“-telling you to put that letter in the damn post,” a harsh, male voice rang out, echoing against the stone walls of the crow tower. Micah picked up the pace as he climbed the flights of stone steps, frowning at the commotion.
There was a sudden bang of a hand slammed down on wood as Micah rounded the corner. A postal service worker recoiled away from a Council advisor towering over the desk, fury obvious in the tight hunch of the advisor’s narrow shoulder. “Stop fucking stuttering and just nod your stupid head, send-”
“Stop speaking to him like that,” Micah demanded. The advisor twisted around to glare at Micah over a pair of gold-framed glasses. He looked Micah up and down and sneered, reaching up to adjust one of the gold pins on the breast of his tunic, glinting in the warm light of the twin fires. It signalled that his rank was significantly higher than Micah’s, but Micah just narrowed his eyes. A crow squawked above Micah’s head, housed in one of the many cages hanging from the tower’s ceiling and the advisor glared at it. Micah pressed his lips together.
“Mind your business, soldier,” the advisor spat and turned back to the black-haired postal worker, who was leaning as far away from the advisor as he could, his hands fidgeting nervous where they were clasped tightly together atop his desk. A name tag on his brown robe read ‘Zachariah’. Micah didn’t recognise him, but the man would have been strikingly attractive had he not been so clearly terrified.
The advisor shoved a package forwards. “Send. It.”
The young man, Zachariah, looked away as he rubbed the back of his neck. “S…s-sir I can’t-”
The advisor jerked his hand up as if to strike Zachariah or grab him and Micah lurched forwards to grab the diplomat’s scrawny arm. The postal worker flinched backwards hard enough that his chair rattled.
“Enough,” he snapped. “Advisor or not, you won’t treat him like this.”
“Not just an advisor, boy,” the diplomat said, indignantly tugging his arm free of Micah’s hold, “High Council Advisor Alexander.” He glared at Micah, his pale blue eyes watery and uncaring. “Touch me again and I’ll have you whipped.”
Micah refused to back down, glancing over at Zachariah, whose worried gaze flickered from Micah to the advisor, Alexander.
“I’m s-sorry,” the postal worker mumbled, his brows wrinkled together. He was staring intently at the desk, his knuckles pale where his hands were clenched together. “I can’t s…s-send it, it’s against- against p-p-p-”
“Yes policy, you idiot,” Alexander snapped. Zachariah was rigidly tense, looking like he’d rather be anywhere else. “It’s against your fucking policy, but do you know who I am? Can you comprehend in your stupid head that-”
Micah gritted his teeth. “You should leave, sir,” he cut in. “Come back when the Crow Lord is here to deal with,” Micah flicked his fingers at the oddly shaped package Alexander was trying to send, “that.” Alexander clenched his jaw before parting his lips to no doubt spit out another foul threat, but Micah spoke over him, “I’ll be sure to let Advisor Opeli know how you treat Katolis’ citizens when I next see her.”
Alexander huffed a sharp laugh. “Opeli wouldn’t notice you if you were on fire, boy,” he said. “You’re almost as unimportant as this dumb creature.”
Alexander shook his head. Too quickly for Zachariah to intercept, his claw-like hand darted out to grab Zachariah by his collar, dragging him forwards so that the postal worker was forced to catch himself on the desk with a harsh cough. “Look at it,” Alexander said. “The idiot can’t even speak properly.”
Micah’s skin felt hot and itchy with how furious he was, his fingers twitching at his sides. Before he could put his fist into the advisor’s nose or something equally stupid, Zachariah’s hand shot out to claw Alexander’s wrist with his painted-black fingernails.
“-fucking t-touch me!” Zachariah yelled. Alexander yelped and snatched his arm back. As soon as Zachariah was released, he bolted across the tower floor and disappeared through a door, slammed shut and audibly bolted behind him.
Micah watched him go with a sigh. Alexander was staring, outraged, at the faint scratches on his arm.
“Feral little shit!” Alexander snarled before rounding on Micah, jabbing his finger forwards. “There will be consequences for this, for you and that- brat.” He grabbed his odd package off the desk and strode away, his expensive, gold-edged cloak spinning behind him.
Micah curled his lip and held back the urge to spit after the advisor had left; he didn’t want the postal worker to have to clean it up.
“Fucker,” he muttered instead. He touched the scroll in his pocket, a letter to his family, and resigned himself to sending it in two days’ time, since the post didn’t run over the Solstice castle holiday days. He didn’t blame Zachariah in the slightest for running off, the advisor had been a foul piece of work and Micah fully intended to file an official report against him.
Micah turned to leave, descending the stairs with Zachariah’s wide, blue eyes lingering in his thoughts as he wondered whether the young man was alright. Micah had never seen him before, though he came to the crow tower regularly to keep in contact with his family.
Micah jerked to a surprised halt, turning around to see Zachariah standing at the top of the steps, fidgeting with the hem of his tan-coloured tunic. His gaze darted behind Micah as he shifted on his feet, his face still tight with nervousness.
