rosiphelee: (Nimbus)
[personal profile] rosiphelee
Part One Part Two Part Three Part Four

And the third part, which mostly concerns Aylili's past. Also, to all feral children, a bath must come. ^_^

Title: Dandelion and Thistledown (3/4)
Words: 5675




At its end, the Kings’ Gallery widened into a great antechamber before two high doors. Two guards stood before the doors, hale and alert, their spears ready in their hands. As Nimbus drew near, Aylili quailed, but she could think of no way to stop him. To avoid witnessing his humiliation she gazed up at the great doors, studying the carvings.

They were full of feathers, layer on layer of carven wings rising towards the ceiling.

There was a sudden clang, as of spears moving and Aylili flinched. Then Nimbus said confidently, “My ward Aylili. Giving her a tour.”

She glanced at him and then blinked. The guards had set their spears against the stone floor and were saluting. Nimbus drew her forward between the guards. He touched the doors gently and they swung open silently.

The room beyond was vast and dim and Aylili paused and blinked as Nimbus swung the doors shut behind them. She could just see some tall structure in the centre of the circular chamber.

“Once this was a place of joy,” Nimbus said. “Ablaze with light and colour.” He held out his hands and pale lights began to glow around the edge of the room.

“Long ago,” Nimbus said, “there were ten universes renowned as the Great Allies of the Light. Of the first three, Soreli and Megatha lie dead and lifeless and C’Tiri fell to the Dark twenty years ago. Of the lesser seven, Hiarath turned into Darkness a thousand years ago. The others, including Ashta where I was born, stand fast. Even Isola stands fast.”

In the brightening light Aylili could see the structure was a great archway, wide enough for twenty to march through side by side. It stood dull and useless in the centre of the room, leading nowhere.

“Once, that was the gateway to the Citadel of the Legions, which lies at the centre of existence. Once, the legions of the Light came marching to our aid. But now we are forsaken. Outright war rages once more in the worlds beyond our ken and they can offer us no succour. Still, we hold the gate, though we cannot pass it. For if the Dark should conquer Isola they might still turn the gate to their use. It is sealed but the seal can be broken and then they could march upon the Citadel and we would be overcome.”

Aylili stared at him and then glanced at the gate again.

“It can be done,” he said gravely. “It may already have happened, elsewhere. We did it to them, twenty years past. I was with the Ninth when we rode on Darkholm.” He fell silent and his eyes seemed very dark.

Aylili made her way to the centre of the hall and brushed her fingers against the archway. It was mere rough stone beneath her fingertips. Was this really the reason for the siege: the prize that led the Dark to brew liquid fire and leash thunder?

“And they don’t know it’s useless,” Nimbus said, coming up behind her. “And I won’t be the one to tell them.”

She cocked her head in query.

“They wouldn’t just turn and leave us, featherling. I have seen the Dark unleash more fell weapons than they have turned on Isola. They will not risk destroying the gate; they will not tear this universe atwain if they believe they can take the gate.”

“That is some small comfort,” a dry female voice said from the far side of the hall and they both whirled. Then Nimbus let out of whoop of joy and went bounding across the hall.

“Liaven! My dear lady!” he crowed, plucking her off her feet and swinging her around him until her lavender skirts flared. “I have pined for the sight of you. Your beauty is undiminished.”

“Only in that it does not exist,” she said dryly as he set her down. Aylili thought she was right. The lady was Nimbus’ age, hawk-nosed and possessed of drab, untidy, brown hair.

“All women are beautiful,” Nimbus purred, taking her hand. “Your eyes are as bright as the moon, dear lady, and your lips as soft and shapely as the rose and your mind is as clear and beautiful as the first star of the evening.”

Aylili screwed her face up in disgust but the lady merely laughed and pulled her hand away. “Have you been attempting celibacy again, Nimbus?” she asked lightly. “I can think of little else than would send you into such transports of delight. Or perhaps it is the onset of senility.”

He drew himself up furiously, but then roared with laughter. He brushed a light kiss against her cheek and said ruefully, “Dear Liaven. I will charm you one day.”

“I do not wish to be charmed, Nimbus.”

“I believe Lord Nimbus finds that the challenge, my lady,” a new voice said and a small man in grey stepped out of the shadows.

