Feathers

Re: Feathers

Postby Niabh » Mon Mar 08, 2021 6:44 am

The raven let out a watery little sigh. “You didn’t repeat it.”

He hadn’t really expected him to; he was already familiar with the way Glenn and the lady conversed. But he at least gave enough to seem as if he understood the warning, and the raven shared enough of Glenn’s urgency to accept bare minimum compliance rather than arguing the point. Pick your battles.

The raven’s sharp head tipped down to regard Glenn’s hand, braced flat upon the table. Then upward, with the same oddly incurious intensity, to look into the man’s face. In that moment, the raven seemed as much a cypher as any wild creature, but an odd electricity accompanied the look and the movement: a sense of alliance that neither contained sympathy nor precluded it. A feeling of being chosen. It almost, but not quite, dispelled when he spoke next.

“That’s just it, though. You know how she is with the big guy. Think of how important something has to be if she’d even prank him for it. That’s what we’re up against. Maybe it’s different now, the way she is. It’s like her North’s shifted. The thing that bothers me is that before, her North was always back home. Even with the kid, she wanted the kid back home, too; that’s the way she always talked about it. Now it feels like her North’s him.”

There was a string or a stray hair or something caught under a raised splinter in the table’s surface. It bugged him. It was going to keep bugging him until he plucked it. This was always the danger with ravens. As much as he tried to keep his focus, his head remained pointed toward Glenn while his feet crept along in a sidelong half-circle to get in front of the splinter, to steal it when Glenn wasn’t paying attention. The small charge between them remained, thin but palpable. It would never quite leave again.

“So where do we go from here? You said you want to try to keep her writing to knock her head loose. I was gonner catch her the next time she goes out to clean up. I’m not gonner tell her she needs to get away from the big guy, but I think maybe if I can kinda work the idea into the conversation…what are we doin’ for the spring, wouldn’t it be nice to have your own place again…you know. Make her think about the future. She’s got to be thinkin’ something about it; otherwise she wouldn’t be botherin’ to salvage her stuff. Right?”
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Re: Feathers

Postby Glenn » Mon Mar 08, 2021 10:06 am

Glenn had not complied. He not repeated. He'd not agreed. Instead, he raised, upped the ante, by stating a simple fact. If Fionnuala thought this was her destiny, there would be no winning the day. Her exile was not of her making, but that she was sent to Myrken of all places, was not a haphazard thing to her. If she thought the child was the thing, the sole reason she was here, there would be nothing they could do but oppose her or assist her. If it was Catch and not the child, if it was seeking out new and different ways to interact with mankind to help repopulate her people, if it was to come back with a bevy of iron weapons, if it was literally anything else, or at least the sheer possibility of something else, there would be hope.

As it was, he wasn't sure there was hope. Even if there was, it almost certainly wouldn't be easy, but appealing to her sense of duty and sense of destiny would be the way to go.

For now he was just glad he had gotten out of the ring thing without any more explanation. That left him time and space to think of the true questions at hand. He was comfortable around Benedict, even in such a strange time and speaking of such weighty things. It meant that he didn't notice whatever the bird was doing. It would have been very different if it was Finn there instead.

Finally, he looked back towards the fidgety winged envoy with whom he broke bread (or cakes, at least). "We don't have all the time in the world. Her people will be here. She might have something in play for the child. Go back, question her as you will, give her a day or so to write again. If she doesn't, come back anyway and I'll write her a letter and tell you the wholly truthful things to say as you deliver it, alright?"
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Re: Feathers

Postby Niabh » Tue Mar 09, 2021 3:23 am

While it could not be conclusively determined that the raven triggered the early-morning storm that exploded over Myrken two days later, or that the storm itself caused the raven to appear, it was certain that they arrived around the same time. Hail rattled against the shutters and roof slates, and the streets ran with ankle-deep water in no time at all. The thunder did not boom, but banged: short, sharp, deafening reports.

The raven, for once, appeared unruffled. The hail had buffeted him but the rain itself ran off his back as if down oilcloth—a small dark sailor on a rough sea. The letter, through means unknowable, was dry, though the writing inside was grey pencil, giving it a foggy impermanence.

