I blogged about the birth of this tale, and thought I would share it as it grew. Here is part one, along with the illustration that my muse felt needed to accompany it. I drew this today on my iPad…I think it took me about half an hour. The 2500 words that go with it took significantly longer.
In for a Feather, In for a Fin
An Unlikely Encounter
Summer shimmered in the air. Humidity and heat lay heavy over the island, smearing the sky with haze. Trill, tiny and colorful in a way she shouldn’t be, sat on her favorite branch looking out over the bay. A steady wind ruffled the water and her feathers. She tightened her grip. Somewhere behind her calls rang through the trees, males and females singing for mates. Trill shifted her wings but didn’t look back. None of the sunny yellow artisans wanted her. Nor did she want them with their narrow ways and expectations of a girl demur and drab.
A level lower hung her home. The intricate weaving made her fluff with pride and she dropped down with a flutter of her wings to perch atop it. She wouldn’t share it. Not one of the potential males calling attention to their own carefully constructed nests would allow her to be the builder of their nest. Trill was fine with that.
Quicksilver forms darted through the water beneath her, casting their shadows below them. The tiny bird watched in fascination as they shifted and dove, a flock swimming instead of flying. When a shape much larger raced into their midst her heart pounded in her chest and she clutched at her branch, tail feathers twitching as the great dark mass erased a swath of the bright flock. A tall fin split the water and its tail sent eddies spinning off on either side. Red smoke stained the waves in its wake and Trill blinked as the prey headed for deeper water and out of sight. The river dumped into the bay not far off and the water, unlike the sweet pools inland, was far from clear. A flicker of motion drew her further out along her perch and the thin wood bowed under her.
The flicker turned into an eruption of fish, their bodies flapping above the surface, startling Trill into flight. The huge hunter exploding through them, spinning high into the air, shiny, dangerous and graceful. Trill ignored the fear she should have listened to and darted closer as the predator dropped, sending a splash of water out in an arc.
What was it, she wanted to know. Trill knew of the waterbirds that lived and flew beneath the waves, but what manner of creature could dive up so high? The small bird flew circles out over the bay, searching the murky water. At last she gave up as the wind rose and tore the peaks into whitecaps, tossing spray up at her. She would have to keep watch. Maybe it would come back when the tide came in.
Loud splashes woke Trill. She pulled her head from under her wing and shook her feathers out. The bay beyond the entrance to her nest glinted with moonlight, ripples breaking the surface into bright shards. Carefully she poked her head out and search for the noise that continued.
A quick dart away a shape thrashed in the shallows of lowtide. Trill chirruped in surprise and without a second of caution dropped down and flew to the neighboring tree. It was the hunter and it was trapped on the other side of a sandbar from deep water. With a flutter Trill dropped down, then again, until her feet gripped the still wet bark of the lowest branch. Back and forth it swam in the narrow channel made by the stream that fed into the bay. It tried repeatedly to rush up over the exposed sea bottom only to be grabbed by the sticky mud. It took desperate thrashing to get free and return to the channel.
Eyes glinted in the trees and on the shore. The predator’s struggles drew the forest’s attention. Trill glanced up into the tree and flexed her claws in fear as she spied a shadow with tiny moons for eyes creeping out along her branch.
“You should be asleep, little feather.” The branch swayed with the weight of Cyra, the fossa. The lean, dangerous hunter’s voice was almost a sing-song. “Did the sea-eagle’s splashing wake you?” Trill’s gaze darted left and right, up and down. High above the bright eyes of an owl watched and Trill trembled. Her only safety was to remain on the fragile branch tip.
“It is quite loud,” she managed to squeak out. Cyra let out a sound somewhere between a purr and a cough.
“Indeed,” Cyra murmured. The fossa stepped out further on the branch and it dipped down, the tip touching the water’s surface. Trill spread her wings and fought against the panic that parted her beak and flattened her feathers against her tiny body. “You are even less of a snack for that great thing than you are for me, little feather.” Cyra licked her lips.