“Chancellor,” Nimbus said crisply. “How goes the day?”

“Poorly, my Lord, but that is nothing new.”

Lady Liaven was looking at Aylili, her gaze thoughtful. Aylili lifted her head and glared back. She would not be cowed.

The lady smiled and said, “Introduce us to your ward, Nimbus.”

Nimbus waved her forward with a sweeping gesture. “Aylili, the Lady Liaven, Ambassador General of Isola, and Lord Chancellor Vastaban. Good friends, my ward, Aylili.”

The Lord Chancellor pressed her hand gently while she frowned at him. The lady smiled at her with some dry amusement which Aylili mistrusted.

“Welcome to the palace,” she said gravely. “Nimbus, you never fail to surprise me.”

Nimbus laughed and curled an arm around her shoulder, pulling her towards the door. “Nothing surprises you, dearest lady. You know all our darkest secrets and deepest desi-“

Nimbus.

He quieted and Aylili crept a little closer to the lady, impressed. Nimbus shot her a grin and then paused.

“I astound even myself!” he announced, his grin widening.

Aylili winced and Liaven said suspiciously, “Nimbus?”

“Liaven,” he purred.

“No.”

“But, dear, dear Liaven..”

“No. Whatever you want. No.”

He glanced at Aylili and then drew Liaven away, murmuring. Aylili watched nervously. Aylili heard him say, “motherless child,” and then, “terribly shy.” Liaven glanced at her and she scowled and glared at Nimbus.

“You’re not serious. Nimbus, I won’t-“

“Marvellous,” Nimbus said. “Aylili, featherling, go with Lady Liaven. She has something to talk to you about. Chancellor, shall we withdraw.”

The Lord Chancellor glanced at Liaven nervously and then said, “With all speed, my lord.”

Nimbus, hurrying away, turned at the corner long enough to call, “Liaven. Baths are good.”


*



Aylili was not amused. Water was for drinking, for fishing in and, occasionally, for washing out wounds. It was not for submerging oneself in until one’s skin was soft and useless. She prodded her warm knee in annoyance and saw pink show under the brown. Water was meant to be cold and stink of fish and seaweed. It was not supposed to be hot and full of bubbles that smelt like flowers.

The skin on her fingers had gone wrinkly. Enough was enough. She surged upwards in the tub, sending another wave of water over the side. The tiles were already covered with puddles. Perhaps she shouldn’t have struggled quite so much when they put her in the bath.

The tiles were cold and she barely repressed a squeak as her warm feet touched them. Shivering, she looked around.

They had taken her clothes.

The door opened and the old woman who had had her dumped in the water came in. She pursed her lips and looked around the soaked room. Then she pointed at Aylili and said, “Back in the tub. You’re not done yet.”

Aylili, stark-naked, soaking wet and covered in bubbles, shook her head and scowled.

“You don’t want me to put you back in again, do you?”

She hesitated. She wouldn’t dare, would she?

The old woman tapped a comb against her side and waited. When Aylili didn’t move she took a step forward, smiling unpleasantly.

Aylili scrambled back into the tub. She sat meekly enough while the old woman rinsed her hair, though she could not help squirming when she took a comb to it. It hurt.

At last, she was released. The old woman handed her a towel. “Dry yourself off and I’ll fetch you some clothes. Then you can speak with Lady Liaven.”

Aylili wrapped herself in the big towel and shivered.

Ten minutes later, the old woman ushered her into the lady’s presence. Liaven sat by the window, turned away from a vast desk heaped with maps and papers. There were tears on her cheeks and as Aylili crept closer she heard her murmur, “Reckless fool. Stupid, feathered idiot. Why did you come back?”

Aylili scuffed her bare feet against the balding rug.

Liaven jumped and then cleared her throat. “Come forward, child. Sit down. Do the clothes fit?”

Aylili plucked at the fleecy shirt and nodded warily. Her own tatter-rags had vanished but the grey leggings were warm and the long halter-neck shirt, though it left her upper back bare, covered her arms and chest with thick silver cloth.

Liaven sighed. “You’ll be taller than Fideli when you come into your height. She was always tiny, though. Poor Fideli."

Aylili felt suddenly uneasy, wearing a dead woman’s clothes. Liaven interpreted her look and said briskly, “Nimbus said you needed something you could run in and we’d nothing else tough enough. What can be used must not be wasted. Do sit down, child.”

