Friday, January 17, 2014

Flight of the Peacock

Back to the Flash Fiction challenge. This week at terribleminds Chuck Wendig gave us two lists of twenty words each. A die or a random number generator helped us choose one number from each list. These two numbers together equaled the title of the story we were supposed to write. I ended up with "flight of" and "peacock." 

Well, technically I ended up with "Whispering Encyclopedia" but while fleshing out that idea I realized I wanted to make it much, much bigger than 1,000 words. So I went back and chose another two words. Enter the peacock.

And this too ended up being a much bigger idea than I intended. I kinda fell in love with the characters and want to spend a lot more time writing about them. But, fortunately, I was able to concoct a 1,000 (or 1,065 is you want to get specific) word scene for this week. 

Comments are welcome as I am new to this and want all the help I can get.


Her guard Captain, Branka, is first to board the airship. The few guards left under his command follow and fan out on the deck. She and her advisors are left to shuffle themselves into the space between the guards and the railing. She finds herself pressed against the side of the ship looking down at the nine districts of Tsuntsun’eze, spreading out like a peacock tail from behind the body of the palace. The shouting begins almost immediately.

“Hell’s gears! What do you think your doing? “

“You need to take off. Now. They’re right behind us.”

“We ain’t no people peddlers. Shuffle yourselves off my ship!”

She looks down, straight down and sees arms and shoulders swirling around the port tower. The steady thapp-thapp-thapping of boots on stone stairs is a rising counterpoint to the frenetic shouting. Faces down below her lean out and look up, twisting with fanatic disgust.

Anathema. Profane. Woman.

She leans over the railing.

She opens her mouth to shout, to speak - something, but closes it again when no sound comes out. She looks down at her hands. Swirling lines, flowers and feathers tattooed in ink only a few shades darker than amber coloured skin.


Her hands clench.

“Why am I awake? I can’t see the sun. That means I should be sleeping. Explain yourself.”

A new voice, dry as white wine and on her right. She turns and sees a fresh snowfall of hair and pale, blue-green ice chips for eyes. Ah. The Captain. And not just any old captain.

“Vayu Oya.”

His lips turn up a little. More a smirk than a smile.

“I keep telling them I’m famous.”

“We need a ride.”

“Yes, your man’s been saying that. And mine has said that we do not take passengers. “

“Do you leave desperate people to die?”

“I have been known to do exactly that. Part of the reason I’m famous, I think.”

Branka and the others have noticed the conversation. He puts himself between her and the white-haired Captain. He’s almost as tall as Vayu Oya, and both of them are miles taller than her.

“We need to get her away from the city. They’ll kill her.”

“And why does that matter to me?”

“She’s the Manawa’okan.”

Vayu Oya looks at her again. At her eyes, deep and dusty peacock blue. No one else in Tsuntsun’eze has eyes that colour.

“So you’re the Heart of the Peacock Throne,” says Vayu Oya. He looks at Branka again. “And why does that matter to me?”

Branka stiffens as if struck. He’s captain of the Heart’s guard, his life devoted to her protection and well-being. He forgets that not everyone shares the calling. Especially not pirates.

“I do not take sides in political conflicts,” says Vayu Oya. “Really, I do not take sides in any conflict, except my own. I am not a peacock,” there’s s titter from amongst his crew that’s ignored, “and she is not my Heart.”

She speaks before Branka can.

“I took the choice of no choice away from you when I boarded,” she says. “If you put me off this ship you choose their side. You tell the world you agree with punishing a woman for using the power she was born with. And what would your mother say to that?”

Vayu Oya’s eyebrows jump on the fast track to his hairline.

“Who told you about my mother?”

“She’s as famous as you are. For much more admirable reasons.”

He shakes his head slowly back and forth.

“Using a man’s mother against him. If that’s how you do business I’m not surprised they want you dead.”

Her lips turn up a little. More a smirk than a smile.

“Leaving sooner would be better.”

He studies her. She holds her body still while he does. She forces herself not to look over the side of the ship. It’s been a long time. It can’t be that high. They must be here by now.


Don’t look.

“I will tell my crew to cast off. And you will give me nine earrings and a chin stud to do so.”

Another kind of stillness takes her.

“These earrings are more than just jewelry. They’re sacred. Worn by the first Manawa’okan and every other since.”

“Then they’ll buy you more days on my ship than I thought.”

She can’t bring herself to move her arms

“I do not run a charity ferry, little Peacock. Hand them over.”

“Wait,” says Branka. He undoes his jacket. Beneath it hides a breastplate with the same nine stones mounted in nine feathers of an engraved peacock. “You can have these.”

“I can have all of them. I am a pirate. It’s what we do.”

Maybe if she holds really still she’ll become invisible. Maybe he’ll forget she’s here and just takeoff. He’ll land somewhere far away and she’ll sneak away. Run away from him like she’s running away from Tsuntsun’eze. Hide from him like she’ll hide from them.

Her face tightens and her eyes burn.

Do not cry. Don’t you dare cry. Not here. Just - don’t.

She brings her fingers up to her ear. Undoes the first earring. Then the second. By the fifth one she trusts herself to speak.

“Don’t sell them. I’ll buy them back when we land.”

He doesn’t say anything. Just holds out his hand. Branka’s beside her. It feels like he’s vibrating. Don’t kill him. Please don’t kill him. No one’s going anywhere if you kill him. She doesn’t need to worry. Branka has more than just muscle. He begins to take off his jacket.

“Oh, no need yet,” says Vayu Oya. “Wait till we’re in the air. Ismet, cast off.”

Vayu Oya watches Branka ingest his rage and Ismet does as he’s told. The airship begins to drift away from the port tower. It’s not long before the engines fire and the airship starts to turn. Just in time. The dock is full of people, mostly men, shouting and swearing at her. Some pull out bows but before they can fire the ship’s out of range.

She watches her city grow smaller.

White walls rising out of amber-coloured dust. Nine districts and ninety-nine temples. And a palace that used to have a Heart.

“What’s your name little Peacock? Or am I not allowed to use it?” asks Vayu Oya.

“Chantesuta. My name is Chantesuta.”