Butterflies In The Garden
The dully gleaming ebony feathers of the crow seemed to absorb the daylight into its black mass. The motionless bird stared unblinkingly at the movement below from its perch in a tree, looking more like its deceased and stuffed counterpart than a living creature.
Below him the little butterfly flitted weightlessly, bobbing on its wings over the flowers in the garden, oblivious to the danger above.
The crow blinked just once, the thin membrane moving across its cold emotionless eye a heartbeat behind the eyelid in a slightly off double motion. The bird tilted his head.
Spindly legs reaching, the little butterfly landed on a flower. Its wings moved slowly to some soundless rhythm. It tasted the air with its antennae, picking up only the sweet pollen of the flowers.
Feeling safe, the butterfly stilled its wings, letting them soak in the delightful warmth of the sun.
With a slow languid motion, the crow spread his wings and took flight, his shadow passing on the ground below.
The fleeting shade was a cooling pulse across the insect’s back, the warmth returned as quickly. Only its antennae moved in response.
Landing soundlessly on a wooden post closer to the flowers, the crow ruffled his feathers and settled to watch the little butterfly.
The insect lifted one spindly front leg and froze. It sensed danger. Its antennae twitched, feeling for the source. Nothing moved except the barest dance of the flowers in the soft breeze. The butterfly relaxed again.
The crow bided his time, watching the butterfly groom its head with its front legs.
He half spread his wings and tilted his head, coldly eying the morsel below. His wings came up and his head down, wings spreading to their full span. He pushed off the post, bringing his wings down against the air. He dove down at the garden.
Danger trembled in the little butterfly’s antennae. Its legs quivered and wings twitched as it sought the source. The shadow came down, growing, and covered it. It realized the danger too late, flapping its wings and bobbing and dodging on the air.
Faster, the crow dove straight for it, closing the gap quickly.
The insect felt the displaced air before it could flit across two flowers. Desperate to live, it tried to weave in the air. It could not move fast enough, its bumbling flight too weightless for speed.
The crow’s beak clapped closed a wing’s hair from catching and crushing the little butterfly just as it dropped below the flower heads. Twisting mid flight, the bird reached for it with the talons of one foot, catching only the velvety softness of flower petals. His claws dug into the blossom, tearing the stigma from style, anther from filament, and ruined petals free in a single violent moment that left the spoiled flower trembling with motion in its wake.
Swooping up to land on the post, the bird shook his foot to knock off the petal impaled on one claw. The torn petal fluttered to the ground. The crow ruffled his feathers in irritation at missing the snack.
The quivering butterfly clung to the bottom of a flower head beneath the watchful stare of the hungry bird above. Hours passed and neither moved. The sun crossed the sky, its light getting old and tired, and finally turned to the early gloom of dusk as it hung lower in the sky.
Lifting his beak to stare balefully at the weakening light, the crow finally gave up and took flight across the yard and over the trees towards his night roost. His ugly caws carried back on the wind.
The little butterfly was still afraid to move. It clung there in the growing darkness. The sun on the horizon made the sky burn with the colors of sunset as it slipped behind the skyline, plunging the world into night.
Rising waxy and pale, the moon cast its dull light into the night.
Moonlight reached down through the flowers and touched the wings of the little butterfly. Its wings quivered and rippled, shriveling into themselves. It trembled, its body twisting in grotesque reaction to the trauma. It fell into the full light of the moon. Its antennae withered and shriveled, its body convulsed in wretched spasms and twitched as it morphed. The lower part of its body split and pulled apart into two as its legs pulled into the body. The front legs thickened instead of withering like the rest and it shook its head in agony, legs splaying at the ends to become hands with fingers.
When at last it lay still, gasping raggedly from the pain ravaging it with the transformation, it was no longer a butterfly.
Clutching at and shaking her head, she moaned and pushed herself into a sitting position. She groaned hollowly and looked around.
She was still the size of the butterfly, but has shed all insectile appearances for human-like. Hair cut in a short bob framed her tiny face. Her appearance was almost elven, slender and diminutively angled.
Ibris stood weakly on unsteady legs, wavering a little. A gossamer gown hung off her, limp and tired. Putting an arm out, she stumbled over and leaned on the flower stalk for support as she gathered herself.
“That was close.” Her voice was rough and high with anxiety. She blinked; looking dazed, and tried to clear her thoughts.
“Craven the Crow is back. This is not good. He has killed too many of us. I should alert the village.”
Still weak from the transformation, Ibris shuddered and her gown shifted. Part of it lifted on each side, splitting apart to reveal wings so delicate they seemed they would tear on the barest breath of a breeze.
