.. | short stories | 02 (not ordinary fairies)
My name is Ayr. I live in a place called Mera Tydal, a wood so deep within the encompasses of the Laud that few of my kind have ever even seen its limits. The only unabashed sunlight that I face stretches across a wide moor we call the Arabah which slices my home of the local Asmara wood in twine. It's a dangerous place for folk like me to go, so away from the sheltering disguise of our forest branches. There are predators of all kinds who have an eye out for us- most of all birds. Ground beasts like the werecats and ocetils aren't nearly as dangerous as those who can come from above.
Call me what you like; fairy, pixie, elf, imp. They all mean something different. In my tongue I am gyep-pari. Pari is my kind, gyep is my color. I am of the most common of sorts, my back and wings are the color of the greenest forest canopy above to hide me well from those who would look down as I fly. My father, whoever he was, was gyep-pari. My mother is mavi-pari; her back and wings the color of our pond's surface as it reflects the daytime sky, only a slight shade darker. The blue type like the water and rain, ponding and skimming. Both her parents were reeders like many, as they are hidden well over the dusky blue surface. The front of our bodies- chest, belly, face- are always of pale flesh coloration, to hide us against a bright sky from those who might look up from below.
Other than colors we are all the same people. Other tribes live in this wood and share in the same look with us though their customs differ greatly, so my mother has told me. To find someone of an outside color is a rare thing but I have heard they are indeed born once in a great while, though few make it to adulthood. Our existence is dangerous here, despite the friendships we have come to forge with most of the creatures around us. There is but one simple truth that governs: those who cannot hide do not survive.
So imagine if you will my surprise when I met Lytham for the first time.
I had been sent out by my mother Atlin to gather valerian roots for my younger brother's fever. Edam had been lolling in it for two days now, a sickness brought on by two-night's spell on the moors. He'd been gaming with his friends, taken a bet and lost. If he had not been so ill by the time we'd found him, Atlin would have done him in herself, I'm sure.
At dawn I flew out from the nook of our home, nestled within the dense branches of a great oak. My mother had carved it out herself, no small feat for a fale-pari of her size. She had come to the Asmara alone years before, pregnant with Edam and still lugging me on her back. Friendless in this new tribe and without a mate of her own, it was completely up to her to raise us; no others would help when they had their own to feed.
Times were different now. She was no longer seen as the pariah she had once been. Skillful with medicine, Atlin had made herself irreplaceable among the community, animals and pari alike. But I know she has not forgotten what it was like before she had something to offer them. Though content as she is in her own ways, Atlin often laments how much of her petulance and sullenness I have picked up over the years.
And even though she was accepted by the time Edam was born, that's as not to say I still didn't suffer from ridicule when I was old enough to join my peers at sport and work. I was the only one without a father to provide for us, to show me how things were done. All I knew were a woman's ways, my mother's, for which I suffered greatly at the hands of those who would be my friends. Edam had it better than I; he had me to teach him proper customs as befit a young male-pari. I'd had to learn the hard way, but instead of mourning my lack of friendships, I grew to enjoy and even treasure my time alone. I liked the isolated life.
As a result, I had grown up without many friends, which is why I flew alone that morning to find my brother's medicine.
Valerian was a useful flower that was relatively easy to find, whose roots, when dried, were a powerful sedative that would help Edam to sleep. Without it he would toss and turn and cry in the night and save no strength to heal. The dawn was crisp and cold with grey shadows still cast over much of the forest floor. I shivered, wishing I had swathed myself in my robe instead of submitting to the comfort of simple breechcloths that made flying easy.
The air around me was light and passed sounds with ease. I waited for a moment, shrouded by the leaves of the branch I perched on, listening for any signs of rustling plant life. The bark hurt my knees as I crouched there so I stood up and rubbed them, foolishly unaware that I had already been spotted.
When I believed the coast was clear I made a short dive from the branch and fluttered down towards the forest floor, looking for the frilly white petals that favored patches of sun to shade. I had to hurry; the day creatures would start moving about soon.
At first I heard nothing, and rightly so. Lytham later told me that an owl's massive wings are frayed on the edge feathers, letting them be silent as the dead when they flap. Silent as my attacker was, by the time he was upon me I could hear the rustle of its tail as the bird slowed, feet stretching out to snatch me from the ground.
Time stood still for me in those short moments as I turned, seeing those talons, so close that I could read the lines of its feet as they reached out for me. My mouth opened to yell but no sound would come, and I was knee deep in weeds, too tangled to make any sort of swift escape.
I closed my eyes. I don't remember what my last thought was of.
