Finished with lunch, Seonaid and Fearchar took up their positions on the rug once more. “You have surely led a remarkable life, Eoin.” Seonaid drank from her cup.
Eoin nodded reluctantly. I had hoped, running as far as I could, that my boys and I would be safe, he explained. He sipped at another cup of qahva. Setting it aside, he paced the length of the house before settling his back against the main door frame to study the couple on his rug.
Fearchar glanced at his wife to study her reaction before turning back to the doc. “The slavers didn’t take your hairstick or your torc?” The handyman pointed to Eoin’s neck.
Eoin fingered the heavy gold. I had dropped the bracelet in my house by accident when I tried to hide my boys before we ran to try to escape the flames and the slavers. I retrieved it later, on my return here. I wanted to see Egret Nest, what had become of it. I had a jeweller in Morocco straiten it for me, seeing as I couldn’t wear it with the bracers.
The slavers thought about killing me to get my torc off. One man was too intelligent to let the rest do that. My sons and I were too different, even for Egret Nest housing a wide variety of people. The shape of our face, my tattoos, the torc were enough to make that man suspicious. The boys can speak Xhosa, Maba and Komuz – what the people of Egret Nest spoke. That’s all they had ever known, outside of my internal communication.
For me, they never gave me an opportunity to touch them outright after that blow. I was just the mute doctor chained to everyone else. They took my necklaces, my sash, my kente, everything that the Egret Nest used to recognize my status as their medicine man. Masud knew when he would make a deal on the valuable oddities. He grimaced at the thought of the old man. He drank deeply from his cup at the thought.
Seonaid stumbled through the explanation, some of the words still unfamiliar. “You speak our language well enough in here.” She pointed out, tapping her skull. “Why do you use the Norman’s language with your hands?”
He looked down at the milky white skin of his knuckles. His forefinger and middle finger were still stained blue, though the brilliant depth of the shade had lightened with a good scrub. He turned them over, the light blush of colour across his palms barely noticeable in the house’s dark. Henri, he signed the man’s name.
“Henri?” Seonaid reached out her hand to Eoin, wanting to know more. He did not reach out to her. He stared down at his bracers sullenly. She retracted her hands and laid them in her lap, waiting.
Death, you are familiar with. Destruction you have seen. But have you ever watched the life leave a body that continues walking? Have you ever witnessed unending terror that breaks the soul? What came after Amina and Tau and Egret Nest was a new level of horror that I could never imagine humans could possibly reach. Living on this Isle, away from the mainland and the things they did, I wasn’t aware that such atrocities could possibly even exist. I thought the world had come unhinged, his fingers slumped. Seonaid made her best explanation for Fearchar, but they both knew what he had said had more depth than what she could understand.
“Ye dinnae ‘ave ta show us.” Fearchar eased the man’s trembling.
Eoin shook his head. He rubbed his splotchy face with his hands and pulled his hair over his shoulder to brush through it for a minute. They let him comfort himself, waiting patiently for when he would open up again. He carefully plated the length into a thick braid and twisted it upon his head, pushing his hairstick back into it to hold it out of the way. I must leave for a bit.
“Where are you off to in this weather? You’ll freeze.” Fearchar heaved himself off the rug and brushed off his kilt. Eoin turned to his bags and rummaged out the remainder of his clothing, padding himself in warmth. “Chief, yer not goin’ out in this.” Fearchar touched Eoin’s hand to draw his attention. A massive bird flew at him in the void. He ducked, pulling away from the contact. “What was that?” Fearchar demanded, trying to get a handle on his heartbeat.
“Who’s Vanora? I don’t know anyone in the village with that name.” Seonaid sat up with interest.
Vanora is my teachdaire spiorad. I need to see to her today. She has been left alone too long. He gathered up his cloak and mask and slipped his gloves on.
“A teachdair spiorad? Like an angel?” Fearchar tried to put his finger on the unusual term.
She is my way of communicating to the Woods. I thought she was long dead, slaughtered by the Dalerochs. Why they’ve kept her, I do not know. She is in poor condition and should be seen to before I continue with my explanations.
“This bird in your head is real? Alive?” Fearchar rushed to put on his boots and a heavy knit sweater over his shirt and kilt.
