Cam sat on the tree stump outside their home, looking at the house he’d built so long ago. He couldn’t help but smile, remembering a conversation about such things.
“You guys don’t just wander around sleeping under bushes, right?” Duke asked him one evening.
“Not at all. I built our house myself.”
“What is it like?”
“I can give you a picture of it in your mind, if you’d like.” Cam offered.
“Please! I’m curious about how you live.”
He was as adept at sharing images and thoughts as he was at removing them, so he didn’t even need to touch Duke for the transfer to take place. Duke smiled, and sighed contentedly, as the picture took shape in his mind.
“Cam, that is a beautiful home.”
“Thank you, old friend!” He didn’t feel any shame in enjoying Duke’s reactions. It was a well-done house, and he was justifiably proud of his work.
“It looks like a Hobbit hole, crossed with a thatched roof cottage in Stratford-Upon-Avon.”
Now, being an educated person, Cam knew of Shakespeare, and his home in Stratford-Upon-Avon. When it became clear he didn’t understand the reference about Hobbits, Duke sat him down in front of the television, and made him watch DVDs. The “Lord of the Rings” trilogy filled him with home décor plans, strange nightmares featuring Gollum, and a certain amount of awe at human imagination.
Cam’s reverie came to an abrupt halt the moment he felt the singular vibration of Etty’s return.
“I’m not going to bother being angry at you, daughter.”
“Thank you, papa.”
“I do wonder… Are you out of your damned mind?” He couldn’t help raising his voice, or spinning around on the stump. He’d deal with the splinter in his ass later.
Etty stood tall, facing him, and he saw something new in the straight look she gave him. His little girl had found something worth fighting for, and was willing and able to go toe-to-toe with him about it. Sitting there, feeling the weight of her stare, he was compelled to wonder if her choice was more sane than he’d given it credit for.
“No. I am not crazy.” She said. “John Frost is the one I was born to be with.”
“How can you know?”
“You’re a child, and it is our duty as your parents to find you a husband. By custom and practice, we judge the fitness of the match, not you.”
“Perhaps for Shoal, Kassa, Lur, and Murra.” She shook her head. “Not for me.”
“What in the name of frozen piss makes you think that?”
“I am daughter-of-none, papa. You and mama adopted me. Only blood-kin can make a match.”
“You may not be blood of our blood, but you are no less our child. Custom holds fast.”
She shook her head. It was time to tell him something she’d learned moments after John rejoined his friends that morning.
“Papa, I know what I am now.”
Every follicle on Cam Pendy’s body contracted as though he’d caught a chill. In a way, he had.
Etty managed to hold back her laughter, with some effort. Her stern father’s feathers had puffed out, giving him the appearance of a man stuck inside a fluffy eaglet. She knew it wouldn’t help matters to guffaw in the middle of a tense moment.
“I’m First Born, papa.”
“Oh, shit.” Cam said. “How did you find out?”
“I understood it as Brownie was escorting John back to his friends this morning. The puzzle pieces in my heart finally fit together.”
“You know,” he said, smoothing his feathers down, “that is even more reason not to choose a human mate. He can’t remotely handle what you are.”
“And you know someone who could?” She arched a delicate eyebrow, and folded her arms across her breasts. “Oh, and the rest of my family can stop eavesdropping right now! Come out from wherever you’re hiding!”
Moments later, everyone emerged from where they’d been observing the exchange. They assembled alongside their patriarch, wearing individual expressions of embarrassment.
“Darling girl, this is why we need to take time and evaluate partners.” Cam was reaching the bottom of his barrel of excuses.
“I found my partner and I love him.”
“Etty,” Murra spoke up from her father’s side, “do you know anything else about what you are?”
“What do you know?” Murra asked, eager, and terrified all at the same time.
“I know why I’m here, and I know what I can do. They’re the same thing.” Etty dropped her arms, so that her clasped hands rested at her waist. She gave off an air of complete patience and inscrutability.
“Stop keeping us in suspense!” Ginga, her mother, cried out.
“I can break the rules.” Etty smiled.