Falcondance Page 1


HERE WE ARE, among the lucky ones who live in times of peace, in times of hope and dreams and laughter. Here we are, in the glimmering

Wyvern's Court.

Yet my dreams are not of the slate walks and marble plaza of my home. They are not of the velvet floor of the nest, of the exotic serpents' dance or the haunting melodies that can be heard at all times from the southern hills. Nor are they of the glint of sunlight on soaring wings, or the smooth hum of avian voices.

Ahnmik. That is the city of which I dream. Ahnmik, the falcon land of which I have learned so much and so little all at once. My parents refuse to speak of the land in which they were born. They have accepted this avian-serpiente world as the only one they will ever have.

But Lillian has painted my dreams with images of a city that glitters with magic. She speaks hesitantly of her homeland, because she knows that my parents' crimes will forever keep me from the island, but each word twines around some part of my heart. I will always be loyal to Wyvern's Court, but how can I

fail to think about the tall white arches that are said to be created not by any creature's hand, but by pure strength of will? How can my nights not hold roads that sing a melody no voice or instrument can produce? Ahnmik.

Of course I have learned of the city's namesake, the god so powerful that even those who laugh at myths fear to call his name in vain. Ahnmik is shown in art as a white falcon, diving through sky and sea alike, and his domain is power. It is control. It is magic.

The serpents of

Wyvern's Court worship Anhamirak, the goddess who grants free will, and they fear Ahnmik. The falcons, however, believe that Ahnmik has a gentle side, just as the serpents' Anhamirak has a violent one. Ahnmik is the one who can grant sleep, and silence. When whatever nightmares plague my mother's sleep have become too much, I have heard her call to Ahnmik - and I have seen my father's look of horror. Long ago, the serpiente and the falcons made up one civilisation. They worked and worshipped together, until something caused the two sides to clash, and the falcons were driven out of the land. Serpiente history books say that Ahnmik's followers practiced black magic, endangering the falcons and the serpiente, and were exiled for that reason.

Lillian always shies away from the subject of the conflict, saying only that history is easily distorted by years, and by the teller.

As a falcon raised in

Wyvern's Court, I do not know what I believe. I try to base my decisions on facts, but what facts are left from a fight that occurred thousands of years ago?

I ramble. I find that I do that more of late, as I think of things I will never have and never know. I am posted in Wyvern's Court as one of the princess's personal guards, a lofty rank of which I am proud. But contentment... that is beyond my grasp, drifting away as though in a gust of Anhamirak's storm winds.

Anhamirak's domain is also of spilled blood.

Of fire that sears.

Of tempests that drown.

Beauty and light and passion are hers, but simplicity she can never grant. Nicias Silvermead

Wyvern of Honor

Chapter 1

MY BREATH STILLED for an instant as I watched the blade slice a hairsbreadth from the fair skin of Oliza Shardae Cobriana, nineteen-year-old princess of Wyvern's Court.

"Relax." The reassurance came from the cobra beside me, Oliza's only cousin, Salem Cobriana. "I've seen her perform this blade dance a hundred times in the nest." He shot me an amused look as he added, ""With dulled blades." The dagger went up once more as Oliza sank to the ground, closing her eyes and bowing her head before clapping her hands behind her back to catch the weapon one final time.

Members of the audience approached the dais, where Oliza remained perfectly poised as her fans placed flowers and small gifts in front of her. This had by no means been her debut, but it had been her first time performing the jaes'falnas

-  the blade dances that her parents had almost forbidden her to learn. After seeing her perform, and seeing just how sharp the performance blades were, part of me wished they had.

A serpiente dancer could, and often did, risk her life in pursuit of her trade. Oliza Shardae Cobriana, however, was not just a dancer, but heir to two thrones. Her mother, Danica Shardae, was the avian Tuuli Thea, and her father, Zane Cobriana, was Diente to the serpiente. Oliza's reign would mean the merging of two monarchies that had, until our parents' generation, been at war for thousands of years. But first Oliza had to choose her king, a decision for which all of Wyvern's Court waited anxiously, and one that had led many a young man to try to court her.

