Mother of Crow
By Jenny K. Brennan
Chapter 8 – All the birds?Last updated: February 2, 2019 at 19:24 pm [bctt tweet=”Ch 8 from Mother of Crow, the novel I publish as I need to making an idiot of myself, edit, revise, despair, and look for interesting words. #houseofimp #fiction”]
There were no birds in the monastery gardens. They had gone silent along with everything else. As humanity went insane and nature lost its purpose for being, the forests and gardens grew still. With the dead quietly losing their meaning as well as their colouring, they faded in memory as well. With time they lost their place in the collected consciousness of the remaining human population. They turned into faded images. There were no birds. That’s what went through Frederico’s mind in the moment he saw it. There were no birds.
The bird was beautiful. Clad in a deep blue feathering that gradually changed through indigo and dark purple to shimmering charcoal at the crown of its head. It was a creature so magnificent it would have taken Frederico’s breath away. If he hadn’t been breeding his butterflies. Stunningly close to perfection but still only a bird.. It was no larger than could easily be cupped in a mans hand,
“Oh.” John exhaled “
Oh.”, He said again and started moving past Frederico who let go of the door they had just come through.
John didn’t make it past. “Fred, look!”
But Frederico didn’t need to look to know that John had just made the first of many mistakes he would make in the world outside. There was a bird. On a branch. Just outside the only place anyone could exit the monastery. A bird.
There were no birds. Unless….
Before the thought was fully formed in his mind, His arm shot out and in the fraction of a second it took for the bird to decide to take off, he caught it just as it raised its wings. It never made a sound when Frederico tightened his fingers around the tiny body. He robbed it of air first. That way it couldn’t call out. It flapped its wings but Frederico ignored it and tightened his grip. The bird struggled in wild panic. It drove its sharp beak into the hand that held it, again and again, but to no avail. Frederico ignored the pain and finally, tiny bones cracked, and other things whirred and buzzed one final time before going still. The bird grew limp. Gabriel held on until he was sure it wouldn’t move. Then another minute. He closed his eyes and lowered his head. He let out his breath and dropped the creature on the ground. “Be quiet now, little one.”, He mumbled. John moved beside him and he opened his eyes to turn his attention to john. Blood dripped from Frederico’s finger tips and he let it fall to feed the parched ground at their feet.
“Fred?” John said. The name was muffled because both Johns big hands covered his mouth. Suddenly his hands moved to cover his eyes instead. “Fred, I can still see it.”
Frederico pulled John’s arms down. “I know, my brother, I know.”
Both of them stood a moment and looked down at the bird that was not a bird. Frederico hadn’t known for sure, but now they both knew. And John had to see to understand. The body at their feet lay exposed to them and the metal parts of the bird were easy to see. Tiny gears, springs, and scalpel blades appeared to have grown along with the birds natural anatomy in ways that Frederico could never hope to understand. John stepped closer and bent down to look at the remade pretty little bird. His fear was suddenly replace with curiosity. He poked at it. Frederico looked around while John satisfied his curiosity. “Yeah, be quiet now, silly little monster. You didn’t think you would get away from Fred, did you? Silly thing. Fred? Did it hurt you?” John’s expression was grim when he stood up. “Fred!”
Frederico ignored him. He plucked one of the remaining camouflage rags from John’s metal clad chest and wrapped it around his bleeding hand. He still didn’t know how he had caught the guardian. He only knew that he had and if he hadn’t, it would have brought the rest of the guardians within moments. It must have been posted there for that purpose alone.
“Nasty.” John said with finality. “Birds are bad.” He nodded. “Nasty bad monster birds.”
To Frederico’s dismay, John wasn’t looking at the bird, or even at the sky where there may be a swarm of guardians sailing around looking for them right that moment. He was looking at Frederico, seemingly searching for something that wasn’t there. Frederico wanted to look away.
John asked, “All of them? All the birds? Even pretty birds?”
Frederico nodded. He wished with every fibre of his body that it wasn’t true. But it was better that John believed it. “Yes, John, all the birds.”, He said, “All the birds and maybe all the other animals too. We don’t know. Maybe they are all nasty bad monster things now. Let’s always remember that. Okay, John?”
