Home > Tales of the Peculiar (Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children 0.5)(9)

Tales of the Peculiar (Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children 0.5)(9)
Author: Ransom Riggs

“As you wish,” said the princess. She started to go, then stopped at the doorway. “By the way, they’re planning to hang you in the morning.”

At this news the king curled into a ball and began to snivel and cry. It was such a pathetic sight that the princess was moved to pity. Despite all her father had done, she felt her bitterness toward him melting away. She used her venom to melt the lock from his cell, secreted him out of the jailhouse, disguised him as a beggar, and sent him running in the same direction she had once fled the kingdom. He did not thank her, nor even look back at her. And then he was gone, and she was gripped by a sudden, wild happiness—for her act of kindness had freed them both.

The First Ymbryne

Editor’s note:

While we can be certain that many of the Tales’ characters really lived and walked the earth, it can be difficult to confirm much of their factualness beyond that. In the centuries before our stories were written down, they were disseminated as oral tradition, and thus highly subject to change, each teller embellishing the tales as she saw fit. The result is that today they are more legend than history, and their value—beyond simply being compelling stories—is primarily as moral lessons. The story of Britain’s first ymbryne, however, is a notable exception. It is one of the few tales whose historical authenticity can be thoroughly accounted for, the events it describes having been verified not only by many contemporaneous sources, but by the ymbryne herself (in her famous book of encyclical addresses, A Gathering of Tail Feathers). That is why I consider it the most significant of the Tales, it being equally a moral parable, a ripping good yarn, and an important chronicle of peculiar history.


The first ymbryne wasn’t a woman who could turn herself into a bird, but a bird who could turn herself into a woman. She was born into a family of goshawks, fierce hunters who didn’t appreciate their sister’s habit of becoming a fleshy, earthbound creature at unpredictable times, her sudden changes in size toppling them out of their nest, and her odd, babbling speech spoiling their hunts. Her father gave her the name Ymeene, which in the shrill language of goshawks meant “strange one,” and she felt the lonely burden of that strangeness from the time she was old enough to hold up her head.

Goshawks are territorial and proud, and love nothing more than a good, bloody fight. Ymeene was no different, and when a turf war erupted between their family and a band of harriers, she fought bravely, determined to prove she was every bit the goshawk her brothers were. They were outnumbered by the larger, stronger birds, but even when his children began to die in the skirmishes, Ymeene’s father would not admit defeat. In the end they repelled the harriers, but Ymeene was wounded and all her siblings but one were killed. Wondering what it had all been for, she asked her father why they had not simply run away and found another nest to live in.

“We had to defend the honor of our family,” he told her.

“But now our family is gone,” Ymeene replied. “Where’s the honor in that?”

“I don’t suppose a creature like you would understand,” he said, and straightening his feathers he leaped into the air and flew away to go hunting.

Ymeene did not join him. She had lost her taste for the hunt, and for blood and fighting, too, which for a goshawk was even stranger than turning into a human now and then. Perhaps she was never meant to be a hawk, she thought, as she winged down to the forest floor and landed on human legs. Perhaps she was born in the wrong body.

Ymeene wandered for a long time. She lingered around human settlements, studying them from the safety of treetops. Because she had stopped hunting, it was hunger that gave her the nerve to finally walk into a village and sneak bites of their food—roasted corn put out for chickens, pies left to cool on windowsills, unwatched pots of soup—and she found she had a taste for it. She learned some human language so that she could talk to them, and discovered that she enjoyed their company even more than their food. She liked the way they laughed and sang and showed one another love. So she chose a village at random and went to live there.

A kindly old man let her stay in his barn, and his wife taught Ymeene to sew so she would have a trade. Everything was going swimmingly until, a few days after she’d arrived, the village baker saw her turn into a bird. She hadn’t yet grown accustomed to sleeping in human form, so every night she changed into a goshawk, flew up into the trees, and fell asleep with her head tucked under her wing. The shocked villagers accused her of witchcraft and chased her away with torches.

Disappointed but undeterred, Ymeene went wandering again and found another village in which to settle. This time she was careful not to let anyone see her change into a bird, but the villagers seemed to distrust her regardless. To most people Ymeene had a strange way about her—she had been raised by hawks, after all—and it wasn’t long before she was chased from this new village, too. She grew sad, and wondered if there was any place in the world she truly belonged.

One morning, on the verge of despair, she lay watching the sun rise in a forest glade. It was a spectacle of such transcendent beauty that it made her forget her troubles for a moment, and when it was over, she wished desperately to see it once more. In an instant the sky went dark and the dawn broke all over again, and she suddenly realized she had a talent other than her ability to change form: she could make small moments repeat themselves. She amused herself with this trick for days, repeating the leap of a graceful deer or a fleeting slant of afternoon sun just so she could better appreciate their beauty, and it cheered her up immensely. She was repeating the first fall of virgin snow when a voice startled her.

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