Song of Silence: Part Two
It was early in the morning when Damien finally returned. The sun was just starting to creep up over the snowy hill, sending a pool of orange light shimmering across it, stretching the long shadows of the scraggly, winter-barren trees.
The family awoke when they heard his clattering return, and he smiled at Desdamona, holding something behind his back.
Desdamona looked at him, her head cocked on one side as she wrinkled her brow in confusion.
Damien picked her up out of the nest with one hand. "I'll bet you're wondering what I've got here," he said enticingly.
Desdamona nodded, confused.
Damien pulled a small thin object from behind his back and handed it to her.
"It's a chalk-board, see?" Damien took it from her and drew on it using the stub of white chalk tied to a string. "Once we teach you to write, you'll be able to communicate just like us."
Desdamona's eyes widened in shock, and she beamed, leaping out of her father's hand and squeezing him round the neck.
Damien laughed and pried himself loose. "Look," he said, "I even got the shopkeeper to tie a string around it for you so you can hang it around your neck." He draped the string around her neck and Desdamona let it hang there, grinning proudly. Quickly she took it off and handed it back to her father, putting the chalk in his hand.
"You want me to teach you now?" he asked.
Desdamona nodded eagerly.
Damien chuckled. "After breakfast. I want to teach your siblings too. It won't be much good if you know how to write, but they don't know how to read."
Desdamona nodded again, grinning and flapping her wings excitedly. She jumped back into the nest and hugged Blossom and Sirius, who had been watching the exchange.
"Wow, this is really cool," Sirius said. "Dezzie's really gonna learn to talk using that thing?"
"Yeah," Blossom said excitedly, "and we're gonna be the first hatchlings in Meridell to learn how to read thanks to her!"
At breakfast, Desdamona couldn't eat; she kept looking proudly at the chalk-board hanging around her neck, tempted to practise her doodling to get the hang of using the chalk.
Finally, after what felt like an eternity, Damien beckoned his children to the mouth of the cave. "We'll need plenty of light to see what we're doing," he said. "Right, now you three, pay attention. I'm going to write the alphabet, one letter at a time, in the snow. Desdamona, your job is going to be practising writing them, Blossom, Sirius, it'll be up to you to learn how to read them. It's going to take time, and you won't learn in a day, but hopefully by the time I'm done you will have learned enough to be able to talk to each other."
They got to work, and Damien spent the entire morning teaching his children letters and sounds, working so diligently that none of them heard Rosemarie when she called them in for lunch, and she had to pry them all away from the snowbank outside the cave that Damien was using as his chalk-board.
Even after her siblings had tired of the day's instruction, Desdamona sat by herself just outside the cave, copying the letters over and over again until she got each one just right. Then she began experimenting with words, trying to remember what her father had taught her about sounds. Eventually she felt confident enough in her work to show it to her parents, and walked proudly back into the cave with the word "Dezdimona" written on her board.
Rosemarie beamed when she saw it. "Oh, Desdamona, that's wonderful! Damien, look!"
Damien pulled his attention away from the breadfish he was eating and looked at his daughter's board. "That's very good." He smiled. "There's just one thing." He took the chalk from her and erased the 'z' and the 'i', replacing them with an 's' and an 'a'. "There, perfect," he said, handing back the chalk.
Desdamona turned the board around and stared at it for a long time, ingraining it in her memory. Then she erased the word and wrote, Thanks.
Damien grinned and picked his daughter up. "You're welcome, Sunset," he murmured, hugging her and smudging the word on her board.
February came and went, and Desdamona and her siblings continued their lessons on reading and writing, until they were all fluent enough at it to have ordinary conversations with one another. Things were starting to become normal.
Then March arrived, and with it, warm weather and more green grass. In time only a few feeble piles of snow, which had been thick drifts in January, remained, though the pond was still frozen over with a thin layer of ice.
One warm morning, the three hatchlings were lying about the cave entrance, trying to come up with something to occupy their time.
"What do you guys wanna do?" Blossom asked, plucking blades of grass and letting them scatter in the wind.
Sirius and Desdamona shrugged lazily.
I'm bored, Desdamona wrote.
"Me too," Sirius sighed, "There's gotta be something to do around here."
"Well, then go and find it," Rosemarie said. "I'm busy trying to tidy up in here and I can't do it with you three layabouts cluttering up the cave. Go outside and find some butterflies to chase or something."
Sirius perked up, looking interested. "Hey, that's not a bad idea," he said. "C'mon, you guys!"
The threesome dashed down the hill and up the next rise, approaching the pond where all the butterflies lived. They were old enough now to be allowed down by the pond, as long as they were very careful; they still couldn't swim.
Desdamona scanned the area below them and spotted something in the distance. She squinted to see what it was, then bit her lip nervously. Uh-oh, she scrawled.
"What's wrong?" Blossom asked.
Desdamona pointed. Norren, she wrote. Let's do something else; he's just going to make fun of me again.
Sirius scowled. "If he tries anything, we'll clock 'im. C'mon, we can't let a bully like that ruin our fun." Before his sisters could protest, he jumped in the air and flapped ungracefully down the hill. Sirius was the best flier in the group of young hatchlings born that winter, as his colour dictated he would be, but they were all still getting the hang of it, and were still perfecting their balance and landing.
Blossom and Desdamona followed their brother down the hill, and as she dipped to land, Desdamona's foot got caught on a stray branch and she crashed, tumbling to the edge of the lake and landing in a heap on the sandy bank.
Blossom ran forward. "Des, are you okay?" she called.
Desdamona picked herself up slowly and nodded, not noticing the pair of black feet by her nose until she sat up.
Spotting them, she gasped. Norren was standing above her, sneering.
Desdamona scrambled up and backed away, eyeing up Norren nervously.
"Well, well, if it isn't little miss mute. Sing any good songs lately, eventide?"
Desdamona scowled and lashed her tail angrily. Shut up, Norren, she wrote, thrusting her board out for him to see.
Norren scoffed, "I see you got yourself a cute little writing board, how sweet. There's just one problem. None of the rest of us can read, so you're just as pathetic and helpless as you ever were."
Sirius stormed up and planted himself inches from Norren's face. "You better watch it, creep. You leave my sister alone, y'hear? And for the record, she told you to shut up, know how I know? You're the only one around here who's so stupid he can't read. The rest of us understand her perfectly. Leave us alone, and I'll let you go quietly, understand?"
Norren snarled, fury flashing in his red eyes. "You're gonna regret that, loser," he snapped. He shoved Sirius hard to the ground and turned on Desdamona. In one swift motion he snapped the board from around her neck and lobbed it out across the pond, where it hit the thin ice and skidded to a stop near the middle. "Let's see how well you manage without your precious chalk, freak!" he jeered.
Desdamona lunged at Norren and headbutted him in the stomach, forcing him to double over in pain, then she ran for the edge of the lake and leapt into the air, flapping her wings furiously to keep aloft.
"Dezzie, come back!" Blossom shouted, but Desdamona wasn't listening.
She glided low as she approached the chalk-board in the middle of the lake, and it looked like she was going to be able to snatch it up without ever touching the ice, but suddenly a strong gust of wind, carried from the hilltop on the other side of the lake, barrelled into her and sent her sprawling. She lost her balance and flapped wildly trying to right herself.
It was no use, Desdamona plummeted onto the ice, and hit it with enough force to make it split. Before she had time to draw her next breath, the ice cracked and plunged her into freezing cold water.
To be continued...