The ship was left to anchor at sea while a small rowing boat headed to shore. It slid into the glittering sand, coming to a halt. Only three occupied this vessel, two of them Human.
“This is it,” Solace said.
The brightly colored parrot on her shoulder squawked. “This is it!”
The macaw was red, blue, and yellow. Colors that matched the pirate’s outfit. Red bandana, sash, and boots with blue blouse and yellow tights. She was as flamboyant as her winged companion. Solace stood.
“Halimba Island, the Island of Feathers,” she said.
“Got to go,” the parrot said.
Solace hopped from the boat. “Right, no time to waste.”
The boatman grunted in agreement. “I will wait, Captain.”
Solace smiled. “If all goes right, you won’t have to.”
Without another word, she set off down the beach, passing along the lush forest of the island. It was hot and humid. She loved the warmth of the Caribbean but hated the pests.
“Sade, find the way.”
The scarlet macaw took to the air, her wingspan almost three feet. She looked elegant in the air, soaring over the trees with grace and beauty. Solace walked and watched patiently as her companion took in her surroundings. Both of them had not seen the island in three years.
Sade honked from above. She had found it.
Sade flew and Solace followed. She jogged across the sand, following under the shadow of Sade. Roughly a half mile down the beach, Sade turned and Solace did as well. There she found a path. It was her way into the jungle and to her birthplace—Halim, the home of the Six Feathered Tribe.
“Yes, this is the way. I remember.”
Solace followed the path. The forest welcomed her. It was her home. She reached out and touched the broad waxy leaves of the foliage and bent to smell the tropical flowers growing in the brush. No doubt, birds would be soaring and singing among the treetops. Most of all, Halimba was home to the macaws that gave her tribe their name.
Solace took in a deep breath. “I can do this.”
She stayed the path till it opened up into a piece of land not quite as taken by forest, but instead, had homes built amongst the trees. Halim village was filled with the hidden folk of the island, the people of the six colored feathers and it was still alive and well, thanks to the magick of its protectors.
People dressed in woven tops and feathered skirts walked about doing their daily tasks. Warriors had feathered headdress and would carry bows and arrows decorated with the same feathers, while spirit warriors donned feathered capes, earned after their trials. It was this trial in which Solace had come back home to complete.
Sade dropped from above, landing on Solace’s shoulder with wings of blue and gold. She honked loudly and all eyes turned to see.
A child, no older than ten, looked at Solace with big brown eyes and pointed.
“She’s back! She’s back!” he shouted before running off excitedly.
If people were in their houses, they weren’t now. Solace entered the village and went straight for the biggest house, the home of the Halim Wytch, the high priestess, who also happened to be her grandmother.
The house was unlike the others. It was formed of a tree and stood tall with its branches reaching up to the sky. It was filled with lush leaves and perched parrots. Solace walked proudly into the house of the wytch.
“You have come back,” said an older voice.
“Granny Nali,” Solace said, smiling and bowing her head. “We come and go.”
“As the wind blows,” her grandmother said in return.
High Priestess Nalini was dressed in bright colored garb and adorned with the softest and rarest of feathers. The cape on her shoulders moved fluidly and gave her the appearance of having rested wings.
Solace bowed her head. “I’ve completed my second trial. My quest was successful. Oh, the tales I have. Sailing, pirates…I even have a crew that awaits me.”
The old woman smiled. “You’ve been busy. I am glad you could find happiness out there.”
Though she loved her home, Solace longed to do more.
“I haven’t forgotten who I am,” she said. “Will you judge me and grant me the last trial?”
Her grandmother nodded. She extended her arm and without words, Sade flew to her. Nalini’s eyes suddenly glowed a brown so rich and bright, they seemed to be gold. She studied Sade and smiled, head cocking from time to time. After a few minutes, her grandmother sent the bird back to her.
“I sense your bond and it is strong,” Granny Nali said. “You have done well, Solace. As my descendant, the path of the priestess is open to you. Once you undergo the last trial, it cannot be undone.”
“You will face great spirit with Sade and both of you will drink the nectar of Spirit Tree. Once you do so, there is no turning back. You will either be deemed worthy of the power and earn your wings or be rejected and paralyzed forever,” she said. “Will you continue?”
Solace nodded and her grandmother smiled then went to her. She placed a kiss on her forehead.
“Then go with my blessing, child, and return a divine warrior of the macaw.”
With a nod, Solace left. The villagers watched with curious eyes as Solace started up the path to Spirit Tree—a great tree at the center of the island, below the mountain, in which all life flowed. It was here that the magical nectar existed and it was there that she would become what she was always meant to be.
“Lead the way,” Solace said, a moment before Sade took flight.
As before, she trusted her winged companion to guide her, though she knew the way to Spirit Tree by heart. It was in all her dreams as a child. Her destiny was before her.
