Thomasin Wilmot sat beside her window in Bernauer Manor, counting the rock-doves alongside the weeping cedar trees. She made a point to do so every morning, refusing her other duties until every bird was accounted for.
She quite liked the birds. They told her the future.
She was situated on the ground floor, which provided a clear view of the rock-doves ambling along the cobble. When she looked skyward, the perching bluebirds looked back. Thomasin basked in the sunlight, unaware of the boy marching in behind her.
“What are we foreseeing now? Queen’s final pick for Court magicians?”
Thomasin turned to face the boy standing over her. He fit the perfect image of a Bernauer Noble, with his tall stature and sharp jaw, save for his untamable black hair and round wire glasses.
“Dinner with the House of Clarimond tomorrow,” Thomasin said, her voice thick with monotony.
“I suppose you didn’t mix up a grackle and a starling again?” The boy said with a smile.
Thomasin called him something that Lady Bernauer would’ve scolded her for. “I don’t suppose you’d like to identify them, Quint?”
Quintessence Bernauer —who tried to rectify the name by insisting on the sobriquet ‘Quint’— had the misfortune of calling Thomasin his closest friend. You had to stick with people your age, he rationalized, even if they were supposed to be your servants.
“I jest,” Quint said as his smile became nervous. Thomasin narrowed her eyes at him, the signal to change the subject. “How many birds?”
Thomasin turned her head skyward. “Three crows in the furthest cedar from the horizon,” she paused. “That’s not good.”
“For something so bad, you sound alarmingly unconcerned.”
Thomasin hadn’t expected much from the prediction or the Clarimonds, especially when paired with the Bernauers they found rivalry in. Both Houses had taken to The Hollow, a tenebrous settlement at the lowermost point of the Vale. They fell into a rapid spiral of seizing as much land as possible —the House with the most kept in close ties with the Queen, the foremost piece in the game of chess that every nobleman seemed to play. Thomasin kept this in due consideration as she chose her next words.
“The birds will keep us safe. If they can predict a problem they can predict a solution. Look at the rock-doves, ten of ‘em by the tree. Ten for a bird I mustn’t miss Once I find that bird I’ll know how to keep us safe tomorrow.”
Quint swallowed hard before speaking. “And if you can’t find it?”
“I will, I always do. My whole life is augury, and I’m rather good at it.”
“What do you suppose’ll happen tomorrow?” Quint said, wracking his mind for preceding instances of birds of three.
“Anything of direful nature. Perhaps Lord Clarimond will simply seize your father’s territory, or—” she went quiet, as if the silence could speak for her. “I trust the birds,” she continued. “I’ll be able to portend a solution by tomorrow. I just need to find that bird.”
Thomasin turned away from Quint, lifting her head skyward once more. Above the trees and into the heavens no birds had taken to the sky.
The moon reached its peak in the sky, but Quint was far from anything resembling sleep. He laid on his bed in his chamber, the moonlight washing over him, mulling over yesterday’s prophecy. The words blurred in his mind, unfocused and unable to come to solid resolve.
Quint found himself praying that sleep would finally arise when something abruptly hurtled against his window. He jumped up from his position, pitching forward and stumbling face-first onto his cedarwood floors. His glasses cracked against the ground, and when he fixed their position upon his head he nearly collapsed with panic when he saw three birds standing before him.
Quint clambered back to his feet, his glasses sliding down the bridge of his nose and revealing the cracked glass had distorted his vision. Before him was a lone bluebird, a fledgling, unharmed and unafraid.
“Shouldn’t you be asleep? There’s no use in being up and out this late. Though I suppose that could be said of me too…”
Then it hit him, the same sort of understanding that Thomasin had become accustomed to.
Ten for a bird you mustn’t miss!
Quint knew what he had to do.
