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Memory is the scar that keeps Dreama from becoming fully and completely mine.
I bring her every delight: ravels of tangled twine, curiously bent twigs laced with aqua lichen to add to our bower, the liquor from a snail’s shell, the pink, still-warm hatchling robbed from an owl’s lair, brass buttons. I do not bring her mother of pearl buttons. They make her weep.
She grows sadder, yet lovelier by the day. She is still large, but her flesh shrivels, displaced by new, bristly black feathers. I pick the scabrous scales from the small of her back, exposing the feather buds beneath. I whisper, “Soon, my love, very soon,” and apologize for any pain it causes.
Dreama cannot yet understand my avian language. I admit, I did not reckon on that. The day I flew over the clover-studded valley and jagged cliffs to the white frill of the sea’s edge I saw curious creatures, lovely enough to take the breath.
I was struck by her. She sat on the foam-dashed rocks below me, her hair black as a poppy’s heart, silky as the sleekest plumage. Her skin pale as a hare’s belly, her eyes blue as the sea that submerged her hideous, crippling fish’s tail.
I could rescue her from such a life.
I circled, rising on a delicious warm zephyr. My breast swelled for this maid who I chose to be my queen, to rule over our corvid kingdom. She paid me no heed, thinking me a common black bird.
I dove and wove, spinning my spell, and cast it over her, a gossamer net.
I kept watch, as day by day she rose to the rock, a sodden black feather here, another there. At night, she gazed at the moon and sang. Her song, not yet avian, but shivering, melancholy tones from the deep. It was echoed by the listless winds, and she hid her face in her hands.
Finally, the day came when her accursed fins and tail shriveled and thin, bird-like legs appeared. I knew then she could leave her watery grave of a home. I netted and drew her from the water with the power of my enchantments. She made the bloody climb up the cliffs, awkward on her new spindly legs, knowing she could no longer survive in the sea. She wept every step. Enough salt water to fill a small ocean, by my estimation.
I speak to her of love. Of a brilliant future as queen, ruler of all things corvid. I bring her choice fish scraps and seaweed, the only things that tempt her appetite. She does not understand my promises of eternal love, of unimaginable glory flying the limitless blue heavens.
Dreama only understands that she resembles me more each day, peering into the small hand mirror I found on a maid’s window sill and propped for her in our bower. She looks and weeps.
Her plumage grows in, her form shrinks from its water-logged beginnings. Her face grows hawkish, her lovely beak taking shape. She drives it into my breast.
It takes days to heal. She cries in her otherworldly language of echoes and clicks. I keep to my side of the throne-nest, whisper word-charms she can’t comprehend, and bind her to me.
The last of her dark locks fall away and the black of her pupils swallow up the blue of her irises. She begins to comprehend bits of my language.
She allows me to beak-stroke the emerging arch of her wings, her hollow ivory bones my idols. She comes to understand my promises, and no longer weeps. Silent, she listens to me whisper seductive phrases of flight, air as purchase under our wings, rowing our way up, up.
I present her to the jays first, under the evergreen canopy. Always combative and ornery, they ruffle their crests, fussing, but can’t deny Dreama’s perfection. The ravens lift bouffant heads, dismissing her as a mere crowmaid, but a lovely one. The magpies, vicious gossips, spy the few scales that cling to her back glimmering in the sun. I lay a protective wing across her back.
She steps from under my wing, hops onto a hemlock branch and begins to sing. Not the song of a proper crow, but the poignant quavering melody of her seahome. The corvid kingdom is spellbound by her. One by one they nod their affirmation and fly off to roost.
That night she says, “You love me.”
“I do. Oh, I do.”
“Then I wish to fly with you.”
My heart grows wings, thrumming against my ribcage. I nuzzle her, beak to downy black neck. “Yes. Yes. Tomorrow.”
We take short flights at first, each a rigorous test of her strength and agility. It does not come naturally to her. I suppose I shouldn’t have thought it would. We are all awkward fledglings in the beginning.
She learns, tenacious as a house sparrow. We fly farther and higher each day, and the murder of crows that nests in the court nearest us marvel at her. Marvel at my choice of mate, my power of transformation, my power over her.
She seems fond of them. She seems fond of me.
But I desire more, so much more. “What would it take to make you love me as I love you?”
She preens, beak to underwing. “Change me back to my mermaid self.”
I am understandably horrified.
She accepts this in silence. She smooths the down on her breast.
“Then at least take me for a flight over my seahome to say goodbye in my own way. I am strong enough now.”
I cannot deny her, though my heart’s wings molt, shorn and impotent.
The day is all mist and fog. She minds not at all, but revels in the watery air.
“You miss your former home, though I cannot fathom why, and I am sorry. I only wanted to love you. I was struck by you.”
She turns her back, climbs a thermal above me, and looks down. “But I am not the creature you fell in love with, now. Am I?” There is a strange quaver in her voice that will never be crow.
The salt wind licks my wings ragged, and I cannot answer.
“Watch me, how well you have taught me. See what you have created, Corvid King.”
She rows higher, into the mist and low-bellied clouds.
“Too high!” I cry.
She flies higher yet, shrouded in haze, then turns. Head down, wings tucked compactly against the sleek corvid body I gave her, she aims her dart-like beak straight at the rocks beneath us, the waves churning against them.
I labor against the wind, scuttle to her side, but too late. She whistles past me. The enchanted net I cast after her can’t hold her. She slips my bonds, as a moth from a chrysalis.
The corvid—even queens—are not created for such long-distance diving.
But merfolk are.
Sharmon Gazaway's work has appeared in The Forge Literary Magazine, Daily Science Fiction, New Myths, Metaphorosis, Enchanted Conversation Ghost Orchid Press, and also in the anthologies, Love Letters to Poe Volume 1, Dark Waters, and Wayward & Upward. Sharmon writes from the Deep South of the US where she lives beside a historic cemetery haunted by the wild cries of pileated woodpeckers--you can also find her on Instagram at @sharmongazaway.