Working title, haha. Near-midnight posting, but here’s an excerpt for this week! This is two parts of a series of vignettes about a princess, birds, her suitors, and something being a little off about it all. It’s essentially a little exercise to take a break from my larger main project.
When Everard pressed his lips to the princess’ knuckles, a chill swept over him. Blaming the wind felt at once the easiest solution and the most disprovable. Not a single leaf in the trees surrounding the clearing moved, nor did any of the many birds roosted in them.
He peered up through his lashes at her and found her smiling, a blush blooming rosy on the apples of her cheeks. Paying attention to the instinct that something was amiss felt almost like a betrayal.
Her kindness had already proved more than he expected or deserved. After all, he had shambled into her beautiful world a rusted puppet of a man, half of his armor abandoned in the swamps from whence he came, the other half more trouble than it was worth.
And so he discarded the concern and followed her into her domain, flanked by her unsinging songbirds. She told him their names one after the other and he stopped pretending to keep track after the first half dozen. Johann, Percival–Percy for short, Larkin, Blavier, Hildebrandus–no nickname, he was much too grandiose, Cole…
They have a bright, almost glowing quality to their feathers. They only eat when the princess offers them crumbs of food. Patient, one at a time, never crowding. They don’t seem to produce a spot of waste; every piece of furniture in her tower gleamed, clean as freshly-polished crystal.
A drab buttonquail circled around her feet as she moved, darting between her ankles and back out again. The bird stopped when she did and turned to look at Everard with an unnerving steadiness.
Larkin sighed as the princess pulled her fingers through his hair. She pulled free a feather that must have fallen from one of the dozens of birds. For a moment, he quailed at the thought of potential filth and disease, but her voice soothed him.
“You have awaited being groomed for some time while lost in these woods, haven’t you?” The princess asked.
Larkin’s brow wrinkled and he let out a confused squeak of a laugh, the sort that would have drawn the scorn of his peers at court. His voice rang high and giddy around her at all times and she didn’t seem to mind.
“You mean to say that you have been awaiting a groom, of course,” he corrected.
She inclined her head. “Of course.”
Larkin smiled. So sweet, as yielding as the flesh of a ripe peach.
He had two brothers, one of whom married for the convenience of the match, another for love. Before now, he never understood the latter.
There was only one blemish on the otherwise perfect moment. A bustard stared at Larkin with an eye like a blackberry drupelet, tiny and shining and dark. The creature perched on the princess’ shoulder like an ornament on her fine gown, so still it could have been stuffed. The elaborate feathers spread out so it appeared as big as her head. He wished it would leave. She seemed to care for the pests, so he hadn’t said anything about them. Larkin settled for snuggling into the skirts on her lap, shutting his eyes, and taking a long inhale of her scent. He opened his eyes in time to see her pull another feather from his hair.
The princess twirled it between her index and pointer fingers, smiling, always smiling. She compared its bloodred coloration to the setting sun. Larkin stared at her adoringly. The birds did the same.
She gave him a tart that night for supper and Larkin had an overwhelming urge to discard his silverware and stick his face in it. He didn’t, gentleman that he was.
But the next night he gave into the temptation to eat like a savage.
The night after that he ate from her hands.