She was slow to approach the perch, setting a plate on the window ledge and pushing letters deep into her pocket before the phoenix got ideas about burning them. “Good evening, Raiha. You are looking very beautiful today. Such a pretty bird.” She curtseyed deeply to the bird. Raiha seemed to like the show of deference whenever she came in.

There had been a slow and steady getting-used-to period between the pair, as Frederick’s firebird acclimatized to the new house. Vitoria would come in occasionally to tell the bird stories, getting Raiha used to the sound of her voice, her presence. Raiha tolerated her company, near as she could tell: the phoenix accepted the food tributes that the briar brought, there hadn’t been any bites or burns. The looking glass Vitoria had brought to hang beside her perch also helped; Raiha seemed to love watching its reflection.

“Tomorrow we are going to Anvil, and since you can’t read and a letter-in-case won’t do, I thought it best to talk to you.”

An ink-stained finger reached out to hover near Raiha’s head, seeing whether she might lean into the touch or– a sharp nip confirmed she still wanted her space. Vitoria refused to flinch.

“You remember the stories I told you about my family. How we burn bright and short. You liked those stories. And Frederick doesn’t– or well, he might not understand as a Fox does, just yet, but… sometimes we don’t come back, when we go to Anvil; more than other families. Sometimes we can’t come back. Sometimes duty calls, or sometimes we cannot leave someone behind. And it hurts. It hurts to be left behind.” The bird bobbed her head, ruffling feathers as she stood a little more indignantly, to Tori. “Yes, you understand what it means to be left behind.”

She took the plate of cutlets she brought in from the windowsill beside the perch, daintily tossing the bird a piece of meat. “We’re not like you, Raiha. Not so pretty. But we burn like you do. When we die, and they set us alight. But we don’t come back quite so quick as you do… If the stories are true.” Her eyes squeezed shut, her face crumpling, the thought too overwhelming, and the effort to remain too stubborn to sob only just winning out over despair. “No rising from the ashes.”

Raiha eyed between her, and the plate of food. Vitoria steeled herself, tossed Raiha another piece, watching as she caught and tore through it, swallowed it near whole. “When–if— that happens and Frederick comes home alone, I hope you will…” Raiha squawked loudly, flapping her wings and stretching, before settling back down on her perch, “You know, I don’t even know. Maybe you can remind him that we come back.” Her bright eyes followed Tori’s movements, and she had no clue whether the phoenix could understand this level of thought. “Yes. Remind him that we come back. And keep him company. He would be… Sad…. And lonely.”

Vitoria’s eyes watched Raiha, then turned to leave. She was unprepared for the sudden weight of Raiha landing on her shoulder, or the sharp bite at her ear as her claws dug in and her beak drew blood. “Damnit Raiha.”  She fought every urge of the fading Anarchy to not flail, not push her off or fight back. She stood there, tense and still, until the phoenix let go of her ear and trilled loudly.

“There is a black box in the office. Letters sealed inside. Please do not burn them. If I come back, I will let you line a nest with their ashes, and will take you hunting in the Orchards. But if I do not,” she took a breath, wishing it was steadier than it was, “then they need to be sent. Please do not burn them, Raiha. Please. Some will be for Lord Frederick.”

She stood still, peering at the bird from the corner of her eye, until it squawked angrily and let go, flying off to land again on her perch, eyeing her with her bright inscrutable eyes. “I am counting on you, pretty bird.”


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