"But this is mine.”
Wide, curious eyes blinked up at the man in gold. The girl tilted her head to one side, dirty blonde curls falling carelessly over her shoulders, her beak shaped nose lifted slightly in the air. In the half-light of early evening, she seemed more birdlike than ever.
The man in gold said nothing, only held out his hand, a silent command that hung in the air between them. The bird girl looked down at the soft linen nightdress she held and instinctively clutched it closer to her chest. “I found it. I nabbed it from a clothesline, the way the crows collect their prizes. This is mine now. Mine.”
The man sighed softly. “Your thievery must cease, Papagena, or you will never be worthy of a husband to share your nest. As penance, it is only right that you hand over your prize so that it may be used for a worthier purpose.”
“Purpose?” Her bright blue eyes narrowed. “What purpose could be better than warming me on cold nights?”
“Warming the body of a troubled young woman, taken forcefully from the home she loves,” the man replied. His expression was distant, as though his thoughts were far from the little side chamber that Papagena called “Nest”. “She has suffered much,” he continued, “and has yet to see our holy temple as a place of peace and security. Without proper garments to sleep in, her life will be made still harder. You have your feathers, and your little bed.” He gestured around the room at her comfortable furnishings and little caches of stolen trinkets. “She has nothing. In the name of our brotherhood, and of our principles of justice, I ask for your help. Will you join me in aiding this young woman, in leading her onto the proper path of salvation and light, away from the clinging influence of darkness? Or will you let selfishness consume you, and leave your fellow woman to her misery?”
Papagena looked down at the gown in her hands. For the briefest moment she hesitated, savoring the feel of the fabric against her skin. Then, in a single gesture, she held out the nightdress and bowed her head. “Take it. It is hers.”