I’ve been as discreet as I can for you during these last two hundred years or so, or however long it’s been – I stopped running an exact count several decades ago, as knowledge of the precise number only served to depress me further. Regardless, I do my best, and I can’t be expected to account for the incompetence and more specifically tardiness of other creatures.
For instance, your emissary, who showed up on the roof across from our inn egregiously late, an hour after sunrise.
Which meant it took that much longer for our business to conclude.
Which also meant that, as the lazy fiend flew upwards once it was over, with no apology or explanation, I looked back into the window of the inn room only to see Daba’s eyes locked on to mine – when she SHOULD have been asleep.
Although when taking certain aspects of my personality into consideration it would seem like I’d be a sharp manipulator, I have in fact never been a skilled liar. Indeed, when I had hands instead of wings, I was always the elf that the other elves came to for brutally honest answers to their queries. (I seem to remember upsetting my sister Ellaria once when I asked her for a seeing-eye hound and a cane after she tried to show off her brand new bright yellow corset.) I “wasn’t there to make friends,” as they say.
But as I flew back over to the windowsill, with Daba’s eyebrow feathers contorted into a zig-zag of accusation, I felt that I had no other alternative but to try to lie about what I knew with certainty she had seen.
She seemed already agitated by something; her sleep, I knew, had been fitful, with frightened twitches and whimpers intermittent throughout the night. She didn’t waste any time in interrogating me as I perched on the back of a chair.
“Who were you talkin’ to?”
I attempted to project nonchalance but, in retrospect, perhaps pushed it too far, from apathy into condescension. I cannot undo it now, though.
“What in the world do you mean, Daba?”
“I mean that creepy-lookin’ bird with a plague mask you were havin’ a clan-destined meetin’ with over there.”
“I really have no idea what you are talking about.”
“I know what I saw, Declan!”
She’s normally a patient, sturdy little thing (I say “little” although she obviously dwarfs yours truly – hell, even the dwarf dwarfs yours truly), but, standing up with a jolt from the bed, her irritation was rising with worrisome alacrity.
“And I think you saw something that truly wasn’t there,” I countered, weakly, trying to pretend that a spot of chipped paint above the door was suddenly interesting. “Are you feeling well, Daba? Perhaps these last few days have been too exciting for you. Perhaps your nightmares bled into your waking, as can sometimes –”
“Declan, NO. If you don’t want to tell me just say it’s not my damn beeswax but don’t sit here and treat me like a fuckin’ idiot because I know what I saw.”
“Daba,” I began, but I wasn’t sure how to turn the conversation. I had to distract her somehow, because otherwise I knew how stubborn she would be. She was going to sit there and pick at me just like she picked at that lock and, eventually, I would open – but you just can’t have me doing that, now can you?
Finally, I returned, “Are you certain you were awake?”
She crunched her beak forcefully, forming stalwart creases in her jawline, and stared at me flatly. “Is this how it’s gonna be today? Is this…how we’re gonna start the morning? You’re just gonna pretend that fucked-up shit didn’t happen?”
“We’re just gonna act like there wasn’t a fucking crow in a fucking plague mask sitting next to you for no damn reason out on that roof when I woke up?”
I just wanted it to be over. So I hit below the belt.
“Daba, you’re being unreasonable. Taney never would treat me this way.”
And there it was – all of a sudden, the biggest lie from the worst liar.
But the damage was still done; her fingers curled into fists and, if possible, it seemed that she would have turned from black to red all over, with her purple robes catching fire like greasy rags. Taney, in truth, was always angry with me if she cared at all, but this was the most wrath I’d ever seen Daba muster.
Shaking, she took her time with it at first:
Then the rest was in a rush.
“That is fuckin’ bullshit she treated you like trash for all them years you was with her and I’ve always paid you respect made sure you had the best fuckin’ roadkill and birdseed and never talked you down that was a low blow and I ain’t done nothin’ to earn that shit from you just cause I call you out on your lies and I at least treat you well enough to tell you the truth which I can’t say for you today seriously what the fuck Declan you just crossed a motherfuckin’ line so you can just fuckin’ sit here in that corner and think about your sins for the day, allright?”
She slammed the door and thumped down the stairs, presumably to meet the others. I thought of following her but envisioned the tawdry scene that would ensue and deemed it best to stay put in the corner that had been stipulated.
She was right, of course. She hadn’t earned it, and she has been good to me, always. It’s been an undeniably more pleasant journey so far than the path I trod with her wretched great-grandmother. I don’t like making her shut doors and stomp down steps, but perhaps it’s for the best. She shouldn’t look at me as a friend, anyway, or Vilig, or Bartak, or Ilios – especially not Ilios, based on what she told me. She shouldn’t really make attachments with anyone. You don’t make allowances for caring in this bloody task you’ve given her, or for camaraderie or compassion; this is not a gig of happy feelings.
She is a death witch.
She is a bride of misery.
And as for me? I’m still not here to make friends.
Nonetheless – I didn’t like to see her fists like that. And it’s your fault that I had to.