Through a Mother’s Eyes

© Carole Cummings

 

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Time is what she feels most keenly when she takes shape, borrows form, and allows corporeal covenant to rule her.  Relentless weight, nearly crushing in its ruthless press; she wonders how they can stand it, but a part she's long-forgotten yearns for it still.  That bright-shot flare of mortality, brilliant gnawing flame, eager grasping for a wisp of life through a soul that clutches mindlessly for more

She was mortal once, after all.

She swivels her head, ducks down to tweak at feathers pristine as snow, shining silvery-opalescent beneath the face of her Beloved.  A long, black talon clutches greedily about her prey, and she savours the thin, terrified strumming of its heart, the lifesong that drums with such hopeless hope through its veins and plucks at her blood in shining notes of mortality.  Wide luminescent eyes, round and glowing copper in her heart-shaped face, blink languidly down into terror-blank black, and she's almost ashamed; she'd borrowed this body a-purpose for many reasons—stealth, flight, subtlety—but a part of her had wanted the hunt, the sport, however small.  So long, she's watched and tended and shaped, and she's weary.

Ruthless, she dips her hooked beak, gores the little thing's throat—quick and merciful—and that same part that's weary of holding so much in her hands savours the hot gout of blood over her tongue.  With blind, animal hunger, she sinks into her dinner, rends flesh from bone with the same ease with which she guides spark to soul, and thinks of nothing for a small eternity but the coppery taste on her tongue, the hot life gulped down her gullet.  Not hers at all, in truth, none of it, but she so rarely allows herself to indulge, and Time presses on her back so relentlessly now. The vessel will have a full belly at least, when she returns it to its rightful owner.  Small recompense, perhaps, for her liberty, but… who is there, after all, to gainsay her?

Silver light stripes across the tawny band of road beneath her perch, its travellers sparse as the moon begins its full-bellied descent, the hours growing long, yet she waits.  He comes, she can feel it, the worn heels of his boots accompanied by a lighter, smaller step, but she knows the sound before she hears it, feels the soul before she sees the form.  Not just a spark in this one, but a flame—perhaps one day an inferno, but there are things even she cannot see.  Though she can always hope.  It is, after all, her Gift.

Her heart flutters the tiniest bit beneath her downy chest, wings stretching out once, flexing—almost to embrace—as her shining eyes spy his shape cresting the rise. A low, sonorous whoop vibrates from her throat.  Not yet, though, not now, but soon, she can feel it. She tucks her wings back to her ribs, breath trilling in her chest, watching.

Distant, only small specks on the horizon, but she chose these eyes for a reason.

Tall and wide, as all her favoured children are, and this the one most favoured, for so much rests on him. He holds her heart in his hands and he doesn't even know it, won't know it, turns from knowing it, for this one…  She would smile, if she could.  This one is her creature.  And so, he is his own.

She will watch.  She will wait.  She will hope.

"…doing this again, Corliss, I've told you before."  His voice is low and deep, curling on the early-autumn breeze with its new promise of impending winter.  "I appreciate what you're trying to do, but… no."  Kind and almost gentle, but for the touch of steel beneath it.

The woman beside him laughs, short and fond.  "He quite fancied you."  Her tone is teasing, good-natured.  "First Constable of Putnam—you're quite a catch, y'know."  She reaches over, tugs at the blue sleeve of his surcoat, a match to her own.  "And he melts for broad shoulders.  I could always—"

"Corliss."  Sharp and hard.

The woman starts a little, sobers.  The silence stretches long before she clears her throat and dips her head in acknowledgement.  "I had to try," is all she says. 

"No.  You didn't."  Quieter, a touch of command.

The woman's smile is softer now, though still real enough, but the ease is gone.  "You're lonely, Brayden," she tells him softly.  "I only want—"

"I believe this is your turn."

Burnished eyes blink slowly as she watches them, watches the woman sigh, bow her head, shoulders rounded.  Watches him as he stands stiff-backed, limned in moonlight, like a slab of granite, staring the woman down.

