Birds of Prey
Two beings inhabit The Dome.
They are Barciro and The Wikler.
A Dirty Pupil
As he weaves through the dead shinebleached trees like a cardinal through thin saplings on the mainland, Lord Hilaetos raises one talon to his beak and steals a taste of the slain mallard’s hot blood. It tastes salty and rich, not terribly unlike the flesh of a lakebreather; perhaps he’ll return for his carcass after his meeting with The Vultress – that is, if her lackeys don’t take it first.
Vines slither up the dead trees. Once vibrant patches of greenery sprouting from the low stumps which lost their tops during one thunderstorm or another are now a faded yellow-brown. The thick and spongey surface algae prevalent over the summer is nowhere to be found. The current cycle nears its timely end as autumn approaches winter, and Mother Monksville began to change colors long ago. It’s been quite a few shinesets since the osprey has ventured this deep into his keep; this is not because he is afraid of The Vultress – if he knew you so much as thought of such he’d do you like he did the mallard – but because fishcatching is damn near impossible to practice in The Sticks. Hilaetos requires a wide berth to properly snare stray lakebreathers from that which they breathe; fishing in this petrified jungle is asking, nay, begging for a wing to be skewered on a rogue broken branch. As a bird of no nest, the Lord of The Sticks merely takes roost on the various border trees; it suits him just fine. Makes for easier feeding, too. Perhaps if the pair eagles took after him rather than roosting inland they’d not be so hungry.
Lord Hilaetos flies past a batbox made by giants. The slumbering nightguard makes not a sound.
Deep within The Sticks where the dark water grows shallow and cattails spring from muddy shores is where the vulture flock makes its nest. Nest doesn’t really do it justice, just as hive doesn’t do justice to the squirrelhorde occupation in The Crater; it’s more of a smorgasbord of nests, easily two dozen of them arranged like the huts in the giants’ villages, though without the pit of fire to mark the middle. This vultric village of nests built of shredded thicket and broken branch surrounds a single massive nest which once belonged to a great blue heron before it was chased out by the greater vulture flock. This nest has since been built up and now stands tall above the rest like a black bear before a raccoon, and in this nest roosts The Vultress. Many ashy-headed hatchlings have risen from this nest, all of them, in fact – The Vultress is the only female of her militia of a flock, and she commands her bloody-beaked males well indeed. No less than thirteen of them surround the osprey on all sides the moment he lands upon one of the many perches extending outwards from the central nest.
For a moment their tense stance is held. Hilaetos, standing up straight to assert dominance, is the last white cloud in a black and stormy sky, a cloud which quickly shrinks down as his legs bend to offer the resident mystic a bow. The vultures back off a bit, but not very much.
The channel opens narrow. Only silence is sent at first, silence and contempt brought about by the Lord of The Sticks’s blatant nervousness.
Then, ‘I’ll have your report, Lord Hilaetos.’
Lord Hilaetos blinks twice. ‘I’ve seen not a hawk in the skies above The Basin, Vultress. Not since yesterday’s shineset. Perhaps they’ve finally learned their lesson.’
The Vultress hisses at this but jovially, as if the brute meant to laugh. The surrounding vultures don’t make a sound, their eyes speaking volumes. ‘I never took you for a fool, osprey, but you may be taken yet. What do you know of this hawk flock? What experience do you have with their scarlet tails?’
‘Only the sight of them disappearing into the forest as they’re chased back from whence they came. The hawks are hungry, Vultress, as are the pair eagles; I believe the eagles may be on the brink of leaving The Sticks.’
She cocks her head sideways at this. ‘That’s not what I received through the channel, Hilaetos, and my fiends are apt to agree with me.’ Three more vultures join the huddle around the osprey, a dirty pupil inside a red iris with blacks where the whites should be. ‘The eagles are no closer to migration than you are, Sea Hawk, though we may all be much closer than any of us would suspect.’
‘Vultress?’ the osprey cautions, his head mimicking hers.
Above them a hawk shrieks, garnering attention from all but one. Two red-tails approach from The Basin, as if riding the tailwinds of the osprey. They circle the muster once and then both shriek in unison before beelining to the mouth of the Wanaque River. When Lord Hilaetos looks back, he catches the stony leer of The Vultress.
‘They’ve not sent multiple scouts before, Hilaetos. At least, not at once. They came from your courtyard – did you not know you were being followed?’
The osprey fluffs his feathers, erecting the ones on his head in a display of confidence. Every king needs a proper crown, and Hilaetos just put his on. ‘I know for a fact that I was not; I’ve been perched at the edge since shinerise, scouring the lake’s surface for lakebreathers. At one point a giant ca–’
‘A giant, you send? In The Basin?’ sends The Vultress, her feathers ruffled and unkempt from distress.
‘Yes, but he drew not a single fish and kept his vessel out of The Sticks. Regardless, the giants gave us this lake, Vultress. Surely you cannot wish to drive them out, too.’
‘Yes, too. As you did the hawks.’
Another triad of vultures join the huddle. The flame begins to smolder, suffocated by smoke.
The Vultress sends, ‘You are a damned fool after all, Hilaetos, a damned one indeed,’ before rising to her gray-skinned feet and spanning her great wings, the feathers black as bedrock scorched by the dying embers of the giants’ nightly bonfires.
The huddling buzzards, all nineteen of them, back off at once, returning with haste to their proxy nests.
‘Come, Hilaetos. We’ve something to discuss.’
As he watches her take flight, Hilaetos sends, ‘Where will you take me, Vultress? I must soon return to the pair eagles an–‘
‘No such promise was made, Lord Hilaetos,’ the Lord Hilaetos sent with a less than subtle hint of disdain. ‘We’ll tour the Northern Leg down to North Cove and no further. Perhaps you’ll return with both wings unclipped.’
The osprey prepares to flap wing. Before he takes off, he receives, ‘Or perhaps you’ll find a new roost to take.’
The channel closes with a pang perceived only by the vulture flock. The osprey flaps high above The Sticks and pursues the gliding turkey buzzard, his belly full of fish, his head full of rage, his eyes fixed to her naked neck, his talons clenched tightly beneath his tail.
This has been the fourth subchapter of the second chapter of The Monksville Chronicles. Here is everything you need to know about it:
I’ve written a few other books, too. Click here to see the list.
The Hillside Commons has a Facebook page. Here’s that.
If you’re there, hypothetical reader, thank you for being there. From this day on, we move forever forward~