Wolfcry Page 1


Another day, and Wyvern's Court still survives. Sometimes I fear that we are held together by nothing but hope and desperation, but those bonds have held us for a score of years.

Tomorrow is the holiday that my mother's people call Festival. It is a day of storytelling, laughter and song for the avians. Already the northern hills of Wyvern's Court are bright with decorations.

Meanwhile, my father's people, in the southern hills, prepare to celebrate a serpiente event. My cousin,

Salem Cobriana, will take vows tomorrow to become a full member of the dancers'

guild. He will be the first cobra in more than eight hundred years to be embraced by that venerated group.

I speak of my mother's people and my father's. To which group do I belong? Both--or neither?

I have four forms in addition to my human one. One is that of a hawk as pure and golden as any avian queen who soared above the land. Another is that of a black cobra, like every heir to the serpiente royal house. I also have a form that is a blend of all my traits--a human body with wings the color of sunset, scales black like night, garnet eyes, a hawk's vision and a cobra's poison.

My last form is that of a wyvern, a perfect blend of serpent and avian - a form that is of all my people and like none of them. The wyvern's cobra body is ruffled with feathers at its hood, spreading into wings that can drive me through the air faster than any hawk. I am the princess of Wyvern's Court, the wyvern for which it was named, and my reign will mean the union of two worlds that warred for two millennia before my birth. Tomorrow, Festival, marks twenty-one years since my mother and father made what many considered a mad plan to bring peace to their people.

My parents ended the slaughter, the battles, the clash of armies and the generations of widows and orphans. They swore to end the killing, and for that I sing my thanks to the avians' gods of the sun and sky, and dance it to the serpents' goddess of freedom and passion. But hatred takes longer to die, and I fear sometimes that my parents' bloody memories blind them to the fear and anger that still stain this world. I see it all too clearly.

Their reign ended the killing. I pray for the strength I need for my reign to be the one to end the war.

Oliza Shardae Cobriana

Heir to the Tuuli Thea

Arami of the serpiente

Chapter 1

The northern hills of Wyvern's Court were filled with the trills of tiny bells, the lilting words of storytellers and the songs of choruses. Enraptured children sat in front of me, waiting for me to begin the story of the first avian queen. Blatantly out of place among them was a friend of mine, a serpiente dancer named Urban, who was lounging near the back, managing to look bored and nervous at the same time.

"Many, many years ago, our ancestors were a collection of small tribes, each led by a different captain and each squabbling with its neighbors over food, water and shelter. When drought caused famine, they became afraid and so were more protective of their scarce belongings.

"In the middle of the worst winter, when early snows had destroyed too many of the crops, a woman named Aleya gave birth to a daughter. She loved her child, but she knew she could never take care of her. So Aleya brought the beautiful golden girl to the mountains and left her there, praying that the wild spirits would care for her.

"The infant began to cry, and soon a pair bond of hawks landed beside her. They cared for the child as one of their own, teaching her thlanguage of the forest and giving her their most precious gift: the skies. They gave the girl some of their magic and taught her how to change from her human form into that of a golden hawk." I paused there, looking into the wide eyes of my young audience. One of the children had moved closer to Urban and was trying to examine the silk scarf he had tied around his waist  -  a melos, one of the accessories worn by professional serpiente dancers. Urban glanced at her and she jumped.

"But there comes a time when every chick must leave its nest, and as she grew older, the hawk-girl began to wonder about her true mother. Finally, when she was thirteen, she returned to her homeland. She found her mother and her younger brother, whom she had never known, but was horrified by the conditions in which they lived, by the fear and anger that seemed ever present among humans.

"The girl led first her family and then the rest of her mother's tribe into the woods and taught them how to reach the skies. She showed them better ways to hunt, with a hawk's vision and talons, and so they became healthy and well fed once again.

