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A serialized version of my novella The Trials of King Sparrow. This is Chapter Eight, where the adventure continues!
I’ll be releasing a new chapter every Saturday. If you’d don’t like waiting you can buy the novella at the following online locations:
As I nuzzled my head up to her breast, I caught a whiff of burnt meat, like the squirrels and other forest animals Lucy cooked in the fire. I heard no heartbeat nor felt my love’s breath escape her.
My queen was dead. The true reason for her demise was obvious to me. I’d seen it happen before, back in the great Robin Wars. I was a fledgling. My father’s second-in-command returned from a battle in the clouds. Nurse Sparrow tended to him with grave concern on her face. His fellow officers said he’d been struck by lightning. Outside of his burnt tail feathers you couldn’t tell. Soon enough, with no obvious injuries, Nurse Sparrow was forced to let him join us for supper. The incident happened halfway through his first worm. He toppled over on top of his worm, dead. My father had Nurse Sparrow (with the help of a feline we’d allied with) bisect his body. His guts were burnt black.
Lightning seeks the earth, if you didn’t know. If lightning is an animal, the ground is its food, water, and air. It lives only to return to the earth. It isn’t concerned with how it gets there. This is why birds are usually safe in a lightning storm. In the air, you’re as far away from the ground as you can get. The lightning doesn’t even see you until you land on a tree branch. Birds don’t worry about lightning much. This doesn’t mean it can’t hurt us. If we happen to get in between the lightning and the ground, it’ll tear through us all the same. Since we’re not connected to earth, it usually only stuns us, but lightning is still hot. Lightning is skyfire.
So what killed my father’s servant? The skyfire cooked his innards. When you burn a wing, you can blow on it or run it through some fresh creek water to cool it down. Not so with your guts. Left unattended, the heat rises, cooking the bird from the inside out.
The smell of her. The circumstances surrounding. The skyfire that lit her up. My queen was dead. It was the lightening what took her.
How could she fly and laugh and smile while her innards were burning? Perhaps the pain was so powerful her body refused to let her feel it. Maybe she ignored it. Maybe she was so happy to see me she… No. No matter how close to the truth it might be, I wouldn’t allow myself to think it.
I kissed my queen’s sunken cheek then sat back and looked at her. I wished for her chest to flutter or for her to make a noise. As impossible as it was, I dreamed up ways she could survive. I wished for a nurse sparrow to arrive, one who’d know some method to save the queen. The nurses were all with Captain Sparrow now. If I found them again, I’d be killed before I could convince them to help.
What about the trials I’d come through to get here? The injuries and enemies and fights and fiends standing in my way? What did they mean now? If I’d known it would end here with my queen dead before me, I would’ve let those beasts eat me back in the field. If they’d been there on the cliff with me, I would’ve laid back and offered them my belly. They weren’t there though. Nobody was. Except me.
So what to do now? I stared into her black eyes, remembering the first night I’d noticed them staring back at me. I’d been resting in the royal nest, watching her mother teach her how to fly. She’d managed to fly but not where she’d intended to. Instead of soaring into the sky, she careened through the trees before crashing into the branch below me. I hopped down, snatching her ankle with my beak right before she fell. Once she steadied herself, she turned to face me. When she realized who I was—the young Prince Sparrow—she looked terrified, as if I’d only saved her to punish her. Kind words calmed her down. She stayed, and we spent the evening watching the clouds roll across the moon. When a cold wind would blow, she’d nuzzle up under my wing. I’d look at her. She’d look at me. You can guess the rest.
But she was dead. My queen was dead. I was truly alone now. I crawled over to her, my limbs moving as lithely as stones through the mud, then rested my head on her again.
“Oh, my love,” I said to her although no life pulsed through her, “why did Lucy have to find me in the snow? I thought she’d saved me from some terrible fate. If I’d known she’d only preserved me for a worse one, I would’ve pecked out her eyes. She should’ve left me in the snow.” I knew I wasn’t being fair, but a bird in mourning can think many wicked thoughts. A king even more so. Doesn’t make any of it true. I didn’t care though. Somebody had to accept the blame for this, and Captain Sparrow had gone. There was nobody to blame. Not even Lucy. If she hadn’t saved me, I would’ve never seen my queen at all. Were all my trials worth the brief moment we spent together before she died?
