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A Bird in Hand

By impoeia

Romance / Fantasy

Blurb

Eris' life in snapshots, from CM Book 1 and 2.

Chapter 1

A Bird in Hand

to live

in the cage

both

bird and mage

“Here are the rules.” Foley is using a voice on her, the kind Eris well remembers from her nurses and governesses. It is the tone of voice only achieved by adults parceling out the Words of Wisdom to children they know won’t listen, no matter what. The I-told-you-so is already carefully implied for the inevitable future, when Eris does exactly what Foley is telling her not to do.

She has known the man all of ten minutes, and already Eris wants to throw something at him. Preferably her fists.

He must see some of this on her face, because….Well, she is not trying very hard to hide her feelings. But he softens his face, and voice, as he continues to introduce her to her new life in Whitewater Bastion.

“It is important to accept and obey, Eris. When we follow the lives set out for us,” he places both arms on the table, the common room’s firelight dancing off of the crude hook that is where his left hand should be, “life will be good for all.”


sing

for the living

need

reason for giving

This is the stupidest thing she has done since being loaded off at the bastion like a crate of rotten cabbages.

Eris does not want to admit she is homesick, because to do so implies Starwatch was any kind of home and she won’t. She will never give a bastion the dignity of the term, but she......She misses it. Misses the familiar scent of mountains and woods. She misses the quiet; there are always people here, with the noise of the city and the White River pressing against the walls until she feels her chest constrict and she is fighting for every breath.

She misses Kali.

Eris is lonely. Lonely and, for fucks sake, crying in the corner by the chicken coop, hoping by some small mercy no one is going to stumble on her. Especially a hemie. That will be the final nail in her coffin, right after she claws the rock-licker’s eyes out.

She bites her tongue against a sob, because isn’t that just a joke. Her actually killing a sentry. Might as well imagine flying to Seren. Either is as far out of her reach as the bastion’s high walls.

So what is the point of imagining at all?

If she gives in, becomes a good little mage like Foley and his crew, perhaps the constant burn in her stomach will go away and she will be able to breathe again. Get sent out on more missions. See the sky.


all

to the hands

to make

the demands

“Bastards!”

“Hold him still!”

“Get your fucking hands off of me!”

“Ea’s balls, grab him! Grab him!”

Eris runs towards the gates with the others. She's not sure what to expect; a crazed mob calling for mage-blood comes to mind. What she gets is pure bedlam.

He's tall, dark-haired and skinned, collared and cuffed in hematite and it takes three sentries to wrestle him down. One of them actually sits on his back, while another presses down on his legs so a third can cuff his ankles. The man is still writhing, his tea-colored skin turning bronze with the hot flush of the indignity.

He tries craning his head around, perhaps to throw more insults or bite at the hands holding him down, but the motion carries his gaze to the large gathering of mages on the other side of the gate. His dark eyes skitter over the group before meeting Eris’ head-on.

And just like that, he throws her a cocky grin before he is hauled onto his feet and dragged to the hematite cells.

That’s how she meets Gideon Echina.


for

life and for love

on earth

and not above

“Oh.”

It is a physical wrench. That small, startled gasp and all of a sudden, Eris plunges back down into a body that feels crushed by the weight of its bones.

Far away, she knows Gid drops to his knees besides where she is half-slumped in a corner of the bastion walls. But she can’t tear herself away from the soft down that is slowly pressing itself back into her flesh. It tickles.

Then another hand thrust itself into her view. It's large, the skin tea-colored and the palm calloused, but the fingers are gentle as they encircle her own hand.

She is remembering another hot summer day; the shimmer of water and her grandmother’s disgust; the fear and shame of her family.

Gid breathes the words, “You really are a bird.” He touches her hair with his other hand; tucks a loose strand behind her ear, before trailing his fingers down her cheek, over down that is little more than a soft fuzz now. “Prettiest bird I’ve ever seen.”

They are shrouded in the heady smell of the jessamine vines clawing at the wall and the thick summer heat.

There is awe in his eyes.


and forget

the heart in chains

is only as free

as the cage it claims

She does not mean to say it; at least, not be the first to say it.

“I love you.”

The words slip out between one exhale and the next inhale; between the slide of lips and his hands on her thighs and suddenly, the whole world forgets how to breathe.

“I-I mean….” Eris chokes, freezes up right there, while straddling Gid’s lap, with the bedsheets pooled around her legs.

Gid blinks up at her, bemused, and for a hopeful moment, Eris thinks he might have been too distracted to register her words. Then that sodding cocky grin flashes across his face.

“Yes? What exactly is it that you mean, pretty bird?”

“Fuck you.” Void, she’s blushing. She can feel it in the tips of her ears all the way down to her bare chest. Just for good measure, she thumps her fist against his shoulder.

Gid laughs and catches her hand, then rolls them both over. That grin is still in place, though it has taken on a definite lascivious curve. “I believe that’s what you were doing, love, before we were interrupted by your spontaneous confession.”

The grin is suddenly gone and the look he gives her…..There is nothing teasing about it. For the second time in as many minutes, Eris forgets to breathe.

Gid presses a kiss to her lips, then down her chin to the hollow of her neck. He imprints the words to the rapid pulse in her throat. “I love you, too.”


to be free

of those tethers

the wind

’twixt the feathers

“It...It’s the best we could come up with under, you know, the circumstances.” Marcen is not just nervous; he is practically breaking his fingers, he wrings them so hard. At her continued silence, he throws a helpless glance towards Cai and the other mages.

“We know it’s not much.” Adrie breaks away from the group; goes so far as to put a hand on Eris’ shoulder. “He was a good man. He deserves more. He-”

Eris does not wait to listen to the rest of it. She turns away from Adrie, from all of them, and the small collection of stones at the base of the large oak that is all that she has left of the man she loves.

No body; no grave which she can lay herself down beside.

Eris walks back to their pitiful little camp, leaving the other mages to their worried looks and whispers and cold stones. After all, she is free of the walls now; free to go wherever she wants.


is the crow’s

last cry

in the double-moon

sky

She waits until the others are safely asleep. The shift comes easily now; three breaths and she sheds all the weight of her human body, until she is light enough that the wind can easily carry her.

Eris’ first wing strokes are clumsy. It is always harder to take off from the ground, but once she is a meter into the air, the breeze catches beneath her wings and she is off.

She is small, as a crow, but her body has never felt stronger. Each downward stroke lifts her closer to the stars, until she is all alone, a single shadow flitting between pinpricks of light.

Seren’s misshapen face is the only one to dominate the sky on this night. She does not believe in omens, but it does feel appropriate - just her and the mage-moon.

Eris corkscrews higher until she is blinded by Seren’s glow, her tiny form swallowed up by the mage-moon’s presence.

Gid said she needs to live. No matter what. And she will, because he asked it of her, but first…..

She lets out the cry she has been holding in. Eris screams her grief to the mage-moon; let’s Seren’s broken face witness her shrill fury. Then she folds her wings.

Eris falls.


to yearn for

flight

is both

bird and mage’s plight

Talon whirls away from the funeral pyre in time to witness a shadow pass over the mage-moon’s face. She has time to think an utterly insipid thought - Seren cries black tears - before the crow snaps its wings open.

“Shit!” The wind of its passage is palpable. Talon throws her arms over her head just as the crow passes over her, claws reaching for her. The dagger is already in Cobalt’s hand, but the bird banks sharply to the left and disappears into the haze of smoke and sparks rising from Gideon Echina’s pyre.

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