Doves Don't Cry

By Catherine Rain

The inner chambers of Dunan Castle were windowless and slightly stale, full of dust that hadn’t touched fresh air since the rooms had been open to the north wind. The messenger pigeons cooed unhappily in their cage; the one with shining streaks in its feathers beat restlessly against the needle-thin wires of the cage. What an awful place to keep the pigeons. Apple gazed at them with sympathy, wondering whether they could be moved to an area with more sunlight. She was used to the darkness, but for the birds, it must be stultifying. But then—what did she really know about pigeons, anyway?

They’re ill-bred doves. She snickered at the dark irony of the peaceful doves being used for war. It was a lovely metaphor, though she really ought not to make light of the matter. Yet her joke wasn’t really frivolous. Knowing full well that she ought to be serious about it, almost quivering with the intensity of how serious it was, she wanted to laugh all the more, as though the gravity made it funnier than it otherwise would be. It wasn’t that funny, objectively, was it? She only laughed because it was so important.

Normally, when she laughed so hard at such things, she had an inner reason. Did the metaphor apply to herself? No, it had nothing to do with her. She knew she was no symbol of peace. But common birds, picked up off the street and trained—that, she would know about.

Sighing, she reminded herself to stop the unproductive line of thought. She let her mind wander away from the subject of pigeons, and immediately the thought she’d been trying to avoid crashed into her mind: Leon Silverberg.

Seemingly at random, she remembered his involvement with a discomfiting wrench of her gut. She hadn’t heard of him in years, and she had preferred it that way. He was bad, evil—no, no, not bad, she reminded herself, and not evil. He was—what? Wrong? No, she couldn’t even say that, not this time around. The only correct way to say it would be “infuriating.” The whole damned family was infuriating. That family had broken the one good person amongst them. They were a flock of squabbling, unsettling, interfering—well-bred pigeons. That was it. She hadn’t thought of Leon at random, after all; it was the metaphor her brain had been trying to uncover. And here she’d been trying to avoid the subject—perhaps, though, her mind would not let it go until she worked through what was bothering her. She didn’t even know what she felt. Her heart was a tangled mess that she wanted to avoid, but better now than later. Now was the time to sort it out, before she had to act on feelings she did not understand.

It was unpleasant. But it would also be unpleasant to sit here waiting, pretending she was fine.

Her anger with Leon was a personal matter. No, she corrected herself. She actually did not feel angry with Leon. She thought him horrible, but he did not horrify her. He had not harmed her. She detested him officially because he was, in her opinion, a bad person. That was to say, bad at being a person: inhumane. It was not a personal matter.

No, he wasn’t the Silverberg with whom she had a personal problem.

Without deliberation, she walked towards the wooden dresser sitting by her cot. Her hands wandered to a wooden box. No, she thought, picking up the box and flicking open the tiny brass clasp. My personal problem is something else.

Swaths of red tissue paper, crushed from being unfolded and tightly packed into the box countless times, uncrinkled at the careful touch of her fingernails. Do I have a personal problem? With her?

Apple unfolded the final layer of tissue paper, and extricated a small, shiny object from the center of the box. It was so precious she could hardly breathe naturally while holding it. The engraved lines on the back of the triangular shape seemed like random marks—unless you knew what it was.

Had she worn this earring? Did she always keep it close to her? Where was it made, and how excused?

So small, so deadly.

Apple had once hated the object. When Master McDohl had given it to her, she’d stopped hating him, and started hating the earring. It was all she had left to be angry at. A tiny bull’s eye, cherished and feared… the young master had not wanted the earring, had not wanted to be the leader of Toran. He hadn’t made provisions for those he left behind, had simply taken off as if the troubles could be so simply lifted from his shoulders. They never would be, though: not his, and not Apple’s either. She had seen the confusion left behind him. She had tried to help clean up what he had left, took care of whatever problems they would give her, which was not much. She had been “company,” not trusted with much, perhaps rightfully so—she a fledgling still straining to see beyond the scope of what she had been taught, her presence so useless that she left before long. She had seen the problems left to the fledgling republic—but it was not the young master’s fault. He was a human figure, not a guide of nations. And he had given the earring, not to some probable successor, but to the one who would cherish it the most.