“It didn’t go well,” said the raven without preamble. “She guessed you put me up to it. I had to lie. Like, a lot. Like one of those ones where you backtrack and say ‘of course he put me up to it, he’s worried about you, last time he saw you half your face was burned off.’ She didn’t buy it. Apparently she doesn’t believe you worry about anything, even when someone’s face is burned off.”
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Re: Feathers

Postby Glenn » Tue Mar 09, 2021 7:41 am

Glenn did not seem particularly upset. Bemused would be a better word, both with the letter he had received, disassociated as it was from both pertinent things and true familiarity, and the efforts of the bird. "It wasn't the time to lie. You were supposed to lay the foundation for the next conversation and the lie there. I suppose it's a good thing that she was present enough to argue with you. Small mercies."

There was no more plotting or planning to do. There was little point in either of them apologizing. The notion vaguely passed through his thoughts when he realized that knowing more of the actual plan might have served Benedict well, but it was too late for that anyway. "I'm going to have to solve this with a letter."

So he got down to work.

Three letters now. Three letters and one put upon raven, but let's focus on the letters. I play with it sometimes, the rule of three, and we find it in nature, and we find it in religious beliefs, and we find it in literature and other places as well. With the third, you summon me. You summon a letter in return. I could say that, say it with a wry smile, and what would you do? Would you deny it?

When you wielded power, his or your own, and you could change anything and everything, whatever world you would have created unilaterally would have been a meaningless one. I mean this quite literally. It would have had no greater meaning. When we do things alone, we have nothing to compare them to, nothing to weigh them against. Nothing has meaning in and of itself, without context, without history, without society. The rule of three does not exist in nature. Only our perception of three things so grouped does. We come together and decide what matters, what has meaning, what is important. The more voices that have a say, the more meaning we can derive.

It must be the same way with you and yours, glams overlapping and overlaying into a harmony, into a broader, wider, more imaginative, more vibrant, more vivid world. You could have made anything but none of that will matter nearly as much as what we might make together, what you might make with your people, even be it not so grand and not so neat and not so magical.

As for the house that's been rebuilt one piece at a time. Here's my answer: it doesn't matter. What matters is knowing who you are now, knowing the house, as it is now, and to understand the differences from the beginning to where you are now. I repeat: what matters is knowing the house that it is. What matters is remembering the house that it was. What matters is understanding the differences. It doesn't matter if it's the same house or not. It just matters if it keeps you warm, if it is sturdy, if you feel welcome there, if it makes life for those inside it better and not worse. More or less can be decided by knowing the old house. How and why can be decided by understanding the changes. All of that can help you decide what is next, for the house will be changed more before it's all through.

In the ways that matter, my people reject me, so I feel some of these distinctions well. In the ways that matter, your people are far distant. I came back to Myrken on the promise of you. Not forever, not even or long, but frequent and regular, an unveiling after years of meaningful words, a true connection. You promised me that I would not be alone. Well, I am alone now without you. By the end, I wanted your presence by a fire more even than I wanted theirs. There would be time enough to have theirs again once you were gone, but it was yours that brought me back here and now I am robbed of yours and theirs both.

You find yourself in a timeless, senseless peace, but isn't what the two of us deserve, truly deserve, the experience of our pleasant struggle in person? Finally. What has it been all building towards if not that? It's not winter turned to spring. It's an endless dusk that you've become drunk on and I, for one, need your dawn. Surrounded by my people I remain alone. More than that. Absent you, I am truly lonely.

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Re: Feathers

Postby Niabh » Wed Mar 10, 2021 3:11 am

The raven waited with taut, fraying patience as the pen went scritch-scritch-scratch across the page. He was getting better at this. Now he could tell the difference between the notes Glenn wrote to himself and ones intended for other people, though he found he couldn’t watch the pen as it moved; he fell to swaying hypnotically along with it, with a little jerk whenever it jumped to the next line. The only questions he had were questions he already knew the answer to: didn’t she ask you not to do this? did she finally say you could? Tultharian questions, in other words, and not worth the asking.

