Excerpt: ‘We, the Ravens of Bai Gao Lou’ by Russell Hemmell

 

I’d like to share another excerpt from Insignia: Asian Birds & Beasts. This one is a bird story from returning author, Russell Hemmell.

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WE, THE RAVENS OF BAI GAO LOU

 

I can’t avert my gaze from her, while she stands in front of the iron portal—her neck fierce and erect, her eyes shut not in fear but in refusal. Waiting to enter without reclining her head, knowing too well it’s going to be a one-way movement. But not a sound comes out from that mouth so many have desired to kiss. Pale lips with a suave smile, the queen looks at me, and her irises shine like a thousand moons in a winter night.

They push her forward, and she walks inside. Without a lament.

The Traitor’s Gate closes behind her.

She is lost! my winged siblings scream while circling in the sky. Nobody comes back from the Bai Gao Lou, the Mighty White Tower.

Nor will you, green-eyed queen from a far-away land.

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I approach again, flitting around the rooftop, peering inside the minuscule windows. They’re made in ways that prevent a comfortable view of the court, those windows, and she needs to stand in an uncomfortable position to reach them. She can’t see me, either.

It’s a cold and nasty place, her secluded house in the Tower. The rags on the floor and tapestry on the walls that should keep it warm have all been taken away. There are organic pigment and insects mixed with blood in the old frescoes, to suggest unspoken horrors and weaken her resolve.

And today, they have put severed heads on the Traitor’s Gate, like pieces of Sunday roast on a spike. Them. Them, she can see.

I fly lower, to glimpse at the queen. Her eyes are transfixed; she looks outside, at a point in the horizon—at those short, happy days of her realm, of unbound extravaganza, unbridled lust, glimmering revelries.

Her heyday lasted just that, a day.

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Russell Hemmell is a statistician and social scientist from Scotland, passionate about astrophysics and speculative fiction. Recent publications in Aurealis, The Grievous Angel, Third Flatiron, and others. Find her online at her blog earthianhivemind.net and on Twitter @SPBianchini and @RxHemmell.

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