One For Sorrow

Another longer excerpt from my WIP. Yay! And this chapter has a theme of sorts. And some other notes: in the previous draft, Tenley rescues a squirrel at this point in the story. It was just to show that she isn’t psychopathic and she can feel sympathy and empathy sometimes even if she has a hard time admitting it. But as you might have seen in some of the renders I made, Tenley is accompanied by a magpie as it was always intended she have one as a sort of famliar/pet. So I decided why not just introduce the magpie here? Also the scene is much extended as there was a later that just wasn’t working for me, so I moved some of that bits from that to here and now that later chapter is going to be something completely different to what it was. Phew!  And now this:

One For Sorrow

By afternoon last night’s clouds had all disappeared. At
least the ones in the sky. Tenley felt the sun’s warm touch, was refreshed by
the gentle breeze, yet her mind was filled by a heavy, suffocating mist. From a
perch she peeped through the branches and across a field where other children
were playing. Laughing, holding hands, falling down, laughing again. It was
like they didn’t understand that their lives could be devastated in an instant
and none of them were prepared for that or all the pain that followed. She
supposed no-one ever could be.

Tenley winced, her head throbbing again. It was probably
just that she hadn’t gotten any sleep. She hadn’t got much at all since that
night, as every time she closed her eyes she saw mother, her once fearsome
visage suddenly very quiet and still. Peaceful, she supposed, which mother
never was. That was what had gotten her killed. And Tenley saw the faces of all
those murderers too. They were worse than murderers – they were thieves too.
They’d taken her music-box and without it she couldn’t sleep. She couldn’t see
through any of this mess. More throbbing. More wincing. She wondered if the man
in the alley had understood why any of that had happened to him. Probably more
than she did.

She knew her mother had never really been a nice person.
Even with no-one else to compare her to she knew her mother was a horrendous
person in fact. But she was hers, and maybe she would have gotten better. Maybe
if Tenley proved herself enough mother would have been content and allowed to
Tenley to play as well. Now she would never know. Mother was gone and she
wasn’t even human anymore. She was never going to play anywhere with anyone
ever again.

Moping up here wasn’t doing her any good. Tenley fell from
the tree and landed daintily on her toes, ankles and knees folding slightly
above them to absorb the impact with the ground. She didn’t know where exactly
she was going to go. It didn’t matter. They would find her when there was news.
So she was just going to head off in a random direction when heard a peculiar
noise; like mad, squawking laughter, only not laughter at all, but panic, like
someone started laughing and now were scared because they couldn’t stop. Or it could
have been a magpie. It turned out it was a magpie. The dumb bird must have been
scavenging something from a plastic cup and managed to pierce the other side
with it’s beak but the rest of it’s head was stuck and it was hopping and
fluttering around frantically to try and dislodge it’s new helmet. Despite it’s
cries of distress nothing else had shown up to offer aid.

“Well don’t expect me to help you,” Tenley admonished
grumpily. “It’s your own fault. You were greedy, and now you’re stuck. Make as
much noise as you like. I have no sympathy at all.”

The magpie was suddenly quiet. Tenley wondered if it
understood her and hoped if it stopped making noise she would help. Of course,
it was more likely it just sensed her nearby and wasn’t sure if she meant it
harm or if she had even seen it yet as it couldn’t see her. It didn’t matter
what kind of ploy it was, Tenley was firm, “no. It’s your own mess. You have to
get yourself out of it.”

She turned her back and swept away, and almost immediately
that horrible, piercing shrieking started again, rattling Tenley’s insides. She
could kill it – that would stop it annoying her. But she knew she wasn’t going
to do that. The bird was dumb but hadn’t done her any wrong, and really would
it take any more effort to free it than it would to wring it’s dumb birdy neck?
She could have just walked away, but she remembered a time she’d been stuck,
having put her head between banisters and been unable to pull herself out.
Mother had been furious and left her there for a long time to teach her a
lesson, despite Tenley’s screams and being terrified her head would grow more
and she’d be stuck on the staircase forever…

“Fine!” Tenley scowled as she spun back round then stamped
her foot. “I’m only doing this because I’m sick of how pathetic you look and
sound. That’s all. Now hold still.” The magpie didn’t hold still. As soon as
Tenley knelt down and put a hand on it, it panicked more. But Tenley gritted
her teeth and held it firmly in place. “I’m trying to help you, you stupid
tuxedo wearing crow…” she muttered. She used one hand to hold down the bird’s
body, and the other to slide the cup from it’s head as gently as she could.

The magpie was surprised when it could see again, staying on
the ground a moment even after Tenley had taken her hands away from it. It
looked up at it’s rescuer and made a machine-gun noise. Tenley imagined that
meant ‘thank you’ in magpie language and said, “you’re welcome.”

For a fleeting moment Tenley actually felt content, but then
something else startled the bird. Something dripped and splashed in the bird’s
eye and it immediately took off. It took Tenley another moment to realize that
it had come from her and then she started to panic a little as she rubbed
crimson liquid between her thumb and fingers. She’d had plenty of nosebleeds
before, but not since the change and she couldn’t think of anything that could
have caused it. The man in the alley had a gun but he hadn’t hit her. Maybe it
was the change itself – maybe something was going wrong…

“Well that was adorable,” someone said. Tenley, heart
already racing, snapped her eyes up, covering her nose. Ella, the blonde green
eyed woman who accompanied Titania, was laying on a branch yawning. She was
still wearing the same silken tunic they wore underground, woven from the silk
of some kind of glass-spider Tenley had seen down there. “How does it go? One
for sorrow?”

