Leaves and twigs crunched beneath her feet. Today she’s not so careless, not so obvious. But she was younger then, so she could afford to not know any better. Regardless of the noises she made, she stalked her prey who seemed, at least to her, unaware.
He was an older, rougher man. Much larger than any other man she’d ever seen, and she liked it that way. His arms were wide, like his belly, but much stronger. His beard, red like fire, was wet with water from the spring he crouched beside. He scooped up crystal clear water and sipped from it like a helpless deer. It was enough to make her laugh. Fearing he might hear her, she covered her mouth and lowered her head. Though she was already so small there was no way he’d see her.
She waited a whole minute, which was too much for her. Impatient, she plucked a feather from the plumage at her collar. She did as he taught her. Focused everything on her feather till it glowed like a light and became straight as silver.
“Gotcha,” she shouted as she leaped from the bushes. Before her little talons could scrape the ground she’d thrown the feather. A grin took up her face as she thought of all the praise she was going to receive. Great job Fea. You killed me good Fea. Aim a little lower next time Fea. But her grin sunk into a frown when she saw her feather go limp just after leaving her grip. Instead of piercing the man’s tight brown hide, it fell onto the ground, lost in the wild grass.
She landed on her rump, flushed. She heard his voice but couldn’t bring herself to look at him.
“Y’know ye should be using yer size to yer advantage.” His voice is rough and soothing at the same time. It was like sour honey; bittersweet.
“A tiny éan like ye shouldn’t make so much noise.”
In a seconds time, his voice traveled from the creek to right over her. He was so close she couldn’t ignore him, even if she wanted to, which she didn’t. He lifted her chin with one of his massive, cracked fingers.
From out of the bush of red that hid his face came a wide, white smile. It lifted her heart and so she smiled as well.
Where it took her entire hand to hold onto a single feather, he held it between his fattest and longest fingers.
“Remember,” he said, taking her hand. “Think of this as a part of you even if ye aren’t touching it.”
He gave her the feather and she sulked at it and at him.
“That’s dumb,” she said, puffing out her cheeks. “How can it be part of me after I let it go? ”
“I’m no good at this,” he said with a laugh. She had to agree but didn’t think that meant he was bad at it either. “Okay, I’m over here and you’re over there.”
“I’m. Uh.” He scratched his head. “No, lemme try again.” He took her hand. “You’re with me right now. Aye?”
He let go of her hand.
“Still with me?”
“Yup,” she said, nodding.
“It’s like that. But with what’s in here.” He prodded her chest.
“Well, that’s a way to put it!” His laugh boomed through the forest and made the leaves shake. “Your gusto! How’s that? Does it make sense? Do ye like it?”
“Yeah,” she said as she jumped up into his arms. “It’s gross! I love it!”
Fea flapped her wings and climbed Grandpa like a mountain, ending up on his shoulders that were so wide she could lay out on them if she wanted to.
He grabbed her legs, steadying her.
“Yer a funny tone, Fea,” he said, taking the first of many lumbering steps down the grassy path.
“Funnier than you grandpa,” Fea asked, tilting her head. She almost fell over, but grandpa put up a hand, to catch and push her back into place.
“Nae o’ course not. I’m the funniest. But a Sidhe relying on her physical senses is a close second!” He laughed.
“Oh. So yer laughin’ at me.” Fea scrunched up her nose.
“Why don’t you laugh too, that way we’re laughin’ together?”
“We’ll see who’s laughin’ when I launch my...” Fea pulled a fistful of feathers from her collar and jabbed her grandpa’s neck. ”Sneak attack!”
The feathers crumpled against his massive neck and he stopped. A heavy pressure, like a smell, tickled Fea all over.
“Grandpa? I was only pretendin’,” Fea whispered.
Her grandfather reached up and plucked Fea from his shoulders like she were some sort of berry. Then, as if she were fragile as glass, he sat her down behind him.
“Take to the trees, little bird. Don’t get involved. No matter how tempting it seems.”
Grandfather’s voice leaned more towards the bitter than the sweet and so Fea took his advice without a second thought. She hopped once and flapped her wings so hard she flew. Fea perched in a tree that wasn’t so far away she couldn’t watch her grandfather, though she knew he wanted her further away.
Grandfather held out his large hand, fat fingers spread and grasping at the air. Beads of glowing blue flew from all over the forest and collected in his palm. Dancing lights spun for him and became a club that was as large as the man who wielded it.
Fea felt her feathers shake and looked around but noticed no wind. That meant that someone nearby was really angry. Angry enough to hurt someone. Fea hugged herself and tried to keep her feathers from shaking and giving away her position.
Grandfather’s sights fell on a clearing to the south, way back in the direction they’d come. It scared Fea because it looked like they might’ve been followed. A breath left grandfather, and he widened his stance and lifted his club.
Another breath left grandfather and they were no longer alone. A woman with dark skin and long white hair ran down the clearing. Her stomach was like grandfather’s, swollen and she clutched it as though it were precious. Red water seeped down from her head and got into her eyed.
“Please,” she said in a shrill voice. She sounded like she wanted to scream but couldn’t. “Help me...”