The water beneath the branch went smooth save for the tiny ripples from each kiss of the branch as it dipped. Trill wanted to look for the ‘sea-eagle’ but didn’t dare turn away from the fossa. Cyra was well known among the weavers of the island. She had knocked more than one nest loose when the chicks were close to their first flight. It was why most built their homes over water. That, at least, would keep the fossa from being able to retrieve it, though it didn’t always deter her.
“And you aren’t but a snack for me,” a strange, deep voice stopped the fossa and Trill let out a high, startled whistle. “So why don’t we agree that the effort isn’t worth the reward and let the little feather be.”
Cyra’s eyes had gone wide and her furry tail bristled as she clutched the narrow branch. High above the watching owl let out a chuckling hoot and Trill heard it fly off. Her heart continued to race in her chest and she couldn’t feel any sort of relief when whoever had spoken scared the fossa so.
“Yes, yes, of course, of course,” Trill had never heard of anything frightening a fossa. They were the ones to be feared. But there was definite fear in her voice. “’Twas just a bit of fun, something to pass the time.” Cyra made that purring cough again, this time a higher, tighter sound, and backed towards the tree trunk. “I do believe I’ll take myself off to find some dinner now.” When the branch widened enough the fossa twisted and in the same motion dove into the night.
Cyra’s leap bounced the branch and Trill lost her grip as it flung her upwards. She spun and twisted and tumbled, disoriented. When she at last got her wings out to slow her descent it was just two lengths of her tiny body above a sleek, shiny, dark surface. She landed awkwardly and held her wings out to balance.
“Are you well, little feather?” That voice again, rough, ragged and deep, waves grinding rocks on sand, rumbled up through her feet.
“My name is Trill.” She didn’t want this new creature calling her what Cyra called all the birds she hunted. “And yes, thank you,” she answered belatedly.
The body below her moved and she spread her tail and wing feathers. “Trill.” The end of her name rolled through her rescuer and up into her feet, leaving a tingle behind when the sound faded. “I am Hai-la. It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Trill.”
The tiny bird’s heart pounded in her chest and she shifted forward carefully until she could peer down at one shiny, beetle-black eye. “And mine,” she answered. The trees above the shore whispered with the departure of the gathered audience. Soon only the lap of water and the humming cacaphony of insects filled the heavy night air.
“Seems I drew quite a bit of attention,” Hai-la rumbled. Trill let out a soft chirp and looked up and down the length of the predator.
“It’s not often we see new things,” she answered, “and certainly no one as large as you. Cyra is one of the largest of the hunters on the island.”
“Hmm. Yes. Well. Speaking of that furry thing, where is your home, little Trill?” The tiny bird cocked her head, looking up into the branches reaching over the water. She hadn’t realized how much Hai-la had been moving but they’d gone a fair distance down the shore. At least, a fair distance by her standards.
“It’s back there, the next tree down from where we. . .met.” Now that she was concentrating she could feel the sinuous undulations of Hai-la’s body. Water sluiced down her sides and lapped up over her tail just before the tall fill slipped through the ripples. The movement captivated Trill and she cocked her head in curiosity when it ceased.
“Would that be yours?” Hai-la rolled just slightly, pointing one of those beetle carapace eyes up into the branches. Trill fluttered her wings and twitched her tail.
“It would be, yes. I’m the only one who nests out over the open water like that.” She blinked, wondering why she felt she needed to explain that.
“Intrepid.” The observation carried what Trill thought might be admiration and she puffed up slightly. “Considering the danger I think you should return to your home, little Trill. The night is full of hunger.” Trill looked around and saw more than one pair of eyes disappear into the undergrowth. Reluctance weighed at her but she hopped down Hai-la’s back and up her tall fin.
“You are very considerate of my safety, Hai-la.” Trill hesitated just a moment at the top of the black-tipped fin and Hai-la slid through the water, carrying her close enough to the nest she needed only flap her wings a claw’s full of times to reach it. Trill grabbed hold of the outside of the entrance and dangled upside down, twisting her head this way and that looking for the sleek shadow of Hai-la.