Tenley glowered. She didn’t like Ella. Mainly because she
got the feeling Ella didn’t really like her. Like she thought Tenley was trying
to take her place as The Queen’s favorite, which was silly because Lilian was
obviously her favorite and Tenley didn’t care anyway. “What are you talking

“They say if you see one magpie it’s bad luck,” Ella said,
rolling off the branch to land before Tenley with a wide grin on her face as
she purred, “Don’t you know the song? One for sorrow? And my, you do look so
glum, don’t you? But don’t worry because I’m here to brighten your day! Two for
joy, as they say.”

“Bad luck, you said,” Tenley glared at her. “Maybe there’s
something to that…”

“Three for a girl,” speaking of Lilian, there she was behind
Tenley who shouldn’t have been surprised. Those two seemed to always be close
to one another, fair Ella and red haired Lilian who was the gentler of the two,
but like all of them could pull a man’s spine out if he upset her. “Show me,”
she said as she knelt and with a feather like touch moved her hand from her
nose. Her head tilted a few times before she softly said, “don’t worry. Your
body is still changing. Sometimes bits of the old you that aren’t needed
anymore will be forced out. It’s nothing to be concerned about. See? It’s
stopped already.” Lilian assured her, but didn’t smile the way Tenley saw
adults do on television.

“It’s like when all your teeth fell out because new ones
were growing in,” Ella still grinned and blinked. Tenley shot a confused,
scared, and angry stare at her, suddenly imagining a smaller version of herself
bursting out of her. Ella laughed, “don’t panic kiddo. You’re not going to shed
your skin or go into a cocoon or anything like that. Most of the time you won’t
notice anything at all apart from getting even stronger. Should see the look on
your face though – it’s priceless!”

“So,” Tenley narrowed her eyes warningly, “are you just here
to annoy me?”

“Not just that,” Ella insisted and pirouetted. “We came to
check on you. You’ve been neglecting to keep in touch with us – a little update
once in a while isn’t much to ask you know. Also, now I want to remember the
rest of that rhyme.”

“Four for a boy,” Lilian reminded her.

“Yeah,” Ella kept spinning and dancing around them, “why is
it more for a boy? Are magpies sexist?”

“Who cares,” Tenley rolled her eyes, “it’s just a stupid

“Five for silver, six for gold… The Queen gave you gifts.
Gifts you haven’t even begun to understand yet and, well, you’ve just not shown
much in the way of gratitude.”

“All she asked was that I go after the people who killed my
mother,” Tenley reminded her, “and that’s exactly what I’m doing.”

“And a wonderful job you’re doing I’m sure. But it can’t all
be about you. And we need to know that you’ll stand with us when it’s all

Watching Ella was making Tenley dizzy. When what was done?
Revenge? Honestly she hadn’t really thought that far into the future, if there
was a future. But she didn’t think The Queen had anything to do with them being
here – this was all Ella looking for signs of weakness or betrayal. Tenley
wasn’t playing. “Whatever,” she got up, “I have things to do and I don’t need
you idiots watching me.”

Ella stopped dancing and stood in mock shock. “Well, that’s
not a very nice attitude.”

Tenley shrugged, “I’m not a very nice girl.”

“So you don’t care about family?”

“It’s all I care about.”

“What about being part of a team instead of just rushing off
to do your own thing all the time? You know there’s no ‘I’ in team.”

“There’s a ‘me’,” Tenley pointed out. “And an ‘at’ and ‘tea’
and ‘meat’… I’m hungry. You all do whatever you want. I’m going to find
something to eat, which is also in team.”

“Oh,” Ella grinned even wider, which Tenley didn’t believe
was physically possible, “We will do that. But seven…” she said mysteriously.
Tenley paused and peered back at her. Was this still the stupid song?

Lilian had been quiet and still through the whole exchange
now said, “a secret, never to be told.”

“What secret?” Tenley asked.

“Eight for a wish,” Ella told her. “We know where your next
target is, and we’ll tell you. But in exchange tonight, after you’re done
having fun, you join us for a feast in the throne room. Isn’t much to ask now,
is it?”

“And if I don’t?”

“Nine for a kiss. But not the loving kind in this case.”

Tenley got that she was being threatened. Ella looked a few
years older than her, maybe sixteen, not that it meant a lot for these
creatures. Presumably she had all the strengths and ‘gifts’ Tenley had
received, but Tenley had no idea if Ella knew at all how to fight. She could
overpower just about anybody, but Tenley had been trained. She knew how to hit
and could take more than the odd knock. She didn’t take the threat very
seriously, but in the throne room Titania would be there so it was unlikely
Ella was really up to anything mischievous. “Fine. I’ll be at your stupid

“Feast,” Ella corrected. “It’s gonna be wild. Since it’s
obvious you don’t trust me, Lilian will show you where to go.”

Lilian, still on her knees, held up her palm. Just like
before with the changeling children, Tenley just had to touch it with hers and
sights and sounds flooded her mind, memories that were not hers but were as
clear as if she had just saw them. And in them she saw the face of one of those
from that night, one of those who had taken her mother and put an end to all
the dreams she had. With renewed anger, determination and energy she turned
away and sprung off her heel, racing through the trees and across roofs to find

“Ten,” Lilian whispered, “for a bird you must not miss…”

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