Fyskar: Ch 18

Fyskar: Legend of the Bai book 1 by Chapel Orahamm, antler and crow on pile of skulls with ember and storm

Seonaid and Fearchar’s heads spun into the inky blackness.

“Ye bloody well could’a died, ye eejit!” Fearchar screamed at his employer.

Eoin snorted. “You think that was a one-time occurrence.” He smiled sardonically.

“You did that again!” Seonaid protested.

“I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve had to taste the prince’s food and lost consciousness. You might not know it, but I take most of what I’ve got in that box back there to make sure I can survive his feasts when I return. Reason why I carry a poison and antidote pack on my person.” He relaxed onto a stool, feeling better.

“How long have you been with Mirza?” Seonaid eased onto the other stool.

“It is, as of Hogmanay, 1693. I took four months to travel from the prince’s kingdom in Persia to get here. I’m not sure if these seven months count, though the bracers are still here, so…” He held the bracers up to contemplate the gleaming gems. “The Daleroch massacred my people in mid-spring of 1682. Callum and Albin were born during the last vestiges of winter or early spring of that year. So, I guess they’re about ten years of age, then?

“The children are reaching into manhood. The prince released me to come back for them. They had lost their bottom teeth when Egret Nest was destroyed. I’ve been with the prince for five, six years now?” A soft smile trailed across his lips. Images flashed around them of the children now growing taller, learning to fly a massive golden eagle.

The prince took him into the royal aviary and discovered his ability with the birds of prey. Fascinated with this knowledge, the royal had taken Eoin on hunting trips, gradually eking out methodologies from his physician. With a bit of prodding, and to the consternation of his father and brothers, Mirza convinced Eoin that the physician should have his own bird for the hunting parties. His physician had been sceptical of the royal’s ambitious interest.

“Your technique with the birds, my little White Bird. You do not see yourself, do you? They obey you. Is it not that you controlled the creatures in your past life that you gained the name White Bird? I have yet to see lightning from you, but the eagles obey you like you were born in their nest.

“Go. Fetch one and raise it in the aviary. I wish you to fly with me.” Mirza stood in the shade of an alcove, fingers keeping up with his spoken words as he talked with Eoin. Several men of similar features and garb to the prince stood across the courtyard, watched the interchange, and chuckled amongst themselves.

Eoin dropped his focus to the carefully embroidered silver and green leather shoes so close to his own simple brown leather wraps. Prince? I must refuse. It’s not my place in the palace, and to keep a bird is for the royalty.

“And yet your technique puts to shame the rules. It would be a waste of talent and good sport not to have you join our hunts with your brethren.” Mirza’s manicured nails and lotioned hands flowed through signs with minor stops and stutters.

Eoin tucked into a corner of the alcove to avoid Mirza’s brothers. They aren’t going to be happy about this.

“They have no say over you. They would face His Highness’s wrath if they ever did. That is the protection of the name of Niloofar. My father has given his blessing, and I want to fly with you. Get yourself a bird. It’s the time for hatching. Take the week. I will have supplies furnished for you to go find yourself a nest. Bring back a bird.” Mirza’s demands were clear by the rigidity in his shoulders.

Why is this important? I fix your lust and make your stomach stop hurting. An eagle is not essential to my position here.

Mirza twisted to cast an eye over his shoulders at his brother while he kept his hands hidden from them. Then count this toward my lust. I like watching you, and this gives me an opportunity outside of my rooms.

I’m not sure I wish to give you more to watch.

“This is something in your blood. Something of your past. You won’t tell me, but no man manages a bird without knowledge. You don’t manage. You commune. If you won’t tell me why, then accept it as my gift as giving you some taste of a home you won’t allow me to be a part of.”

This is my home now, Mirza. This is where I found safety. There is no need for me to ruminate in my memories here.

“Would you teach your children your culture?” Mirza’s amber eyes caught Eoin’s. “You hide yourself, what you were to your people from me. I know your people died. You’ve told me how. But you will not tell me who you are. Your expertise tells me this is intrinsic to you. I see it more so with the eagle than the hawk. This is culture. Mine and my father’s and our land’s culture should not be only what they learn. Fetch a bird, and when Albin and Callum come from Isfahan, teach them.”

