Sayagain cried out in pain. His childish voice rose at just the right tremulous echo, ringing through the woods and overpowering the natural order of things. The kind of querulous, infant sound that made all woodland parents pause in their daily tasks and look up; the kind of sound that demanded attention. Only a certain call would divert his mother from her daily search for rosemary, milk thistle and fairy whiff. Sayagain had perfected this sound.
Many nights he fell asleep with hunger pangs clawing at his belly, but mollified by her rocking embrace and dazzled by her long, pink plumage. His nest mates did not share in this special bond between fairy mother and fledgling son. Sayagain’s siblings were forced to sleep on the far side of the rocky perch without dinner and sans maternal comfort, least their rambunctious play further injure the runt of the litter. They nestle together and cooed at him, sometimes jabbing their heads in his direction.
Sayagain did not care.
With trembling gestures, he steadfastly assured his mother that his troublesome pain issued from his left wing and spread throughout his lithe body. Sometimes his mother frowned and inspected the area; sometimes she wept when she rocked him. Her tears fell softly on his fine, natal down.
Within a few months all of his siblings left the willow branch nest, launching their diminutive bodies into the air. Always, he watched them as they edged toward the thorny rim, inhaled a sup of courage, and jumped.
Perhaps, there was a little stab of jealousy, but mostly he was glad to see them go. Soon he had his mother all to himself, and nothing could have pleased him more. The seasons passed and Sayagain grew quite fat. The summer sun tanned his skin to berry brown. Fall turned the garden into a spate of riotous colors. His mother brought him leaves and chortled the names of the trees from which they came, but he had no desire to visit the woodland giants. He could see the woods quite well from his perch, and the wind brought him all the smells of the world beyond the nest. Winter came and he snuggled, safe and warm, under his mother’s wings.
Spring came again, and he celebrated his birthday by sending his voice through the forest vegetation. That same high, vibrating squawk that always brought his mother back to him with juicy mushrooms and yellow daffodils clutched in her arms.
His mother had grown quite thin, and the vane feathers running down her back had separated. Catching the wind was harder now. During the molt, two of her tail feathers never returned, and she flew at a queer left angle that was not as graceful as the year before. Sayagain did not worry about these things. Mother was immortal.
As she cleared the last tangle of woody limbs, Sayagain spotted another fairy fast on her wing tip. Bright red and deep blue plumage marked this visitor as an elder male. The nest rocked dangerously when the heavy male landed on its edge.
“Here is my boy, Master Featherbrook,” his mother said. “A year old he is. And still he can not fly.”
“Mutation,” Master Featherbrook said. “Already he is too fat to fly.”
“What shall we do?” his mother asked. Her hands circled around and around.
“We must clip his wings and give him over to the humans. There is nothing else for it. If he will not fly; he will grow too heavy for the ledge. The Mountain Nymph will cast him down to the forest floor.”
Sayagain wanted to protest. He wanted to confess to the colorful elder, but he did not want his mother to hear. He wanted to. But he had never learned to speak—nothing more than the ugly squawk that brought his mother home.
Wrapped in grey moss and green birch leaves, Sayagain cried out in pain, but this time he was not fooling. His back ached from where they had cleaved his wings from his shoulder blades. The bright white, baby feathers still littered his swaddling coat.
The door to the human cottage opened and a hairy monster-man stepped out. Stinking of boiled meat and onions, the man picked up Sayagain. The man’s fingers, rough as bark, pulled the tangled web of foliage from Sayagain.
“Ah, a boy,” the man said. “You will make a good farm hand.”
Just before the door closed, Sayagain saw the twinkle of pink in the leafless and dead oak beside the cottage gate. His mother, almost invisible in the hues of sunset, called out to him.
“Kachou,” she said. Fairy-speak for goodbye.