But instead of feeling my flesh ripped apart, as my over-active mind had already pictured, a sensation wholly different came to me. Something hit me hard and heavy from the side, twining around me and bearing me into the spongy weeds with the force of a hundred birds it seemed. I gasped for air and flailed within the tangles of the weedvine and whatever it was the held me.
We were buried deep into the mossy ground cover when a warm, heavy breath whispered into my ear, "Be still."
One of my kind, but I did not know him.
I did as I was told, laying there beneath him, both of us concealed from above by the thick weed. I could see nothing. While we waited an eternity it seemed, I listened to his ragged breath, felt it against my cheek. Whoever he was, he was hurt and exhausted, and I knew that it was blood that made his back slick beneath my hands. I could smell it in the close air, taste it in my mouth.
After a few motionless moments, he ventured a hand to push away the brush. I lay quite still, staring up at him as more and more the new morning sun revealed his face. My heart skipped a beat when he finally threw off the undergrowth completely, signaling that it was safe.
His back, shoulders and translucent wings were as red as the blood spattered over the rest of him. Thick crimson locks stained to a darker hue clung to his shoulders and cheeks. A rosu-pari. I'd only heard of them in tales from my mother, but even she'd never seen one.
With some effort he sat up and back, favoring his left side that I saw had been gashed apart either by claws or branches as he whipped through them, possibly in flight. Recovering from my shock quickly, I bolted upright, reaching for him.
"Are you all right?" I asked, trying to examine the wound in his side but he shied away from me, as if afraid of my touch.
"Leave it," he said. He attempted to get off me completely but failed as his muscles gave way to fatigue and pain. Gently I slid out from under his weight and knelt beside him. He was breathing very hard through an open mouth.
Now more than ever I wished I had brought some more supplies with me. He was still openly bleeding. Without thinking further about it, I began to rip leaves from the nest we lay in and bound them together with twine I ripped in cords from their stems. It was a trick I'd seen Atlin perform many times.
"Thank you," I said softly as I worked, "for saving me."
He stared up at me, having reclined back to rest more comfortably. While he said nothing, I had to look away from his gaze. Something in those intelligent green eyes unnerved me.
"It was after me," he said after a moment. "Has been for miles." He winced a little when I pressed the pack of seeping leaves against his side. "Then he saw you-"
Miles? Surely not. "Did it do this to you?"
He nodded, wincing again. Spread out beneath him, his wings looked in awful shape; I wondered how far he had really come and what he had endured to be in such a condition. Indeed, I was surprised at all that here was a rosu-pari, old as I was, older even. When with his bright coloring he should not have survived childhood.
My heart fluttered in my chest, leaving me with an odd sensation in my throat. What a fighter he must be.
I tried to help him sit up again. "Can you fly?" I asked.
"Not anymore," he said, breathily. He was loosing strength with his bleeding; I had to get him home to Atlin. Soon.
By the time we'd reached my family's den, it was late afternoon and I was sure that I was the one who would need the healing. Carrying Lytham, who was overall just bigger than I, had been a trying task, especially since near the end of our journey he had begun to lack the strength to even hold on by himself.
Atlin met us in the entry hollow.
"Genive's eyes, Ayr, what is this?" she cursed, kneeling down to the floor where I had let Lytham rest a moment. She put her hand to his forehead beneath that mane of tangled red hair.
"Owl. Help him, Mother, please," I said, catching my breath.
Atlin peered at the largest wound beneath my shoddy poultice. As her brow creased in concentration, I read nothing good in her blue eyes. For the first time, I began to fear that Lytham had pushed himself too far and this rosu-pari, who had made it so far in life would not last the night. More deeply, I feared I would never know him.
"Edam cannot be moved; we'll have to put him up with you, Ayr," she said, indicating that I help her lift Lytham from the floor. With little response from him we had carried him up into the nook that I called my own space. It was small but comfortable enough for me, and secluded enough from the rest of the den to satisfy my need for solitude.
Atlin left for her herbs, mixtures and swirls, leaving me with cloth and basin to help clean him up so she could do her work. Lytham groaned when I tried to move him and weakly pushed me away.
"Let me be," he said hoarsely, "just for a moment-"
"If I let you sleep before she sees you, you'll die," I said sternly, slightly irritated at how he batted my hands away with what was left of his strength.
Atlin had helped me roll a mat of reeds onto the floor, and on this we had laid him. As I began to pull the shreds of his clothing off, he finally stopped fighting me.
"I don't care anymore," he mumbled, putting filthy hands to his face.
"Well I do," I said, pulling them away and beginning to rinse his fingers. He just watched me, a strange look in his eyes.
But Lytham didn't utter another word. As gently as I could I washed his face, chest and arms, scrubbing away the drying blood and finding it hard to tell what was blood and what was just his color. My fingers skirted his wounds, I would leave those to my mother. She came back in with her parcels of mixes and powders and knelt on the floor beside us. I had Lytham's leg in my lap, working to scrub the last of the dirt and blood from between his toes.