Fine. I’ll go get one. Eoin tugged at his gloves and turned from the prince to venture through a door into the length of the darkness of the royal aviary. He eyed the slew of birds. Waiting for the cold rush in his digits and his heart to stop threatening to constrict his vision, Eoin contemplated the nesting breeds available to him. Corvids, eagles, owls, the place was filled. Near the end, in an offshoot, perched Mirza’s booted eagle, Hassan.

“You may keep yours in the stall next to Hassan; that is if you can retrieve one,” one of Mirza’s older brothers laughed at the proposition.

Setting his features, he forced himself not to flinch. He had been distracted and not noticed the entourage that had followed his failed escape from prying eyes. Eoin cocked an eyebrow. They had seen him around the birds. Not all of the creatures were keen on him, but many responded well to his calls. He had flown enough of them that Mirza’s father had commended him on his capabilities. A ticking twitch settled into Eoin’s right thumb.

“I will send a retainer with you.” Mirza, with one look at that twitch, turned from the aviary and brought everyone outside.

Eoin took a minute to follow. He slipped into the tack room where the furniture was kept for the birds. Grabbing up a transportation basket, he packed it with moult feathers. This was going to be time-consuming. He’d need to talk to Sarai in the kitchen about obtaining meats and a food mortar to grind the material for a tiny bird.

He returned to his prince’s side. As long as he doesn’t get in my way. Eoin was not amused with this spectacle. Be sure there is a warm spot near my hearth when I return. His motions were sharp and pointed. Mirza raised an eyebrow at his physician’s frustration.

“Not happy with this? It is an honour that my father would permit you to obtain, let alone keep one of these glorious beasts,” another of Mirza’s brothers scoffed.

I’m leaving now, Mirza. If you want a retainer with me, send them. Eoin bowed to his prince, flicking a dismissive glance at the others.

“Wait. He’s seriously going? Are you sure about this, brother? What if he doesn’t come back?”

Eoin stopped at the comment, a shiver running down his spine as his chain slipped down his bracers and off his fingers. A hand picked it up, startling him. He looked up to Mirza bending down to him. “It won’t do you any good having this in your way.” The prince unlocked the chain and wound it up, slipping it into his pouch at his waist.

“You’ll lose yourself a physician, idiot.” The taunt went up.

Do you want me to get a bird? Eoin drew in a breath. This was the first time the chain had come off in front of others since he had entered the palace.

Trust you. Mirza hid the sign from his brothers. Eoin smiled softly. He pulled up his cape of hair, slipping sticks in it until it held in place.

A guard approached at Mirza’s command. He flicked a glance between the prince and the physician. “I don’t speak his signs, Master,” the guard protested quietly.

Mirza leaned into him, away from his brothers’ eavesdropping. “Stay out of his way. Make sure he’s safe. He’s to find a nest, return by this evening if none are to be found, and I will see to there being supplies prepared for travel.”

“Yes, Master.”

Eoin, free of his chain, walked out of the palace gates with the guard. His bracers caught the shine of the sun, throwing yellow halos on the walls as they emerged into the town.

“Where will you go?” the guard asked. Eoin pointed to a cliff at the south edge of the city. “There is a gate there, if you are sure.” The guard motioned Eoin to a road leading in that direction.

Outside the city limits, in the shade of the cliffs that formed a hedge between the wall and the road, Eoin breathed in the cool scent of dirt and dry grasses. He waved the guard to follow him. They paced a mile toward the south until the palace loomed into view.

“What are you after that would be so close?” The guard asked the physician. Eoin frowned. This man was chatty. He put a finger to his lips and pointed straight up a rock face. The man turned to look at what he was pointing at. A golden eagle circled the edge of the cliff.

“You can’t be serious.” The guard stepped as far back as the wall would allow him to get a view of the face. Eoin rolled his eyes and shifted the basket until it was out of the way. “That is dangerous, Niloofar. You will kill yourself. There are safer places to hunt birds.”