It took all of the day for Solace to hike to the center. The sun was an orange blaze on the western horizon as the biggest tree on the island came into sight. It was surrounded by brilliant flowers and foliage, with a spring of water around it, fueled by the gentle waterfalls that cascaded down the mountain behind it.
Solace paused to catch her breath then whistled for Sade. The parrot perched and Solace headed towards the tree. When she got to the water, she used carefully placed stones to cross over on the roots that held Spirit Tree in place. Once there, Solace grunted and used the last of her strength to pull herself up the tree, till she found a branch with a single, huge, scarlet flower.
Solace placed two fingers into the flower and came away covered in nectar, a sticky, viscous substance that wafted sweetly through the air. Sade, who had been on her shoulders and back, made her way to Solace’s forearm.
“Someone’s excited,” she said, smiling. “You were also born for this.”
Solace took one last look at her bird friend then offered the nectar. Sade nipped and licked gently. Once the macaw had her fill, Solace took her turn. With the same hand, she ate the nectar.
A sweet and delicious taste filled her mouth, then a warmth grew in her and a brightness stole her vision. The wind began to howl and her skin crawled. Her senses were overwhelmed. In one second, she felt as though she were tearing apart and being pieced back together. The wood under her seemed to disappear and some power inside of her began to grow and expand.
Solace saw a vision then, a vision of beautiful scarlet macaws, in flight and glittering with six colors. Scarlet, yellow, dark blue, light blue, green and gold. She watched them and noticed one was familiar looking. Out of them all, she knew who Sade was. Solace reached out and Sade turned her head and spoke with a voice full of understanding.
“Welcome my gift,” the bird said. “Be as one”
She had been judged and deemed worthy.
Golden light filled her eyes and Solace knew the power of great spirit had accepted her. The flock of macaws began to dissolve into beautiful feathers of the same colors. They flew to Solace in her spirit form and surrounded her. They spun in a flurry of feathers till each joined together to form a billowing cape, much like her grandmother’s.
“We come and go,” said Sade’s voice.
Solace answered back. “As the wind blows.”
Reality came rushing back and with it, the fast-approaching ground as Solace tumbled from the tree. By instinct, she felt fear well up, then a warm sensation in her bosom calmed her and a soothing voice echoed in the dark of her mind.
With me, it said, and Solace turned her head to see Sade flying beside her.
Fly with me.
The cloak she had saw in her vision was real and upon her shoulders. Solace felt her eyes burn with gold light again. She knew and felt her power. Before she touched the ground, the cape whirled around her and her form her changed to that of a winged woman with talons for feet.
Her arms and head had brilliant, scarlet, blue, and gold feathers that matched the ones that had sprouted from her arms. Behind her, she could feel the long feathers of a tail as well. Solace flapped her new and powerful wings and soared up. With her new sight, she could see for miles.
Quite a view, right? Sade’s voice said. She could speak to her now.
This too, was the magick of the tree.
“Life’s always like this for you? Amazing!” Solace said.
However, she could already feel herself tiring.
“I’m going to need practice before we take on any high sea battles.”
Sade her agreement squawked aloud.
With a chuckle, Solace flew back to Halim where everyone greeted her first flight with cheers. Solace landed in a gust of feathers and wind, then stood on her Human legs once more, with her cape on her shoulders.
Her grandmother came to greet her with a smile. “I knew you would succeed.”
Solace smiled but it was one of sadness.
“I did, but I cannot stay,” she said. “My ship and my crew are waiting.”
Her grandmother gave a comforting touch. “I know. You will go again because you are not only called by the sky and trees, but by the sea as well.”
Granny Nali knew her well. Solace gave her a kiss and hug.
“Go on, child. Your destiny awaits,” Nalini said. “Use your gift wisely and never forget where you come from. You are a guardian of the green, a winged warrior of the macaw.”
Solace nodded and held out her arm. Sade came with but a thought instead of a whistle. Perched upon her, the two matched beautifully.
“Let’s make an entrance,” she said to Sade.
Then Solace transformed and they both took to the air. By flight, the way to the ship was much faster. Solace sailed over the forest top and over the soft sands of Halimba’s beach, till nothing but blue water could be seen under her.
Solace flew, scarlet-winged woman, right to the deck of her ship and landed in a shower of wind and feathers that shook the crew to a stone like awe. None said a word as they stared with wide eyes at their captain, who had returned, from the sky no less.
Solace gave a big grin and placed hands on her hips. Sade flew to her shoulder, an appearance familiar to the crew. Their captain was back.
“Ahoy, men!” Solace said. “We come and go!”
The shock wore off. They all cheered and chanted for her. A man in a black tricorn with a brass spyglass at his waist, called out to her.
“To where, Captain?” the navigator asked.
Solace answered with a smile. “Where the wind blows.”
Hi i'm Mercury, a Black American, dark fiction writer in Southern California. I narrate and produce my own audio stories.
I have been in the anthology Blood in the Rain 3, published by JitterPress and in Gypsum Sound Tales’s Colp Magazine.