Quint stood by the door of the Dining Hall, having just been scolded by his mother for breaking his glasses. If she knew he had a bluebird cupped in his hands she would’ve gone faint. He squirmed under the bird’s movement, which was noticed by Thomasin, who stood beside him in waiting for the other House.
“What’s the matter Quint, the Clarimond kid caught your eye?”
Quint’s face flashed red. “That doesn’t matter, aren’t you concerned about the omen? Something terrible will happen tonight!”
“I told you, trust the birds! I’ll figure something ou—”
Thomasin’s eyes went glassy as she leaned back against the wall. Quint drew in a breath and showed her the bluebird in his hands, his eyes darting back to make sure that no one was watching.
“A bird I mustn’t miss,” she mumbled under her breath. “Bluebirds. Bluebirds mean transformation, change, a switch!”
She snapped upright and out of her trance. “I know how to avert disaster tonight, there’s something we need to switch.”
“What is it, what’s going to happen?”
“I can’t make it out, but we need to switch something out with haste! Keep your eyes open, and do keep a handle on that bird.”
A servant cleared his throat, beckoning the attention of all in the room. “Noblemen of the Bernauer Line, introducing the House of Clarimond.”
The two returned to attention under the facade nothing had happened, Quint joining the table with his hands behind his back as the House of Clarimond took the seats opposite them. A servant offered Lord Clarimond a drink as he began to talk of deals with Lord Bernauer.
“I know you’re stubborn, but surely we can work something out.” he said with a smile. Lord Clarimond’s hand lingered over one chalice before deciding on the other. The servant passed the remaining chalice to Lord Bernauer while the first man continued.
“I suggest we split the territory, I preside over the north while you take the south.”
Quint kept the bluebird in his hands, refusing the wine offered to him lest he reveal the fledgling’s presence. His eyes were fixed on Lord Clarimond, and they widened in terror when he understood what happened.
“The chalice, there’s something in the chalice!” He whispered so that only Thomasin could hear.
Thomasin’s eyes went wide with revelation. “That’s what we need to switch!”
Quint kept the bird in one hand and with the other banged his fist against the underside of the table. Lord Bernauer’s chalice toppled from the disturbance, the contents inside dyeing the tablecloth scarlet.
“What was that?!”
“Oh dear, let me get you some more wine!” Thomasin took up the chalice before he could protest, a bit of wine still obscuring the bottom of the cup.
In the kitchen, Thomasin held the chalice up to the candlelight. Resting in the bottom of Lord Bernauer’s cup was a tiny pearl, the same shade of violet as an early spring sunrise. The foxglove pearl had already begun its work, leeching its poison into the wine.
Thomasin swore under her breath, dumping the poisoned drink into the sink and pouring wine into a new chalice. She took a small cloth from one of the drawers and wrapped the pearl inside, stuffing it into her pocket as she hastily returned to the table.
“Sincerest apologies for the wait,” Thomasin said, returning the chalice. She shot Lord Clarimond a look, and in that moment he knew: she had uncovered the pearl. He grew pale before falling back into a facade of poise.
The rest of the night wittered on, the Clarimond Line simply relying on their own wits to take the Hollow rather than that of pearls and poisoners. Thomasin couldn’t help but notice Lord Clarimond stumbling over his words, glancing over at his rival’s clean cup.
When the moon found its place in the sky once more the day’s events drew to a close, both lines leaving with a handshake and a clear territorial map. Lord Bernauer smiled, he would leave with more land than he gave. The two Houses withdrew in final farewells, talking amongst themselves on matters that Thomasin didn’t care to understand.
Lord Clarimond withdrew from his kin and made his way over to the door, where Thomasin carried silverware to the kitchens. As he reached out for her shoulder Lord Bernauer caught hold of the situation, pulling the other lord out of reach from his servant. From the depths of the kitchen she could hear the confrontation; Thomasin could practically see Lord Clarimond shrinking back.
Thomasin removed the pearl from her pocket and uncovered it. She smiled. The birds never lied.