Eoin threw a glare at the man and pointed him to stay where he was. The guard begrudgingly obeyed. The physician turned to the wall, picked up a handful of dirt and rubbed it into his fingers until they were dry. Thirteen years since he had found it necessary to climb a cliff face. It was as nerve-racking as the day his father had sent him to fetch his Vanora. He wasn’t as spry as he once was as a willful young man wishing to prove himself. Years of working at an apothecary bench had done little for his upper body strength, save for the weight of the bracers, which were not going to help him here.

He had watched this mated pair for years outside his window. They were large for their species and consistently fledged four robust chicks into adulthood with little problem. They would not be amiss if he relieved them of a chick.

It was an excellent time to go up. The father had been coming in and out in a fluster for the last two days with more scraps than before. The chicks had hatched.

Eoin climbed the face the three stories up. The wind pulled and pushed at him. His arms burned and cried at the abuse. The metal of his bracers dug into his forearms, and his wrists protested the strain.

He was going to show them. Show them all. He would have a new messenger if he could retrieve the chick. He’d make Mirza proud and shine in front of his brothers. Prove that he was competent in his trust.

The nest at the top was large. The mother was not amused at his invasion, and neither was the father once he heard the cry of his mate. The giant bird dove at him. Eoin evaded, pulling himself to the ledge. Three chicks this year. A little less than in years past. The largest rolled under its mother’s floundering. Eoin shot for the chick before it could be pushed from the ledge. The father dove, clasping onto his bracer and sliding off. The mother scratched at the gem on the other. Eoin carefully caught the chick and transferred it into the basket at his side. The birds continued to protest, and the chick cried. He ducked as the male’s talons bit deep into his shoulder and went for his torc. The creature, frustrated at his lack of meat, let go.

Eoin slipped off the edge of the ledge back to the face and shimmied his way down. Blood ran the length of his back, and his shoulder pushed needles into his fingers. He had gotten the chick, though.

The guard paled at his approach. “Niloofar, you are injured!” The man pulled him around, sending Eoin’s heart racing, to look at the massive tears in his shirt and the bloodstain. Eoin tried shrugging the man off and motioned him to the gates. The physician needed to get back to the palace and get all this over so he could address his wounds in private and get the new chick on a feeding schedule.

“He’ll kill me if he sees you like this. I was supposed to bring you home safe. We need to find you a healer before going back in,” the guard protested.

Eoin shot the man a glare over his shoulder. The guard was holding him by the arm and skirting his neck. His void tingled at the glancing skin contact. If Mirza didn’t outright kill the guard for negligence, he surely would kill him for touching. After years of repressed contact, it was disquieting and setting the physician’s teeth on edge. Eoin turned on the man and pushed him up against the wall, his bare hand circling the guard’s throat. “It’s not Mirza you should fear. I will kill you here and now if you touch me again.”

The guard paled at the clear threat reverberating in his head. Eoin looked down at the smell of urine, the guard having pissed himself. “Buy me a cloak or something in the market to hide it. I’ll address my injuries when I return to my rooms. You say nothing of this conversation, and you don’t die for failing to keep me safe and failing to keep your hands off of me. Got it?”

“Yes, Niloofar. As you wish.” The cowed guard rushed him through the gate and bought the first pair of brown wool cloaks he could find. Eoin brooded, knowing the chick in his basket would need food soon. The guard snuck him in through a servant’s gate and up through the palace. He was almost to his rooms.

“Niloofar?” Mirza’s voice sent spiders crawling across his skin. He turned to his prince, a grimace slipping across his cheeks. “Guard, why are you dressed-” Mirza stopped his question, covering his nose as he noticed the man’s predicament. He flicked a glance between his physician and the man. Eoin ground his molars, refusing to make eye contact.

The guard prostrated himself on the tile, begging the prince to not take his head. Mirza descended on the guard, pushing him and his physician into Eoin’s chambers before any of the other staff could hear.

“What does he know?” Mirza demanded. Eoin pulled his cloak off and took the basket with the chick to set it next to the unseasonal fire set in his hearth. The prince’s hands settled on his non-wounded shoulder and hip. “What is this, Niloofar?” He turned his wrath to the guard. “I told you to keep him safe.”

