Here’s my entry for the first Flash Fiction Draw Challenge (the post for the original June draw is here). In case you didn’t know about this challenge, there’s a video here explaining (and showing the sixth draw), but the quick version: I used a deck of cards (three suits) to randomly put together a genre (in this case: fantasy), a location (in this case: a junkyard or scrapyard) and an object (in this case: hot chocolate) and challenged anyone who wanted to play to write something over the next week, with a maximum of 1,000 words.
For most of the week, I thought I was going to write a Triad Story and go urban fantasy, but then an idea occurred to me I could play with something I didn’t already know well, which is the whole point of this exercise, and here we are.
Crow, Rook, Raven
The knocking startled Kobish.
It wasn’t a nervous disposition. Soldiers with nervous dispositions didn’t last in the King’s army, and Kobish had lasted longer than most. No, it was that no one ever knocked.
His family lived in Akard, and apart from weekly carts—delivered after Temple’s Day—he was left to sort castoffs by himself. If something was required, a missive was delivered with the carts. He found what was needed and left it out the night of Temple’s Day, the castoff gone by morning.
His own needs he dealt with on Market’s Day. He ate simply, tended a garden between duties, and sent the rest of his coppers to Akard. A soldier’s stipend and yardkeeper’s wages were small, but meant his sister could live comfortably without having to wed a Kingsman.
No one should come to his yard.
And still, someone knocked again.
The boy who knocked was on the edge of being a man, and wore unadorned black robes. Apprentice to one of the three towers in Nobleside, then, though whether to be crow, rook, or raven, there was no way to know. For certain he had magic.
“Hello.” The boy bowed his right shoulder in a perfect Akard bow, and with what seemed as honest respect. “My name is Bram. I wondered if you might share a cup of cacaolt.”
In his left hand, Bram held a folded yellow silk, decorated with deep brown crescents.
Kobish hadn’t had cacaolt in years. No one outside of Nobleside could.
“I…would be pleased,” Kobish said.
Bram’s whole posture relaxed.
“Come. I will warm milk.” Kobish stepped aside.
The first sip Kobish took eyes closed, for memory. Voices, language, faces… All came to him, and he treasured them even as he fought the pain of longing.
With the second swallow he turned his attention to his guest, who kept pace and raised his own cup a second time.
Bram’s hair was too fair to be Nobleside born, though his eyes were, dark as the cacaolt. Smooth chin, though. And narrow overall. Not pure Kingsmen.
“How did you get this?” Kobish asked.
Bram swallowed. “Fixing. And I’ll be cleaning more than my share of the shelves in the libraries. All three towers.” He shrugged. “Worth it though. I’d heard of cacaolt, of course. Read about it. But… Even the odour. It’s… wonderful.”
Kobish decided he liked this apprentice, but even so… “What do you need?”
Bram licked cacaolt from his lip. “To come here to your yard. I’m good with my hands. I’ve had to be.” For the first time, Bram’s gaze flicked to the straps and buckles around Kobish’s left thigh. “I could fix that. Make a better ankle for you.”
“This services,” Kobish said.
“How Kingsmen.” For the first time there was something other than amiability to his tone. “The whole Kingsland services. People service. Until they don’t. Then they’re tossed aside just like everything in this yard. Workers. Soldiers.” He made eye contact. Kobish didn’t look away. “Bastards, too.”
That explained the fair hair, at least. And the youth wasn’t wrong. The foot of his leg had no give. He was a former soldier, but foreign born.
Tossed aside, Bram said.
“Fixing things. With magic?”
The apprentice’s smile wasn’t quite answer, but Kobish found himself nodding anyway.
Bram didn’t come often, but as seasons passed, Kobish sussed when the apprentice might arrive. It seemed tied to the moon, tides, and another, third cycle he supposed he didn’t know because he did not have magic. Bram presented him a new leg, with give and spring, and it gripped the remnant of his thigh without straps or buckles. It seemed to know his intent, and pains he’d grown used to bearing faded. Made of foreign woods—some he recognized from Akard—and metals all familiar to him from the yard, as far as he could tell it was untouched by the marks of any tool.
The yard itself seemed the same, though Kobish knew things changed. Discarded pieces would shift after Bram’s visits, or he’d not see them again.
He had no idea if the man—Bram had crossed into manhood—was crow, rook, or raven. His magic didn’t seem to deal with the dead, or in binding, or in spirits.
After two years, Bram brought more cacaolt. They drank together, and when Bram kissed him in thanks, Kobish knew their visits were at an end.
He allowed the kiss to linger.
“You’ll Market tomorrow?” Bram said, at Kobish’s door.
Kobish nodded. “Yes.”
Bram smiled, and left.
Kobish bought milk. He’d enough cacaolt left for a cup, and thought it best to not let it linger. The taste brought new memories now as well as old, and he still felt a kiss on his lips. It wouldn’t do to dwell.
He was at the fruit stall when the bird landed in front of him. Wood, some metal, and wings decorated with feathers made of bright yellow silk marked with brown crescents. It trilled.
The fruitseller stepped away, nervous.
Kobish knelt. The bird hopped into his hand, then curled itself into perfect egg with tiny clicks and shifts. It was very light.
Another click, and a panel opened. The glint of gold coins caught Kobish’s breath. And there was… paper? A ticket. Passage to the Southland.
Kobish walked straight from the Market to the Dockside, an instinct—or perhaps a kiss—insisting that now would be better than later.
He watched from the deck as the ship pulled away from the harbor.
A cloud of forms rose from his former yard, on wings of wood, and silk, and metal. They rose in a twist of the air, swirling like flecks of cinnamon shaved over cacaolt, so many they blocked the sky.
Then they wheeled, flew to the Nobleside, and the towers, and the palace.
Kobish could just hear the alarms from the distance.
Fixing things, Kobish thought.
The captain, an Akarder, ordered the crew to sail on.