I found her last night in the mews after you went to the village. I left her with food, but it will have solidified. I have nowhere to put her here to watch for her health. She is poorly. I need to go.
“Right, Chief, right. I’ll come with you.” Fearchar tossed his cloak on and pilfered his wife’s larder for a few handfuls of dried meat.
Eoin and Fearchar returned to the old house on the hill.
“Where’s this mews you were talking about?” Fearchar demanded. Eoin motioned the man around to the back through a path that would not be seen from the road. The handyman paused in surprise at the building. “I always thought this was the summer kitchens.”
Eoin shrugged and went to the barred window to poke at the rug. A raspy cry announced the bird had lived through the storm. Fearchar crowded him to see in. Eoin slipped to the side, giving the man more room. He went to the door and opened it softly, whistling his presence. The bird returned a pleased call. The room was not much warmer than the outside, but the wind was cut down. As he had suspected, her feed had frozen solid. Fearchar peered into the door to watch the man pull back his hood and mask. The bird bobbed at the movement, intrigued. It crooned and clicked at his presence. Eoin worked the bird to his glove and gave her a handful of the dried ration Fearchar had provided.
“She’s a gorgeous beasty, if not for the missing feathers.” Fearchar slipped in. Vanora spotted him, spread her wings and hissed. He backed up to the door.
Not like men.
“What do you mean not like men? You’re holding her.”
Liked my wife.
“Ah. She’s partial.” Fearchar caught the single-hand remarks, now that Eoin’s other hand was tied up with a bird in it. “Should have let Seonaid come up. She’d a’ liked the lady.”
Eoin glanced at Fearchar. His voice had gone soft, mesmerized by the creature in his hand. Vanora had a way of captivating people. He smirked and nodded. It would have been good to bring Seonaid. Vanora would have liked her.
“What are we to do with your partner?” Fearchar pulled another handful of meat from his pouch. Vanora spotted the vitals, her head swirling to verify its location. “She’s not going to fly at me, is she, if I give this to you?”
Slow. Eoin encouraged Vanora off his hand and walked back to Fearchar. Do you want to see if she’ll remove your eyes?
Fearchar paled at the proposition. “You’d let me?”
Eoin pulled his left glove off, the red bobble swinging, catching the light filtering through the ceiling. He handed it to Fearchar, who slipped it on. Good time to see if she still detests men. Fearchar, though, was not paying attention to Eoin’s hands as he cinched the glove on. Eoin shifted to stand in front of Fearchar, keeping an eye on the bird focused on the food in Fearchar’s hand.
He showed Fearchar how to let her perch in the void, giving him a demonstration with his memory of Vanora before trying it with the real beast. “Be gentle but confident. Give her the top of your hand and keep your arm in a bit. It’s easier for her to balance almost on the top of your thumb. If you drop your hand, she’ll start climbing your arm, and without leather, her talons will go through your clothes.”
“Why does she not fly to you when you make the same whistle?” Fearchar asked when Eoin released him, checking his stance.
She had the whole building length to fly, but if she has not been allowed to free fly in years, and very little incentive or interaction…? They are intelligent creatures and need stimulation. I’m amazed she hasn’t died.
“How old is she?” Fearchar mimicked Eoin’s whistle, coming forward close enough to try encouraging the skittish bird onto his gloved hand. Vanora shifted away from him, moving down the pole to the other side to step down. “Do I pursue her, or what?”
Leave her for now. She’s done. We’ll leave food for her here. I need to come back tomorrow to make sure she eats properly. Eoin’s shoulders sagged. He could not expect miracles. He pointed Fearchar to where he could leave the extra scraps of food.
“Can we bring Seonaid next time?” Fearchar’s eyes glistened with amused interest. Eoin nodded, a smile at the corners of his lips. If only he could laugh like he used to. Fearchar exited the mews after Eoin.
That’s up to her if she wants to see Vanora. “Shall we head back, or do you need to do more here?” Fearchar glanced about the space, the wind pushing ice into his clothes. Eoin motioned him down to the road. “Guess you’re done.”
Chapel Orahamm (C) 2022-2023. All Rights Reserved.
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