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 Five: Aggressive
The next day found Wy standing outside a door in the town while Pan tried to stomp on her feet.
‘Cut it out.’ She nudged the goat with her knee, and Pan baad irritably. ‘Mama wanted to turn you into dinner when you were born,’ she reminded her. ‘You owe me.’
Pan flipped her tail at Wy, then started to pull at some grass poking up through the sandy road.
Wy sighed and crossed her arms, then put them on her hips, them crossed them again. Behind her, town life went on with the usual quiet bustle, but she could still feel their gazes on her back like an itch.
Her father’s house was small but pleasant — a brick building with clean walls, fresh thatch, and brightly painted shutters on the wide windows. A little workyard stood to the side, where her father turned the arrow shafts and cut the feathers for the fletching. Pretty much everyone needed arrows, since hunting made up a solid part of most people’s diets, but his main work supplied the fort a days’ ride in the other direction.
The yard was empty now though, and there was still no sign of her father. Wy bit down on the idea that he was avoiding her. Perhaps he’d been insulted that she’d been to town without stopping in with him? Or maybe he’d just grown tired of her — he’d never known quite what to do with a daughter even stranger than the woman that bore her.
She leaned forward to knock again, when the door swung open. Her father blinked, then smiled hesitantly. He was about a decade younger than her mother with a ratty look about him that Wy had not entirely escaped. He was lean and almost always wringing his hands, as he was now. ‘Wydis! I’m so glad you made it. I’m just in the middle of — would you be able to put the kettle on while I finish up?’ He stepped aside to let her in.
Before she could take a step, Pan trotted inside, looking around curiously.
‘She’s with me,’ said Wy. ‘I’ll keep an eye on her.’
Her father hesitated. ‘Well — if you say so.’
Wydis headed for the kitchen. She knew her way around the house, although it had never felt like home to her. It was too big, for starters, with too much furniture, and just so much stuff. At home, everything they owned had a purpose. An ingredient a spell, a tool for a job. But her father’s house was full of things. Hand carved figures and ornaments that looked down from shelves. Brightly painted baubles and trinkets atop one of the many tables or drawers. And there was so much colour — the bright, if threadbare rugs in every room, the cushions on the chairs and benches, the paintings on the walls.
Wy had always been fascinated by those paintings. Images of forests and mountains and lakes had made no sense to a child Wy. She’d asked her father about them often — he’d painted them himself — but his only answer was that he liked beautiful things.
When she’d gotten older, she’d realised the truth of it — her father needed these paintings of beautiful things because he lived so far from them. Over here in this dull town, surrounded by boring green fields, there was no kind of stimulating view. But though he occasionally visited their home in the swamp, her father showed no inclination to start up a life in the empty wilds, like the witchfolk. He liked the wilderness in his paintings. He preferred the image to the reality.
She got pan a carrot from her father’s veg, and gave it to Pan to teethe at. Then she filled the kettle from the waterbutt, kindled the hearth, and hung the kettle to boil.
Not long after she sat in a faded blue armchair with a cup of hot tea in her hands, her father appeared. His eyebrows pinched and he gripped a long, polished wood box too tightly in his hands.
‘Everything all right?’ she asked him. His eyes were on the door.
He blinked and looked around at her. ‘Hmm? Oh. Sorry, Wy — I’m just a little distracted.’ He sat on the small sofa across from her and set the box in his lap. ‘There’s um — well, there’s a lot on my mind right now.’ His eyes cleared, and he studied her. ‘On yours too, by the look of it. What was the big rush on your last visit to town?’
Wy hesitated. Her father was sympathetic to her animal healing, and generally tried not to betray Wy’s trust by going behind her back to tell tales to her mother. He’d done it a few times in the past, the most recent when she was twelve and confided that she’d been observing a bear and her cub not far from where she lived. Though she’d been keeping a safe distance and hadn’t had any aggressive encounters with them, he’d nonetheless tattled to her mother. Wy hadn’t said anything more to him than yes or no for months after that, internally seething. That had been five years ago, and she doubted her father wanted to repeat the experience.
Not to mention that Wy was seventeen and a woman grown, whatever her mother might say.
‘There was a creature in need of healing and I didn’t have the right supplies,’ she said. ‘It didn’t look like it would make it through the night without me.’
Her father smiled encouragingly. It smoothed away some of the worried lines around his eyes and mouth. ‘I’d love to hear the whole story.’
Wy eyed him uncertainly. Her gaze dropped to the wooden box in his lap. ‘Aren’t you busy?’
He shrugged and pat the box. ‘More … more anxious than busy, I’m afraid. This can wait for now — nothing I can do until the buyer shows up.’
‘So it’s just an arrow order?’
He shook his head. ‘It’s … complicated. But I want to hear your story, first.’ He smiled to one side. ‘Don’t change the subject.’
Wy threaded her fingers and set her hands in her lap. ‘Well … I found a dying blackwing yesterday, just above the path up Nyar Vell,’ she said, naming the mountain the loomed over the empty wilds. Her gaze flicked up; her father’s skin had gone ashen, but his lips were pinched together, holding in whatever interjection had occurred to him. She pressed on, ‘It was mostly starved, and gotten poisoned by rotten meat it must have been too desperate to pass up. I got it to vomit up the bad, gave it some honeywater and chicken paste to give it a little strength, and it seems to be going well. I’m going back to check on it tonight — I hunted some wild fowl this morning to feed it up. It’s my hope that it’ll be well enough to go on its way before the week is out.’