John sighed and wiped his nose with a metal sleeve, then wiped the sleeve on a piece of an old polishing cloth tied around his other metal sleeve. “Okay,” he finally muttered. He wouldn’t look at Frederico. He shuffled his feet and glanced at somewhere other than on his fellow monk, dead guardian bird, or glimpses of sky above them.
Frederico sighed inwardly and looked up. “We have to go, Brother. Now.” There were but a few patches of sky seen through a ceiling of wood and vines carefully arranged to grow grapes. All was quiet. What was happening within the stone walls would not be heard on the outside. But it was happening nonetheless. When would they figure out that someone was missing? He turned away from the stones that had been his home for the last three decades. A crumpled leaf crackled beneath his foot and suddenly he recalled the plenty that had been before. When all the monks had to do was walk outside and pick grapes from just above their heads. Now, the vines were a tangle of dry cracking branches and long crumpled leaves.
Beyond the protective ceiling of vines, tight rows of fruit trees took over, and beyond that, the forest on the other side of the monastery gate continued into the eastern paradox, a vast forest stretching far into places Frederico didn’t know. As far as he had heard, , it didn’t stop until it reached the ocean. That was several days travel by horse, on a decent road. But that wasn’t where they were going. He frowned. Where were they going to go? He pulled John behind him, and they made their way through the tight rows of fruit trees, glancing back at the monastery door and the spot where a tiny guardian lay crushed. “Shit.” He said and stopped, He looked more carefully at where they had come from.
John plucked at his coat. He was impatient to go.
“They will know,”Frederico whispered and stared at the bloody rag wrapped around his hand , “the bird. We should have brought it.”
“Well, we could have buried it, or hid it, or kicked some dirt over it or something.” Frederico felt his focus scatter. He wanted to run back and hide any evidence of them escaping the monastery. He wanted nothing less than to go back there. They he… had killed a guardian. A small scout, an insignificant messenger to be sure, but still a guardian.
“Fred! Come on. We’re going to Severin. He knows what to do.” John started pulling at his friend. . Suddenly at a loss, thankful to let that specific complication turn out however it may, , Frederico allowed John to take the lead. They reached the wall in a few minutes. To Frederico’s relief the gate was still open. That had always been the way of the monks. ‘Always leave somewhere for the unfortunate to find their way in. If they eat well from our garden and disappear again, so be it. If they come openly and make their way to ask for our assistance, so much the better. Leave it half open so it appears open by mistake. It makes them feel safe to come to us.’ Memories of those words and the gentle man who had uttered them him were painful. The abbot’s words and attitude had surprised Frederico at the time, but now he wondered. Perhaps making it easier for strangers entering the monastery was not the only reason for leaving a gate open. He glanced thoughtfully over his shoulder. Perhaps the conveniently hanging vines had been more than for simple convenience. And suddenly it was obvious that the carefully constructed hanging vineyard was there for a very good reason. “Oh, Mother, how did you create such an ignorant one like this one?” He shook his head when John looked at him. He wanted to ask forgiveness for stupidity, but John was not the person to hold a grudge and wouldn’t understand the need to atone for anything, especially not for being a bit slow in the head. Frederico did however thought a quick apology for that sentiment. Slow indeed.
They slipped through the narrow opening and stopped for a moment on the far side. The forest was ancient and had been left to its own devices for hundreds of years. But the foliage was limp and offered sparse protection from above. Frederico scanned the patches of visible sky and saw nothing but misty blue. It was the same relentless unnatural shade of not-quite-right blue as he recalled from the last time he had-seen it, several months ago. Or was it years?
“Don’t do that.” John said quietly. He stood close to Frederico and glanced surreptitiously at the same glaring blue as Frederico had.
John looked down and trampled nervously in the same spot. “Don’t look.”
Frederico didn’t ask. He knew why. If the guardians were coming, seeing them wouldn’t help. He reluctantly turned to the trees surrounding them.
Despite this, Frederico felt safer away from the monastery grounds. There was no logic to the sensation of relief he felt. The weight of innumerable tons of monastery granite and marble slid off him like a silk scarf swirling off cool skin. He was momentarily taken aback by the thought of skin and he blinked. John pulled him between tree trunks and over dry ground and crackling moss. “Do you know where to go?”
