The Rook

The Rook

Postby CherryStatic » Mon Apr 27, 2015 8:06 pm

"Why are there so many crows, Kel?"

Kellan followed his little sister's gaze towards the rooftops of the buildings that framed the streets of Myrken, finding countless beady eyes staring back at him. The blackbirds cocked their heads and watched the two of them, unblinking, cawing quietly amongst themselves. They reminded him of nothing so much as soldiers in rank. Glancing at the surrounding rooftops, he realized that they really were everywhere. Hundreds of them. He shivered, tightening his grip on Cassie's tiny hand.

"It's nothing. They show up every year to eat the new seed in the fields. You know that."

"But there are more than last year." she pressed, insistent. "I know there are. The other children say so, too."

"It's your imagination. Hush." He dragged her along, the handful of coins in his free hand sliding against each other and his sweaty palm. Even staring straight ahead, he could feel the cold scrutiny of the eyes on the two of them, piercing and unrelenting. He walked faster, pulling her with him, unable to shake the feeling that the birds were watching them and no one else.

"We're taking a shortcut." he said decidedly, his tongue darting out to wet his dry lips. He started towards an alleyway that would take them within a stone's throw of the marketplace. Cassie resisted, fighting his grip with what little strength she had.

"No, Kel! Ma told us not to leave the street!" she whined.

"It's fine." he said quietly, the hair on the back of his neck raising as the birds seemed to turn their heads as one to watch their disappearing act into the alley.

His mother always warned them to avoid the alleyways whenever she sent them to fetch things from the market. She claimed that they were unsafe for children, and oftentimes even adults. He had ignored the warning countless times in order to shave time from the trips back and forth, precious minutes that he would much rather spend playing. He had never before encountered anyone in the alley, and as a result had never been given a reason to heed his mother's advice. Now, removed from the studious gaze of the birds behind them, he began to relax. He reluctantly smiled at his reaction to the crows. They were just birds, nothing more.

A figure stepped smoothly from behind a busted crate, blocking their path.

He drew up short, his heart stopped cold in his chest, and pushed Cassie roughly behind him. The dim lighting in the alley obscured the shadowy form as it approached, feet clicking sharply against the cobblestone and echoing throughout the alley, the only sound that filled the tense silence. A long, weighty object was clasped in the shadow's hand, held like a walking stick so that the tip dangled a scant inch from the ground.

It was a woman, he realized, not remotely comforted by the recognition. She wore a dress so utterly black that it seemed to bleed into the surrounding shadows, the inky fabric catching what precious light found its way into the narrow passage in a glossy sheen. A pinned bustle of dark lace accented with silky ribbons on each hip sat above skirts that hugged her shapely thighs before flaring wide at the knees to fall to her hidden ankles. Her middle was trapped within a tightly laced corset that gave her an hourglass figure, pushing the milky swell of her boldly displayed cleavage up towards her snow white neck, which was adorned by a velvet choker. Ruffled lace hung from the shoulders of the sleeveless dress like curtains, giving way to slender gloves that crept past her elbows, baring a few inches of her pale arms to the eye, the scarcity of flesh making it seem almost tantalizing.

And there were feathers. Everywhere. Along the hem of skirts, flaring from the bangle-like cuffs that sat just above her wrists, the brocade that danced along the curve of her breasts in a parody of modesty, along the edges of what he now realized was a closed parasol held in her gloved hand, and dangling from her ears by tiny silver strands to brush against her porcelain collarbone.

"My, my, what a positively dreadful place for children to find themselves in." Her full lips, a dark shade of burgundy, seemed to slide around the words as she spoke them, her honeyed tone carrying through the silence like a low note on an piano. "I wonder, does your mother know that you like to wander through back alleys?"

He was slow to respond, his tongue like thick leather in his mouth. When he eventually found his voice, it was thin and scratchy with nerves. "We don't want no trouble. We're just on our way to the market."

"Ah." She seemed satisfied with the answer. The corners of her mouth pulled up. "You have coin, then, I presume?"

She spoke as a lady of nobility would, and dressed the same. He unconsciously clenched his fist tighter around the money he held. Cassie peered around his waist with round eyes, staring at the woman's exquisitely cut jaw-length hair, not a strand out of place. She had never seen hair so pretty or shiny on a woman.

"It's just a few coppers." he muttered uncertainly.

"Well, let's see, then." she beckoned with one crooked, gloved finger. When he didn't move, she moved both hands to the pommel of her parasol, the silver tip tapping lightly against the cobblestone. "Come now, little sparrow, I just want a look."

He hesitated for several seconds before haltingly extending his hand and uncurling his fingers. The woman leaned forward to peer down into his palm, where five dull coins winked up at her.

"Oh my." she murmured, narrowing her heavily mascaraed eyes at the money, dark lashes shading decidedly golden irises. "I'm afraid you're mistaken, my love. You have four coppers, not five."

He blinked at her, not understanding. He glanced at the coins. She gingerly plucked one from his hand, turning it over in her fingers. He watched, resisting the urge to snatch it back from her.

"Oh, yes, indeed." she mused, examining the coin. "Why, this isn't a copper at all. It's just very dirty."

She began to rub the coin between gloved fingers, gently at first, then with more force. As he watched, his eyes widened, and Cassie let out a gasp of wonder at his hip. The coin was no longer a muddy-orange color, but glinted golden in stark contrast against her dark fingertips. She examined her handiwork and, seemingly content, dropped it into his palm to join the others.

"How did you do that?" he breathed, forgetting the nervousness that had gripped him only moments before. The woman smiled at his words, lofting thin, perfect eyebrows.

"I simply rubbed the coin, love. A stroke of good fortune, I'm sure you will agree. After all, had you not met me, here, in this alley, you would have traded that coin away for scraps at the market."

He nodded dumbly, still staring at the gold piece. It was Cassie who spoke up: "Are you a witch?"

The woman's smile widened the slightest bit, her eyes gleaming. "Now there's an idea. Do you believe in witches, little dove?"

The girl stared mutely up at her for a moment before nodding silently. The woman regarded the two of them for a long moment, her expression polite. Finally, her eyes slid shut, her smile kind.

"I do so hate to disappoint you, my dear, but I am afraid that I am just a simple woman here to see an old friend. Nothing more, nothing less." So saying, she produced a single glossy black feather from somewhere, holding it out towards the girl. "But you are more than welcome to one of my good luck charms. Would you like that?"

Cassie took the feather in her tiny hand and smiled gratefully up at the woman. "Thank you, lady. It's beautiful!"

The woman returned her smile and looked to Kellan. "I fear that I've delayed you long enough, young man. You should finish your errand now. It wouldn't do to keep your mother waiting, now would it?"

He nodded, taking Cassie's hand once more. "Thank you, miss."

She said nothing as they moved past her, watching them go with an amused expression. Children such as they were quite precious, in her opinion. Such curious little creatures.

There was the sound of wings fluttering overhead, and she glanced up as a crow navigated the tight weave of the alleyway towards her. Extending an arm, she offered it a perch that it gladly accepted, cocking its head to stare at her and croak deep in its throat. She ran a finger over its inky head with a thin smile.

"It's good to be back."
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