The crow spun overhead like a mad top, wheeling around in fast circles, by some invisible property lifting it up. Her eyes continued upward, and her tight bun pressed against the back of her neck. Tilda shaded her eyes and took a step back, trying to better perceive the bird against the overly bright white sky.
It was a quiet day, holding its breath, just like her.
It was a big day.
She had never been that interested in birds, actually. The waiting was just interminable right now.
It gave her something to look at besides the ancient carving of some strange crab-like creature with an upside-down dome for a head she had already examined from top to bottom. Some of kind of old brownish stone with scuffed spots and gleaming areas still visible. Chips of paint still left in the grooves, now a dull red.
She imagined they were bright red. Once.
She remembered all the things that brought her here. How she was a little girl, who had a dollhouse and stuffed nothcat dolls made in her image. But she’d look at that pretty little house and imagine all the stories of the people that built that house. Of how the land around that house might look. And she’d filled the pages of her school workbooks with spindly rivers and fluffy scribbled piles of trees and the edges of lands she’d never thought she’d visit.
Nights spent cradling the encyclopedias, reading about so many kinds of people. Studying the huge map in her father’s office, weathered and decorated with pushpins.
The kind of places that he had the status, money and ability to see. Something she’d probably never get.
What else was there to look at but the sky?
His wet and shining eyes. Black and sad. Crowfeather eyes.
All those hard eyes on her. Bored. Blaming her. She wasn’t ashamed, but she wanted to scream at them all to leave, if it wouldn’t have cost her everything she had left to her name. Possibly? No, certainly so.
You can’t trust a crow.
Anything below the horizon might as well be concentrated poison.
Anything to look at but the accusing eyes of her family. After all, she was the one that begged to marry him. She was the unsuccessful cartographer with stars in her eyes, who had never truly left a mark on any map and he was a young archeologist full of passion and full of love for her.
They seemed perfect for each other, though her wealthy mother disapproved and her family disapproved even more. Thames came from a family of old reed washers. Hardly an illustrious profession. They had no contacts and he had no clout.
Especially a crow with clipped wings. Of course, he wasn’t a crow, he was a cat. But she knew now he was a rook in his heart.
He had been like her, but hairless. Exotic.
She had never met someone completely bald before her. It was a little exciting.
His whiskers always tickled her nose. The only hair he really had.
Thames couldn’t even afford her dowry. But he had just made a breakthrough and he said that he would have enough to cover it. So she had trusted him and pushed, and trusted him more.
Now she stood here and he was nowhere to be found.
The crow flapped once or twice. Lazily. What kind of feranoth bird could fly without constantly fighting the pull of gravity with its wings? She wondered what property allowed it to do that. For a minute, Tilda allowed herself to imagine that each feather was coated with grains that caught ambient energy or mana, that that would allow it to lift itself up so measurelessly.
Clouds drawn like a wiggly line.
She would give anything for wings right now. Fly away, as fast as possible. So far away.
Why had they decided to get married in this ugly church, in front of this depressing cemetery? The weight of all her dead ancestors buried here, all their expectations and the end of a line borne by her would end here.
She would be married off for money. She’d carry on the bloodline, and it would be born of necessity, not love.
That’s all her future was, just like the borders on a map fluctuated back and forth over time.
She was just another pin to push into her father’s atlas.
Tilda’s tail lashed violently around her, as if beyond her conscious control. Like a horse swatting flies. The only thing flying here was the crow and maybe some dead souls. If you were religious.
She could imagine herself sneaking out, out of wedlock, siring some child with some single stolen night with a better man, a younger man. Not the man her family had desperately been trying to repeatedly set her up with.
He was so old. Far too old. He was as old as her father or he looked it, and she was too afraid to ask.
The turns passed on. If she had a sundial right now, she could watch the shadow creep along it. Could watch it happening as the shadows around her shifted.
People murmured. Family whispered. Voices were growing louder.
Her mother stood up, her fur puffed up. Her father’s ears were flattened.
This morning, the mirror had fallen off the wall in the hallway. It was so strange. She had no idea how it had fallen. Then she discovered her money missing and she knew. Of course she knew. She had to have known this whole time, didn’t she?
That muffled noise.
The slam of a door, stirring her in her sleep. But she had blamed her father, who carelessly slammed doors and stomped through the house at all hours of night. Nothing unusual.
What could he have possibly seen in her?
Why did she trust him at all?
Graves stabbed up at the sky. Pretty flowers, pretty things plucked and laid down to die again just to make some gesture of respect or something.
So damn pointless.
She missed his laugh, his smile. He always seemed so sad around her but he was glorious when it pivoted to joy. It always spreads across his face with the suddenness of the wind, gone just as quickly. No happiness dared to stalk his days for any permanent length of time.
And time would always bring her closer to death every day.
He always seemed sad.
She wondered what secrets he had from her.
The gentle dark whispers of the pines, shuffling softly in the wind. The crow disappeared into the evergreen boughs and vanished for good.
For now, Tilda was done waiting. She didn’t owe this good-for-nothing family anything and she wasn’t going to give them the tears or reaction they craved.
“Just leave me alone.”
That was all she would give them.
She didn’t have the strength to raise her voice, not with this many people.
She would be all the town would talk about for some time, she was sure.
Classic Mistseek gossip. Everyone loved tragedy here. Couldn’t get enough of it. It didn’t matter how pretty the countryside was here if the whole ground was fucking rotten.
She set down the flowers, took off the veil, patted the old statue and disappeared into the empty church.
The tall hollow doors banged behind her with sodden noise of a damp tomb closing.
Whatever happened, by some miracle, they left her be.
She wished just one person had come to check on her.
The ugly church, crumbling moreso inside. A huge withered dead tree. A dead bird on the ground.
“Perfect,” she said. Louder. “Perfect! Perfect!”
Her claws dug into the dirt, scrabbling, digging. Finding some remain of root beneath the soil and pulling it like a lunatic. She hated gardening, she hated churches, she hated anything reeking of tradition.
It only existed to bury her and her dreams.
Her fingers found some weird shape in the ground and she stopped. Her entire attention became rapt, digging faster. Scratching. Pawing.
Pit. Pat. Pitter patter.
Her heart thrummed in her ears like a song.
It was some old thing, some beautiful old thing. A treasure. An old treasure, but probably valuable to no one but her. Someone had left in the dirt and there it had stayed. For how long?
She wished Thames was here even more. It stabbed her with a deep gut pain, right through her chest and out her back.
Her shoulder ached like she had been lifting boxes for hours.
A delicate little brooch, tenderly made, somehow still intact. It looked vaguely like a tree.
Tilda spat on it, dusted it off, and wondered.
Somewhere in her heart, a crow feather drifted away.