Verse of Estoria Ballad of the Heavens

  • 14 Jan - 20 Jan, 2023
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Fiction

“Please,” he says in a desperate tone. “She risked her life to save mine.”

The girl turns her head and points towards the distance.

“They’re that way?” Drake says in a relieving sigh. “Can you take me?”

The girl nods and she prance ahead with her little feet delicately meshing the leaves.

Drake takes a deep dank breath and follows holding the princess in his arms. They zig-zag through columns of trees step over knee high mushrooms while Drake looks up at a large owl quietly soaring above. The two arrive at a thick wall of vines filled with tiny glowing insects between two very large trees. Getting on hands and knees, the crawls through the small opening and disappears inside.

Drake huffs as he re-adjusts his hold on the princess while waiting for a response. After a few moments, the vines split open revealing a village filled with makeshift homes made from mushrooms strapped together by vines. Combined with the glowing bees buzzing above, the light from the mushroom homes illuminate the area as people scurry about collecting bugs and worms from the forest floor. The little girl runs up to a woman with similar features as hers, tugs on her long dingy shirt and points towards Drake. The woman turns around holding a trey of insects and drops it as soon as she sees the princess.

“We were attacked,” Drake says stepping towards the woman. “She needs aid quick…”

The woman grabs the little girl by the arm and bolts inside her makeshift home nearby.

“Hey wait,” he shouts speeding up his trek.

His voice garners the attention of everyone in the village and when they see Jasmine they flee towards their homes carrying their treys of insects inside.

Where are you going? She needs help,” Drake says.

The village now quiet Drake stands alone holding the princess limp body.

“What’s wrong them?” Drake says as his eyes narrow in anger.

“There’s a woman dying in my arms,” his voice booms through the area “She risked her life to save mine and if I’d be possible, I’m sure she’d do the same for you. How can we hide in fear when there are those who desperately need our help?

Drake’s trembling legs gives into exhaustion and he falls on his knees carrying the princess.

“Please,” he pleads as he shakes his head. “I don’t want to see anyone die in my arms again.”

“Psst, over here young man,” a voice whispers behind him.

Drake turns to see an old man standing in front of a makeshift tent made from large mushrooms waving for him to come near. His long white beard contrasted his bald head as used an oaken cane to stand.

Nodding, Drake uses what strength he had left to stand and walks across the leafy ground where the man steps aside to allow Drake inside. Turning to the side, Drake ducts into the makeshift tent and rests her onto a rack made from cloths and leafy branches. Drake pushes away strands of lush green hair away as the orange glow from the burning candle reflects off her sweat covered face.

A reassuring hand grips Drake shoulder and he turns to see the old man motion with his hand for him to sit on a wooden chair nearby. Drake plops on the squeaky log chair and watches nervously as the man rolls up his sleeves. Setting his cane against the mushroom wall, he kneels and caresses Jasmines forehead.

“Ah, she’s gotten stronger since I last saw her.” the man says in a hoarse voice.

“You know her?” Drake asks.

“Do I know her?” he says in a sarcastic chuckle “Why, I was her caretaker and tutor. I taught her her duties as princess, as well as leadership and etiquette among her fellow Avians. She was the daughter I never had.

He reaches beneath the rack and pulls out a leather water-skin pouch and a white cloth. He pops the cork off the water pouch presses the cloth near the opening and tilts the pouch allowing the water to soak the cloth as droplets spill onto the ground.

Here,” he says extending the water pouch towards Drake. “You must be thirsty carrying the princess such a long way.”

Drake nods and takes the water-skin pouch and throws his head back to drink the remaining contents. The warm liquid mixed with the mild moldy taste hits his throat and he immediately cough and gags as he wipes his mouth.

“Water here is store wherever we find it. I may not be to your liking.” The old man says.

“No, No, it’s okay,” Drake shakes his head and cough. Its fine, I understand it’s just surprised me is all.”

“I’m well aware,” The man laughs. “The waters of whistle top palace can make any other liquid taste foul.”

“There’s defiantly a difference,” Drake laughs and clears his throat with a firm pound to the chest.

“What is your name young man?”

“It’s Drake Ryft.”

“I am Genn, Tengu of the Oktu tribe.”

You’re a tengu? Drake says eyes widening in surpise. Good then maybe you can fly her back to her home.”

The old man looks down in quiet disappointment as he uses the wet towel to wipe the blood from the maiden’s temple.

“What?” Drake says taking notice of his sudden mood change. “Was it something I said?”

“I’m afraid that can’t be possible the old man sighs. I can no longer fly.”

“Why?” Drake says as his bowing his furrows.

“I don’t have any feathers. None of us here does,” the old man shakes his head.

“What happened?” Drake asks as his eyes ping pong between him and the resting princess.

“In truth, we don’t know, but some say that it’s a disease. It started five years ago and I was the first to experience it. At first, it was subtle; a few feathers here and there. I threw it to a rough day as military training can shed a feather or two. But as time progressed, I would shed more and more feathers without any more growing back.”

The old man squeezes the towel in grief as a tear roll down his wrinkled cheek stareing ahead as he recalls his painful history.

“To an Avians, our feathers are our pride, our strength and beauty without them we are nothing but refuse for the land dwellers to eat.”

