For the Birds
She would never tell, but she hated being stuck in the infirmary as much as anyone. Being a mender made it worse, she knew all the routines, all the shifts, what time dinner was, and exactly who it would be who came in with a tray full of food. It was completely predictable, and so utterly boring. Her friends alleviated that, temporarily at least, bringing books to read and mender-sanctioned snacks since she wasn’t on any dietary restrictions save for ‘eat more’.
At least tonight she had Grace with her, the round little bird had been dropped off by Caeliri earlier that evening to keep her company and was currently perched on the end of her bed, studiously preening herself. The latent heat from the phoenix was enough to keep her feet warm, and she shifted under the blanket to better absorb it. It had been centuries since she had taken care of her mother’s pet birds in their aviary at home, but she still enjoyed the simple pleasures of running her fingers through soft feathers, even if Grace’s were made of warmth and flames. She watched as Grace ran her beak along the vanes of her feathers, smoothing everything back into place, small embers falling off of her in place of the usual dander. Lifting a hand, she clicked her tongue, wiggling her fingers to try and beckon her over. The phoenix regarded her for a moment, weighing her options before fluffing up and shaking, half-hopping and half-waddling across the bed to bump her head against those fingers.
“Maybe Caeliri is right and you really are a spoilt little thing,”
She laughed at Grace’s indignant chirp, fingertips scratching and massaging the spots on the little bird’s head she knew were favoured. Gradually Grace relaxed, her head sinking down until it seemed as if it merged directly with her body, a warm little lump tucked into the crook of Lirelle’s elbow.
“Hmm, while we’re both here maybe I should try to teach you something, like, I don’t know, fetch?” Pausing her petting for a moment, she looked down, eyebrow raised in askance. Slowly, deliberately, Grace opened one eye, giving her the dirtiest look that a bird could muster before closing it again, head cocked to demand the scratches continue.
Instead, Lirelle leans over to reach for the tray of food left beside the bed, mostly cleaned except for a lone dinner roll, slowly going stale by itself. Stretching, she fumbled until her fingers curled around the unused butterknife, the motion jostling her companion and earning her an unhappy flare of warmth. “Sorry, sorry, give me a second.”
Prize in hand, she waved it in front of Grace, recalling how smitten she had been with the shiny teaspoon she had managed to pilfer the last time Caeliri had come to visit. “You want another one? Actually technically it belongs to the menders, but if you really won’t give it up afterwards I’ll pay them for it.”
Perking up, Grace stared at the spoon, her neck stretching out and her head starting to bob back and forth as Lirelle dangled it, though just as she reached her beak out to grab it, Lirelle tossed it across the bed. “Ow! Hey, no biting!” Sucking on her singed finger, she reached over the disgruntled bird for the roll, pulling off a piece and holding it in her palm. “You go get the knife and bring it back, and I’ll give you the bread, okay? And then maybe I’ll be able to get you to retrieve things by the time Caeliri comes back for you, okay?”
For a while, Grace did not budge, her tiny talons picking at the blanket while she contemplated her choices, though her repeated looks at the morsel of food at least showed she was considering things. Finally, the allure of food got the best of her and she fluttered to the knife, picking it up with her beak and tossing it in Lirelle’s general direction, letting out a demanding peep at the end.
“No, you have to bring it back, and then I’ll give you the bread,” holding it out enticingly, she mimed towards the knife, pointing at it and then beckoning towards herself in a bid to get Grace to understand.
The phoenix puffed her feathers up in annoyance, chirping again before begrudgingly picking up the spoon and awkwardly hobbling it over, letting it drop on her stomach before reaching out for the bread.
Lirelle laughed as Grace snatched it out of her fingers before shuffling a few paces away and transferring it to one foot, perching one legged as she bent down to rip off small shreds of the savoury dough to eat. “Good girl, now will you do it again? Go get it!”
Grabbing the knife before Grace could lay claim to it, she tossed it again, ripping another piece of bread off the roll as the bird skittered over to her new plaything. Nights in the infirmary were usually boring and lonely, but not this one.