Blackwing Witch is a work-in-progress but I wanted to share it while I work on the first draft. Please bear in mind that this is an unedited work, but hopefully you will still enjoy it! Image is a commission from ShadowDragon22.
Chapter Four: Ungrateful
Wy woke up while the sun was still sleeping. She washed in a basin of cold river water and gathered her supplies quickly, but her mother was already up and working by the time she went for the door. ‘Leaving so soon?’ she asked. The same table she’d put the hare on the night before had been scrubbed of blood and now stood in the middle of the room. A mismatched collection of crystals were one one side of a sheet of parchment. On the other was a bowl, three lit candles, and several bundles of herbs.
Her mother sold charms to the townsfolk, which Wy sometimes helped with even though she didn’t have much power to speak of. She wasn’t sure which enchantments her mother was planning today, though judging by the flowers it would be love charms, which always sold well but which Wy hated making. Probably why Wy’s love charms were so ineffective.
‘Off to get the feathers, I hope?’ Her mother said. Her features were made harsher by the flickering light of the candles.
Wy stopped. ‘Among other things.’ She walked over to the table. ‘Love charms?’
Her mother smiled, but it was more of a baring of teeth. ‘Charms for strong hearts and clear purpose,’ she said. ‘You know magic cannot make love where there is none.’
Wy shrugged one shoulder. ‘They’ll still call them love charms, though.’
‘That is up to them.’
Wy pressed her lips together and picked up a bundle of flowers, not answering. She knew her mother saw it that way, and that they needed to make coin somehow to pay for the things they couldn’t make themselves. But it felt like lying to let people believe something untrue — even if it would be better for them than any ‘love spell’ ever could be.
‘I’ll help with the wards tonight,’ she said instead. ‘It’s the full moon.’
‘As you should.’ Her mother started taking flowers and shredding them into the bowl. ‘And make sure you do your reading today.’
Now Wy’s eyes flicked to her mother, then away. She didn’t bother to conceal her frown. ‘Mama. I’m seventeen.’
‘And that means you shouldn’t read? You’ll be as stupid as a noble if you don’t take the time to learn.’
Wy levelled a heavy look at her mother. ‘It means I don’t need you to tell me to read. I read plenty without you taking after me.’
She grabbed a sack of grain on her way out, feeding the goats and the chickens. Pan tried to wrestle the sack from her, but it made the other goats jealous and they ganged up on her.
‘This happens every time,’ Wy told her while she bleated pleadingly for Wy’s help. She chased the other goats from Pan and scritched her between her horns. ‘Be good, Pan.’
Pan butted Wy’s knee, but more gently than usual, and Wy went on her way.
When she got to the dragon’s perch, it had crawled further into the corner, and had its chin resting on its hands.
It opened its eyes and growled at her as she climbed up. ‘Easy beastie,’ she said, raising her hands palm out.
The dragon glared at her, its eyes glowing ominously from the shadows. It still looked weak and its muscles quaked, but she had no doubt that it had recovered enough strength to take a swing at her.
Her eyes went to the bowl, shunted to one side and tipped upside-down. It looked thoroughly clawed-up, but the blackwing must have drunk it or it wouldn’t have found the energy to move.
She studied it from a distance. ‘You’re not covered in puke again, so that’s good,’ she said. It hissed at her without lifting its head and she held in a laugh. Laughs could be quite threatening to animals, and she didn’t want the blackwing to test its poison breath again. ‘Are you strong enough to eat?’
It growled more high-pitched, almost like an angry cat. ‘Well, that’s not very polite.’ She kept her body language casual and walked over to the bowl. The dragon watched her, stumpy tail twitching.
‘I’m going to give you some more honeywater,’ she said. ‘You liked it, didn’t you?’ She knelt and filled the bowl with more of the mixture, then backed away again.
The dragon watched her with pupiless green eyes narrowed, still growling. She knelt at the other side of the cave, and after a moment, it crawled over to the bowl and started drinking, lapping at the water like an especially long-tongued cat and lifting its head to swallow.
When it finished, it glared at her, then swatted the bowl back at her with such force that it hit the boulder beside her with a clang. ‘Really? You need that to eat!’
It cawed at her, ears flattening.
‘You are not as sick as I thought.’ She righted the bowl, then pulled a tube of meat paste from her pack. The dragon stopped cawing immediately, watching with greedy eyes. ‘You can have some of this if you can stomach it,’ she said, giving it a stern look. ‘It’s mostly ground chicken.’ She squeezed it into the bowl, smearing it on the sides so that the dragon would have to lick it up slowly.
She’d barely started squeezing it out before the blackwing pounced, knocking her aside with a push from its wings. She screamed as she fell from the cliffside to thump into the path below. The force of the fall winded her and her shoulder and hip ached terribly. It took a moment for the shock to wear off.
She slowly sat up, checking herself over. Nothing broken, but an ugly bruise was already spreading across her hip that would hurt for weeks and more, plus sundry others around her body.
‘By all that fills that sky,’ she whispered, gazing up at the dragon’s perch. It had knocked her aside as if she weighed nothing. She dreaded to think what would have happened if they’d been properly high up.
It was healthy now. If it was well enough to send her flying, it was well enough to look after itself. What’s more, it was well enough to do her some serious damage if she wasn’t careful. That had been one near-miss too many.
She should go home. She knew she should go home. But she was still haunted by the memory of its bony ribs and its thin, reedy breaths. It hadn’t been well even before it ate the rotten meat, at her guess.
One last check. That was all she’d do. Just watch it and make sure the food went down all right.
Wincing with every movement, she climbed back up to the perch. As she got her hands on the stone shelf, the blackwing looked up from the empty bowl and bounced for her with claws outstretched. She immediately leapt back down for the path.
She landed, pain jarring her hip and shoulder. When she looked up, the blackwing was glaring down at her, wings half-outstretched, feathers puffed. It cawed a warning.
‘All right!’ She shouted back, throwing up her hands. ‘You win! I’ll leave you alone!’
The blackwing cawed again, then hissed.
‘Oh, shut up, you ungrateful chicken!’ She turned away, the blackwing still hurling insults at her back. She’d have to recover her pack later, but right now she wanted nothing else to do with the ill-tempered dragon.
The blackwing’s caws turned into a hacking cough, then a loud, wet blort. Wy looked back; the dragon had slumped half-over the cliff’s edge, vomit dribbling from the side of its beak. Its ears perked toward her, evil green eyes filling with pleading.
Wy stopped, fists clenching. ‘You’ll be fine!’ she shouted at the blackwing. ‘Your stomach’s just unsettled because you’re being too violent!’
It nibbled its beak at her, like an over-sized crow asking for scritches.
She crossed her arms. ‘You threw me off the cliff!’
It keened pathetically.
She hesitated. ‘You know what? Fine. Fine!’ She threw up her hands. ‘You win!’
The blackwing continued keening until she started climbing again, because when she got halfway up it switched to growling.
Wy was fast running out of patience. ‘If you don’t want me this close, then move!’ She shouted, done with whispering sweetly to it. The growling stopped. After a moment, it disappeared from sight. She climbed all the way up and found it huddled pathetically in its corner again.
She sighed. Her mother’s warning was ringing in her ears. ‘Not everything deserves your love, Wy.’
That much was clear. But here she was, anyway.
‘All right, you evil beastie. Let’s try the water again, shall we?’