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King of the Sky

Chapter Text

Papers and parchment are scarce in the spiral mountain kingdom of Phoenicis.

History is instead told through stories, performed with the endless ocean as its backdrop, and through carvings on the walls of isolated halls.

There, deep inside the natural caves, the legends of King Hols are told, of how his mighty wings carried both Raven and Hawk across the Begnion sea, to unite them far from the influence of beorc, or ‘humans’ as the beorc arrogantly call themselves. Those images of victory and grandeur surround the walls, but the ceilings tell a different story. They’re filled with carvings that depict a failure that should never be forgotten – the splitting of the two bird tribes.

In modern days, most Hawks think of the split as a feat rather than a failure. Good riddance, not having treacherous Ravens around. However, the tears on the ancient Hawk Queen Arva’s carving shows what a tragedy it must have been, some six hundred years ago.

Those very deepest caves are where the Hawk Children are born. Or hatched. To the shapeshifting Hawks, such a distinction doesn’t matter, and asking about the exact procedure would be terribly rude. And there aren’t many who have either the opportunity or courage to be rude to a Hawk.

As it happened for Tibarn, one of the Hawk Children being born-hatched on a stormy winter evening, there weren’t many other places for him to be.

The tears of Hawk Queen Arva are the first thing he sees. Surrounded by the humidity of a cave and the warmth of feathers, he doesn’t look much farther than the faces of his parents and the beak that nibbles his neck-feathers, but he possesses the sharp senses of a bird laguz already, and the entire cave is within his vision. The complete history of Hawks, told to him within his first seconds in this life. Not that he understands much of it, but he sees it, and a part of him will always remember.

 

To grow up on an isolated island, surrounded by few peers of similar age, a certain amount of adjustments are needed for the hawk children, compared to outsiders. The most glaring example is how the few hawk healers that exist on the island has an entire ward reserved for careless youth.

Children, by their very nature, are explorers, and hawk children are no exception. They’re defined by their exploration of personal limits, of finding the right form to crawl through tight spaces and the right form to spiral down toward the waves without crashing impact (to varying degrees of success). The Youth Ward changes patients every day, and most patients walk out with a grin and a ‘Thanks, I’ll be back!

It would be a nightmare to every other parent on the continent, but Tibarn’s parents never worried much. As both of them are quite frail and easy-minded (by Hawk standards, which is to say, not very frail and easy-minded at all), they didn’t follow their son on any of his wild escapades. Though perhaps that was more Tibarn’s fault – he was certainly one of the most eager explorers.

But he doesn’t throw himself off the edges of cliffs all day. The world of Phoenicis is a rich one, despite the blank exterior of mountains dotted by black caves; there’s a lot of time for a hawk child to simply sit and watch as the wonders of the world is brought to their homes. The Fishers bring fish, sparking color in between their talons, and the Fishers themselves glitter from the myriad of saltwater droplets over their body. The Hunters return from the horizon with prey that does not interest the ravens over on their islands, with bloodstained hands and proud grins. And sometimes, those who call themselves Merchants appear after mingling with the people beyond Phoenicis borders. The Merchants certainly are a favorite, with all their beorc oddities that adorns their feathers for every child to gawk at.

The hawks usually only trade with the ravens, and the ravens, in turn, trade with the beorc. Hawks and beorc rarely communicate directly, only when they absolutely have to.  Which is to say, on particularly cold winters.

Fabric is the most valuable thing imaginable to the kingdom of Phoenicis, because the bare-boned landscape does not offer many means for the hawks to create their own. If it were only a luxury item, it’d be different, but fabrics are crucial for survival. When the hawks take to their featherless forms, they become just as sensitive to the cold as the beorc they look so similar to. Granted, they still have their large wings protruding from their backs, and it makes for a good windshield, if anything – but that isn’t enough.

Thus, the Merchant trade is regarded very highly. In general, hawks have very little care for the concept of gold (which is theorized to be the main cause for the split between them and the ravens, who are quite fond of it). Only the Merchants and the current Hawk Regent ever deepened their knowledge of financial rules. Food didn’t cost anything, after all. Neither did living in their own cave. It was only to the markets that the ordinary hawk families brought their spare coins. And even if they didn’t have any coins that year, they still brought their families, because wandering the markets was a joy whether they bought something or not.

 

When Tibarn is ten years old, he’s way taller than the three other Hawk Children his age, and the winter is a cold one. The winds are never warm on Phoenicis no matter the season, but with winter’s angry howls, the waves scale the cliffs all the way to the top of the lowest mountains. And that cools everything down.

Those two facts added to the one fact that Tibarn needed something new to keep him warm in his beorc form. Staying in his hawk form to keep warm could have been an option, if nature was different, but no laguz can stay shifted in any shape for too long – a few days is fine, but for an entire season? The itch to change form would be unbearable.

