A short story written for the Flash Fiction Challenge on Terrible Minds with the opening line provided by CJ Eggett.
The ghost of a sparrow flitted through one wall and out the other. It reminded me of the ones singing on the branches outside Willow’s Bend, at least before Zara’s men had burned the Manor and surrounding woods. I knew I couldn’t follow the sparrow, at least not yet, but I laid my blistered fingers against the granite anyway.
The stone cooled my skin, the succor momentary when Berk grabbed my bared shoulders and hauled me to my feet. His rutted scowl appeared in my one-eyed gaze, his own narrowed in suspicion, his breath yeasted and stale.
“Don’t think you can faint on me, girl.”
I forced my chin up. “I hadn’t fainted.”
Walker brought the torch to my cheek, stinging flames joining his leer. “We’re you looking for an answer in the floor?”
“Not at all.”
“Then you must have one in this pretty little head of yours.”
Walker seized the shorn locks they’d made of my hair when I’d been caught, the shearing the first punishment of a litany I no longer remembered. A shake dizzied my vision, blending his paler face and raven waves with Berk’s leathered features and tawny mane. The crimson stags upon their jerkins danced. The beasts stilled though when Walker yanked my head down, putting us nose to broken nose.
“Tell us and this stops.”
I would have spat in his face if I’d had the saliva. My parched throat and tongue left me settling for a weary glower. “Your ears are as stuffed as your pants.”
Walker’s slap preceded Berk’s fist in my stomach, the combination reducing me to my knees. Stones swirled, ethereal flecks leaping from the granite and across my bound wrists like woodland hares. The warren escaped through the rock as the ghostly sparrow had, leaving me with an answer in my marrow and two pairs of boots waiting to stomp it from me.
Embers fell from Walker’s torch, scorching my bracing arms while he squatted beside me. “Tell us, girl.”
Pursing my lips together, I shook my bowed head.
A blow to the nape of my neck sent me sprawling onto the floor. Berk’s knee stabbed my back and he cinched my neck. Before my eyes, Walker’s polished boots gleamed like his oiled hair.
“She doesn’t know.”
“She’s the last.” Berk’s hand tightened. “She has to know.”
“What more can we do to make her talk?”
“The screws again?”
Deriding laughs punctuated their debate on another bit of torture, another ploy on my mind and body to steal the secret of my brother’s hiding spot from me. While they deliberated, the door to my stonewalled cell opened.
Berk released me and stood. His heels scraped along with Walker’s when they bowed.
Through the stench of my own burned flesh, hair, and blood, a honeysuckle perfume coiled. Without looking up, I could see Zara’s milky visage as clearly as I saw her in my nightmares, night after night slaying my father as the first of her traitorous acts against our kin.
Her slippers, soft as lamb wool, hushed against the stone. “Has she spoken?”
Walker cleared his throat. “Nothing useful, Madame.”
“We can keep trying though.” Berk kicked my side but I didn’t give him the satisfaction of a groan or whimper. “She’ll break.”
“Seems as if you’re nearing the end of your course.” Distaste dripped from Zara’s lips, plopping to the stone like the sweat from my brow. “I have other paths to pursue, more winding to be sure, but since she’s proven so useless, the young Lady Kader can take whatever she knows to the grave.”
Walker and Berk bent their knees in unison. “Madame.”
A ripple of silk suggested Zara’s dismissive wave and I witnessed her pivot. Her sentence, however, yoked my throat with more power than Berk would ever possess and a slam of the door sealed my fate.
Berk’s jabbing knee returned, pinning me before the will to struggle, to live a bit longer in the hopes of delaying their pursuit and giving vengeance a chance to gather, worked into my heart. He palmed my head and jerked my cheek from the floor. The glide of his dagger chilled my bones, the blade’s honed edge fiery against my throat. After a quick swipe, blood filled my mouth and replaced the air in my lungs. He pitched me to the stones and I looked out as a puddle wet my face.
The sparrow returned, darting through the wall with a flock of his brethren. They circled, wreathing my cooling body and lifting me upon their wings. I soared with them over the heads of Berk and Walker who stared at my corpse inside the cell they’d thrown me in, stripped me in, where they’d shoved and prodded with every tool at their disposal to worm betrayal off my tongue.
Giving them my back, I tilted my face to the eaves, the location of Kader’s Vale safely stowed in silence, and flew as one with avian ghosts at my side.