The other wayfarers were eyeing Gwin, all of them shameless about it. Not just because he was the only Avian waiting in the mayor’s antechamber, but because he was a Red Markison.
There were over a hundred races of Avian across the world, with far more visual distinctions than human races. Dramatic differences in crests, wingspan, height, body composition, and–especially–color made it difficult for the average human to keep up, so many didn’t even try. Instead, they fell back on a handful of misconceptions. Ideas like dun-colored Avian being more intelligent than their bright-colored peers–possibly because of how common brown-feathered Dallings were. Or maybe because Dallings and other such birdpeople were closest to human skin colors.
Whatever the reason, there was a very real chance that, despite Gwin’s sharp eyes, and the Avian-altered armor he wore, the mayor of Greybrush would only see his bright red feathers. Or the inhuman shape of his torso. The bare talons of his feet. The mayor might, like the worst of humanity, just see an animal. A pretty beast, trained to follow Elise around and repeat what she said on command. Gwin would absolutely despise that . . . even though he called himself a “pretty beast” every single time he found a mirror.
Elise knew he wouldn’t do anything violent, but Avian were naturally prideful, and they held a completely different, entirely personal view of society. Gwin, no doubt, wouldn’t have spared a second for the mayor–or even the king himself–if Elise hadn’t convinced him they should.
She took it as a good sign that they made it to the mayor’s chamber without incident. But then they were ushered in, and the mayor was an old white man. The kind who used to chase Elise away from their shops in Albrook for the crime of looking at his wares while also being a dark-skinned child.
He was on his feet immediately, saying “Welcome, welcome,” offering a hand and gesturing to his seats. Elise shook his hand . . . and then watched the old man offer it to Gwin.
“He doesn’t have hands,” she said.
And the mayor chuckled a bashful, “Of course,” as he sat down without apologizing.
Gwin looked at her, sidelong, saying nothing, but walking away from his spot in front of the mayor’s desk, considering a nearby bookshelf instead; if there had been any chance the mayor would earn a spot on Gwin’s pecking order, it was already lost.
“I want to thank you for what you did the other day,” the old man said, just to her. “I don’t think Greybrush would’ve survived that rhind attack if not for your help.”
“We did what needed to be done,” Elise said. “We wouldn’t be wayfarers if we just watched the trouble.”
The mayor chuckled again. “Your bird was particularly impressive.”
Ugh. Gwin didn’t turn around, but his feathers bristled–a shudder that rushed over him.
“Did you train it to hunt?”
“His master trained him–to be a wayfarer.”
The old man smiled like it was a joke. “So you bought it then?”
My . . . god. “He’s my–” she started to say.
But the floorboards were shaking in rhythm to a chuckle. Gwin shook his head. “You are trying . . . so hard with this genuine idiot.”
The mayor was wide-eyed, mouth hanging open.
“He just doesn’t know better,” Elise said, still trying so hard to be patient, knowing that, somewhere in this meeting, there was a reward–or maybe a job offer. She could do with settling down in a small town for a few months.
But Red Markisons didn’t care about making homes, and Avian in general had zero tact for those they didn’t respect. That lack of care was always so liberating for Elise.
So she just watched Gwin chuckle. “Of course not. He doesn’t know anything. One look at that stupid fucking face, and it’s obvious.”
There was a moment where she tried to hold in the laughter . . . but she just couldn’t. Such an absurd, terrible thing to say that would solve absolutely none of their problems.
And the mayor, all balk and sputter. “Are you–is he–it–talking about me?”
She laughed harder, and Gwin joined her, his head rocking back.
When they were done, Gwin shook his head. “Come on. Let’s get out of here.”
A part of Elise wanted to turn, bow, thank the mayor for his audience. A much smaller part of her thought that she should apologize for laughing at him.
In the end, she just sighed. “Yeah, fuck it,” she said, and followed Gwin out of the chamber without looking back.
A few weeks back, on a snowy day here in New York, I took a walk with coworkers who are both bird enthusiasts. Idle chat about bird behaviors stoked the nerd fire in my fat soul, and I decided I wanted to try my hand at a fantasy bird race–if only because I’ve never seen a story that made them unapologetically inhuman.
In my experience, animal people in Fantasy are often just humanoid with animal heads. Worse, they’re very, very often presented as a replacement for existing human races and the social issues they face (i.e. the Khajiit and Argonians from Elder Scrolls standing in for human minorities, thus animalizing those minorities and devaluing their struggles).
Naturally, I fucking hate that. However, I thought it would be really interesting if a Fantasy animal-person race didn’t replace an existing race or shoulder their issues, but, instead, complimented them. Thus, this scene, which proposes a Fantasy race of bird people who were wildly, intentionally different from all human races, paired with a dark-skinned character who wasn’t.
If you enjoyed this experiment, and want to see more posts like this, or the other strange, manic writings of an adult man trying to get his life in order and get published at the same time, well, fuck, go ahead and hit that subscribe button on the sidebar to the left of this page. Or feel free to follow me on Twitter @LSantiagoAuthor.
Either way, thanks for reading, and, as always, write well.