Villagers emerged from their houses as word spread. Children ran up from their play along the sandy
river-shore, games forgotten, fidgety eagerness expressing their impatience and anticipation
enlarging their smiles. Cheers arose spontaneously from the crowd as the first Flyer in each line
spread long, thin arms. This allowed the wind to push out fine membranous webbing which stretched
between arm and body, right down to their hips. The gusts lifted them. Once clear of the ground they
drifted up and back, swaying unsteadily before dropping to land at the back of each line, almost
casually resuming their walk with a few running footsteps or a couple of skips.
The fitful nature of the wind caused several Flyers to be blown sideways, slipping to the grass in
tangled legs and wings. This caused much laughter amongst the children, as well as jeers from some of
the men folk. The Flyers had long since become a jesting point, for all knew Flyers never really
flew, but only glided short distances in strong winds.
Attarian didn’t laugh. He frowned, and shook his head, as if simple denial could remedy their lots,
these outcasts of the Maker. But then his mood changed as he surveyed the gathering crowd, his eyes
lit with thoughts of the trading profits soon to be his.
A murmur grew from the crowd, rising with the wind, slipping from cheers to ooohs and ahhhs, as one
of the Flyers, clad all in white, soared far higher than had any before. It almost seemed he could
really fly; he was upswept quickly above the line of spiky pine trees at the back of the meadow,
silhouetted against a clear blue sky. The white clad Flyer paused, and somehow held himself
motionless for long seconds. He drifted slowly backward, like a puff of mist, wings trembling to
either side in quick and minute adjustments to maintain his positive glide. Silence ensued amongst
both groups of spectators, for the other Flyers too had ceased their walking, had turned and were
watching the exhibition.
A far stronger gust of wind whipped sand and dust from the bare track which curved about the edge of
the forest. Throughout the crowd, hands cupped eyes to keep them dust free. The high Flyer tried to
adjust as he was swept aside. His stretching wings took too much power from the blustering wind and
he was whisked up and over, tilting backward. As one wing folded with an audible clap, those watching
gasped. The Flyer was slammed sideways, as if by an invisible fist of wind, then turned easily by the
strong crosswind to fall in tangled disarray. He tumbled downward. Down to strike the earth with a
cracking thud, lying still, quiet as the crowd, holding its breath.
Attarian watched, and again shook his head as he turned away, walking back to prepare for the
celebration to follow the arrival of the Flyers. The crowd began to laugh and talk, also drifting
away as they realised the show was over. The Flyers came toward them slowly, showing their usual
disregard for their comrade. Slim figures spread out into a line facing the village, and halted at
about fifty metres distance. By the time they sat down, some of the crowd had disappeared back into
the houses to prepare what goods they had for trade.
Bluesky watched the others as they sat to his left, hoping for a glimpse of sorrow, a tear, but he’d
known none would be evident. Faces cold and hard as stone masks stared straight ahead. Then he
realised he was doing exactly the same thing himself, despite the cloying emotion welling up inside,
threatening to betray his stoical outward appearance. Inwardly he turned away from feelings which
would fade in time, as they always did. Cloud had been old, well past the age when most died, and it
would not do to over-react to his passing. Father or not, it simply was not done.
Attarian strode purposefully into the large front room of his Inn.
‘Seb! Jimmy!’ he called loudly.
There was no reply. The half dozen customers were paying little notice, so he huffed out the air in
his lungs in some dismay and walked behind the sturdy bar. There were plenty of clay flasks there.
Crowds would be arriving from the town soon, and later from the north, upriver, as word of the
Flyers’ arrival spread.
The women and slaves of the Flyers would already be setting up trade tents in the fields between the
village and the pine trees. Bartering would begin in earnest the following day, and continue for two
days until the rains began. Then the Flyers and their goods would simply melt back into the forest.
He walked out through the kitchen to check the barrels and get the two girls organised. Seb was
coming down the stairs, dressed for a night out without a doubt.
