The sound of wings flapping and talons scraping across the tile floor echoed throughout the household. Occasionally, the sounds would be punctuated by bursts of giggling laughter as three young girls, sisters of whom the eldest no more than ten, tussled with each other, chasing themselves throughout the halls and rooms as they played. The commotion carried through the quiet of the late afternoon creating a pleasant, almost soothing, atmosphere instead of a cacophony.
“Aha! I caught you!” The Eldest said, wrapping her wings around the middle of the sisters, a girl eight years. “You’re not getting away from me this time!”
“Aww no fair!” The captured child pouted, falling into the embrace of her elder sister’s golden wings. She grumbled to herself a few times before looking to her younger sister and saying, “Hey! You need to keep running, she’ll catch you too!”
The youngest girl, a mere six years of age watched the scene with interest, placing a clawed finger at the end of her wing to the bronzed skin of her cheek. She shuffled about on taloned feet, the clicking of her nails on the tile furthering her agitation as she said, “Awww geez, I don’t know. I’ve never been able to outrun big sis.”
“Bah.” The middle child said, sighing as she was released by her sister. “What a bore, you’re going to have to get more adventurous someday, or how do you expect to stand before people and…” She waggled her hips, though undeveloped as they were, the show was rather unimpressive. “Excite men with your dancing?”
“Hush.” The eldest said, giving her sister half-hearted swipe of her wing. “She’s too young for these things, and so are you.”
“Hmph! Just because YOU have some tits already doesn’t mean you can boss me around!”
“I…I never! That’s not why I’m doing this at all, I am your elder sister, and because of that, you should listen to what I have to say and-“
“Oh lookit me, I’m such a refined lady bossing around little children, la di da di.”
The two bickered like this back and forth, leaving the youngest girl to hold out a wing timidly, voice caught in her throat. “U…uh, d…don’t f…fight and ah…ahhh.” She began to tear up a little, as the conflict escalated, unable to stop it. As her tears started to roll a gentle, yet firm, voice came in from the other room.
“Children, stop that and come here.”
The girls all stopped in place, their eyes going wide with the tell-tale signs of children caught performing mischief. They all looked at each other, not willing to be the first to move, or perhaps thinking that if they stood still, they’d be ignored. It was a vain hope, of course.
“I know you’re in there, I can smell you.”
The two older girls sighed in disappointment before slinking away with slumped shoulders to the room across the hallway, the door already open. The eldest sister paused at the doorway and turned about to see the youngest standing behind her, wiping at her eyes with her wing.
“I…is Granny mad at us?”
The eldest struggled with her emotions, but before she could speak, their Grandmother said, “No, of course not dearie, now come inside.”
The two girls looked at each other with doubtful expressions before the eldest put a wing around her sister and led her in. The room was nothing special, four walls, a window, a simple bed with a old, wing-stitched quilt on it, and a vanity with little but a jewelry box upon it. The only other addition to the room was a rocking chair where an old woman sat, rocking back and forth as the children gathered around.
Like the girls, she was not human, but instead a type of Harpy, with wings of golden feathers now faded to copper where human arms would be and aged, but strong, avian legs ending in talons. The skin of her human-like torso was bronzed, more so than the girls, yet instead of the smoothness of youth, she had many wrinkles and her bust slumped down with the weight of age. Despite all of this, she gave off an impressively quiet serenity and beauty shaped by the years.
She sighed and stretched her wings forward, joints popping and creaking as she did so. “Come here little one, I’m not mad at you.”
The youngest girl looked at her sisters timidly before wiping at her eyes and walking up to her Grandmother. She shuffled about, putting her wings behind her as she dragged her talon on the floor and said, “I’m… I’m sorry.”
“Oh dearest Emma, what do you have to be sorry for? You only wanted to stop your sisters from fighting, didn’t you?” The other two stiffened and looked down with ashamed expressions as their Grandmother chuckled, “Ahaha, yes I was once young too, I know what trouble you three get into. Of course, I have to wonder why you’re fighting?”
