"I'm going to be late!!" Dove cried, trying to get the three year old, Jasmine, off her back. Jasmine just shrieked with laugher, clinging onto her. "Hazel!! Help!!'
"In a second!" Hazel called from their dorm, still putting on her shoes. At last Hazel appeared and plucked Jasmine off her before setting her on a passing boy.
She clung on and started pulling his hair, "ARGH! Someone! Get Jasmine off me!!" he cried. Hazel grabbed Dove's arm, "Okay, hurry- let's go!" she said and they dashed out of the building.
When they were half way to school, they slowed their run to a walk, "Hey- what's with the feather in your hair?" she asked suddenly.
"Hm? Oh- I found it during gardening yesterday. Cute right?"
"I guess so… But it's a little… I dunno- tribal?"
"What?" Dove asked, laughing.
"I'm serious- I've never seen anyone put feathers in their hair. It kinda reminds me of those Native American headdresses."
"Okay- I won't wear that," Dove said, "Well- not to school anyway. I might wear it in the bathroom. With the door locked. When no one is in the orphanage."
This time Hazel laughed. Dove touched the feather in her hair and smiled. The morning air was cool and crisp. The clouds overhead promised that the day wouldn't be too hot which was good since the genius who arranged their class time table put P.E. in the late morning when the sun would be scorching and the gym was under repair so they had to be on the field.
As they drew closer to school, Hazel nudged Dove and nodded. She looked and saw Zeph walking up the steps with his friends, laughing over something.
Hazel heaved a sigh, "He's one of those clean cut, good guys," she said, "The kind you expect to play a hero in a movie. The brave, chivalrous knight, coming to the rescue. Doing anything to save the princess. Or even, the girl's best friend who's hopelessly in love with her but she runs off with the jerk and he's always by her side, broken hearted…" she heaved another sigh.
"You really are a hopeless romantic, aren't you?" Dove asked.
"What's wrong with being a romantic?"
"Nothing… nothing at all," Dove replied. Some of Hazel's new friends came to talk to them.
Dove didn't speak much, but she listened. Most of the girls were like Hazel, with their heads in the clouds. A couple were so high up there, they made Hazel seem like a sensible, grounded person.
"So- you two are coming for the halloween party right? It'll be amazing. We can't have it in the gym, so we're having it in the main garden. There's a huge prize for best dressed, and I got a glimpse of the decorations they're going to put up. It's so realistic," said one girl.
"There are going to be dozens of scary games too," said another girl.
"I can't," Dove was first to say.
Hazel came to the rescue, "She promised some of the younger ones she'd go trick or treat with them," she said and Dove nodded. That wasn't the truth at all, but it was better then telling them. It would only lead to more questions she would be uncomfortable answering. She clutched her pendant.
Dove jolted out of her thoughts and saw Zeph had broken away from his group of friends.
"Hi," she said, still feeling a little dazed.
He gave a small wave to Hazel who was still chattering with the others. She waved back and the group went on their way; not without Hazel giving Dove a meaningful look.
Dove rolled her eyes in return and she grinned. "What's with the feather?" Zeph asked as they set off for class. "I found it yesterday," she said, "Aren't you with your friends?" she wanted to know.
He shrugged his broad shoulders, "They went to talk to one of the teachers about one of our assignments."
"The history essay. They said they could handle it. I'm thinking about starting on it tonight. How about you?"
"Hazel and I finished it last night."
"Yeah- it was the only way I could think of delaying the start of my maths work," she said, heaving her backpack more securely on her back. Zeph screwed up his nose, "And for that you thought you might as well finish a thousand word essay on the Mayan civilisation?" he asked.
"Perhaps you haven't fully comprehended just how much I hate maths."
"I find it kinda fun actually."
Dove stopped and stared at him, "Oh, you and Hazel will get along so well," she said and started walking again.
"Nice to know… What's with the feather?" he asked.
"I found it yesterday, i thought I would wear it," she said. Zeph looked at it, "It's a little strange… but it suits you."
"Are you saying I'm weird?"
"Wh- No! I mean- it looks good on you. It'd look weird on other people. What kind of feather is it anyway?" he asked to change the subject. Dove touched it again, "I dunno. I think it might be a crow's," she said.
Zeph looked at it, "No- can't be. It's too big," he said.
"A really big crow?" she suggested.
He grinned, "Who knows? Maybe."
"By the way," he said suddenly as they passed a poster, "You coming for the halloween event?"
"Can't- I promised the kids I'd go trick or treating with them," she replied.
"C'mon- it'll be fun. You could go trick or treat then swing by later. It's on till midnight. I'm sure the kids aren't going to be out till that late."
