Winter lifted off from her perch on the branch of a tree, her eyes and mind fixed on the bird cage on the other side of the garden.
“Hey,” Spring called after her, “where are you going?”
“To see the birds,” she called back.
Below her, on the grass, she saw Leviathan stood wagging his tail and looking up at her.
She waved down to him, and he seemed to take that as a message that he was welcome to follow, because he started plodding after her.
She smiled, liking him more and more.
She landed on a tree branch that was close to the wire of the bird cage. There were three pink birds that she could see, three white ones, and four grey. They were all different shapes and sizes, but they all looked sad.
“Hello,” she said. “My name’s Winter. Can I talk to you for a while?” She was nervous that they wouldn’t want to talk to her, so she tried to ask as politely as she could.
Spring landed beside her, and gazed at the birds.
One of the white birds looked up from a perch slightly below Winter’s branch. “Hello, fairy. I don’t recognise you. Are you new here?”
“I am,” she said. “I came with some friends, we’re just visiting.”
“Oh,” it said, and flew up to a perch a bit higher, so that they were more or less level with each other. “What do you want to talk about?”
“Do you mind being in this cage?”
The bird cooed sadly. “No. But we can’t leave. This is where we have to stay. You are lucky you’re free.”
She was, she realised. “What’s your name?”
“Merl. It’s nice to meet you Winter.”
“It’s nice to meet you, too, Merl.”
Another bird landed beside Merl, one of the pink birds. “Who is this?” it asked. It seemed wary.
“This is Winter, a visiting fairy,” Merl said.
“Oh,” the pink bird said. Then turned to Winter. “I’m Pim. Nice to meet you.”
She smiled, feeling lucky that she was not only seeing, but actually talking to a pink bird. “Nice to meet you, too, Pim. Can I ask, what do you think of being caged up like this?”
Pim raised his beak and snapped it, as if he were frustrated. “I hate it. I had a cousin visit once, she was wild and free, like you. I wish I could be too.”
The more Winter heard, the more she felt that these birds should be free. “Would you go, if you had the chance?” she asked.
Merl and Pim looked at one another, uncertainty colouring their expressions. “I don’t know,” Merl said. “Where would we go?”
Winter smiled again. “That’s the beauty of freedom,” she said. “Anywhere.” She heard Birch’s words echo in her mind. He had said something very similar to her when he had announced he wanted to leave the Clan and see the world.
“Perhaps we could give it a go,” Pim said.
Merl leaned down and whistled. Within moments, the rest of the birds were perched around her two new friends, and the chatter between them was so loud that she couldn’t tell who was saying what or even what was being said some of the time.
Spring said to her. “You know they wouldn’t survive outside this cage. Why are you doing this?”
“Because I can’t stand the thought of them staying locked up. Besides, maybe it doesn’t have to fall to your Clan to teach them what they need to know. Maybe I could. Maybe they could come with me and my friends.” It was a big thing, and she knew not everyone would agree. She could hear Flame’s objections even then.
But she also knew it was what she had to do.
Pim let out an extremely loud whistle. “Shush!” he shouted after it, as the chatter died down. When it was silent, he continued, “Right, now, we need a consensus. What are we going to do?”
One grey bird, small with a yellow crest on her head, spoke up, “What would we do in the open world? I don’t know how to find food out there. I bet none of us do.”
“I could teach you,” Winter said, ignoring the glare from Spring. He clearly didn’t think it was a good idea.
The little grey bird looked up at her. “Really? You would do that?”
“Yes,” she said. “If you want to be free, all of you, or any of you I suppose, then I will help you escape this cage, then teach you what you need to know to survive.”
For a moment there was silence as they all stared at her. Then Merl spoke. “Well, I for one, want to be free. Raise a wing everyone if you want the same thing.”
Ten wings all rose.
Winter smiled. “Then what we need is a plan.”
“A plan to do what?” Birch’s voice asked, floating somewhere behind her.
Winter turned and faced him, hovering just behind her. “Oh, hi,” she said, and gave her best innocent smile.