Monsters, unlike anything Fea had ever seen, chased the woman. Wisps of darkness, branches, and bugs in the shape of dogs. They snarled as they closed in on the woman. Fea could see bright lights deep inside of their mouths, down their throats, in their hearts.
The woman stumbled, but Grandpa was there to catch her. Sure he was bigger than the trees, but that didn’t mean he was slow.
“I’ve got ya,” was all Grandpa whispered before two of the three dogs lunged at him. He caught them with his foreman, protecting the woman. He stared down the creatures making a scratchy red mess of his arm and called to them. “I’m sorry.”
He swung once and all three beasts stopped barking, moving or glowing. Even Fea’s feathers stopped shuffling.
Fea stayed put for another minute, which was much too long for her. As soon as she sure those beasts were too deep in sleep to attack she flew out to grandfather, and the leaking woman at his side.
“Grandpa,” she said, perching on his shoulder. “What were those things?”
“Deities,” grandpa said roughly, slowly as if he was tired.
“Really? But they don’t look anything like us!” Fea looked at the woman. “I wouldn’t eat you. Promise. So far I only like apples. I think. The red kinds, not the green.”
Grandpa petted Fea and she nuzzled back against his hand. “Let her rest, little bird.”
The sweating woman tried sitting up but fell back onto a bed of grass that grew beneath her. It must’ve been Grandpa. He was so good at magic he could cast spells without looking or saying a word.
“They must’ve been without divinity for so long,” Grandpa said. “I can’t even tell what pantheon they were from…” He looked to his club. He flipped it over and examined the handle. “Even if I were allowed I don’t think I’ve got enough divinity to bring you back…”
Fea bounced back and forth between Grandpa and the woman. She already spent so much time with Grandpa she couldn’t help but be interested in the new woman.
“Grandpa, the lady is shaking like I was earlier. But she doesn’t have any feathers!”
“What?” Grandpa turned and saw her trembling.
“P-please,” she said through her teeth. “My...baby….” She traced a hand over her stomach.
“Looks like she’s going to pop,” Fea said, pointing. “Should’ve ate so much!”
“Oh no.” Grandpa shook his head. “I’m no good at this either. Here. Come on I know someone who is though.”
Grandpa hoisted the woman up and carried her and Fea off through the forest.
They were supposed to play like they always did, but grandpa was meeting with the important woman, so Fea decided to watch the other kids play. Like she always did whenever he was busy and she was stuck on the outskirts of towns. She expected them to play as kids always did, with rocks and sticks and sometimes magic too, when the adults aren’t looking.
They didn’t. Instead, they crowded around her tree. She was perched at the top so they wouldn’t be able to reach her, even if they all stood on each other’s shoulders. They didn’t have wings or talons like her so they couldn’t get up the tree. The oldest, fattest yet shortest of the boys gripped the side of the tree with his soft round fingers. Alternating between palming and stomping got him halfway up the tree and Fea stretched out her wings. Her plumage fluffed up and she tried making her eyes flash red, but she wasn’t sure if it worked or not.
Startled, the freckled fat boy lost his grip and fell from the tree, right onto his ugly little friends.
“Be subtle would ye,” said a boy with sparkling hair, pointed ears, and wool clothing. He rolled from underneath the fat boy and jumped up to look at Fea. “Fair maiden, come grace us with thy beauty!”
“No,” Fea said, tucking her wings and inching along her perch.
“It can talk,” questioned a boy covered in white fur, with large horns and a snout.
“Aye, o’ course she can,” said the sparkling boy as he flipped his hair. “She’s not all bird! Her head’s still like any other girls.”
Fea didn’t think that much was true. She hadn’t seen another girl who looked like her. No other girls had the hair her grandfather likened to a rose, even if she thought it looked like red water. No other girls had a horn jutting from the side of their head, weighing them down and tilting their world.
But Fea wasn’t so different, she liked to think. She looked different of course, but so did everyone else. There weren’t two people who were the same in the whole world.
The short round boy stood up and dusted himself off. “Wanna hear a joke,” he said, dirt falling from his shoulders when he raised his stubby arms.
“No!” Fea flexed her wings.
“Well, that’s all I’ve got’.” Fat boy turned to face his friends.
“Same. Nae a lass has ever resisted my charm,” said the sparkling boy as he rubbed his chin and flipped his hair.
“Wha?” The horned goat boy stopped eating grass and eyed his friend hard. “Didn’t Epona turn ye down last week?”
“Epona? Pft! Nae,” said the boy.
“Aye.” Another voice sprang up from behind him. It’s was a much softer voice than any of theirs.
“Aye.” Sparkles agreed and nodded. “Aye?”
All the boys spun in unison to face a girl with locks of curly auburn hair. Her ears were long and floppy and her lower half was much more horse than girl. She trotted up to the boys and crossed her arms.
“What’re ye doin Gancanagh,” she asked, tilting her shoulders.
“I-I was just, uh greeting the new girl.” He flipped his hair not once or twice, but three whole times. “Givin’ her the ol’ Falias welcome.”