‘No chance Seb,’ he said, jerking his thumb over his shoulder in the direction of the front bar.
‘But Da’, we’ve been planning this night for ages. Jimmy’s already on the way.’
‘You’ll just have to do his share too then, won’t you,’ laughed Attarian.
Alise walked out of the barrel room with a tray of filled jugs. ‘That’s the last of the barrels I can
get at,’ she said in passing.
Bree pushed through the rear door, arms filled to overflowing, with slabs of meat. She nodded as she
made for the table, where she dumped them with a hefty clump.
‘I’ll give you a hand love,’ said Attarian, as he slipped his knife out of its sheath. ‘Shuffle those
barrels around son, we’ll need a few if the crowds out on the field are anything to go by.’
‘Ah crap,’ muttered Seb as he turned and ran up the stairs to get changed.
Three hours later, Attarian pushed his way back to the bench to deposit a handful of copper coins and
re-fill more cups. He spotted his son creeping into the back room.
‘Jimmy,’ he shouted, deep voice surging above the background noise, quieting it a moment. ‘Get in
here and help you lazy idler, where the hell have you been the last three hours.’
He paused as Jimmy turned toward him, his head bowed, shuffling close enough to hear above the din.
‘Come and help, now! Are you drunk?’ He added, seeing the unsteady gait of his younger son.
‘I’m alright Da’, only ‘ad a few,’ said Jimmy looking up. ‘Sorry I’m late. Did you see that skinny
Flyer crash this evening? Splatt! Ground sure flattened that lizard eh?’
Attarian stared down at the boy, dark brown eyes weighing, finding little to encourage.
‘Into the kitchen!’ he said abruptly, pushing the lad in front of him.
Calls of ‘More ale Attarian,’ and laughter followed. He let the door swing shut, dimming the shouting.
‘They’re not lizards son!’ he railed, pushing the lad against the wall with the flat of his meaty
hand. ‘They’re people, just like you, and me. And they have feelings just like us too. Maybe they don’
t show ‘em, but they’ve got them alright.’
‘You’re gonna’ agree with me even if you disagree son,’ Attarian spoke evenly and steadily.
The boy nodded, obviously confused and unsure of himself and what to say. He didn’t understand at
all, that was obvious, maybe he never would.
‘We need to have a long talk. The morning would be a good time, now get out there and keep those
customers happy. Make sure you get all their money before they leave too. Attarian pointed to the
swing doors. The revelry was strengthening.
Jimmy turned and took several of the meat platters, juggling them atop his arms as he walked through
the heavy swing doors. Attarian nodded, a bit of food would enable the patrons to buy lots more ale.
He’ll be alright, he thought as he walked through to the back room.
‘Lizards,’ he muttered to himself, shaking his head. ‘Wonder how he’ll feel in the morning, when he
learns his mother was born one.’
‘So you’re finally gonna’ tell him are you?’ A voice slipped in through the half open door, from the
shadows outside. Attarian’s hand dropped to his knife, fingers feeling and curling around the
familiar leather binding. His thoughts fleeted back to three years previously, when bandits from the
northern hills raided on the night of the Flyer’s visit. Several people had been killed and much
property stolen before the townsmen drove them off.
‘Hold Attarian,’ came the voice again as the burly publican’s knife slipped free. ‘Ruford is here to
pay you a brief visit.’
Recognising the voice, Attarian slid the knife back and laughed aloud. ‘Ruford’s still alive?
Sneaking about in the dark as always,’ he said. ‘I thought you dead ten years ago.’
Stepping to the doorway and squinting against the dark, he made out a tall shape near the wall. ‘Step
out where I can see you, or have you forgotten how poor the sight of a real man is in the dark.’
Ruford walked away from the wall, into the pool of light flooding out of the doorway.
‘Walk with me to the beach,’ he half turned his head and flicked his eyes over his left shoulder. ‘My
ship is moored downriver and I’m afraid for any ears that hear what I have to say.’
