“My darling,” he greeted, stepping inside and pulling off his cloak so fast that a flurry of rain water went dancing through the air, shining like diamonds. “Did you have a pleasant day?”
He moved nearer the large cage. Its iron bars, painted gold in hue, gave off a pleasant hum when he touched them. Every movement in and around the cage was recorded, in his absence, by the simplest of spells and fed back to him through the tips of his fingers.
He closed his dark eyes, a smile pulling at his mouth. “You’ll only hurt yourself if you keep rushing the bars like that, my darling. This cage was built to withstand even your powers.” He opened his eyes, gazed at the wonder of the prize within. A bird of the rarest kind, thought to be extinct for centuries. Truly, you had only to know where to look. And, of course, how to hold.
She was large as a raven; legs pale as birch and lean with four toes that curled into smooth, opalescent claws. Her feathers reflected light with every move, glossy black throwing off an array of violet, green, blue, and red. She was stunning in daylight and he was sad that he could not take her outside more often. But after that last, almost disastrous, outing….
He shook his head, looked at the black, black eyes and the pale curved beak that managed so much contempt for features that weren’t meant to hold such an expression.
“Sing,” he said, moving to the kitchen, taking the bread from the shelf, the cheese and smoked meat from the larder. At her silence he turned, one finger raised speculatively to his mouth. “Sing. And I’ll let you out of that cage.” He paused, poured wine into a cup and sipped. “Sing for me and you may stay out for the night.”
The bird shuffled on her perch, head twisting to and fro before she stilled, ruffled the feathers along her throat and opened her mouth to emit a sound that was too pure for this side of the veil. It was spring rain and autumn sunshine filtered through the boughs of oaks in winter.
He closed his eyes, let the music wash over him, through him until the last notes crested and faded.
“My darling,” was barely a whisper across his lips. He went to the cage, sliding a key from his pocket and into the lock. “Come,” he said, one hand sliding through the door and the bird stepped gingerly onto his palm, allowed him to guide her out.
As soon as he set her on the floor, she shivered, feathers spreading. Her small body bowed, bent, arched under the pressure of leaving the form in which she was never meant to spend her life. The feathers shrank away from her pale legs, rose over her belly, revealing soft, white flesh beneath. The legs themselves lengthened, filled, took on curves and contours, human feet.
Wings splayed, became human arms, hands with delicate nails tipping the fingers. Feathers receded along her skin like tides ebbing, except for a strip along her head that merged into a long black mass, reflecting jewel tones in the firelight.
Her face was the last to change. Beak sliding back to form a narrow nose, with a delicate arch. Her face lengthened, revealed high cheekbones, large dark eyes surrounded by thick lashes and heavy black brows that gave her an innocently vicious appearance.
Black hair, like a silken ribbon, streamed over her shoulders and down her back, stark against her paleness, parting to give teasing glances of her breasts, the soft curve of her belly, the slope of her hips.
Mouth curving at the corners, he held out his hand once more, “Come. It’s time for bed.”
Title from Wallace Stevens’s “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.”