On November 24, 2021, P.T. Wyant posted a Wednesday Words prompt involving a brown feather, a family gathering, and bones.
This freebie Tale of Omphalos was the result…
The feather falling from the sky wasn’t white or black. It was brown.
Danyel caught it, gazing it with wonder.
“Muddy with ambition, he cannot even manage to be a raven,” Tayel muttered under his breath, refusing to explain himself.
“It’s still a proud feather,” Danyel murmured, extending his arm along with the feather. “It might have been a quill or a wand.”
“Don’t let my brother-in-law hear you say that,” Aggie muttered under her breath. “It will go straight to his head.”
“Exactly what will go straight to my head?”
Gryluxx sashayed out, wearing a cloak of brown feathers over red robes. Something rattled in his robes.
The effect was striking, Danyel had to admit. The tailor knew what suited him.
Aggie didn’t look at all impressed. She rolled her eyes as if the display was too tedious for words.
“Something bothering you, sister-in-law?” Gryluxx asked with the sweetest of malice. He chose the seat one over from Aggie. The empty space was probably meant for Meggie.
“The usual, brother-in-law.” She didn’t smile back. “You.”
“Ah, the lack of fraternal affection between us wounds me. Especially when it’s mingled with ingratitude.” Gryluxx snapped his fingers. “Do bring out those custard tarts you’re so fond of, wench. Sweets for the sweet and all that.”
“Hmm, just a moment,” Meggie called from the open door of the cottage, utterly oblivious to her husband’s sharp tone.
Aggie wasn’t. She leaned forward, cracking her knuckles. “Don’t call my sister a wench. She’s your wife. At least pretend you have some consideration.”
“Oh, I have the utmost consideration for my wife, but a wench is a wench.” Gryluxx grinned at Aggie. “You ought to know.”
“What was that?” Aggie growled.
Danyel didn’t realize he’d leaped out of his chair. He felt the anger, the violence prickling in the air. He reached out with the feather, waving at it, trying to get it disperse.
Aggie settled down in her chair, some of the anger leaving her furrowed brow. Gryluxx sniffed at the air, at the feather in an almost disappointed fashion.
“You don’t seem to understand how things work around here, little one.” He snatched the feather out of Danyel’s hand. “You serve me. I’m the one who gives the orders.”
“Why?” Danyel looked straight up in those hairy nostrils, the whiskered lips twitching. “Why do you goad Aggie, taunting her, enjoying her anger so much? Did you invite her here just to torment her?”
Gryluxx took a step back, opened his mouth and closed it, flushing. “How dare you accuse me of such things? Angharad may only be family be marriage, yet she’s still family.”
“Is that what family does?” An image of Leiwell pale and sweating rose from his memories. “Torments each other? Or do they try to protect each from being tormented?”
“You cannot sound the depths in the shallows,” Tayel murmured under his breath.
“Now, now, not everyone can be deep.” Meggie emerged, carrying a tray of custard tarts. “My raven is a fragile creature, boys. The reason he flies at others, trying to peck at them is because he’s fragile.”
Aggie chuckled. “Maybe, but he takes advantage of that far too often.”
“I can see these twins are as bad an influence on the both of you as their mothers and their brother.” Gryluxx wrinkled his nose and mouth as if he’d breathed in something which disagreed of him. “Do not let yourself be beguiled by the residents of the Old Cottage for all their beauty.”
“Hm, funny coming from you, dear.” Meggie smiled blandly at her husband and took a seat next to her sister. “You talk about them more than any of us.”
“Nor can you blame them for my attitude. Not about you.” Angharad placed a protective hand over her sister’s, baring her teeth in a parody of a smile at her brother-in-law. “I detested you the moment I met you.”
“And I was the one who rescued your sister from the abyss these boys’s mother cast you into.” Gryluxx regained some of his smugness, lifting a custard tart to his lips. He devoured it in three bites. “I did something you couldn’t after your precious master destroyed you. Again.”
“What are you talking about?” Danyel felt his brother shake his head slightly, but he couldn’t help asking the question. “What did Ashleigh do to Meggie?”
“Hmm, it wasn’t Ashleigh.” Meggie picked up a tart with utter unconcern as if they were talking about the weather. “It was Map. Not that I’d expect to remember. It took me a long time to do so.”
Flash of fire from torches, a night of fire. Fleeing, feeling a heavy unfamiliar body settle around him. Screams of anger became screams of anguish.
Danyel raised his hands to his face. Much of what happened beyond the Door was like a dream, but he’d been Map for a brief nightmare.
