Blackwing Witch (Chapter 7: Wary)

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.

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Chapter Seven: Wary

‘Wydis of Amys Mor.’ Mirran’s voice was light, the accent strange but different from Lady Arielle’s. More lyrical. She didn’t smile, but clenched her fist and put her hand on her chest, silver hair flopping into her pale brown eyes. She was lithely built but with broad shoulders, and much taller than Wy, who got the impression she was being looked down on in more ways than one. ‘You’ll need to be slow with Valour. She won’t hurt you, but she can be shy of new people. She’s not used to meeting the common folk.’

That would make a change from the blackwing. Wy let Mirran take the lead, following her a pace behind. She kept her body language loose so as not to signal tension to the dragon.

Valour cocked her head to one side, bird-like in her regard. She lowered her head to nuzzle Mirran but kept her eyes on Wy.

‘This is Wydis,’ said Mirran. ‘She’s a … friend.’ The musical cadence of her voice couldn’t quite hide her distaste.

Wydis glanced at Mirran, but something about her words or her tone soothed Valour, who peered curiously around Mirran to sniff Wy cautiously.

‘She’s skittish, for a creature larger than a house,’ said Wy. Valour finished sniffing her and pulled her head back slightly, ears lowering and eyes slitting. She held still, a clear invitation for a pet. Wy obliged, marvelling at the silken feel of the feathers on the dragon’s face. The blackwing’s feathers had been smooth and hard, but as strong as these feathers were, they almost felt fluid under her touch.

Mirran watched her sidelong, expression hard to read. ‘You wouldn’t say that if you knew dragons. Many dragons are shy. They’re raised around humans — they don’t think of themselves as large and dangerous.’

‘Not all dragons,’ Wy said. She thought of the blackwing, hissing and lashing at her with its claws. Even sick and close to death, it was more willing to fight than to run. To her surprise, the thought warmed her. The blackwing was a survivor. With her help, it would make it.

‘Is it true, that you tended a blackwing?’

Wy raised her eyebrows. ‘Eavesdropping?’ She glanced at Mirran, whose cheeks darkened prettily.

‘I’m Lady Arielle’s squire,’ she said, looking at Valour. ‘It’s my duty to be informed.’

Valour’s tail moved, the tip curling around Mirran’s legs protectively.

Wy shook her head. ‘I don’t blame you. It’s not every day an Elysian Knight asks to meet a witchgirl.’

Mirran’s embarrassment vanished. ‘I thought you looked like a witch.’ It was hard to tell what she meant by that, but Wy doubted it was anything kind.

‘What gave me away?’ Wy asked. She kept her voice as bland as possible, not wanting to reveal how she hated being so easy to single out.

‘Your mark.’ She touched her own forehead, mirroring the spot where Wy wore her crescent moon witchmark.

Wy glanced back at her father and Lady Arielle. The Knight had nocked an arrow to a strung bow and had drawn it back to her cheek. She aimed at a stump at the far side of the field while Wy’s father talked, presumably about the flight pattern of the arrow.

Lady Arielle had probably seen that mark, too. Perhaps that was why she’d asked after Wy.

She didn’t want to think about Lady Arielle right now. ‘Is Valour safe to walk around?’

‘Very. Nothing like your awful brawler. Keep a hand on her so she knows where you are, and doesn’t startle.’

Wy decided to let that one pass, even though Mirran knew nothing of the blackwing. It was rather a brawler, although Wy secretly admired that about it.

Wy moved around Valour, marvelling at the dragon’s size and strength. The top of her haunches were higher than Wy’s head even when Valour was sitting. Her wings were tucked against her sides as snug as a pigeon’s, but Wy could see glimpses of the golden flight feathers folded away.

Mirran followed her around, offering her a hand as she stepped over the enormous tail, pausing to scratch the dragon with both hands in what Wy assumed were her favoured spots. As they circled around the other side, a low, thrumming rumble emanated from the dragon, too gentle to be a growl. Wy winced and looked to Mirran for guidance, before realising the dragon was purring.

‘Do all dragons purr?’ She marvelled at the strength of the vibrations emanating from Valour. She couldn’t quite imagine the blackwing doing the same, for all its impressive vocal range.

