Draft: First Flight
The first thing she remembered was the sound of bells. Her father’s bells, they were, a chorus of tiny warning voices that would call out in mocking chimes at the slightest movement or breath of air. He stitched them onto padded dummies shaped like men, using strong silken thread and a sharp curved needle, fingertips muffling their chimes of complaint as he sewed, one hundred bells to a dummy; he settled them in the back corners of his darkened training rooms, where the bells waited to reflect what tiny light they could catch in a shower of silver sparks. They clustered about pockets and unprotected spaces, outlining the man-forms and giving them bizarre new shapes.
“Fealdon’s ghosts”, her father’s students called them when they were in their cups, although they were not the sort of folk to believe in ghosts. They were a lot of lean and suspicious youths, girls with cynical eyes and willow-thin bodies, more given to dicing and sharpening their blades than to telling ghost stories, but they referred to the dummies with a superstitious respect even when they were entirely sober. When she was older and looking back on the training rooms, Papillon thought then that the dummies did indeed have a ghostly sort of mien to them; enough to frighten the superstitious or unwary. Perhaps, she thought then, that was why she had never feared spirits.
It was her father’s ghosts, after all, who had lured her into the training rooms when she was barely old enough to toddle, away from the bright and warm light of the sun filtering greenly through the trees. The tiny silvered bells were just the right size for her small, clumsy-fingered hands to wrap around, the thread a strong silk, difficult to break. She would climb down the ladder, one careful backwards step at a time, through the trap in the floor of the stockroom. When she was old enough to descend smoothly, she brought a candle to see the reflections of the flame mirrored five-hundred fold in the tiny glittering bells; but at first, when her game was to hear the bells’ metallic laughter and feel their cool roundness in her hands, she needed only the light filtering down from the trap.
Fealdon, her father, brought her with him as he examined his students in the tiny room, at first perching her on his knee and then letting her roam around to watch them work. It was then that she discovered the dummies held more than simply bells: inside hidden pockets and stitched-shut purses were glimmering coins and dull, solid stones. Deft knives made short work of the stout silken threads, and the game they played was the opposite of her childish circulations; every soft cry of bell-chimes was greeted with hoots and shouts of derision.
When she was old enough to bring her candle down the stairs with her, Papillon played at their game sometimes, as well, ghosting around the room to see how close she could come to the dummies without waking their bells. When she was old enough to carry a knife – not the short, stubby eating knife that was the first blade she had been allowed to touch, but a real blade, sharp enough to cut one’s finger on if one was less than careful – then she began playing at the students’ game in earnest.