"Later, other tribes joined them, and each took a form from the wilderness  -  ravens, crows and then sparrows. For the first time, these tribes lived peacefully together, led by the young queen they named Alasdair, which means protector." The children clapped happily, making the bells hanging from their wrists jingle. I smiled, enjoying the story almost as much as I had during my first Festival  -  until one of the adults who had been nearby noticed her child reaching for Urban's melos again and darted forward to scoop her up and away from Urban. Urban pretended not to notice, but I saw his back tense.

I had told the story of Alasdair the way my mother had used to tell it to me, but I knew that some of these children had learned a darker ending from their parents. Just twenty years before, the myth always would have included the death of Alasdair at the hands of the serpiente. Tales such as these fueled avians' hatred from the cradle. I tried not to let the avian mother's reaction to Urban rum my mood. I knew that many people did not approve of his presence there; Urban was not just a serpent  -  an apprentice dancer, at that  -  he was widely known to be my foremost suitor among the serpiente. As such, he faced the wrath of mothers with eligible sons, and of course the jealousy of avian men our age, in addition to the general prejudice of avians against serpiente.

Still, I was glad he had come. Suitor or not, Urban was one of my closest friends. We had grown up together. It meant a lot to me that he was willing to be there even though he knew how the avians might react.

"Bit of a dull story," Urban remarked as he came to my side, trying to keep a careful distance between himself and the avians around us. "Lacks intrigue, danger, scandal."

"Well, I'm sorry that the way my ancestor saved her people from starvation and war isn't racy enough for you," I said, teasing.

Serpiente history  -  which, unlike the avian stories, was regarded as fact, not myth  -

involved the brave leader of a clan known as the Dasi seducing a powerful creature called Leben, who had impersonated one of their gods to demand their worship. The story, which was told each year in the dance named after the winter solstice holiday Namir-da, described how Leben had given all of Maeve's people second forms to try to win her favor. Maeve had been given the form of a white viper. Kiesha, the high priestess of Anhamirak, had been given the form of a king cobra. Seven others had been given serpent forms, and four, the followers of the god Ahnmik, had been given falcon forms.


Namir-da did not tell the falcons' story. It also did not include the part about the Dasi being torn apart by a vicious civil war shortly after the gifts had been given. Maeve and the four falcons had been exiled on charges of black magic. The white vipers still lived on the fringes of our society even in modern day, while Cjarsa, Araceli, Syfka and Servos made up the royal house of the falcon empire. Kiesha's people became the serpiente; my family were her descendents.

"Unfortunately," Urban continued, his tone making clear that he found nothing unfortunate in it, "I need to run to the nest now. I'm hoping to catch Salem before he is surrounded by people." Only the full members of the dancer's nest had been invited to Salem's initiation ceremony, and though Urban had grown up in the nest, he had not yet taken his vows. However, the reception that night would be open to anyone who wanted to attend, including apprentices and wyverns. "You will be there later, right?"

"Of course. I think my parents have already headed over." He looped an arm around my waist and kissed my cheek. By serpiente standards, the gesture was friendly and casual, but by avian standards, it was shockingly forward  -  so much so that someone immediately grabbed Urban's arm to drag him away from me.

"I'm sorry," Urban instantly said, smiling at the young man who had come to my unnecessary but well-intentioned rescue. "Did you want a kiss, too?" Marus, the avian, blushed the color of a robin's breast, which prompted Urban to add, "Hmm. I'm sure you did  -  just not from me."

As Marus stammered, Urban raised his hands innocently. "Sorry, Oliza, Marus, but what can I say? I agreed to be bored to tears all day. You can't blame me for slipping up. Now I really do need to run. I'll see you later, Wyvern." He blew me a kiss on his way down the hill to the dancer's nest on the opposite side of Wyvern's Court.

"I apologize if I overreacted," Marus said to me before I could even begin to speak. "I saw him put his hands on you as I walked by, and responded without thinking." I had known Marus for years, and while I was glad he understood that I would think he had overstepped his bounds, I knew he didn't really think it was inappropriate to pull an assertive suitor away from a lady.

