by Samantha Bryant
No one speaks of males of our kind. If one dares to speak of harpies, one speaks only of females.
The wise fear us. Few see our glorious visages swooping down to deliver justice and survive. Descriptions owe more to fear than observation. We are legendary even among legends.
No one agrees on the details. Some say we are beautiful, others deem us horrible. Some say we serve justice, others claim we are scavengers, filthy with corruption.
Those with prurient interest in our procreation practices keep such curiosity to themselves, lest they suffer the consequences of broaching inappropriate topics with beings of power. Some humans believe we capture their males and use them for these purposes. We allow the tale to propagate, though the thought would be amusing if it weren’t so disgusting. Soft, hairless monkeys lacking even rudimentary claws as lovers to the radiant servants of the Furies themselves?
Let it not be said that humans lack imagination.
Males exist. Awkward creatures, ungainly in the air, timid on the ground, small and unprepossessing. Harmless is the kindest descriptor assigned them. They maintain nesting grounds and tend the offspring. There is no shame in living the life destiny deals. They perform their duties well and are afforded honor for their service.
We do not celebrate the birth of a male chick as we would a mighty female. A few males each season are sufficient for breeding, and raising a male fledging requires extra care. Many have fallen to the earth, crushed in their first clumsy attempts at flight. Few survive their first year. Our efforts are better spent hunting and delivering our bounties to the Erinyes. One does not disappoint our patronesses, if one wishes to enjoy long life.
When my hatchling broke through the shell and stretched its wings out to dry, I assumed I had been blessed with a daughter with broad shoulders promising mighty flight. I smoothed the wet feathers and bent to look into her face. Something was wrong with her eyes—not sharp and yellow, but dull and brown. Further inspection revealed the rest of his shortcomings.
A boy chick.
Disappointing. I felt his maleness as a personal failing and left him to the care of the other males. Becoming attached to a boy chick is akin to falling in love with an insect. There’s no future in it, and two lives are destroyed. Better to sever any connection from the outset, rather than allowing it to fester like a poisoned wound.
This boy chick continued to seek me out despite my rebuffs. Persistence is rare in a male.
Most harpies cannot identify their own boy chicks from the flock, but I always knew which was mine. Larger than average and fast—for a male. He lumbered about with the strength and grace one of the elder women might show after a lifetime of battles won and injuries survived. A lurching gait with occasional beauty, laughable and mildly charming.
Most surprising, his eyes were clear and bright, despite their dull brown color. An appealing intelligence peppered even his earliest observations—he made me laugh, an occurrence more rare than a trustworthy human. I liked him, in spite of myself. I admired the spirit I saw in him—continuing to strive despite the limitations of his birth.
I trained him secretly. If the others had seen, they would have crushed him and exiled me, leaving me alone and without mission. Isolated and without industry, our kind do not last long. We are creatures of wind and vengeance, and sisterhood is everything.
Still, I helped the boy chick strengthen his wings, developing exercises he could perform in private. A girl chick of similar weakness might have been killed for pity’s sake, but in a boy chick, these small hovering feats were accomplishments beyond all expectations. He worked diligently, struggling to read the winds. Determination is admirable, even in a boy-chick.
I did not overpraise him, but he knew I was pleased, perhaps even proud of his progress. Similar to what a trainer feels when her horse performs ably, I believed my ability to cause even this small improvement reflected on my own strength and prowess.
The interest I showed is perhaps what inspired him to try flying out on his own. Luck dictated my proximity when he made the attempt and I caught him before he plummeted onto the hard stone of the city square. Such a fall would have ended his life, and when I held his leg in my talon, I realized that I would have grieved if he had died.
We were seen.
Three of my sisters were flying by my side when I made my rescue. Returning home after delivering child torturers to our patronesses for judgment. When I spotted my boy chick falling, I hurtled towards him without a word of explanation.
Not understanding why I had broken formation and thrown myself out of the clouds and at the rooftops of the city we claimed as our territory, they perched in the trees to observe. My sisters saw all.
I didn’t dare look at them—afraid of the censure and shock I would see in their cold yellow eyes—but pulled my son against my breast and flew him to safety, back to the nesting grounds. After dropping him into a soft roost, I thrashed his nest leader mercilessly, leaving the poor beast confused as well as bleeding.
Even the other males knew my behavior was outrageous, though they dared not speak against any female. As I stalked across the aerie to the more opulent nests maintained for females, their shocked gazes followed. I held my head high, not sparing a glance for any, unwilling to risk one of them reading the confused feelings of my heart in the muscles of my face.
My formation sisters had already made our report and taken their meals. I did not seek them out, not knowing what I would say. I didn’t fully understand myself why I had broken every protocol and devoted such attention to a mere boy chick, but I found I wasn’t sorry that they knew.
Dropping my shroud of secrecy relieved a tension in my chest. I breathed deeply, my lungs expanding to capacity for the first time in many months. I flung my wings wide and claimed a high roosting place to groom my feathers. I would behave as if there were nothing unusual in what I had done, offering no apology or explanation.
Though it has now been several days, no one has yet come to speak to me, either in censure or in friendship. Murmuring voices follow me, though they silence when I look. Some will enjoy the tale of the rescue of the boy chick, sniggering at my folly, exerting such effort to save such a weak and petulant creature. There are those who would savor the chance to move up in the ranks at my expense, to convince the leadership that I am unworthy of my position. The harshest among my sisters will suggest that I have grown soft, in the head if not yet in body.
But, it is not softness that binds me to this boy chick. It is a species of hope, a belief in the possibility of growth and change.
When the challenges come, as they must, I will ensure they pay for their criticism in blood. Boy-chick or not, he is my child and before I am done he will learn to fly.
This I vow.
Samantha Bryant believes in love, magic, unexplainable connections, and second chances. Her favorite things are lonely beaches, untamed cliff tops, and sunlight through the leaves of trees. She’s from Kentucky and lives in North Carolina, but left her heart in Alaska. She’s tougher than she looks and softer than she likes to let on.
She writes The Menopausal Superhero series of novels, and other feminist leaning speculative fiction. When she’s not writing or teaching, Samantha enjoys family time, watching old movies, baking, reading, gaming, walking in the woods with her rescue dog, and going places. Learn more at http://samanthabryant.com or find her on Twitter or Instagram as @samanthabwriter