She looked up anxiously, expecting to see the ugly crow suddenly appear. She could not fly yet, so she started walking, climbing between flower stalks and blades of grass. Everything towered massively above her.
When her wings have dried, she took flight, moving more quickly. Ibris flew recklessly through the flowers, rising above them and speeding up, darting across the garden. She crossed the yard to the woods beyond and vanished into the shadows of the trees.
The village was alive with activity when Ibris reached it. The dwellings were little cottages of twigs and dry grass faded to sandy browns like logs and flat boards of wood. Tiny flowers decorated gardens, their heads hanging large and heavily.
Her legs were already pumping before she landed, her stride going easily from flight to a swift walk as her feet touch ground. She dodged through the village determinedly.
Ibris stopped at a building that was larger than the small cottage homes. The House of Counsel. She looked at the closed door uncertainly, reached a hand out to knock, and froze. Her hand fell uselessly to her side.
“I’m going to be in trouble for going to the flowers without permission.”
She turned unhappily, retreating.
“Ibris, where have you been?” The voice is soft, but with an edge of irritation, lightly scolding.
Ibris stopped and looked. Her eyes flashed warily as one caught doing something wrong might look. Liandan, the weaver of spider-silk cloth, was staring at her, waiting for an explanation.
Liandan was taller than Ibris, her arms lean and strong from hard work. She was older, but still young enough to be just starting her journey through the adult life.
Ibris took quick steps to her. She lowered her voice to a whisper.
“I know I should not have, but my butterfly brain does not always think.” She looked down guiltily. “I went to the flowers.”
“Without permission,” Liandan guessed. “You are lucky you did not get caught, or in danger.”
Ibris’s cheeks reddened.
“What happened?” Liandan asked.
“Craven.” Ibris’s voice trembled with the memory.
Liandan blanched and her face turned a sickly shade of pale. She reached for Ibris, needed to touch her and make sure her friend was safe. She felt Ibris trembling beneath her hand.
“Are you okay? Did he hurt you?”
Ibris shook her head. “It was close. Very close. I was sure I felt his ugly beak snapping me in half when I heard it clap closed on the air where I just was.”
She shuddered with the thought.
“But you are okay now. Promise me you won’t go back out there.”
Ibris gave Liandan a pained look.
“I didn’t mean to go,” she pleaded. “I was in the other form. My mind did not think. It has been safe for so long, I guess I forgot.”
Liandan was staring off thoughtfully.
“So, Craven has returned.” She looked at Ibris. “We have to tell the village. Craven is relentless. Ibris, we have to tell the elders.”
“No.” Ibris reached to put a restraining hand on her arm. She stared into her eyes pleadingly. “I will be punished.”
“If we don’t, someone will fall prey to him sooner or later.”
Ibris hung her head in shame.
“All right,” she said quietly.
“We don’t have to tell them everything,” Liandan said. She looked thoughtful. “Did you hear his call?”
“Yes. Ugly and loud.”
“Did you see or feel his shadow cross you?”
“Both.” Ibris shuddered and hugged herself.
Liandan nodded. “We have it then. We will tell them that and leave out where you were.”
“But that would be a lie by omission.”
“It’s only a small lie.”
“It’s a big one and they will ask where.”
“All right. We will have to tell the whole truth. Maybe it won’t be so bad. Come, we have to tell someone.”
Ibris followed her unhappily back through the village.
“We are not going to the House of Counsel?”
“No,” Liandan said. “We will find one of the grandmothers who have retired from the council. They will know best what to do.”
They came around a cottage to see a group of ahead. Sarawn, one of the knights of the Glenn and member of the council was there, looking serious and angry. Shanawn, the elderly historian was looking at him gravely. There were others too, all talking in loud anxious voices and looking concerned.
Liandan grabbed Ibris’s hand so she could not back out and dragged her along towards them.
Ibris tried to pull back, terrified of approaching them. Not just for what she had done, but because of who was there. Sarawn and Shanawn! They both terrified her. The knight of the Glenn standing tall and regal, his scowl making him even more intimidating. And the stooped historian dressed in a ragged robe more fitting a pauper traveler, who knew too much and was one of the most respected council members.
Liandan, too, hesitated. She took strength from being only one of a crowd clamoring for answers.
“What’s going on?” Liandan asked when they reached the group.
Shanawn turned to look at them. They both recoiled at the attention, expecting someone of lower status like their own to respond.
“Craven’s ugly cry has been heard,” he said, his voice thin and wavering with age. “His black shadow has been cast across our village again.”
“King Tuathal must be notified and a meeting of the council called,” Sarawn said gravely.
Shanawn nodded agreement.
Liandan and Ibris looked at each other. Ibris’s secret was safe, for now.