“To hide my shame,” he says as his hoarse voice trembles. “I wore a cloak to hide it but it only progressed the molting. I would remove my coat only to find…,” he swallows the lump in his throat before he continues. “…feathers spilling onto the floor. I couldn’t hide it long. The king noticed and he banished me from the palace, never to return.”

Drake sits aghast with his hands gripping his knees hearing his story.

“I’m sorry I asked.” Drake says. “I wasn’t aware how much it meant to you.”

“Well,” the man says sighing. “When you’ve lived as long as we have, you learn to adapt, improvise and overcome. We’ve found this place to be peaceful and abundant in food.”

He wrings droplets of water back into a bowl and folds it back over the princess’s head and covers her with an old dingy sheet.

“She’s fine,” he says slapping his leg as he rises to his feet. “Just a bump to the head, she should be ready to go soon?”

“How are we going to get back?” Drake asks as he stands and stretches his body. He rotates his neck and rubs the crank in his shoulders as he still felt the sting of his fall from the palace.

“Regarding that,” The man says turning towards Drake and casting a stern look towards Drake. “You must take the princess as far away from here as soon as you are ready.”

“What?” Drake says letting his arms drop to his side. Why I’m sure she’d be grateful for you caring for her.”

“Please understand,” The old man says shaking his head. “We’ve been exiled from the palace and this island. We are not supposed to be here at the moment. Hence the reason everyone ran from you when you arrived.”

“Okay,” Drake says with a nod. “I just need more water and some food for the trip. What does everyone eat here?”

The old man grabs his cane resting against the wall and shuffles past Drake while Drake pinned himself in the small space between the foot of the rack and the mushroom tarp. The man squats and pulls a trey from beneath the table holding the candle. He stands, holds out the tray and Drake’s stomach turn at the sight.

Dead crickets, worms, cicada’s and beetles all with their stiff legs upward. Drake coughs as he covers his mouth trying hard to swallow the puke that nearly eject from this throat.

“Um… This is what you eat?” Drake asks apprehensively pointing at the dead critters.

“They’re good once you’ve gotten used to them,” the old man says moving the trey closer to Drake.

“Especially the locust.”

Drake’s stomach settles but he turns his head in disgust as he sees half eaten insects with their green guts and antenna on the trey.

I know I’ve eaten a fair amount of rotten food but I’m not sure my stomach can take this.

“Drake, don’t be rude,” Fane says in his mind. “He took great risk taking you and Jasmine in. At least you can do is accept his hospitality.”

“Aw come on Fane,” Drake thinks in his mine. “This isn’t like eating moldy bread. I can still see an antenna moving.”

The old man notices the living bug, snatches it from the trey, shoves it into his mouth and chews. Sounds of muffled crunching nearly churns Drakes stomach and he coughs as he tries to contain the vomit in his throat.

“Okay, thanks,” He says in a strained voice as he clasps the trey with his hand but keeping away from his face.

“Umm, hello?” A soft womanly voice speaks from outside the tent.

The elder walks past Drake and pulls open the rag clothed entrance. Drake, out of curiosity, lifts the food trey to his nose and sniffs. The pungent odor causes his face to wince in disgust as he turns his head away.

“Oh, no, no, no,” he says shaking his head. “I’m good!”

“Ah, young Drake,” The man says, “Come on out and meet the villagers.

Carrying the trey, Drake ducks beneath the entrance and steps outside to see villagers all wearing dingy clothing of various colors. All had their heads bowed in shame as a woman with long ragged hair stands in front.

“Wh.. where sorry for ignoring your call for help.” She says lowering her head. “We were afraid that if she known where we dwelled, she would’ve had us removed. We’re castaways and all we have is each other to rely on but we realized that no one should be casts aside for our own protection. We’re sorry.”

A warm smile creases across Drake’s face.

“Finally,” he thinks. In salatia all I ever saw is people abandon others for the sake of their own life to the point where I thought that that’s who they were. But here, in the middle of nowhere, there are people who care or at least show remorse for their fear.

“Is the princess well,”

The woman rises and walks towards Drake. “I have supplies and food if she needs it and for you as well,” she continues as she holds out her cupped hands and opens them revealing a translucent beetle filled with rainbow-like, color shifting liquid. “Here’s a Fama beetle if you’re injured. It stores a rare gel that can heal your injuries…you’ll have to eat it for it to take effect.”

Drake stares at the beetle somewhat hypnotised by its oval shape and its whirling antenna. The bug itself looked less of a crawler and more like candy as the woman holds it closer to him.

“Um, if this can heal wounds,” Drake says staring at the appetising critter, “then you should give this to the princess.”

Then the old man plants his dry crusted hand on Drakes shoulder. “She’ll be fine I can assure you,” he says. “Right now, I’m more concerned for your wounds as you have to be the one to protect her should the need arise.”

Drake nods his head as his shoulder hips and legs still ached from the fall. He reaches for the colourful beetle and delicately pincers it with his finger. Holding it up to his eye, he wonders how it would taste. He sucks in a deep breath, closes his eyes and plants the insect into his mouth.

Drake’s face contorts as the sour liquid spills onto his tongue as he could feel its tiny extensions struggling inside. Grossed out, he quickly gulps down the meal and spits the antennae out on the ground.

to be continued...