Of the Featherless Tribe

Jul 23, 2013 by

Feather_Study_by_Phoenix_CryVarrok of the Sun Stone, speaker of the Skies was old. He could feel age creep upon him in his hollow bones. Though the sun shone above him and the clouds whispered a sweet day as winds ruffled the long grass of the plains around his gathered people; their moods were sour. Their beaks and eyes dark. He stood upon the stone with the Speaking Staff clutched firmly in his talons. When he raised his foot to tap it to the stone to signify the beginning of his judgement, it was most usually a means to silence the crowd. Today, the sound rolled over the silence of them all and reminded him of the plains thunder before a storm.
“We are one mind, one feather, one flock,” he began, the words so old none could say when they began. They simply where. The crowd solemnly repeated them.
“I have called you today to pass Tarro’kar, judgment upon one of us. One of us has done something that is not Amushor. One of us is no longer part of the flock. He has done unclean things–”
“Father!” A shout from his left and behind him. Wearily he closed his eyes against the image of his son, bright blue feathers with gold trappings stripped being drug by guardtalons. He did not want to see it, but he would.
“Silence when the Speaker sings!’ He cried, hearing his call cut like sharpened stone.
“Father, please! Just listen to me–they’re not evil! Please, father! We love each other! We did nothing wrong–”
“You will be silent or I will have you silenced!” He opened his eyes and swiveled his head around over his back, shouting the words. In threat, he lowered his crest and body to the ground, opening his beak half way to hiss dangerously. His son shut his beak with a soft clack and lowered his head in submission. The guards drug him before the crowd and he shook himself and his feathers back in place as he sent his eyes out over the gathering instead. It hurt less when he did not look at his son.
“For the crime of betraying his flock, his people, for the crime of being with a Featherless One, I reject you.” He intoned. Then, in symbolic rejection, his talons clicked softly on the stone as he turned to present his back to his son. He heard the thousand quiet clicks of his people do the same–turning their back on his son. My son, who should be standing on this stone and not me.
“We do not see you in the skies. We do not hear your song. We do not tap your names in the ringing stones. You are no longer.”
He heard the sound of his son sobbing as they took him away. At first it was loud: as loud as the lack of wind that had suddenly stilled. As loud as the tears of his wife, who buried her head under her wing and tried to muffle it. As loud as his heart, limping away in his chest. Then as he was drug away the sound grew further and further away. He wanted to turn and watch his only hatchling that survived, go. His only child. His only son.
He wanted to take him under wing and preen him. He wanted his wife to no longer weep.
As the sound of his son sobbing faded, so too did his hope for an heir for his people. He cursed his son. He cursed the gods. And he cursed himself.
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Comes a Blue Wolf