"Did you get the valerian?" she asked.
I pulled the few roots I had managed to snatch from the wraps of my breechcloth and handed them to her.
"I'll have to dry these for Edam tonight," she mumbled, taking out the last of her own stash of roots and breaking them apart. She put the little pieces to Lytham's lips. "Chew on these, they will help the pain."
I watched her work, absently rubbing his scraped up foot. The whole of him was hard and lean, like someone who had never had a restful day in his life. His hands and feet had rough calluses, as if he were constantly on the move. For all I knew, he probably had been.
Lytham lay quietly as she did her work, only his eyes betraying his discomfort as he stared up at the ceiling. I watched his face and waited for the root to make him relax. She had given it to him for good reason- to fix his torn wings it would take some jostling about that he would not be able to withstand, no matter how tough he looked. As she worked, I rummaged around among her homespun glass jars for the salve she often massaged into my skin when I was sore from a day's work. Finding it, I worked the lotion into his foot, one, then the other, if only to keep my hands busy and my nerves calm. I did not like the look on my mother's face as she tended to more important things.
Slowly I worked my massage up his leg until I could go no further without getting in Atlin's way. I then moved to his side and lifted his limp hand. Lytham lolled his head towards me on the pallet and looked up at me with lazy, drugged eyes. I worked the flesh of his rough palm, and our eyes met again when I moved to his fingers. He said nothing.
After a while, when his eyes had finally closed into an induced sleep, I lowered his hand that was clasped in mine and whispered, "He's going to be all right, isn't he?"
Atlin looked up at me through the fall of her flower-blue hair. The corners of her mouth twisted ever so slightly in a wry smile. "If he makes it through the night," she said, "he'll make it through anything."
I stayed up all night with him. With every rise and fall of his chest I sighed in relief and waited for him to draw another breath. In the background I could hear the muted sounds of the night around us, the chirp of crickets and the call of night birds. The occasional croak of a frog loud enough to be audible from the distance of our pond. By the flickering candlelight I looked at Lytham's features, so sharply cast in shadow. He had to be as young as I, I decided, or perhaps only a few years older. The thick mane of his hair, clean and dry now, fell in waves across the reed stuffed pallet he lay on, around his tilted head. I reached out and brushed a few strands of it from his temple, feeling the texture between my fingers and deciding it was quite different from my own. A mane indeed, as thick as a musket's in winter. Mine was much finer, like my mother's.
I drew my hand back. The touch to his hair was a gesture a mother performed to her babies, or a lover to her beloved. What had possessed me to touch him so? Granted, I'd hand my hands all over him today but that was on the grounds of his injuries. But now, here, alone in the midst of the night in a moment for lovers only, my intimate touch had no business and it left me confused. Or perhaps I was just very tired.
I laid down next to Lytham and curled my arms to my chest, biting my thumbnail in deep thought, wondering if I should share this confusion with my mother. Beside me, Lytham shifted in sleep and cast his arm a little closer to me but it did not touch.
No, I decided. I was concerned for him and nothing else. He'd saved my life and I owed it to him to carry the same concern, now that he was the one in danger.
Lytham slept for two days as his body healed, waking only when Atlin pressed him to eat something or have a sip of water from one of the funneled sheets of leaves she kept racked in her preparing room. It was one of my duties to fill them every morning.
I went about my work, gathering supplies for my mother, fixing the odd thing that needed to be fixed, helping our neighbors with building the newest addition to their hollowed out nesting hole. I visited my brother in my spare time and spent the night in the sick room with him, trying my best to stay away from my own nook where Lytham lay dozing. I thought it was best to not become too familiar with him after that first night.
However, when my mother happily announced on the third day that he was awake and aware, my curiosity would not be put off any longer. I gathered my bundles of reeds from which I'd been weaving baskets and fluttered up into my room to continue my work there.
In shock I saw that Atlin had rolled up the pallet and moved Lytham to my bed of feathers and reeds where he presently lay comfortably. He smiled at me when I came in, shifting to try and sit up a little more.
"Hello," I said stiffly, feeling a little betrayed that she would put him in my bed, the one I'd cut and stuffed myself. Wasn't it enough that he had my room? It seemed she had never understand how much I coveted my own space and things.
Lytham tilted his head a little, confused I suppose that he did not receive a warmer greeting from me. A little ashamed, I curbed my childish possessiveness and sat down cross-legged next to him.
"How do you feel?" I asked, unwinding my pack of reeds and beginning my weaving. He watched me curiously before settling back against my pillows.
