The Rope: Part III

The moon waxed. The nights grew thin and silvery. I lay wakeful beside my sister, pulling the long, equally silvered strands of her hair through my fingers. A terrible idea was forming, a plan of escape both audacious and cruel. Whatever you might think of me when you know the way of it, I did not commit lightly to it. Tom lay in the frosty dark and watched me.

“Bella,” he whispered, “what are you thinking?”

“Never you mind,” I hissed.

His eyes were expressionless as stones, but his lips twitched with the hint of a smile.

“I have a gift for you,” he breathed. “I’ve been saving it for this night.”

He rolled to his feet and went to the stone ledge where our clothes lay neatly folded. From the deep pocket of his coat, he drew forth some shadowy object and held it against the white field of his chest. I gasped. Two sooty feathers caught the moonlight, perfect flight pinions, and I could smell the magic on them from across the room.

I dropped Guin’s pale tresses and slipped from our blankets. She murmured in her sleep before burrowing deeper into dream. When she was quiet again, I padded to Tom, my gaze riveted on the feathers.

“How have you hidden them all this time?”

I reached for them, but he glided back into the shadows and my fingers closed on moonbeams.

“Ravens are not without our own small talents,” he said.

It gave me a turn to hear him call himself a raven. I had come to think of him as a man, and I had believed that he felt the same. Now, I confronted the cold truth. Tom was never human, neither in his mind nor in his heart. An icy finger traced its way down my spine.

“Why are you giving them to me now?”

For answer, he crossed to the window and held the feathers out into the night. The moonlight ran down their edges like faerie fire, and my breath caught in my throat lest they be snatched away by the wind. Tom watched the faint blue sheen flicker over them.

“Tonight, I heard your heart turn to iron, Bella. You are ready to fly this place, and I have been ready since I came here. Since you imprisoned me.” He drew his hand back inside and turned to face me. “I knew it would be you, my girl of fire and air.”

Iron, he said! At that moment, my heart felt more like molten flame. If it was not love I felt, I will never come closer. Tom’s face cramped with sudden pain. He gasped and bent double, the feathers dropping to the stones at his feet. In the depth of my feeling, I ran to support him and gave them not a thought.

“What is it? Tom?” My voice was a frantic whisper. “You are unwell!”

He pushed me away and knelt to pick up the feathers.

“No, not unwell. I am coming undone.” He pulled in a deep breath and looked up at me with a wicked smile. He held the feathers out to me. “I will fly again soon, Bella. If you have the courage, you can fly with me.”

 

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