They say the first of
my kind was a woman named Alasdair, a human raised by hawks. She
learned the language of the birds and was gifted with their form.
It is a pretty myth, I admit, but few
actually believe it. No record remains of her life.
No record except for the feathers in
every avian’s hair, even when otherwise we appear human, and
the wings I can grow when I choose—and of course the beautiful
golden hawk’s form that is as natural to me as the legs and
arms I wear normally.
This myth is one of the stories we hear
as children, but it says nothing of reality or the hard lessons
we are taught later.
Almost before a child of my kind learns
to fly, she learns to hate. She learns of war. She learns of the
race that calls itself the serpiente. She learns that they are untrustworthy,
that they are liars and loyal to no one. She learns to fear the
garnet eyes of their royal family even though she will probably
never see them.
What she never learns is how the fighting
began. No, that has been forgotten. Instead she learns that they
murdered her family and loved ones. She learns that these enemies
are evil, that their ways are not hers and that they would kill
her if they could.
That is all she learns.
This is all I have learned.
Days and weeks and years, and all I know
is bloodshed. I hum the songs my mother once sang to me and wish
for the peace they promise. It’s a peace my mother has never
known, nor her mother before her.
How many generations? How many of our
Meaningless hatred: the hatred of an
enemy without a face. No one knows why we fight; they only know
that we will continue until we win a war it is too late to win,
until we have avenged too many dead to avenge, until no one can
remember peace anymore, even in songs.
Days and weeks and years.
My brother never returned last night.
Days and weeks and years.
How long until their assassins find me?
Heir to the Tuuli Thea
I took a deep breath to steady my nerves
and narrowly avoided retching from the sharp, well-known stench
that surrounded me.
The smell of hot avian blood spattered on
the stones, and cool serpiente blood that seemed ready to dissolve
the skin off my hands if I touched it. The smell of burned hair
and feathers and skin of the dead smoldered in the fire of a dropped
lantern. Only the fall of rain all the night before had kept that
fire from spreading through the clearing to the woods.
From the forest to my left, I heard the desperate,
strangled cry of a man in pain.
I started to move toward the sound, but when
I took a step through the trees in his direction, I came upon a
sight that made my knees buckle, my breath freezing as I fell to
the familiar body.
Golden hair, so like my own, was swept across
the boy’s eyes, closed forever now but so clear in my mind.
His skin was gray in the morning light, covered with a light spray
of dew. My younger brother, my only brother, was dead.
Like our sister and our father years ago,
like our aunts and uncles and too many friends, Xavier Shardae was
forever grounded. I stared at his still form, willing him to take
a breath and open eyes whose color would mirror my own. I willed
myself to wake up from this nightmare.
I could not be the last. The last child of
Nacola Shardae, who was all the family I had left now.
I wanted to scream and weep, but a hawk does
not cry, especially here on the battlefield, in the midst of the
dead and surrounded only by her guards. She does not scream or beat
the ground and curse the sky.
Among my kind, tears were considered a disgrace
to the dead and shame among the living.
Avian reserve. It kept the heart from breaking
with each new death. It kept the warriors fighting a war no one
could win. It kept me standing when I had nothing to stand for but
I could not cry for my brother, though I
I pushed the sounds away, forcing my lips
not to tremble. Only one heavy breath escaped me, wanting to be
a sigh. I lifted my dry eyes to the guards who stood about me protectively
in the woods.
“Take him home,” I ordered, my
voice wavering a bit despite my resolve.
“Shardae, you should come home, too.”
I turned to Andreios, the captain of the
most elite flight in the avian army, and took in the worried expression
in his soft brown eyes. The crow had been my friend for years before
he had been my guard, and I began to nod assent to his words.
Another cry from the woods made me freeze.
I started toward it, but Andreios caught my arm just above the elbow.
“Not that one, milady.”
Normally I would have trusted his judgment
without question, but not here on the battlefield. I had been walking
these bloody fields whenever I could ever since I was twelve; I
could not avert my eyes when we were in the middle of this chaos
and someone was pleading, with what was probably his last breath,
for help. “And why not, Andreios?”
The crow knew he was in trouble the instant
I addressed him by his full name instead of his childhood nickname
of Rei, but he kept on my heels as I stepped around the slain bodies
and closer to the voice. The rest of his flight fell back, out of
sight in their second forms--crows and ravens, mostly. They would
take my brother home only when it did not mean leaving me alone
"Dani." In return, I knew Rei was
serious when he lapsed into the informal and used my nickname, Dani,
instead of a respectful title or my surname, Shardae. Even when
we were alone, Rei rarely called me Danica. It was an entreaty to
our lifelong friendship when he used that nickname where someone
else could hear it, and so I paused to listen. "That's Gregory
Cobriana. You don't want his blood on your hands."