The dark water showed only ripples. Trill scanned the surface and looked down the channel, disappointment rising. When Hai-la suddenly sliced through the water and swished back up under her nest she chirruped a greeting. “My apologies for disappearing, Trill. It’s uncomfortable for me to remain still for very long in this shallow water. It makes breathing difficult.”
“Oh!” Trill turned to fully look at the stranded hunter. “Are you in danger, Hai-la?” A clicking of teeth answered her and she waited in confusion.
“There is little in this bay that can endanger me. I can wait for the tide to rise to get back into the open water. I will just have to keep moving.” Hai-la swam away and back again and Trill dropped onto a lower branch, confident she was close enough to her nest to retreat from any swooping predators. Not that she thought any would risk approaching with Hai-la trapped in the channel.
“Hai-la? I do not wish to seem rude, but. . . might I ask, what are you? Cyra called you a sea-eagle, but I think that isn’t really what you are.” Hai-la made the clicking sound again and Trill thought that perhaps it was something done in amusement.
“No, I am not a sea-eagle, though I suppose for you it would be a fair way to describe me. I, little Trill, am a shark. . .”
Hai-la and Trill waited together for the water to return, telling each other about themselves and their worlds in between the shark’s laps down the channel and back. As the moon rose so did the water until Hai-la could make small circles under Trill’s nest instead of tracing the length of the outlet’s channel. When the shark, at last, could swim freely over the sandbar, their conversation slowed until a strange, laden silence took over.
“Will you come back?” Trill asked, finally, her feathers pressed tight against her body and feet clamped hard around her branch. She wanted to ask the shark to return, but didn’t feel someone as small as she could ask anything of the large creature.
“I would like to, Trill, if you would be willing to receive a visitor.” Hai-la’s voice reached out to Trill and she wished she could feel that sound through her body once more.
“I would be very willing,” she answered. The silence wrapped around them once more as Hai-la undulated in the water. “Hai-la?” The question rising inside her made Trill’s body feel even smaller and she shifted down the branch, risking the water that now was high enough to wet the tip.
“Yes, Trill?” A fine arc of ripples traveled away from the shark, reflecting the moonlight that shone from high overhead.
“Do you. . .” Trill poked at her own courage. “Do you have a mate?” The shark turned in a tight circle, bringing the eye the tiny bird had first met close to her once more.
“I do not,” Hai-la answered. “It’s unlikely I will. I am considered something of an oddity, among my kind. My mother had no mate, either.” Trill cocked her head, trying to wrap her thoughts around what Hai-la explained. “It happens, sometimes, when sharks are isolated for long stretches of time. My mother was swept into a gulf by a storm and trapped there. It’s where I was born. There were no other sharks.”
Trill’s tail twitched. “Do the. . . flocks?. . .I see farther out in the bay not wish you among them?” The tiny bird made an effort to keep her language proper, to converse with the shark in kind.
“Ah, the schools, yes, well, I don’t fit among them. The other females find me disconcerting and the males are threatened. The means of my birth are known in this ocean.” Hai-la turned again, swimming in a wide arc over the sandbar now.
“We have much in common then,” Trill answered, the revelations of the shark tumbling through her in a riotous waterfall. “But I shouldn’t keep you longer, you need to swim and breathe and feed.” Hai-la floated higher in the water.
“And you should rest, little Trill. You will need to fly and feed yourself come morning.” Hai-la curled around until she pointed out towards the bay. “I shall see you again soon, my new friend.”
Trill sang a farewell as Hai-la swam off, her fin dipping lower and lower until nothing remained but ripples. Trill watched and waiting, and as she began to give up hope the shark flew up into the night, spinning around tightly before falling back into the water. The tiny bird fluttered her wings happily and hopped her way up into her nest. She fell asleep thinking of great stretches of clear, clear water and no land and the grace of a long, silvery shape lined with white stripes. She had a friend. A large, dangerous, from-a-different-world friend, but a friend none the less.
…to be continued…