How Tokai Redwing Got Her Name

Reading through the Flash Fiction posts over on Chuck Wendig’s blog reminded me of another story I wrote about a meeting with a god. It’s somewhat less than 1000 words, and is a lead-in to another of the books I’m gonna write someday. Here ’tis.

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Red-winged Starling (Onychognathus_morio) 8

How Tokai Redwing Got Her Name

Among my people it is believed that the gods and the etirru, the fae, walk among us in the form of men. I know this to be true, for I have met one such, and it is he whose rule I now follow.

This is how it was.

I and a friend, Halimon, were searching the caves above Loukha valley. It was rumored that in older times papyrus scrolls were stored there because the caves were so dry. We had found a cache of ancient scrolls that day, and Halimon was loading them on our horses while I searched one more cave. But it seemed that Halimon had grown greedy, for he betrayed me. He struck me down from behind, and caused a rockfall.

I was fortunate; I was only stunned and already beginning to rise when I heard the rocks falling. I lunged forward and so was only caught by the edge of the fall—but that still buried me from my hips down to my feet, and one of the rocks tumbled and struck my head again.

I do not know how long I lay unconscious, but I think it was no more than an hour; when I woke, all the dust from the fall had settled. I lay mostly prone, my right arm pinned beneath me. I was unable to roll over onto my back, nor could I even turn onto my side to free my arm. So I worked with my left hand, pulling stones and rocks one at a time and shoving them away. It was slow work, and I had no way to know how it was proceeding.

Every once in a while I pulled enough rocks away that more would come down in a cascade, and at last yet one more stone bounded down and struck my face, cutting deep above my eye. It hurt badly, and it bled badly, and I was so angry, and frustrated, and frightened that I cried out, “Is there no-one in this blesséd darkness that can help me free?”

And from the darkness a voice answered me.

Now I had explored this cave, and I knew that there was no entrance but that from which I had come. I thought then it must be one of the earth fae.

The voice said, “What would you?”

“To be freed from these rocks and safe out of this cave,” I said.

“And for this aid, what recompense?” he replied.

“My hand in friendship now, and my promise of aid in your time of need,” I answered. I vow to you, I could not hear him move, and yet I heard him freeze in startlement.

“That is a great gift…” he said in wondering tones. “Done.” And somehow I could see his hand reach out for mine. I reached up my hand, and he took it, and suddenly the rocks were gone, and I was standing, and the entrance to the cave was as clear as if the rockfall had never been.

“Sir,” I said, “Who am I to thank for this rescue?”

“You know who I am,” he said, and stepped a little forward toward the cave entranceso that the light fell on him. I could see him then—a young man in his prime, in dark robes of fine cloth. His hair was glossy black, and his complexion olive like my own. But his dark eyes reflected silver in the dimness, and as he stepped further forward I saw at his temples the locks of hair that were rusty red like the marks on a starling’s wing.

“Emeris!” I gasped, and started back. But his hand tightened on mine, and he would not let me pull away.

“You offered your hand in friendship when you knew me not,” the god said. “Would you deny it now that you do?”

“No, my lord, but—”

“What is your name?” he asked. I told him, though I had a different name, then. He saw the blood on my face, then, and brushed his thumb across the wound. It stopped bleeding, though I still have the scar.

“You are tokai,” he said, the word meaning strong, with the feminine ending that made it a name. When I told my sister the story, she took to calling me that when we were alone. “You are safe now, tokai. Go. The redwings will watch over you.”

And it was so. On the long walk home nothing and no-one came near to me, save for the redwing starlings that flitted across the path in the lowering light.

And when I arrived home I heard that Halimon had been found, gutted like a fish. There was no trace of the papyrus scrolls. It seemed my betrayer had himself been betrayed by his greed.

So it is that I now follow Emeris of the Red Wings, Lord of Shadows. Some call him the god of thieves, but they forget he is also the god of secrets and of hidden lore—and of safety in darkness.

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Check out the other posts for the challenge at: http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2017/03/17/flash-fiction-challenge-to-behold-the-divine/#comments

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