Jul 13, 2013 by

winter_scene_stock_by_wyldraven-d49gs6fWinter howled outside her tent. The winds furiously clawed at brightly dyed, thick walls covered in shamek skins and furs to keep the chill at bay. Her namayah–her servants–had lit many of the braziers for warmth and glow. To Jashiu’, it seemed more ominous than comforting. The golden light was pleasant enough, but the thrashing of the wind outside and the way the tent’s walls undulated in it tossed strange, creeping shadows that looked like unsettled horses running from dark creatures. Her namayah whispered midst themselves quietly, trying not to be over heard. But she knew what they were saying.
Ill omens, they said. A storm of ice and freezing winds on her wedding? Another said. Bad luck. Very bad. Her women were old and superstitious she reminded herself. It didn’t help. She had been dreading this day since she was a child.
The ladies removed her mother’s mother’s, great grandmother’s mother’s traditional head piece from great swaddles of thick leathers and furs. Gold beaten into coins for good fortune, handmade into chains to symbolize unity and strength in marriage and woven with ribbons in red for luck glittered along the head piece. To Jashiu’, it seemed to be laughing at her and her distaste for it was immediate. It would be too heavy for her to move her head at all. It would be too heavy with it on to run if she needed to. But it was already too late for running, wasn’t it?
The man her parents had promised her to be with had come riding on his karaouk not three days earlier as was promised. She had held out hope that he would not come then she would be free to choose her own husband. His arrival early shattered those hopes.
She had no idea who this man was. All that she knew was that he was from a little known tribe of the Blue Wolf, once the most powerful of tribes before the Varanthir invasion. Her people did not–or would not speak to her about what might have happened to them to reduce them to what they were today: more legend than reality.
Ten years ago a messenger had ridden into her father’s camp to negotiate for a marriage contract with the Shaman’s daughter. He agreed. She suspected fear of the unknown and superstition had pushed her father’s hand to agree.
The Namayah placed the head piece onto her hair which had been rubbed with mirrav steeped oil and brushed until it became glossy and bright. They pinned and they propped, turned her head and pinched, pulled, used what felt like unending combs to make sure the piece sat properly on her head. When they were finished, they inspected her with glistening eyes filled of their weddings past and the sighs of old women remembering what it was like to be young. One or two adjusted the thick shamek fur robe dyed in black for wedding colors with silk red vest on the outside, another made sure the bed of furs she lay upon was perfect and sprinkled with spices said to invoke feelings of aruaru in men.
“That’s enough,” she finally snapped when one lady would not leave the edge of her robe alone. The woman jerked her head back, winced and then bowed. She knew what she must have looked like to that poor servant… Often her father had said she had the unwelcoming piercing gaze of the legendary karaouk that the Blue Wolf tribe rode along with the soft face of a stone-mountain and it’s temper to boot. She made a small apologetic sound.
“Thank you. You may go,” she offered in a softer tone. They bowed to her and left her to the belly-ache of fear.
Legends often said the Tribe of Blue Wolf were filled with cannibals. Men and women with teeth so sharp and twisted they did not stay in their mouths. Of horrible disfigurement and skin like bumpy toads. Other’s said they were men with rotting diseases and all their women had died of it–so that is why they all but disappeared to a mere shell of what they used to be. More told tales of men who turned into giant beasts and slaughtered innocents.
She did not believe these things were true. But…she had never seen the man her father had promised her to. He had never told her anything. Her mind flickered horrifying visions of ugly men, twisted men, evil and grotesque men.
The longer she waited, the more her neck grew pained with having to to hold her head up and the more horrifying she imagined her new husbands deformities.

#

Sweat had trickled down the back of her neck to tickle at her shoulder blades. The wind kept howling in time with her simmering temper. How long had she waited here for him? How long would he make her wait? She thought of ways to escape the marriage if he were too deformed; of scratching his eyes out. Of using one of the many pins in her hair to stick in his neck. Her neck began to quiver under the head piece’s weight and several of the braziers had run out of fuel long since.
Perhaps it was her wish of violence or perhaps it was the winter’s wind that finally called him. At the mouth of the tent, she heard the slither of ties being pulled back. She could not turn her head immediately to stare, but had to do so slowly so as not to topple the chunk of heavy history on her head.
By the time she could fully stare he was already inside and her heart rolled up into her mouth.
He was the largest man she had ever seen in her life. For her entire life she had thought her father was, because inside any tent her father’s head towered over any man of their tribe. But this man that was now inside her tent had to bend his neck and head to avoid brushing the very top of the ceiling or thumping his brow into the great wooden supports that held it up. His skin was the color of frozen lakes…A light blue that was pale as crystal. His hair was white and glimmered as fresh as unbroken snow. He wore a blue robe dyed so dark that it seemed like it was black as night, richly embroidered with designs in gold that seemed to writhe along the fabric of the robe her wore.
But that was not what made her lose all of her angry thoughts or air. It was his eyes and his smile. His eyes were as golden as the wolf, and his canines when they were revealed were as deadly sharp.
He removed his gloves and dropped them onto the furs on the ground, then his cloak. She watched, mouth agape as he folded himself beside her and she felt cold come from him.
He flicked his eyes from her face to her hair and back. “Remove that ridiculous thing,” he said in a rumble so deep as to be ice cracking, thunder, or perhaps rocks under a mountain.
She did as she was bade to, but not because he was her husband. But because she could not stop staring.
“My name is Eylrik,” he boomed quietly. “Let us talk of your people and mine, and how we will go to war against the Varathir,” then reached into his furs to remove a scroll of parchment.
Jaishu’, so mesmerized by what he was and what he said and what he proposed, she did not insult or yell at him once.
There would be time enough for that later.
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She Lived

