Flocked JP 30
Ryan Watt
(11 reviews)
Once Upon A Time... kingdoms in trouble had to wait for a wandering hero to come along and save the ... Show More
Adventure, Comedy, Cross-Genre, Fantasy, High Fantasy
Fairy Tale, Guild, Magic, birds, curses, Champions

A Tale Long Untold

              People have asked me before, how I could possibly hold off on telling anyone my story for so long. The truth is: I have told it. I tell it to myself constantly. When I am walking along through the woods, or seated alone in a Heavy Carriage. When I am on watch duty and you others are asleep, or when I am washing dishes in the kitchen. I tell it to myself over and over, so I will not forget who I am, or what is my goal.
Who am I? As you know, my name is not Satu. I have not told you my real name, and I hope you will understand that I do not plan to tell you now. I know I must trust someone with my secrets, but I some need further protection. For names have power. All of them. Mine is not particularly unique, but I know that the one who is looking for me uses names in her craft, and if I say it, she may hear it. So do not ask me my name. I can tell you this: I am a Princess, or rather, I am a Tsarevna.
I am the third child born to the Tsar and Tsarina of a distant kingdom, not one you have been to, beyond the Red Woods near Daugava. In fact, I was nearly betrothed to one of the three Tsareviches of that Kingdom, whom you met last year. Before that business with the enchanted arrows and the tsarevna frog, their father tried to set one of his sons up with me.
I was fifteen that summer. Emissaries from Daugava came to the castle to meet and discuss dowry. I do not know which of the three tsareviches they planned for me to marry. I never met him and iIt hardly matters now, except this is where it all began. For it was the talk of marriage that brought the wrath of the witch.
Banished to the Red Woods centuries ago, back when our two kingdoms had been one. For over a century after her banishment, we continued to be one kingdom. Though she would attack caravans, or send her servants to kidnap children from nearby villages, it was assumed she would eventually die. Instead, she grew more powerful. Immortal? No one knows. What we know is she has yet to die and that as her power grew, so too did the Woods. It soon became harder and harder to maintain unity of a people divided and unwilling to cross her domain. So our kingdoms divided, and the Red Woods became where we banished everything we desperately wished to be rid of. Koschei, the Dread Beast, and her.
Over the centuries, many rulers tried to repair the rift. My father and the Daugavan Tsar are the latest to attempt. I and a tsarevich were the chosen method. This, the witch could not abide.
After the initial meeting, she attacked the Daugavan caravan on its return. Three nobles were lost to her terror, and that drove any thought of reunification from Daugava's mind.
Her anger, though, remained unsatiated. She came for my family. Astride her mortar, steering with her pestle, and rowing with a broom, she came for us in the night.
In my dreams, I felt her coming. A formless nightmare gripped me. I awoke, and at first I was unable to move. My body refused to listen to me, despite my screams. But I recall a tiny voice that said I would be okay, and suddenly I could move. I leaped from my bed and knew I needed to find my brothers.
I ran through the castle. Guards lay collapsed in the halls. I made it to the chambers of my two younger brothers, just shy of thirteen and twelve. They were crying out in their sleep, and I found my older brothers, seventeen and eighteen, standing over them, trying to wake them. They sprang awake as soon as I touched either of them. Wordlessly, we knew we all had the same dream. Only my oldest brother, most daring and stubborn of us all, whispered aloud her name.
I shant say it. That too, I will keep secret. Names have powers, and hers may have the most power of any currently in existence. I can say Koschei. I can say Carabose. If you ever hear me say her name, promise me you will run. Run as fast as you can.
You may think I am exaggerating. I would have thought that, had I never met her. But I did, and I will never underestimate her terror again. She who, with a thought, shattered the windows of my brothers' chambers, and came flying in, silent as the dead night air. Hair whipping like the souls of the risen dead clawing up from their graves. Even hunchbacked, she filled the space with broad shoulders, broad hips, and large nose on her large, yet skeletal face. The skin under her eyes drooped like empty sacks.
