The Illuminator’s Shadow II

Mother gave me soot from the ovens and a full measure of lard for my plan. I tried to insist she couldn’t afford to give me the lard–pigs were scarce, and the fat from them even more so. She told me she would surrender the entire bakery if she could exchange it for my life, so I accepted her gift.

I climbed the ladder to our roof. It was tile, from the good days, before the days  of terror, and it was slanted but not so much as to cause me to loose my footing. The lard made my paint thick and gelatinous, and also waterproof. That would be very beneficial in the near future. With a pack stuffed with bread, a blanket, and the remaining painting supplies, I hobbled up and down the roof silently, dragging my brush in smooth curves and lines.

I’d wondered what animal to paint. I thought of horses, dragons, gryphons, butterflies, and eagles, but in the end I decided to do what I knew best to give me the best chance of succeeding. Working fast, I wondered if I wasn’t going too fast, or if I was too ambitious and made it too big. Instead of fretting, I poured my effort into finishing.

Soon, I stared into eyes that seemed they could very well come alive with just a spark. Had it been on paper, I would have shown it off to Mother. Had I not needed to escape, that is. I collected myself and muttered the words.

Two times I tried, two times I failed. But each time I felt a growing burn in my mouth and over my tongue, the way a sore throat burns and scratches, but with a peculiar tingling sensation the way my mouth had burned when a trader traded Mother bread for mint tea. She didn’t risk selling it, but savored it in secret each morning and evening until it was gone.

The third time, saying the words was hard as though my tingling tongue was too numb to form the words right, but I had practiced so much that I pressed on, trusting my memory. The closer I got to the last word, the more the tingling spread down my throat, filling my lungs, stretching to numb fingertips, and burning my gut. As my searing mouth uttered the final word, even my toes felt they had brushed with poison ivy. The chill of the night could not soothe my skin. Then, the last syllable uttered, the heat left me, trickling down my outstretched finger and into the painting.

The fist-sized eye blinked.

Then the bird’s head peeled away from the tile, shaking and ruffling her feathers. The rest of the bird followed. She started to slip down the roof, and hopped to the uppermost angle of the roof. My breath caught. She stretched out her wings.

Would the dove abandon me?

But she turned to look and me, and crooned. I sighed and climbed weakly to her back, hooking my knees where her wings joined her body. The dove ducked; I grasped onto feathers, hoping to not pull any. We launched into the air with a flurry of wings, flying up and into the horizon turning pink with the coming sun. Towards the mountains, and hopefully towards escape.

My glee was short-lived. As one is not supposed to do, I cast one final look over my shoulder. Mother was in her window, pretending to beat out a towel, but really waving me off. And around the corner, at the door to the shop, was the man who had wanted me. His voice cried out after us. I encouraged the dove to fly faster.


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