Zephyr would never tire of flying, and she teased Avis by flitting over and under her. The more experienced falcon threatened to drop the silken ribbon from her beak, and this prompted Zephyr to try beaming a thought into her companion’s mind.
Don’t drop it. Those pearls were a wedding present.
Thank you for them, came the response. They’re a fine token of your desire.
They weren’t for you. I wanted my husband to see them.
I’m sure he saw them before. Did you hope he would return to you?
Did she? Zephyr found the question so unnerving that she flew to the roof of the church and settled there to think.
Avis stood beside her, apparently waiting for an answer.
Not if he left us willingly. Not if he likes it better where he is. Not if he thinks I need a master to give me instructions. Sometimes when he came home from the tavern, he treated me like a simple-minded servant, and I could hardly bear it. But how?
Avis shook her tail-feathers and lifted her wings as though to fly off the roof, but she settled back down and fixed Zephyr with her bright eyes. How could he leave you and your children without a word?
Yes. I just want him to tell me that.
Avis made an odd series of sounds, more like grunts and clicks than her usual cry. If Avis was trying to teach Zephyr the language of falcons, the message wasn’t clear.
Beloved, what if he couldn’t find the words? Or what if you couldn’t read the signs he showed you?
Zephyr screamed in frustration, frightening the swallows at the other end of the church roof.
Unfair. I knew he suffered, especially when our babies died. I did what I could to comfort him, but I had my own burdens. And we still have fledglings who need us.
Another question occurred to Zephyr. You know my husband, Current, don’t you?She hoped this thought would give Avis a headache. Is he your mate?
Avis cocked her head. Not in any significant way, my dear. Our males are not like yours, thank all the gods. You’ll see.
Zephyr couldn’t trust her new companion, but she doubted whether more satisfying answers were available. Some truths simply have to be experienced.
Our home is in the mountains. Avis lifted her wings, ready to soar through the air. Come.
The journey was exhilarating. Riding currents of wind, Zephyr saved enough strength that she could fly against them when she needed to stay on-course. She didn’t want to imitate Avis in all things, but having a teacher to follow enabled Zephyr to develop new skills.
Avis showed her how to hunt doves by chasing them through the sky until they could be bitten on the neck. The sport seemed cruel, but hunger overcame Zephyr’s hesitation, and the flesh of the prey was delicious.
At last, the falcons’eyrie came into view. On the side of a mountain were two dozen shallow holes lined with leaves, feathers, and the occasional half-hidden trinket. Each bird had a private bed, and over them all, a rocky ledge provided some shelter.
Zephyr sensed that were-falcons were less sociable than the ordinary humans they had been at one time. How many had committed crimes, and how many had escaped from persecution?
They clearly wanted to live like hermits.
Fledgling, why are you here? A large falcon peered down at her from the ledge.
Sir or madam, I’ve come to find my son, Dandelion.
The large falcon raised and lowered its wings, looking irritated.
In desperation, Zephyr pleaded. He’s very young, barely more than a hatchling. I don’t think he can hunt yet.
That’s not my business.
The setting sun flashed on the feathers of those who glided home after a hunt, some with bloody carcasses hanging from their talons. Others circled in the air above, surveying for signs of unexpected activity. The cries of were-falcons on guard duty warned away other predators, even real falcons.
Jean Roberta lives on the Canadian prairies, where the vastness of land and sky encourage daydreaming. She teaches literature, composition and creative writing in the local university. Her diverse fiction (mostly erotic) has appeared in many print anthologies, and in the single-author collection Obsession (Renaissance). Her historical fiction includes The Princess and the Outlaw: Tales of the Torrid Past (Lethe Press) plus The Flight of the Black Swan: A Bawdy Novella (Lethe, also in audio). A revised, expanded version of her out-of-print erotic novel, Prairie Gothic (set in a pre-millennial world of conflict and dread) will be published by Lethe. She coedited Heiresses of Russ 2015 (Lethe), an annual anthology of the year’s best lesbian speculative fiction. Her fantasy stories include “The Water-Harp” in Underwater and “Mysteries of the Dragon” in On Fire (Transmundane).