Madame's Day Off
Madame woke from the old dream of roses, alone in her great bed. Briefly shutting her eyes, she tasted again bitter petals. Alastor's young face long ago, his warm hand cradling her face, his wordy promises he could not keep, all were lost already to her. Her heart tap'tapped, like broken stones tumbled in an old bowl.
A nightjar huddled on the sill of the open window. Madame went to the bird, barefooted over cool rug, across chill boards.
"Caught you a tasty in the night, little friend?" Madame offered her hand. The bird hopped upon it, rode her hand to her lips, to Madame's kiss. "You have seen a thing, oh tell."
The nightjar went on some time. About lumbering wagons. Strange animals never seen before. Noisy happy people along the turning river. The bird puffed up its plummage and settled.
"A circus. Come to Magusford for High Summer." Madame kissed the small messenger her Thanks. The nightjar winged away from the high window of Madame's school through the brightening dawn.
"A circus." The dream was a stone upon her heart still. It reminded of so much she had surrendered. She would wail of it from her open window, if she dwelled upon it. She wished escape, a reprieve then, if not escape, if only for the hour before the world and its cares awoke. Madame could allow herself to be Nyssa de Silva so early in the day. None at the school under her hand would ever know it.
Before her window and the open sky, before the dawn, for this hour no longer Madame and Assessor of the school, Nyssa shrugged off her nightshift in a heap to the floor about her ankles.
Below, Borysko looked up from the schoolyard. The King's man. Alastor's man, from the capital. The old soldier stretching his limbs before his early run over school hill. He looked upon her the moment longer than proper. He tipped his blocky face in polite greeting, turned away, loped from the yard out the stone gate.
Nyssa shut her eyes. Summoned the magpie. For she wished the magpie, though none could ever guess the depth of her sadness.
As the magpie, Nyssa winged out from the ancient school upon its forested hill above the outpost town. Dark yet, as lead, the river turned by below the hill. The magpie plunged through the forest. She flapped hard, swung through galleries of green grand trees. She wanted the circus, quick as she could fly to it.
There. She found them, bustling on the smoky riverbank by their breakfast fires. Painted wagons. An animal moaned from within one: a fearsome cat's face and fangs painted over it. Nyssa had seen such a cat, once, far away, at the end of the empire. She alighted on an upturned branch of a fallen tree. She settled her feathers.
A young woman strode from the smoke and the half light. She stared at the magpie, directly. She came over from the wagons. Nyssa knew her at once. Her bird's heart pattered in warning.
"Your school's here then. Magpie. Far from your King." Khoreia had grown into a beauty. Her dark skin glowed. Her smirk, however, did not reach her narrowed eyes. She had fashioned herself after a Vagari yaeger, in hunter's buckskins, with showy allowances made for a huntress more likely to frequent the town. She bowed to the magpie, so low from the waist her breasts about slumped from her immodest shirt.
"Khoreia, child, you come with the circus."
"Acquisitions, Madame. I acquire creatures, and attractions. I have seen all the world these past years. I am the child no more. And I may give my love as I desire."
The girl's words were a blow upon a bruise. Nyssa lifted her wings for flight. "You travel the world with a circus, Khoreia. You must tell me of your life sometime. Still, you have grown into the young woman I expected. I bid you Good Day."
But Khoreia was not done. "I have been to Cwen. The temple, Madame."
"You had the gift of seeing, Khoreia. It is well you seek teachers."
"Have, still. I speak with my dead Papa, still, Madame. He sends his greetings."
Madame magpie's heart drummed in alarm. "Child, you have ability."
"Oh I DO, Madame — I have the seer's sight — I should tell fortunes for silver. King Alastor's silver!" She laughed.
"Khoreia — you lack wisdom. And you forget the dead have not the same concerns as we. Your dead father, especially."
The girl sneered. In an instant, she replaced sneer with poised smile. "We shall see. Madame." Khoreia did not bow, the former pupil to her old teacher. The girl, the huntress of the town, spun about and strode for the wagons, for the sour smoke of breakfast fires.
Madame the magpie saw the pair of curved daggers, stuck in the girl's belt above her backside. Madame trembled.