Day 2: Umbra

The Word of the Day is

umbra

noun

  1. shade; shadow.

  2. the invariable or characteristic accompaniment or companion of a person or thing.

  3. Astronomy.

    1. the complete or perfect shadow of an opaque body, as a planet, where the direct light from the source of illumination is completely cut off.
    2. the dark central portion of a sunspot.
  4. a phantom or shadowy apparition, as of someone or something not physically present; ghost; spectral image

Here we go:

When I was young, still living under my mother’s wing in the Morrigan slum, she told me how to stay alive in a hostile world:  “Never stand in the light,” she said.

I didn’t know she meant it, then.  Like all Morriganna, it was already my inclination to wake at moonrise, and my mother always put me to bed long before dawn.  Light was of little issue in a world ruled by inky night.  Giggling, I said, “Okay, Mum,” and, magic crackling ecstatically up my spine, I let the Wings take over.  Now a small raven, still top heavy, I fluttered unstably around my mother’s head.

She drew herself up tall, her silver-white face—her True face, not the one she constructed for the mortals—stern, iridescent wings snapping behind her.  “Eimhear,” she said.  “Heed this.”

I Shifted back.  “Alright, Mum,” I said.  “But why?”

She sighed.  Suddenly she looked ancient under the weight of her burden.  “Because you are a Morrigan,” she said.  “And you won’t cast a shadow.”


That was long ago; I have not been a child for centuries, though little enough has changed.

The human soldiers tasked with searching the Morrigan slums are like every human I have ever seen: tan skin, pale hair, colorful eyes and clothes, and a scowl of revulsion each time he sets his gaze on one of my kind.  We stand in an uneven line, our very existence contrary to mortal life: each of us tall, pale as the winter moon, our eyes and hair black, our lips colorless, black wings hanging limp behind black and grey dresses in varying states of raggedness.  Though we squint against the light, can feel the sun burning our flesh, no umbrae cover the ground behind us.

“Death witches,” murmurs one guard, shuddering.

Dorcha starts forward, snarling, her wings trembling with her rage, but I hold her back.  “Stop,” I murmur.

She is young still; like the young raven, she wants to fly but hasn’t learned the value of caution.

“Which one of you killed the old man?” asks one man.

We stay silent.  We know by now that if the humans come into the slums, it is because they’ve decided another one of us needs to burn.  We’ve never been able to stop them before.  We won’t be able to now.

“As though the fir scáth have any power over the raven,” Dorcha snarls beside me.  It’s quiet, not meant for man’s ears, but one of the soldiers hears it anyway.

“It’s this one,” he announces: humans are quick to believe the Morriganna are killers, though I’m sure no one here has ever seen the man who died, much less murdered him.

I don’t think; I act.  “It wasn’t her,” I say, my voice rough and deep like the raven’s song.

“How do you know, witch?” taunts the guard.

I bite my lip.  “I did it,” I say.

He reaches for me, but magic snaps up my spine like a whip, and I Shift, raven’s wings beating, pushing me towards the sky.

One of my feathers drifts lazily to the ground, and that is all that is left of me for them to catch.

Confession: I went over fifteen minutes.  Can you tell?

Cara Kennaway

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5 thoughts on “Day 2: Umbra

  1. Once, when I was hiding out overnight in the library, I started reading a book of essays that had been left out in one of the display cases. Normally I wouldn’t have been interested in such a thing, but I’d already read half the books in the place over the course of similar nights, and I was so desperate to sleep. Of all the wretched maladies of the mind to’ve plagued me over the years, I swear insomnia is the worst. So I thought, what better way to cure insomnia could there be than a book of academic essays?

    God, they were awful. A bunch of over-educated snobs trying to sound insightful and original and succeeding only in sounding like self-satisfied crowd pleasers. I remember one in particular that made me laugh out loud; it was titled “The Umbra of the Royal House”, and was attempting to make some sort of deep observation about how the palace in the center of the city has both “a visible umbra and an invisible one”. (Because, see, an umbra is a shadow, something that stays with you always and yet remains immaterial and intangible, and the palace has a visible shadow at all times of day and night, being the obnoxiously large building that it is, but from it is also cast the even more significant shadows which are the rule of law and the influence of government, etc., etc.)

    Now is perhaps not the most opportune time for such a fond memory to resurface, but I think I can hardly be blamed for the remembrance, considering the circumstances. I am, after all, hiding in the umbra of the royal house from the umbra of the royal house (or, rather, I’m hiding in the stableyard from these stupid guards who won’t leave me alone). I’m sure the essay’s author would appreciate the dynamic way in which I am exploring his concepts.

    I peek out around the side of the building I’m tucked behind. They’re still hovering. I don’t know why the law should have reason to care about me so much. All I do is trespass a little and occasionally run errands for far more interesting criminal types (what’s more, as I have told people and will continue telling people no matter how much they don’t listen to me, Raymond dying like that was almost entirely accidental and only partly my fault, so I don’t see why everybody wants me to answer for it). Seriously, why can’t they pester someone else for a change? I could name a dozen petty thieves and lock picks off the top of my head who would make more exciting prey. Ones who’d put up a fight or leap over buildings or something. I just hide behind stuff and wait for them to leave. I’m very boring. And I have things to do.

    I glance down at the guards who’ve been following me again.

    And see that Ryan is with them.

    Oh.

    That explains the interest, then.

    Well. In the name of fairness, I really shouldn’t just keep standing here, then. Not if he’s involved.

    But I wouldn’t want to leave my lovely spot here in the umbra of the royal house.

    I spend a full minute deliberating. Glancing between the guards and my nice, shadowed hideaway. Thinking about how amused Ryan would be if I told him about the book of essays. Reminding myself that I’ve already done quite a bit of running today and that I didn’t get much sleep last night and that I have errands to run.

    I leap out into the open, making as much noise as I can. They all turn at once. Even as I move to slip through a half-hidden exit in the wall and move back into the heart of the city, I catch the flash of Ryan’s smile in the corner of my vision.

    Sure, I probably made the wrong decision.

    But he’s coming after me.

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