Aylili perched on the edge of the chair, on the far side of the desk from Liaven. The papers on the table caught her attention and she leant forward, fascinated. The lowest layer was street plans, mapped out row by row. Atop them lay coloured charts, marked by brown strips of wall and coloured blocks before the wall in the shapes of ships and stick figures. Lists in an unknown script were scrawled down the side of the charts.

“Enemy formations,” Liaven said. “Often the only way we can hold the walls is to know where they are and what their numbers are. That’s what Nimbus does. These are all of his making.”

Involuntarily, Aylili glanced out the windows, at the grey roofs.

“Except when it comes to outright battle,” Liaven continued coolly. “Then he needs be all at once. He is our eyes and our voice to carry messages. And, if the need is dire, he is the sword from the dark sky, the inescapable death.” She leant forward, her eyes bright and fierce. “We need him, Aylili. We are losing the war without him. I have no choice. It does not matter if he is healed or not. I can give him no more time. Now I know where he is I have to tell the generals. Do you understand? I have no choice.”

Aylili puzzled over it and then nodded. She understood, though she suspected Nimbus would not.

“Wise child,” Liaven said sadly. “Is there anything more I can do for you? If you lose your guardian, I will be beholden to you.”

Aylili tossed her head. She had not appointed Nimbus her guardian; it was all his own whim.

“Let me comb through your hair,” Liaven said. “If you let it dry like that, it will tangle.”

Aylili shrugged. It was always tangled. All the same she sat still on the window seat and let the lady work the comb through her pale hair. From here she could see the grey roofs laid out like heaped paper. It was almost like flying and she wondered how hard it could be to see black wings from here, against the cold slate.

“I used to do this for my sister,” Liaven said softly. “Before the war.”

Aylili knew grief when she heard it and so pretended she had not heard.

“You are so thin, child. Look at your shoulder blades. Is Nimbus not feeding you properly?”

Aylili shrugged. She was intrigued by the feel of her clean hair hanging soft and heavy down her back.

“Fourteen, aye? Though you don’t look it. Fourteen, just started to grow and no one to care for you for years.” Then, muttering, “Nimbus, I’m going to kill you. Next time you talk me into something like this I’ll pluck your pretty feathers out and stuff a pillow with them.”

Aylili blinked.

Liaven began to weave her hair into plaits. As she worked she began to speak. “You’ve grown taller of late, aye?”

Aylili nodded and winced as the comb caught in her hair.

“You’ll find that won’t be the only change in the next few months. Nimbus asked me to explain to you exactly what to expect. Some of it is a necessary nuisance, the rest is worthwhile, in the end. Are you listening, Aylili?”

Aylili nodded glumly.

“Good. If I have to do this more than once I’ll spike his feather oil with catnip.”


*



Nimbus was in high spirits as they left the palace. His wings were gleaming and his hair was styled elaborately. Every time the wind gusted past him Aylili could smell cinnamon and bergamot.

Unimpressed, she turned her head away and stalked onwards.

“Aylili,” Nimbus said coaxingly but she could hear the ripple of laughter in his voice. “It is not so bad.”

That was easy for him to say.

“You can’t help growing up, featherling. It happens to us all.” Then he added lugubriously, “Some of us are merely growing old.”

Aylili smiled, despite herself.

“Much better,” Nimbus said. “Now, where shall we go? We have the whole city before us.”

She could smell it: the soapy whiff of cabbage and the sour tang of beetroot mixing with the stench of rotting food. There was sulphur – sharp and pungent from the alchemists and earthier where it rose from the sewers. She could smell the people around them, the mix of stale skin and oversweet perfumes, their sweat and their breath. It made her feet itch for the safety of the rooftops, and her back prickle as if she could feel all those curious gazes arrowing in at her.

Hunching her shoulders, she glanced back towards the palace in time to see a green-capped runner sprint out of the gates towards the walls.

“Military courier,” Nimbus said, following her gaze. “Carrying dispatches from the Spymistress to the generals, no doubt.”

I have no choice, Liaven had said. Aylili could guess what that dispatch said and she grabbed Nimbus’ arm and pulled him down the street, away from the palace. He went with her, laughing, as she searched for a way back onto the roofs. Only the sky was safe. Liaven might be able to see them from her high tower but she could not follow.

