Flight of the Five Swans

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Finished Chapter 37

Callia

Callia let out an exasperated sigh as the bedchamber door was closed behind them. Petra’s voice was dry as she voiced exactly what Callia had been thinking.

“Locked in. Again. Fabulous.”

Raia let out a small squeak of what might have been laughter. She stood, trembling, in the middle of the room and simply stared around at them all. Her eyes were full of unshed tears as she drank in the sight of her newly-human sisters. She seemed unable to take her eyes off of all of them, though also strangely reticent to touch any of them. It was as though she thought that the slightest brush of her fingers might reinstate the curse that she had only just broken.

Callia lowered herself to sit on the edge of Raia’s bed. Her legs felt as though they were made of jelly following the transformation, and she welcomed the opportunity to rest them. Eurielle collapsed down beside her, rubbing her knee through the rags of her once-beautiful dress.

Callia marveled that the rest of her sisters did not feel the need to sit as well. Raia, of course, she could partly understand, seeing as how she was the only one of them who had not just transformed back into a human after spending months as a bird. But Cliodne, Thaleia and Petra did not seek to sit, either. As if in a trance, Thaleia walked to the corner of the room, where she stood partly in the shadows. Cliodne, on the other hand, seemed overtaken with the opposite urge to move, and began pacing in small circles around the room.

“I don’t understand. Why doesn’t he want to see us immediately? Why not have us explain now?” She muttered under her breath. Yet though she seemed to be addressing herself, Callia answered her question all the same.

“Well, we do look a bit worse for the wear.” She said, her voice reasonable. “A little food and a change of clothes won’t delay explanations too long.”

“If they ever bring them to us.” Petra said, turning to face the closed door and giving it a solid kick.

As if on cue, the door opened almost immediately following Petra’s blow, causing the Kyorian princess to stumble back in surprise. A servant entered the chamber, her arms full of neatly folded articles of clothing of all colors. Her eyes were brimming with avid curiosity, but she had clearly been sent on very strict orders to deliver her load and leave. Seeing Callia and Eurielle sitting on the bed, she deposited the armful of clothing on the dressing table. Then the servant exited the room once more, glancing back regretfully at the six princesses before closing the door behind her.

The sound of the door locking seemed to snap all of the princesses out of their momentary surprise. Eurielle stumbled to her feet to examine the clothing brought to them. Her eyes sparkled slightly as she held up a garment made of a shocking pink fabric.

“Ooh, these are pretty!” She said, a hint of surprise in her tone.

Callia smiled. “I wouldn’t care if they were the ugliest clothes in the world. Anything’s better than this.” She plucked at her ruined dress.

Cliodne and Petra both moved to select a change of clothes. Even Raia stepped forward as well, though she was not in need of new garments. Only Thaleia remained where she was in the very corner of the room. Callia saw Raia grab the first dress she touched without even looking at it, bringing it over to where her twin stood almost entirely hidden in the shadows. If possible, Thaleia shrank even further at Raia’s approach.

Callia heard a horrified gasp.

Dropping the garment she held, Callia hurried over to the corner where the two twins stood. Both of Raia’s hands covered her mouth. Her eyes, wide with shock, were fixed on Thaleia’s side.

Thaleia clutched the rags of her dress close to her left side as though stemming blood from a wound. Callia felt a moment’s panic. Had she been injured, stabbed perhaps, by one of Soran’s soldiers?

And then Thaleia turned slightly. Callia caught the briefest glimpse of white feathers before the rags of Thaleia’s dress hid it once more. Callia gasped as a terrible thought struck her. Stretching out a trembling hand, she brushed aside the tattered fabric. She let out a low moan. Thaleia’s left arm was not an arm at all, but a swan’s wing.

Drawn by Callia’s moan as she had been by Raia’s gasp, the other sisters joined the three standing in the shadows. A shocked silence filled the chamber as they all stared in horror at Thaleia’s wing, hanging in lieu of her left arm.

Eurielle broke the silence. “Your arm. It didn’t change back?”

Thaleia’s voice trembled slightly when she responded. “I…I couldn’t pull it under the shawl in time.”

“Thaleia,” Callia started, but then stopped. She didn’t know what to say. There wasn’t anything she could say. Nothing in any of her books or stories had ever taught her to deal with a situation such as this.

Thaleia glanced down at her wing, giving Callia the distinct impression that she was attempting to avoid all of their gazes. When she spoke again, she sounded slightly defiant, though the tremor was still evident in her voice.

“I mean, at least it’s my left arm, right? I can still hold a sword.”

At last, Raia spoke, though she too seemed to have trouble articulating what she wanted to say.

“But,” she said, her voice thick with unshed tears. “But if you hadn’t—if I had just—“

Thaleia’s head shot up and she looked directly at Raia. “I don’t regret it.” She said fiercely. “Not a jot. Not one bit. You needed me. I came.” Her eyes reflected the sincerity of her words.

Tears streamed freely down Raia’s face as she threw her arms around her twin sister’s neck. Thaleia hesitated but a second before raising her mismatched appendages and returning the ferocious hug.

“I’ll always come when you need me.” Callia heard Thaleia mumble, her voice muffled. “That’s what sisters do.”

Eurielle sniffled and flung her arms around both of her sisters as well, her hand whacking Petra on the side of the head in her enthusiasm.

“Hey!” Petra complained. She rubbed the spot in annoyance, though Callia was almost certain that the glimmer of moisture in her eyes was not due to the pain of the blow.

Thaleia managed a wobbly smile, extracting herself from the hug and wiping her eyes with the back of her right hand.

“Besides,” she said, glancing around at all of the princesses, though still while addressing Raia. “If it weren’t for you, we all would have wings instead of arms. And more besides.”

Callia nodded in agreement, and she was far from the only one to do so. Though previously so tongue-tied, all of the sisters now found themselves eager to thank Raia enthusiastically, congratulating her on the success of their endeavor—even a partial success. Raia’s cheeks burned at the praise, and she pursed her lips in embarrassment.

“I—“ She started, then all of the words she wanted to say seemed to tumble out of her at once. “I’m just so sorry it took so long!” She wailed.

Eurielle grabbed onto Raia’s statement with relish. “And all that time without you able to speak a single word, or make a sound at all! Not to sneeze or laugh or say ‘bless you’ or ‘please’ or ‘thank you’ or…or…or anything!”

Callia and Cliodne both smiled as the youngest princess caught her breath. It seemed to Callia as though Eurielle were determined to make up for all of the sisters’ silence over the last several months in the course of only a couple of minutes.

“I mean,” Eurielle continued, her voice filled with awe as she patted Raia’s shoulder. “I really just don’t know how you managed it, Raia. I don’t think I could have done it!”

At that, Thaleia could not help a laugh, however strangled it sounded. Petra raised her eyebrows in mock surprise. Her voice was deadpan when she spoke.

“You don’t say.”

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