Authors: Valentina Cano
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Table of Contents
The day I turned seventeen, birds fell from the sky. A flock of them seemed to cross an invisible line, a boundary of packed winter breezes that wrapped them up in a coat of ice, freezing whatever kernel of magic allowed them power over the air. In great chunks, like collapsing hair, they let out feathery sighs and gave in to the fall.
I was out in the courtyard, clearing a pathway through the new snow, huffing at the chill picking away at my bones. I was distracted by strange thoughts and did not see what was happening in the early dawn. Only when I began to hear the soft thuds did I turn.
Mounds of black down spotted the white courtyard. My hands flew to my mouth to cover a yelp of surprise. There were so many birds!
I hiked up my skirt, ignoring the wet hem flapping against my calves, and ran to the nearest bird to see if I could help. My footsteps crunched in the snow that piled around the indentation made by the black feathers.
A crow. A large one, with wings like melted coal, and a satin sheen to its beak that tempted my fingertips.
“Oh, you poor thing. What happened? What happened to all of you?” I looked around at the other bodies scattered in the snow. I’d never seen this before; nothing remotely like it.
I knelt beside the still figure and reached out a hand steadied by hours spent plucking larger creatures. I knew what a bird’s blood looked like, smelled like, felt like under my hands. The twist of their necks, like a cracking piece of chalk, was a familiar one.
I stretched out a finger and stroked one feather. The bird let out a grey cry and scurried up, allowing its talons to grip the packed cold beneath them. It shook its head and turned its eyes toward me. I was too stunned to be frightened; all I could do was stare into its orbs—pits that shone with the knowledge of flight and wind currents, that knew rain and ice intimately.
I don’t know how much time passed before the bird looked away, breaking the connection. I turned my head and saw the rest of the fallen creatures waking from their sudden slumber. One by one, they dipped their wings, seeming to churn the air around them, and lifted off once again into the London morning.
My name shook through the small yard and dragged me away from the feathers and snow. I turned to Elsie, who stood by the open kitchen door, one hand holding her cap, fussing with it, pulling it and stretching it.
“Anne, come on. Lady Caldwell is calling for you.”
I stood, brushed my moist hands with the inside of my skirt and trod to the open door.
“Did you see the birds?” I asked her as I passed into the bustling warmth of the kitchen.
“What birds?” Elsie pushed her cap down onto her head, tucking her light bun underneath it. She lifted a silver platter to her face and peered into its surface. “Is this on straight? Her ladyship reprimanded me yesterday for its ‘unpleasant angle.’ I wish I could advise her of a few ‘unpleasant’ things about herself.”
I moved to her and waved my hand toward her head. She brought it down to my hands and I tucked in some loose threads of her hair, spreading the edge of the cap in a fan of lace.
“You didn’t see the birds, then?”
“All I’ve seen this morning is the inside of the linen cabinet. Only the Good Lord knows why Her Rotundness needs every sheet refolded before she even dresses. She’s still dawdling in her bedchamber, giving orders and dirtying teacups.” She grimaced. “She wants you up there, though, so you’d better go. Wouldn’t want to keep her waiting in her cozy chamber.”
She pulled away from me, managing in her movement to shift the carefully placed headdress. Pushing the image of the birds away, I smiled at her turned back and groaned.
“I suppose I must.” I looked out the window. “Any idea what she might want? She’s always coming up with impossible requests. A few days ago, she wanted artichoke hearts. Where in the bloody hell am I supposed to get artichoke hearts in the middle of winter?”