The eldest stood up straighter, thrusting out her modest chest. “I told Kimberly that she was too young to be thinking of perverted things, and-“
“Oh that’s dumb you big tattle-tale, Isabelle!” Kimberly said, turning on her sister. “You’re over there showing off all the time, and you’re only two years older than I am!”
“And two years wiser!”
“Why I oughtta…”
“Children….” The elder Harpy began, and they both froze before looking down again.
“Sorry Granny Irina…” They said in unison.
Their Grandmother sighed and shook her head. “Ah, you children grow up so fast. I remember when your Mother used to bicker like this with your Aunt. It’s natural, I suppose, but all the same, you should not be in too much of a hurry to grow up.”
“But we’re Gandharvas…” Kimberly said, pouting. “We’re supposed to be all sensual and sexy.”
“Mmm, perhaps, when you’re adults, yes. You too will be beautiful like your Mother, but let me say that beauty is not everything that makes a Gandharva.”
“Y…you mean our singing, right?” Emma said, and Irina smiled, ruffling the little girl’s red hair with a wing.
“That’s right. Yes, like all Monsters you will be beautiful, but if you fixate upon that you will miss out on some of the greatest experiences of your life.” She raised an eyebrow and looked at the other two girls who began to look embarrassed. She watched them for a few moments before sighing and patting her chair. “Come around then children.”
They looked between each other with surprised expressions, but quickly gathered close to sit on the ground as she gestured them to do so. She turned, with some effort, to an object previously hidden behind the vanity, an instrument case, and pulled it onto her lap, opening the latches with practiced ease.
Inside the case sat a guitar, old and worn, but made of excellent craftsmanship and well taken care of. The strings upon the instrument seemed as if they were freshly strung, and the wood carefully waxed, giving the device a rustic charm that made the children’s eyes widen. The elder Gandharva tuned the instrument for a few moments before strumming the strings. A low, soft sound played through the room and the faces of the three young girls lit up with anticipation.
Irina smiled and looked over the gathered children. “Have I told you three how I met your Grandfather?” They shook their heads, eager looks upon their face. They had not known their Grandfather, for he died years before even Isabelle was born, so all they had were some pictures and stories told sporadically by their Mother. To have a new story, especially one like this from their Grandmother… well, they were rather interested to say the least.
The elder took a moment to breathe before strumming the guitar softly, producing a wistful note as she began to speak.
“The story begins when I was young, younger than your Mother even, back in the old country. True, I had looks, and my beauty was well admired, but back there, gorgeous Monsters were everywhere. Still, I was quite proud of my appearance, and eventually I wanted to travel the land to show off and find love, despite my Mother’s protests.”
She plucked at the guitar again, this time producing more notes and creating a progressive melody, conveying a sense of adventure and restlessness. She smiled as she played and continued to speak. “When I was oh, eighteen or so, I eventually thought myself too good for my Mother’s advice and flew away from home, foolish girl I was, taking nothing with me but my charm. I found out quite quickly however that charm only gets you so far.”
The chords changed and the song began to take a downturn, and her expression became somber. “I soon became destitute and miserable, living on handouts while finding shelter in the streets. It was not an easy time, and I do not look fondly upon it, but I was still full of youthful pride, and I would not return home, not in shame.”
She strummed this sad tune for a few chords longer, and the children looked at her with distraught expressions. When their worries hit the high point, she stopped suddenly, and they looked up, as if broken out of a trance. Irina smiled broadly, “That all changed when I met your Grandfather.”
She began again, this time with an airy sound, as if the music were dancing upon a cloud.
“He found me one day, as I was leaving a tavern where I was trying to earn some food. He was an average merchant of the town, dealing in simple wares, but the first time I laid eyes upon him, I was in love. Why? Well, why do any of us fall in love, I wonder?”
“He gave me food, and shelter in his home, though he did not know me. It was the kindest gesture anyone had any shown me since I had arrived in that town, and soon he allowed me to work for him in his shop, helping clean up and the like. Ah, but with each passing day, I grew to love him more and more.”
Irina shifted her wings ever so slightly, and the light, airy tone of the music became dull, though it carried the same rhythm. The children noticed the change, and their looks became concerned. They looked to her with confusion and worry, and she sighed, her voice melancholy. “He did not see it though.”