“Had enough, featherling?” Nimbus asked, amused, and scooped her up. “Let us fly, then!” And he ran forward, the crowds parting as he hurled himself up into the chill air and away.

Within minutes they were back on the rooftops. Still Aylili hounded him, urging him away from the palace until he scolded her for a harridan. She ignored him, searching for a place they could hide from the eyes in the tower. As dusk fell she criss-crossed the roofs, waiting for the darkness that would disguise Nimbus’ wings. Under the cover of darkness, they could cross the city, away from the palace.

Then the dusk came and the glowing moon slipped through the veils of the clouds and Aylili realised that she herself was garbed all in silver, catching the light of the moon. Despairing, she sank into a crouch, panting for breath. Nimbus, who had been coasting behind her, settled himself on the ridge beside her and flicked his wings back so they draped down the slope of the roof.

“Better, featherling?” he said gently and she realised that he thought she had been fleeing her own fears. Frustrated, she was tempted to shake him until his feathers flew.

Then she thought again and her shoulders slumped. He would not understand. Even if she could tell him why they ran, it was not in his nature to understand. She covered her face with her hands, shutting out the moonlight.

The air sighed around her and a soft weight settled around her shoulders and across her back. Dropping her hands, she realised she was surrounded by feathers, glimmering in the moonlight.

“All will be well,” Nimbus said gently. “Rest, featherling. The day has been overlong and I have asked too much of you.”

She shook her head and felt her neat plait clip his wing. She lay her hand on his shoulder in quick apology and then pushed herself forward. He lifted his wing away and she ran along the roof to stand above the gable, her toes curling over the edge of the roof. The wind rushed past her, lifting her pale hair and cooling her skin. She shut her eyes against it and tried to calm her rushing thoughts.

It was to no avail and at last she opened her eyes and gazed up at the sky. The moon was full and bright and she could see the shadows on its skin. Dimly, she wondered how something so scarred could shine so brightly. If she could fly up through the cold night to take it in her hands would it crumble, like ashes, to grey nothing?

The clouds had gone but there was still smoke in the air, rising from beyond the walls and dimming the stars.

“They draw closer to the walls,” Nimbus said softly at her back. “They have been building out from the shore since the siege began, filling the strait. Every stone they lay lets them bring the catapults closer and so we fight them for every step. But with every month that passes their numbers grow greater upon the shore. I spoke at length with the chancellor. They fear what may lie upon the shore. They can no longer see beyond the walls.”

Aylili turned to face him and the wind tore past her, pulling strands of hair free to blur before her eyes. Nimbus grinned at her but his eyes were grim. “I cannot stay much longer,” he said. “I shall have to go back. Just not yet. Not yet!” He lifted his head and stared towards the walls. “They will stand a little longer without me. Tell me they will.”

She couldn’t. Instead she turned away and looked at Isola, silver at her feet. Only then did she realise where her feet had led her, in unthinking fear. Below her stood no park or garden but burnt and jagged walls. Where once a great house had stood was only ruin. The roof had fallen in, broken and charred and in many places the walls had crumbled and collapse.

She took a blind step backwards and hit Nimbus. He steadied her but his breath was ragged. After a moment he whispered, “The embassy. Come away, child. Please, come away.”

Aylili shook her head slowly. It was too late. She had left the roofs. And now, after all the years of running, she had come back to the burnt place. Her memory was awash with voices, Nimbus saying, ‘dead, every one,’ and older voices, her father shouting hoarsely, ‘Maria! Maria!’ and her mother screaming, ‘The children! Get the children out!’

But now there was only the wind whistling through the ruins and the sound of Nimbus breathing behind her.

She could still run. Only Nimbus would know and he would have no reason to blame her. He did not know her secrets. As long as she never spoke no one would ever know.

But for the first time since the flames came there were words trapped in her throat. She did not speak them: it was not time. Instead she made her way down the shingles, remembering that night, how she had scrambled and scrabbled her way onto the roofs. It had not been this roof she arrived on in the end. She circled the embassy patiently, looking for the right place. Nimbus followed her, in unnerving silence.

When she found the right place, she glanced back at him. He met her gaze steadily, but she could tell he was tense and wary. Was this how he looked before he went into battle? No sword or spell would be needed here.