"Sore," he answered, and then added with a little smile, "but my hands and feet feel remarkably well."
I felt a little flush color my cheeks. "I'm shurprised you 'member that," I answered around the reed between my teeth.
"Mmm," he sighed. While my hands worked I studied the bandages around his torso and left thigh, the latter of which was revealed by a slip of the bed sheets which covered only his hips, like they'd been draped there as an afterthought. His wings, spread flat behind him looked surprisingly well and in good form, though the main veins were swollen and the membranes between them had been stretched and stitched. It would be a while before he could fly again. I wonder if he lamented that.
"Ayr-" he said after a moment, "that's your name, isn't it? I've heard Atlin call you from up here..."
I just nodded, waiting for him to go on.
"I suppose it's my turn to thank you, now, for saving my life. I wouldn't have made it if I hadn't met you."
My fingers worked deftly with hardly a skipped beat as we spoke. "It sounded as if you didn't want it that way," I answered, remembering how he had refused my help at first. I put down my weaving and looked him in the eye. "Why were you so bent on dying?"
He lowered evergreen eyes as if feeling ashamed of the way he'd acted before. "Sorry," he said softly, "I didn't mean to seem ungrateful. It's just... it's hard for me to trust anyone."
"Even your own kind?" I wondered what he had gone through to have so little faith in the help of others. True, tribes tended to be mistrustful of each other, but family groups were always supposed to be close-knit. Where was his family? Friends? A lover perhaps? He certainly couldn't be alone in the world.
"I've always been a bit of an outsider," he said after a moment, eerily negating my thoughts.
My eyes wandered to the specks of red that freckled his shoulders and how they came together to spread in solid color over his back and the backs of his legs. Had he been ostracized for his appearance? Surely his own parents wouldn't have shunned him for it?
Around that moment, Atlin came flitting in with some fruit pieces.
"You should eat these, they'll help you gain strength," she said, dropping a few in my lap as well. "Now that you're a little better, Ayr can help change your bandages so I can tend to my own patients."
Lytham and I nodded together; neither of us was going to argue with her.
"Good!" She stroked my hair from where she stood over me. "And you'll stay here where he can keep an eye on you until you're well again. You don't mind, do you my son?"
I shook my head, though in my mind I had plenty of roaming thoughts. She had pretty much banished me to spending much more time with him than I wished, fascinating as he was to me. Why was I so afraid of knowing him?
"Isn't he a good lad?" she teased, ruffling my hair again. "You'll make a good healer some day when I'm gone. Now eat those up, and later tonight I'll fix something good to celebrate your survival." With that, she was gone.
Lytham raised his eyebrows. "Wow," he said. "I don't remember my mother ever being so nice."
My cheeks had flushed again from her teasing. Did she really have to make such a show? I was nearly an adult! I glared at Lytham's easy smile and he made it disappear, though it never left his eyes. We sat in uneasy silence for a few more moments.
"I suppose you need your sleep," I said suddenly. I hefted my baskets and made to leave.
His hand was warm on my arm. "Wait."
I did so, but didn't meet his eyes.
"I'll leave," he said suddenly. "I've taken care of myself well enough before-"
"You'll do nothing of the sort," I said quickly. My mother would flay me alive if he left in his condition. "You can't even fly, why would you want to go?"
He dropped his eyes and his voice. "I thought you'd rather it that way."
But he didn't answer. I found it difficult to read his face, but something told me he was far more used to being unwanted than the opposite. His loner status once again piqued my curiosity. Could it really be that he'd been refused by his family or tribe? Banished?
I sat down again beside him. Lytham raised his eyebrows, surprised perhaps that I'd changed my demeanor so.
"What happened?" I asked suddenly. "Where did you come from?"
"North," he said.
North. To the north lay the snowy slopes of the mountain we called the Sintra- the dome. Tribes of my kind did live there; they were called nive-pari. Instead of green or blue, or even red, they were colored like the snow or some varying form of it. It was said even a few eusi-pari, the black-backed ones, lived there within the rocky ranges. All my knowledge of them came from what my mother had known, which wasn't much. Their beliefs were steeped in mystery, those icy ones, and they didn't care for outsiders. If Lytham really was born of the northern tribes, then he would have stood out even more than he did here, as much as blood on new snow.
"What a distance you've come," I said, hoping he would elaborate more, but it appeared he didn't care to speak of his past at all. He simply nodded and looked about as if this wasn't the same room he'd been lounging in for days. I took his silence as a cue and gathered my things once more to go.
I hefted the basket of reeds on my hip. "Get some rest. You won't heal if you don't rest."
He looked cowed. I softened my face.
"Thank you for your kindness, for sharing your home with me," he said. "Not many would have." His green eyes implored me to understand why he couldn't share more.
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