Dove fingered her pendant, trying to think up something, "I really shouldn't go…" she said.
"C'mon- it's fun. Didn't you ever have a halloween party before?"
"Well- the sisters didn't really approve of halloween and celebrating on it. We had once during a little charity event but- I didn't really like it," she said. Zeph frowned, "Why not?" he asked and she purposely misunderstood.
"It was just one of those things. They can be really strict-"
"No- I mean- why didn't you enjoy yourself?"
Dove couldn't see any way out except too blatantly pull out of the conversation. "I have to go to the bathroom before class starts. Why don't you go ahead first," she said and before he could answer, she popped into the girl's toilet they had been passing.
Inside, she leaned against the wall with a sigh of relief; she'll give him five minutes for him to be far enough and hopefully he would be sensitive enough to know she didn't want to pursue the subject later.
She shut her eyes- oh how she hated this time of year. She always made sure not to leave after dark. She hated the decorations, the haunted houses, the costume parties. The night itself was the worse. Dove rubbed her forehead and checked her watch. Yeah- that should be long enough, she decided and left the bathroom. As she cut through one of the courtyard, a harsh cry made her stop.
Looking up she saw a large, black bird perched on the edge of a roof, watching her and cocking its head from left to right.
"That's one big crow…" she muttered. She realized she had stopped just to look at the bird. It gave another rattling cry and lifted one wing to preen. The feathers caught the morning sun and she could see purple, green and blue tints in the glossy black feathers. It dropped the wing and puffed out its chest feathers to preen them. The edges of the feathers were jagged, not at all smooth. It lifted the other wing and she saw the colours again.
This time, Dove pulled the feather from her hair and lifted it up to compare.
Even from the distance, she could see the resemblance. So whoever Corax was, she or he had sent her a feather of this kind of bird.
Placing the feather back in her hair, Dove pulled herself away and ran to class.
"Woah, that's a big crow," Zeph said at P.E.
Dove looked round at him. She was waiting for her turn at the hurdles and was watching the crow that was perched railings. "That isn't a crow," said Vincent, one of Zeph's friends. She looked at him curiously and Zeph explained, "Vince is head of the animal science society."
"Ah… so what is it?"
Vincent frowned, "If I'm not mistaken, it's a raven. But what on earth is it doing here?" he wondered.
"What's wrong with it being here?" Zeph asked, propping his elbow on his shoulder to lean on him.
Vincent was still frowning, watching the bird preen, "Ravens aren't like crows. They like being on their own and usually away from humans," he said and the bird gave a deep, rattling call and took off, soaring over them into a tree on the other end of the field, "See the colours in the light? Crows don't have that. And crow feathers aren't so glossy either. See the shape of the tail too? Crows are rounded and this one is sharp. Even the feather you're wearing is a raven feather."
"So the big crow is a raven?" Dove asked.
"Yeah. People tend to mistake ravens as really big crows. Don't worry, it's a common mistake."
Dove raised an eyebrow at his condescending tone. Mr-know-it-all? she wondered as she watched the others jump hurdles. "Alright- Miss Dove, Miss Hameldon," called the teacher, "Have you ever done hurdles before?" he asked.
"Nope," Hazel and Dove answered at once.
"Right- it's simple," the teacher said, "When you get to the hurdle; don't slow down to jump. The hurdles are set pretty low today. Your last step before the hurdle should be your less dominant leg. You want your non dominant leg to be a little outside the middle of the hurdle and your dominant leg to be in the centre. When you're jumping, bend your body at the waist and lean straight down towards your dominant leg. Got it?"
Hazel and Dove exchanged looks before looking at the teacher once more, "No," they said in unison.
"Just go try it out."
They went to the mark with some of the other girls, "Fly like a dove," Hazel told her. Dove glared at her as she grinned. It was an old joke. "With a broken wing," she retorted.
"On your mark!" the teacher yelled and they went, "Set," he paused for a brief moment before his voice went up like a gunshot, "GO!"
Dove pushed herself forward. In her mind, visions of her ankle or leg hitting the hurdles played in her mind. What if she didn't jump high enough? What if she didn't and right and fell flat on her face? Either way, she would make a complete fool of herself.
As the first hurdle came, she found herself thinking, "Oh please. Oh please. Oh please," though not entirely sure what she was pleading for at that moment. She jumped and made it over the first hurdle as did Hazel. Slightly more encouraged by her success, she kept a good pace. She managed the second one easily. Then the third. Then the fourth. But during the fifth, as she leaped over it, Hazel next to her didn't succeed.