‘Come on Ruford, got a packed house, I can’t leave, this is the first storm for the season if you
hadn’t realized, they’re crying out to buy my ale.’
‘I rode the winds ahead of the front to get here didn’t I? Your lads will keep the beer up while
you're gone and besides…’ Ruford lowered his voice. ‘You’ll make ten times as much if you agree to my
‘At what hazard?’ asked Attarian, shaking his head as Ruford turned to walk off, but walking after
They soon reached the river bank, the big man’s shoes squeaked on the sandy shore. Other than that
they walked in silence, along the water’s edge in the silvery starlight; a steady breeze blew from
the south, warm with the promise of rain. At the point where the mill stream ran into Wide River, the
small wooden water wheel creaked and groaned as it turned the stones in the mill. Ruford halted and
turned to speak.
Attarian quickly realized he was wary of being overheard.
‘Who is it you fear then?’ asked Attarian.
‘He you call the golden man,’ replied Ruford softly.
‘The Maker!’ Echoed Attarian in shock, looking about instinctively. ‘He is here then?’
‘No,’ Ruford raised his hand to quieten Attarian’s voice. ‘He will cross to these islands soon
enough, his search will be slow and thorough, but he may well not find what he seeks here. Especially
so if caution is taken; none must see me here, for though it will be my cargo he seeks, learning of
my presence will have him searching far too well.'
‘But how can anything be hidden from him, he has sight to rival yours,’ said Attarian hesitantly, as
the import of the situation began to sink in. ‘And what will he search for?’
‘He seeks two separate things,’ continued Ruford. ‘One is myself and those like me who have the
ability to see that he is not what most think he is. He also hunts for a child that escaped from the
pens last year. Another of his breeds, perhaps the one that he would least like to lose, though from
what I can gather he doesn’t yet know what she is capable of. But I will tell you this much, though
she appears to be but thirteen or fourteen years old, she has already shown us that she has both my
gift, and that of the Deepstays.’
He turned and spoke into the darkness. ‘Syalin, come closer, meet Attarian, a friend to all in need.’
A small figure dressed in a night-dark robe was suddenly standing in front of Attarian. He jumped
back a pace, looked at Ruford, looked back to Syalin and then laughed.
‘Is it your habit to scare the wits out of all your new acquaintances?’ he asked.
It was Ruford who spoke, his obvious haste cutting across any reply the girl would have made.
‘My thought Attarian is that you could trade her to the Flyers, for they will hide her well, all know
of their dislike for the Maker, They blame him for their predicament, and rightly so, for he must
bear the responsibility for their creation. I must leave now, if we are to be at sea before the
stronger winds arrive. We’ll ride the coming storm to the shifting islands and warn the Deepstays of
these events, perhaps they will accompany us on our journey to the south.’ He paused and looked at
Attarian through the darkness.
‘I see you will do this favour for me,' Ruford nodded as he spoke. 'Fare you well my friend for I
will not see you again.’ He turned and waded across the waist deep water of the mill stream.
‘And I wish you well my friend,’ said Attarian as Ruford began to fade into the night’s darkness.
‘You have not seen me for ten years Attarian,’ Ruford paused and turned in midstream, he was barely
visible. ‘By the way, be sure to ask a high price for her.’
‘Goodbye Ruford, may your people find the peace they seek,’ called Attarian into the darkness.
And so I watched Ruford Chevron turn and walk off to leave the lands then known to man, I later
learned that the Deepstays from the Shifting Islands went with him. I never saw him again.
Attarian watched me a moment, obviously unsure what to do with his charge. ‘Come,’ he said. ‘I think
we will sell you tonight, is that agreeable?’
‘Yes, and it would be best if as few people as possible were to see me.’ I said. ‘Will the Flyers
take me do you think, what are they like?’
‘Like other people,’ he said as we began walking. ‘They have their own ways, but not so different
I could see the tavern keeper strained to see me better in the darkness as I walked beside him.
Though he labored through the loose sand and shingle quickly, it cost me little effort to keep pace.