“So I went back to what I knew. I tried to use my looks to sway him, swinging my hips when I walked, bending over very-, well, needless to say, he took no notice, and as my love grew, so did my sorrow. Did he not love me the way I loved him? Was he not attracted to my looks? Or did he merely think of me as nothing more than the poor girl he picked up off the street?”
“Eventually my heart began to sink, and I was where I had been before, perhaps not in health, but in spirit. I had begun to despair, for if he would not look at me and see my love, then what else could I do? I had not the courage to tell him outright, and yet I could feel him slipping away from me.”
The rhythm grew faster, more frantic, and the children’s eyes went wide, their hearts beating quickly in their chests. What would happen? Surely the story has to have a happy ending, but they were so engrossed, they could not be sure!
“One day he was offered a business partnership in another town, and he had to travel with the possiblity of never coming back. I realized that I would lose him forever if I did not act soon! Yet I could think of nothing short of forcing myself upon him, and I knew he was not the man who would appreciate it, he did not have that personality. I fretted and wore myself thin until the last day.”
“As he was packing his belongings, I watched in defeat, letting all that I ever wanted slip away. I remembered my Mother’s warnings, and I cursed myself for being such a fool of a girl! Yet as I wallowed in grief, those memories of my Mother stirred something within me, and I remembered the gift inside, the one my Mother told me nurture, but that I had forgotten…”
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath before slowing her strumming again and casting the room in a calm as the new sound played. The melody was soft and gentle, yet it did not quell the ache in the hearts of the children, and instead merely drove them to catch their breath, almost in shock. Their Grandmother opened her eyes and spoke, almost in a whisper, “I did the only thing I could. I sang.”
She took in a deep breath and, with the music still playing, began to sing.
“Restless wings, they beat this tune
My breath grows faint, I know not to do.
I feel my heart, beat hard and fast,
If I keep quiet, twill be my last.
Autumn winds, with change they bring
I must grow strong, and thus I sing.
This song is love, to you I give
Laid bare to you, my hopes do live.
Quiet and soft, I thought to be seen
But now I know, the fool I’ve been.
I sing again, these words to you
That you may say, you love me too.”
Irina took a shuddering breath as she finished the song, and her wings glided over the strings one last time until the music faded away to nothing. She opened her eyes slowly and swallowed once before giving a wan smile and looking out to the children. They sat there, mouths open, eyes twinkling with wonder, though poor little Emma had tears there again. Irina reached down, though it made her back ache, and wiped away the a tears from the little girl’s eyes.
“What did he say?” The youngest sister asked as she sniffed and wiped her nose on her wing.
“Why, he said yes, of course.” Her Grandmother said. “It was not my grandest performance, but it was spur of the moment. I remember the way he shook his head and looked at me with gentle approval and said, ‘I’ve been waiting for that.'”
She chuckled and shook her head, “I almost slapped the man, but instead I kissed him until he couldn’t breathe!”
The sisters all giggled at that, and Irina smiled again. “Well, now do you see why beauty isn’t everything? I’ve heard both of you sing, and you have great talent! I’m sure you will too, little dearie.” She ruffled Emma’s head before sighing. “Now then, why don’t you go downstairs, I believe your mother will want help setting the table soon.”
“Alright Granny.” The two elder sisters said in unison before hopping up and exiting the room, this time in good spirits. Emma made to follow, but she paused and turned around to give the elder Gandharva a frown.
“Aren’t you coming?”
Irina gave Emma a wan smile before setting down her guitar and sighing. “I’ll be down shortly dearie. Go help your sisters.”
“Alright… uhm, for what it’s worth though, I think you still sing very nice.”
Irina closed her eyes and said in a soft voice, “Thank you dearie.” Emma nodded and then skipped off to help her sisters, leaving the room nearly empty again. The aged Monster sighed and grunted as she lifted up the guitar case again, making ready to put the instrument back when she paused, looking at something inside the case. With shaking wings, she picked up a small black and white photograph , and looked at it for a long time before gently kissing it and placing the picture back into the case along with her guitar.
“After all these years.” She said, wiping a tear from her eye. “I still remember our song.”