Her ankle got caught on the bar as she fell crashing onto the ground and the hurdle hit her other leg. At once, Dove halted, "Haze- you okay?" she asked, pushing the hurdle back up and helping her up. "Ow- I think my ankle's a bit busted," Hazel said, lifting the injured foot off the ground so as to not put pressure on it. Her knees and her lower left arm were scraped and bleeding as well.
The teacher came over to check on Hazel, "It isn't that bad, but she should to go to the infirmary," he said.
"And where is that, again?" Dove asked.
"I'll take them," Zeph offered. The teacher looked at him and he hastened to explain, "I'm a student rep, I'm supposed to help the students," he said.
"Alright. Next group!" the teacher yelled to the boys who were to run.
"Can you walk?" Zeph asked Hazel, kindly. She nodded but had an arm round Dove's neck for support.
The infirmary was near the field and gym, conveniently enough. It was nice, with four beds and curtains to go round them to give privacy. All the windows were open along the walls to let in the breeze. The curtains were white and flowed with the breeze. Each bed was exactly alike with clean white covers and pillows. The nurse, dressed in the same manner as the ir matron in the orphanage came bustling out in a very hurried manner.
"Oh my- what happened?" she asked, seeing Hazel.
"Accident on the field," Zeph replied.
"Sit her down here," the nurse said, pointing to a bed. Hazel sat down and the nurse cleaned her cuts and scrapes before looking at the ankle. "It's not serious. I just need to put an ice pack on it. You need to rest it for a week at the least. Try not to run or jump or do anything strenuous," she advised.
"Yes, ma'am," Hazel said and the nurse went to get an ice pack.
"Does it hurt?" Dove asked.
"A little. It only hurts if I move it," she replied.
The nurse returned with an ice pack and wrapped it round the swelling ankle.
"You'll be okay on your own?" Zeph asked, "We have to get back to class."
"I'll be fine," Hazel smiled. The nurse straightened up, "She'll be back by lunch period," she said and went back to her office. "So I'll see you in the cafeteria?" Dove asked. Hazel nodded.
Zeph raised a hand in farewell and the two of them left the infirmary.
Dove was playing with her pendant again, watching the floor and counting tiles. "You okay?" Zeph asked.
"Hm?- oh yeah- I'm fine," she answered with a smile.
"Look- about earlier- I'm sorry. I didn't mean to pry," he said. She looked up at him and shook her head, "It's alright," she said, "I just shut down when talking about those kind of uncomfortable things," she explained.
"Uncomfo-" he stopped and shut his eyes. He opened them with a sigh and made a motion of zipping his mouth. Dove grinned.
At the cafeteria, they were serving curry and rice for their main course. As usual Dove added on a salad from the salad bar. She sat with Zeph and his friends, listening to them talking. Zeph was the sort to include everyone and anyone, so he would turn to Dove a lot and talk to her. After awhile, Hazel came hobbling into the cafeteria. "Hi," she said.
"You okay?" Dove asked.
"Yeah- much," she replied.
"Here, I'll help you get your lunch," said one of the guys at once.
"I'll do it, just sit down, Hazel."
"Shut up you two- I'll do it."
Soon there was a small tussle going on among Zeph's friends as Hazel went to join some of the girls at the next table. Zeph watched with mild interest, "Does this always happen?" he asked Dove.
"No idea. We were in a convent all this while; we hardly meet guys," she replied, drinking her packet of milk.
"Ah. Of course."
In the end, Hazel's lunch was brought to her by five boys. She looked surprised but was smiling and blushing a little, "Thank you," she said. Dove watched and grinned, shaking her head. It was only their second day of school and she already had all the boys after her.
"Jealous?" Zeph wanted to know.
Their table was now empty since the boys were all with Hazel.
"Nah- I kinda expected it. Hazel's pretty and sweet to everyone. I'm not like that. I could never be," she said, spooning the rice and curry to her mouth. After chewing and swallowing, she asked, "What I want to know, is why aren't you over there, bringing her chocolate milk like everyone else?"
Zeph grinned, "Too much competition?"
Dove raised an eyebrow and he shrugged. "So- uh- what's it like living in an orphanage?" he asked.
"Well… it's okay. It's like having dozens of siblings. We fight over the bathroom and things like that. We don't fight over food because matron makes sure we each get a fair share. If she didn't do that, mealtimes would probably be like a war zone," she explained, "And speaking of matron, we're lucky she's nice enough. So are the other workers there. I've heard stories of evil nags taking care of other kids."
"How about the other kids?"
