The Sparrow's Poison


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Scene Title The Sparrow's Poison
Synopsis The sparrow: A tiny brown bird that is often fearless in the face of danger, quite unlike a lion cub.
Date December 1, 2010

The Land of Might Be

A blue veil covers the night turning the black sky navy and the moon a resplendant cerulean. Once in a blue moon is a saying that makes no sense to the house mother, they're all blue to her. She wasn't born with this curse, it developed like a cancer or a hunger that slowly turned everything into the forbidden hue. When she couldn't hide it any more, she was cast from the village, sent from her home with nothing but rags on her back and feet. She was left in the wilds to fend herself from the half men of Might Be on the borderlands of All.

Witch, they called her.

Witch she would be.

It's been years, she thinks, since she made her home among the craggy nests of obsidian that encroach upon the fair kingdom. A small hut built of nothing more than sticks and straw, yet it is the home she's grown to love. The half men leave her be, for the most part. It's when they don't that the pain comes. The abuse. Nothing she can point a finger at, it happens while she is out of her head. Ragged cuts from tiny shards prick her arms at the veins, riddling her with holes that heal just before the next onslaught.

It's the between times that are the hardest, when she's alone, knowing that there's no one there. That even the half men can't be bothered to even visit with her. For all the torture she suffers through, none can even be kind enough to show her a face, or even speak.

It is in the between time that the witch does her work. Some call it magic, but magic is only a small part of it. Dried flowers hang in brittle bunches from iron hooks above the tilted fireplace she uses to warm herself and boil water in a copper pot, one of her most prized possessions, and on the wooden shelves built into the wall are ominous ceramic jars with no need for labels, for Eileen knows their contents with the same intimacy that she knows the forest on the edge of her land. Where things grow. What their true purpose is.

Yarrow to counter poison.

Dill to soothe her aching stomach.

Wormwood to pull out the parasites and pass them with her bowels.

Meadowsweet for fevers.

White willow bark to ease her pain and purple comfrey to stave off infection.

Witch, they called her.

Witch she will be.

Pale fingers close around the kettle's handle, lift it from the heat and pour boiling water into her cup. She measures in pinches, no spoons or scales, feels for quality with her lips and determines potency by tasting with her tongue. Gently, she sifts her chosen mixture into the water and does not seem to care that the steam scalds her fingers.

The punctures have almost healed themselves, this is when she knows they will be coming. When her wounds have nearly healed and her arms bare nothing but the tiniest of discoloration. Already she can hear the yips and howls, the cackles, and the brays of the beasts further out in the glass jungle. They are nomads, carrion feeders; preying on whatever scraps they can find. Even they will not end her suffering, they take too much pleasure in watching her struggle by herself, but it's too early. Even without the warmth of the sun to let her know one day from the next, she knows it's much too early for the hollow imitations to be here.

Outside of the hut there's movement, something trying to be still but suffering the blows of the jackals that would tear it apart.

Without a knock, the door flies open and a woman with hair of a muddy purple topples on to her floor. A floor that had just been washed a few hours previous. Pulling herself to a crawl, she leaves streaks of purple behind her. Blood. The woman's hair… it must be a shade close to blood. She lifts her head long enough to see the face of the other woman, hers a mess of lacerations and bruises. Almost completely unrecognizable by injury, but somehow the witch just knows. She knows this woman from somewhere.

Eileen has the sense to set both cup and pot aside, though her instinct is to drop them and send pieces tinkling across the wooden beneath her feet. She goes to the door first, not because her heart holds no pity for the bloodied form of the woman whose hair is a colour she would have once called red, but because it is still open, and before she can do anything for the not-quite-a-stranger it must be closed.

When she kneels beside her, it's to gather her in her arms and take her chin in her small hand, turning her face toward her.

How long has it been since she's touched another person?

She curves the edge of her thumb along the other woman's mouth, tracing its shape, and then lowers her head to rest her chin on her crown. "Be still," she mutters into the tangle of her hair, the sound of her own voice strange and alien to her ears. She draws back with a glance toward the window as if expecting to discover there the answer the question she asks next.

"Who did this to you?"

The howls and cackles of laughter outside from the half men of Might Be seem to get a little closer to the hut. Close enough that the petite woman can hear the snuffling of breath as they try to pick up the scent of their prey. Shadows underneath the door would indicate that someone or something just outside, perhaps deliberating on whether to burst in or not. It hesitates and the door rattles as whatever it is tests the locks.