Oliza smiled at me, meeting my gaze just long enough to express her exhilaration before a petite golden-haired girl managed to slip through the crowd to stand next to me. Surprise washed over Oliza's face when she saw the unexpected guest, and she quickly came toward us.

"I can see why your parents objected to your studying these dances," Sive Shardae remarked, admiration clear in her voice despite her chastising words. "My mother would never have allowed it." Sive was three years younger than Oliza, but was the younger sister of Oliza's mother. Though still very avian in her mannerisms, she had made a point of stepping away from her avian tutors and spending more and more time with the serpiente in the past few years, learning their ways. She had not bridged the gap between the two cultures as completely as Oliza had, but that she was here at all spoke volumes. Twenty years earlier, a young avian woman would not have been permitted to walk alone through the market  -  much less watch the "scandalous" dances of the serpiente.

She's not quite alone,

I thought as I scanned the crowd. Sive's alistair, Prentice, was standing just beyond the edge of

Oliza's audience, his gaze never leaving his charge. I watched him carefully, for out of this group, he was always the most likely to cause a disturbance. The raven had made his distrust of serpents very clear, and he became especially irritable when Sive insisted on spending time with the dancers. Serpiente hugged and flirted casually with almost everyone, but Sive's alistair bristled at having to tolerate that kind of attention being paid to his pair bond.

Salem, leaving on his way back to the dancers' nest, greeted the raven politely. Prentice nodded curtly at the serpiente. He had argued with Salem in the past, but that day they managed to walk by each other without raised voices.

Progress, at least.

"Ridiculous," Oliza said to Sive, oblivious to the frosty moment between the two men.

"No one has died performing a blade dance in sixty years." Sive looked at me as if seeking reason, before realizing that Oliza was teasing her. Sive's scandalized expression made her appear even younger than her seventeen years. It made me think back to when I had been a child and my parents had first brought me to see Wyvern's Court. I remembered the day fifteen years before as vividly as if it was playing before me that moment.

* * *

I stood beside my parents, trying to mimic their careful attention as they watched Oliza and her family. My mother, Kel Silvermead, was captain of the Royal Flight, one of the elite guards who protected Oliza's mother, the Tuuli Thea; my father was her second-incommand. Their attention never strayed from their charges, but mine shifted momentarily to the rolling hills and gentle valley where architects had been laboring for years.

Oliza's grandmother, Nacola Shardae, was there, with a nurse next to her holding the sleepy infant Sive. Salem, exactly twenty months older than Oliza, suddenly pulled away from his mother and father to whisper something in the princess's ear. Without warning, both royal children took off down the hill. Adults tried to follow, but Oliza and Salem thought it was a great game to hide in the empty market stalls from their parents and guards, deaf to all the worried shouts.

* * *

Oliza touched my arm, startling me from my memories.

"You look skies away," she said softly. I realized suddenly that the crowd had dispersed.

"I was thinking about our first day here," I said, though I knew that wasn't enough of an explanation. It was not my habit to let my mind wander  -  not when I was with Oliza. I looked around uneasily and tried to account for the missing minutes.

"I hardly remember it," Oliza admitted, not noticing my disquiet as she led us from the market. This was our ritual; we walked and talked until we reached the woods, and then, beyond the edges of the court, we changed shape and spread wing. "We were so young. I just remember you finding me, after I got lost in the woods. No matter what kind of trouble I got into, it seemed you were always there."

I didn't say aloud that I could still find the exact tree beneath which she had been cowering, though it was true. My parents were the only people I knew who had never been surprised by my memory.

Of course, my mother had replied once, when questioned by my teacher about my fast progress.

He is a falcon.

She had never said those exact words to me, but they always hung in the air, every time I shot past my peers in class. I had begun training with the royal guards when I was nine, while others my age were still studying... or playing. Many of the children had been wary of me, a falcon in their midst. They knew the falcons' history of black magic, and they knew that the falcons had sided with the avians  -  against the serpiente  -

during the war.