When Glenn was finished and the ink dried, the raven stepped forward to receive it, warily, as if it was going to taste bad. “Sometimes your definition of ‘solve’ is ‘escalate,’” he pointed out. “I didn’t lie exactly. I said you were worried. Maybe I should’ve said concerned. She would’ve believed concerned. I was just tryin’ like I said, to make her think about what we were gonner do, moving forward. And also hint-hinting about gettin’ some distance from the big guy. Maybe I don’t hint-hint so good.”
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Re: Feathers

Postby Glenn » Wed Mar 10, 2021 5:19 am

If the raven was to lie, or to stretch the truth, or for the sake of all of them, simply to dissemble, then an optimistic end result of that would have been getting Glenn permission to write. As it was, he was being more playful than apologetic about it, neither asking for permission nor forgiveness, but just jumping into the breach. Three times was many times when you thought about it, and obviously, he had.

"You don't hint-hint so good. That's fine. It would muddy your other strengths as a courier. Not all of us can be all things. I'm sure there are a few dozen things you'd rather I be occasionally." Like now, for instance, even if there had been some gratitude that Glenn wasn't abandoning this entire endeavor over what he had learned. "And yes, sometimes you have to topple the board. I won't toss endless swordsmanship metaphors at you, but there's opportunity in escalation and we need opportunity. Things can't carry on as they are. Anyway, Benedict, where you got it wrong is by focusing on my concern about her. You needed to instead express your about me."

He gave the bird a wane, slightly exasperated smile and then tapped the newly written letter a few times. "It's all in here."
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Re: Feathers

Postby Niabh » Wed Mar 10, 2021 5:31 am

The raven stared blankly at the tapping finger on the letter, then looked equally blankly up at Glenn. In fairness, most of his expressions were blank. If Glenn wanted to read lack of comprehension in it, or exasperation, or swift comprehension of purpose, he was free to pick whichever emotion seemed most likely. Mostly the raven just had a sinking feeling. As if to underscore it, outside thunder rumbled ominously—further away, but reminding the world it was still out there.

“Last time she got concerned about you, we ended up with some hare-brained scheme to break you out of prison and half the Woods burned down,” he complained. “How about next time we get our stories straight before you send me in? It saves me from improvising.”
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Re: Feathers

Postby Glenn » Thu Mar 11, 2021 7:47 am

"I'd say those are dubious correlations. Though the plan was uniquely terrible," it was how the raven had moved that had been so offputting. He seemed to enjoy the lark of it but it was a bit like watching a leg bend the wrong way. The human mind simply wasn't set up to revisit such a thing. "We're not looking for a complex plan now, just for her to leave Catch for long enough to come back to her senses."

There was nothing at all complex about this plan. There wasn't any more lying either, any more stories to get straight. "I'm telling her a truth. The one I told you. Look, things aren't going well. I came here thinking one thing might happen and it's been worse than the opposite. I'm in a worse state than I was in Razasan, because then at least there were letters. With her, of course, but not just with her. I could even send a letter back to Myrken but now if I want to talk to someone on the street, they think of the woods and wonder what happened. It's harder. And I've told her as such. Here, listen."

And without any further warning, he began to read the last two paragraphs of his letter aloud.
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Re: Feathers

Postby Niabh » Thu Mar 11, 2021 8:27 am

“Ah…unless this is the sort of thing you two write to each other all the time and I just don’t know about it? Comin’ from you, that sounds…”

Phony as hell was the first phrase that crept up his craw. Like a bigger lie than the one I told her, was the next, which at least had the virtue of being slightly more diplomatic, since it lumped the pair of them together. Almost like a decent person was the third, but that one was practically an insult and this hesitation was now verging on the point where anything that came out next was going to sound bad so he might as well spit something out rather than leave it hanging.

“Uncharacteristic,” he finished, stumbling at last onto a single charitable term. “Look, she didn’t set the Woods on fire and neither did you. You couldn’t’ve anyway, could you? They were already on fire when you got there. That was Gloria’s people and now it sounds like Gloria’s keepin’ her damn mouth shut and stayin’ clear of it and lettin’ everyone come to their own conclusions. But there were a shitload of people there that day. At least one of ’em must’ve known that was the plan. All you need to do is find one of them that’ll talk and get ’em to clear what’s left of your name. Or maybe not you. You do it, they’ll just think you talked ’em into it.”