A moment of silence. Wy stared at her lap, her cheeks heating.
‘And is … is it friendly, this blackwing?’
Wy laughed before she could stop herself. ‘It’s a blackwing. It’s only tried to kill me a couple times. That’s positively cuddly for a feral dragon.’
He cleared his throat, and she looked up to meet his eyes. ‘I don’t like the sound of it, Wy, but I trust you. You know your limits far better than I.’
Something warm and glowing filled her. ‘Thank you. I do.’ Her throat felt thick; she cleared it and looked away, not wanting him to see the gratitude in her eyes.
It wasn’t that she needed his approval. He knew so little of her world and her way of life. If he’d tried to warn her or scold her, she would have brushed it aside and kept on as she was. She knew right from wrong, she knew the risks, and she was willing to take them.
But she was so used to fighting her mother about every little decision she made, even though she’d been raised in the empty wilds, even though she’d walked it alone since she was ten and not gotten eaten or killed in all that time. To know that he believed in her made her feel justified in believing in herself. It was a shining and unexpected comfort.
‘Actually, that … that kind of relates to what I’m doing.’ He unlatched the wood box. ‘Nothing so dangerous as that, of course but … well, you know that I occasionally get work from the nobility. Well, I was sent some materials for a special request.’ He opened the box.
It was a quiverload of arrows, a dozen or so, each laid neatly in the padded box. Wy leaned forward, because they were like no arrows she had ever seen. Her eyes swept from the irridescent blue-green fletching to the laquered arrow tips that glittered like beetle carapaces.
‘Something tells me that’s not peacock fletched,’ she whispered. She got up and, after her father nodded his permission, she ran her fingers along the feathers. They were silken but stiff, stronger than any feather she had encountered.
Except for one creature.
‘Dragon feathers.’ Her hand went to the arrow tip. ‘Dragon claw?’
He nodded. ‘They shed them, apparently. I was instructed to reshape them and use it for the tip. What do you think?’
‘Well … they’re beautiful,’ she said. Her father smiled, but she felt an uneasy squirm in her stomach. ‘This is from a noble dragon. Ferals are never as bright as this.’
‘It is. No dragons were hurt to get these, if that’s what you’re worried about. They’re a natural byproduct of grooming, apparently. The Knight sent them herself, and she’s hardly going to abuse her own dragon.’
Wy smiled shakily. ‘No. You’re right. Was it hard to work with?’
‘The hardest, but I love the challenge. They fly very straight, and hit with a lot of force in spite of their lightweight. An unusual arrow, for sure.’
Pan emerged from the kitchen, finishing off the carrot. She walked over to a chair and dragged a woolly blanket off between her teeth.
An echoing shriek pierced the air, deep and inhuman. Wy’s father snapped the box shut and stood up, nearly tripping over Pan as she ran around the room, bleating wildly. The blanket had somehow fallen over her face in her panic.. ‘That’ll be her. I need to get this to her right away.’
Wingbeats, loud and echoing, followed the next shriek. It was getting closer.
Wy snatched Pan as she scrambled by. She was still a small goat, little bigger than a kid, and she couldn’t struggle swaddled in the blanket. ‘It’s okay,’ she said soothingly. She blew on the goat’s nose, making her blink. The little goat immediately stopped bleating, but she pressed her nose into Wy’s chest.
‘Do I look alright? Is my hair in order?’
Wy didn’t know how to answer those questions. Her mother would have reached up and smartly smoothed his flyaway hair and straightened his rolled-up sleeves, but Wy didn’t like touching people. ‘Um, hair,’ she managed.
Her father quickly patted down the top of his head. ‘Thanks, Wy.’ He headed for the door, box in hand, then stopped. ‘Would you like to come?’
Wy froze, eyes widening. It was question weighted with tension. This meeting was clearly extremely important to her father. He was doing something new, and to get work from an Elysian Knight could massively change his prospects, give him more time to do the work he really loved rather than turning out battle arrows for the local fort. To bring her with him was a show of great faith and pride in Wy, and part of her ached to go.
She’d never seen a noble dragon up close, but she’d always been fascinated by the divine bond they were said to share with their knights. As a little girl, she’d imagined stumbling across a dragon egg in the wilds and becoming the first Elysian Witch. She’d craved the deep friendship between dragon and Knight, the imprint of hatchling on human.
But the truth was that dragon eggs were reserved for the wealthiest and most influential of artistocrats and Wy was a witch girl who lived in a swamp. Even the townsfolk who had been exposed to her since she was a little girl hated and feared her. She didn’t look or act or dress the right way. Even now, in her muddy trousers and long-tailed black tunic embroidered with stars, she looked wrong. It was her fanciest and most beloved outfit, but it was strange to the townsfolk and laughably poor to a Knight.
No. She didn’t want to hurt her father’s chances, and she could see in his eyes that he knew that she would. But he had offered anyway, and that was worth a lot more than letting a Knight crush her childhood dreams in person.
Another cry, so loud it bruised her ears.
‘I’d rather not,’ she said to her father. She’d steeled herself to his sudden relief, but it still hurt to see him visibly relax when she turned him down.
‘I’m meeting her in Alden Toll’s field, to the north,’ he said. ‘You know, the fallow one? You can still watch — the whole town will be out and looking.’
‘Yeah,’ said Wy. ‘Maybe I will.’
Her father smiled and tucked the box under his arm, hurrying out the door, leaving Wy clutching a frightened goat and staring out the open door.