And none of them liked being around someone who made them feel stupid. By fifteen, I had become a Wyvern of Honor, one of the dozen members of Oliza's personal guard, and that position meant more to me than any teacher's praise. Again, my parents had been proud, but not surprised; standing side by side on the street, we looked nothing alike, but I would always be their son.

Before I had even been born, my mother's falcon magic had given her the visage of a sparrow, and my father's had made him a crow. But their power was bound now. That was why my pale golden hair did not match my parents'; my mother frowned at the way it lightened to silver in the front. Beneath my hair, my feathers were blue-violet. When I grew the wings of my Demi form, the markings were peregrine. My parents' magic had altered their forms irrevocably, but genetics had made me the child of what they had been: falcons.

"Nicias?" This time Oliza sounded worried. "Is something wrong? You've seemed so distracted lately."

For the past several nights, my dreams had been filled with the white towers of Ahnmik, and my nightmares had been stained by cobras trapped in ice and whispering voices I strained to hear, which made me stumble in the cold darkness.

"I haven't been sleeping well," I said, not elaborating. Oliza had her own burdens. She didn't need my troubles. "I must just be a little tired."

"Too tired to fly?" she asked, her tone light but her expression more serious. "I'd like to get out of here for a while."

Unspoken between us were the many reasons she usually asked me to stay beside her instead of one of her many other guards.

I was only one year younger than she was, and we had grown up together. I was also the only person in the court who didn't call her Wyvern, a nickname she hated but would probably never shake.

The serpents in her guard could never follow her in the skies, and I knew that Oliza disliked flying with the pure-blood sparrows, crows and ravens that filled the avian side of town. She preferred to fly with a falcon, someone who not only could match her pace, but also was just as out of place among the avians and serpiente as she was. But the most important reason, the one she would never speak aloud, was that she preferred to fly with someone who wasn't courting her  -  and never could.

Soon the serpiente were going to stop treading lightly around her half-avian parentage and start pursuing her, and the avians were going to start panicking. I saw that Oliza was always cautious not to show more favor to one male friend than any other now. With me, she never had to worry. She would be queen of the avians and serpiente, and so she must have one of them as her king. And I...

I was a falcon, and my parents had cautioned me many times about the dangers of choosing an avian or serpiente pair bond, regardless of how I might feel. The other falcons would never allow such a union.

Oliza and I would always be friends.

Once we reached the woods, Oliza stretched her arms above her head and sighed. In the afternoon sunlight, she was beautiful in the most uncanny way. Her black hair glistened with red highlights; the feathers that grew on her nape ranged in color from deep copper to rust. Her eyes were as golden as the rising sun and were surrounded by long, dark lashes.

And here, out of sight of the rest of the world, she shifted form. Her serpent body was as flexible as a whipcord, its scales the same color as her hair  -

black with glints of red and gold. A ruff of avian feathers grew across the hood, spreading onto the powerful wings that unfurled from her back.


. She cut through the air like lightning.

I followed her as a peregrine falcon, shrieking a cry of triumph to the sky that Oliza answered with a call too musical to be called a hawk's screech. Absolutely, without compromise, unavailable.

I knew it; she knew it. It made our relationship safe.

We landed on the shore of a distant sea, hours away from Wyvern's Court. Oliza's talons dug furrows in the loose sand before she returned to her human form, shaking her ruffled hair out of her face. We had passed high above many human villages, too distant for their inhabitants' weak eyes to perceive Oliza's form as unusual.

"Sometimes I consider just flying and flying until I find someplace I've never even heard of," Oliza confided, her face still flushed from the flight. "Then I would land, take my human form, and live there the rest of my life."

I laughed a little. "Humble goals for the princess of two worlds." She joined in my laughter. "I must seem terribly spoiled. Arami of the serpiente, and heir to the Tuuli Thea, and I want something else completely. No one's ever happy with what they have, I suppose."