She was so small. The only thing large about her were her eyes, and they filled her face, grey and solemn like the fog on the moors. At five summers, she was the size of children two summers younger, and she was slight in a way that caused me concern. Not unhealthy, exactly. In truth, she’d never been ill. Not even once. But she was delicate, almost fragile, like a tiny bird. Little bones and small features, a pointy chin and elfin ears. Her pale brown hair, heavy and soft, felt like feathers brushing my face when I held her close, furthering the comparison.
She was my little lark. The name had entered my mind the moment I laid eyes on her, and I accepted it, acknowledging it from the Father of all Words, trusting the name was meant to be.
“What are you doing, Lark?” My voice was sharp, as I intended it to be, but my daughter wasn’t afraid, not even a little bit, though she’d been caught in a place where she shouldn’t be. I was worried she would prick her fingers on the sharp spindle of the spinning wheel or fall from the high, open windows overlooking the courtyard. This was my special room, and I loved it here, especially when she was with me. But she’d disobeyed me in entering alone.
“I’m making poppets,” she answered, her husky voice a comical contrast to her tiny frame. Her pink tongue peeked out between pursed lips, indicating great focus. She wrapped a length of string around the wadded piece of cloth in her hands, creating a head, though a misshapen one. She’d already made its legs and arms and had three more poppets, already constructed, lying next to her on the floor.
“Lark, you know you can’t be here alone. It’s not safe for such a little girl. And you can’t use your words when I am not with you,” I reproached.
“But you were gone so long,” she said, raising woeful eyes to mine.
“Don’t look at me like that. That is no excuse for disobedience.”
She bowed her head and her shoulders fell.
“I’m sorry, Mother.”
“Promise me you will remember and obey.”
“I promise I will remember . . . and obey.”
I waited, letting the promise settle on both of us, etching it into the air so she was bound by her words.
“Now . . . tell me about your poppets.”
“This one loves to dance. She pointed at the lumpy doll to her left. “And this one loves to climb—”
“Like a certain little lark I know,” I interrupted tenderly.
“Yes. Like me. And this one loves jumping.” She held up the smallest one.
“And this one?” I pointed to the poppet she’d just finished.
“This one is a prince.”
“Yes. The Prince of Poppets. And he can fly.”
“Yes. You don’t need wings to fly,” she chirped, repeating something I’d told her.
“What do you need, Daughter?” I asked, quizzing her.
“Words,” she answered, her big, grey eyes alight with knowledge.
“Tell me,” I whispered.
She picked up the poppet nearest her and pressed her lips to the place on the poppet’s chest where its heart would be.
“Dance,” Lark whispered, believing it could. She set it down on the floor and we watched together. The little, cloth doll began to twirl and raise its ill-formed arms and legs, leaping and turning across the room. I laughed softly. Little Lark picked up another.
“Jump,” she urged, pressing the word into the poppet’s breast. It leaped from her hand and bounced soundlessly behind the dancing doll.
She repeated the action, giving a word to the remaining poppets, and we watched in fascination as one doll scrambled up the curtains and the Prince of Poppets flew into the air, arms outstretched like lumpy wings, and darted and dived like a happy bird.
She clapped her tiny hands and danced and jumped with her new friends, and I danced with her. We were so delighted and so lost in the experience that I failed to hear the boots in the hall outside the door until it was almost too late. I’d been foolish—carelessly so. That wasn’t like me.
“Lark, take the words away!” I cried, running to lock the door.
Lark grasped the dancing doll and took its word away, the way I’d taught her, breathing the word into its chest, backward.
“Ecnad,” she said, swallowing it back into herself. The hopping poppet was scampering around her feet, and she scooped it up and whispered “Pmuj.”
There was a pounding at the door, and my servant Boojohni called to me, his voice urgent.
“Lady Meshara! The king is here. Lord Corvyn says ye must come now.”
I caught the climbing poppet as it scaled the rock wall near the heavy door. I tossed it to Lark, and she removed the word as she’d done the others.
“Where is the flyer?” I hissed, searching with frantic eyes, peering up at the high beams and the dark crevices. Then, from the corner of my eye, I spotted it. It had flown through the open window and was flitting like a handkerchief in the breeze. But there was no wind.
“Lady Meshara!” Boojohni was as frantic as we, but for a very different reason.
“Come, Lark. It will be all right. It is too high for others to see. Stay behind me, understand?”
She nodded, and I could see I’d frightened her. There was reason to be afraid. A visit from the king was never welcome. I opened the door and greeted Boojohni demurely. He turned and strode away, knowing I would follow.
Twenty riders were gathered in the wide courtyard of the keep, and my husband was bowing and genuflecting when I arrived with Lark trailing behind my skirts. For one so disdainful of the king, my lord was quick to kiss the king’s boots. Fear made weaklings of us all.