“He went up a cliff face and told me to stay at the bottom. You told me to stay out of his way.” The guard protested.

“And you pissed yourself when you saw him come down bleeding? What kind of guard are you?” Mirza helped pull the shirt from Eoin’s back. The gouges were deep enough to well at the sudden shift in movement.

Eoin caught Mirza’s hand in an effort to gentle the man’s tugging. “He thought you’d kill him when I came down and he saw the gouges. He touched me, and I was afraid he’d figure out my power. I threatened to kill him instead. That’s when that happened.”

Mirza pushed him down to a stool and rummaged through his physician’s medical supplies. “He was right. I’d kill him for this. Where do you keep your bandages?”

Eoin snapped his fingers at the guard. The man immediately cowered at his feet. Bandages. Find. Eoin used his simple signs before touching the guard’s forehead. “Find my bandages in the apothecary cabinet on my desk. Bring them here.” The man’s colour was approaching a corpse as he looked between Mirza and Eoin before scuttling to his feet and running for the next-door room.

“You will use him?” Mirza posed his question to Eoin while following the guard’s movement. Eoin shifted his stool closer to the fledgeling. Picking up a tong to roll ember into a mound, he hissed when he dropped the metal with a clang. His hands were numb and purple bruises formed around the tops of his bracers. Mirza turned back to Eoin and picked up the tongs from the exhausted physician. A glance at Eoin’s eyes forced the man to recalculate. “You are angry.”

I don’t like being laughed at. I will use him. He is terrified of me, and the prospect of death hanging over him will keep him quiet.

Mirza took the bandages from the guard when he returned. The guard bowed to the tile while Mirza attempted to clean and plaster Eoin’s wounds. Once finished, Mirza turned to the guard. “Niloofar has saved you from my wrath. He will take responsibility of you. You are his. If he deems your life forfeit, make peace. I will not see that it continues past his anger.”

“Yes, Master.” The guard ducked a rigid bow.

“He will be your guard. You will have permission to leave the palace without me, as long as he accompanies you.” Mirza handed the responsibility and chain over to Eoin.

Eoin pulled Fearchar and Seonaid from that memory to travel his journey from Persia to the Isle with him in the void. He and his guard had gone with a caravan from the city. They passed through Cairo and travelled back to look at the charred overgrown remains of Egret Nest, where he retrieved his silver bracelet. He took the trail up through the Trans-Saharan trade route on camelback and caught a ship that ported in Spain and Italy. He continued his path, going through Austria and Germany. He emerged in the Netherlands and caught passage up to England. He had left his guards in England to be entertained as an ambassador of Persia in the English court.

He pulled them further into his older memories. “I have reasons for coming here, more than just my boys.” He stood at another banquet. Music resonated through him; drums and flutes established a swaying rhythm. Strings cried out into the mix, symbols clashed and rattled. This was different from the last banquet, though. The atmosphere was relaxed, and the room smaller. Men sat around on raised benches strewn with rugs and pillows. Small tables littered the area with cups and tiny plates of snacks left half-eaten and forgotten.

A woman danced to the dripping beat of the drum, her hips sweeping from left to right. Bracelets and anklets filled the air with the sound of tinkling bells. Her gossamer skirts floated with her movement. Eoin dry swallowed. The prince lounged with his other brothers, happily filling the space with minor small talk as the entertainment built.

Electricity crackled under Eoin’s skin. His gut tightened as he watched the woman dance. He shifted, trying to find a more comfortable position in which to stand. He was not aware of the contemplative glance Mirza cast him in that unsteady moment.

The entertainment continued late into the evening. When the party ended, Eoin followed the prince from the hall to his chambers. At the door, he left the prince with a bow and returned to his bed.

He pulled back into the inky depth to face Seonaid and Fearchar once more. He sure as hell wasn’t about to reveal to them in his memory what he had done that night on his own, but Fearchar already suspected.

“Didnae ye ‘ave a lass in Egret Nest?” Fearchar approached Eoin, raising an eyebrow. Eoin shook his head. “Nae takers?” Fearchar pressed.