“Uh huh.” The girl raised an eyebrow, clicked her tongue and eyed the fawn. “Lay it on me Púca.”
“What’s it in for me,” Púca said with a mouthful of grass.
She sighed and reached into a satchel on her side. “It’s mah last one. Enjoy it,” she said, tossing him a carrot.
“Mmm Gancanagh wanted a kiss,” Púca said, already halfway through the carrot.
“NAE,” Gancanagh snapped.
“Aye, said he wanted to kiss any girl to show that Epona what’s for.”
“Really?” The girl eyed Gancanagh.
“I have no idea why we’re still mates,” Gancanagh said, glaring at Púca.
“Why don’t you ever ask me, Epona,” said the fat boy. “I’d sell Gancanagh out for a carrot.”
“Aye, you could use one,” Gancanagh said, elbowing the boy’s stomach.
“Aww, thank ye Bróg,” Epona said, tussling his curly red hair. “But ye’re a Leprechaun, my sister said not to trust Leprechaun.”
“Hey, what’s she know?”
“Everythin’. She dated one,” Epona said, laughing as she trotted by the boys and up to the tree where Fea watched everything unfold.
Epona put a hand over her eyes and squinted up at Fea’s perch.
“Really? That’s what you wanna pucker? A wee baby bird?”
“I’m not a baby,” Fea squawked and flared out her wings.
“Oh yeah? Can’t tell from down here,” Epona said, arms crossed. “I’d need a closer look.”
Fea puffed out her chest, huffed and hopped down from the tree. She flared out her wings as she approached the ground.
Some of her feathers fall loose when she lands and the boys are quick to grab at the scattered black beneath her. They pocketed her feathers and Fea wanted to ask why but thought it might be a part of ‘playing’, in which case, it was fun to watch the boys collect her feathers.
Epona and the rest of the boys were much bigger up close. They all towered over her, though not as much as grandpa. Fea must look bigger to them too.
“See,” Fea said, holding out her wings. “I am big!”
“Oh yeah, ye are,” Epona said, snickering as she looks at her friends. “And that gents is how ye get a baby bird to leave its nest.”
“Hey!” Fea squawked.
“So what brings ye to Falias,” Epona said, eyes on Fea. “Actually, nae, that’s no proper way to start a friendship.”
“Friendship?” Fea repeated, tilting her head, then falling over on account of her heavy horn.
Epona sighed, helped her up and brushed out her feathers. “Aye, friendship. Like, these guys.” She motioned to the boys. Gancanagh flipped his hair, Púca ate some grass and Bróg pointed to himself before nodding and waving.
“That’s friendship?” Fea tilted her head and almost fell over again, but Epona reached down and caught her.
“Sort of, ours would obviously be better,” Epona said, picking Fea up. “So what’s yer name?
Fea wondered if she should lie or tell the truth because grandpa was very confusing about this. He said it was less complicated to tell people ‘Fea’ was her name. But she somehow felt that wasn’t the case.
“Fea,” Grandpa said as he emerged from a house just a few skips away. The woman they met in the forest wasn’t with him, but there was another lady. A lady who wasn’t as fat and was far sharper looking. Her ears were pointy, her nose was pointy and her long orangish-red hair was pointy too.
“Pokey lady,” Fea said when Grandpa and the pokey lady came to a stop among the children.
The pokey lady made this nasty little face at Fea. Epona sat her down and trotted over by the other children. They all bowed. “Good day Lady Uathatch.” They spoke in unison.
“Run along,” she said, flicking her wrist.
They ran off, Bróg tripped, but Gancanagh helped him up. Epona was the only one to look back at Fea as she left.
“Bye Fea, talk to you tomorrow!”
“Tomorrow?” Fea asked herself, then looked to Grandpa to ask him. “Tomorrow?” They had never stayed in the same place for more than a night before, so Fea was confused.
Grandpa looked to the pointy lady who rolled her eyes and sighed.
“That’s right Fea,” Grandpa said, getting to his knees and lifting her into the palm of his hand. “We’re gonna be here tonight, tomorrow and the next day….”
The pokey lady cleared her throat.
“If we’re lucky,” Grandpa said, wincing. “So let’s be on our best behavior while we’re here. We want to see to it that other lady-”
“The fat one?”
“Yes, the fat one. We want to see to it she’s taken care of. She’s bringing a baby into a rough world and it won’t be easy.”
“Nothin’ is gramps,” Fea said, fluttering to his shoulders.
He laughed and rubbed his head against her’s. “You’re right my little bird. So let’s be good guests and keep this place nice for when the baby gets here.” He looked over his shoulder, at the pokey stabby pointy lady. “Lady Uathatch has agreed to let us say. Under some condition....”
“Uh huh,” Fea said. “What’s a condition?”
“I dun’ have time to sit through yer explanations to her Dagda,” the woman said, turning her back on them. “Don’t be loud. Don’t be a nuisance. Don’t annoy me. Be a good girl and stay outta my way.”
She looked over her shoulders and for the first time that day, into Fea’s eyes.
“Never ever use your powers in my domain. None of your magic is allowed here in Falias.”