“He’s gone, it’s okay,” Micah said gently. Zachariah quirked a tight, relieved smile that disappeared as quickly as it’d come.
“You c-c-” He swallowed and tried again, “I’ll p-p-” The man’s fingers curled into fists, tugging at his robes. He looked close to tears out of pure frustration and Micah floundered, unsure how to reassure him.
“Take your time, okay?” Micah said. “There’s no hurry.”
The postal worker nodded, clenching his jaw and audibly sucked in a breath. “Your letter, I…c-can do it for you, sir.”
“Really?” Micah said. “That’d be great, thanks.” He smiled and started back up the stairs and the black-haired man hesitantly returned his smile.
Zachariah returned to his place behind his desk, his shoulders still curled up defensively and his fingers twitching in front of him as he fidgeted. Micah approached and slowly put his scroll on the table.
“It’s for-” Micah started.
Zachariah spoke at the same moment, “I apologise-” and then broke off, going tense, as if Micah might be annoyed.
Micah laughed gently and Zachariah’s shoulders relaxed. “You go first,” Micah said, watching curiously as Zachariah looked down at the desk, his tanned cheekbones flushed.
“I just- I didn’t mean to run off, s…s-sir.” Zachariah looked away and then back again before running an agitated hand through his spiked black hair. Stood so close, Micah couldn’t help but notice Zachariah’s high cheekbones and how the carefully applied eyeliner around his eyes made the blue even more noticeable.
“Ah,” Micah cleared his throat and looked away, hoping Zachariah hadn’t noticed him staring. “Don’t worry about it. That advisor was being a prick.”
Zachariah snorted into his hand, his bright eyes flashing up to look at Micah. “T-t-,” he grimaced and tried again, “I mean, I appreciated your help a lot, s-s-”
“Please, my name is Micah.”
Zachariah looked up from under his thick brows, meeting Micah’s gaze for just a moment, but it was long enough to make Micah’s heart race. “Oh- oh right. Micah.” A small smile tilted Zachariah’s lips and Micah smiled to see it there.
Reluctant to end the conversation but aware that he had drill practice in twenty minutes, Micah gently nudged his scroll towards Zachariah.
“I’m not sure what your policies are exactly,” he said carefully, “but the Crow Lord hasn’t objected to my letters before. I hope it’ll be alright to send?”
“Oh!” Zachariah nodded quickly. “Yes, of c-c- it’s fine. The advisor wanted to s- he wanted to s-send p-p,” Zachariah stopped to take a breath, “it was p-potions. They’s not allowed, not dangerous ones.”
Micah nodded. “Of course,” he said. “You were just doing your job. People like him think they can do anything.”
Zachariah looked up, giving Micah a full smile for one, brilliant moment before he blushed and looked away. “It was nothing,” he mumbled and picked up Micah’s scroll. “Where’s th-this going to?”
“My sister,” Micah said and reeled off the address as Zachariah quickly jotted it down in beautiful, looping writing. “I wish my writing looked like that,” he said. “Mine’s like chicken-scratch.”
“Oh, it’s not so hard,” Zachariah laughed shyly and rubbed the back of his head before tying the address note to Micah’s scroll with string, his fingers fast and competent.
“I haven’t seen you before,” Micah blurted, as Zachariah stood to slide Micah’s scroll into one of the wooden cubby holes behind the desk. “I come up pretty often but I must have missed you.”
Zachariah slid back into his seat, fidgeting by running his fingers along the grain of his wooden desk. “I’m just an apprentice,” he said, only looking up at Micah in glances. “I only work t-two days a week.”
Micah nodded. “The Crow Lord must trust you, though, since he’s put you in charge while he’d away?”
Zachariah’s face fell and Micah kicked himself for saying something to upset him. “I wasn’t sup-supposed to be in c-ch-charge, one of the others had a family thing, one of the p-proper Crow Masters, I mean. I’m still training.”
Micah nodded. “Well,” he said quietly. “I hope you don’t have to deal with anybody else like the advisor again.”
Zachariah huffed and nodded, tugging at the cuffs of his sleeves. Zachariah’s fidgeting made Micah want to gently take those quick hands in his own but he made himself straighten. One of the crows squawked noisily overhead, making Micah jump and Zachariah laugh quietly, before he covered it with his hand. Micah smiled at him, before reluctantly glancing towards the stairs.
“I better go,” he murmured. “I guess I’ll see you around?”
Zachariah just nodded again but, as Micah turned to leave, Zachariah added, “I’d like that.”
Micah glanced behind him in surprise and smiled at Zachariah’s flushed-hot face. “I’d like that too,” Micah said and they grinned at each other for a long moment, before Micah made himself walk away.
“Bye,” Micah said at the top of the stairs, still smiling.
“Bye Micah,” Zachariah echoed warmly and Micah grinned all the way to the barracks.