, or tell old tales. Sometimes we would smoke shisha, sometimes not. Some evenings, if conditions were favourable, we would take the opportunity to exercise our animals selves. The old woman flew out as an owl, I would prowl the rooftops as a black cat, and the stag was – well, a stag. He never fully transformed into a human, poor thing, and seemed destined to keep the hooves and stumps of antlers for all time. To avoid startling clients he would disguise his legs with a long cloak and cleverly designed shoes, and wear a hood about his forehead.
Each of us knew that someday the time would come for us to step out of this comfortable village residency and into the larger world, though we never made it a topic of conversation. What we didn’t know is what might instigate such a move, and whether we would make it as three or as one.