But then nothing.

All the while, the redhead stares at the door, trembling with fear. "I got lost," she explains, perhaps for the thousandth time, each time it's been to someone new. How did she get here? She wouldn't be able to say. Shifting, she pulls the pack from her back and reaches inside to pull out a round crystal the size of an eyeball. To the 'witch' it glows a deeper blue, the silver string that it's attached to is strained as the orb flies from her hand and points toward the window, toward the void of Nothing. "The shadow monster is that way… I was trying to get there."

"You aren't well enough to travel," Eileen informs her, placing one hand over the other woman's and swallowing it with her fingers, which she curls into a loose fist. Her other reaches for the floating orb, which she plucks from the air like a perfectly round firefly, and pinches between long nails that have not been trimmed in an age and have begun to form claws of glass.

She holds it up to her eye, then her lips, as though touching it to her mouth might lend her deeper insight into its magical properties. And maybe it does. "But we'll soon fix that."

She presses the orb back into Delia's palm, forces her fingers to close around it, perhaps to prevent it from escaping even with the string attached, and then forces her to hold her hand against her chest with a gentle, steady application of pressure before leaning her back against the side of her bed — a small, rumpled thing made of furs and pillows stuffed with goose feathers — and rising from her dignified stoop.

"What's your name?"

If Eileen knew what eyeballs tasted like, then that is what the crystal could be identified as. To her lips, the feel of a glassy substance is absent and replaced with a spongy wet thing that could be filled with a viscous fluid. Whatever magic that disguises the orb is something that the dainty woman hasn't been witness to in a very long time but the distant memory is there. As though everything here, her entire life and what she has survived has been a falsehood. Like a wallpaper covering on what truly is.

Her guest lays on the floor, her blue eyes open and watching as the hostess tries to identify the orb. "It's the eye of an angel." The small statement of truth, whoever deemed it such, makes the illusion that much more real and what should have been when the eye touched her lips is.

When she receives the precious item back, she doesn't need encouragement to hold it close to her chest. Hidden by pale flesh the color of the moon, the light of the orb dies down and slumbers for the time being. "Delia," the traveler answers. "My name is Delia." Whatever else there might be for an introduction isn't offered but that one name is always enough to trigger something.

"Delia," Eileen repeats fondly as she drifts across the hut, back to the fireplace, the dried bouquets hanging above it and the pots sitting on her meticulously-kept shelves. She hovers her hand over one of the rows, gravitating toward one of the smaller vessels, which she picks up in the seat of her palm and lifts off the lid. Head bowed, she breathes in deeply from it, filling her nose, throat and lungs with the scent of whatever the pot contains. When she lets her breath out again, it has a shaky, satisfied quality to it.

This, she sets aside. "That's a very fine name." From her cloak, she produces a pouch of soft leather, which she pulls open between her fingertips, emptying its powdered contents into the cup of boiling water she'd poured for herself earlier. "I know flower whose sounds the same. She is the symbol of a great star that has not been seen in our sky for longer than I can remember."

She returns to the bed and offers Delia the brew, but not before retrieving the chosen pot as well. "Drink this," she orders.

"The sun and the stars stopped when I got lost," Delia says quietly. If it were not for her tone of voice, the statement would seem very self important and conceited. The way she says it though, it seems she's suffering a great shame that somehow she's responsible for ending life as everyone here knows it.

To Eileen's eyes, blue hands reach out to take the cup and she lifts it to her nose to sniff at it. Blue eyes flit toward the brunette for half a moment before she lifts the brew to her lips and takes a noisy sip. Her face contorts into a grimace, whether from the taste or the heat of the mixture, she doesn't explain. Instead she tries to turn that frown upside down and manages a weak, "Thanks… What's your name?"

"Eibhlin," says Eileen, dipping her fingers into the open pot. They come out caked with a thick, foul-smelling mixture, which she smears across the widest cut on Delia's face. It's a balm of some kind and numbs the pain, spreading creeping coolness into the wound and through the muscles in her cheek and jaw. "You will sleep here, Flower, and when you wake," she gestures to the cup cradled in Delia's hands, "you will be fit to continue your journey."

She pushes bloodied hair away from Delia's face with the heel of her hand, careful not to get any of the balm mixed in with her tresses, then resumes her work, tending to the injuries the delicate, fussing gesture has exposed. "Tell me why you see the Shadow."