As we passed the front door of the Tavern, light and noise assailed me; riotous laughter spilled out
of the door, with a splash of bright light and a waft of sour beer smell. We walked along a narrow,
dark laneway and through a heavy wooden door. A woman sat at a table in the back room we entered, her
hair was lank and damp. She looked exhausted. I watched her from the darkness outside and could see
she was indignant toward Attarian and about to speak. He raised his finger to his lips and she nodded
in silence as I followed him in through the doorway.
‘I must go to the Flyers,’ he said in a voice barely above a whisper. He turned and was gone. The
woman remained unspeaking but watched me carefully.
‘You must be Attarian’s wife,’ I said softly, sitting at the table, opposite her. She nodded but kept
her silence. I could sense the curiosity burning within, so much so she’d forgotten how tired she was.
‘Yes,’ I continued, nodding faintly, answering the question she had yet to voice. ‘I am to be sold to
the Flyers. It’s my own choice, I must escape my present situation.’ I paused, feeling I should take
the edge off her curiosity, yet without telling too much.
‘I was told they are hard to their workers, but fair,’ I would get her thinking and leading the talk,
and her knowledge could be of use to me. ‘Is that true?’
‘I am Bree,’ she spoke in a whisper. ‘And yes, I am Attarian’s wife. Yes too to your last question.
They will treat workers fairly and even slaves for that matter, but one such as you, they will try
and make a breeder of.
I held her gaze, waiting on her to continue.
‘They will feed you lean rations as a worker, and promise you far more if you will breed with them.’
I smiled to reassure her, for I knew the Flyers could not threaten me, but could not share what I was
with any other for the time being.
‘That’s enough rest for me,’ said Bree, standing and stretching. ‘They’ll be drinking for a few hours
yet. You’ll be alright?’
I nodded and she left quickly, choosing the right path in not being too inquisitive about me.
Attarian returned a few minutes later.
‘The deal is done,’ he said, nodding to me as he walked in. ‘As much of this payment as you want is
yours.’ He shook a heavy sack, holding it out toward me.
‘Nothing I want,’ I said, laughing with my eyes to allay any regret he might have at where I was
going; being sold into slavery.
He walked to a door on the far side of the room, opened it, went through and climbed up a stairway. I
could hear his footsteps ascending. He returned moments later, without his bag of booty.
‘I’ll take you to them,’ he said, heading for the back door.
I followed him out into the dark, humid night. We walked the same way, down to the river and along
the sandy bank. We turned right, up the small mill stream, where I had waited for Rufus and Attarian
earlier. Further along, several fishermen cooked fish and drank spirits from a clay jug which they
were passing around. They nodded good evening but seemed to pay little attention otherwise.
‘They never drink in my tavern,’ said Attarian once we were clear of them. ‘Seem to prefer their own
company and their own drink.’
My night vision was good, I could see the moss on the rocks of the high dry stone wall which ran
along that side of the town. As we cut through a break in the wall, I saw several small fires, and
between them cloth tents. The gusty wind scattered sparks as we approached one of the blazes. A man
sat near the fire, warming his hands, he was one of the Flyers.
He turned his head as we neared. His eyes remained fixed on me as we moved into the firelight. I
returned his stare, and saw him to be an old man, with the skin of his face wrinkled and drawn, but I
knew I was older.
‘You didn’t say she was so young,’ his gaze slipped to Attarian, beside me.
‘I am old enough,’ I spoke first, for Attarian had little knowledge of me.
‘You are outspoken for a slave,’ commented the old Flyer equally quickly, but his tight smile lent
the lie to his tone.
‘My name is Wind,’ he said evenly. ‘You know you are ours for ten years?’
‘Or until I repay the debt,’ I agreed. ‘My name is Syalin, you will not regret taking me in.’
‘We shall see,’ he looked back at the dancing flames.
‘I’ll be alright now Attarian,’ I said, turning to regard the burly publican. He nodded, not speaking.