Dove stirred her spoon in the curry, "The younger ones that come in are okay. They just seem a bit confused at first. So most of the time, the older ones who have the time sort of help look after them. There's this little girl called Jasmine who seemed to have decided to adopt me. I couldn't get her off me this morning at all," she added with a smile, "But the older ones… I mean- those who lost their families when they're old enough to realise it… Some need a little help so we have a volunteer therapist actually come in to talk to them sometimes. But there are some who just escaped and disappeared. Some stay and just be difficult," she said.
"Were you old enough to realise what had happened?" Zeph asked.
"It didn't make a difference," Dove said and by her tone Zeph knew not to ask further. "What about Hazel?" he asked, glancing over to her. She was surrounded by the boys who were all trying to get her attention.
Dove poked a piece of chicken with her fork, "She was old enough to know but young enough to get over it. I remember she was so scared when she first arrived. I was there for a year already and still not settling down. We had a bed next to each other. She seemed to notice me after a couple of nights. And she helped me. That helped both of us recover," she said with a smile.
"And you've been friends ever since?"
"By the way, I wanted to as-" he stopped, staring at the window behind her with a frown, "Hey- it's that crow- I mean raven- again," he said suddenly.
Dove looked round and saw, true enough, the raven was perched in a low branch that looked into the cafeteria. It was preening itself idly. After a moment, it seemed to realise they were staring and looked back at them, cocking its head left and right.
"Maybe he's hungry," Dove said.
"How'd you know it's a he?"
"No idea. Can the windows open?"
"Yeah- just open the latch and push it."
Dove went to the window with a piece of meat from the curry. She pushed the window open and offered it. The raven didn't fly off but looked at her curiously. Then it fluttered to the window sill and took the meat before flying back to the tree. Clutching the meat with one claw, it tore pieces of it and swallowed.
Shutting the window carefully, Dove returned to her table.
"Are you sure it's a good idea to feed it-" Zeph asked.
"Him," he corrected himself.
"I dunno. Why not?" Dove asked and Zeph guessed correctly she was the type to feed anything. "Well- it might keep coming back here," he said.
"Well- Vince said, this isn't its natural habitat after all."
Dove shrugged. She looked over her shoulder at the raven once more before finishing her food.
After lunch was activity period again. Hazel waved as she limped out with the help of her fan club. Dove waved in return. "Well- I have to go for the student council meeting," Zeph said as they left the cafeteria.
"I have to go to the kitchen garden."
"The gardening society is working on the kitchen garden this entire week."
"Right, I'll see you in class then," he said and hurried off for his meeting.
The kitchen was behind the cafeteria and the garden was all around its doorsteps. By the time Dove changed into an old shirt and jeans and gloves, some of the others were already there. "Hey Dove," Verity, a senior who had decided to take charge of the new member the day before said.
"Hey- what are we doing today?"
"Well- we have to dig new patches over there but we'll let the guys do that. And weed the tomato patches. What can't be finished now, we'll have to deal with after school."
"Okay," Dove said, going to the tomato plants to weed. She hummed to herself and a harsh call made her look up. In one of the apple trees, peeking out from the foliage, was the raven. She smiled to see it, trying to poke itself out of the leaves.
But Verity didn't look too pleased, "Great- a crow. I thought we already solved that problem," she complained. Dove looked at her, "It's a raven."
"It's a big crow," Verity replied and sighed, "If it starts stealing, we'll have to chase it off until we can build a scarecrow or something."
Dove looked at the big bird who was again preening itself, somehow she had a feeling it wasn't going to steal food. She quite liked it, actually.
About half an hour passed when Dove got to her feet to stretch her stiff muscles in her legs. She was starting to get pins and needles in one foot. She stepped back but somehow stumbled and fell back.
There was a harsh, rattling shriek and something large hit her, making her fall onto her side instead. She saw a black streak shoot pass. "Dove! Are you okay?" Verity called as they rushed over. "I tripped and the bird hit me…" Dove said, trying to get back to her feet.
"And it's a good thing it did," Jaden said, helping her up, "If it hadn't, you would have fallen on that," he pointed behind her. She looked round and saw the metal rods they used to support the tomato plants. It was thin but strong and very stable. She probably could have impaled herself or at least had gotten seriously injured.
The thought of it made her insides tightened.
The raven was perched on the eaves of the kitchen, no longer preening but watching her. She looked back at it, clutching her pendant. It gave a low croaking sound that sounded almost quizzical in her ears just as Verity asked, "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," Dove answered but not sure to who.
The raven spread its wings and took off flying round above them in a circle before landing back in the shady apple tree. The others went back to their work as Dove remained there, looking curious.
