Feathered Chapter 18
The Swan Princesses
The flock flies away from the sun over the forest where owls call, with Raia Our Other hanging in between. Raia Our Other is heavy, but the flock is strong together. Our wings are strong so that we can fly, our will is strong so that we can fight, and our minds are strong—so that we might escape.
Escape with Raia Our Other.
But the flock knows that Bad Others will soon follow and this will be very bad indeed, for the Bad Others must not be allowed to catch up to the flock. The Bad Others must not be allowed to recapture Raia Our Other. They will take Raia Our Other away again; they will take her back to the Dark Other—and the flock hates the Dark Other. The Dark Other is full of evil and magic and danger; he has lied and he has killed, and because of this, he must be defeated.
But the Dark Other is protected; he cannot be bitten or scratched or touched at all, not by wing or beak or claw. The flock has tried many, many times and every time, the flock has failed to hurt him. Thaleia Who Fights is angry that the flock has failed, for the Dark Other deserves to be hurt. The flock knows that the Dark Other must be stopped.
But Callia Who Knows is wise, as is Cliodne Who Leads. And our plan is wise, too. We know that to defeat the man, we must thwart his plan. And so the flock will not fail again. The flock must not fail again.
The Dark Other must not get Raia Our Other.
So the Bad Others who follow the flock will follow the flock—and they will be led away, far away. But first, Raia Our Other must be left safe, where the Bad Others cannot find her at all.
Cliodne Who Leads honks twice, and the flock knows that it is time to land. The flock settles on soft grass near a large cave, with midnight inside its depths. Cliodne Who Leads has been in this cave, and she knows that it is safe. She has searched it and watched for Others to enter, but no Other has. This cave is hidden and will not be found by the Bad Others. It is a good place for Raia Our Other to wait—as wait she must—for the flock to lead the Bad Others far, far away from the safe cave.
Raia Our Other climbs out from between the flock onto the soft grass. She lifts small rocks and puts them down again where she was before, on the white fabric between the flock. The rocks will be heavy, but not hard for the flock to carry, for the flock is strong together. And the rocks are important, for they will trick the Bad Others to follow behind, and to be led away.
The flock rises again, but Raia Our Other does not rise with them. She is Our Other, but she is still Other. Her wings cannot fly, so she is grounded. She must wait in the cave for the flock to return.
The flock flies together back over the forest where owls call, back towards the castle, and back towards the Dark Other. The Bad Others are looking for the flock, and now the Bad Others will be allowed to find the flock.
It is Petra Who Steals who sees the Bad Others on the ground below, and hisses. The Bad Others are travelling away from the sun and towards the safe cave, towards Raia Our Other. But they must not find Raia Our Other.
The flock flies closer to the Bad Others so that they will be seen, and it works. The Bad Others shout and point at the flock and follow behind on their horses, which is good. This means that Raia Our Other will still be safe in the cave.
The flock does not rush, for the Bad Others must follow. The flock flies far away from where Raia Our Other waits, flies to where the new forest begins towards the Homeland of the flock. The sun rises high in the sky above the flock, but the flock flies on, and still the Bad Others follow below. And more Bad Others come, riding on their horses to keep pace with the flock.
The sun starts to fall and it is time. Cliodne Who Leads keens once to signal to the flock, and the flock drops back as if to land on the Bad Others right below. But the flock does not land. Thaleia Who Fights hisses, and the flock releases the fabric from between us, releases the small rocks so that it falls down, down, down. The rocks do not hit the Bad Others, and Eurielle Who Honks is sad. She wants to hit the Bad Others. She had tried to hit the Bad Others.
But the Bad Others are fast on their horses, and they move out of the way so they are safe from the falling rocks. Yet they are distracted all the same, and so the Bad Others are not looking when the flock flies away. The flock does not fly together. We fly in different directions—towards the setting sun and away from the setting sun, towards the Homeland and also towards the Dark Other’s castle—to confuse any who might still be following. And soon the Bad Others are gone, lost in a place where Raia Our Other is not. So the flock can return.
But there is a pull that the flock feels deep in our bones, a pull towards the Dark Other’s castle and towards the Dark Other’s lake. And oh, it is hard for the flock to push against the pull. It is hard not to follow the path to the lake, and to become Other once more.
But the pull of Raia Our Other is stronger than the pull of the Dark One’s castle and the Dark One’s lake. Raia Our Other is Our Other, and she waits for the flock in the safe cave. The flock will not leave her to wait alone.
The sun is low before the flock is able to return to the safe cave where Raia Our Other awaits. Thaleia Who Fights arrives back first, and is glad. Raia Our Other sits alone on the ground in the cave, her wings busy making the garments that the flock so desperately needs. She looks at Thaleia Who Fights and there is water on her face, but Raia Our Other is happy. She is smiling. Thaleia Who Fights lies beside her and watches her busy hands, and they wait together for the rest of the flock to return.
And one by one, they are there. Petra Who Steals circles many times before landing, and is the last to arrive, but at last, they are all there. Petra Who Steals comes with food in her beak that is for Raia Our Other to eat, but Raia Our Other does not eat. She is smiling and she is happy, but she is not hungry, so she does not eat. She touches each of the flock’s heads and wings and feathers with her wing, and there is more water on her face. The flock gathers around Raia Our Other, sitting around and on her legs and watching her make the garment that is so important.
Then it is dark.
It is dark and there is pain.
There is pain in our wings and our feet and our bones and our feathers there is pain in our eyes and our beak and our minds there is pain and pain and nothing but pain.
And then it is over.
The pain has stopped, but the flock remains. The flock have not become Other as we did the night before and the night before and the night before. And though the night pain has gone, it is also still there, and it is deeper, for now there is sadness.
Raia Our Other has water on her face, but she is not happy this time. She does not smile when she touches our heads, our feathers, our wings. Each of the flock lies her head down on Raia Our Other’s legs, and the pain is not so bad when it is shared together. For yes, Raia Our Other is sad, but the flock is together. And the flock is strong together.