Tear drops fell from my eyes, catching in my feathers while others landed on hers. There was no saving her. No changing the events as they’d happened. I was a king… Powerful, privileged, respected… But not even kings can command time. I knew no decree that would bring back the dead. If one exists, no wise man would use it.
I cried. I cried deep and hard and long with tears drawn up from the dark tangled tunnels in my guts, which tightened every time I drew in another gasping breath. I prayed for those red-eyed beasts to arrive and devour us both. Bleed me, beasts! Render up my body into the burning heart of God!
But no beasts came. The clouds drew in black like squid ink while I wept.
Thick raindrops plopped down in the grass around me. Some landed on my head, mixing in with my tears until I couldn’t distinguish between them.
I was already ten feet away before I registered the lightning strike. I wasn’t quite back on my feet before I heard the crackling. Queen Sparrow’s body was still in its dying place. Blue fire… Lightning… danced across her feathers. What dumb luck for the lightning to strike her twice. At least it couldn’t hurt her anymore. It could hurt me, and the black mark I noticed on my chest told me it had hit me.
Before I had a chance to determine if my insides were burning, a bright blue flash blinded me. I fell face-first in the grass then looked up to a miraculous sight: My queen floating in the air. She wasn’t flying though. Her wings were still. She hung there surrounded by a bubble made of light. The raindrops turned to steam as they hit its smooth translucent surface.
Queen Sparrow’s feathers fell out one-by-one, floating easy down. When they fell out of the bubble, the water would soak them and they’d drop as quickly as a nut from a tree. I’d never seen her so stark before, her bald bird flesh pale white after years of being protected from the sun. I found an appreciation for the curves in her flesh… The way wing met breastbone to form a pit underneath.
Her wings expanded, filling with a frothy pink liquid that churned underneath her skin. They groaned and cracked as they grew out to ten times their natural length. My queen’s eyes sparked to life. She looked down at herself, screaming in horror as the transformation continued.
By now her wings had settled into two loose sacks of pink flesh, bent in the middle. Little pink tendrils wiggled their way out. Soon her feet transformed via the same method: Expansion, frothy liquid, flesh sacks.
She saw me standing there, useless, as this unnatural force took her. She called out. “King Sparrow! I’m dying. Why don’t you save me? Why don’t you move?”
But I couldn’t move. I couldn’t even answer. A dark burn the lightning left on me glowed orange, causing the feathers around it to smolder. I was burning out from the inside, but if Queen Sparrow was any indication, this wouldn’t be the end of me.
Have I mentioned my queen’s eyes? Dark orbs that set off her brownish-gray feathers. As I floated up off the ground, I looked to them for comfort. Something pulled at my feathers. A few fell to the ground. Her eyes contracted, leaving a white ring around them. Another flash left a green ring around the black. Deep cracks ran across her beak, with light leaking out. Her beak exploded, leaving an open hole in her face. It started closing itself as little white pebbles grew along the top and bottom.
My wings changed via the same method as hers: Expansion, frothy liquid, flesh sacks. It felt like a thousand fingers tickling them. I couldn’t take it. Screaming isn’t kingly or dignified, but I did plenty that day. When the little pink things poked out, I realized I could control them. I wiggled them a bit then bent them in half a few times. On the third bend, four of them grew a second joint. I could bend them in two places now. How curious. Why they were almost like a…
Queen Sparrow screamed. Her eyes bulged out, each as big as the sparrow skull Lucy kept. Her flesh popped out in odd places as if a bundle of sticks were fighting its way out. Her head expanded, its sallow flesh turning pink. The few feathers left in her head smoothed out then grew together into dark strands that fell down her neck.
By then my beak was crumbling as well. It surprised me how little it hurt and how calm I stayed through the whole thing. When my vision went out and I was anything but calm. I felt my brains pushing against the bones in my skull. They threatened to either crush the bones or liquefy themselves trying.
Every piece of my flesh screamed with fire for what seemed like days. Even when my sight came back, the light surrounding me shined so brightly I couldn’t see. The things I felt happening in my body were impossible. How could a bird change so totally without dying? I had to either accept it or shut down in disbelief.