"I appreciate your concern, but according to serpiente custom," I explained patiently,

"he might as well have just smiled at me. It would have meant the same."

"According to serpiente custom, perhaps," Marus said, "but Urban knew where he was."

"The laws are the same on both sides of Wyvern's Court, and he hasn't broken any."

"They might be the same on both sides, but they change according to blood. Urban took advantage of the fact that you allow a serpent to behave in a manner that you would consider utterly inappropriate from an avian like me  -  and he did it specifically because he knew that it would offend the dozens of people who were watching." What he said horrified me, because to a large extent it was true. I wanted my people to be treated equally, but even I dealt with avians and serpiente quite differently, assigning to each a different set of rules.

What choice did I have? I couldn't judge my people only by avian or serpiente standards, and asking them to behave according to the customs of the area they were in meant that we might as well still have two courts. Between a culture in which it was inappropriate to display strong emotion and another in which it was rude not to, one world where touching was vulgar and another where lack of contact was an insult, there was no easy middle ground. There certainly wasn't one that wouldn't be considered offensive by everyone.

"The moral of this story," came a calm, diplomatic voice, "is that Urban can steal as many kisses as he likes, and regardless of his intent, she will always see his actions as one of a friend." I turned and was immediately face to face with seventeen-year-old Sive, the youngest daughter of my grandmother, Nacola, which technically made Sive my aunt, despite her being three years younger than I was.

Sive's hair was long and golden, and her eyes were the same color. She wore a softly flowing cream gown and her feet were bare aside from the fine golden anklet that chimed as she walked. She said, "Serpents may be freer with physical contact, and I'm sure that is a perfectly valid choice, but I imagine it is difficult to court a lady if there is nothing romantic and daring left to do."

Hearing sweet, docile Sive say the words romantic and daring almost made me laugh. Although Sive had grown up in Wyvern's Court, she had been raised with the strictest avian traditions. Right now Sive stood beside her avian alistair, Prentice  -  the nineteen-year-old man to whom she had been betrothed at her birth, a raven who had never done anything that was not careful and reserved.

Sive's comment pacified Marus, but it did not settle my own thoughts  -  partially because I continued to worry about my own prejudice, and partially because I wasn't certain I wanted Marus to take Sive's thinly veiled advice to be "romantic and daring." In avian society, a lady who accepted a kiss on the cheek from a suitor might as well have accepted a proposal. I wasn't ready to choose my king.

I could think of only one way to avoid the potential problem: give Marus something to do before he thought up something on his own.

"Unfortunately, we must continue this conversation later," I said, "since I plan to attend Salem's reception."

"I thought you said you couldn't go," Marus said.

"To the ceremony itself," I clarified. "Salem's initiation is a major event  -  not just for the dancers but for all serpiente, since it means the return of the royal family to the nest. The reception is open to anyone who wants to attend."

Marus's eyes did not quite glaze over, but despite his best attempt to show an appropriate level of interest, it was obvious that he cared as much about the formal ending of an eight-hundred-year-old feud between the nest and the Cobriana as Urban cared about famine among Alasdair's warring tribes.

"You're welcome to join me," I offered.

"Us," Sive corrected. "I promised Salem I would make an appearance."

"Sive..." Prentice's cultured tones didn't quite conceal his distress. "Didn't you decide not to attend?"

I wasn't surprised by the raven's reaction. Prentice was horrified anytime Sive chose to be around serpents.

He didn't care for me, and I didn't care for him, but he and Sive seemed to get along well enough. If the hawk resented having no choice in the matter, she did not express the sentiment aloud. Avian ladies had always had their pair bonds chosen for them by their parents. I was thankful that my parents had decided to follow serpiente tradition, allowing me to pick my own mate  -  though occasionally I wondered if it would have been easier if the choice had been made for me.

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