The gutter had not been mended. Perhaps the house had been abandoned – the city folk had their own superstitions. She knelt slowly and traced the curve with her fingertip. Here her small hands had gripped desperately as she scrabbled to push herself up and onto the roofs. The thin metal had bent under her weight and she had screamed for her father. The only answer had been the roar of the flames at her back.

She had not spoken since.

“Aylili?” Nimbus murmured.

She looked over the edge of the roof. There was still a windowsill a few cubits below, still a pipe reaching down to the roof of the outhouse. It did not look so far now. It had been a mountain to her seven-year old self and she wondered why she hadn’t just run, what quirk of her nature had driven her to seek the skies.

She grabbed the guttering again and lowered herself over the edge. It groaned and creaked below her hands and she let go, dropping lightly to the roof below. From there it was a few steps to the wall. The railings along the top of it were spikes, level with her shoulders, and it was no effort to grasp them and pull herself onto the top of the wall. There she found her first problem as she scrabbled for balance. Her feet had grown – she could no longer jam them between the railings. She clung to the spikes for balance and frowned.

“Do you need help, featherling?”

She glanced up. He was still standing on the roof. She shook her head slowly. It had to be done this way. This was how she had done it before. She settled a foot each side of the railings and began to shuffle forward, using the spikes to steady herself. It was only twelve cubits to the tree.

By the time she reached it her feet were hurting; the bricks were far rougher than the slate tiles she knew. The tree had grown but there was still a branch she could reach from the wall. She stepped across and wrapped her arm around a higher branch, anchoring herself as she gazed down on the gardens, grown wild with neglect.

Then she shook her head, trying to shake the ghosts out, and scrambled down through the grey branches, where the first buds were beginning to unfurl. As she dropped to the soft earth she heard a rush in the air above her and a shadow passed over her. She stepped out from the shelter of the branches as Nimbus rose from his landing crouch and turned to gaze at her.

“I don’t like this,” he said softly. “I don’t want to be here, Aylili. Nearly everyone I love died here.”

She nodded and touched her own breast lightly. She could not say, Me, too, but she hoped he would understand.

He did not fail her. Nodding, he said, “Lead on, kiarria.”

They crossed the garden slowly, pushing between the trees which had grown where there had once been quaintly winding paths. Aylili was glad of the moonlight. She had rarely been allowed out after dark – there were less memories.

The lawn was dense with thin saplings. Looking ahead, she could see how bushes had sprung up by the walls, growing in tired and wild shapes. And behind them she could see the shadow of the old bushes, burnt into the pale walls. The grass had grown as well, swishing around her knees. It had never been allowed such freedom before. There had been gardeners, she remembered, weathered old men who had slipped her apples from the orchards and scolded when she ate the berries off the bushes before they were ripe. She had played on this lawn once, its thick grass tickling her feet when she cast off her shoes. Her mother had played too, when she could, and now, as the memories flooded back, she could hear her father’s deep laughter. Other times, when they were busy, her nursemaid had come out to watch her, along with her sister, the scullery maid, who had been teaching Aylili to juggle bright-hued leather balls.

“Aylili,” Nimbus said gently, and she shivered and blinked, surprised to find herself in the cold night. She stepped forward again, wondering what had happened to that girl. Perhaps she was dead, too, like everyone. Perhaps she had fled. The kitchens were at the back of the embassy and the first explosion had been at the front, in the nurseries.

The glass had gone from the great doors, which still stood open as they had on that warm evening long ago, and Aylili stepped through them with a shiver that ran down her spine and made her hunch her shoulders. The ballroom floor was covered with rubble. The moonlight shone through the broken roof and, gazing up, she could see into the upper floors, torn open by the explosion. Nothing looked familiar; it was all burnt beyond recognition.

“I danced here in days gone by,” Nimbus said hoarsely. “Less often in those last years – I flew too far afield, watching for the Dark. I wasn’t here to say goodbye. I thought they were safe here. We had seen such horrors, the three of us. I thought we had seen enough. I never thought- I never...”

Aylili unhooked her pipe from where it hung off her new belt. Her first note was slow and shaky but then she settled into the music. The merry gavotte seemed thin and sad in the cold room but she played it through, once, twice and then, on the third time, she faltered, stopping where the music had faded as the walls came down.