“I was too strange, too different. I was Impundulu, the lightning bird, the blood drinker, the death omen, a witch’s compatriot. I was the protective spirit and an apprentice to the doctor. He was by no means a Crìosdaidh if you delude yourself into such machinations, and I was never raised in a kirk. He would call on the ghosts of ancestors and the spirits to help him with his work. Working with the man, I was regarded as a creature, not quite human, not quite beast; appreciated, but tolerated,” quietly, he answered the redhead.

“Yer bairns’ mum’s murdered, ye run away ‘n ye’ tellin’ me ye ‘aven’t taken in ten years?” he questioned.

Eoin turned away from the raised eyebrows. A slew of memories bubbled to the surface. He tamped them down hard, trying to pick the ones that he felt comfortable sharing instead. “The prince, after that night, had an epiphany, if you could call it that.” He waved them into a sun-dappled courtyard to look upon a woman in a soft white gown and veils. He walked around her, the memory a single image.

“She’s beautiful. Who is she?” Seonaid breathed in. The woman was quite stunning. Her olive skin, deeper than the prince’s, was offset with kohl liner along her eyelids. Her stoic eyes were soft and patient. She was slight and would be shorter than Eoin if she stood.

“This is Golnar, Mirza’s sister. She is the daughter of the eighth wife. Mirza is by the fourth.” He introduced the memory to them. “She lost her hearing as a toddling child during a sickness in the palace. The old physician had seen to her well-being and knew sign language from Henri’s book, but she had been left to her own devices since his death. He was a eunuch and could go between the harem and the rest of the palace without issue. However, the prince thankfully did not see to me being castrated upon buying me. This meant that Golnar did not have anyone who could communicate with her, though.

“When I begged him to let me come for my sons’ birthright, the materials I needed to help them step into manhood, I revealed my royal status to the prince. I had meant to bury that part of me, but I had to give him a bit of persuasive evidence.

“Mirza discovered a solution to his sister having a decent physician and retaining his own physician and a royal with which to marry her off to. He wished me to save her and her father from disgrace. Until now, no suitor would consider her because of her impairment. Mirza, in exchange for letting me leave the palace, has arranged for us to be married upon my return with my children’s birthright,” he made the statement clear and irrefutable.

“She can’t be more than twenty! She’s so young,” Seonaid protested.

“Almost correct. By the time I return home, if I return home, she’ll be nineteen. As Mirza explained to me, I provide a unique opportunity for his family.” He stepped out of the memory, not entirely thrilled with his predicament.

“I am Flath, a White Horse of the Fyskar clan. Albin and Callum will be considered princes of the Fyskar upon their marriages. Mirza wants to add the royal lineage to the bloodline, a way to keep his unique treasures in the family. If I am married to Golnar, Albin and Callum become her sons. This opens up the possibility for them to marry royalty as the prince sees the need when it is necessary for alliances.” Eoin drew in a steadying breath. The logic was there, but he wasn’t pleased with the outcome.

“Albin and Callum are old enough for their coming-of-age ceremony. They are beginning to show a talent for sharing emotions and memories. It comes on slowly as we grow older.

“I am here to collect the tools I stored for their ceremony, along with the deed to the land and my ceremonial garments. The tools are passed down through my line to help the next generation into their memories.

“When I realised that they were at that point, I was in a complete panic. I had not thought about their coming-of-age for so long, not since their birth practically. I had never questioned that I would be without the materials.

“I made a rather desperate plea to Mirza – ” he cut off, unable to keep the memory from sweeping through his system. A smouldering fire raged across his skin, recalling the prince pulling his body to him, face buried in his shoulder, his hands holding him still.

Eoin pushed Seonaid and Fearchar out of the void quickly.

They came to in the little croft; both looked at Eoin, startled. He buried his head in his hands, his face sweeping scarlet. Seonaid and Fearchar sat ridged next to Eoin, waiting quietly, their faces as red as his. “A’right, ye arse. Why’m Ah now hard as a rock?” Fearchar demanded. Eoin blinked up at him, utterly mortified.


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