Yuuya huddles in the corner of his enclosed wooden nestbox, beside a shallow hourglass-shaped pedestal lined with straw. It is the nest where Yuuya hatched from his mother's egg, and where he floundered around as an awkward squab until his first real feathers grew in. Now he is a fledgling, and the nest is empty.
He can see Maman in the next room, sitting in front of her mirror. She is not looking at the mirror, although he can see her face reflected in it. She is pale and sad.
Her long white tailfeathers are draggling, tangled, and half-broken. After the news of Papa's death, she began to pull them out until Monsieur Le Bel stopped her. It is good that he stopped her. Some of the feathers were deeply rooted, and when she pulled them out they broke and bled. Now she is perched over there quietly and not tearing apart her tail anymore, but the rest of her feathers are still dishevelled and fluffed-out. She has dull eyes and drooping wings.
Maman does not seem aware that Yuuya is hiding inside his nestbox and watching her. Maman does not seem aware of anything at all.
When Yuuya grew his first real feathers, Maman laid another egg in the nest. The egg had Yuuya's brother in it. Since Yuuya still could not fly, he stayed in the nest to help Maman and Papa warm the egg. But then Papa had to go on a journey, and Yuuya always kept the egg warm by himself whenever Maman needed to go out. And then M. Le Bel came to tell them that Papa was dead.
Yesterday, Maman told Yuuya they would have to throw away the egg and kill it. Yuuya took the egg away so Maman would not have to smash it herself. He has hidden it inside the base of the pedestal. He hopes there is enough straw to cushion it when it is moved.
This nestbox has been Yuuya's world, and he does not want to go outside it anymore. Papa went outside the entire house, and he was killed. Yuuya has not gone outside the nestbox since he rolled his brother's egg out of the nest. He huddles beside the nest pedestal, and waits for M. Le Bel to come back to see them.
When the maidservant announces M. Le Bel's arrival, Maman lifts her head and sits up straight. She does not look happy, Yuuya thinks.
Maman sweeps out her wings to the sides in a formal curtsey. The black mourning band is a dark gash upon her pallor. "Monsieur," she says.
"Madame Shirogane." Le Bel stands tall and bows to her, with his tail fanned out in perfect order. His beak brushes against her wing, lightly preening the primaries. "I have made all the necessary arrangements, if you and the fledgling are ready. Do you consent, then?"
The maidservant sets out a tray of refreshments and leaves the room, shutting the door behind her. Seeing the tray makes Yuuya realize he is hungry. But he does not want to eat if that means he will have to leave the nestbox, especially while Monsieur Le Bel is here. Yuuya remains perfectly silent, perfectly still, watching and waiting for Le Bel to go away.
Maman's face in the mirror is now cold and perfect, as if she is only a marble statue of a dove. "If I must. And it seems that I must, does it not?"
Le Bel steps closer to her, smoothing down more of her plumage with his beak and wings. "I am sorry that you are still so sad. And yet still you are so lovely, like a queen waiting for her execution. I tell you, there was no other way I could give you shelter. A widowed bride, bringing a laid and unhatched egg into her marriage- it would always leave suspicion about who fathered the chick, about whose name he would have the right to bear. And there must never be any question about the heir to the house of Le Bel. It is better for everyone this way."
"So you have said before." Maman says. Her face is still cold, but her eyelids are beginning to flutter as M. Le Bel continues to preen her wings, her throat, her breast. If preening will make Maman less sad, then it is good for Le Bel to preen her.
"I promise you, I will give you more eggs of our own. Captain Sakazaki was a brave soldier. He understood the notion of sacrifice. He would not have grudged sacrificing an unhatched egg to ensure the safety of his widow and his son." Le Bel's voice is low and musical. Maman's wings are beginning to flutter like her eyelids, her beak involuntarily dipping to preen him in return. "Have you already told your fledgling anything? Where is he?"
"I told him-" Maman's voice breaks for a moment. Le Bel has started to preen her tailfeathers, and Yuuya hopes he is not hurting the ones that were bleeding earlier. "I told Yuuya we will be moving to your house. The egg is gone. So yes, I consent."
"Ah, Isabeau- I may call you Isabeau, may I not? In that case, let us share the betrothal cake now, and make ready at once."
Yuuya ruffles his feathers, still hidden in the nestbox. Maman's name is Izayoi, or at least that is what Papa called her. But she does not seem to object to this name instead.
Le Bel breaks apart one of the little cakes in the tray, places it in Maman's mouth, and leans close to take some of it from her into his own beak. She does the same thing, placing a broken cake in Le Bel's mouth and taking it back in return. Yuuya watches with interest, wondering if there will be any cakes left over for him. He is not sure whether Maman is happy, but at least she seems less unhappy for the moment; she and Le Bel are starting to sing together, a soft crooning duet in their throats as they feed each other cakes and keep preening in a slow circular dance. The song makes him sleepy, and he is much startled a few minutes later by the sound of wings.
Is M. Le Bel leaving? No, he is hovering in mid-air over Maman, sweeping out his wings in huge pulsing beats as he thrusts against her. Maman is crouched low with her half-broken tail swept to one side. Her eyes are squeezed nearly shut, her mouth gasping open. Yuuya cannot tell if this hurts her or not. Perhaps Maman cannot tell either.
Uncertainly, Yuuya flutters his own wings half-open. Le Bel does not notice, but Maman is turned toward him and sees the motion in the shadows of the nestbox. She looks directly at him for a moment, then closes her eyes as tightly as if slamming a door. It looks like she is trying not to weep.
It is one of many, many things that Yuuya and his mother do not speak of to one another ever again