She spoke. “I have use of you,” she said. Her voice both raised goose skin on my arms, and calmed my beating heart. I wanted to trust her, but I remained scared. She spoke again. “To beak and wing, from mouth and hand. By feather and flight be mine to command.” She chanted it, over and over. “To beak and wing, from mouth and hand. By feather and flight be mine to command.” I hear it in my dreams almost every night. “To beak and wing, from mouth and hand. By feather and flight be mine to command.”
I felt my bones ache. My stomach burned, while my skin froze. My youngest brother cried out and I gripped him tighter. But I could not hold him.  He wriggled and squirmed and broke free. He fell to the floor. Beside me another brother fell forward to his face. I heard his bones break inside him. On the other bed, my oldest brother grabbed a lantern and threw it towards her, but his arm snapped mid throw. The glass and metal fell to the stone floor, shattering. The flame inside caught on a rug, but only for a moment before it died, leaving behind a foul smelling smoke.
She laughed as she watched. I could do nothing but watch too. The clothes on the backs of my brothers steamed and burned away as white feathers burst through their pale skin. Limbs twisted. Soon even my older brother could not hold back his screams. He cried out until his face could no longer make a scream, elongated into the start of a beak while his hair fell out of his scalp.
I remained motionless in the middle of all of this, except for my shaking. My eyes flicked about to take it all in. I felt something trying to rise up inside of me, but it never did.
Then it was over. Around me, four tall, white and brown geese stood up, shook themselves off, and in a daze they hopped and waddled to their side. She touched their heads as she hovered slightly over the floor on her mortar. Then she looked at me. Her eyes widened and then narrowed. The pupils dropped and raised while her head remained as frozen as mine.
“I see. Well then, so be it. Time for you to decide. Your brothers are mine now, and forever shall they be. Lest only you rescue them. But to do that, you will have to submit yourself to me. You know where my house lies. The stories are true enough in that regard. Come alone. Tell no one you go. Do this, or else from me they shall never be free.”
She plucked a pinchful of hair from her head. Each strand grew and wrapped around a goose neck. They then took flight, and pulled her strange ride into the night sky.
I stayed there, curled in a ball on the bed, until the guards awoke and found me. One stayed with me to comfort me until my parents came.
The.. discussion... lasted for hours. I had to retell the story over and over. Each time it hurt, but I became better at telling it. I refused to allow anyone to interrupt me. I described the horror so that they would listen. I told my mother. Then I told my father. Then I told the advisers. Then more and more nobles who showed up. Guards. Servants. I hoped someone would hear it and be the voice needed to sway the decision. The decision to do nothing.
I yelled. I begged for them to send anyone out into the woods to get them. They refused. They did not want to incur more of her wrath. They said the price had been paid for this generation and there was nothing to be done. That's when I learned the truth. My parents had sired so many children for one reason: In every generation, the witch comes to take at least one of the heirs to the throne. There is no telling which, and none have ever been recovered before. They said there was no hope. Then my father said to my mother they would have to continue to find me a suitable marriage, to protect my future, and try again to have an heir.
Someone suggested calling the Order. The idea was laughed out of the room. My family will never bend itself to the Order. I wonder what they would think if they heard I had joined.
I did not sleep that night. Fear that she would come back for me refused to allow me any rest. It did allow me to make a decision.
I slipped out that second morning, before dawn, and walked towards the Red Woods. I had limited clothes to choose from. I wanted to wear my riding gear, but it was hard to move in them, and I knew I would need freedom of movement. I chose instead a simple gown. It proved useless in keeping my legs protected from the thorns and branches and insects that attacked me as I walked.
I knew only that she was in the woods, but not how to find her. But the woods are all her home, and she wanted me there, so signs began to show themselves. I heard the sound of hoofbeats. Feeling terrified again, I dove into some bushes. Here, you can see the scar from where a branch cut my arm. There, hidden, I peered out.
Three horses rode by. Their riders I could not mistake, and will never forget. One, in black armor, as dark as midnight. One in white armor, pale as the dawn. One in red armor, bright as the sun. As soon as they were gone, I went the way they came.
Later, an old tree creaked, and pointed a branch for me. A rabbit stopped to look at me, bounced down a fork in the path, and looked back again. And so it went, until I found her house.