Currently, Tibarn walks with bare feet and gray pants that are too small, and no shirt to speak of except if he wrapped his wings around himself like a coat – which did a number on his balance and he wasn’t overly fond of tripping and falling on his face. His mother calls him proud, but in Tibarn’s own mind it was more about keeping his face unscarred and less about pride.

Either way, the market is coming up. And Tibarn’s family have some gold to spend on it, this year.

 

The Queen Ylva has the power to have the markets come to her first, but since the wares she’d be interested in is beyond anything a common Hawk could ever afford, there’s no point in pushing her people out of the way. There are undoubtfully some perks with being the Royal Protector of the Hawks, but at her core Ylva is Hawk first and Queen second. She walks among her people with worn shoes, scarred arms and a scowling face – and where she is, there is order. Where she is, there is safety from beorc and ravens and all other who would try to scam them, use them, or hang their wings on their walls.

Only the strongest Hawks could ever become a regent and Protector. Clever hawks and empathic hawks and artistic hawks and diplomatic hawks are there to back the regent up, should they lack in any of those aspects; but what makes a leader is their muscle, and their ability to crack enemy necks. That’s just the way of things, on Phoenicis.

 

Tibarn’s father is the one taking him to the market in one of the high caves. They use their laguz form to fight the wind, but as soon as they get inside they shift back into the beorc shape. There’s no point in trying out clothes without the form that needs them.

There are three stalls, and maybe forty whole people, inside the cave. That’s a lot on both accounts. Most fabrics could be gone already, but no hawk would ever purchase anything more than they need (why would one doom another to freezing for such a frivolous reason?) so there was still hope for Tibarn.

A parent with their fresh hatchling moves out of the way, having purchased a gray blanket to wrap their child in. The hatchling stares at Tibarn with wide eyes, looking as innocent as only a hatchling can, then proceeds to sneeze on him just as they pass each other by.

Tibarn doesn’t fault them for it, it is a cold winter. And he thinks, if there aren’t enough fabrics to go around, then he supposes he can manage without; he’s far bulkier than a hatchling, after all. It could be either selflessness or boastfulness that makes him think that, but he doesn’t care for the difference.

The market stall they stop by is low enough for Tibarn to rest his arms on if he stands on tiptoes. So naturally, he does.

His father lifts a scarf, a red one with black stripes, big enough to cover Tibarn head to toe, and for a moment he watches it with wonder—but that’s how long it manages to capture his attention, before he sees the coat that was hidden behind it.

Tibarn has seen green before – the trees are painted with green inside the carved caves, and there are some spruces sticking out from the harsh mountains every so often – but never like this. This is a radiant green, bright enough to shine, and dark enough to seethe a sense of power and might. It is a green that feels alive, and Tibarn loves it. Such a rare thing.

The merchant is amused by his awe, and leans over the table too. There are specks of blue in his light brown feathers.

“Be a careful lad”, the merchant grins. “This coat is worth more than twice your weight in silvers.”

“I like it”, Tibarn admits, blunt as he is.

The merchant only laughs. “I’m sure you do! I’m sure you do! But you need to become a king before you could wear something like this, little guy.”

Tibarn is not used to either being laughed at or being called little, so his only idea of what to say and do is to stand on tiptoes even higher, look the merchant in the eye and say; “Then watch me.”

 

The scarf means Tibarn’s family has to part will all their savings. But it seems a reasonable investment, his father says, considering that it is a very big scarf and that Tibarn will likely keep on growing. And, when the cold night creeps upon them, they can roost beneath it, all three of them, for an extra level of warmth. All in all, a good piece of fabric. And it is Tibarn’s.

He wears it over his neck and shoulders, and it is thus no longer too cold for him to fly in his beorc form outside, not even in a snowstorm. His wings are strong enough to fight the turbulence, his skin hard enough to not feel the sting of icy rain.

So obviously, he has to try it out.

After seeing his father home, he immediately throws himself of the cliff again. Hurricane winds roar at him, and it is almost completely dark, even though it’s daytime. Doesn’t stop Tibarn, though.

He flies, up, up and up. Higher than he’d ever been, on the spiral tops without caves. Where no one lives, where there’s no protection.

He almost smashes his face right into the rocky top when he tries to land, but he manages to put his bare feet down and not slip. He smiles. He’s never been here before, and he thinks for a moment that probably no-one ever has, but that illusion is soon shattered.

Someone with very light brown feathers comes to join him. While this stranger is in hawk form, there is no way to hide the confused scowl he gives Tibarn.

The stranger lands beside him, fluffing his feathers against the wind, before he seems to decide to meet Tibarn in a more polite way – by shifting into beorc form, too. In a way, that is the laguz way to say ‘I pose no threat’, but some laguz shift to beorc form in order to yell more effectively or to pull at someone’s feathers—hawk etiquette is not that simple.

