I’ve been given the honour of putting two of my short stories forward for a collaboration of shorts by me and two other authors. The genre is going to be fantasy so I thought I’d revamp one of my favourites Learning to Fly, I added some stuff, named my characters and here is the next draft. It may well get drafted again but for now I like it. Enjoy!
“Oi, dirt-sniffer, get out of bed.”
Liza groaned and rolled over. It was only dawn and she had not managed to get to bed until long after sun down.
“Come on. Your mother needs your help. I’ve got a visitor for our evening meal today.” Liza’s father, Nathaniel, banged his fist on the edge of her bed.
“For the third time this week?” Liza threw back her covers and stood up, being careful not to catch and tangle her wings.
“Yes, for the third time this week. Believe me, I am as fed up as you with all these fancy meals just to get you taken off my hands. With you being a dirt-sniffer you’re not making it easy.”
“I don’t want to be forced to marry some idiot you bring over for food just because you deem it necessary.”
Nathaniel lifted his hand and flung it backwards across Liza’s face. She reeled back onto the bed behind her.
“You will be on your best behaviour this evening, is that clear?”
She nodded as she felt her cheek. She had bitten her tongue with the shock at the back hander but she knew she had got off lightly. There would be no bruise. Satisfied, Nathaniel left the room.
At twenty-six Liza was well past the age Nepharil females normally married. Her father was still trying to find her a suitor. Two days before he had invited a seasoned warrior to dine with the family. She had poured hot cocaya in his lap when he had asked her father if a hundred felkin would be acceptable as a wedding payment.
A hundred felkin was not even a days wages. And to add further insult the Nepharil had already married five women. He had boasted of the beauty of one in particular all evening to her.
The beating her father had given her had been worth it. She knew that the only reason she did not suffer more from her father’s anger was because the only two things she had left to promote herself as a good wife was her looks and her ability to cook.
Knowing, that her two brothers would soon be up to torment her further Liza stopped thinking over the past and pulled her clothes on. She then brushed her hair and neatened the few feathers in her wings that had been knocked astray while she slept.
Hearing her brothers call to her mother downstairs stopped Liza from continuing her preening and sent her running downstairs. Joseph was her eldest brother and he often came to join them from the bachelor house for breakfast as well as meeting his younger brother, Stewart, for training. Liza was the youngest of the three.
As soon as she entered the kitchen her brothers and father started demanding her to serve them. Her mother was already at the stove, cooking. She had made a mix of wheat flour, milk and eggs to fry into soft cakes, Nathaniel’s favourite.
The three male Nepharil did nothing but sat at the table and talked idly of their work. Nathaniel and Joseph both worked as soldiers and Stewart was in training to be one.
Liza had just served all three drinks when her uncle, Christopher arrived. Christopher’s wife had died in childbirth, taking their child with her. Christopher, therefore, joined them for all their meals.
Christopher would often request of Nathaniel the use of Liza to help in his own house and, of course, her father would not refuse. It was one of very few things that had discouraged the drop in offers for her. Liza would do Christopher’s housework but he would always make sure that they had time for at least a small lesson in wing strength or positioning or anything else he thought would help her to learn to fly. Unknown to any one else he had not given up trying to teach her to fly.
As always Nathaniel ribbed Christopher for having no female of his own. For some reason this caused Joseph to pipe up and suggest that his uncle purchase a female elf slave to do his housework for him. Suddenly all three males decided this was exactly what Christopher needed.
Christopher could not get them to leave him alone about the idea until he promised to look into it. Liza sighed, though it went unheard. It was a shame that no one else in her family could respect that her uncle had actually cared about his wife and did not wish to just replace her.
Changing the subject, Christopher asked if he could borrow Liza for an hour or two just before lunch. His excuse was an errand in the marketplace but she smirked when she heard this. She had already done the task for him the day before when she had gone to the town for her own family.
It could only mean that Christopher wanted to actually spend time with Liza on a flying lesson of some kind. Her heart beat faster in excitement. She lived solely for the lessons with her uncle and the hope that one day she would no longer be deserving of the insult dirt-sniffer.
Liza could hardly concentrate over breakfast and got yelled at several times by her father for getting something wrong or not being quick enough. She managed to get through the meal and Nathaniel, Joseph and Stewart left. Christopher then gave her instructions of where to go in the marketplace and said goodbye as well.
After checking what time her mother would need her back to help with the chores and grabbing some fruit to eat Liza rushed off out of their tree-top house and climbed down the rope they had to have tied for her. The market was two miles away and up hill all the way, but Liza was too excited about getting there to care how difficult the journey was.
If she had been able to fly it would have taken her less than ten minutes to fly up the rest of the mountain to the Nepharil town near the top but she could not. Instead it took her forty minutes and she was breathing heavily by the time she could even see her destination up ahead.
Christopher appeared by her side, landing just a few feet away, before she reached the outer walls of the town. He smiled at her and she tried to smile too while she got her breath back.
“You were sooner than I thought you’d be,” Christopher said.
“I did not want to keep you waiting. You take a great risk”
“Every Nepharil should have the right to keep trying,” Christopher frowned, “follow me. I do not know how long this will take.”