A fence like bones stood in nearly a circle around the hut. Its walls curved up like an onion, only brown and covered in dead moss under the eaves of the thatched roof. Two massive support beams bent like inverted v's lay against the sides. In the yard were gravestones on one side, and an animal pen on the other. In it, my brothers pecked the ground.
I ran, though my legs were nearly broken from fatigue, towards the gate. It squealed like someone had stepped on a cat's tail. My upper body locked up, but my legs pushed on. At once I heard the wind pick up. I knew she had heard the gate and was coming. I ran, and for some reason, through the pounding of my heart, I heard that small voice say perhaps something inside the house would help me.
I pushed open the door and dropped inside, shutting it quickly. The place was a mess. Every spot held something horrifying. Skulls. Cobwebs with monster spiders. An old crow that I still do not know if it were alive or dead. A cat hissed at me from near the fireplace and ran away. The stove belched black smoke as I walked by.
I heard the witch land outside. In a renewed panic, I dove behind the stove.
“Give me wood!” It said to me. I squealed, but said nothing, did nothing.
The witch entered. Behind her, the mortar and pestle flew to a table, where they shrank and landed besides other objects, a brush, a scarf, a soup spoon, a mirror.
“You, have you seen the girl?” she demanded of the cat.
“Yesss!” it hissed in return.
“Where is she?”
“Behind me, mistress,” the stove said.
In a flash, she was beside the stove and grabbed me by the arm. My skin burned at her touch. She dragged me away from her house. She threw me from the porch into the goose yard.
“You thought you could come here and rescue your brothers?” she howled with laughter.  As she landed beside me, the house rose into the air. Those strange support beams? Massive chicken legs that supported the hut's weight. It shook itself off and turned its back to us.
“Don’t you see? You fell for my trap. I wanted you here, little tsarevna! While my spells cannot affect you directly, it seems, you are still trapped here. You were a fool to come. My house knows me and listens to me. It won't let you leave. But I will take care of you, so long as you do what I say. And what I say is: You will tend to the geese for me!” A pail and a rake flew into my hands. “There now, goose girl. If you wish to save your brothers, keep yourself alive and in my good graces long enough, and maybe, maybe I will set them free.”
She left me then to my task. As mud crept into my dress, I went to the four geese. I pleaded with them to recognize me, yet they did not seem to. They did not speak, as I expected them to, nor did they even look at me.
I knew only a little of tending animals from my handmaid, Kata, whose parents were a goose girl and goatherd. But I could not figure out how to apply that knowledge here. Still, I tried. I thought it might be a clue to how to resolve this curse.
That night, the witch dragged me inside, tied my leg to the stove, and I hardly slept.
The next day, as I worked, I saw the cat on the porch. The witch had flown away on her mortar, and left her familiar to watch me. I offered it a bit of fish from my breakfast that morning. It gobbled it down.
I was allowed into the hut to eat lunch, and I threw a log into the stove, though I was not cold. After lunch, I took a little can of oil I found, and placed as many drops as I dared onto the hinges of the yard gate.
That second night, as I slept, the cat came and curled up beside me, offering me some of its warmth. It whispered to me, “we will help you escape tomorrow.”
Once again, I hardly slept, though less from fear, and more from hope.
Morning came, and the witch left again. I know not where she went. I ate little, my stomach in knots and my appetite low, and my cooking skills poor.
“What do I do?” I asked the cat.
“First, take the mirror,” he said. I went to the table of odd objects and picked it up. He instructed me on its use. How to see what was following me, and what lay ahead on my path. “What do you see behind you? What do you see before you?” he asked.
“Behind me. I see her flying across the skies over the red woods, towards a small village. Before me. I see... a royal coat of arms.”
The cat rumbled. “Try again. Think clearly about what you most want.”
I thought about my brothers, and saving them, but I also thought about getting myself to safety. I checked the mirror again, it showed the same coat of arms.
“Well then, that must be where you are to go next. Do you know where that is?” I shook my head. “Then it will become apparent as you search. Now quickly, take those objects from the table. They can help you escape, each are enchanted. Throw them at the ground one at a time if you need to. Now go!”