He was getting off the subject, in part because the whole fire thing had been bugging him since it happened, in part because he didn’t want to address the subject. Finally he let out another watery sigh. “I dunno. You two have been doin’ this letter thing a long time. I trust you. But I think…the way she is now, this could backfire. Or it might not do anything. Either way, I deliver it and you start comin’ up with a backup plan. Maybe a backup to the backup.”
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Re: Feathers

Postby Glenn » Thu Mar 11, 2021 9:08 am

"Be glad I didn't read you the first half of the letter."

There was a pause, a long, awkward pause, and it wasn't until Benedict chose his word that Glenn bestowed upon him a very small smile. After that, he let him run his mouth (beak) for quite a few moments more. "Are you done? Yes? Good. In that case," he began, still smiling, though, as noted, it was a small thing, "let me explain what she'd think, based on our letters, if she was her usual self. She would think that this truth I decided to bestow upon her was more expedient in accomplishing my goal than a hundred other easier truths I might express to her. She'd think that I bestowed it upon her because it was most expedient, not because of any particular personal growth that I might have gone through. She'd see a desperation in it, but not in its own sake, simply for my choice to express it. She might resent the truth and be frustrated with it, but she'd absolutely know it to be truth, and she could feel a sort of churning, writhing pity for me all the more as it was the only circumstance that I could express it for her, but she absolutely, unquestionably, could not deny it."

All of that might make the raven wonder just what he had been missing. Burnie was merciless in how he continued. "Now, how she responds is a good question. Even in normal times, it could be a few different things. She might come to see me or summon me to her, yes. That wasn't an option before generally. She might set up some sort of elaborate game to test my truth or try to respond to it, come in disguise or send me some sort of hastily suborned agent. She might find some more subtle way to try to punish me for my insolence and cheek and disregard for my own emotional health. It's a range, but in all cases, she'd be thinking of something other than Catch and would act upon that thing. If you send this and she does none of that, then things are as dire as they could be."
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Re: Feathers

Postby Niabh » Thu Mar 11, 2021 1:55 pm

In the silence, the rain came hissing down. Made you shiver, thinking about going back into it. Made you reconsider what you were going back into. The raven spoke slowly, head drooping.

“Right. So. I just want you to know, that’s shitty. That is a really shitty plan, and presumptuous. Also probably effective, one way or another. It’s very you, in other words. But again, I feel morally obliged to tell you that that is a really shitty game to play with someone and if she wasn’t in the state she’s in…”

He paused again, thinking about the state she was in.

“There’s another outcome that doesn’t seem to have crossed your mind. If she figgers out you jerked her around this way, it might be the push she needs to cut you off. I don’t know how much she trusts you now, but she’s not going to trust you again. That means she’s gonner align herself even more with the big guy, since he already doesn’t trust you as far as he could throw you.” Figuratively speaking. Speaking literally, the big guy could probably skip Glenn across the lake like a rock. “If you meant a word of what you wrote there, that matters to you. Even if it just means we’ve come to the end of that particular line of scheming, it matters to you. I wonder which one matters more. Gimme the damn letter.”
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Re: Feathers

Postby Glenn » Thu Mar 11, 2021 2:04 pm

"Benedict." Direct, curt even, as he pushed the letter forward. "Understand this," the raven had seen this before, seen it enough, not often, but enough. This was how Glenn spoke when he was up against something. Catch maybe, or Gloria, or a god, though he certainly hadn't seen that as of yet. Burnie didn't differentiate, save for that he tended to show the god less respect. "While I appreciate your opinion, while I value your judgment, of me, of her, and of morality, that is the end of the last letter out of hundreds. I told you her presumed response. You did not deny that if she was in her right mind, it would be her presumed response. You didn't suggest that I cut her off, not this time at least," suggesting that at some point or another the bird had done so.

Direct as his words were, his gaze was anything but; it wasn't because he was admonished; it wasn't because he felt shame; no, it was for the bird's sake and likely both of them knew it even if it didn't make either feel better. "She didn't believe you when you expressed my concern. That's because how you did it. This letter? This she will believe. Because of how I am presenting it to her. She'll see the ploy and she'll hold to her heart the truth inside of it. Just like how I'd hold to mine the playful, wrathful, obsessively engaged efforts that she'd go to in order to get me back for it and to, at the same time, she will embrace the value behind the truth like a dragon hoarding a treasure."

