“Tell me Merula,” the man said as he stroked the blackbird’s head with a filthy finger, “is this the way all children are treated now? Accusations, physical violence? Dear me, dear me, that just won’t do at all.”
The blackbird, mercifully, did not answer but instead continued to stare intently at the mother and daughter before him. The twins, cowering in the reeds, had not yet attracted his notice.
“You… named your disgusting little pet?” the woman asked, wrinkling her nose as though she detected an unpleasant odor. She was determined not to show fear. Fear was for the weak. “And what, pray tell, is your name?”
“Ah, but a true name is a powerful thing to know, my lady of the harp,” the man said. “You have my permission to address me as… Sebastien.”
“What are you going to do with the message you stole from m… the boat?” Falen asked, peeking around her mother’s robe.
“Well child, you are all most welcome to join me in my journey to deliver it to its new destination,” Sebastien said with the slightest hint of a smile. “I suspect it will be quite the adventure - one for the history books, perhaps.”
“And what if I stop you from handing the parchment over to the people of the wild?” the woman asked in a silky, sinister tone.
“My dear lady,” Sebastien laughed, “if you could not prevent me from obtaining it, what makes you think you could stop me from taking it where it needs to go? And not that it matters, but I am not taking it to the Wildkin.”
“Then to wh-,” the woman began.
“If you truly wish to know, come with me,” Sebastien interrupted. “I do not have time for this idle chatter - I have much ground to cover before nightfall.”
“We will come.”
“Then gather your things,” Sebastien said as he turned away, then called over his shoulder, “and don’t forget Ebony and Ivory over there in the reeds.”
“You did not ask for my name,” the woman said as she collected her children and picked up her harp. Her countenance was icy calm, full control, total confidence. Inside her heart raced and her thoughts collided like stars.
“That would be because I don’t care,” Sebastien sighed. “Now come along.”