Blackwing Witch (Chapter 14: Welcome)

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 Fourteen: Welcome

Wy drifted in a cloud of cinnamon and sage. She reached out her arms and felt feathers brush her face, as smooth and strong as silk.

Distantly, she heard her sisters’ voices. ‘May the air carry you gently,’ said Yelen, her voice low and sweet.

‘And may the fire keep your spark burning,’ said Ilvisar, high and sharp.

Wy sighed, overcome by a feeling of peace. She unfurled her wings and flew off into the sweet-smelling sky.

Eventually, consciousness called her back. She stirred, hissing at the pain in her side, but when her hands went to the wound she found not her bulky rag bandages but a neat poultice and wrap. She was wearing unfamiliar leggings and her top was bare save for a breastband. She sat up, and her hair fell in a neat plait down her back.

She was on a raised pallet in a tent of bent willow poles and animal hide. Large and spacious, with shelves lined with books and boxes spilling over with tools and food, and herbs and flowers hanging from the poles to dry. Two sticks of incense burned in a bowl nearby, contributing to her strange dreams.

She pulled a blanket from the palle and wrapped it around her shoulders. Sitting up caused her to wince, but she didn’t want to just wait here. The peacefulness of her sleep had vanished, leaving her anxious and uncertain, in unfamiliar territory. Had she really heard her sisters’ voices, or had that just been the dream?

She staggered to the flap and peered outside. A well-established campsite of large animal-hide tents around a large central fire, now burned to embers in the midday sun. A long, skinny dog basked in a stretch of sunlight, its spidery limbs stretched and its tongue lolling. A cat chased a little boy past the far tent, who screamed and laughed.

Relief flooded her, so overpowering that he had to grab the tent pole to stop her knees from giving in. This was Carthadin of the Long Walk’s camp — the witch mentor of her sisters.

‘Ilvisar?’ she called. Her voice was rough form disuse, each word a thorn in her throat. She tried again. ‘Yelen! Ilvisar!’

The little boy peered at her from behind the far tent. He had dark brown skin and long black hair tied into a neat topknot. ‘Illy! Yelly! The dragonlady is awake!’ He hung back, unwilling to approach.

Dragonlady?

A teen with long pink hair appeared. ‘Wy! Oh thank the ever-changing skies!’ She rushed out to her, her dress trailing in her wake, and threw her arms around her.

‘Ow! Ill … my wounds.’ She tried to pull free from her sister’s grasp.

‘Oh! Sorry … you don’t even like hugs when you’re well, do you?’ She stepped back, raising her hands in surrender, but she still beamed at her.

Wy looked down and wrung her hands. She’d missed Ilvisar. It had been a few months since she’d last seen her sisters, though and she wasn’t sure what to do with herself. What was okay and what wasn’t.

She wanted to say thank you. She wanted to say she’d missed her, to tell her how much more empty the empty wilds were without her sisters. But words didn’t seem big enough to express that — and anyway, she knew Yelen and Ilvisar were both far too busy to miss their awkward older sister.

‘Where’s Yelen?’ she said instead.

Ilvisar shrugged, her eyes scanning the edge of the camp. Her hair might be pink, but her eyes were just as dark as Wy’s. Their mother’s eyes. ‘She’s around here somewhere,’ said Ilvisar. Her eyes went to Wy’s waist. ‘Want me to check your dressings?’

‘And a dress would be nice,’ Wy said.

Ilvisar laughed and ushered her back into the tent. Witchfolk had never much minded how much or little people wore, but Wy found clothing a reassuring protection. Even airflow on bare skin sometimes seemed a maddening discomfort.

She sat back on the raised pallet while her sister peeled back the poultice with long, practiced fingers. She flinched, more from the touch than from pain, but if Ilvisar noticed, she made no sign.

‘Always so quiet,’ Ilvisar murmured. ‘Who would have thought you’d arrive with no notice and so much fanfare.’

‘You … you saw the blackwing, then?’

Ilvisar laughed. ‘Saw it! It nearly took my head off.’

Wy winced. As tame as Spite had become with her, she could still very much imagine her attacking anyone else.

Ilvisar seemed not to notice. ‘Yelen went mad and chased it off, of course. It won’t surprise you that even a feral dragon would flee before her temper.’ Her smile faltered as she noticed Wy’s expression for the first time. ‘It’s okay, Wy. Nobody was hurt. How did you ever manage to get on the back of a blackwing, anyway?’

‘It’s a long story.’ Wy hugged blanket tighter around her shoulders.

‘Great! I love stories.’ Ilvisar took Wy’s hand and showed her where to put pressure. ‘I need to swab and change this anyway. Go right ahead.’

So Wy did. Haltingly, she told of her meeting with Spite, her encounter with Lady Arielle, seeking advice from Mirran, and then her flight to save Spike, first on foot and then on dragonback. As she spoke, her other sister came through the flap and stood and listened. A little grey cat came with her, curling about her ankles and watching with wide blue eyes.

When she was done, Ilvisar tied the last bandage into place and handed her a loose-knit grey patchwork dress. ‘I think that’s the longest I’ve ever heard you speak,’ Ilvisar said.

‘I don’t know,’ said Yelen. Her voice was syrup-smooth, a contrast to Ilvisar’s bird-like sharpness. She toyed with the end of a flame-coloured plait, where the orange shifted into a glaring yellow. ‘Wy always has a lot to say if you ask her about whatever wild animal she’s nursing, and this was definitely a wild animal story.’ Her cat reached up to pat her knee; she picked him up and put him on her shoulder, where he purred with eyes slitted in satisfaction.

‘She’s gone now, so I suppose it doesn’t matter.’ Wy swallowed hard on the word ‘gone’. ‘But if you see a blackwing nearby … don’t shoot it? Just let me know first. Please.’

The words were hard to say. The idea of anyone hurting Spite, even in self-defense, was intolerable. The idea that she might never see her again — that their brief, strange encounter was over — pained her as surely as her wound.

Her sisters exchanged a look. For twin sisters, they could hardly look more different — Ilvisar was tall and broad and soft, and Yelen was short and narrow-boned and only ever one sarcastic comment away from elbowing you in the ribs. But they had a closeness that Wy envied, and seemed able to communicate with an ease Wy couldn’t understand. Once again, she felt shut out of the sisterly relationship, and whatever their look meant, she didn’t know and couldn’t guess.

‘Get some more rest, Wy.’ Ilvisar stood up and smoothed the skirts of her dress. ‘I’ll be back in an hour.’

‘And don’t get all in a twist about that over-sized crow,’ said Yelen, scritching her shoulder-cat behind the ears. ‘If we see it, we’ll give you a shout.’

‘Just be shouting generally,’ Ilvisar added with a wry smile.

‘Screaming, even.’

Wy tried to summon a smile. ‘Thanks.’

And then her sisters were gone, and Wy was alone in the tent. As she lay back on the pallet, she thought about Spite. About how she’d attacked her sister. About how she’d somehow gotten Wy to safety even when Wy hadn’t been conscious to guide her. About how she’d saved her life … again.

 

 

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