The grass dances in the warm breeze in celebration, back lit by the waning light of an afternoon sun.
Today is special.
After a long drought, the thirst is finally quenched with the blood of a dove.
Two young boys walk at dusk. One is dressed in black with a black cape while the other is in white with a rainbow cape of many colors. The boy in black raises a hand to the air and points at something in the distance as it happens. Equally sharp-eyed, the boy in white sees it as well.
High above them in the sky an eagle is flying. A smaller bird, a dove, flies too near and the eagle shrieks before striking at the dove and knocking it down to fall to the earth below. “Reminds me of you,” says the boy in black. He takes a quick jump and begins to hover along the ground at great speed.
Not quite as gifted, the boy in white shouts “Ow, come on, Blacky! You know I can’t use magic as well as you!” He begins to run.
Blacky calls over his shoulder, “Drop the shrub, Bleach. Maybe you’ll run faster!”
“Its a corniferferer!” shouts back Bleach. “I wanted us to plant it today… together.”
“A coniferous tree blossom!” corrects Blacky. He laughs at something he sees ahead. “Oh, a crow arrived!”
A lone crow picks at the dying dove. It stands on the dove’s broken wing, pinning it down with its crude, reptilian feet.
The crow openly rejoices at the dove’s misery, it had arrived to the carnage first and it had even beaten the flies that would have invaded such a prize.
The crow swallows a morsel, smiling in its own way to the dove’s shrieks of pain. “Thought you could soar with eagles, did you?” cajoles the crow. “Apparently old Thoragil didn’t agree, eh?”
The dove convulses and chirps curses at the crow, blood welling from its severed wing. The crow steps aside, croaking, “Fly, stupid Dove. Fly away. To your worms and play that you so love.”
The dove stands on its rickety feet and makes a last, feeble attempt to regain flight. The dove chirps one final time then dies.
The crow saunters over, cawing in its crow-laughter as it pecks out an eye and swallows it whole.
The mischievous one tosses a stone, laughing as the crow laughs; in mockery. He usurps it’s mirth for mirth of his own. He is a boy that believes a smile is something to be stolen, not shared or given.
The stone travels its predictable course, striking the crow a mortal blow and ricochets so that falls at rest in front of his sibling’s feet. The throw is a marvel, calculated with cruel precision.
The agling suppresses a smile before his cracked lips manage to form it upon his face. Now is a time for discipline, not pride. A teacher doth not praise what he wishes to declaim. What remains of the crow look rather like an ink spill.
The weepy one stares at what brother had just killed. He stands slump-shouldered, as if carrying the burden of grief were it a physical weight upon his shoulders; a cross he has borne many times throughout his young life.
A single tear shimmers its way down his cheek. The wretched brother tosses the weepy one’s hair and stomps the crippled crow to death; grinding its bones into powder.
The lighter brother sighs. He gingerly lifts the bleeding husk of the once flighty dove into his arms and holds it against his chest.
His heart beats softly in his chest while the dove’s is stilled within its breast. He kisses it. His hands and shirt and lips are stained the same pink from the crimson of the dove’s blood.
He spits the small drops out with a grimace, ignoring his brother’s contemptuous requests for a sip. He breathes into the dove’s beak.
And then the dove is whole again, its small heart no longer still, wings no longer broken. It leaps into the vapors of its home from the deathly ground, pausing only to chime a tune of thanksgiving to its healer and it is gone from this tale.
Not for the first time, the agling is reminded of how dissimilar they are; as the saying goes, these two wards of his “are as different as night and day.”
“Why did you do THAT?” asks Blacky.
“It seemed the right thing to do. I couldn’t let dove stay dead for some reason,” protests Bleach.
It is at this time that the agling decides to make his presence known. He’d followed them this morning as he follows them every morning they are together. Who knows what trouble they can get into?
He rides his pony closer up behind them, forming a centaur-shaped silhouette on the ground beneath their feet.
The boys turn to face the music.
He sits slumped forward on the bare back of his elderly pony, supporting his head in his right hand in a thinking gesture. His gray eyes peer at his “grand children” through his dusty spectacles.
His brow furrows, forming a caterpillar-shape before softening again. He clicks his tongue against what’s left of his teeth, signaling to pony that he wished to dismount.
Instead of lifting a leg over the pony’s back, he merely shuffles forward over the pony’s head and raises his hand to signal it to stand. He walks to the crow’s corpse with the pony in tow, sparing the boys from having to meet his glance a few moments more.
“Well,” he croaks in an old man’s voice.
“It’za crow, Grampah,” Bleach says.
The old man immediately fixes him with an exasperated stare: I’m not blind, boy. Just because I’m old don’t mean I’m stupid!
First he looks at the twin to his left. The first striking thing upon first glance at him is his eyes. They are small, colorless globes in the middle of his pale, round face. His skin is as pale as ash. His hair is just long enough to stick out over his face and touch his shoulders and is as white as his small teeth. His correct name is “Ivor,” although he is usually called “Bleach.”