‘Thank you for your help,’ I continued. Remember what Ruford said, you have not seen him for ten
years, nor did you ever meet me.’
Attarian sensed the finality in my voice. He held my eyes a moment before turning and walking back
the way we had come.
As Bree had warned me, the Flyers did indeed desire me as a breeder, being unrelated or of fresh
blood, as they termed it, and they certainly did try to starve me into volunteering. Yet despite the
meagre rations I was allocated, I thrived; having absolute control over my metabolism meant I needed
very little sustenance. With the ability to consciously alter my physiology already under partial
control, I quickly began to alter my digestive system to utilize green plants and was amazed at the
clarity of my thinking which occurred with the change in diet. Also, there was a young Flyer who must
have felt that their methods of coercion were something he disagreed with. Whenever he could, he
would go without to slip me extra. His name was Bluesky and through him I began to see that these
people who appeared so stoical, even harsh at times, had been forced to adopt such strengths – for
they surely viewed them as such – by circumstance. Life for them was a constant struggle to try to
achieve that which they simply could not. To fly
For two years I laboured for them, often swapped from family to family, probably because of my
unyielding personality. I was made to work long hours, given barely enough food, but never beaten.
Violence did not seem to be part of their nature. During that time I began to see what the maker had
bred in me, whether by intent or happenstance I never knew. Did it matter? I was amazed at my body’s
malleability and at how quickly it could alter itself. I was equally dismayed at the lot of everyone
else I met. Though the Maker had literally created me, I knew I was not like him at all. My enhanced
sight had long since shown me that he was not any sort of man, being made mostly of metals and other
artificial materials. I doubt he had the ability to change himself from within as I did.
I couldn’t help but both empathise and sympathise with the Flyers. Whilst the men developed thin skin
wings, between their arms and bodies, woman never did. Women were regarded either as slave,s or as
breeders and not really as Flyers at all. Even the men didn’t have it all their own way, for despite
their wings, they would never truly fly. Their muscle strength was too low in a power to weight
sense, and their metabolic rate was around the human norm, not supercharged like the Deepstay clan.
Their overall weight was simply too great for sustained flight.
Whilst my own life waxed and took on a new phase, including the discovery of many different abilities
within myself, I also realised that the Flyer’s humanity was touching me deeply. I began to feel as
they did; to feel the seeming hopelessness of their goal. To truly fly. At first I wished I could
help, then slowly came to realize it was a possibility, until eventually I decided I was obliged to
do what I could. So far as I could tell I would suffer no harm from what I planned, little did I
know, at that stage, just how successful I would be; and how successful they would become.
On the day I decided to aid them, I visited Wind’s cave in the evening, after I had finished working.
He had been gliding that day and was tired from walking back up the steep steps after each glide. He
sat outside resting, waiting for his people to bring him food.
‘Can I interrupt you Wind?’ I asked formally.
‘Can I stop you?’ his tight smile appeared again.
‘I have decided I will breed with your people,’ I said, getting straight to the point. ‘But it will
be on my own terms.’
‘Which are?’ he nodded slowly as his smile vanished.
‘I will pick the Flyer with whom I will mate and will produce two children only. This will free me of
‘I suppose it is the best we can hope for,’ he agreed. ‘With Bluesky then?’
I nodded, had it been that obvious? I hadn’t imagined that. At his invitation I stayed and ate with
him that evening. After we had eaten, Bluesky arrived, Wind must have sent word, and I left with him.
I knew by then that my choosing the young man would not be a popular decision, for I was sought by
all the older and more influential Flyers as a mate. Bluesky showed more compassion and feeling than
any other Flyer I had met, who knows how they all really felt, but they never showed their weakness
or regret. Their culture frowned upon such as failure.