He placed his elbow upon his desk, his palm pressing up, and he leaned his neck into that open hand. "And you can tell her that too after she's read it."
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Re: Feathers

Postby Niabh » Thu Mar 11, 2021 2:16 pm

“Yeah, no.” He pinched the letter in his beak, balanced it, then thrust it under one wing, which seemed to swallow it whole. All the while he slowly backed toward the table’s edge. “I don’t think I’m going to tell her that part. Things are gonner be stormy enough as it is.”

On the cold windowsill the raven hissed into black filaments, oozed through the cracks, and was gone.


* * *


The rain continued until well after sunset, when his door rattled on its hinges from three fierce bangs on the opposite side, as if the storm had grown a fist.

Fionn. Shaking with cold, her hair plastered to her cheeks, clothes glossed dark with rainwater, black eyes blazing.
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Re: Feathers

Postby Glenn » Fri Mar 12, 2021 1:39 am

Some memories were short in Myrken Wood, others quite long. To be more specific, the memories of certain things could last for a quite a long time and others no time at all. This particular townhouse on Haberdasher's Row had significance but few in Myrkentown could tell you exactly why. There was no personal slight involved. There was no good, meaty story to it. Fifteen years ago the Meetinghouse had burned down. For almost an entire year, the entire government of Myrken was stuffed into this building before it had been moved out to a warehouse and eventually to the newly constructed replacement Meetinghouse. That move had taken place a few scant months after Burnie arrived to the province, so whatever connection he had with the building was purely symbolic in nature. Or perhaps opportunistic, an unused piece of real estate he had been able to purchase through means only mostly fair while he was governor. Regardless, it was a house, if not a home, and that was all he needed for now. For the government, it hadn't been nearly enough, uncomfortable close confines. It was the opposite for Burnie, more than he needed, but the location was good and the hassle had been minimal.

She didn't have to wait long at that door, but the figure that opened it gave every sign of having recently been asleep. He wore grey trousers, a grey tunic of sorts over it, pyjamas of the sort that were rather rare in Myrken but would be more easily found in Razasan or elsewhere. His hair was mussed, his eyes just a little bleary, though they contained within them more of a smile than the serious line of his lips. "Come in." He said simply but firmly, as if those two words were full of portent. A moment later, though, he raised a hand. "Wait. This is important." Normally, making her wait further would be no mercy, but that didn't stop him. Past the door was a hallway, which he stood in now. Off the hallway were various rooms. Upon its floor was a faded rug that stretched its distance. He lifted that rug up now revealing floorboards, yes, but ones that wobbled, that had seen some precise damage as of late. Once revealed, however, it was obvious that "as of late" covered a longer period of time than just this evening. It had been careful work, the removing of each and every iron nail down the length of the hallway. While she could only see the start of it from the small piece of rug he had lifted, perhaps she could feel even more.

He held out a hand. "It's important you stay on the path," and that was Glenn Burnie, wasn't it? He could say such a thing, with all of its double meaning and maddening inversion and do so with a completely straight face. "I'll guide you. Come with me."
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Re: Feathers

Postby Niabh » Fri Mar 12, 2021 2:28 am

For all her expression changed, he might not have spoken at all. The blackness of her eyes concealed whether or not her gaze changed direction when he bent to pull back the carpet. Waiting was no longer a matter of patience or impatience. The only sound from her was her breathing, harsh and shaking through chattering teeth, as though she had run all the way there. Around her throat, the torc gleamed like a twisted gold noose.

The raven had exaggerated in saying she looked the baobhan-sith, but the wet crimson blouse and thin trousers were unforgiving in what they revealed: not yet emaciated, but the ghosts of bones lurked below the surface and shallow shadows marked where there once was fullness in her face. Her hair was parted down the center in a way that did not quite conceal the stubbled half of her scalp or the truncated nub of her left ear. Scars glistened like a splatter of grease on the side of her face and neck, vanished down her collar, and reappeared on the back of the hand she offered him.
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