Had that been a coincidence? That the bird struck her just as she was about to get hurt? But why had it done such a thing in the first place? It wasn't to attack her. Could birds actually judge if a person was in danger or not? And if it had been on purpose, it must have been watching her the whole time in order to get there so quickly.
She shook her head; that was ridiculous, she told herself and knelt down again. She touched the feather in her hair and remembered the strange letter she had received the day before. For a moment, an odd thought crossed her mind but she shooed it away and called herself an idiot before continuing her weeding.
"So- she told Grant that if he didn't buck up, they'd have to drop him as the Count in the play and take on his understudy instead. But Grant is kind of distracted at the moment. Some people are saying it's because his parents are in the middle of getting a divorce and it's all very stressful for him. But the teacher told him, she'll give him another shot," Hazel told Dove as they walked back to the Adwen.
"Anyway- I think Grant is a good actor. I saw him act today. The kind of passion he has in his character…" she broke off with a sigh, "I swear, I almost fell in love with him. So- what about you? Anything happened at the gardening society?" she asked.
"Oh, nothing much. Verity and John got into an argument over what place was better to plant the new seedlings. We did some weeding. Killed an invasion of snails. I was almost impaled. There are apples growing and we ate some-"
'Yeah- we're allowed to have a nibble. We even tasted some of the berries."
"No! You know that's not what I meant! You almost got impaled!? By what? By who!?" Hazel demanded.
Dove shrugged, "That. I'm fine. I tripped and almost fell back on one of the metal rods that we use to grow the tomatoes. Then that raven that was at school today flew down and hit my shoulder and made me fall on my side, on the pathway instead," she explained.
"So you're okay, right?"
"I'm fine… got a bruise where he hit me. But I'm fine," Dove said, showing the bruise still growing on her arm.
Hazel heaved a sigh of relief and punched her good arm, "Don't scare me like that," she said.
"Right- I'll keep that in mind," she said as they passed a house that was already all decked out in halloween decoration. Dove looked away from it. "Halloween is in two weeks time- do they have to start decorating now?" she asked.
Hazel put an arm around her shoulder, "Don't worry about it," she said.
"Easier said than done," Dove muttered, "Anyway-" she said, keeping her eyes on the ground ahead of her, "What are you going to wear for the halloween event?" she asked.
"I dunno if I should go," Hazel said tucking her hands into her pockets, "I mean- you're not going."
Dove nudged her, "Just because I'm not going doesn't mean you shouldn't go and enjoy yourself. Go on. And you can come back and tell me what went down. Maybe sneak something for me to eat too.
"Yeah- I'll be fine. So what are you planning to go as?" she asked.
"How about a vampire?"
"Okay… how about a witch?"
"You don't suit the whole witch image."
"Fine- what do you suggest?"
Hazel gave her a light push in retaliation. They got to the orphanage building and Hazel heaved a sigh, looking up at the sky. It was a beautiful shade of crimson and pink. She was humming to herself and Dove stretched her fingers out in front of her.
Suddenly she spotted something black lying on the the doorstep of the building. She recognised it at once and rushed forward. Kneeling down she picked it up and Hazel spotted her and asked, "What's wrong?"
Dove got up and casually tucked it into the front of her jacket, "Nothing, my shoelace came untied- that's all," she said, "Hurry up. It's your turn to bathe first today and you always take forever," she said. Hazel gave a huff and hurried indoors, "I do not take forever," she said and ran upstairs to take her bathing things before going to the bathroom to the bathroom that was for the older ones to use.
Their dorm was empty by the time Dove got there. She went to her bed and removed her coat before taking out what she had picked from the doorstep.
It was another feather. She pulled the feather she wore in her hair out and compared the two. They were identical. Dove pursed her lips and hid the new feather in the shoebox under her bed with the letter from the day before.
She went down to look for matron and found her trying to pacify Jasmine. The little girl jumped on Dove the moment she saw her and stopped crying for once. "Ow…" Dove said as the girl hung onto her braid.
"Um- matron- can I ask you something?" Dove asked, leaning her head back to lessen the tension that Jasmine had on her hair.
"What is it?"
"Uh- yesterday- ow- there was a weird looking letter for me? The one in that thick- ouch!- yellowing paper? Did you know who sent it?" she asked.
"No. But it wasn't in the post either. It was on the doorstep. Why?"
"Nothing- thanks," Dove said, trying to get Jasmine off her back and hair.
It was strange. Was it just a coincidence that she had found another feather on the spot matron found the feather? Or had the sender left it there for her? Dove tried to ponder it out but it was hard to focus when there was an excitable three year old on her back trying to find out if hair could be removed like a hat.