Mirran frowned. ‘Noble dragons do. I can’t imagine a feral dragon doing anything so pleasant. Blackwings make that awful cawing sound, and Valour can’t make that. Ridgebacks, banditbirds, and gullwings are quite different as well,’ she added, naming the other most common species of feral dragons. ‘I doubt gullwings purr.’

Wy tried to picture the sleek and screeching sea dragons, but it was lacking detail, like an image in a book. ‘I’ve never seen one. Blackwings are the only dragons I’ve had much experience with. They’re all over the wilds.’ She paused as Valour’s tail shifted again, to wrap around Mirran’s waist. ‘Valour seems all right, though.’

The dragon’s ears pricked at her words. Valour turned her large head and narrowed her eyes at Wy in a cat-like smile, her purr increasing.

When she looked back at Mirran, the squire was smiling, which she quickly hid. ‘You didn’t actually answer my question about the blackwing.’

Wy hesitated. Mirran was bound to Lady Arielle, and she wouldn’t put it past the Elysian Knight to fly out to kill the blackwing herself if she learned its whereabouts. But Mirran didn’t seem unkind in the way that Lady Arielle was — though she didn’t seem like a great ally, either.

It was Mirran’s smile that decided her. She’d seemed so genuinely pleased by Valour’s happiness. It was hard to imagine someone like that leading Arielle to kill a sickened dragon. She met Mirran’s eyes, struck again by their unusual light brown colour. ‘Do you swear not to tell Lady Arielle?’

Mirran hesitated. ‘I swear not to tell her, in so far as it does not endanger her life or Valour’s, by the Sun Goddess and all her light touches.’

Wy raised her eyebrows, surprised by the squire’s scrupulous commitment to honesty. She hated lying herself, but then she’d never have sworn an oath to anyone, especially not to someone like Lady Arielle. But Mirran seemed honest, and she liked that Valour’s life had been included in their stipulation.

‘Okay.’ She studied her. She certainly seemed like the type to worship the Sun Goddess. Witchfolk didn’t bother with deities, understanding that all power was natural, but Wy understood that some people needed a human face for their prayers even if she didn’t want that herself. She took a deep breath. ‘I’m still tending the blackwing. It’s weak from hunger and sick from eating rotten meat. I’m going back to it tonight.’

Mirran’s eyes widened. She looked to Lady Arielle, still testing her new arrows, then back at Wy. ‘And it submits to your care.’ Disapproval was written all over the words. Wy remembered Lady Arielle’s insistence that only nobles had the right to dragons. Perhaps her squire felt the same way.

Wy thought of the hissing, the spitting, and the time it sent her flying from the cliff-face. ‘I wouldn’t say so, no. But it hasn’t killed me yet.’ She smiled. ‘Not for lack of trying.’

‘You say that almost fondly.’ Mirran frowned.

Wy shrugged. ‘I have a bad habit of getting invested in helping creatures that hate me, or so my mother says. Do you have any advice for nursing a sick dragon?’

Mirran blinked. She looked surprised to be asked. ‘Well … I suppose I do, yes. I handle most of Valour’s care.’

Wy looked sidelong at Lady Arielle, now approaching them. ‘You don’t say.’

‘I can help you,’ Mirran blurted.

Wy startled, but tried to look unmoved. ‘You’re a Knight’s Squire, of course you could help me. But I don’t want Lady Arielle to know anything about the blackwing.’ She eyed the approaching Knight warily.

A touch at her wrist, feather-light. ‘I swore secrecy, didn’t I? I’ll meet you at the rock at the edge of the forest.’ She looked past her, nodding toward the border between Amys Mor and the empty wilds. ‘I’ll bring supplies.’

Wy only had a moment to decide. She studied Mirran, with her expensive surcoat and strange, lyrical accent. Like Lady Arielle, she inhabited a world of wealth and privilege that Wy neither understood nor wanted. But her love of Valour had shone through their entire interaction, and she seemed like the type to abide by their word.

‘I’m not from Amys Mor,’ said Wy.

‘Pardon?’ Mirran straightened her surcoat, looking anxiously toward Lady Arielle, then back at Wy.

‘I’m not Wydis of Amys Mor. I’m Wydis of the Empty Wilds. I’ll meet you at sundown.’ She looked the squire up and down. ‘Dress for mud.’

And then she turned to greet Lady Arielle with bared teeth.

 

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