Perilous Flight

cliffs and caves mike gifford flickr

Photo credit: Miles Gifford

Making his way up the steps carved into the cliff, Marsai slipped off his sandals.  Road shoes were no good for climbing.  If he fell and died now, finally so close to home, how bitter his mother’s laugh would be.

He remembered the last time he helped his grandmother up these uneven grooves, before she decided she could no longer make the trip.  We are born helpless chicks in the nest and we die that way, she had reminded him.

The murmured voices above stopped as he clomped his way upward, having forgotten how to walk a mountain.  An explosion of ashkta-birds burst from his path, squawking their disapproval.

At the entrance to the aerie, Marsai paused.  Three sets of eyes turned to him, squinting against the sun behind his back.

His mother looked away first, back to the arrow in her lap.  His father’s smile was quick but sad.  His sister scowled.

Marsai’s gaze caught on his grandmother’s empty bed.  So, she had flown.  He had been gone too long.  Returning to the ledge, he plucked a hair, said the prayers to Ainadinn for her, and gave it to the air.  His eyes swelled, but he willed them calm, a new skill too often practiced. There would be time for grieving later.

Inside, he set his sword and shield against the wall.  They clanked in accusation, echoing back from the stone depths.

Whose voice would break the silence?  His, in apology.  How else could it be?

“I should not have left without telling you.”

His mother snorted, still not looking up.

“Without asking,” he knew she wanted him to say.  He wouldn’t.

His father’s voice was soft but stern.  “You leapt before you could fly.”

Marsai pushed down his anger and nodded.  He hadn’t felt young then, but now?  How quickly the world ages you. “It is over.  Does that count for nothing?  We won.”

His mother faced him then, lightning in her eyes. “We?”

“The Aerielle are free now.”

We Aerielle have always been free.  We didn’t need a rebel taen and his army to save us.”

Marsai’s voice could be soft and stern too.  “We did.”

His father put one hand on each of their backs.  “Let’s not let yesterday’s clouds darken this day.”

Marsai could see his mother chewing her thoughts, her lips twitching with it.  He waited.  He was better at waiting, now.

She sniffled, the only sign of tears she was likely to give.  “Do you remember how to wrap an arrow, son, or have we lost you to the sword?”

Folding his legs, he sat beside her, grabbing a shaft from the pile.  He grinned, to have it in hand, to be knee-to-knee with her again. “No, you haven’t lost me.”

“Hm. We’ll see.”

His sister passed him some cord, pausing to punch his thigh, hard.  He deserved more than that, he knew, and would probably get it.  He grabbed her hand, squeezed it.  “I missed you, too.”

A seagull’s cry close by made Marsai jump, losing his grip on the cord.  He hoped the others hadn’t noticed.  He was home, that was all that mattered.  Tomorrow would come a new wind.  It would blow away what had happened, sweep it clean from his heart and from his memory. Soon, he would fly free again.

Word count: 550 — oops!  This was written in response to this week’s Sunday Photo Fiction challenge, inspired by the photo below. The problem is that the story is supposed to be 200 words long, so clearly I over-reached this week, by a large margin.  I apologize to SPF host Al Forbes and to all the other writers who worked hard to get their stories within a reasonable limit! Clearly this story refused to be half as long.  I promise to be better next time!  Click here to read the other stories.


Photo ©: Al Forbes


11 thoughts on “Perilous Flight

  1. Lovely take Joy. It’s sad that the Grandma passed away while he was gone at war. But sometimes, thought I hate to think so, war is necessary for freedom. Maybe he and his mother had two different views on what that freedom is but at least he is home and home is always home as long as the people you love are there. I’m sure he will regret, missing his Grandma’s time. Well written.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, he and his parents (especially his mother) had definite disagreements about politics, and how best to preserve their freedom. In the short run, Marsai was right, that allying themselves with one taen (king/queen) helped keep the rest of the empire at bay for at least another generation. Although at a cost to their independence, his mother may well have said. At least Marsai made it back home and was able to patch things up with his family. Thanks for your comment, Amanda!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Indeed, war would jolt anyone out of their previous life as it’s a rite of passage employed by states, nations, empires alike. Why did Marsai join a rebel army tho and to be sure of such convictions despite wet behind the ears?

    Liked by 2 people

    • For the same reasons young people have signed up to go fight in wars they don’t fully understand since the beginning of time, I’d guess, like passion for the cause, loyalty to a charismatic leader, desire to prove themselves, (misplaced) sense of adventure, etc. To clarify the rebel part, this particular taen is fighting against other taens in the same empire; the Aerielles are bit players getting caught up in a fight between giants. Marsai supports the faction that thinks they should fight alongside “their” taen and gain his support and protection. His parents support the faction that says they should stay out of Empire wars and continue relying on their inaccessibility to protect them from invasion.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. War changes people in ways that can’t always be seen on the outside. Sometimes you have to go with your heart and do what you know is right, even if that means turning away from family.

    I hope they aren’t angry at him for too long. Good story again Joy.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I agree we have to follow what we know is right. We have to be careful. though to take some time to think and consider what is truly right. If the opposing force endangers our family and all that is just, It’s sometimes necessary to fight. War has become too easy these days with weapons that kill large groups of people both good and evil. These are the hated weapons of mass destruction and should be avoided. Good writing. —- Suzanne

    Liked by 1 person

    • Since Eneana’s technology never gets above about 14th Century Europe at the latest, they don’t have nuclear weapons, but they do have magic weapons that can destroy entire cities. And the ruins scattered around the world to prove it, sadly.

      One of the things I try to do with my history of Eneana is remember that everyone believes their own cause is justified. There are a few characters who are pretty evil and bent on destruction, but most of the wars and deaths follow from two sides who both see themselves as the good guys, doing what they (believe they) know is right. Sad, but realistic.


  5. A great mix of emotions in this one, Joy, and so beautifully descriptive. The disagreements within the family will, hopefully, be blown away by the ‘new wind’. People will never completely agree over war and whether it is ever justified, but in your story, it was needful in order to keep the Aerielle free. It also played a big part in making a man of Marsai. I absolutely love Grandma’s phrase ‘ We are born helpless chicks in the nest and we die that way’. (If it’s a known saying, it’snot one I’ve heard before). 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the lovely comment, Millie! As far as I know, I made up that saying. (I always have to couch it in those terms, because you can never be sure you’re not being influenced by some half-remembered real-life thing.) I was trying to get across some of the culture of the Aerielle. They live in the mountains along the coastline and worship a giant bird god, so their sayings and ideas often revolve around clouds, wind, and flight. Many of them live in caves in the mountains and cliffs, making it difficult for any attackers to approach from below. But that also means the elderly and sick who cannot walk the path either have to stay ground-side or stay in their “nest” home until they die.


      • It was a brilliant saying and I loved it! Thanks for the explanation of its usage within the culture of the Aerielle, too. Now I know that, the saying is even better. I’ve never heard the saying before but, as you say, you can never be sure that something like it hasn’t been said/written before.

        Liked by 1 person

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