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

The Chosen Heart

              As a boy, Oleg visited the kingdom of Dnieper with his father and brother. King Mikhail wanted a chance to get to know his sons better. Looking back on it, Oleg thought this was strange. Why not take the girls as well? Why did he not know them? Oleg certainly had felt like he knew his father well. Not as well as mother, but spending five months with her while they had all been cursed as ducks had caused them to grow quite close.
He did not think they had come here to this city. Maybe they had ridden through it on a coach. Oleg had wanted to get out and fly alongside the coach, but had not asked. He had been trying to prove he could stay human, since Ermolai was unable to become a duck, and because it is what his father had wanted. So, he sat and looked out the window and watched the scenery while ignoring his wish.
He could not recall exactly how old he had been on that trip. That was the problem with aging differently than normal children. He and his siblings, once the water of life had touched their tiny duck heads and shifted their curse shadows, suddenly went from five-month old ducklings to four-year old children, and were as developed as any other that age. The young royals had been taught from that time to think of themselves as the age they appeared, to the point Oleg rarely thought of himself as being only fourteen. He thought of himself as eighteen.
“I need to ask, Kess, any ideas where to go?” Satu asked. Oleg had noticed she was more relaxed here. Back in Divina she had paused, even for only half a second, before making any decision. Oleg had not noticed until their meeting with the lawyer. He had been too in his head the rest of the time.
“No, nothing is coming to mind,” Kess answered.
“That must be a relief,” Oleg said. Kess had explained how worried he had been that his store of knowledge knew where to find that lawyer. The reservoir of knowledge had, this far, been general information, not things specific to Kess’s present needs.
The trio spent the rest of their morning exploring the town, and talking to people. They followed their knowledge of the Orlov’s former textile business from dress shops, to fabric shops until it brought them to a small office on a narrow street on a western hill. The street had no view, but before they turned down it Oleg had looked east from the connecting street. From there he saw the sea, the same sea he grew up beside only much further north.
Satu was already knocking on the door to the office before Oleg caught up with her and Kess.
A man greeted them, looking confused at the sudden presence at his space. He was a man with deep lines worn into his face with worry, and untidied hair growing gray at a rate that probably alarmed the man. His eyes were old and heavy. Oleg instantly felt sorry for him, for whatever was troubling his life.
“Can I help you?”
“Hello, my name is Satu. We are looking for members of the Orlov family,” she began. She was calmer this time, and flowed through a brief statement about their purpose. In Divina, she had been so nervous, she put the lawyer on more alert.
The man introduced himself as Mikhael Orlov. Oleg looked into the room, as he realized the man was not going to invite them in. He could see a few barrels full of cloth, and many more empty behind.
He suspects something already. Look at the skin on the side of his neck.
Oleg followed Kess’s instructions and saw how red the skin was becoming. He could practically hear the merchant’s heart beating. “Mr. Orlov, we are sorry to bother you at your office at such a late hour. You must be nearly ready to head home.
“I was about to lock up. What do you need from my family?” His question was mostly warning. His eyes seemed to hold particular antipathy for Kess.
Satu closed her eyes and clenched a fist before nodding once. “Are you a descendent from the Orlov family of Dvina, who had a daughter once courted by a mysterious figure, someone who was cursed?”
“I… I am…” the man said after what must have been a moment of sheer internal panic.
Focus on his family, Kess suggested.
“We are here because we all have families we wish to protect. Families with similar problems,” Oleg said, flicking an eye at Satu, who caught the gesture.
Satu nodded a few more times. “I grew up in Dvina. I too, had a problem with a curse growing up. I still do, in fact. Not me… my family. I am looking for… clues that might allow me to rescue them, to resolve their curse and bring them home. I want nothing more than-“
“To keep them safe,” he said, already certain of the answer.
Satu forced a tired smile. “Yes, sir. So, what I want to know is, do you know anything about what happened one hundred years ago. What happened to cause the Champion sent to help you family to go missing?”
“Are you from the Order?” he spat the question out so fast, Oleg could not determine his tone or purpose in asking. Was he angry, scared, or possible excited?
Say we’re from the Guild.
