A Captive of Wing and Feather A Retelling of Swan Lake - Melanie Cellier
I stumbled, my feet tripping over dead branches and leaf litter. My heart pounded harder than my steps, although no one was chasing me.
A sweet, clear taste lingered in my mouth, but it elicited only dread. The lake had been beautiful, and the swans floating on it even more so, but I never wanted to see any of it again. I never wanted to see that man again or hear him spout such madness. I refused to believe his talk of enchantments.
I should never have followed the sound of my name. I should have listened to the townsfolk and stayed away from the forest. It had been foolishness to try to prove I wasn’t afraid of it—even while nameless dread circled in my stomach.
I burst out of the trees and onto the edge of town. Just as my feet touched the road, I faltered, a burning, stinging sensation washing over my body. My hands pressed against my exposed skin, but it was gone almost as quickly as it had come.
A flash of white overhead made me flinch. Had that been a swan? I shook my head and kept my eyes resolutely down. It didn’t matter what it had been. I was returning to the haven, and I would never enter the forest again.
Two Years Later
An air of excitement hung over the town. A newcomer might not have noticed it, but I could feel it like a palpable presence around me. I’d spent enough time in Brylee over the past five years to recognize its moods. I glanced longingly at the various small knots of townsfolk talking on street corners and scattered around the market square, but there was no point stopping and trying to talk to any of them.
Instead I moved faster, hurrying for the sprawling lodge house on the edge of town. My path took me past the bakery where I would usually receive a greeting or at least a wave. But on this occasion the young baker, Ash, seemed just as distracted as everyone else. He was deep in conversation with two older women who showed no inclination to leave, despite the fresh loaves already poking from their baskets.
As I passed by, I caught a snatch of their conversation.
“But what purpose could he have?” The woman sounded worried.
“Perhaps we’re suspected of some sort of wrongdoing—treason even!” The second woman sounded even more concerned.
Ash—who was usually fairly sensible—made no effort to gainsay this outrageous statement.
“If you ask me, the best thing we can do is nothing,” he said. “If he wishes to pretend that his visit is nothing out of the ordinary, then we must do the same. Perhaps he’ll…”
He trailed off, as if even he didn’t know what he hoped would happen, but both women nodded their agreement. I realized my steps had almost completely stilled and, shaking my head, I picked up my pace. If I wanted answers, my best hope was Cora. I wouldn’t get anything from this group.
The dilapidated building—once an inn but now known to most of us as the haven—came into view, and my speed increased again. A brisk spring breeze nearly blew back my hood, and I grabbed at it just in time. I had an odd reputation around town, and with everyone so stirred up, I didn’t want to invite trouble.
I pushed open the main door without knocking and looked around for Cora, the haven’s keeper. Instead a four-year-old girl came barreling into view, an excited grin on her face.
“Lady!” She raced toward me. “Lady, Lady, Lady!”
I hoisted her up onto my hip and paused for a moment to give her a cuddle. Unlike the townsfolk, Juniper didn’t care that I had no voice. I wanted to savor these moments while I still could—she would be too big for it soon. Already she seemed less and less of a baby, all long legs and waving arms.
“I made muffins. All by myself. And you can have one. And I got a new tooth. Right at the back. See.”
She opened her jaws wide and tipped her head back to an angle that completely obscured her mouth. I suppressed a smile and adopted an astonished and impressed expression.
She paused for only a moment before snapping her teeth closed and continuing to prattle on, unbothered by my silence. When she began to squirm, I let her slip back down to the ground. She took my hand and tugged me down the long hallway into the large kitchen at the back of the lodge.