Dogleg Hinterland 4

That night was a strange one – her mother came to her as she slept; arriving as the Whispergate Sentinels always arrived: as a rumour of smoke that wrapped itself around an idea, gradually cinching its grey ribbons more tightly until it became solid. Why would she choose tonight of all nights to manifest herself, after so long of being an absentee in her daughter’s life? She did not say anything but it looked as if she was involved in some kind of mummer show, her hands moving in a suggestive manner that Madrigal could not quite decipher. She tilted her head back, held her hand to her mouth and appeared to silently howl; once this act was complete she began to flap her wings and she flew away.

In the dream Madrigal looked down and saw that her mother had left her shadow behind: an inky pool in which a bird seemed to be struggling. What sort of bird was it? Madrigal knelt to lift it from the oily substance, thinking at first that it was dove – the black patches being merely the stains of the fluid. The bird did not coo like a dove however, it let out a cackle like dry twigs breaking, and she knew that it was a Magpie. It spoke: “One For Sorrow,” and then it flew away.

A second Magpie appeared, told her that two stood for joy, and dropped a picture of a strange looking man with two straight blue lines tattooed beneath his eyes. The bird wandered around after making its delivery, which strangely made Madrigal feel more uneasy than the first message.

Why was her dream in this particular form? Birds were no friends of hers – was the Nest playing fames with her? She hoped not. The third Magpie wore a gold chain about its neck with the name Lorelei carved into it. This bird seemed to laugh at her. Three for a girl.

Four for a boy came, and if a bird can be considered solemn, this bird was so. The Myomancer – this was who she was told to expect. A smiling face shimmered for a second in her mind and then dissipated. A Myomancer? She was not sure that she even knew what that meant? Some form of divination? How and where she was supposed to meet him she couldn”t fathom.

Magpie number five landed and reached into the pool of umbra – it withdrew a small silver ring and it told her: “You will pay your way to the moon with this.” This bird dived into the pool – something she would never have imagined a magpie doing, and it disappeared.

Number six merely flew over her head and dropped the ring that it was its duty to deliver – shouting as it passed “This is to pay the sun.” She watched it as it flew into the distance, seemed to reflect the sun upon the blackness of its wings and then, like a coal, ignited and burned away to nothing.

Number seven wished to hang around for a while. “I can’t tell you much,” it said.

“I thought you couldn’t tell me anything.”

“Well, not directly, of course, but I might offer to you a tidbit; a hint; a shiny gew-gaw. There’d be no fun in not getting you a bit worked up, after all, am I not the most important in this charm of magpies? Of course I am.

“Okay, here goes – things in the nest are hatching for you. A sage fool sings the blues but you will be carried away on the back of another harmony. While the cats away the mice shall play. The moon is an egg. The sun is an eye. And lastly, as an extra favour at no extra charge – a wolfskin is worn by one you once knew. Fare thee well, traveller.”

Madrigal then seemed to wake, but she knew that it was not a true waking – just another level of the dream: in one hand she held a canine tooth and in the other a small bird skull. She woke in this strange bed in this strange merchant’s house and she tried to figure out what it all might mean. If the day were as interesting as the night it would definitely be one to remember.

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