But this hawk looks like he’s not keen on the latter. He’s not far away from the age of thirty, by the looks of him. Which is still young, by hawk standards, but enough to be considered an adult. He has a relaxed face, and it makes him seem a bit childlike. He was kind of intimidating in his bird form, but like this, Tibarn doubts he could look very alarming even if he tried.

“This is a hangout for the big kids”, the stranger says, and something in his voice immediately tells Tibarn that he’s joking.

“I am one”, Tibarn answers, and tilts his head.

The stranger puts his hands up to protect his face from a gust wind that sprays salt water into his face, even though they’re hundreds of wingbeats up in the air.

“You gotta be, I suppose”, he says, wiping his eyes with a wet sleeve. “Fighting the storm takes skill, and here I thought I was special for going up here in winter. But you’re just an overgrown hatchling and got me beat.”

Tibarn squints against the wind, and holds his new cloth tightly wrapped around himself.

“I didn’t go up here because it was too cold for me before”, he says. “But I have more clothes, now, so I thought I’d try it.”

“Oh, nice one”, the stranger nods at him and pulls at his own shirt; also red, but a dimmer kind than Tibarn’s new scarf. “I got this shirt for myself last year. Pure wool, incredible insulation, can recommend.” Then he pauses, and frowns. “Wait. We don’t use clothes when… You mean you flew up here in beorc form?”

“Yes”, Tibarn answers simply. “It wouldn’t be much sport in a transformed state.”

The stranger laughs nervously, then frowns as Tibarn doesn’t laugh with him

“Hold on—“ He lifts a finger, and points it as Tibarn. “You’re serious.”

Tibarn gives him a half shrug. He really can’t see the issue. He’d just been enjoying himself.

“Listen kiddo”, the stranger says with narrow eyes. “I flew up here because my friends betted that I couldn’t do it because no one would be mad enough, and I said I’d prove them wrong—but then you’re here! How old are you? Ten?”

Tibarn squints at him. He doesn’t see what his age has to do with it, but he knows the weight of pride, and this stranger has clearly had his wounded.

The stranger massages his temples, staring down into the screaming void of a winter storm. “Doesn’t matter”, he mumbles. “Honestly, now I’m just concerned with how I should even get back down—“

“I could help, maybe”, Tibarn offers.

The stranger stops, then glares at him with an annoyed squint. “An arrogant fella, aren’t you?”

“Maybe”, Tibarn says, because he’s not sure what that word means, so instead he continues in an attempt to explain; “I’m going to be king, you see. I decided that, today.”

The stranger only blinks, mouth agape, before he pulls his hands through his hair with an exasperated sigh.

“Okay, sure, that makes sense— I mean, you’d better, otherwise my friends will laugh at me for life for being bested by a tiny baby, you hear me? For life!”

He sighs again, then lies down on his back with a defeated sort of ‘oof’.

“Sounds like you should find better friends”, Tibarn says.

“Now you give advice too”, the stranger chuckles to himself. ”You sure are a funny kid. I am Janaff, by the way. You?”

“Tibarn”, he answers.

Janaff gives a series of slow nods, staring out into the stormy evening. As if he’s thinking deeply. Tibarn doesn’t interrupt him, but then he suddenly sits back up.

“Alright then!” Janaff says and rests his hands in his lap, the way adults do when they try to be serious. “Ahem—Tibarn, you’re clearly a wild little bird. I used to be, too, and it almost got me killed a few times. To be fair, I never really stopped doing dumb things, so, uh… Since we’re both here, surrounded by plunges to the death and massacring winds on this lovely day, I could share some of my elder wisdom.”

Tibarn shrugs, trying to say ‘go for it’. He likes lectures that he can apply to real life, but he’s not sure how to respond, here.

“Don’t try to pinch the Queen’s feathers”, Janaff begins. “Even if your friends dare you to. Don’t try to swallow an entire salmon in beorc form, even if your friends tell you to. Don’t tie your wings to your face and attempt to flap them by opening and closing your beak, even if your friends want you to—“ He stops, once again. “…Wait. Now that I list things, I think you got a point about finding better friends. Well, damn.”

Tibarn did have a list on what things he shouldn’t do, because he might be reckless but he isn’t stupid, and he adds every single one of Janaff’s suggestions to the ‘never do’-list. In a way, he’s tempted to, but he notices Janaff has a scar running from beneath his chin and all the way up to his cheek, which could be a result of any of the above. The look of someone who has almost-died.

“You know”, Janaff continues, “if your parents aren’t able to keep up with you—goodness knows mine weren’t—maybe I could help. If you’re serious about the king-thing – which you’d better be, lest I become a laughing stock; then you might need a bit of guidance from someone who’s got the experience. Like a coach, you know? Honestly, it’s because now that I know about this completely mad little kid, I can’t with a good conscience turn away and just let you die of some reckless bravado.”

Janaff pauses, and rests his head in his hand with a grin at Tibarn. “Let’s be real, though. It’s also because I’m stalling. Because I’m really not looking forward to going back down.”