“We are from the Guild of Feathers. Our leader is a member of the Order, but is not with us. We are acting independent of the Guild or the Order at this time,” Oleg said, slipping his mind into diplomacy. “Or at least the Order’s mission to help people in distress. We are acting under the Guild’s founding mission: Try to unravel the mysteries of bird curses. This led us to you.”
“That would explain the name,” the man said.
Oleg smiled. “Exactly. We all want the same thing: To deal with our lingering curse issues, and to help others not have the same kind of problem.”

“We believe that the mysterious suitor was bird cursed. We have a feather that belonged to him, but we know nothing else. Not a name, not a tale, nothing,” Satu said. “If you could point us in a direction, we can leave you alone. We know your family has suffered tremendously because…”
“You help others with these kinds of problems?” he interrupted. The pair nodded. “Then I would like to hire you. Hire you? Is that right?”
“Yes,” Satu said. “We call them Calls. Do you have a Call for us?” her voice was perplexed, and Oleg was more confident than she was excited.
“Do you have time to follow me to my home and meet my family?”
              A twenty-minute walk later, the group arrived on a long boulevard lined with tall, thin houses. Mikhail unlocked a door and escorted them in, shouting ahead of them.
“Wife! We have company!”
Oleg felt something when he entered the house, something distant.
“Oh?” a voice called out from deeper within.
“Can you gather the girls?” Mikhail called, his tone soft and caring, with just a bare warble of worry. His guests he swept toward a set of couches. As Oleg was getting himself into a comfortable position, he rose to his feet as three women entered the room, one roughly the same age as Mikhail, the other two within a couple years of each other and Oleg’s apparent age.
“Where is Lyuba?” Mikhail asks. His wife grimaces.
“She refuses to come out of her room. Says she is tired,” the elder looking of the two sisters replies with a malicious smirk.
“That is unacceptable!” he shouts, before heading for the staircase.  
Oleg and Satu sat as the wife bade them to, as she and the daughters did. Quick introductions followed.
“You are not Champions, are you?” the wife asked, looking only at the tea cup a servant handed her, before offering to the guests. 
Satu declined the offer as Oleg explained they were from a Guild.
The wife’s eyes widened. “Oh! I see.” Her head pivoted towards the stairs and presumably the location of the missing daughter’s bedroom.
“Are you here to deal with Lubya’s secret courtier?”
“Yuliya, manners!” their mother snapped. She turned and smiled. “I am sure my husband will explain when he…” She cut off her statement as her husband clomped down the stairs.
“I apologize for that,” he said with a forced smile to match his wives. To her he said, “she refuses to come out, and the lock is jammed. We will simply have to carry on.” He turned to the guild members. “The problem is that my youngest daughter, Lubya, is being courted by Finist.”
Oleg searched his memory, but the name was not familiar. Kess said nothing in his head, and Satu did not react other than to say, “I am not sure who that is.”
“You have his feather, do you not?” Mikhail said. Oleg’s skin tingled in alarm.
Satu went into her bag and removed the feather. He had spent numerous hours during the weeks they waited for the Order to make their decision studying the feather. It’s aether was reminiscent of a curse, but he could not say definitively that it was from a curse.
“Yes, that is it. Oh, put it away, please!” the wife said.
“How do you have one?” Yuliya asked, the word you angled downward like a barb against someone far below her standing. If only she knew, Oleg thought, that she was in the presence of royalty.  It was still taking some getting used to for Oleg, the knowledge that Satu was a tsarevna, despite his own somewhat hidden nobility.
“We acquired it from someone who was given it by your ancestor,” Satu explained as she tucked the feather away. “Now, Mikhail, am I to understand that Finist is the same person who left this feather behind a century ago?”
“Finist Sokolov, aye.”
Mikhail took a deep breath and explained how he had brought gifts home from a recent business trip, based on what his girls asked for. Young Lyuba asked only for a flower, one that bloomed in the wrong time of the year. He found it at a strange shop with a man with sharp eyes. That man, he now realized, was Finist.
“It could be no one else. For shortly thereafter, Lyba started acting strange. Eager to spend time in her room, secretive. When she does join us, she stares into space, sighing, but not unhappily.”
“She sounds like a normal daughter on the edge of adulthood,” Satu said. “What else?”