We mated only one time, about a month afterward, when I was sure my wishes for the genetic make-up of
the twin babies was something I could control. They would have thinner and stronger bones, more
efficient muscles and feathers such as the few birds I had seen. They would have supercharged
metabolisms such as the Deepstays, but superior in that they could extend their high power use for
longer without ill effect. They would need to consume high protein often and in large quantities, but
that was part of the price they would suffer to gain true flight. I didn’t ask the Flyers, but knew
they would all accept. They would yet have to cope with their descendants being able to achieve what
they never could themselves.
I spoke of what I planned with Bluesky, telling him from the get-go that our relationship would be
brief and yet it would set a much brighter future for his people. He appeared subdued about my
revelations, and yet appeared to believe everything I told him, despite how fantastic it must have
My genetic set for the Flyers would include both sexes more or less equally. The children would be
smaller than previously, would mature more quickly and would have a shorter lifespan. Were they
human? I think they were, for they could interbreed, though all resultant children would be Flyers,
and I had not altered their brains at all. Time might well do that, for all things change with time.
As my body accepted the Flyer DNA and recombined it with my own to produce twin babies, one male and
one female, I felt little discomfort. The small size of the girl and boy meant two easy births. It
was obvious at birth that they were both Flyers, which was beyond strange to the Flyers, as there had
never been a female with wings before. There was some talk for a while; even suggestions that they be
put to death as unstable mutations, as required by their lore, but I put an end to that notion,
convincing the elders that from these two a new generation of true Flyers would evolve. I also told
them all the offspring of these Flyers would breed true and should have the ability of genuine flight.
The gestation period of the twins had been about six months, in keeping with the Deepstay clan, and
despite their small size, I knew an enhanced and supercharged metabolism would soon have them
catching up and superseding others of their own age. The twins ate voraciously and grew rapidly. I
fed them my milk initially, but they were soon weaned and I left most of their raising to Bluesky. I
felt strongly for them indeed, but for the most part concealed my feelings. I already knew that I
would age only as I wished, and barring an accident my body would not die, thus I felt uneasy about
forming strong attachments to such ephemeral creatures. Sad, for despite my abilities, I was indeed
one of them.
At five years of age, feathers appeared and quickly clad their wings and bodies. They were already a
marvel to the clan and soon afterward taking short gliding flights. Their learning of flying
techniques, despite many offerings of knowledge from older Flyers, was pretty much trial and error,
for there has never been a Flyer who could do more than glide in strong winds, or down from the cliff
tops where they kept their abodes.
As the first storm front of the spring approached, they were allowed to travel down from the Flyers’
mountain eyrie with the clan, to the village, for their trading. They had long and successful
flights. I had tempered their enthusiasm with warnings not to alienate their own clan by doing too
much. I had instilled in them a knowledge of their superiority and yet could feel, even as children,
a genuine sympathy for the last few generations of unsuccessful Flyers. Personally I was worried lest
word of their abilities spread too widely or quickly. With a successful flight, they were named after
the first Flyers, at the dawn of the Flyer race. My son was called Eagle and my daughter Hawk.
Many of the younger Flyers had already accepted that the two new additions to the clan would be the
founding parents of a new and successful race of true Flyers, competition for their friendship and
ultimately to be their partners was immensely strong.
I was successful. Too successful in fact, for two years after their debut, I had to trade my freedom
to prevent the Maker from destroying the islands and the entire Flyer clan. I swapped my freedom for
a further hundred years in the Pens, but that was a whole different story. And I went knowing that I
had given the Flyers a new future, one I would always be proud of.
|When Flyers First Flew - Gar Song
The Flyers came down from their homes in the cliffs, above the high lake,
suddenly appearing from the shadows which merged dark trunks of ancient pines.
They fanned out across the meadow; an initial untidy clutter of individuals
quickly slipped into four straight lines, spreading onto the fields of cropped
grass beside Wide River.
Their garments, varying shades of blue and white, hugged slim bodies. They
looked like small pieces of sky against the dark green forest and lighter green
of the meadows. Hopping and leaping in the ever-strengthening breeze, they made
their way toward the jumble of mud and timber huts which stretched along a
limestone ridge, overlooking the river’s flood plain.