I was only a hatchling when I last saw my mother. Elegant and aloof,
Kirat would come down to the nursery, and check that the drones who
looked after us were doing their job.

Between visits, I used to dream that she would look at me and smile.
She would single me out and say something special. She would praise
me, and all my siblings would want to play with me.

She would stop them teasing me about my wings. She wouldn’t care if
they were not growing properly. Flying is not the end of the world.

But when Kirat finally did stop and look at me, her eyes were cool and
assessing. She asked me my name and my age, and nodded thoughtfully.
Then she leaned over and kissed me.

I couldn’t contain my delight, and looked round hoping the others had
noticed. They had, but weren’t as jealous as I had expected. Some of
them looked pityingly at me.

Before she left, my mother spoke to the nursery drones. I saw her
watching me, and beamed. I was so happy.

That night, my eldest sister Blaha woke me up and told me we were
going away together.

Now I was going to meet Kirat again.

The door of the great ceremonial chamber was flung open and she strode
in.  I had a few minutes to study her before she noticed me.

She was awe inspiring. I had heard people in the palace talking about
her, complaining that she considered herself several ranks above the
queen. I could see why. She was large, with powerful wings that flared
out behind her. Her silvery hair flowed down her back, and highlighted
her crystalline eyes.

A tangle of gold and diamond necklaces jangled when she moved. She
smelled of the desert.

She looked beautiful and regal, and I hoped that the other royal wards
saw her. That would stop them teasing me. Not that they were bad,
nothing like my siblings, but sometimes they said things.

She didn’t see me at first. All her attention was on Blaha, who was
kissing, and arguing, with both her fiancees. I winced. I knew Kirat
wouldn’t like that. She had strong views about how to behave in
public.

I wasn’t sure what Blaha’s job was. She worked for the queen and she
once told me she had to be invisible for her job, so she hid her rank
and family badges. Kirat  attacked her for her wanton behaviour and
for not wearing her status symbols.

Unsure what to do, I hovered between them. Not literally, of course, I
can’t do that though I keep trying. Blaha was the best sister ever,
but this was my mother.

Kirat turned away from Blaha, and saw me. For a moment, she didn’t
recognise me, then her face tightened, as if she smelled something
bad. I sniffed. No, not me, I had a bath that morning. Then she took
in what I was wearing and my rank badge, and she smiled.

Finally, my mother was smiling at me. I rushed to her arms. She hugged
me, then stood back to admire me.

“Sapati. I wouldn’t have known you.”

“Did you miss me?”

“Of course.  How you’ve grown. Look at you.” She indicated my rank
badge. “Are you really a ward of the Queen?”

I straightened my shoulders and stood up to my full height. I came
level with her shoulder. “Yes.”

“Do you know the Queen?”

I nodded. “Would you like to meet the other royal wards?”

Kirat agreed, and I led her to where they were watching all the drama.
Ha, who’s a houseless hatchling now? I stopped in front of the first
one and introduced them.

Kirat smiled graciously and questioned him about his parents, but when
she discovered that he rarely saw them, she lost interest, so I led
her to another royal ward. Smile, question, disappointment. He
chattered, and she cut him off. “You can go now.”

I led her to my best friend Cigam, but my heart was sinking. Kirat
only seemed interested in their parents, and most of my friends didn’t
see them often.

Sometimes there is not much difference between a royal ward and a
royal hostage. Not in my case, of course. Kirat didn’t even know I was
in the palace, I wasn’t a hostage.

“So you don’t even know who your third father is?” Kirat’s voice had
gone sharp and Cigam was hot with embarrassment. I knew she didn’t
like to talk about that.

I tried to pull her away, but she kept saying awful things to poor
Cigam. “He could be a human for all you know.”

“I like humans,” I interrupted, more loudly than I had intended. Kirat
glared, but at least she wasn’t tormenting Cigam any more. “You should
meet Luis, he’s really cool and he calls everyone “Dawg”. He’s going
to take me to Miami to learn free running. He says I have the right
body shape for it.”

Kirat wasn’t interested in Luis. “These are the people you know?” she asked.

“I know most of the serving drones and the guards too,” I told her. I
didn’t mention the new king. Kirat had just attacked Blaha for kissing
him in public, so I kept quiet about watching Earther films with him.
She wouldn’t be interested in that.

She looked around in disgust. “This place is a shambles.” Then she
turned back to me, with the very same look. “I think going to earth
with that human is an excellent idea. You can send me a postcard.”

Then she turned away, collected her entourage with a glance, and strode out.

It was the last time I saw my mother.