Nimbus was staring at her, his eyes bright with tears. “You were here,” he whispered. “You were here and lived. How? Oh, Light, did anyone else-“

She shook her head and took him by the hand. There was a balcony around the edge of the room, supported by sturdy pillars. There had been alcoves below, where the dancers could rest and whisper secrets. The steps to it still stood, though they shifted treacherously beneath her footfall. The balcony itself creaked beneath their weight and Nimbus muttered and gripped her arm.

“Stay close,” he said grimly. “If this goes beneath us I can slow our fall.”

She nodded. She had escaped this once; she had not returned only to die.

They crept along the balcony until they could go no further. A painted panel had broken off the wall and lay across the balcony, resting against the balustrade. Aylili knelt and peered under it. It seemed such a small space to her now. She turned her head and looked out on the ruined hall. It had always been the perfect place for a disobedient daughter to hide, once the children’s dances were done. The perfect place to watch the winged dancers, her parents and their friends swirling across the floor below.

She remembered fighting sleepiness, determined to wait until the music ended and the guests went soaring home through the pale dawn. She had been fiddling with the lace of her shoe to keep herself awake and had been annoyed when it snapped. She had bent forward to fuss at it and then – then the world had come crashing down around her.

Now she groped carefully under the fallen panel until her fingers touched brittle cloth. She drew out the small shoe, a child’s silken slipper, faded from gold to dirtied beige. She put it down beside her foot and sighed before looking up at Nimbus.

He was staring at her in horror. “You were under there?” he asked at last. “You were here in the hall?”

She nodded.

“And it protected you from the first blasts,” he said softly, looking around. “And then?”

She pointed at the window which overlooked the side garden. She had struggled out from under the panel, bruised and crying, and found herself above a hall of fire. The ceiling had collapsed and the wall behind the musicians. Bright-winged dancers lay crumpled on the polished floor, downed by falling masonry. And fire was licking at the walls, at the heavy drapes and the long dresses of the wingless dancers. She had screamed for her mother and seen her father, still standing, turn and see her.

He had roared at her to run through the window, and she had stumbled forward as the air filled with fire again. Balls of flame were being hurled through the open doors, the fire that clung and clung and would not go out. As she had reached the window she had heard her mother scream. She had hesitated, swinging back, but her father had roared, “Aylili! Go!” and she had hurled herself out into the night as if borne by the wings she did not have.

“And they were on the back lawn, not the side,” Nimbus said softly. “So you could dodge them until you found your way into hiding.”

She had stopped once she was into the orchard and looked back. Parts of her home were gone by then and the gardens were full of dark, dangerous figures. As she gasped for breath, her chest hurting with tears, she saw another ball of flame come arching out of the night to hit the roof with a thunder that drowned her screams. And then everything broke, collapsing in on itself.

“So who are you?” Nimbus murmured. “Aylili. Whose daughter are you? Older than I first thought, you are, and you have a look of her, with your hair clean and in those clothes. Is it wrong of me to hope, featherling?”

She wanted to tell him, to speak the words aloud. But it was too hard and her throat closed around the words. Instead, she backed away along the balcony and down the ground. She hurried across the scarred ballroom as Nimbus cursed and darted after her. Though the corridors were dark she did not hesitate. This had been her home. Behind her, Nimbus, cursing steadily, called up a white light. By it she could see that all the walls were blackened. A few times she was forced to detour where the roof had fallen.

“Aylili,” Nimbus said, sounding pained. “I am a creature of the sky. I do not care for enclosed spaces. Particularly enclosed spaces which may collapse on my head.”

She ignored him. If it hadn’t collapsed yet it would stand while she found some proof of who she was. At last they came into the atrium at the front of the embassy. It too was open to the sky. There had been three floors above it once, including her own pretty room under the eaves. The staircase which had swept upwards had only ten steps left and they were blackened. To the right should have been the retrieving room, with its paintings of the three of them. She could see only burnt flooring through the doorway. The left was less devastated and so she led him through once elegant rooms to the playroom. He hesitated as she went through the door and whispered, “Great Light.”

The room was no longer pretty but she didn’t care any more. She knew what she wanted.

Nimbus touched a melted metal soldier on the shelf and flinched as the paint flaked off in a cloud of dust.