I chose to shut down.
When I awoke, I saw my old friend the moon above me, a white orb floating in a black ocean. It seemed as if it was calling me to it. A figure moved between me and my celestial beacon. I recognized her shape. Lucy had come to save me again, although I had nary a clue as to how she had found me.
I whispered her name. “Lucy.” As the word slipped out, I felt an odd sensation in my mouth. Instead of my tongue curving to change the pitch, I’d felt it slopping around, pushing against the bones above and below it. Something moved in my throat as well. It felt like two stones sliding across one another. I pushed my tongue around some more and felt it pop out of my head into the open, the wind blowing across it and drying it out.
“My king! It’s me,” the figure said. “Something strange happened while you were sleeping. Look at yourself.”
I did, and what I saw made me question everything I’ve ever known about the world and my place in it. My bird body was gone, replaced by the hair-covered flesh of a mammal. My lithe wings and pointed feet were now long, lanky, awkward limbs. The arms had no surface area to catch the wind. My genitals hung off my midsection, an impractical rudder if one hoped to fly.
As my eyes focused, I saw my queen clearly, the moonlight gave her body a yellow aura. Her body was hairless save for the stuff on her head and a small tuft near her middle. Two fleshy balls hung off her breast, dark pink circles pinned in the center.
“Are we…?” I asked, afraid to even say it out loud. Was I mad? Were we dead?
“Human. Yes.” She reached out her hand, running it across the curled salt-and-pepper hair covering my breast.
“You were dead. I cried over your body right over there,” I said, pointing to the scorched patch of land a few yards off.
“Perhaps your tears brought me back to life,” she said. I reached up, taking her hand, and together we looked out across the field.
“Perhaps, or perhaps some bored god heard my prayers to return you to me. But why turn us into humans then leave us naked and exposed in a field? Why not simply heal you and leave us as sparrows? It would certainly be less effort.”
She leaned her head on my shoulder. Her hair’s flowery fragrance washed over me. How putrid I found a mammal’s scent until my queen became one. “Perhaps somebody powerful enough to save us is wise enough to trust.”
All at once, the earth shook. Our new legs gave out beneath us, and we crumbled to the ground. Soil shot up around us in great geysers, raining soil down on our heads. Stone columns rose from the ground. Giant towers grew up around us. Below us, the dirt shook away, revealing cobblestone under our feet.
This new floor lifted us into the air, high above the open field where we’d lived in winters past. The stones multiplied around us; they formed stone boxes, walls, and ceilings.
When the earth stopped quaking, we stood up, spinning around to take in our new surroundings. While I’d never stood inside one, I recognized the structure forming around us. It was called a castle, a person place where human kings rested between battles.
I led Queen Sparrow through an opening in the wall. Here outside was a stone balcony. We stepped out onto it and surveyed the ocean, a black blanket shifting beneath the stars.
“I’m sorry, my queen, but we must fix this. Whatever force changed us and built this place made a mistake. How can we find our host if we can’t even fly?”
“We’ll find a way, my king,” she offered to console me, but it gave me little solace. “Who knows? Perhaps we can fly.”
I peered over the ledge. Below lay a little cobblestone path that led around the castle. “Perhaps, but it won’t be me taking the first leap.”
“We could walk down.”
“Do you see any staircases?” I asked. “Is there any way down at all?”
A tear fell down her cheek, dripping off her chin then rolling down her body. “How will we leave?”
“We won’t,” I said, then took her hand and led her back inside. “But at least we’re together. Before you fell, I wished for a rest. Perhaps this is God’s way of forcing me to take one.”
What a magical twist! Should we call him King Human now? How will our royal couple adjust to their new forms? Come back next Saturday to find out!
Don’t want to wait? Buy the book!
The Trials of King Sparrow by Bill Meeks
While leading his queen and faithful subjects to their winter home, King Sparrow is betrayed then abandoned in the woods. He battles foul beasts, psychotic eagles, and the oncoming winter on his quest to find his true love.
With twists on every page The Trials of King Sparrow celebrates his strength, compassion, and perseverance as he seeks his revenge. It’s a magical adventure set against the brutal backdrop of the natural world.