By Elizabeth Tan
On the morning of Marigold’s punishment, I wake before sunrise and fly to the rotted stump at the edge of the woods. Drake is already sitting there. I recognise him by the broken cell near the tip of his left forewing, the legacy of a skirmish with a child from the village. Last we heard, that child drowned in the village well – glimpsed something in the water, scrabbled up the side, tipped. Drake swears he had nothing to do with it.
He twitches his cracked forewing; he can smell me on the wind, but doesn’t turn his head when I land beside him. In better light we would be able to see the village: smoke of fires, huddled homes. The clock tower proclaiming the hours of their tedious lives.
‘Why do you think she did it?’ Drake asks.
‘Marigold?’ A furry black fungus has grown on the stump; I pry some up to taste. ‘Curiosity, I guess.’
‘We’ve all been curious.’
Drake darts a glance but doesn’t challenge me. I smell the fungus trapped under my fingernails; I try to gnaw it out.
‘Luna,’ Drake says, ‘I never told you how I came to be at the glade. The day when that child damaged my wing.’
Morning dew fattens on his hair, his wings. How long has he been sitting here?
‘He drew me there. That boy and his friends. They set up lights. They tied bells to the trees. It was a trap.’
The sky hums the first hint of daylight. Soon we will be able to distinguish the rooftops, the clocktower’s hands.
‘They were going to kill me.’
His voice bends like an aching branch.
‘They were hunting,’ Drake says, ‘for us.’
They lie her on the toadstool, arms spread, ankles bound together. They’ve already punctured her wings so that vines may be threaded through, but these hang limp for now. Marigold props her chin up so she can meet eyes with the assembly – with us. Drake lowers his gaze. The Sage announces that the Council has found Marigold guilty of consorting with a human. Before these sacred woods, the elders, her kin – all of whom she has betrayed – she will be punished.
The Sage motions the elders forward. They each take up a vine. Some of them remain standing as they pull, but others take to the air, hovering over Marigold, who is starting to squirm, to claw at the toadstool. She buries her face and clenches her teeth on the mushroom flesh but I can still hear her, moans thrashing in her throat. Some of the elders pull so hard her body arcs like a worm, like a larva, something witless and newborn. Slowly the sinew separating wing from spine begins to yield, to snap like a petal torn from a flower, and when at last Marigold’s wings are wrenched clear of her body the whole assembly seems to shudder with the thrill of justice, a fever of love and loyalty for our kin. They drag the swooning Marigold away.