Liza knew better than to ask questions. Christopher seemed to know exactly what to do to teach her the next thing she needed to know and she suspected that he had taught Helen, his wife, how to fly after she had been given up on and labelled a non flier.
Christopher led Liza up the mountain even further and away from both her home and the town. Liza had never been this way before and had no idea where they were going, but any excitement she would normally have felt at going on an adventure with her uncle was stolen by the coldness of the fog that wrapped itself around them.
After half an hour of silence and regimented marching Christopher stopped. The two of them stood on the top of a cliff. The fog made the edge hard to see but Liza could just make out enough when the wind gusted and pulled the vapour out of the way.
“Here we are, today you fly.” Christopher looked at her. He had a smirk on his face. Liza gulped. She had not expected him to actually tell her she was meant to fly. She did not think she was ready.
“I want you to jump off the cliff. I’ll come with you.”
“You want me to what?”
“Jump off. You know how to move your wings right and have enough strength in them. At worst if you don’t manage to fly I’ll be there to catch you before you hit the bottom.”
Liza knew Christopher well enough that if she didn’t at least attempt his instructions he would threaten to stop teaching her. Taking a deep breath she turned towards the edge of the cliff.
She stood completely still, her teacher equally still beside her, both of them wrapped in mist. The feathers on the ends of her wings fluttered gently in the wind as she stood watching, hoping to get a glimpse of the land beyond. Slowly she took a step closer to the edge, stretched her wings outwards, and took another deep breath in.
Standing still again, waiting, she watched the fog swirl. This time she was rewarded for her patience by a brief glimpse of what was beyond the precipice. There was not enough time to see exactly what was there but enough to make her take another small step forwards.
Christopher, eager to continue, walked right to the edge and as he did the mist parted again, allowing her to see the drop from the cliff and the valley below. It was amazing and unlike anything she had ever seen before, lush green fields and a deep blue winding river.
Encouraged by what she saw she took the final step towards the edge of the cliff and hesitated once again. The white vapour closed in around her, thicker than before, as if it thought she had seen enough and did not want to tempt her further.
For a long time she did nothing but shake gently with fear. All the shock flying tactics the other Nepharil males had put her through flashed into her head. None of their ideas had worked and she was not sure now would be any different.
After a lengthy pause Liza’s nerves got the better of her and she took a step backwards. Christopher immediately turned to her.
“You can do this. Trust me,” he said. She looked away
“I’m not sure I can.”
“I would not ask you to do this if you could not.”
She nodded in response and stepped back to the edge. She held her breath, spread her wings and jumped. He followed and for a moment the two of them plummeted towards the ground below still enveloped in fog.
After what seemed an age to her she snapped out of her panic and used her wings to soar in the wind. She moved her wings up and down matching the rhythmic beat of her heart, just how he had taught her to.
Within seconds Liza was climbing, her teacher still beside her. She let out a laugh of joy as she rose back to her previous height and then higher still. The two of them flew and danced around each other, enjoying simply being there together, until she noticed that the wind had picked up and finally cleared the mist away.
Without hesitating she flew down and landed amongst the trees and flowers below. Her teacher was not far behind and faced her as he landed. It was obvious that he was as exhilarated as she was by her first flight. They smiled at each other, sharing the moment, before her grin broadened and she enquired.
Christopher laughed and Liza could not help but join in, exhilarated with the freedom she now felt. Both of them were standing with bright eyes and their heads a little higher than normal. They had been working away for years, building the strength into Liza’s wings so she could fly. Many times Liza had considered giving up, now they had achieved their goal.
She had flown.
“We had better get back to your home. We have already been gone well over an hour. Your mother will need you.” Liza nodded at her uncle’s wisdom. “I suggest you do not let your father know until after tonight’s meal.”
She bobbed her head up and down again. Christopher then took off into the sky and hovered, waiting for her to follow. She frowned as she stretched out her wings again. Flying from stationary was not going to be as easy as flying from the fall.
With a few exaggerated down flaps she managed to lift off the ground, only to find herself standing a few moments later.
“Just a little more.” Christopher encouraged her. He flew a little closer, just in case.
Liza frowned and concentrated on how it felt when she had begun flying the first time. After a brief pause, where nothing happened at all, she lifted off the ground and flew upwards.
They flew together in circles and twirls as she tested her new found powers to their limits, soaring on currents and then diving, to stretch out her wings and level off before hovering inches off the ground.
Christopher led her back to the cliff they had jumped off and then they flew together, low to the ground, back in the direction of the town.
When they were about half way back they landed to walk the rest of the way. Keeping Liza’s successful flying a secret would not work if she was seen in flight and, although she did not vocalise it, her wings were now very tired. Her wing joints ached with the exertion. She hoped it got easier with practice and use.
Christopher left Liza where they had met, after a brief hug, and she headed home. It was almost two hours since she had left the house and she knew her mother would need her back soon.
Her uncle’s warning not to let anyone know she could fly was still at the top of her thoughts so she walked, with a slight bounce, back to her house. Facing another dinner with men only there to try and buy her hand in marriage did not seem too hard to face with the knowledge she was no longer a dirt-sniffer.