Tayel leaned closer, not touching him, but gazing at him with concern.
This is how he felt all the time. Tayel saw things he doesn’t want to, learned things he’d rather not know, yet his greatest concern was whether any of it would hurt his twin.
Danyel reached out to touch his brother’s shoulder, sending the silent assurance that he was all right. Even though he wasn’t sure if he was.
“It was another lifetime ago.” Aggie gazed down at her folded hands, not looking directly at either of the twins. “Back when Meggie, Mel and I were all Sisters of Seraphix, terrified of anything which might disturb our isolated idyll.”
The Sisters of Seraphix. Seraphix.
Danyel shivered at the name, feeling the hairs on the back of his neck quiver.
“Isolated idylls are raised from pits of darkness by sacrifices of others.” Tayel gazed at one of the tarts, not touching it. “Sometimes you catch a glimpse of their ghost in the sunlight.”
“Our ghost was something we’d learned to fear.” Aggie lifted her head to fix an angry green eye upon Gryluxx. “Just what do you know? What do you want?”
“I was curious to see how you’d react around the twins, given their closeness to your former master.” Gryluxx rubbed his hands in anticipation. “We are all neighbors again, in spite of all which transpired between us.”
“Just what did transpire between us?” Danyel leaned forward, gazing at the neighbor he’d much rather not have. “Just who are you, Gryluxx?”
“This lump called me a raven.” Gryluxx sniffed at his wife. “It’s true. I’ve been one. I caught a glimpse of you before you were an egg, a mere stone Christopher decided to carry.”
“Christopher?!” Danyel stood up, nearly dropping his chair. “You know Christopher?”
“Child, I know everything.” Gryluxx sniffed in Danyel’s direction. “Christopher was a creature of the Shadow Forest. Like everyone here.”
Silence fell around the table. Aggie dropped her head. Meggie began moving her lips rapidly.
Danyel reached for Tayel’s hand, gripping it. “Including yourself?”
“Of course!” Gryluxx pouted a bit. “Why should I deny it? The Shadow Forest is a place of power and potential. As is anything which slips out of its Doors.”
“And you can never get enough of power,” Aggie said with utter dryness. “Watch yourself. The price may be too high.”
“Only for those too cowardly to pay it.” Gryluxx bared his teeth at his sister-in-law. “Are you such a coward, Angharad? I’m not surprised.”
“Is there some purpose to this conversation?” Aggie rolled her eyes. “Or do you just want to insult us?”
“He does enjoy insulting everyone.” Meggie smiled at her husband indulgently. “Don’t pay it any mind.”
“Don’t speak for me, you addle-brained wench.” Gryluxx glowered at his wife. “Think I’m just this amusing little man, don’t you? Of no consequence at all?”
“Why, yes.” Meggie’s smile widened, showing no malice whatsoever. “I don’t mind. I love you anyway. Not everyone can be great.”
Danyel started to giggle, nearly choked turning it into a cough. Tayel raised a hand to cover a grin.
Aggie chuckled, not bothering to hide her amusement. “Guess you’re lucky, Gryluxx, to find someone who loves you, no matter how small you are.”
“Small?” Gryluxx glowered at his sister-in-law and the twins. “I’ll show you just how small I am. When Seraphix grants my wish, you’ll see.”
He stalked away from the table, muttering to himself, robes rattling more than ever when he entered his cottage, slamming the door behind him.
“Bones,” Meggie answered Danyel’s unspoken question about the noise. “He sometimes carries bones around with him. A way to ground himself to reality, for he is telling the truth.”
Aggie wrapped her arms around herself. “No. I am real. I feel real. No matter what happened in the past, I am real.”
“Aggie, we died.” Her younger sister fixed round hazel eyes upon her, shining. “Our master killed us all, yet somehow we’re back. Gryluxx brought me back.”
“How?” Aggie dropped her arms to clasp her hands together in entreaty. “I begged that man to help me bring you back, yet Gryluxx somehow succeeded where I failed.”
That man. It took a moment for Danyel to realize Aggie wasn’t talking about Gryluxx.
“Oh.” A faint blush colored Meggie’s cheeks. “You might say bringing me back was our marriage ceremony. One we often renew. Together.”
“Oh.” Aggie echoed her words.
Tayel flushed as well.
Danyel looked at their faces, unsure what they were talking about.
“I suppose that’s one way to ground yourself,” Aggie murmured, shaking her head with a bemused little smile.
“Well, you have Jupitre, even if he’s Juno’s husband.” Meggie tapped a finger to her temples, gazing in speculation at the sky. “If he’s not enough for you, you could try Gryluxx.”
