Family Heirlooms

Day 13 of the February Flash Fiction Challenge. Today’s prompt is to write about the weather. This story got a little longer and is more of a background piece for the novel I have been working on. It takes place in the fantastical world of Morynha.

Image credit: Albert Bierstadt, A Storm in the Rocky Mountains, Mt. Rosalie, 1866. 

Sira watched a gray mockingbird bob its tail up and down on the wooden fence and wondered about how the birds could tell each other apart. Was it smell? A slight differentiation in their black and white tail feathers? Maybe the way they sounded? As she studied the bird, Rhetta, their black mare, snorted and the bird flew away, its quick wings a blur as it pushed itself up across a gentle breeze.

The wheels of their cart bumped along the dirt road, making slow progress on the slight but steady incline into the foothills where her grandmother’s village was nestled under the looming Tirdanthe Mountains. Despite the warm sun shining down, dark clouds gathering behind the mountains, making Sira shiver. She hoped they would make it to her grandmother’s house before the rain started falling.

Her father had a vacant look in his eye but smiled warmly when he saw her watching him. Sira had her mother’s bright smile but her father’s wide brown face and gentle chestnut eyes. “Don’t worry, we’ll be there before those storm clouds reach us,” he said, in response to her unasked question. What she really wanted to know, though, was what was causing the storm clouds to gather behind his eyes but she knew he would only say that everything was fine. 

The wind picked up just as they were reaching the end of the field and entering the forested foothills. Oaks, walnuts, and maples began blowing about with the invisible wind, dropping small branches here and leaves there. It was the end of fall, when cool winds foreshadowed the heavy snows that would soon be coming. Sira thought about the dark nights, heavy wool blankets, and icy mornings in the barn. She hated those cold mornings. Maybe her father would just let her stay at her grandmother’s all winter, where she could sit by the fire and listen to her grandmother’s stories while snow piled up outside.

As they neared the village, the trees began shrinking and became more sparse. Boulders began popping up along the side of the road. Her grandma’s stone house was on the outskirts of the small village and Sira smiled when she caught sight of her grandmother’s bright red shawl. The sky was darkening and the wind almost blew away her grandmother’s greeting, “You just made it! The first drops of rain are just starting to fall!”

“Grandmother!” Sira cried out, not waiting for the cart to fully stop before jumping down. Her grandmother gathered her up in her shawl, which smelled of musty cedar and delicate lilies-of-the-valley. Breathing in gratefully, Sira said, “If it rains, then we can stay longer!”

Her grandma’s rich laugh rumbled deep in her chest. 

“The girl is right,” said a voice Sira didn’t recognize. She looked past her grandmother to a tall woman dressed in gray with a black, white, and gray plaid shawl draped over her head and shoulders. She was younger than her grandmother but had an air of wisdom and experience to her; she reminded Sira of the mountains themselves with their solid perpetuity. “Perhaps they will be here for the rest of the week. I don’t think these storms will let up for a while.”

Sira’s father cleared his throat uneasily and lowered himself from the cart, leading the horse to the small shed. Sprinkles of rain were starting to collect on Rhetta’s dark mane. “Hello, mother. Cilia.” He nodded to the gray woman. “Sira, this is your grandma’s…er, cousin…Cilia.” Sira looked expectantly at her father for more explanation but he only smiled and said, “Let’s go in before we are all drenched.”

After Rhetta had been sheltered and their belongings unpacked, Cilia sat across from her grandmother and this strange new woman at the small wooden table in the kitchen. Her father stood at the counter behind them, preparing a plate of food for Sira.

“You have a mockingbird on your necklace,” Sira said to the woman, “I saw one by the road on the way here. I couldn’t tell if it was a male or female and I have no idea how they can tell each other apart. Do you know?” Perhaps this woman could enlighten her.

The woman smiled, sneaking a glance at Sira’s grandmother. Her father stilled, listening. The rain on the roof pounded out their voices and the wind threw sticks and leaves against the windows like an angry child.

“You are right, I do. It is something of a family heirloom, you could say.” The woman fingered her necklace and the golden metal gleamed, picking up the light from the fire that roared in the hearth. “As far as your question goes, perhaps I can answer it best by saying that mockingbirds, and all birds for that matter, communicate in ways we aren’t used to. They can feel things between each other that others can’t pick up on.”

“Can you feel them?”

The gray woman laughed. “In a way, I can. Sometimes. I am rather fond of the birds.”

Sira thought about that for a minute but before she could ask more, her father set a plate of hot bread and a bowl of stew in front of her. “Eat up, Sira, and then head upstairs to our room. Your grandmother and I need to talk about a few things while you get ready for bed.”

Sira knew this meant she wasn’t supposed to hear what they were about to say to each other. She scarfed down her food, filling her empty belly, and then gave her grandmother a kiss before trekking up the creaking stairs to a small drafty room. She made sure they heard her door shutting before she quietly snuck back out to the landing where she could peer down from the shadows. Her soft footsteps were covered up by the torrents of rain slamming into the house. She was sure it would start dripping through the roof but the inside of the little house stayed warm and dry. Below, she could just make out the conversation.

“Well,” said her father. “Is she? Does she have Eron’s blood?”

It was the woman in gray that answered, not her grandmother. “Well, we know she has his blood. She is, after all, your daughter. I can sense her power even though it hasn’t bloomed yet. There’s a seed of it deep inside her. She won’t know she has it for many years yet, a decade or more, likely. If she is the one to free him from his trap…” the woman trailed off, “I am not sure.”

Her grandmother spoke up, hardly audible over the pounding rain, “Cilia, we know you want him to be saved more than anyone else and if she has the potential, we will keep the secret hidden for as long as we can. Even she cannot know for the risk is too great. Do you want her to stay here with us?”

The woman thought for a while but then said, “No. She must go about a normal life. It would be too hard to cover up the truth if she were here. She’s smart and inquisitive. She would become suspicious.” 

Sira shrank back into the shadows, confused and a little hurt. What are they hiding? Why can’t they tell me? she thought. She was afraid that if she asked them about it, they would become angry and then she surely wouldn’t hear any more details. She closed her eyes and pulled her blanket around her shoulders before shuffling back to her room. 

Lighting flashed outside and before she knew it, she huddled up in the big, soft bed she would share with her father. Her mind drifted between the mysterious woman and mockingbirds and big dark clouds until she drifted off into a murky sleep. She didn’t know it then, but that night, under the storm clouds that gathered, something shifted in the air but it wasn’t the wind. It was something stronger, deeper, and older. Fate, pulled along by invisible strings, lingered over the house despite the whipping winds and torrential rain. While the elements of the earth were engaged in a symphony outside, fate settled soundly on Sira’s sleeping shoulders.

Published by Leah Abbey

I write about nature, parenting, and fiction from my home in the San Diego area. I try to keep this blog updated at least weekly. If you haven't heard from me in a while, it's probably because I've been working on my novel. (Or, just trying to stay sane while my three-year-old runs over his baby sister with a toy school bus.)

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