Flight of the Five Swans

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Flight Chapter 17

Raia

Raia had covered every available inch of her parchment in ink in her attempts to argue against their immediate escape. At the base of all of her arguments was the terrible truth that her sisters would no longer be able to return to human form once they had fled the castle and its enchanted lake. Until Raia finished knitting all five nettle shawls, her sisters would remain swans for all hours of the day and night. And who knows what that will do to you? Raia had written. What if there are long-term effects?

Yet her sisters had stood firm. They declared themselves prepared to risk the unknown eventualities in order to help Raia slip out of Soran’s net. And despite all of her misgivings and arguments, Raia was forced in the end to concede to her sisters’ wishes. But she did not sleep that night.

Rather, Raia chose to knit away the hours. She was now more determined than ever to finish the shawls as quickly as she possibly could. While her sisters burned the midnight oil as well, they took turns resting in the three large beds in between taking shifts at the spinning wheel. The princesses were desperate to make as much nettle yarn as possible before they would be forced to leave the spinning wheel behind.

Final preparations for their escape plan began not long before dawn. All of the necessary supplies for their knitting were packed into a bundle and attached to Raia’s pantaloons, where they were completely hidden under her dress—or dresses, rather. She had also donned Cliodne’s larger dress over one of her own garments as a form of extra padding.

Just before their daily transformation began, Thaleia took Raia by the shoulders and hugged her.

“Remember, Ray,” she told her. “Surprise is key.” Then Raia felt her wince at the pain as she began to change.

In the moments immediately following her sisters’ dawn transformation, Raia had to work very quickly. Having stripped the sheets from the three beds, she made her rounds among the swans, tying one of the sheets around each sister. It was a difficult task, as the sheets needed to be tied in such a way that they would not be noticed by the guards, who were due to arrive at any moment. Raia’s fingers trembled as she rushed through the task.

‘Quickly, quickly!’ she thought to herself.

One of the swans—Raia guessed it to be Eurielle—honked a warning just as she was finishing the last knot. Raia heard the sound of heavy boots outside in the corridor, and gave one last tug to arrange the sheet before stepping away.

The door opened and a single guard stepped into the room, holding the door open for the swans. Raia repressed a hysterical giggle as her swan sisters waddled from the room in a single file line, calm as could be. At any moment she expected to hear a shout from one of the guards indicating that the bed sheets had been noticed. But the shout never came.

The guard closed and locked the door behind them once more, and Raia immediately began a mental countdown. It typically took the guards ten minutes to set her sisters loose outside the front doors, after which they would return to escort Raia for breakfast in the south tower dining room. She hoped with all of her heart that her sisters would have enough time to be ready.

Though Raia had been anticipating the guards’ knock almost to the second, the rapping on her door caused her to jump all the same. The door opened and she walked out on shaking legs, though she held her head high. She could feel the pouch of supplies hitting her leg as she walked, but the guards had yet to notice anything different in the manner in which she moved. She just hoped it stayed that way.

Raia took a deep breath as they approached the door to the south tower dining room. ‘Please,’ she thought silently. ‘Let them be ready.’

The guards opened the door and stepped aside to let Raia enter first. She forced herself to not so much as glance at the large stained glass window on the wall furthest the door. She walked calmly towards the dining table, taking no notice of the breakfast foods laid out on the table in front of her. Instead, she kept watch out of the corner of her eyes, waiting for the moment where the guards moved to take their regular positions around the perimeter of the room. It was the moment when all eyes would not be on Raia—though just for a moment.

That would be her only chance.

She reached to pull out her chair. The moment her hand touched the hard wood, the guards around her turned slightly to move to their usual assigned stations. Taking advantage of their momentary inattention, Raia sprang straight into a run, heading towards the opposite side of the room. The guards had barely enough time to let out startled exclamations before she had hurled herself through the window. She had been worried that what limited momentum she would gather running from the dining room table to the window would not be enough to shatter the glass, but her concern proved unnecessary. Deturian stained glass—coveted for its beauty and artistry—was not known for being the sturdiest of materials.

The beautifully designed window shattered on impact. Raia felt a split second’s remorse for destroying the masterpiece before she was overcome with the terrifying sensation of falling. Out of sheer willpower, she choked back the scream that rose from her throat.

‘Please be here, please be here!’ she thought, closing her eyes so that she would not be able to witness the ground rushing up to meet her.

Ploumf.

Raia’s eyes flew open again as she bounced slightly in the hammock that her swan sisters had prepared. Made up of multiple sheets lying one on top of the other, the hammock was suspended right underneath the window of the south tower dining room—the same window through which Raia had burst mere seconds before. Holding the corners of the sheets were her sisters, straining to stay aloft now that Raia’s weight had been added to their load. Though they pumped their wings madly, Raia could not help feeling concerned at how they seemed to still be losing altitude, rather than gaining it. Would all their plans be for nothing?

At last, however, the advantage of the swan princesses’ larger-than-normal sizes paid off. Raia felt her hammock slowly rise further and further into the air as a result of her sisters’ efforts. She peeked over the side of the sheet and nearly fainted at the sight. They had risen even higher than the castle’s tallest tower, moving decidedly westwards to clear the exterior wars and fly out over the dense Deturian forest. She ducked back in her hammock, resolving not to look down again.

Raia heard shouting below them, but did not dare to crane her neck over the side of the sheets to look again. She could only assume that the guards on the ground were rushing about trying to come up with a strategy to stop their escape.

Raia could not help a smirk. Soran’s soldiers would be at a loss in finding a way to force them down. They could not use arrows or crossbows to shoot at the swan sisters’, for Soran still needed all of the princesses alive for his plans. In truth, the only thing that the guards would be able to do would be to follow the princesses on horseback and wait for them to land again. And while the girls had gained more than a viable head start, being forced to carry Raia between them impeded her sisters’ ability to fly as fast as they were able. Soran’s horsemen would no doubt catch up to them after but a few moments.

But the princesses had a plan for that as well.

Raia forced herself to stay as still as possible in her hammock so as not to make it more difficult for her sisters to carry her. She noticed a slight pain in her arm and glancing down, was shocked to see a small shard of glass embedded in her skin. She gripped the piece of glass with the tips of her fingernails and tugged it out. A tiny stream of blood from the wound trickled from the wound.

‘I’ll have to bind that when we land.’ She thought to herself, then looked at the piece of glass in her hand. For her moment, she imagined how it must have looked when she had crashed through the stained glass window. She felt a distinct sense of pride at her own daring.

‘Who’s a fighter now, huh, Soran?’ she thought smugly.

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