"Eibhlin," Delia repeats, testing the sound of the name with her voice. "Eibhlin…" her head jerks up just in time to meet the fingers coated with the goo and another grimace spreads itself on her features, only to half melt away when the numbness sets in, as though the young woman had suffered a stroke. The droopy expression gives her a pitiful countenance as she stares up at the witch for a little while.

The mug is lifted to her lips once again, if only for something to occupy herself while she suffers the indignity of a frozen face. The hot liquid dribbles out one corner and down to her floral patterned dress, oozing through the material and causing one of the flowers to bloom just that much more. Lifting one side of her mouth, she attempts to put on an apologetic smile that only seems split in half.

With a sigh, Delia places the mug on the floor beside her and folds her hands around the orb again. "I need to find him to make him tell lies so the angel can finish her puzzles and save the boy." The explanation may only make sense to her but it is all she can offer right now aside from one extra tidbit. "I think he might have my body too."

"You should challenge him to a game of wits," is Eibhlin's— Eileen's suggestion, "and if he should lose, then return you body to you." She wipes the fluid leaking from the corner of Delia's mouth with her cloak. Unfortunately, she doesn't seem to have much more advice than that, and the wan smile that shapes her lips is as apologetic as the one given to her by her house guest.

She looks down at the mug and, deciding that Delia's had enough of the brew for it to have the desired effect, moves on to her throat, patching the lacerations the same way she might pack clay into a hole in her wall. "No one comes to see me here," she says, her voice low and sad, "except to take, so let me give you something to aid you, Flower. Something I have kept even from the half-men."

"What about the angel? Will a game make him tell lies too?" Delia's blue eyes flit up to Eileen's and one of her eyebrows quirks into a frown when clearly two were meant to do so. The circles of shadow under the young woman's eyes seem to grow a little darker, making her features seem as hollow as the half men outside.

She winces as the substance is pressed into her cuts the sting of the mixture overcoming some of the numbness, if only for a moment before she feels nothing. "Thank you…" she emits quietly, watching the slow curls of steam rising from the mug. If she wanted to drink more, she's not risking it because of the spills. "I'm not very witty though, is it a book of riddles?"

"If it's a riddle you want, then you should visit with the King of All," says Eileen with a hollow-sounding laugh, some old grudge worming its way into her voice, making it low and hard, though her touch remains gentle if firm. She has only distant affection for Delia. "They are all he speaks in, and I would know. I was once his consort."

She wipes what's left of the balm off on the lip of the porcelain pot, not wanting to waste even an ounce of the precious mixture. "No, what I have for you was meant for him. A very potent poison. One pinch to help you sleep. Two and you sleep forever."

Delia's eyes fly wide open at the mention of the king and Eileen's admission of being— close to him. Curling her long legs up against her body, the young redhead stares at the woman with a certain amount of fear. "I — I can't sleep." No other explanation is given to that regard, but it seems the young woman is afraid of the thought. "There's something I need more than sleep and you're one of the only people I have met so far aside from the King who can do it."

Outside the howls and barks of the coyotes and wolves begin again. Somehow angered by the audacity of the young woman begging a favor when the witch has already given and offered so much already. Her blue eyes dart toward the window, but she doesn't get up. "You were going to poison the King? Why?"

Eileen deliberates on her answer in a silence filled by hissing and snarling, lips peeled back over slavering teeth on the other side of the hut's sturdy wooden door. "He tried to take someone from me," she says finally. "My brother who is not my brother, but that was a long time ago." There's an air of finality to her words that suggests this subject isn't open for further discussion.

The same cannot be said of the other. "What is it that I can do?"

"Carry a message for me," she says with an apologetic expression. From the look on her face, it's not going to be something easily done. "I need to get word to my dad and you're the closest one to him that I've met so far that cur— that's afflicted." With the proverbial cat out of the bag, she turns her attention to the window where the bone mask of one of the half men stares at them both with hollow eyes. He can't get in though, not right now, simply because it isn't time for the witch to receive them. A fact that puts the young redhead at ease.

Risking a glimpse at the woman, she purses her lips and raises her eyebrows questioningly, "I have to ask you if you'll do it though… I don't want to take advantage of you… not like…"

Eileen places the lid back on the pot, leaves it beside Delia's discarded cup and then stands again, rising to her feet a fluid, feline motion that has her showing the window her back. A leather pouch similar to the one she poured into the water is placed on the bed beside Delia's head, and the only thing differentiating from the other is the bauble attached to the string that holds it closed: a copper bell and the skull of a common sparrow, boiled, picked clean of flesh and lovingly polished.