On the sofa opposite them, the daughter who had yet to speak elbowed her sister, who yowled like a cat whose tail had been stepped on. “Stop it!” she spat at her sister before turning to the guests, and blushing crimson guilt. “I figured it out. She had a dress, two weeks ago, one we had not seen before. One I knew Father had not bought for her. It was higher quality than anything in his shop.”
The man bristled at the notion and looked away. Oleg had the impression his family aspired to be something they were not. Perhaps they were on the road to reclaiming what they lost in Dvina, but were not there yet.
“So, I began to listen. At night, through the wall, or when I crack open the window, I hear noises. Voices. Multiple voices. Two nights ago I let our cat onto the roof from my window. He yowled a short while later, and returned with a gash across his snout and a couple feathers in his mouth. Those feathers.”
The wife gasped. This part of the story was clearly news to her.
“All we know from family tales is Finist sought to wed my great-great aunt. He gave her magic feathers as a way of courting and communicating. We do not know how it works. She eventually ran off, and they hired Sir Rodion to find her. He returned as the Red Knight and killed my great-great grandfather before raiding the town. We tried to talk to Lubya, but she refuses to talk. I do not know how to reach her.”
“Husband,” the wife said, the word resonating with deep love and affection, the kind that would allow one to leave behind an entire life and put her trust in a plan to start all over. “If you hire these two, what if-“ she could not finish.
“Do you not think I have considered that? Or if I live, what harm another scandal will do the business or our daughter’s prospects? I have, and once you do, I know you will agree saving our daughter from a monster is worth the risk.”
“Excuse me, but I would like permission to take a walk,” Oleg said. He knew what was happening, how the feathers worked. It was obvious now that he thought about it. “Satu, by your leave, I would like to investigate, do some reconnaissance. I will send a message my usual way.” He nodded to Kess on her shoulder, who nodded back.
“Of course. Good luck.”
Oleg stood and bowed politely before letting himself out. Once back on the street, he looked around for a quiet and private alleyway. He found one towards the end of the block and embraced the other side of his mind. His body glistened and light swirled around him until a duck stood in the alley in his place. He flew back to the row of houses, circling near their roofs until he came to the second story of the Orlov house. One window stood open. A pale blue cornflower lay on the sill. Oleg landed on it, flapping his wings wildly as he did, for added effect.
“Finist?” a voice called as Oleg transformed back.
“No. My name is Oleg.”
“What are you doing here?” she said, voice cracking and rising. “I will scream and call my parents!”
“Your parents invited me here. They are concerned for you. I am concerned for you. Someone is courting you, correct? Someone magical?”
“You do not know what you are talking about!” she hissed, crossing her arms. She looked perhaps two or three years younger than Oleg appeared, but was probably older than he. She acted younger too.  She had not learned how to disguise her true thoughts from her body language yet.
“I just flew into your room as a duck, and you are now having a conversation with me. I can feel the residual traces of magic around your window. I am not the first transforming bird to visit you, am I?”
She said nothing.
Oleg sighed and leaned against the window sill. “Look. Clearly, I know about bird transformation. Let me help. Tell him about me, and my friends downstairs. All of us, all of us know what it is like to be transformed into birds. It is sort of our thing. It is why we came to see your family, to learn about the man who courted your great-aunt years ago. We had no idea someone was courting you here and now. He may be able to help us save others. A hundred others!”
“A hundred others?”
“Yes! Our families. Many others. All cursed as birds, unable to change back. I do not know your beau. He may not be cursed. He may be cursed and not mind. I do not mind mine. But I have to find others like us, track down any lead I can. Because there is a flock of birds, scared, lost, and I have to find them, I have to save them. Please.”
“I-“ she stopped. Oleg could tell something was sinking in, but he was not sure how much. “I will talk to him.”
“Thank you. I will leave you be now-“
A screech sounded behind them. Oleg spun around in time to see a bird of prey, brown bodied, with splotches of white, swooping to land, but pulling out and flying away in terror.
“No! Finist! Come back!” she called.
Oleg transformed to bird and flew after him as quick as he could.
Log in to add a comment or review for this chapter Chapter updated on: 10/10/2017 3:21:24 AM
  • Jennifer Flath commented on :
    10/18/2017 11:53:29 PM
    Well, getting invited on to that case went surprisingly smoothly!