“But my brothers!” I shouted at him as I grabbed a small bag from its string hanging from a rusty nail in the wall. I knocked as many objects as I could scoop into the open mouth of the bag. Hairsticks, soup spoon, scarf, mirror. I was surprised to see they all fit.
The cat shook its head. “No time. They are hers to command. You are not able to save them, not like this. The mirror. The mirror will take you where you need to go if you are to save them.”
My heart tore. I could not leave my brothers. I came this far, I had endured so much. Yet, I trusted this cat somehow. I thanked the cat.
“Go! She comes!” the stove bellowed. “I will cover for you.”
I thanked the stove and ran outside. The house was low to the ground, but it began to wake up at the approach of its mistress. The gate swung open without sound “Hurry! I will keep quiet if you leave now!”
I thanked the gate as I ran. My fear of her overpowered my love of my brothers and I ran. As I would continue to do for the last seven years.
I ran anywhere the mirror led me. To another kingdom, and another marriage proposal. To a small village to work as a servant. To the Order. To the Guild. And now, now the mirror shows me this.
Before me...

              ...The upheld mirror showed the hut on chicken legs facing the woods. Four geese flew into the image and landed on the porch before the image faded.
Satu tucked the mirror away and waited.
Torias hadn't said a word the entire time. He sat silently, nearly without blinking, the entire time she talked. It had unnerved her at first, but she chose to view it as his way of trying to make her comfortable with the story. Maybe he thought interrupting her would break whatever magic brought the story out of her. But once she finished, it killed her to have him say nothing.
“Say something, please.”
“It’s you.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s you. I am supposed to be fetching you for the witch. You’re the thing she insists that I return to her,” Torias pinched his eyes closed, clenched his fists, and pulled his shoulders up nearly to his ears. “Koschei threatened that he would reveal to your pursuer he had you if you didn’t marry him. She told me she wanted me to steal something back from Koschei… Natal down! Those geese are your brothers. Wow. Satu. No wonder you don’t talk about your past.”
“You understand?”
“Enough. Thank you for telling me. For,” he paused, the words stuck momentarily, “for trusting me.”

“Thank you for listening,” Satu let the last word drift off her tongue like a spidersilk strand let loose onto the wind. More words were there under her tongue, but she knew they sounded foolish. “So, I do not think you do, but I have often feared that you would hate me when I told you, or Cyril.”
“Why? I don’t, but why do you think-” Torias shook his head in confusion.
“I failed. My brothers are still cursed. I could not save them. Your sister. Cyril’s sister. They saved you and your brothers. Jorinda and Joringel saved each other from their curses. I failed.”
“But you escaped from her! Has anyone ever done that before?”
Satu smirked. “A few, but only for short periods of time. Decades ago, there was a Champion who used to be in her thrall, but she released him. That is the longest anyone has been freed, but he did not escape. I, as far as I know, have been the one who has escaped the longest. But while I might be free, and I take pride in that, my brothers are still prisoners. I never saved them.”
“You saved yourself. Isn’t that what our guild is about?”
Satu recalled the night Cyril and she returned from the Dales, discussing what became the Guild’s mantra, helping others save themselves. Cyril had been holding onto thoughts about their first Call involving Koschei. She had thought about her brothers. She thought at that time too that the focus applied to herself, although Cyril did not know that then. Still, it had never sat right with her. “But sometimes that is not enough. They cannot save themselves.”
“We’ll help them to that then. We will figure out a way. We have time to prepare. They seem to be safe enough, in her clutches. We can plan.”
“Yes, but you have a deadline, do you not?”
Torias nodded. “Yes. Until the High Holidays,” he paused, then began to stammer, “but, uh, I am not, no, not going to. I would never turn you in.”
Satu thought of her mirror. “Oh, yes, actually. You are. Maybe that is what the mirror knows. That soon it will be time for you to take me to her. You must, in fact! Please? But until then, we plan. Alright?” She reached her hand across the carriage to him.
Torias looked at the hand for longer than she liked, but ultimately shook it. “Alright.”

