The Queen's Aviary
by Yoon Ha Lee
The princess was born beneath owl-stars and sickle-moon, to the cries of the palace ravens. When she was five, she collected the feathers of birds to weave into her hair. When she was ten, she practiced identifying birds so that she could paint them from memory. The queen would come from time to time to view the paintings, and lay her hand upon her daughter's head, and smile.
When the princess was fifteen, her mother died. The death was not entirely unexpected: it had been a long winter, and the queen had never been in the best of health. If the princess cried, she did so beneath her mourning veil, where no one could see the tears.
The princess was taken to the great granite statue of a bird-headed general where the palace ravens gathered, so that they could give her her reign-prophecy. She had spent the entire day with her mouth watering for the ritual feast that she could smell from the courtyard: roast duck and suckling pig and chicken glazed with ginger and citron marmalade. Her life until now had been one of ease; it had never occurred to her that anything could go wrong.
The raven-keepers bowed to the princess as she knelt before the bird-headed statue. The palace ravens cawed as they circled three times. Then one came to alight on her wrist. Although she wore bracers of supple leather, she winced anyway. It was the first time a palace raven had deigned to give her such personal attention.
The raven spoke in a voice like storms and stars falling. "The royal line has always kept birds by its side," it said, "but a bird will be your death. Free us and walk unfettered by fear."