The boy to the old man’s right is the exact opposite of the other; both in appearance and manner. Both are a terror to discipline, yet this one, he suspects, is pure evil. The lad, in stark contrast to the tattered ensemble preferred by his brother, is impeccably tailored in flashy, new duds. Where did he find them? He cared too much about his clothes, yet he was still a kid.
The outfit was complete with a black cape, chained across the throat with a silver clasp. Only his face and hands can be seen from behind the dark clothing, a gray tint to his skin and long, painted nails. His black hair is full, although contrasting to the gaunt face and haggard skull from which it grows.
The old fellow suspects that one may have missed a few meals, yet the arrogance and conceit apparent in his eyes precludes any pity he may have felt for him. Those very same eyes glint back at his elder with contempt, the portals from which a damned soul perceives the world. He is “Ebon” although he rarely uses his own birth name.
Just as the old fellow clears his throat to begin a lecture, a sudden explosion interrupts him. He wasn’t quite caught off-guard, so he turns his back to the spectacle and stares at his dancing shadow. He knew this would happen.
After all, it happens twice every single year, doesn’t it? He isn’t surprised that his benighted grandchild shields his eyes beneath the shadowy tent of his cape. He’s also isn’t surprised that the other one is staring at what he knows he should not be seeing.
What does surprise him is that the horses are spooked away, but not his faithful pony. The old cuss had died and obediently lay stiffly at his master’s feet.
He stares straight at the fiery spectacle, knuckling blood from his eyes as if they were tears. “God’s Flower,” he says reverently to himself.
A naked woman of angelic beauty can be seen in the sky, her fiery red hair billowing out around her head like a flaming halo. He can’t entirely see her body because her most private areas are covered with a sash of pure shadow that surrounds her.
Bleach can’t understand why a woman with such radiance would choose to wear something as hideous as that shawl. It doesn’t emphasize her beauty, but actually abolishes it.
Just then, the monstrous head of a serpent rears up from behind the woman. It meets Bleach’s gaze, hypnotizing him with its eyes. The serpent’s body is composed entirely of a bleak darkness, but its eyes glow. They glow but with a light of their own, such as with the blinding gleam of the sun reflecting off of a well-polished sword just before the thrust.
His stiffens with the arctic chill of absolute fear. The serpent makes a move for him, he flinches. Then, all at once, he sees nothing.
“I can’t see, Grampah!” complains the small boy. Actually, the elder man isn’t related to the boys by name, blood, or species. They’re half-nymphs, the sons of a great warrior and the Goddess of Harvest. The old man is of accursed spawn.
“Well, heal yourself with the spell I had just taught you, stupid boy! Does it take pain to cause you to forget your lessons?!!?” calls Grampah’s voice from beyond the curtain of darkness. It doesn’t echo as if from within a tunnel or from above as if you just happened to fall in a hole, but it is clear and precise.
The boy does as he is asked, and the world slowly comes into focus as if it were being painted meticulously upon a canvas.
The Four Suns of Galfaste, once more flying their figure-eight formation around their queen, begin to set in the west. Darn! He missed it again! He finally got a chance to see the fabled Equinox and lost his sight just as it was getting good.
When his gaze returns to his grandfather leaning on his cane before him, he mutters an apology.
Grampah sighs and begins his lecture: “You must never be so foolish. God’s Flower is the mother of us all. We are her children. If not for her gifts of light, all life in this world would cease to exist. So, upon the hour of her desecration, you must avert your eyes as a show of respect. Never awe at her naked glow; for not even you are worthy of such a vision.”
In an instant, it is has become nighttime. Bleach collapses, falling asleep even as he hits the floor.
The coniferous blossom (which he had intended to plant with the help of his brother) fell loose from his pack and lay on the grass beside him.
His brother would have crushed this as well if Grampah had not caught his foot with the cane and tripped him. “Blacky…”
The boy stands and shouts, “Call me Raven’s Feather!”
“Whatever you are called, that was a vile thing you did! Is your heart so cold and hard as stone that you know no compassion? All creatures were born to die, but it is not your task to decide their fates!!!”
Raven’s Feather screws his mouth in a shrewd smile, “Deride yourself, ‘thou strok’dst me, and mad’st much of me; would’st give me water with berries in ‘t; and teach me how to name the bigger light and how the less, that burn by day and night; and then I lov’d thee in mine own, and shew’d thee all the qualities of the isle.'”
Grampah is nonplussed by this and then recalls the same play; “‘Abhorred slave; which any print of human goodness will not take, capable of all ill… I have used thee, filth as thou art, with human care; and lodged thee in mine own, till thou didst seek to violate the honor of my child.'” At this, Bleach cries fitfully in his sleep.
Raven’s Feather, demurred, rebukes him with, “You presume too much.”
Grampah carries his “grand child” off to the camp, a scornful eye on Raven’s Feather. “I am by name… you are by nature. Evil Spawn they call me, Evil Spawn you truly be.”