Jul 12, 2013 by

Blade-Runner-2-RachaelIt’s too bad she won’t live. But then again, who does?

It was hard to kill that question in my mind. After we ran, it lingered like a bad taste from a drink at your favorite bar that usually sold pretty damn good drinks. It’s the middle of the night and I should be sleeping. The flickering light from a huge grid ad spills into the window–some ridiculous commercial with an alien touting about how puny humans will enjoy coke. I’ve seen it a million times from the window and I hate it already. But I watch it anyway, because it’s better than remembering what Gaff said, over and over and over again.
I didn’t want to keep remembering.
I wanted to gather Rachael up right then and there; bruise my mouth against hers desperately to remind myself she’s alive. I’m alive. We’re alive together. I wanted to feel her skin. I wanted to take my fingertips along her hip and tap out words I’d never say: living isn’t pretty, but it’s real.
It was easier than thinking about how much time we had left. Scratch that; how much time she had left.
I’ve done a lot of things in my life that have put me so close to death I could smell it.
None of them frightened me more than the concept of time and how much Rachael had left. It brought me to cold-sweats, my mind fluttered through images of sorrow faster than leafing through ancient books. I kept seeing her stilli and cold and kept seeing myself old and broken. Every second brought her closer to the end, every night my stomach clenched as if bracing for a punch that would never happen and never end.
The commercial had stopped playing and had moved on to another–but I turned my head to glance to the pillow beside me and find her dark eyes open and studying me, my profile in the dim light. For a long while I didn’t have anything to say really but helplessly stare back. She searched me, my face like it was the last message in a bottle someone lost on an island could send–and then she smiled. Just the corners of her mouth really, but it held so much. So much life.

#

At night, I’d always doubt. Alone in my hotel room surrounded by empty bottles and empty memories, I’d hear what Gaff said: It’s too bad she won’t live. But then again, who does? Did she live? Did I let her live? Would she have been better without me?
But then I remember that night–that night when I caught her staring before she smiled.
Everything about that smile told me different. Rachael had lived more of a life in her short time than I ever would.
She lived, I thought back to an invisible Gaff. She lived, and that’s good enough for me.
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Good bye, Little Light

Jul 10, 2013 by

TweepsHe came to us in the usual way: unwanted. Possibly abandoned, mistreated and left alone for most of his life. He came without a single scrap of history. We didn’t know who he used to be, where he came from, what his life was like before he found us.

He was crammed in a cage too small for one of his size, let alone filled with seven of those just like him. He was smaller and huddled away from the others, making angry-baby sounds at them whenever they went near him. Screee screee! Screee! Screee! 

The fluttering and angry noises drew my attention. I stopped and focused on the source of the noise: a finch flock or single budgie cage crammed with seven cockatiels. Taped to the outside of the cage was a single page of white paper, written in hurried sharpie marker: “BREEDER BIRDS. $15 EACH.” I’m not sure if you know what breeder birds are. In general they can lead a pretty miserable experience as–with most people who breed animals–they’re in it for the money, not love for the animal. Petco sells their ‘teils for roughly $150 each last we checked. They’re often hand reared however and not afraid of humans, banded, and usually have some sort of paperwork and history. (Usually.)

