The story of Icarus used to enthrall me. The idea of building wings of feathers and wax and bits of wood, of stretching this creation, pulling upwards through the wind and flying filled me with longing. I wanted wings. But I wanted a better ending than Icarus. I wanted to soar forever over the sea.
I couldn’t wait to be a Goldfinch, like my parents. I couldn’t wait to fly.
That was before I knew the price of flight. That was before I grew the tawny speckled wings of a Falcon and was condemned to this life.
Falcons are an abomination, they said. Witchcraft, demon, firebringer, evil. Those were my charges. The words fell from my horrified parents lips and they brought me here, to Maderas’s Tribune, where they keep me locked away, poison me with potions meant to dampen my magic and run iron over my skin to stop me from creating fire. They say they will learn from me, but in this world we throw away what we fear, and I have been thrown away. I haven’t spread my wings in months and months.
Grace? I wonder how she bribed the guards to let her down here. Her voice is laced with anger and shame. What does she have to be ashamed of, besides loving a Falcon? I don’t turn towards the sound, though I wish I could hide my back from her. But it’s impossible to hide Falcon wings. I know this.
“Gemma. Look at me.” I can’t deny her, so I do. She puts her hands through the bars of my cell and reaches for me.
I get close enough that I hear her gasp when the torchlight searches me out of the dim cell, highlighting every bruise, every abrasion, every bone.
I shake my head at her, and she grabs my wrists, pulling me towards her so that we are hugging through the bars. I try not to cry out as the cold iron presses farther into the burns and cuts that already crisscross my skin.
She smells like wood smoke and the briny air of Maderas. So much like home that my eyes fill with tears. My hands brush against the down of feathers pricking through her shirt, and I whisper, “You grew wings?”
I feel her smile against my shoulder and she pulls away to look at me with eyes the color of river rocks. Shades of grey cool enough to quell the burn that is always inside of me. “Raven,” she murmurs.
I pull my arms away from her like she’s the one on fire.
“Get out of here,” I hiss. “Go, Grace! They find out and they’ll throw you in here with me faster than you can fly away. Run, and don’t stop.”
The only thing more dangerous than being a Falcon is being a Raven. I might bring fire, but death is worse.
She takes a step back, lips pursed in a stubborn line. “No,” she says. “They don’t know yet, and I’m not going without you.”
Oh, Grace. I should have known.
“Please,” I beg. “Don’t risk this. I’ll get out, and I’ll find you.”
“You won’t,” she says, seeing the lie in my eyes. “You’re slated for the guillotine tomorrow.” Her voice cracks over the killing word. “They say they’ve tested you long enough.”
I can only shut my eyes against the panic rising in me. She grabs my wrists again, her nails biting into my skin.
“No, Gemma. It’s not going to happen. Listen.” She mutters her plans to me so fast that I have to ask her to repeat it.
“Can you do that?” she asks.
“They might kill me,” I say.
“They won’t have a chance. I’ll be here at dark, we’ll need the cover,” she says. “Be ready.” She kisses my palm, and slips into the shadows beyond my prison.
While I wait, the morning potions wear off, and I revel in the fire building in me. Night falls on Tribune.
Sparrows come to riddle my veins with more “medicines” to keep me from burning the place to the ground on my last night alive. The door clangs shut behind them, and one man stands guard to let them back out. They pin me down, two large men for one wounded bird. My wings pop and crack, protesting the weight of them. They pry open my mouth with calloused hands and I set my jaw against them, earning a backhand to the face. I spit blood back at them, and sparks fly from my lips.
I jump up, making for the back corner of my cell, planting myself as far from the door as I can, like she wanted.
“Come now, Firebird,” one taunts. “You know this won’t do any good. That door is as locked as it’s always going to be, and this will get you nowhere but the blade.” The third guard rattles the locked door to support his friends.
“But it doesn’t matter. I’m going there already,” I say, and I launch myself on them, talons out and spitting fire.
Under the cacophony of a mismatched fight, I hear the sweet sound of metal on metal as the third guard lets himself in to help get me back under control.
It’s just what Grace needed to get inside. I’m buried under talons and feathers, so I don’t hear the first man fall at her touch. The remaining two are so distracted by the heat of me that they drop heavily on me at the press of her fingertips. Just her fingertips, and I hear their last breath rattle past their teeth.
There’s no other sound but our breath in the darkness.
“I don’t think anyone heard,” she says. “Can you run?”
“Yes,” I say, and she holds her hand out to me.
I hesitate, fearful for the barest moment and she says, “Only if I want to, and I’d never hurt you.”
I take her hand, and we sneak out of Tribune, quiet as the death we leave behind.
Above ground, we trust the cover of night to hide my wingspan. We have to clear the wall that hides Tribune from the sea. No one from Maderas will go seaward to catch a Raven and a Falcon.
The wall looms ahead of us as we wind through the streets.
I bring our laced fingers to my lips, kissing the back of her hand. This tugs a smile from her pretty face. Our palms press together in the darkness without spreading fire or death.
“What were they so afraid of?” I ask Grace.
“Fear,” she says. She shakes her head, spreads her raven wings, and takes off like she was made for it, because she is.
I stretch my wings and welcome the air pouring across my abused feathers as I lift off the ground. The waves crash below us, and we are soaring over the ocean. We’re free.
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Photograph © Copyright, Anne Marie 2008. All rights reserved. Used with permission.