“What?” Aggie spluttered and started coughing.
Tayel turned even redder.
“Just what are you talking about?” Danyel was unable to bear it anymore.
“Never you mind!” Aggie growled before turning on her sister. “That’s your husband you’re offering!”
“Well, yes, which is why I thought it would be best to offer.” Meggie nodded, considering her words. “He is my husband, but you’re my sister. If you’re worried about not being grounded in reality, you could try him out.”
“No, thank you!” Aggie growled. “The way your mind works, sometimes I think I’ll never understand.”
“Thank you.” Meggie smiled with utter sweetness. “It’s good not to be too predictable.”
Tayel let out a strangled giggle, still blushing.
Danyel glowered at his twin. “I wish you’d let me know what was going on.”
“Really?” Meggie gave Danyel a surprised look. “For all his insults, I know he thinks you’re one of the most beautiful creatures he’s even seen. If you’d like to try Gryluxx for yourself, you can.”
“Meggie!” Aggie snapped, sounding scandalized. “He’s a child!”
“Is he, really? He looks small and slight, but we’re not sure how old the twins are.” Meggie gazed contemplatively at Danyel and Tayel. “They might be older than any of us.”
“No.” Tayel said before Danyel could ask again what they were talking about, why Aggie was so upset. He took Danyel’s hand firmly in his own. “Thank you.”
“Don’t be jealous.” Meggie smiled at Tayel as well. “You’re welcome to try Gryluxx, too. He might be nicer if you do.”
“Niceness happens only if a creature wishes to cultivate it.” Tayel, cheeks still very red, looked Meggie straight in the eye. “Your husband has no taste for niceness.”
“I’m not quite sure what you’re offering,” Danyel ventured, “but if Gryluxx isn’t nice to you, his wife, why would he be nice to anyone else? Especially considering everything you do for him?”
“Yes, I was nice to him when you first came to visit us, wasn’t I? To try to put him in a better mood.” Meggie tapped her temple again, eyeing the door thoughtfully. “Guess that doesn’t work.”
The squeals and grunts from behind the closed door returned to Danyel, bringing a hot flush to his cheeks.
Oh. That’s what they were talking about.
“Well, I offered.” Meggie smiled in utter pleasantness. “Here I was hoping if I offered you my husband, you might offer me your handsome brother.”
“Meggie!” Aggie shot her sister a scandalized look.
“I don’t offer my brother to anyone. Either of my brothers.” Danyel tried to keep his voice even. “Even if you and your husband regard us as creatures of shadow, we’re people now. People with our own will. If you want something of Leiwell or Tayel, you ask them.”
Tayel squeezed his fingers in response, shooting him a private smile.
“Well said,” Aggie nodded in approval. “Gryluxx has been a bad influence on you, Meggie. I know you mean well, but you shouldn’t go offering people to other people as if they were a comb or a book.”
“Shouldn’t I?” Meggie widened her eyes. “Our lord offered me to my husband. I seem to remember an elegant lady with many arms asking for a beautiful youth, a youth a lot like Leiwell. Oh, what was his name?”
Tayel let out a hissing sound. Danyel shivered again, unsure why.
“Just because someone is a lord or elegant doesn’t mean their ways are right.” Aggie sighed, shoulders slumping. “Young Danyel here is right. We’re trying to be people. Let’s treat each other as people.”
“Of course. I’m sorry.” Meggie turned to Danyel. “I didn’t mean to insult you or your brothers. You’re very beautiful. I’d like us to be friends.”
“So would I,” Danyel let out another sigh. “Meggie, I don’t understand why you let your husband treat you the way you do.”
“Don’t you?” Meggie looked puzzled. “Guess it doesn’t bother me. I don’t listen to his insults. He’s very good at certain things.” She winked at everyone present. “Guess I didn’t want to be greedy, even if I am his wife. I wanted to share.”
“We’ll keep that in mind, if Gryluxx ever, ah, says anything to us about this,” Aggie said, waving her hand as if to will this entire conversation to disappear. “Given how we feel about him, it’s not something we’re interested in. At all.”
“All right.” Meggie reached out for a custard tart and began eating it with no discomfort whatsoever. “He does like you. That feather wouldn’t fall into your hands if he didn’t.”
“Does he?” Danyel looked down at the feather he was holding. “It’s more likely he wants something of me.”
“That, too,” Meggie said with her mouth full of tart. “Who wouldn’t?”
Danyel felt himself flushing again.