Breeder birds though…They’re often crammed into cages and made to breed. That’s their soul existence–popping out eggs or fertilizing them. They might get seeds, pellets, or fresh fruit–but who talks to a piece of property they own? Who soothes them in their nightfrights? Who whistles and sings to them when they quietly peep at us, desperately trying to bond with their featherless, naked-odd giant birds outside their world of bars and cages? I suspect no one does.

I looked over that cage to my husband who was with me at that time. I looked over at him then I looked at the cage. I looked at him. Then the cage. Above a display of wooden bird perches he shook his head slowly and over exaggerated mouthing the word NO at me. I lifted my brows and made a sad face and said: “But…butbutbut…fifteen bucks. Plus, save a bird?”

His shoulders drooped a little bit and he screwed his mouth up in a little bit of a side-ways S; the look of a man defeated by his partner of many years. He held up a finger and said quietly, “ONE. You can pick only ONE.”  And so excited at the idea I literally skipped the last few steps to the cage. Sidling up to it I looked at all the ‘tiels waddling, shuffling and tweeting about. I bent down a little bit so I could speak to them in my I’ve-got-a-lot-of-pets-animal-squeaky-attract-dogs-and-cats voice.

“Hello little ones,” I said. Some of them raised their crests, unsure of me. Some of them ran away from my voice. Some of them side-eyed me curiously but only one roused from his fluffy nap to run to the bars of the cage and mash his little head against them and slide his eyes closed in silent demand for pets. I knew the behavior. I’d seen it many times when my other Cockatiel, Nugget, wanted scritches. I reached up and scratched his head in the cage watching amused as his tiny cheek feathers were poofed outward in pleasure.

Shawn swept by. “Guess we know which one’s coming home,” and off he went to grab someone to fetch the bird for us.

That was in 2010. I named him Tweeps because that’s the tiny sound he made when I scratched his head. Tweep. Tweeeeep.

Two days ago I rolled into the bird room where all 7 of my rescued birds hung out. (Yes, that many. I love bird poop and cleaning cages apparently.) I knew something was wrong. He was fluffed up and unresponsive. In the three years of him being part of my life I could always count on him being just as excited to see me in the morning as Nugget. He would stretch, then run excitedly back and forth singing, “Preeeety biiiiiird. Pretty prettty prettty pretttttty biiiirrrrd!” I haven’t any idea where he learned that from. Or who. Ahem.

That morning he did…nothing.  He did step up when I asked but he immediately went back to sleep. Or tried too. I did the only thing I could think of to make sure: I brought him to Shawn. You see….Tweeps never liked Shawn. Some birds adjust to many people easily. Most birds accept two or three and accept them as their ‘flock.’ Tweeps…well he only liked me. He would sit on Shawn’s shoulder all right–so long as Shawn NEVER EVER EVER NEVER moved his head. Or tried to touch him. Or make him step up. If Shawn did any of these things, Tweeps would Screeee! Scree! and then deliver a blood bringing bite to either Shawn’s ears or fingers. Two days ago when I handed him to Shawn’s finger to step up he did…nothing. Nothing but remain fluffed up and asleep.

That’s when it was cemented that he was very, very, very sick. The first thing I did was separate him from Nugget and put him in a clean cage of his own for quarantine reasons. If whatever he had was a virus he could easily spread it to all the birds. Then I went to work: he got a hot water bottle, fresh filtered water changed every few hours, crushed food…But he wasn’t interested in anything but the water. I tried offering him pieces bit by bit, but he would just tongue it. I kept the hot water bottle filled with warm water and his cage double-covered with blankets. I talked to Shawn about taking him to the vet–he agreed–but we’d need to do some credit card juggling and he had to get the time off from work and, I don’t drive. So we decided the next day? We’d take him.