“Of course I do.” John pulled and Frederico followed, confused.
“How?” He brushed a spindel off his arm and watched it scuttle under a rock, turn and glare at him. Before he was pulled deeper into the woods, he could swear that the spindel, a creature that had never existed before the Mother disappeared, stared at him. Spindels had no eyes but Frederico knew it was looking at him. What did it want? Then the thing was out of sight and he focused on his confusion again. “John, how do you know? Did someone tell you?”
John squeezed his big form through a pair of dormant ash trees and pulled Frederico through behind him. At the same time, he seemed to both shrug and wave aimlessly at something somewhere. “They told me.” He went to push a branch out of the way and it broke off the tree with a loud snap. Frederico froze. John carefully put the branch down on the ground and stared at Frederico for a second. They glanced around the silent scenery but nothing moved except for another spindel, now situated prominently on John’s shoulder. Frederico went to brush it off but John took a step back. “NO.”
“No!” John glared. Actually glowered at Frederico who gawked at the wiry bug. “But it’s a…”
John grabbed Frederico again and hauled his fellow monk through a stand of trees that Frederico couldn’t identify. They were not quite dead, not quite alive, standing silently with their limp leaves and dusty smooth bark. They could have been silvery white once. The ground rustled and branches protested when they pushed their way through. Frederico kept an eye on the spindel. It clung to an edge in John’s armour, traveling quite contentedly with the big man’s protection. It bobbed and wiggled to keep the balance but some how, some way, it always managed to keep an eye on Frederico. “I don’t trust you.”, It appeared to say, “I’m just going about my business, you stupid human, you tend to yours why don’t you? See? We’re all friends here. Got mi eyes on you, Sir.”. Frederico frowned. Spindles didn’t have eyes. Or mouths. Or even a mind as far as the monks ever discovered. But this one had gained the full protection from one of the full metal monks. Now that was a feat even the most important of humans had a hard time achieving. “This one has its ways,” the spindle continued in Frederico’s mind. “You’re a bug.” He said to the bug and looked away before it could inspire further conversation between Frederico and… Frederico?
John stopped. “See?” He pointed, “Severin’s house.”
John’s attention was wholly on the ruin of a cabin ahead of them. Frederico pulled a twig out of his hair and poked at the spindel with it. The bug jumped out of the way and scrambled over to John’s other shoulder., out of reach. Frederico bared his teeth at the thing. He didn’t know why. It was the right thing to do, he was sure of that. The spindle reared back and raised its four front legs, wiggling them back and forth. Frederico grinned wider and leaned closer. The spindle dropped its legs and backed into John’s linen collar and crawled in behind it. “Shit.” Frederico breathed through his aching teeth, glancing at John who turned o grab him again. The spindel looked like nothing more than a tuft of trash tucked behind Johns slightly dingy tunic. “That’s right,” Frederico mumbled at the spindel, “ I am bigger than you.”
“Fred? Are you sick? Are you going to puke or something? Fred, you look really sick.”
Frederico stared at his companion. “What?” and then he felt the stiff grin on his face. A grimace. He let his face relax and tried to smile. No good. . He tried harder and on his second attempt he managed an actual smile, however awkward it must have looked. “Sick? Oh, no. Not at all.” Satisfied, John waved at the overgrown little cabin in the withered forest and nodded. Frederico took a closer look and scrubbed at an itchy spot.“Severin’s place? That? Well, what do you know? It’s there. I can’t wait to meet the maker of this…marvel of a … err, home?”
About the author
Jenny K. Brennan is a Swedish/Canadian vocalist, songwriter, and writer living in Ontario, Canada since 2002 with one husband, one dog, and unfinished projects in the thousands. Find her on
The House of Imp,
Icarus Machine official,
JennyK Productions Youtube,
and other places. She is the lyricist and vocalist in the melodic metal band Icarus Machine since 2015. She studies braille at The Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually impaired. On her free time, she learns Wordpress by trial and error, audio production using Apple Logic Pro, and carpentry by association.