Cherish it, she now did, out of long familiarity and deep significance. She had hated it at first—hated it the moment she heard the story of the owner’s last request, just as she had hated that owner for a long time.

But do I hate her now? No, but I have a problem. A personal problem.

She clutched it more tightly in frustration. She wanted to slam her fist against the dresser, but the walls were paper-thin; someone might hear and ask what the trouble was. She wanted to be undisturbed. Her hands trembled. She had hated Odessa Silverberg with a cruel passion. Perhaps the woman didn’t deserve it, but she had been so… selfish… no, not selfish. Infuriating. It was the only word. Odessa hadn’t been wrong, admittedly, but she hadn’t been right either. She had meddled with so many people’s lives. She had dragged a peaceful dove into the thick of war. The Liberation War, the Jowston invasion, the Highland invasion… even now they conducted another bloodbath as a result of Odessa’s interference. Because she had taken a peaceful spirit and trussed it with guilt and forced it to fight. Damn it, I don’t have a brother, so I don’t know. If I did, would I treat him that way? Apple was not a natural peacekeeper. She tried to act with compassion—tried her hardest—but she had never been made for a quiet life. They told us that at Soledt, the very first day. We are not made for peace. We are made for war. Were they wrong? Did Mathiu hear that too, as he was growing up? Did they lie to us, or did they underestimate the soul of that bloodied dove?

She had known generally kind people and generally cruel people, but she had only known one person she would have called unequivocally good. He was dead now, because his sister had pulled him right into the line of fire, and that same strong conscience that made him love peace would not let him refuse to join the war. He was dead and never coming back. He could never teach anyone how to see his light, because he was gone now… gone because of her. All right, Apple was angry, but… but…

But was it really at Odessa? The woman had not been selfish; Apple had to concede that much. She had only been making a sacrifice for what she thought was right. That was why she didn’t deserve hatred. And Mathiu had said… he had said he was “saved” by Odessa. Somehow, her beliefs had helped even Mathiu see something he had not yet seen. Infuriating though the whole matter was, it wasn’t Odessa causing the problem. Apple had known this for a while, and yet… when she thought of Leon, she thought of the family troubles… If I am not as highborn as a Silverberg, at least I can live my life without Mathiu being angry at me. The thought made her laugh again despite, or because of, her pain.

No, she thought in a moment when her heart felt almost free of sorrow. I’m not upset with Odessa. Perhaps I’m upset that I never had the chance to see in her what Mathiu did. Perhaps it’s just that Odessa was part of the light I never could glimpse, the light I’m still struggling to see. I don’t understand any of it; I missed all that mattered. If I could talk to her, ask her what she thinks—but I can’t, any more than I can talk to Mathiu, now. All the passageways are blocked. I’m caught in darkness, scrabbling for the light.

She looked down at the familiar earring, the target of so much of her hate and hope and sorrow and memory. Perhaps she should just put it away. She packed it back inside the box and closed the lid tightly, trying to close it on her heart as well. It wasn’t doing her any good to sit here and wail in silent pain. Shu would be upstairs, now, working… he would say something vaguely sympathetic-sounding, and change the subject… he would scorn her if he knew how great her pain was; Mathiu’s opinion had meant so little to him… oh, if he would only understand. She wondered whether she could change his mind. Perhaps he could never understand… or perhaps he could… but how could she show him that light when the source was gone?

Oh, Master Mathiu, please, please, guide me… oh, if only you were here. Tears welled up and tingled along the rims of her eyes. She blinked carefully and put fingers to her eyes beneath her glasses, rubbing them, trying to withhold the tears. I must not cry. There is no use whatsoever in crying. It won’t bring anyone back. I must control myself. Damn it, if I can’t control myself, if I can’t even control my own tears, have I learned nothing? Have I learned nothing at all? I must not cry.

Do what she might, she could not staunch the flow of silent tears.

Catherine Rain's Fanfiction