Through out the day he remained about the same. Until the evening. I’d set his cage on the floor out of drafts right by my pillow on our bed. (Our beds on the floor because we just bought a house.) I made Shawn his supper, then decided to go lay down early with my kindle and a book to keep Tweeps company. When I lifted the blankets to his cage to check on him…Do you know that cliche my heart sank? Well, it’s a true cliche. I felt something in my chest be pulled down into my feet–Tweeps was laying with his head on the cage floor and his legs curled under him. I opened the cage and picked him up as gently, gently, gently as I could so as not to cause him anymore obvious stress. Oh no, my brain and heart said together. Oh no, oh no, no. 

I sang. I sang the song I always sing all of my birds everyday–

“You are my sunshine,
my only sunshine.
You make me happy when skies are grey.
You’ll never know dear, how much I love you!
Please don’t take my sunshine away!”

I begged him not to stay. I told him I loved him so, so much and that I didn’t want him to suffer one more second. That if he needed to go, he should go. That I couldn’t stand watching him be so sick and didn’t want him to go through another day like this because we had to make him wait.

Then I whistled his two most favorite songs that he learned to whistle back to me. Mario Bros 2, and the Kill Bill whistle. I’d been trying to teach him the Final Fantasy Victory fan-fare, but he never picked it up/liked it.

His crest went up immediately and his eyes gleamed. He lifted his head off my chest to look at me square in the face. Do you know how hard it is to whistle when you are crying? I do. He looked at me like that for a split second and when I finished whistling he lay his little head back down and…he died. Without a sound, without any other movement. That was it. He simply was no longer my little bird and a little grey feathered lump that once held the biggest, softest, Shawn-bitey-est bastard of a wonderful, loving tiny creature I knew.

I cried so hard I couldn’t see it when Shawn came in to take his little body out of my hands.

The lesson of this heart break from me to you is this: don’t pass by the chance to love a small thing, a feathered thing, a furred thing. Don’t wait if someone you love is sick. Money is a thing. Unconditional love is the world. The lesson is, The Pinkatron is not programmed to deal with sorrow and loss very well. And while I am so glad to have known Tweeps, I am so torn that he had to go and like that.

I will miss him so much.

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Aten in the Palm

Jul 8, 2013 by

egyptian_temple_2_by_magikstock-d4rvw7d

Being queen had its moments. The roar of the crowd as she’d ridden on a chariot formed in gold and lapis lazuli had dazzled her mind. Their cries of her name, their reaching hands, their words had been thunder fit for any god, boiling along her veins. Later, when her husband hunched his groaning way off the chariot, drooling and mumbling she did not even seem to care this time. The crowd was still singing in her blood. The danger and the fire still burning. She dared drop a lotus flower, their signal, and run off breathless as a maid away from her Queen’s guard.
He was there waiting. So tall, so dark with eyes as warm as honey. His beautiful face was a adder in disguise, she knew, but she could not help herself. He was everything her King was not. In his mad embrace for wild moments, in between kisses and hungry hands, they spoke of their love, their lust and…their problems.
“And what, he who gladdens my heart, makes you think that he will believe such things?” In the shade, away from the harsh daylight, none would dare say anything for fear of their death at her bidding. He nibbled on her earlobe, he suckled at her neck then pressed his mouth against her temple before speaking.
“Oh lotus flower, oh sweet sister–” Laughter and desire made his voice warble as a birds. “Are you not Queen of all? Are you not his beautiful companion? Are you not a goddess yourself?”
Before she could grow angry at his daring, his words–he pressed a small trinket to the skin of her breast. She reached up in annoyance to grasp it from him as he laughed in the face of her anger. Too pretty to be smart, she thought in annoyance before glancing down at what was in her palm.
It was a single, small gold disc. Aten, a representative of the sun no bigger than her thumb, scratch free, flawless and polished so well that even in the shadows it somehow found the sun. Clever, clever one, she thought. A smile bloomed as wide as the river.
Akhenatan, and soon, Egypt herself would stand in the shadow of Nefertiti’s brilliance. Neither would be the wiser.
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