The bird was perfectly lifelike, from the play of light on its feathers to the sweet, warbling birdsong. Merlin's illusions were never anything less. Even knowing it was a phantasm, Thalia still found herself reaching out a hand, one finger extended.
She didn't know the Merry Men personally, but she knew the shape of their stories through a dozen generations of folk song and pantomime. Merlin was right: the Sheriff always hunted them, and they always won in the end, even if he got them on the ropes for a while. That was their story, they'd lived it a long time, and they had each other, same as she had her sisters.
But when she thought of Clio and Will— how utterly ground down they'd both looked that day, the deep shadows under their eyes, and what else was causing those shadows that she still hadn't heard about...? Then, she could feel the horror of it snatching at her.
The little robin hopped closer and let forth a trilling note, an almost human expression of indignation blazing in its features, as though objecting to being ignored. Thalia bit down on her lip, took a slow breath, and finally managed a tenuous smile. "Sorry," she said, to both Merlin and the bird. "It's been kinda... I've been out of the loop in a big way."