Aylili knelt by the window seat. There was a chest which had held clothes and feathers for make-believe. Beside it was a small metal box. It was slightly misshapen and rather rusty, but seemed otherwise intact. She used her knife to pry it open and then presented it to Nimbus.

He laid it on the sill and lifted the three dolls out gently. They had been made by the king, as a birthday gift, and his skill had made them recognisable. There was her mother, with her blue eyes and freckles. There was her father, broad-shouldered and carrying his sword. And there was the child, small and blonde and laughing.

Nimbus turned them over and she saw that his hands were shaking. At last he said, rough-voiced, “Devon and Maria and this – this is you?”

She nodded and found herself oddly nervous.

“You’re Maria’s daughter? Our Ayliliara? Alive?”

Again, she nodded.

Nimbus was still turning the smallest doll over in his hands. He whispered, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I assumed you had died with them. If I had known I would have looked for you. I loved them both. I’m so sorry. You should never have been left alone.”

Aylili stared at him in wonder as he put the dolls back into their box. He handed her the box and said, with shaky briskness, “Our options are a little limited in these days. If I had found you before the gates were sealed, you could have gone to your parents’ kin. Devon’s family are all in C’Tiri – dead or lost – but Maria has a sister living in Citadel. It is too late now, of course, so – so, there is only me. That is – if…” He took a slow breath and then turned to face her. “I am no blood-kin of yours, Aylili, but I have lost all the family I was born with. Your mother was like a sister to me, and I promised her and Devon I would watch for you if they could not.”

There was a light outside, at the gate. Aylili pressed her hand against his mouth and gestured quickly at the window. Nimbus turned, putting her behind him, and peered out, his wings shadowing his face. Then he relaxed slightly. “Not enemies,” he whispered. “Not this time.”

They had been at the front gate, last time, as well as at the back of the house. Wary, she peered around Nimbus. There was a party of them, carrying torches, heads bent together in consultation.

“The General’s Guard,” Nimbus said, lifting a wing to let her see. “I believe – I believe they must have come for me.”

Date: 2008-03-08 04:26 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] shanra.livejournal.com
Randomly, bt I do love this line: "Also, to all feral children, a bath must come. ^_^"

“Dear Liaven. I will charm you one day.” <- *chuckles at Nimbus' flirting* I'd forgotten how chilling the history lesson this starts with actually is...

“But, dear, dear Liaven..[.]”

“No. Whatever you want. No.” <- *snickers* See what comes of trying to charm too hard those who do not wish to be charmed? ^-~

Chancellor, shall we withdraw.” <- Question mark, no?

Perhaps she shouldn’t have struggled quite so much when they put her in the bath. <- *snickers* Also, the introduction to the bath is marvellous. I love how Aylili's reaction gets reflected in the actual text.

“Good. If I have to do this more than once I’ll spike his feather oil with catnip.” <- *snickers* But you love him anyway, Liaven. Just admit it. ^-~

Frustrated, she was tempted to shake him until his feathers flew. <- Well, at least she does know what comes of stubbornly not talking to people...

“And it protected you from the first blasts,” he said softly, looking around. “And then?” <- That... is such a heart-wrenching way to write and to explain it all to Nimbus. Wordlessly, but all the more powerful for that. *shivering from the intensity*

“I am a creature of the sky. I do not care for enclosed spaces. Particularly enclosed spaces which may collapse on my head.” <- *chuckles at the addition* Leave it to Nimbus to add light to a very serious statement. *loves him*

Your mother was like a sister to me, and I promised her and Devon I would watch for you if they could not.” <- *sniffles*

That... was... Oh, my dear, dear Jenna, that was beyond words. Again. Such a powerful story you've woven here. I can quite understand you calling it a signature piece. It's so powerful and tangible. It's utterly gorgeous.

Date: 2008-09-20 07:51 pm (UTC)
ext_109654: (Nimbus and Maria)
From: [identity profile] rosiphelee.livejournal.com
The Light is pretty ruthless.

Nimbus is such a flirt, even when it's completely unwelcome. ^_^

Poor Aylili. Baths are such a shock.

*would love to see Nimbus pursued by cats*

*hugs Nimbus* Face to face with his worst nightmares there, poor thing.

*hugs* Thank you.

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