It was quiet inside Yann’s home, thanks to the walls built from solidified clouds muffling sound. The wind gently moved the whole island she had built, creating a soothing motion, if you were used to it.
And Yann was used to it. Her life in a cloud home did not leave her as free as she had dreamed. She still needed to go down to the surface to trade for food and firewood. She had even tethered her home to a mountain, after a storm had blown her island so high in the sky she had nearly starved before managing to lower it far enough to reach the ground safely. But with the dawn fig tree in her yard having started to bear fruit, and her flute playing to attract birds got better and better, her trips to the surface grew rarer again.
She was happy living her life as a hermit, because it removed her from worrying about warbands and similar threats.
It did mean there rarely was anyone to talk to, besides birds, who did not make good conversationalists. But any company was better than none, so one crisp summer day, Yann sat on the low wall around the yard of her little flying island, feet out on the still fluffy-looking cloud fragments she had not cut into bricks, and played.
The song wound out of her flute like a ribbon and danced on the wind, making it impossible to predict where exactly the invitation would be heard. It drew in a few pigeons who sat next to her and started to coo. It was too early in the year for the autumn migration, and too late for the spring migration, so there was no chance of geese, but maybe the eagle she’d seen occasionally was close enough. It had brought her its kill, once, but she could not convince it to do so regularly. Ah, well, birds had their own lives.
There was the rushing sound of wind crossing mighty wings, yet louder than the approach of an eagle. A shadow passed across Yann, and when she turned to look for its source, she saw the biggest bird she had ever encountered landing on her house, making the island sway just a little bit more. With long legs it stood as tall as a human, the wingspan wide as her roof. Its back was black, the legs a greyish brown.
Yann’s song faded as she lost her focus in face of awe. The bird turned, opening a short, wide beak to reveal human lips instead of a tongue and maw. “You play nice. Can you play some more?” Her voice was loud but flat, harsh. She squatted on the lintel and looked at Yann with tilted head.
“Will you tell me your story if I play for you?”
“A bit of it, yes, that would be a fair trade.”
Not offering payment first made clear the woman-bird expected Yann to pay up first, so she did, playing a cheerful but mundane song.
“There is no magic in that,” the bird complained.
“No, there wasn’t. But I played some more.”
The great bird laughed. “A trick! A trick! But I shall tell you something about me: I made my wings myself!”
“That is a great feat.” At Yann’s words, the bird fluffed up its feathers and preened. “I made this island myself.”
“You did? That is interesting!”
“Would you like to stay awhile, as my guest? We could swap stories.” And maybe secrets of magic.
“Yes? Yes! I have not been a guest in a long while. Please teach me to be a good guest, Whistler.”
Matching her guest on manners as far as names are concerned, Yann answered, “I shall do my best, Wingwright.”