Flight of the Five Swans

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Flight Chapter 15

Callia

It took the better part of three days before the princesses had gathered the supplies they needed to start the process. Having successfully completed her previous task of finding a counter curse, Callia’s new responsibility was to gather the nettles needed for their knitting. Raia had fashioned a pouch out of one of the white pillowcases from their bedroom, so that Callia had something in which to put the plants she gathered. Cliodne was given a similar bag as well, so that she could pack away any nettles she came across while exploring her escape routes out of Deturus. The bags tied easily around their avian bodies and blended perfectly with their white plumage. As such, the princesses were able to slip them past the guards with minimal trouble.

Like Callia, Petra had also been given an entirely new task, leaving Eurielle to explore the castle’s exit strategies on her own. Just as Callia and Cliodne were gathering nettles, Petra had been put in charge of laying her hands—or wings, as the case may be—on everything else the princesses needed. This included knitting needles, as Raia’s own needles had been removed from her trunk. Callia was at a loss to understand why this could be, though she suspected that they had been confiscated as possible weapons.

The piece de resistance, however, was Petra’s appropriation of a spinning wheel.

Callia stared at the wheel where it stood in the corner of their bedchamber. She was in absolute awe of this tangible proof of her sister’s skill. She glanced behind her at the locked bedchamber door, then at the barred window.

“How on earth did you sneak that in here?” Eurielle asked in a hushed voice, voicing the question on all of the princesses’ minds. Petra smirked slightly.

“You don’t want to know.”

Callia was reasonably sure that truer words had never before been spoken—though this realization nevertheless did not abate her curiosity.

“But the point is,” Cliodne said, “That’s the last thing we needed in order to start making the yarn.” She deposited her pillow-pouch on the floor, and Callia saw that it was filled about two-thirds of the way with stinging nettle. She herself had managed to fill her bag completely so that it had bulged against her stomach while she flew. As a result, she’d had a harder time than usual hiding the bag from sight.

Raia’s face was slightly white, but her voice was decisive. “Then we can begin tonight.” She reached under the middle bed and yanked on the corner of one of her dresses that they had hidden there. Piled in the shirt of the dress were all of the nettles that had been gathered over the previous two days. They had managed to find a respectable number of the plant in the palace grounds and surrounding areas, and had laid them out on the skirt to dry the plants in preparation for their process. Seeing that there was no longer any room on the fabric to spread out their new load of nettles, Raia fished out another of her dresses. Callia and Cliodne emptied their sacks, and their collection swelled even more.

The princesses sat down on the floor around the dress and got to work preparing the dried nettles to be spun into yarn, wincing in pain as their hands touched the unfriendly leaves and bark. They split the fronds, rolling them together between their fingers to extract the fibers of the plant. Then they pulled and stretched and pulled some more to lengthen the plant material. In the center of their circle lay a shallow washbasin filled with soap and water. Every so often, one of the princesses would stop to soothe her sore hands in the liquid before continuing with her work. Raia was not allowed to participate in this first step of their task, as Callia argued that she’d be able to knit much faster if her hands were not already sore and swollen.

“AndI think Soran will notice if you showed up at dinner tomorrow evening with hands the same size as the dinner plates.” Petra added drily, her own hands busy.

To make up for her inability to help, Raia kept up a steady stream of cheerful chatter as her sisters worked. While this was not customary behavior for Raia, Callia felt that she understood her sister’s need for speaking, given that she would soon be forced to remain utterly silence once she had begun her part of the task.

“Oh,” Raia said, pacing up and down the room to give herself something to do. “Soran also told me today to ‘politely request’ that you guys stop relieving yourselves on his chair. And his throne. And his bed.”

Callia smirked—and she was not the only one to do so. None of her sisters bothered to hide their smiles from each other. Though childish, Callia was nevertheless unsurprised that the others had also been taking their revenge on Soran—or leaving it, as the case may be—in that particular way.

“So hide it better, got it.” Petra deadpanned, and Thaleia snorted a laugh.

Raia fought to hide her own smile, though a hint of worry also clouded her brow.

“I don’t think that was quite what he meant, Pet.”

Thaleia dunked her hands in the basin, releasing a sigh at the soothing sensation. She grinned at her twin, and Cliodne noticed a mischievous glint in her eyes. “It’s a tactical decision, Ray.” Thaleia said. “To keep Soran from suspecting what we’re really up to when we enter the castle while we’re still swans.”

Eurielle tore savagely at a nettle leaf. “Plus it makes me feel loads better—not to mention lighter.”

Callia gasped, but could not restrain a laugh at her sister’s audacious joke.

Several minutes later, Callia surveyed their work with critical eyes. Small bunches of fibrous plant material now littered areas of the fabric. She caught Cliodne’s eye, and her elder sister nodded.

“Okay,” Callia said, grabbing one bunch of nettle fibers and rising to her feet. “I’m going to try spinning it now.”

The rest of her sisters stopped their work, following Callia with their eyes as she sat down before the spinning wheel. She tied a piece of scrap yarn to the spindle as the leader thread, giving Raia time to take hold of the end, as she was the only one allowed to touch the finished yarn. Callia pumped her foot to send the wheel twirling before slowly feeding the nettle fibers in. The fibers wove themselves around the leader thread. Callia kept pumping for several seconds more before she stopped. Holding her breath, she looked at Raia with a questioning gaze.

“Well?” she asked.

Raia closely studied the nettle yard, tugging lightly on it to test its durability. Then she nodded.

“I can work with this.” She said, and the princesses all broke into relieved smiles. Cliodne passed along several more bunches of nettle fiber, and Callia began pumping her foot once more.

The sisters took turns spinning at the wheel, and before long had accumulated a sizable skein of nettle yarn, heavy enough that Raia was no longer needed to keep hold of the thread. As Raia dropped her grip on the fiber, all six princesses held their breath, recognizing the impact of the moment.

The time had come for her to knit.

Quieter than she’d been for the last several hours, Raia retrieved the knitting needles that Petra had stolen for her from their hiding place. Thaleia drew an armchair close to the spinning wheel, and Raia sat down.

“Remember.” Callia couldn’t help saying from her spot on the floor, where she’d once again been splitting nettles. “Remember, Raia. Not a word. Not until we’re finished.”

Raia nodded silently, then swallowed and looked around at all of them. “I love you all, you know.”

Thaleia leaned over and wrapped her arms around her twin’s neck. “We know, stupid.”

Picking up the very end of the nettle yarn, Raia began to knit.

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