              Port Lyr welcomed back the pair with a gray and misty day. The coach arrived at the station only a few blocks from the tavern, and the pair walked briskly, hoping to dodge most of the drops of water in the air. As they approached the water front, a massive sound of fighting grew louder.
“This is familiar,” Satu said, half laughing, half frowning. Her conversation the day before with Torias in an earlier coach brought the incident where Cyril and she found Oleg fighting Safiya at the tavern to mind. She caught Torias’s eye. He grumbled and nodded and they took off running.
Seagulls shot past them, trying to rise into the air, but finding the winds too turbulent. Some landed in a tree, which shook and bent under the gale.
“-‘s getting away!” a shout refined into discernable words as they approached.
“I’m trying! What do we do?!”
“That is Jorinda,” Satu sighed, her worry growing, she reached for her bag and pulled the plainer hairstick. She tapped it against a wall and it grew to full bo-staff length.
“And Viktor,” Torias said, voice raising, perplexed.
The air shook with the cries of some creature, slowing their run for only a moment.
Half a minute later, they rounded the last corner and found quite the scene. Carts overturned. People shouting, more seagulls flying chaotically.
In the midst of it all, Jorinda, throwing her clubs next to Viktor, wielding a sizeable tree as his own club, against a gigantic pelican.
“Ahh, you’re back!” Kess called from the top of a bent lamp post. “Just in time. Can you lend us a hand?” 
Log in to add a comment or review for this chapter Chapter updated on: 4/30/2017 3:36:48 PM
  • J.A. Waters commented on :
    5/21/2017 3:09:06 AM
    A Tsarevna! Lots of royalty at the Guild of Feathers, eh. I like the idea of a great forest slowly just diving a kingdom. That imagery just really kills me with how cool ... Show More
    • Ryan Watt When AH used the riders, I shouted at my screen "OH! Beat me to them by a couple months!!" as I had just drafted these chapters. But their execution, as always with Exiles and Flocked, are thankfully different. -- And yay, another person has read Satu's backstory. The first person part was a call-back to Cyril/Torias/Oleg's backstory chapters in Vol1, and Kess's in Vol2. Satu's one chapter flashback chapter was third person as it was still part of Satu's coverstory life, not her true backstory. I have been excited for people to get to the reveals of Satu for a while, so I am thrilled you liked it. Do you feel like you had enough hints throughout Flocked to feel like the core of this did not come out of left field? - Also, glad you picked up on her brothers connecting her more to the Guild. Her brothers were the exact reason why she joined the Guild, because she wanted to solve their curses too. As she told Cyril way back in ch17 "I want to see you find a way to remove these curses more than any other uncursed person does."
      5/21/2017 4:09:00 PM
    • J.A. Waters I think I had about 70% of her backstory in that sort of "conceptual understanding" stage. I wasn't sure of details, but it was kind of like I knew she had gotten involved with a witch somehow, was somehow beholden to that witch, and the witch had some kind of hold on her brothers. The details really hit home with how far she's come since she was a Tsarevna, how much she's developed into something far greater than a standard princess or even just some warrior noble. It's also interesting in that she's so capable now I almost see her fear as nearly unnecessary. Mostly because most of that fear seems seated in her original encounter. Cautious, yes, wary, yes, but the fear feels like a ghost of her past.
      5/22/2017 2:44:57 PM
    • Ryan Watt Most of her fear is just from that first trauma. But her and her witch have had a few near misses since then, so there is a renewal of that fear in her over and over. Her arc this volume (seeded when she and Kess dealt with a witch) was making her realize just like you said, she has come pretty far and is more ready than she feels.
      5/22/2017 3:56:05 PM
  • Jennifer Flath commented on :
    5/10/2017 11:25:15 PM
    Hey, I know Satu's bad guy. :-D And I was right about the geese! Hooray for me! Too bad the cat wasn't more forthcoming about breaking the brothers' curse, but I very ... Show More
    • Ryan Watt Ssshhh, don't say her name, even if you know it. -- Meanwhile, YAY! I am so excited someone finally read this chapter, although you assume knows the conditions of the curse. - Now that you've read the backstory, do you feel like you got enough information throughout the series to know a lot of it?
      5/11/2017 3:43:13 AM