No one noticed the shimmering, golden feather drift across the Jade River.
Not as it bobbed over the pink lotuses leading towards the city. Not as it swept past the busy fishermen drawing in their catch for the celebration that night. The bustling townsfolk of the Lotus Kingdom paid it no mind either while they perused the market for finery to wear and gossiped about Crown Prince Edan’s return from the North.
And so, it was that the tiny feather continued unbothered on its enchanted breeze right up to tallest of the palace’s marble walls. And fluttered right over it.
The Witch’s Court was the smallest within the grand Lotus Palace. Tucked behind the tropical gardens, it consisted of the typical residences, a koi pond, an old peach tree, and flanked by walls. Tall white, marble walls that reached for the sky and topped off with a crown of gold bars much like a bird’s cage.
When Nong Li was a child she’d wondered at the likeness. Her mother, the late Bird Witch, always laughed when Nong whined.
“How can you let these walls bring you down my little bird…” She’d say, “Just fly,”
“But we’re not real birds!” Nong huffed.
Her mother would give her a mischievous grin. She did that often. And her almond eyes were always twinkling. “Shall I turn you into one?” She’d tease. “Hold still!” She’d catch Nong and tickle her underarms. “This is the best place to cast a spell!”
Her father would rush over from where he’d been practicing with his spears, “Heavens! Nong has been turned into a bird!” He’d pick up Nong and place her on his shoulders. Then they’d run around the pond as her mother gave chase. Nong would flap her arms and chirp.
And time would pass by like that in the hidden Witch’s Court. Each day filled with laughter, love, and the possibility of flying. But Nong would soon learn that Bird Witches could not fly.
Nearly two weeks had passed since the news of her parents’ death in the North. The Lotus King had finally given the royal decree naming Nong as the new royal Bird Witch at 8 years old. It didn’t matter that she hadn’t learned any magic yet. It ran in her blood – the King had proclaimed quite loudly. She was the very last Bird Witch. And she will continue to preserve and pave the way for the Lotus Kingdom’s glorious future…just like her mother did.
During the ceremony, her new governess had held her hands firmly. Nong winced at the grip and glanced up at the woman. Her face was hard as steel and she glared at everyone before them with her sharp, slanted eyes.
The guards stayed close. Their spears slightly angled at her. They seemed nervous…more so than Nong did. Perhaps they were worried that she would hex them all. But the truth was that she couldn’t even if she had wanted to. Everything hurt too much. The ceremonial robes were far too big and heavy on her tiny frame. The headdress drooped and the dangling pearls tangled in her curly hair. She was sweaty. Her breath was too ragged to mutter a spell she didn’t know.
All she could do was wait hours upon hours listening to the King’s assurances until she was eventually led back to the small court with tall walls.
That night she decided since she couldn’t fly she’d climb.
But she’d only reach the top of the peach tree before she lost her footing and fell. Thumping her head hard on the ground. Her vision started to blur. One wall became four…the stars began to dance…Nong closed her eyes and faded away.
The darkness should have scared her. Instead Nong was renewed with hope. She quickly jumped up and started walking briskly. The pain on her head was gone. Her footsteps echoed loudly. She didn’t care that she couldn’t see a thing. Or that she didn’t know where she was going. She’d only wondered if she could find her parents here.
But after a few moments, a gritty voice had whispered instead stopping Nong in her tracks, “Who goes there?”
She didn’t dare breathe.
“Who are you?” The tired voice echoed.
Before she could answer, she was awoken by a strong medicinal smell. Her governess was crouched over her with wrinkled brows and a vial in her hand. The Lotus King had stood behind her smiling from ear to ear. And towering behind them were guards…spears angled slightly at her.
Her parents weren’t there. They were nowhere to be found. Nong let her tears distort the reality around her.
That was the first time she had had a vision. Although she had never figured out the meaning of it. Her impromptu visit to the darkness soon became a fuzzy childhood memory. As her governess, Gao, would immediately start her training on all there was to serve as the Lotus King’s Bird Witch. Which she’d learn didn’t entail much.
Nong was only permitted to hone one skill and one skill only. Like her mother before her, under the service of the Lotus King, Nong could only glimpse through time and magic.
So, it was that 8 years later, when a tiny feather continued unbothered on its enchanted breeze right up to tallest of the palace’s marble walls and fluttered right over it, Nong was the only one to notice.
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