"I ask that you take it from me still," she says of the pouch, the poison, "so that they do not. Maybe someday you will find a use for it. As for your message, that depends on what I must do to make sure he receives it."

A bang on the door interrupts the pair, accompanied by a warning growl. The face in the window disappears in a blur and the shadows under the door pace a little more restlessly. Cackles and cries of coyotes urge another bang, as though the door was being beaten by a battering ram. Or a half man with the skull of an ox for a head.

Folding her hands over the gift, Delia nods and tries to give Eileen a smile. It's a sad thing, thin lipped and coupled with brows that furrow in a worried crease. "Your affliction allows me to use you to pass a message — I don't know what's on the other side right now…. So I'd like to ask you to write something on your arm." Using her own as an example, Delia utilizes the beak of the sparrow as a tool to scratch the inside of her forearm. The light pink streak left doesn't seem to fade, not right away. "I don't need you to cut yourself… Just scratch enough that it'll last for a day or so. Would you?"

Eileen flinches at the bang, a reedy gasp escaping her mouth, which she pinches shut, jaw set. She does not look back over her shoulder at Delia, but she can see what the other woman is doing in her peripheral vision well enough. Pale eyes lower to her left arm, and she moves her cloak aside, revealing a long, slender arm with dark veins running beneath the surface of skin the colour of marble.

She crooks the smallest finger on her right hand, glass claw glittering cheerlessly in the firelight. "What do you need me to write?"

Closing her eyes, Delia takes a deep breath and releases it, repeating the action as though meditating. Slowly, the blue hue of Eileen's eyesight fades and becomes more alive with a full spectrum of colors. For the first time in recent memory, the petite woman can see reds, yellows, greens, browns… What colors she's actually decorated her little house in and the more pressing matter of one bunch of herbs dangling from the ceiling. They're supposed to be purple, not pink.

The redhead still has her eyes closed as she begins to scratch into her own arm, two words. Sleep and Brad. The angry red marks fade to a lighter pink, still visible and they will be for a short while. "Don't go too deep, I don't want to hurt you." She says sounding just a little distracted. She squeezes her closed eyes tightly, her tightened muscles shaking as she concentrates on making this work. "Just enough that it'll last a few hours…"

Sleep, Eileen carves into the soft flesh on the inside of her arm, and despite Delia's warnings there's blood running in thin red rivulets all the way down to where it gathers on the tips of her fingers on her opposite hand. Maybe she does it because she wants to see the colour red. Maybe it's because she doesn't understand the meaning of not hurting herself in this place where hurt is all that she knows.


It's more pain than Eileen can remember feeling in this place. More real somehow. Like everything that's ever happened to her, up until those lacerations, is nothing more than a dream.

As though she can feel when the job is finished, Delia's muscles relax and she peeks one eye open to peer at Eileen. The sight that greets her has the redhead tripping off the bed with an expression of horror painted all over her features. "Oh god… oh god… no … Aaaaaahhh.. You weren't supposed to go so deep! You're going to hate me!!" Taking the smaller woman's bloody wrist and arm, she holds it gingerly in her hands, while her blue eyes flit from her face to the snake trails on her arm. "Oh god… please don't hate me. I didn't want you to go so deep, you — " She cuts herself off with a shaking breath.

The noise of the half men rises to a fevered pitch outside. The banging of the door becomes hammering as they try to break the wooden barrier that protects the two women from the wrath.

Taking the brunette by the shoulders, Delia looks her straight in the eye. "You have to wake up now… Wake up before they get in… Wake up, please…" The tone of her voice is panicked and as the first splinters of wood separate with the burst of a horn through the door, she screams.

It's the scream rather than the hands on her shoulders or the intense cerulean blue of Delia's eyes that snaps her back to wakefulness, wrenching he forcefully from the dream and back into her bed which, until a few days ago, had been occupied by another.

Gabriel is fortunate that he isn't here now. Sweat plasters the cotton sheets and Eileen's nightgown to her skin, but that's not the first thing that the raven perched on the windowsill notices when his eyes blink blearily open, roused from his slumber by the sound of the Englishwoman's haggard, pained breathing as she pulls herself up into a sitting position and clutches at the inside of her left arm where the words Sleep and Brad stand out, still oozing.

It's all the blood.

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