"How can I make it up to you?" the woman asks quietly.

He sighs, the stiff stance relaxing a little, and he shakes his head.  "You don't have to make it up to me," he answers, his tone gentler, but the steel beneath it remains.  "Just… stop doing it."

"I... I'm sorry, it's only... it's only that I worry."

"Well, don't do that either."  He reaches out, lays a wide hand to her shoulder.  "Get to work on time for a change, and make the coffee for once, and I might forgive you."

The smile is small and rueful, the nod slow.  "But if you tell those other gits I made you coffee, I'll never forgive you."

He grins this time, a wide flash of teeth in the dark.  "Good night, Corliss," is all he says.

Flat-gilt eyes watch them farewell each other, watch as the woman turns down a narrow strip of dirt. Keep watching as he strolls on, long legs eating the road beneath his boots, dark gaze nailed the toes of them.  Even the silver of stars and moon can't dim the gold of his hair, and she wishes again that she could smile… wishes she could weep.  She settles for another trilling hoot, satisfied when his glance lifts, skims over her as he nears her perch, lingers for just a moment then moves on.

So much ahead of you, my own, she thinks, as she watches him pass beneath her, watches the confident gait, the straight set of the wide shoulders.  So much in your hands.

Trust now, and hope.  It's all she has left as the weight of Time presses down on her fragile frame of blood and bone.

Lonely, the woman had named him, and she sees it, too. Feels it, but can't rue it.  Perhaps later, when he knows himself, knows her.

Time will tell.

She watches him until he is nothing more than a wink of gold on the rim of the world, then she leaps with agile grace from the thin branch, stretches her wings into the wind, and wheels west.  The tops of the trees whirl by in a dark blur beneath her, air bending around her, through her feathers, snatching at the down of her chest in a thin ripple of streaming freedom.  Over thatched roofs, past the slender spire of her own Temple, and arrowing down over stone streets, quiet now, for the most part, though stragglers and brigands still roam, each wary of the other.  A lone wagon trundles over cobbles, loud in the silence, its driver haggard and frowning, as he watches her whiz past, a quick downward jerk of his head and a tug of the forelock in acknowledgement of the omen.  Still, she soars, skims the currents that prickle at her feathers, twitches her tail and veers for the outskirts of the city's common, riding a buffering stream of air skirling up from the fens to the north.

Horse-sweat and hay, sod and manure; she darts in through the open rafters of the small stable, breezes down to perch on a wide oiled beam in the crook of the ceiling, chasing away a small scree of bats with the menacing whoosh of her wide wings.  Small heart fluttering, she settles in, digs long talons into the pores of the wood, blinks eyes gone coin-flat in the darkness.  Settles in for her watch.

A mournful blat she can't help escapes her, and she shifts just a little as the sleeping figure below turns restlessly, twitches and snarls, until her shadow no longer falls across his meagre resting place.  Rangy and too-thin, dark hair gone longish and slightly shaggy, lids closed over eyes so like those of her Beloved. She's just as glad she can't see them now; the small heart of her borrowed body might crack and bleed.  They would look right past her, she knows, would refuse to see, but… there is hope.

He comes

Her head tilts as she watches the long fingers flex and curl against their bed of straw, the thin shoulders draw inwards, as though hunching away from her. She looks away, turns her coppery eyes to the face of the moon.  Ironic, that this one knows her, and yet the other won't.  Still… a whispering trill knocks loose from her chest, and she slides a wingtip outwards, edges it into the circle of moonlight… lays a shadow-touch to the dark hair, until another muffled snarl pushes from the thin chest.  She draws back, digs porous wood into splinters beneath her still-bloody claws.  Impatient.

Time is not only her enemy, after all, and this one will not yield easily.  Still…

Her head swivels east again, borrowed, tufted ears listening for worn bootheels echoing in the wrong direction; she knows she fools herself when she hears them, but it's consoling nonetheless.  It was not she, after all, who led them both here.

Hope comes.

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